Friday, November 26, 2010

Infrequent monthly update

I've not really had time to concentrate on my hobby for, ooo, about a year now, and this blog has suffered. I apologise to my legion of followers (Alex, maybe Andy. Who knows who else).

I have been randomly becoming incredibly interested in specific games of late, Exalted being the most recent.
I have a love/hate thing going on with Exalted. I love the setting, I love a number of the game concepts, I hate the rules.
Unfortunately, certain aspects of the rules are entwined with the setting.

Earlier this week I started flicking through the main rules again, vowing to keep an open mind. I told myself that the basic rules structure was solid, and the weirdness came in as an exception stemming from the irregular use of charms (magic powers).
Yes and no.

Let's quickly go over some background. I own Exalted 2nd Edition. Back in 2005/6 I had to reduce the amount of crap I own, and decided that one way was to rationalise down my gaming books. I owned about 15 Exalted 1st Ed books, most of which I had never used. I also noted that the books were being superseded in the current edition - The first Sorcery book, the Book of Three Circles, was replaced by the Sorcerer and Savant book, which clearly stated that the spells and rules presented in Three Circles were broken, and should be replaced with the ones being presented within.
The Exalted Players Guide featured a chapter which basically said "The combat rules and weapon stats used in every book before this one, including the core rules, are broken. Use these rules instead".
Baring this in mind, I ditched all my 1st Ed books and committed to the 2nd Ed, which would incorporate all this errata and would clearly work.

2nd Edition rolled around, and mechanically it is a massive departure.
The first alarm bells started ringing when the first paragraph of the combat rules stated that trying to hit somebody was the most complicated thing you could do in Exalted.
I had my misgivings about 1st Ed combat, where we regularly ran out of dice during attack rolls. They were excellent compared to 2nd Ed combat rules.
Combat now has nine stages of resolution, including three stages of dice rolling to determine if you've actually damaged somebody.
The combat order abandons the traditional turn based concept made popular by every other game in existence and instead uses a varying speed action system - Combat takes place second by second, and different actions take different amounts of time, and different weapons strike with different speeds. A knife may be used to attack every three seconds, whilst a great axe may be used every six seconds. Weapons with a quick Rate of attack inflict less damage, whilst those with a slow Rate of attack inflict more damage. There are also accuracy and defence dice adds.
I find the Rate of attack system counter intuitive, as everywhere else in the game a big number equals a good stat, whilst a low Rate number is a good stat. Mental gears clashing.
It also means that you have to keep thinking about how long an action takes. I like the simplicity of knowing that an action always takes a turn, be that 3, 4 or 6 seconds (depending on games - White Wolf, Warhammer or D&D, I think). I don't like having to think 'This knife attack takes 3 seconds, whilst this move action takes 4 seconds and this bow attack takes 4 seconds and this tend wound action takes 5 seconds.'

The game also includes the concept of Social Combat, which applies combat rules to courtly debate and intrigue.
Why? What value does it add, other than making the social charms offensive? Well, it does allow munchkins to approach a roleplay situation as though it were a tactical assault, without having to worry about actual characterisation. That could be seen as as value add, although not by me.

I also have a massive problem with the editing and layout of the book. It's really badly written, falling back on formula at every step.
One of the main criticisms raised about writing for D&D by an acquaintance who wrote some d20 Judge Dredd material was having to come up with a new and interesting name for every feat, ability, spell and power. Exalted has a similar issue, and they have a set naming convention, which appears to be to unimaginatively add the words Prana, Stance, Mantra, Method, Meditation or Technique to the end of a power.
Charms are presented as trees and mapped out using flow chart boxes and arrows. 1st Edition actually mapped them out as trees. 2nd Edition, no doubt to conserve space, just presents a block of boxes with the minimal amount of space between them, and arrows crammed in at angles. It's poor visual management, it's poor documentation.

The developer tellingly didn't use the normal playtest methodology employed by other writers and developers, which is to circulate the game around established and differing groups and solicit feedback. Instead he just used his mates.
Which probably explains why there's so much errata being produced for 2nd Ed.

Now, there is a lot I love about Exalted, most of which is the setting. I like the way they've fused classical mythology with Wuxia/Manga and the established old World of Darkness mythology.
I like the defined world - geographically, politically, theologically etc.
I like the way that the setting is so open, you can legitimately play a wide range of games, from classic dungeon crawl to courtly intrigue to high fantasy sword and sorcery to insane martial arts to low fantasy grit to world exploration to epic world conquest to reality bending magical effects to simple quests.

One day i'll try applying the setting to a better system, or find somebody who has.