Tuesday, April 22, 2014

E is for Exalted

A series on games I wish I had played more of.

In 2001, a friend of mine bought a copy of the Exalted role-playing game by White Wolf Publishing, and was incredibly enthusiastic about trying it.

This was a bit of a departure from our usual fare - to start with, we were pretty deeply invested in Dungeons & Dragons of various flavours, and although we had played a number of other games (Rifts, TMNT, Battletech, Call of Cthulu (the old Chaosium version), ICE's MERP, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Gamma World, Amber, Battletech, and even a homebrew) we always drifted back to the old standard.

To make the sell even more difficult, some of us were - ah - unenthusiastic about gaming in the World of Darkness. We just found the whole angst-ridden vampire trope Anne Rice started left us with a bit of a bad taste in our mouths. [1]

However, our friend's enthusiasm was infectious, and once we'd had a chance to read through some of the background material and the mechanics we agreed to give it a shot because, frankly, we were finding it as interesting as he did by that point.

The WW Storytelling System mechanics were unfamiliar to us, so character creation was a bit tricky, and it also took a bit of a mental stretch to wrap ourselves around the basic concept: that the player characters are all chosen and imbued with power by various deities, thus becoming demigods - thus the name Exalted.  The scope for high-powered play (with plenty of role-playing and political intrigue) seemed wide, and things started to get interesting when we started role-playing through bits of character background. [2]

I don't recall what happened, but sadly our intentions got derailed soon after the first real session, and as intriguing as the game seemed we never tried again.

I suspect this is a game that would demand a fair bit of my time, unfortunately, so I doubt I will ever really get another chance - something I regret.

1. An example of play:
Player: "I ponder despondently the fate of my long-ago bartered human soul."
GM: "OK, roll...uh-oh - Your mournful yet classically beautiful demeanor has attracted the attention of a self-destructed goth teen who is now stalking you and dangerously close to revealing your true identity."
Player: "I evade!"
GM: "Ethical dilemma! You have discovered she is writing suicide-themed poetry inspired by your mysterious persona! Roll to resist befriending her and offering her dark immortality."
Player: "Arg! I failed!"

OK, I admit - the game doesn't really go like this and in fact has both an interesting mechanical foundation and an intriguing setting. Our scepticism was founded more on a reaction to the increasingly annoying trope that was displacing more interesting vampire variants in popular media than on the gaming community's interpretations, most of which were actually quite well thought out. Added to this: one of the ubiquitous "asshole but we tolerate him because he's actually an OK guy most of the time" sort of hangers on was so incredibly enthusiastic about WW's Werewolf game that it was very nearly a kneejerk reaction to be sceptical.

2. Not required by the game, but we did it both so we could practice using the mechanics (and tweak our characters prior to play as we learned what worked and what didn't) and so that our characters would enter play as fully developed as possible, since one aspect of the Storytelling System is that characters typically don't progress much in comparison to other games - they enter play fully formed and progress relatively slowly.

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