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Lunar Shapeshifting December 8, 2013

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : RPGs , add a comment

In Exalted, Lunars are meant to be shapeshifters, but it always seems like the system doesn’t quite figure out what to do with that. The Tell kept it from being a perfect disguise, without Charms, but it still feels like a giant collection of Charms thrown onto the character for free, right off the bat. Just for being a starting character Lunar, one can fly, breathe water, generate any number of poisons, see in the dark, use sonar, disguise themselves from most targets, gain immense strength, fit into small places, resist heat or cold or lack of water, gain fangs or claws or horns, etc. And that is just the mundane animal kingdom. No, really, Etc!

Possibly an interesting system to investigate might be one where Lunars cannot shapechange into things which give them superhuman powers or disguise who they are without related Charms/knacks/whatever. Thus, a Lunar might not take on the form of a bird that can fly until she has a power that lets her fly – the learning of that power unlocks the flying capability of shapeshifting.

This could be done in a couple of different ways. You could let Lunars gain shapes of birds, etc, but be unable to actually fly without the required Charm. This would let them gather forms when the opportunity presented itself, and let them use them immediately, without giving the character the superhuman powers of every shape in and out of Creation. In a sense, it would also mimic the Tell situation a bit more. You can take these forms, but you cannot use them to their full ability. However, it might lend itself to some weirdness. Why is that fish drowning? Oh, it must be a Lunar who doesn’t actually have the water-breathing Charm.

Alternately, a Lunar might simple be unable to gain a new form at all if the form has abilities which they have not unlocked via some Charm/knack/whatever. A Lunar who does not have the flying power unlocked might be unable to gain the form of any bird that can fly. This isn’t as simple as it appears, however. Many animals, for example, can do multiple things that are beyond human ability. The Storyteller and players may not even know about some of these at the time when a form is initially approved.

My favorite aspect of the 2nd edition Exalted “knack” system was just that it eliminated the need to repeat the phrase “this Charm cannot be learned by Eclipse or Moonshadow” Caste Exalts. That could just as easily be accomplished by a Keyword, though. A keyword such as “Lunar-Only” or “Natural” or whatever could mean “you cannot get this Charm unless you are a Lunar” and that would eliminate much of what I think was gained by Knacks.

There is one other side effect of Knacks, though, and that is the fact you can give Lunars a number of them separately from their Charm count. This may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your view of it. If you want the possibility of Lunars who are just not as good at shapechanging as other Lunars, and can spend their time learning other Charms, then Knacks somewhat limit this. Sure you can stop learning more of them in the future if you want, but you are stuck spending some of your “starting” powers on them. If you want the possibility of Lunars who intentionally focus on other things Lunars can do, then you maximize this by merging Knacks and Charms into the same power list. If you want Lunars to always have some baseline of shapeshifting that they are required to take, then you possibly maximize this by having a category of shapeshifting powers set aside, such as Knacks does.

From a viewpoint of trying to examine the total Lunar package, though, it might be easier to merge Knacks into Charms. If you can readily see where Lunars get access to flight, while you are writing up other Charms, then you might have an easier time painting the quicksilver image of their power trees. It would also potentially let certain shapeshifting powers be tied to other abilities. For example, possibly before being able to shift into the form of a god, you might need the ability to sense spirits in their dematerialized form. To fully use the form of a god, you might need the ability to dematerialize. Alternately, being able to dematerialize at all might be a Charm which had a god/elemental form Charm as a prerequisite.

Craft Approaches September 4, 2013

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : RPGs , add a comment

Like most of you, I have yet to see the rules for 3rd edition Exalted. I was hoping I would get to playtest them, but so far an opportunity to do so hasn’t materialized. Meanwhile, I have been wondering about them, and trying to guess how they will work. One of the mechanics of the game has been that of crafting. Because it affects the creation of so many things by players and NPCs, and because I have always had one or two crafter types in my gaming groups, I am curious to see how the new rules play.

The Onyx Path schedule says that some aspects of new game are still being rewritten. Realistically, I am potentially wasting my time on a topic which will soon be resolved in some manner which will be relatively immutable for whatever period lies between the launch of 3rd edition and a hypothetical future 4th edition. However, I am still guessing about it, and figured I would share some of those guesses, along with thoughts about their consequences. If none of them are even close to correct, then maybe something here will nonetheless be useful to somebody making house rules adjustments to the game.

Craft as First

There is the chance that the writers could revert to a system mirroring the first edition of Exalted. In those rules, the Craft Ability had to be taken once for each craft which the character meant to perform. Thus you had Craft(weaponsmithing), Craft(carpentry), and so forth. The d20/OGL system does a similar thing with its crafts.

