On being a terrible roleplayer. [Exalted semi-AP]

edited February 2010 in Play Advice
One fine day (about this time last week) my friend, the resemblance of Jove himself, strolls up and promptly asks weather I'd like to play in his Exalted campaign.

By the good grace of a merciful heaven I was indoctrinated into the world of RPG during the indie boom and had never played such hilariously out-moded relics from the ancient past when grognards ruled the earth; I'm a latter-day gamer. In fact, I had never done much actual playing of games at all, really; I've always been the GM to my slightly mollycoddled play-group.

So, I think to myself, why not? Everyone talks about Exalted like resplendent light shines from its multiform backside so I might as well step into the booth and get a tan, right? There was a faint sucking noise as I removed my horned GM's helm and ensconced myself in one of the less-comfortable chairs down (I admit a shudder) the side of the table. I've seen this done before, what could go amiss?

Now, I wasn't playing with my usual group, but a collection of hard-core Exalted veterans who, with avuncular twinkles in their eyes, told me they'd explain everything as it came up. Cool, I thought, it'll be easy. I was helped through character creation and, without much preamble, we began.

I was awful!
The other players were a mix of bombastic character-actors and stoic planners, both working in well-oiled tandem to drive the narrative forward. My input was stunted, misinformed or simply overshadowed by something we all found more entertaining.
My character concept was confused (some kind of Zhuge Liang archer/sorcerer sage-figure) and seemed to be at odds with the beastmen and automaton powerhouses that seemed to be effective and assertive in all situations. My strengths (intelligence/lore checks) became a useful way for the GM to pass us all information, but gave me little to do. That's not to say the GM was a bad GM; I had attempted to relay the information in-character but I confused my terms, tried to invent details and generally blundered trying to make my character sound omniscient. In the end I was taken pity on and the group just listened to the GM.

I stumbled over the rules, which was accepted in good humor by the group who patiently pointed out my errors, assumptions and overlookings, but I felt bad taking up so much time and disrupting the pace of play. To my shame I found myself unable to give due attention to all the stats of my character, weapons, armour, summons etc; lists of numbers baffled and annoyed me at turns. I didn't throw a tantrum and tried to focus the best I could, but when a Crab-lunar is using a warehouse door as a riot shield and pirouetting into a band of Coralian slavers I really couldn't bring myself to keep my head in the rule-book.

All my days of GMing hadn't prepared me for stunting. Ah! Such a travesty, dear reader! I had heard of it previously, of course, and had agreed to play partly on how awesome it sounded: Cool descriptions get dice. Easy. Simple. Fun. Ha! My first stunt was cool, to be fair, but afterward I just stalled! I was struck by the lame tepidity of my own (usually good) improvisational abilities! I relegated myself to the rear, shooting arrows with as much wit and panache as a corpse. I ended up, as we were fighting polarbear wind-elementals, making terrible puns ("He bearly felt it." "I've had enough of your bearfaced cheek." &c.) which cracked grins but didn't make up for my sense of failure: I'd become what I was always irritated by, the joke-player.

Baffled, lame, boorish. I'm a terrible player. It's only now, with a lovecraftian sense of terrible enlightenment, that I wonder if I'm also a horrific GM too, but have only just realised the extent of my failings.


So, dear reader, advise me. Apart from investing time in the rules, what maketh the righteous player?

Comments

  • First of all, even Joe DiMaggio didn't get a hit EVERY time at bat.

    Second of all, stunting doesn't require you to be brilliant, it just requires you to say something about the environment. Thinking you have to be brilliant is a common error when playing Exalted.

    Third of all, giving the noob the character whose shtick is knowing things is the worst and meanest kind of setup. Give the noob the character from the sticks who just Exalted and whose job it is to say "Gosh Superman, what's THAT?!"

    Finally, hanging back in a new group and not doing a whole lot is absolutely normal. Did you talk to others in the group afterwards about improving your play?
  • Practice. Practicepracticepractice. Keep playing, and remember the parts of the game you have trouble with. With stunting, try to envision every recent Wuxia movie when playing: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hero; House of Flying. Those movies and the movies like them are ripe for borrowing stunts. Also, remember that a 2-die stunt just requires some basic flowery description and a noting of the environment.

    Also, with Exalted, depending on where the game is taking place, the setting can be pretty set. You should talk to your Storyteller about how much freedom he's comfortable with in the players adding details to the scene or the world. That way, you know how much you're allowed to freeform when relating the plot and setting points the ST gives you.

