View Full Version : (Exalted) Experiences from a newbie GM

2009-06-23, 09:56 AM
Hello there.

I've completed me first adventure as a GM for an Exalted adventure, and seeing as I've recieved a lot of help from this forum to understand the rules, I thought I'd post a short recap of how it went down. Best case, it can help some other new GM, and in any case I'd like to write it down somewhere.

We were playing the short introductory adventure Return to the Tomb of Five Corners, a .pdf file available on White Wolf's homepage featuring a basic set of rules, 4 premade characters and a first adventure. I had gathered 4 friends or friends of friends, the group thusly consisting of me, 21 years old, my friends of 23 and 22 and the two peripheral aquaintances of 16 and 17.

We were aiming to complete the adventure during a period of 10 days, due to one of us leaving to visit his family in Thailand by then and we didn't really want to just "remove" a character from the game due to his player leaving.

Before the adventure began, I had handed out copies of the -pdf file for the players to read. The character choosing process had been... less than democratic, but I believe most everyone was pleased with their choice. Thus, Saturday 6th of June, we began.

Session 1
We gathered in my friend's apartment at 16.00. Or, well, that's when we said we'd gather. Luckily, all of the players lived in the same neighbourhood (only I lived at a significant distance) so a few phonecalls helped, and when their collective butts had been kicked into gear, we were on the ball at 16.30.

The game started, and the players stood on a hill. They had recieved a note from their lost 5th member, who had told them to come to this place. They sent the sneaky spy archer character out to scout, and she was attacked by a couple of zombies. That fight was intended to introduce the battle system, but she slew one outright, and then I managed to botch the first attack roll I ever made. Good going there. The zombie messed up so bad he lost his arms and legs, and lay prone, free for the archer to finish off. They didn't learn much about defending, but at least the game started off at a cool note.

They progressed into a tomb, an ancient relic of the First Age. There, they met the second battle: 12 robbers. If the first battle had been one where one shot effectively killed two opponents, that was NOT the case here. The game slowed to a crawl, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the turn keeping system. I mean... sure, the concept of ticks allows for a more "realistic" battle dynamic, where the turn sequence isn't as set as in a regular DnD game, but try to keep track of 12 NPCs and 4 player characters at once. It's just... no. After having used 2 hours on three rounds, I decided that all robbers attacked on the same tick. It was the only realistic way, and, having read the adventure, I knew there was a place ahead where they would encounter FORTY enemies at once. Oh well, I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.

Second reason the game went slow, I noticed that my players hadn't exactly been studious. In fact, many of them, in particular the older ones, seemed to read their character sheet for the first time then and there. They did say they had read it, and I suppose they did, or they wouldn't have known the rules as well as they did, but when one (the OLDEST one) asks "So what are motes anyway?" it's easy to understand the crippling pace. I had to explain what several charms did, and since we really had no "backup" characters, I often tried suggest the usage of defensive charms, which they seemed to routinely forget about. Add the fact that I had fogotten to add the DV penalties for them into the fight, and I wonder what had happened if I had remembered that rule.

They brought the robbers down, one by one, and at the end, there were a couple left, begging for their life in terror. It's interesting to note that, again the oldest player present, was the one most in favour of mercilessly slaughtering them, even if he played the supposedly pious, empathical monk character. Go figure.

By the time we had passed the 12 robbers, 4 hours had passed, it was 20.00 and people had to make their way home. We concluded and called it a day, resolving to meet again tomorrow, at the same time.

Session 2
Sunday, 16.00, I knock on the door to my firends apartment. No one opens. I knock again, harder, still no reply. I call him. He is... on a job interweiv. He will be home... in two hours. I ask him if he didn't know this yesterday, but it seems he forgot about it until this morning. Sighing, I make my way to the other guy I knew in the area. Work of course goes before gaming, but he COULD have said it, so that I didn't have to drag my butt there 2 hours in advance.

Well, at 18.00 we are gathered. Things go smoother this time. People are more familiar with their characters, and the adventure takes more dramatic turns as well. The tomb turns out to, rather than containing actual tombs, it contains gates to different parts of the world, where the First Age incarnations of the four PCs are buried. There is no sign of the allegded 5th circlemember, so they decide to open the tombs and look for her, while alos gathering the four keys that allow them to open her own tomb, in case whe wouldn't be there.

Since we started late, we only have time to clear one. This one had a rather tough fight in it, the first one that could really be called a challenge. The mummified remains of the knight-warrior character meet them by beating said PC within an inch of his life. However, the fight did go better; people remembered their charms, and there were some stunts pulled off as well. The guy I talked about earlier, the oldest player, actually managed to grasp the stunt concept the best: he came up with awesome combos, the best one of which were when he threw his blade against the mummy, sticking it in his neck, and then following up with a devastating kick ON THE BLADE, lodging it deep into his chest. Unfortunately, he failed all his damage rolls there, so he didn't do any damage. We didn't calm down from laughing for three minutes.