There is a certain sense to this system. The skills one masters when carving a wooden desk are not all applicable to forging a steel blade from raw iron. This aspect appeals to those of us who find it hard to believe that a talented shoemaker is also a talented gem cutter. The system also fits a worldview where different people spend their time producing different goods, such as most of us probably expect in the real world and in a typical imaginary setting that is nonetheless shaped by our ideas of the real world.

The downside of such a system is that there are seemingly endless skills for a player to choose. Game systems are likely to only give a player some number of limited points to apply to such things, and every additional skill in the game is another which the player might not possess. As the number of skills grows, the competency of the characters diminishes.

Craft as Second

Potentially the writers might keep some version of the second edition Exalted rules. In those rules, there were a limited number of Craft skills, lumped together in categories. We had Craft(Wood), Craft(Earth), etc. The core book presented only five of these, but more were added with subsequent publications.

This approach gets past the explosion of skills method, by explicitly limiting them to a set number. If there are only 5 or 12 crafting skills from which to choose, and everything falls under one of those, then the player can be assured that with enough effort she will be able to craft whatever she wants. In the Exalted system, this means that a crafter has to spend more points to be a master of all crafts than a warrior spends on Melee, but at least it can be done.

The downside to this approach seems to be the categorization of the crafts themselves. How exactly DO you lump together every single crafting activity that real and fictional man can do into a small number of skills? Does it seem weird for gem cutting to be Craft(Air) and building an Air Manse to be Craft(Earth)? Do herbal medicines fall under Craft(Water) or Craft(Wood)? Which Craft do I use to make a lightning ballista, or a destiny, or a zombie? In the end the authors didn’t seem satisfied with the answers, and new crafts kept being introduced to the game. Some crafts even muddied the waters by requiring other crafts or even non-Craft skills as prerequisites.

Craft as Prerequisites

On the other hand, maybe they were on to something with that prerequisite train of thought. What if every Craft skill has some prerequisite? Can a swordsmith really craft a good blade with no concept of how to wield one? Could a tailor make beautiful clothing with no sense of fashion? Would a gardener really possess no knowledge of the wild?

You could have each Craft require some related prerequisite. Possibly a craft that lets you make weapons requires you to have Melee. Or maybe there is a Craft(Weapons) Ability which can only be used to manufacture those weapons for which you possess some degree of skill. Imagine that a swordsmith might have Craft(Weapons) 2, Melee 1. A bowyer might have Craft(Weapons) 2, Archery 1. A master weaponsmith might boast Craft(Weapons) 5, Archery 1, Melee 1, Thrown 1.

Presumably the limited number of possible prerequisites would also push you towards a limited number of Craft skills. This would cash in on the strength of a limited number of skills, allowing Exalted to be fairly omni-skilled with some investment. It would also appeal to a sense of believability.

The difficulty for such a system probably lies in the prerequisites themselves. What is the prerequisite for making armor? Does this suggest a new skill? Also, you still have the issues of Second. How many Craft skills should there be? And what falls under each of them? Additionally, where do the prerequisites stop? If it exists, should Craft(Genesis) 5 really require Medicine 5, Occult 5, AND Lore 5? When the second edition system already required Lore to repair magitech, was it not redundant to require Lore to raise your Craft(Magitech)?

Craft as Melee

Another approach I could see being taken is the treatment of the Craft Ability as a singular universally applicable crafting skill. In Exalted, if you have the Melee Ability, then you can use it with virtually any handheld weapon that strikes, slashes, or stabs without leaving your grasp. Previously, the Martial Arts Ability has covered some weapons that would seem to fit the Melee Ability. Regardless, the player of a character with Melee has long expected to pick up any one of an incredible array of weapons and use them with equal skill.

This could be the model for Craft, too. Perhaps a single Craft Ability would be used for any roll involving a character’s crafting skill. Certainly one advantage to this is that it would mirror the way skills are done in the rest of the game. You don’t have to take Melee(sword) to use swords, or Archery(crossbow) to use a crossbow. With this model, you wouldn’t need a special Craft to craft anything. All of it would be packaged up in one neat bow.

For some, this might go too far. Even weaponry is actually divided into a handful of skills: Archery, Thrown, Martial Arts, and Melee. Should the diversity of crafting be less than that of weaponry? Does it make sense that the tailor could just as easily make swords or sailing ships?

Craft as Linguistics

The Linguistics Ability inspires another approach. In short, that skill gives one language per point, although we are basically told that each of these “languages” might really be a massive language group that dominates a huge portion of Creation. Mechanically, the Craft version of this would mean that for each point in the Craft Ability, the character would get another craft. There are a couple of different ways to implement this.