    Remember that the rules are rough, and that you shouldn't ever worry about anything else the other players are using. Because the Charm system is exception-based, the Charms you'll be using won't act anything like the Charms your compatriots will be using, so don't bother trying to find out. The game is a beautiful mess in that regard. I'm guessing that you have no trouble with the basics, right? "Roll Attribute + Ability + Specialties, 7+ are success, 10s are two (except for damage)." Easy. Of course, that becomes harder when factoring in the 10 steps for determining attack rolls, but even those aren't too difficult. Fully one-half the time, you won't need steps 4, 6, and 9. And once you get into the flow of how it works, steps 1, 2, 3, and 5 will happen all at once. Something like, "Okay, I'm attacking you, spending 3 motes for There Is No Wind. You're using Dodge DV? Ok, that's 5? Excellent. I'm rolling Dex+Archery+Specialty, which is 10 dice. *clatter clatter* I've got... *counts* 6 successes! I used that Charm, so no external penalties. I have one carry-over success after DV is subtracted. Base damage is Str + 2L + one success, so 6L. You've soak of 4? 2L. *clatter clatter* One success! Nothing else to apply, so you take 1L!" For further help on the Combat stuff, I suggest you read through the Exalted 201 Combat Tutorial on the Official Wiki. It's pretty much brilliant.

    Oh shit, of course. You need to use a good character sheet. The given character sheet in the back of the book is so bad, I still don't understand why White Wolf hates their players so much. Lots of character sheets are on the Official Wiki, but to help cull the list, I highly suggest the Voidstate's four-page v2.4 sheet, and Democritus's Battlewheel, with a note that Bazzalisk's character sheet is also very excellent. The reason I suggest Voidstate's sheet so much is because his allows for denoting everything about the character down to the last number. External penalties will change all the time, which can be taken care of with a d10 on your sheet, but all the other numbers stay fixed over the course of a given session, so there is absolutely no need to constantly recalculate, because it will take forever if you do.

    NOTE: I don't know how your group is playing, and it doesn't much matter, but I swear to you that using a Battlewheel makes timing in combat make so much more sense! Seriously. Like the clouds clearing, the light of understanding will unfold and cast everything in a shiny glow.

    Now that I've vomited my knowledge about the game onto you, I shall take my leave. Just remember that the internet is stupid, and don't listen to anyone when they say the mechanics are broken. Those people are playing on a level of system-mastery that is equivalent to chess masters talking about handicap. It's irrelevant when playing normally. I promise.

    Noah
  • Posted By: JDCorleyFirst of all, even Joe DiMaggio didn't get a hit EVERY time at bat.

    Second of all, stunting doesn't require you to be brilliant, it just requires you to say something about the environment. Thinking you have to be brilliant is a common error when playing Exalted.

    Third of all, giving the noob the character whose shtick is knowing things is the worst and meanest kind of setup. Give the noob the character from the sticks who just Exalted and whose job it is to say "Gosh Superman, what's THAT?!"

    Finally, hanging back in a new group and not doing a whole lot is absolutely normal. Did you talk to others in the group afterwards about improving your play?
    Scooped, and probably much more helpful. :-P

    Noah
  • Posted By: JDCorley...giving the noob the character whose shtick is knowing things is the worst and meanest kind of setup.
    I chose that strength. Admittedly it was to fill a perceived niche, but I can't say it was meanness on the part of my friend. Masochism, perhaps?
    Posted By: JDCorleyFinally, hanging back in a new group and not doing a whole lot is absolutely normal. Did you talk to others in the group afterwards about improving your play?
    I'm prideful; I find it difficult in the extreme to play second-fiddle and worse yet to admit deficiency. Having cajoled and lambasted at turns almost all of my fellow players at the table through 3:16 or Dogs or whatever, to then hold up my hands and admit to them I need help in turn doesn't feel like a step I can take. Hence why I'm here, bemoaning my hard-knocks on Ol' Faceless.
    In a more positive light, I've been acting teacher - so the transition back to the student is an awkward one.

    I want to step up to the plate and be brilliant, because my fellows are being brilliant.
  • Posted By: PotemkinI chose that strength. Admittedly it was to fill a perceived niche, but I can't say it was meanness on the part of my friend. Masochism, perhaps?
    Just a bad move. Put your character aside and play "Gosh, Superman" for a while, then when you get the hang of the setting, come back in with your super smart guy who knows everything.
  • Posted By: NoahTheDukeNow that I've vomited my knowledge about the game onto you...
    Cheers, Noah. Urh, the it depresses me how useful the lengthy 4-page character-sheet would be. I don't want to say I don't like Exalted's mechanics quite yet, but having to learn all this isn't thrilling me. Perhaps I'm being wrongminded.
    Posted By: JDCorleyPut your character aside and play "Gosh, Superman" for a while, then when you get the hang of the setting, come back in with your super smart guy who knows everything.
    Not to make me sound draconian, but I'd be annoyed at a player for rubbishing a new character just because they have teething troubles. "Try harder" would be my advice to such a soul.
  • edited February 2010
    But it's not teething troubles. You have a character that knows everything and you're in a group that values being "right" about the setting, and you don't know everything and you really don't want to spend a lot of time and money studying Exalted books (I take it?) Those three things make it insurmountable.