The session ended with the warrior unconscious, tended to by the witch-shaman type character. We decided to meet again next Saturday, since everyone had something to do every other day in week. Since one of us was leaving on Sunday, we were going to try to get the rest done on Saturday.

Session 3
The next Saturday came, and people were actually there for a change. Things went similarly smooth, and we cleared one tomb after the other. Some were easier than others, but unfortunately, this group seemed to be reluctant by the notion of investigative thinking. 2 people were basically:

Player: I hit it.
Me: It doesn't work.
Player: Well, I'm stumped.

The only one who really grasped that some things were not always obvious were the archer (played, incidentally, by one of the younger people).

One grave had, as I said, an encounter featuring 40 opponents. I didn't much feel like playing that out, really, so I was thankful when the AoE spell of the witch-shaman character's wiped them all out at once. Unfortunately, though, the monk had rushed ahead and was close to being hit as well, but he stunted out of it by sticking his staff into the ground and climbing up it, thereby getting above the area of effect. He might not be the smartest guy, but he DOES have creative thinking.

Unfortunately, one of us had to go home and eat, while we other ordered pizza. It took longer for him to return then he had expected, and by that time we were all tired, and still had the last tomb, the boss fight, left to do. At that point, we collectively said "f*ck it", I told them what they'd had encountered and we called the adventure cleared.


# Pre-rolled characters. It didn't work well. People don't get into the personalities, and the character might have some power or feature that the player never even realises. I noticed that very VERY little time was actually ever spent in character. I blame this a little on the overall composition of the group, they are certainly no RPers by nature, but I believe that it could have been much better if there had been some way to fix personal characters you could build yourself.

# The turn-keeping system is a bitch.

# This was the first time playing Exalted for any of us, me included. Many of us didn't grasp the rules, and several modifiers and mechanics, both beneficial and penalizing, were routinely forgotten by all of us. All of us should probably have read the rules better, but all in all... I think it went well, considering.

# Describing environments, events and spell effects in an interesting, fluid and spectactular manner is a lot harder than one can think. The overall lack of IC-ness might have contributed, but I found myself often searching for words and often going "um, you know, it's like a, uh..." which kills a lot of immersion. I actually find MSN and other online-based forms of RPGs to be better in this respect, since you are given a lot more time to construct your emotes and descriptions, and can revise them and review them before hitting Enter.

# The sticky thread here on this forum, where some basic GMing tricks are tought, really helped my out., I heartily recommend it to any new GM.

# The TURN-KEEPING system is a BITCH!!!

Closing thought:
I'd play this game again. I definately would. But I feel I'd have to be a player before I became a GM again. In the end, all of us were complete newbies, and I'm happy it turned out as well as it did.

2009-06-23, 10:22 AM
Sounds like a pretty successful first venture, especially considering that none of you had played the game before. If I may, I'd like to offer a few tips (I will, whether I may or not, but you don't actually have to read them).

I'll reinforce the choice of using premade characters. Even though your players didn't get totally into them, it's the only sensible choice when you're short on time and unfamiliar with the system. Exalted character creation can be complicated and time-consuming, especially if you don't know what you're doing. It can also lead to very weak characters (this is from experience)... characters with no dots in defensive stats, and no armor, for example.

However, when using premade characters, I tend to just stat them and leave everything else, (name, personality, background, anima banner, etc.) up to the players. Give them five or ten minutes to look over the sheet (include a write-up of what stats mean, and what charms do), and then put them in the hotseat: ask them questions about their characters to which "I don't know" is not an acceptable answer... Where were you when you Exalted? Who is your closest friend in the world? What's your favorite color? Anything to make them think about their character's personality.

Incidentally, the hotseat works for any game, whether the characters are premade or not. I never start a game without it.

Good call putting all the bandits on a single tick. The tick system takes some getting used to, but it helps to have an official Exalted tick counter (or, failing that, a piece of paper divided into six sections), so you can keep track of who goes when.

No worries about not knowing the mechanics. It takes time to learn, and your players were inexperienced too, so you know they weren't annoyed, and they weren't taking advantage of your ignorance. Read the Drama section of the book a few times over. Take note of important mechanics and write them down, or at least put a few post-its at the pages you'll want to be able to find quickly.

