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Thoughts on the viability of dungeon crawls in Exalted

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  • Thoughts on the viability of dungeon crawls in Exalted

    I was reading a manwha called "Solo Leveling" and I saw a whole bunch of fun parallels you could make with Exalted. In Solo Leveling, magical gateways began to open up all over the world in random places, containing extra-dimensional dungeons full of monsters, and at the same time about 1 in a thousand people, called hunters, got various magical abilities, allowing them to combat the monsters. It's got a very dynamic style, with a lot of cool action sequences that remind me of the best stunts I've encountered in Exalted, and the combat is mostly physical, with cool swords and armor. The protagonist becomes a dead-ringer for an Abyssal.

    A minor thing is that in "Solo Leveling" most of the intrigue is between the various hunter organizations outside the dungeons, while the dungeons present almost purely physical threats, which is a dynamic that is fairly alien to most Exalted games I've been in. A meeting with a Fair Folk Noble to discuss a trade deal could always erupt into a fight if someone makes a faux pas or the circle's bluff gets called. This bifurcation isn't an automatic problem, but it does present a very different mode of thought.

    The major thing is the concept of the dungeon, both as a challenge to the Exalted and as a thing into which the Exalted would want to go. In "Solo Leveling", most hunters treat dungeon raiding as a day job - it pays the bills better than anything else they can do and it's a job that needs to be done, but then most hunters aren't demi-gods with nation-shaping agendas, just people a bit tougher and stronger than natural or able to cast minor spells. With the abstracted nature of wealth in Exalted, very few player characters are motivated by greed and comfortable living and defeating a monster in a dungeon doesn't often help advance a character's agenda to rule a country or get revenge on your father's murderer.

    The challenge component is a bit more complex. Combat opponents can be buffed to be a challenge or at least a tactically interesting fight, but part of the classic idea of a dungeon is traps and puzzles and those have always been a bit wonky when applied to the Exalted. If it's once-and-done traps, large defense totals and high Resistance pools make them nearly useless and then there's Charms on top of those, while resetting traps almost need to be incorporated into a combat encounter to avoid being bypassed. Puzzles always have that problem of testing the player's intelligence more than the character's intelligence. It all feels like it becomes a mess.

    Anyone else with thoughts?



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  • #2
    I think the concepts of dungeons work more for Solo Levelling. Don't get me wrong, I love the story and the reason why they need to get rid of these dungeons (you could do the same in Creation by BS'ing Wyld Pockets). I mean the reason of destroying these wyld pockets to prevent hostile raksha from spilling out is reason enough.

    Especially since the monsters in Solo Levelling are magically compelled to slaughter as many humans as possible. So there's a very good reason why you don't want those things in your territory. They can't be reasoned with.


    It could be useful as a way for Realm houses to get more wealth (Stormlight Archive does something similar with shardhearts on the shattered plains), with the possibility of getting better gear, and to me makes more sense than random dungeons existing in the wilderness (bonus points if you include reasons why such places haven't been explored).

    But it comes with the side effect of locking pacifist routes out. Due to certain reasons (as mentioned in the spoiler tag) there's no way of talking down the monsters through the dungeon gate down. While you could do some intrigue with hunter guilds, I feel this would alienate those who want to be a badass diplomat.


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    • #3
      I think dungeon crawls are perfectly valid. Tomb of Dreams is basically a dungeon crawl.

      I'm not familiar enough with Solo Leveling to comment, but DrLoveMonkey laid out some pretty good examples of Exalted adventures: http://forum.theonyxpath.com/forum/m...7-adventure-ho

      In Exalted you could have a Wyld Pocket/Unshaped Raksha, or a Shadowland filled with hungry dead, or a First Age Tomb guarded by mystic sentinels, or a rift to the Demon City. There's no reason you can't have dungeon crawls.

      And just because one can reason with a raksha in the general sense, no reason why this specific one shouldn't be a slathering monster who can't be talked out of killing you -- if that's the kind of game you want.


      Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

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      • #4
        Yep, there's a whole raft of stuff in setting that was built to be for "dungeon crawls" back when Exalted was being designed to emulate pulp archaeologists/adventurers (a la Indy Jones and Lara Croft and so on) and be "A better D&D" (as StephenLS kind of described the intention) a bit more - Solar tombs, ruins of lost cities, etc - and there were a few adventures, "Monster Manuals" like "Creatures of the Wyld" and so on published in that mold.

