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  • So the PCs start out as slaves...

    So. I have a tiny little conundrum, which I thought maybe you guys could help me solve.

    I'm constantly gearing up for the 3e campaign, I like to think of it as my Exalted Opus Magna. Pretty pretencious, I know, but hear me out.

    I have a 3 act structure set up with major choke points and all, but only recently I started thinking about the actual begining of the game.

    I came up with an idea. Basically a retrospection scene with PCs abducted and stranded in the desert. Throughout the first session I would alternate between the PCs actions, which are happening in relative past and the future scenes almost entirely narrated, when they are slaves, to sort of show what events led to this development.

    The catch? It's not a pre-exaltation story. They are Exalted by the time they find themselves in the desert, almost completely powerless.

    The question is, should I be even attempting this? Not because I don't have the right players who woudn't be able to take their characters misery or dismay, no. I believe I have players who can certainly handle that. It's also not that I cannot do it mechanically. Now that mortals became more prominent, Exigence is a thing and Solars start out with Essence 1, I'm pretty confident I can overpower them, without even implementing complex trickery.

    The problem is, what psychological effects might this have on them? Because despite that introduction, it's very much Exalted game, fighting Behemoths, toppling nations, heartbreaking romance, real epic stuff. I'm not sure if this begining doesn't warp their expectations of the game, make them a little too cautious. I don't know if starting out like this even resides within the scope of Exalted.

    So that's my problem. Maybe you can help. I'd much apreciate that.
    Last edited by Arrakiz; 11-04-2013, 03:58 PM.

  • #2
    Sounds interesting! My first question is, who enslaved them and how? Manacles of Night and those Artifact collars could be very useful, and you might want to involve Creation's God of Enslavement, whose name escapes me now. This could also be a good chance for one or more PCs to meet a master of Swaying Grass style MA, and perhaps learn from him/her!

    I've considered a similar beginning, only the PCs all start with the Amnesia flaw, slowly regaining their memories as their players learn the ropes of the mechanics and their powers. That might not be appropriate here, tho. Perhaps they have agreed to become slaves, because some person or place very dear to them is being threatened if they don't? That still gives them the option to look for avenues of escape and to turn the tables later on, once things really get cooking!

    HTH!

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    • #3
      Unless you desperately want to prove a point about Mortal vs Exalt power, I'd suggest having them be defeated by something impressive they can get revenge on later so they don't feel they just got randomly punked.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Zironic View Post
        Unless you desperately want to prove a point about Mortal vs Exalt power, I'd suggest having them be defeated by something impressive they can get revenge on later so they don't feel they just got randomly punked.
        It's not my intention to prove an abstract point. The assumption is that they are a part of expedition into the deep desert to search the ancient ruins for artifacts. My intention is to introduce a powerful and ancient spirit or a ghost (possibly a material for a new Deathlord, uncertain now) who beats them up and weakens them with a curse.

        And in the aftermath it turns out the caravan is actually mostly slave traders who used the PCs to open the vault and take the curse and spirit and now that the heroes are weakened, they intend to sell them and the loot.

        And of course, they won't be slaves for ever. I intend/expect them to stage a riot at some point of the retrospaction and escape.

        It's not completely developed obviously, but I intend to "save them" with an NPC who will in the future turn out to be the man who were to buy them from the slave traders.
        Last edited by Arrakiz; 11-04-2013, 04:36 PM.

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        • #5
          You can do something like this, but will want to tread carefully. I can only speak from my experience, since I see some concerning parallels. Basically, expectation management is very important. Particularly if this is anyone's first game of Exalted, they may be expecting to play incredibly powerful demi-gods. Not finding their way completely free of difficulty, mind you, just having a chance to cut loose with that power. If they're fans of shonen anime, they may think of it like the first episode of such a show, where the protagonists usually show off their badassery quite prominently.

          That's more-or-less what I'd expected in my first game. Annnnd then it opened on a Bolivian Army Ending. We played through this for a bit, including our characters' deaths, and it turned out to be just a shared vision. The issue was we'd gone in really pumped and the abrupt surprise really took a lot of the wind out of our sails. The game died not long after, and lack of enthusiasm was partly to blame. It's something I normally would have been completely okay with and found very cool, but... man, the tone I'd wanted and expected clashing that horribly with the tone we got was not fun.

          So, yeah, just be careful and direct. Make sure they're not getting handed an unpleasant surprise. If you're concerned about the tone getting back to typical Exalted levels, perhaps you should throw them into an awesome set piece to let them cut loose at the end of, or very soon after, the opening segment.
          Last edited by Gaius; 11-04-2013, 07:08 PM. Reason: Edited for grammar, not sounding like as much of a moron, etc.