Similarly, read the adventure thoroughly a couple of times before you start to run it, and prepare some ideas for how you're going to make your epic descriptions. This works somewhat for stunts (have a few premade stunts in your head that you can pull out when you need a baddie to do something awesome), but it works very well for establishing scenery and tone. It can sometimes feel a little silly, but flavor text is usually worth it.

All in all, I think you did a great job, and I hope you enjoy your future Exalted adventures.

2009-06-23, 10:26 AM
It helps to set up some test combats before running the game, but that advice is a bit late.

If you wanted to keep running Exalted, that might still be a good plan. Just have players pit characters against each other or take on large groups, just to get used to combat - when you do what, which charms are best, stunting, etc.

Other than that, it does get easier over time. Your first few sessions will be the hardest, no matter what.

2009-06-23, 10:56 AM
My friends and I never switched to Second Ed precisely because of the tick system. It seemed unwieldy and didn't suit our play style. I have heard that if you get used to the tick system, it can speed combat, but this was apparently not your experience.

If you like the Exalted world and the general mechanics, you might explore and see if you can find a copy of the 1st Ed book and the 1st Ed Player's Handbook with the Power Combat rules. It uses a simpler initiative system. You can probably other mix and match mechanics as you please. I don't know how much work you want to put into this however.

Pre-made characters can be restrictive but as another poster said, they are the best bet when trying to go quickly.

But part of the joy for Exalted for me was in fact character creation... the world's fluff and the system seemed to inspire a lot of character concept ideas for me, so if you try again, definitely go for characters you make yourself--I'm sure it will be easier to feel passionate about them.

2009-06-23, 10:57 AM
# The TURN-KEEPING system is a BITCH!!!

I haven't run a second-edition Exalted game yet (I have the books and the inclination, though), but I was contemplating a way of running the tick system:

-Have each individual keep track of how many ticks they have until their next action (such as, say, with a D10). Each tick, you tell everyone to decrease their count (now you only need to keep track of the NPCs), and you ask who's hit zero this tick. The people who hit zero get to do stuff.

2009-06-23, 11:01 AM
-Have each individual keep track of how many ticks they have until their next action (such as, say, with a D10). Each tick, you tell everyone to decrease their count (now you only need to keep track of the NPCs), and you ask who's hit zero this tick. The people who hit zero get to do stuff.

I've played in games that use d6s for this (as no action is longer than six ticks). It worked generally ok, except people always forgot whether they were supposed to change their die before or after their action, and whether they go when they hit one or zero. Or maybe they pretended to forget so they could go sooner. I was never sure.

2009-06-23, 11:37 AM
There are basically two ways to manage the tick system in Exalted:

Either you have a paper with everyone's next tick on it, and add them each time they act, or you use a battlewheel (http://download.white-wolf.com/download/download.php?file_id=834).

The big advantage of the battlewheel is that everyone can see who's moving next, and no one gets left behind. Obviously, it requires a table and whatnot, but since most people are used to having actual battle mats, it's not generally too much work. Every time someone goes, you just slide them a number of places forwards equal to their Speed, and after each tick you slide the "START" wheel ahead one tick.

(That said, having bad guy mooks go in groups is generally your best bet, especially once things start getting chaotic.)

2009-06-23, 08:51 PM
I don't know if Exalted 1e is necessarily any faster. At this stage you're still learning how to run combat, so it's going to be slow no matter what.

The battle wheel is supposed to be a really big help, as it takes a lot of pressure off of everyone for tracking who's going when.

2009-06-25, 07:28 AM
Thank you for your comments :)

2009-06-25, 12:20 PM
I only played exalted once, at a convention. One of the other players was the sun caste, and he took about half an hour of rolling dice to behead and dismember an entire roomful of mooks. My character was a crafting/sword making type... i had him pull a varsuvious and and fall down on the floor, pretending to be an NPC. There was plenty of blood around for the disguise.

2009-06-25, 03:50 PM
I've played in games that use d6s for this (as no action is longer than six ticks). It worked generally ok, except people always forgot whether they were supposed to change their die before or after their action, and whether they go when they hit one or zero. Or maybe they pretended to forget so they could go sooner. I was never sure.

Certain simple charms are 7 ticks long. Battle Fury Focus, for instance.

Also, the way I deal with the Tick system is with a circle divided into seven sections, and each character chooses a miniature representing their character and puts it on the tick they act on, and we resolve clockwise. White Wolf has a couple products that include fancy-looking versions of this battle wheel, but really they don't work any better than a piece of paper. I find this more intuitive than scrolling dice down, because it's a simple visual to check whose turn it is and whose turn it will be within the next few ticks, wheras with dice you'd have to inquire, "When is X character going to act next?"

Even with this system, I frequently arrange enemies by groups in the initiative order.