        These things *were* meant to be challenging for Solar characters, in setting. Regardless of whether, as a sort of constraint of the fact that we're not actually Solar Exalted, the puzzles were not actually of the complexity to tax a superhuman intellect and so on!

        Over time there's been a bit more of a push towards the idea that Exalted's default mode of play is probably more enmeshed in very political sagas and war epics (Iliad, Romance of the Three Kingdoms), and more into "Kingdom-building fantasy" and such. More Fire Emblem/Suikoden/Tactics, less Final Fantasy, as it were. So there's reconceptualization of some things where, like Rathess is a bit more strongly pitched as potential place for a new base rather than a "dungeon" to explore (though it always was to some extent), manses are "places of power" to claim for your empire rather than partly dungeons to explore, etc. That doesn't mean that some of the original intent is not still lurking there though, for your use if you want to use it.

        I do agree there are some challenges though, mainly that "loot" is not as much of an incentive for Exalted, since the Exalted rise more on their own. So if you're playing these places as dungeons, you have to find some other reasons for heroes to venture into the monster's lair. Like perhaps they are a base for an enemy, or they have some information at their hearts, etc.

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        • #5
          The second-ever (I think?) Exalted product featured a dungeon crawl, the Invisible Fortress. To my mind, though, it mostly did a good job of demonstrating why dungeon crawls aren't a great fit for Exalted.

          (No shade, though; the game didn't really have it's own identity yet. Had to throw some spaghetti at the wall to see what stuck!)

          Edit: Mixed up my chronology a bit; Tomb of Five Corners was roundabout the second Exalted product (I think my copy came bundled with the ST's guide). But A) it's not much better as a dungeon crawl and B) Invisible Fortress was still very early (2002).
          Last edited by Blackwell; 11-06-2020, 11:51 PM.

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          • #6
            Hmm... There are some characters that play badly in the "tomb raiding" scenario, but probably more that Exalted could have done with it. I have some nostalgia for those early books of course, and for the feel they have where Exalted PCs doing things more typical of adventure fiction and fewer typical of political-historical epic things. So I'm predisposed to think there's more that could've been done with the concept. Exalted's campaign modules that have leaned heavily into other, more "as the game evolved" Exalted typical things have also had their problems, too. In some senses the end product could've been more competitive as a fantasy game.

            If nothing else, you could certainly do more with those scenarios with non-Solar PCs, even if you are doubtful that Solar PCs wouldn't outpower all challenges...

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Kyeudo View Post
              part of the classic idea of a dungeon is traps and puzzles and those have always been a bit wonky when applied to the Exalted. If it's once-and-done traps, large defense totals and high Resistance pools make them nearly useless and then there's Charms on top of those, while resetting traps almost need to be incorporated into a combat encounter to avoid being bypassed. Puzzles always have that problem of testing the player's intelligence more than the character's intelligence.
              I mean... puzzles are always a test of the player's intelligence, not the character's. Otherwise it's just "make a check to continue."

              Like with much of Exalted, I think the key is considering the abilities of your party, then taking the classic tropes and turning them up to eleven. Someone's super-strong? Include a God of War style puzzle where they have to heft around immense boulders and mechanisms. Resistance supernal? Include some traps where the penalty isn't damage, and some where the solution is "I'll just tank it with my face." Got a classic thief-type Night caste? Instead of sneaking past the orcs and picking a lock, sneak past the hundred-eyed titan and unweave the knot in the fabric of creation so that time can start flowing properly again.

              A generic dungeon crawl is going to be hard to write less because of the setting or power level, and more because of how dramatically parties can vary in capability.

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              • #8
                One thing I was contemplating was a shard based on Solo Leveling. It would go something like this:

                In the beginning, the Celestial Incarnae, Autochthon, and the Elemental Dragons made Creation from the Wyld. Humanity flourished for centuries, but then came the Yozis from out of the depths of the Wyld, bringing with them hordes of demons. Unable to stop the tide of monsters ravaging Creation, the makers of the world sacrificed themselves to create the Seal of Divinities and lock Creation away from its enemies. Peace reigned once more for thousands of years, but then cracks in the Seal started to appear. These cracks could be entered, leading to realms of existence located between worlds, filled with demons, faeries, the unquiet dead, or even berserk elementals, and would widen over time, eventually allowing the creatures within to spill out into Creation. At the same time, fragments of power from the weakening seal lodged within the souls of humans, giving rise to the Exalted.



                Dead But Not Gone: Ghosts
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