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          • #6
            The best thing you can do is to state outright that this is how the game will begin, and that it's just the setup for something more traditional.
            That and, as Gaius said, making sure the opening ends with blood and thunder.

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            • #7
              Yeah, you can do this if and only if you get buy-in from the rest of your players. You might even want to collaborate with them about what sort of entity enslaved them and how. This kind of game, which is already heavy on dramatic irony thanks to the wibbly-wobbly time progression, can only benefit from strong player buy-in. Indeed, even a single player who isn't on board with the idea can scuttle it without any active sabotage it just by not playing along 100%.


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              • #8
                Hmm... in your shoes, I would avoid the NPC save if it all possible. Have them break their bonds without an NPC involved- hell, you could probably start with campaign with the NPC happening on the burning wreckage of the caravan and using the logical "what the hell just happened here" question to frame the flashback. That way the players know they were in a rough spot and extricated themselves from it, so they can have a bit more fun with the retrospective scenes.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by edgewalker22 View Post
                  Hmm... in your shoes, I would avoid the NPC save if it all possible. Have them break their bonds without an NPC involved- hell, you could probably start with campaign with the NPC happening on the burning wreckage of the caravan and using the logical "what the hell just happened here" question to frame the flashback. That way the players know they were in a rough spot and extricated themselves from it, so they can have a bit more fun with the retrospective scenes.
                  Ok, "save" is maybe not an apropriate term, hence the quotation marks. He's basically supposed to arrive with water and supplies after they already break free. But at that point they will still be weak, hungry and exhausted. Even Solars can't survive for ever in the far Deserts of the South and the journey through border jungles.

                  It's not like the guy is the cavalry that resques them, more of a help from nowhere when they desperetly need it. Enough to make them greateful but not too much so that they don't end up disliking the guy for saving them.
                  Last edited by Arrakiz; 11-05-2013, 09:21 AM.

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                  • #10
                    That's good, because I was actually about to warn you against doing that yesterday. Exalted really doesn't lend itself well to confronting players with Deus Ex Machina like NPCs. Tends to make players want to murder those guys.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Kukla View Post
                      Yeah, you can do this if and only if you get buy-in from the rest of your players. You might even want to collaborate with them about what sort of entity enslaved them and how. This kind of game, which is already heavy on dramatic irony thanks to the wibbly-wobbly time progression, can only benefit from strong player buy-in. Indeed, even a single player who isn't on board with the idea can scuttle it without any active sabotage it just by not playing along 100%.
                      This. You need to consider how players might react. What do you do if, in the flashbacks, a player flatly refuses to back down under any circumstance, throwing himself at his captors like a vicious madman determined to tear out their throats without regard for his own life? There are players who would react like that. In fact, in 2e, at least, there are players who could end up in situations where they must react like that. What happens if one of your players hits Limit Break during your flashback and has a really violent Limit Break? There are a lot of valid Solar archetypes who will, when weakened by the curse and finding slavers attacking them, respond by saying "screw that, I fight to the death."

                      (Players like that can be annoying to deal with sometimes, but come on, Exalted is based on Bronze Age heroic fantasy, and plenty of heroes back then would have been stupidly stubborn like that, too.)

                      Also, what happens if the PCs try to resist the curse? I mean -- if I'm playing a Twilight master of the occult, and a spirit attempts to level a curse at me, I would expect to get a chance to respond to it, resist it or counteract it -- after all, that's what I do! I would be at least mildly annoyed at someone who tells me "you're cursed, no chance to resist, no you can't analyze it to see how it works, somehow none of your magic works, etc." That's not usually the kind of game I want to play!

                      What if some of the other players find a way to deal with it? What about their other abilities? At the start of the mission, before they're cursed, an Eclipse is going to expect to get a chance to use his Socialize abilities to get a sense of whether or not the people they're working with are likely to betray them; a Night caste is going to expect to at least have a chance to avoid capture. If the players get the sense that you're overriding their character concepts in order to railroad them into your plot -- the master of the occult is suddenly powerless against a curse; the master of socialize is suddenly unable to spot duplicity; the master of stealth is suddenly easy to find, the warrior who never surrenders is put in a situation where they're forced to surrender if they want the game to continue -- they're usually, in my experience, going to be pissed.

                      In general, my gut instinct is to say that you shouldn't do this unless your players definitely want it and know it's coming, and understand that it will mostly be a non-interactive cutscene where their usual powers don't apply.