Potentially there are at least as many crafts as there are languages, including every tribal language imaginable. Craft 4 might mean Craft 4(Weaponsmithing, Carpentry, Gardening,Tailor), for example, with the character getting her full rating in each. In such a system, the character could be good at crafting a number of different things, but not everything. However, her rating would apply equally to all of the things she knew how to craft.

Alternately, there could be a limited number of crafts—perhaps 10 in total—which cover every possible endeavor. Craft 4 might be Craft 4(Air, Fire, Necromancy, Magitech), or something of the sort. Again, the character would have 4 Craft dice to apply to any of the sub-skills she chose. By limiting the total number of possible crafts to 10, you would allow a hypothetical Craft 10 character to be skilled with all of them.

Assuming one’s Craft Ability cannot rise beyond a certain point (say Essence 5 limiting you to Craft 5), the disadvantage of this system is that a character still cannot gain even minimal skill in every craft without exceeding the barrier. If the skills are vast in number, this disadvantage is even greater.

Craft as Linguistics plus Dialects

Another variation that might be considered is that presented by the model of Linguistics and dialects. In second edition Exalted, each dialect of a language could be taken as a specialty, and these specialties were only limited in number by the number of dialects that exist. To translate this to crafting, one would take dots in the Craft skill, and could take any number of specialties in actual crafts. Thus one might have have Craft 2(weaponsmithing, carpentry, gardening, gem cutting, cobbler, shipwright), and be able to roll 2 Craft dice for any of those. Presumably one specialty would be included with even a single dot of Craft, as with a “native” tongue and Linguistics. In the previous example, let’s imagine it is weaponsmithing, and the other crafts are bought with specialties. Importantly, though, a character would receive one such specialty for free upon gaining his first dot in Craft.

Such a system should still allow for regular specialization, in order to preserve the dice mechanics of the game. Dreams of the First Age suggested Linguistics specialties for characters, which actually added dice. Thus, this model would allow specialties to get a craft and specialties that grant dice to specific actions. A character might have Craft 2(weaponsmithing, carpentry, shipwright +2), or in another format Craft 2[weaponsmithing, carpentry, shipwright](Shipwright+2).

Further variation is found in deciding how many “dialects” Craft has. If there were just 5, then with 5 specializations a character would be able to do anything. If there were one specialization for every possible craft a character might want, then there is no limit to the XP that must be spent to gain them.

Craft as Occult

In second edition Exalted, characters could gain thaumaturgical powers by way of Occult specialties. Each dot of specialties provided some degree of thaumaturgy, along with some number of rituals. This could translate into some sort of craft system as well.

One simple model might be that a character has one Craft skill but can only use it in ways that are covered by his specialties. Craft(Weaponsmithing+1) might allow one to use his Craft rating for any normal weaponsmithing. Craft(Weaponsmithing+2) might allow exceptional crafts, with mechanical bonuses. Craft(Weaponsmithing+3) might allow the crafting of Artifact weapons.

Alternately, it might be even closer to the Occult model. Perhaps Craft(Weapons+1) gives one the ability to some limited number of various weapons (possibly even some minor magic ones such as talisman weapons), while Craft(Weapons+2) allows for creation a limited number of minor Artifact weapons, and Craft(Weapons+3) allows for creation of a limited number of major Artifact weapons. In each case, the actual Craft dots would be the default number of dice that Craft adds to the action.

Potentially knowing how to make specific items such as a grand goremaul or dire lance would be the equivalent of Occult “rituals” and could be purchased individually or received in limited numbers as part of a specialty’s mastery. Potentially, a Craft 5 master might ONLY possess the Craft Daiklave ritual, for example. It can be difficult to decide how many “rituals” should be included in a single normal specialty dot.

This model is very adjustable, but it also lacks simplicity. Its system could be very specific, with exact requirements for various crafting projects. Particularly, Artifacts might be the product of very specialized craftsmen, which might be fitting. However, the person who attempts to gain generic Craft mastery is probably doomed to failure.

Classis Umbra – The Shadow Navy February 14, 2013

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : RPGs , add a comment

I wrote some new material meant for use with 3rd Edition OGL or equivalent. Check it out at Classis Umbra.

Darklord of Rookhausen August 19, 2012

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : RPGs , 2 comments

Did you ever play in the Rookhausen chat, hosted by Sword & Sorcery, using 3rd edition d20 rules and the Ravenloft setting version published by Arthaus? I designed the original idea of that chat, although it was of course expanded by volunteer DMs and many players. I was kicking around some of the old web pages on my site, trying to give some of them the cleanup they desperately need, when I ran across these old hidden pages, which I had only shared with a select few back then.

Darklord of Rookhausen pages:
Janisar 3.5
Janisar 3.0
Curse of Janisar

This stuff was never official or canon. It was merely material designed for an online setting we hosted at Sword & Sorcery. Nonetheless, I thought some players out there who are Ravenloft fans might be interested.