                      And a broader rule, it's dangerous to approach a scene with too rigid of a storyline planned out -- especially in Exalted, but really, in almost any game. Players play tabletop games, generally, because they to tell their story rather than just passively listening to yours; obviously a ST should have a story and a sense of where things are going, but my experience is that if the players feel that nothing their characters do will affect the overarching direction of the story at all because all the important plot points are already established, they're going to be upset.

                      (And this goes double if some of the major plot points aren't to their liking -- which "you get cursed, no saving throw; you get enslaved, no saving throw" can easily be.)
                      Last edited by Aquillion; 11-05-2013, 10:50 AM.

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                      • #12
                        As far as I can tell, the Eclipse is Bob Marley style bard who is more interested in having fun than gathering information and the Night is going to downplay Stealth and Larceny in favour of Athletics and Dodge to emphasize the "agile, fast fighter" archetype and he's gonna pick a lot of Martial Artsy stuff. And the Twilight is the most experienced and smart player I've ever had honour of playing with, so he'll understand.

                        The problem is the Zenith. That combination of the power of personality and resistance to all hardship is a hell to deal with in this scenario. And the player is also new to Exalted and on top of that, relatively unexperienced, even though smart. I'm gonna have to talk with him about that. One of the other characters is his brother though. What I'm hoping for, is that he won't crush the entire mess and just run free on his own because of his brother. We'll see how that works.
                        Last edited by Arrakiz; 11-05-2013, 11:29 AM.

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                        • #13
                          A better way to handle this may be to have them flee the caravan before they are captured, and start with them in the desert alone. I mean if the players all know they are going to be stranded in the desert, what is to stop them all from taking Survival charms to offset their need for a rescue?

                          Why is it important to the story that they are enslaved? Is there a way to get them where you want them without the enslavement?

                          Most players in my experience react very negatively to loss of personal power. It may even be a trigger for some people. I would tread very lightly here.
                          Last edited by LordWyrmsBane; 11-05-2013, 12:10 PM.


                          This one is for all my Exigents...

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by LordWyrmsBane View Post
                            A better way to handle this may be to have them flee the caravan before they are captured, and start with them in the desert alone. I mean if the players all know they are going to be stranded in the desert, what is to stop them all from taking Survival charms to offset their need for a rescue?

                            Why is it important to the story that they are enslaved? Is there a way to get them where you want them without the enslavement?

                            Most players in my experience react very negatively to loss of personal power. It may even be a trigger for some people. I would tread very lightly here.
                            Can I get them where I want them without slavery? Well, yes, but not how I want them to get there.

                            The reason to go through all this is threefold.

                            First, it's a neat idea involving retrospection. Which is already rare for me, I don't generally do retrospections unless the theme of the entire game is for it to be surreal. So naturally, when I have a good idea, I want to embrace it.

                            Secondly, the dramatic irony of introducing a character they will emotionally invest in, who will then be revealed to be the would-be-owner, who would have been their enemy, had the circumstances been slightly different, is too much to pass up on. I'm a sucker for irony.

                            And lastly, remember when I said it wasn't my intention to prove an abstract point? Well... I lied. Sort of.

                            It's not my intention to prove an abstract point about the power of mortals. It is, however, my intention to prove an abstract point that Exalted are very much human.

                            See, Exalted tends to portray heroes in a very particular way- it shows Exalts as those towering figures far beyond and above human problems. Sure, they have a host of their own problems and share past experience with mortals, but most of the things that hamper lesser men, can no longer hold them back. That's the assumption at least.

                            And that's very tricky, because you can't really be considered fully human if you no longer can experience the world the way humans can and no longer suffer through the same problems.

                            Don't get me wrong, I want them to lose their humanity. Gradually, step by step. But in order for this to have any signifance, they have to actually go through the process. Yes, emotional turmoil is important and that's a big part, but first comes the big bullet point in human nature- weakness. Powerlessness. they have to feel it to really feel the sting when it's gone. It's all a part of the plan.
                            Last edited by Arrakiz; 11-05-2013, 05:20 PM.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Arrakiz View Post
                              Powerlessness. they have to feel it to really feel the sting when it's gone. It's all a part of the plan.
                              While I understand where you're coming from, and while I agree that Exalt, incredible though they are, have situation in which problems will catch up to them and suffer terribly for it...

                              I have to warn you about one thing : Finding a situation in which a specific Exalt can be rendered powerless is relatively easy*. Finding a single situation that renders an entire circle of Solars powerless borders on the deus ex machina**, and could strech my suspension of disbelief.

                              Be careful as to how you try to render them powerless. Trying to do it to the whole circle at once might be tricky and force you to do things that would alienate your players if you haven't discussed it in lenght beforehand.

                              *If you know the capacities of that Exalt.
                              **Without including actions from a very powerful spirit or Exalt NPC or equivalent.


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