War Manses February 17, 2011

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : RPGs , add a comment

I added a short article detailing an idea I had for how the War Manses might work in Exalted. The idea is meant to give the Manses a lot of power which does not derive from the N/A power attributed to the Imperial Manse.

Exalted Ideas June 3, 2010

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I haven’t finished them yet, but I posted some stuff about a couple of ideas for Exalted. One is an idea for the Convention on Oversight. Another is a god called Echeneis.

Kingdoms of the Sun August 26, 2009

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : RPGs , 2 comments

I posted some material tonight about the setting where my current Exalted game takes place. The so-called Kingdoms of the Sun lie on the largest isle of the once-lost Indigo Chain. They were claimed from the clutches of Fair Folk lords by the Aurelian Minister nearly two centuries ago. The inner circle of the priesthood hides a lie of desperation – they proclaimed the golden automaton a Chosen of the Unconquered Sun. Now that true Solars have returned, what will happen?

X-alt: Artifact Armor Revamp March 24, 2009

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I posted it in my wiki, but I figured I would just make a note about that fact. If you are an Exalted fan, then check out this in-progress series of alternate ideas for Exalted.

Artifact Armor Revamp

I am posting these to my wiki, rather than my blog, because I see them as in-progress items. Also one of my readers suggested that I take this tact, so I am trying it out.

Game Material: Blog vs Wiki November 21, 2008

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : RPGs , 1 comment so far

I originally set up my Wiki to allow my roleplaying game group to share details of our weekly game sessions in a format that was easily searchable and interlinked. When I added the WordPress blog code to my site, I was initially just experimenting with the code because I was also working with it through my day job on the White Wolf website. Over time I have been conflicted over how to best present game material that is not specific to my group. Part of me wants to post it on my blog. Part of me wants to post it to my wiki. It seems like posting game related articles on my blog gives them greater overall exposure at the time of posting, as they are temporarily given top of page position. However, the searchable and interlinked nature of the wiki seems to suggest that a game fan might have better longterm luck searching through its contents. If there was some way to post material to both places without coming off as repetitive and “repost” oriented, that would be preferable. Anyway, my reason for posting this is to see if folks that read my pages out there in internetland have any thoughts as to which approach is better.

The Element of War June 18, 2008

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : RPGs , 2 comments

(No, this isn’t a political article! It is a discussion of elements of the Exalted role-playing game published by White Wolf.)

The second edition of Exalted merged Brawl and Martial Arts and filled out the combat skills by introducing War to the game’s list of Abilities. For Solar Exalts, the new skill clearly belonged to the Dawn Caste, and this worked neatly as they had lost one favored “Caste Ability” in the process. For Dragon-Blooded character, the decision was less clear, and authors discussed a number of different options. In the end, the War Ability was given to the Earth Aspects. I argued for a different choice (well two different choices, but this article is about my favorite one), and I have decided to present it here for those who like to dabble in home-brewed changes to the system.

Given the hypothetical chance to assign Dragon-Blooded Abilities, I would give War to Fire and Melee to Earth. Each of the five Aspects takes one of the primary combat skills from Exalted, but War naturally underscores the Presence and Socialize skills of the Fire Aspect. From a purely mechanical perspective, having War as your free favored combat ability might seem like drawing the short straw to players who want a more personal fighting skill, but Fire Aspects also have the “secret” sixth combat skill of Dodge. As Athletics also has some combat applications, Fire can best afford to favor the least direct of the combat skills.

Since the very first Exalted book, the Dynasts of the signature Fire-Aspected Houses Sesus and Cathak have been lauded as great generals and military leaders. Indeed, the two Houses boast one third of the total legions of the Realm. Only the Tepet have ever come close to getting the same recognition, but they have become more mercantile since their defeat at the hands of the Bull of the North, and the other Air-Aspected House is stereotypically composed of scholarly types. Finally, the Second Edition signature NPC Dragon-Blooded is a Fire Aspect, and he is best known as a legion officer.

Giving Earth Aspects the Melee Ability instead of War ties their combat skill more closely to their other existing talents. Earth Aspects favor Craft, so one can readily imagine them crafting their own weapons. The imagery of the Earth Aspect includes the mighty hammer or tetsubo. The signature Earth Houses, Mnemon and Ragara, are rich and powerful, but they are not known as legendary tactical leaders. The Ragara are merchants and bankers, while Mnemon seems determined to weld her House into an unstoppable political force bent to her iron will. Signature characters of Earth Aspect are rarely presented as being especially skilled in the arts of military strategy when compared to their fellow Dragon-Blooded.

Check out my Wiki for more RPG discussions.