    If they don't really have a problem with your play, then just muddle through, but I'm betting they'd rather have a sage that was a real sage.
  • I once had a new player join my game. I stated in the setting that there was an elf 973 years old. Of course the player knew nothing, so his character became a caricature of a wizened old man.
  • As an addition, having played exalted a bit myself, and read it extensively, i can also add that the environment could be part of the problem, as Exalted has the terrible flaw of being a real power-player beacon, mostly right withc characters such as the Lunars and Automatons you mentioned... (the Solars, namely the standard characters and, by setting, the strongest ones, have quite been outgunned by the power of these late entries... but i still prefer them, or, maybe, the Sidereals, which are difficult to play, but can be rewarding)...

    I don't really think that a game in which you are a little off-balance will stop the fun, if you try and ride with it for some time...

    in the end, i love exalted because, as far as epics go,it really fully satisfies me aestethically. Maybe, you found yourself stuck because you directed your efforts in the wrong direction... Don't worry to be smart, go with the flow. the game wants to be intense and larger than life, and to be powerfully cool, somewhere between action fantasy anime, epic tales, and poetic wuxia. Furthermore, i think it does not adapt well to a strong player contribution in setting and descriptions, as the setting is quite detailed itself... (at least, not when it's playeb "traditionally", such as, if i get things correctly, here). Don't try to go for the brilliant and smart contribution to the whole world: play out the part of myth that spins around your character, push it to be as over-the-top and intense you can, and to interact with the other characters... instead of building the story and the world, try to add to the story (which will probably, if i guess correctly, be mostly managed by the GM) through the inspiring actions of your character...
  • You know, it doesn't really sound like you were a terrible player, Mike.

    It does sound like you got a lot of criticism, though.

    My guess is you just play a different way than that Exalted group does. I've seen it go both ways.
  • "Becoming the joke player" is what happened when I tried to play D&D 3.0. I brought a non-combat character to a campaign that was almost exclusively combat and sightseeing, but I figured, "Okay, as long as this guy is unflappable, even in bad situations, he'll still fit my conception and I'll have fun."

    Then we got into the non-combat bits, and if I stopped to "Hmm" and think in the middle of my first-person speech to the vizier, the GM was like "The vizier goes 'Aha! You seem to not have your story straight, LIAR!' and locks you up."

    So I went with a amusingly incompetent character because it was established I was bumbling and I sort of had to go along with it.

    Yeah, that group didn't really work out for me. My point being, they have a drastically different playstyle than you're used to; there's nothing wrong with yours. You might want to learn a different style to adapt to enjoyable play with that group, or you might not, but both should be considered, right?

    Also, "I sucked and it was all my fault" is literally the most common post made by people who just started playing Exalted. And from what RPG.net flamewars about Exalted setting and system indicate to me is that every individual group sort of cobbles their own version of Exalted together from the giant bag of splatbooks, so even if you *did* know the game backwards and forwards when you joined, it might not have helped terribly much.
  • edited March 2010
    Posted By: NoahTheDuke...don't listen to anyone when they say the mechanics are broken. Those people are playing on a level of system-mastery that is equivalent to chess masters talking about handicap. It's irrelevant when playing normally. I promise.
    I've played a lot of Exalted. The argument I see (and, on occasion, make) isn't that Exalted mechanics are broken (which is mostly not true). The argument is that Exalted mechanics are bad (which, for the most part, is true). In particular, a lot of the mechanics are included to do a particular thing, but don't actually do that thing at all (say, Virtues, for example). It is true, though, that the game runs a bit better if you focus on the more "bread and butter" stuff of stunting (which is easily the best thing about Exalted, though that isn't saying a whole lot) and action. (In other words, use the book as little as possible, and the surroundings and circumstances as much as possible.)

    One note on stunting: yes it gives you dice and motes and such but, more importantly, stunts do two other things as well (though this is horribly explained in the books, so may depend on how good the GM is). 1) They let you bend rules. (Movement rules say you can't get to that spot? Stunt. Problem solved.) 2) They give you a small amount of narrative control. For example, your character is on a balcony at a dinner party, and you say something like "I slide down the silk banner embroidered with the crest of the family of the house, landing on the guy before he can get away". But, said banner has never actually been mentioned before. Your stunt just added it to the set. Maybe later that banner becomes more important, or a tool for other players to riff on for their own stunts etc. (Note that this is also a litmus test for the GM; a bad one will kibosh this kind of thing, while a good one will realize that this is exactly what makes Exalted fun.)

    Three things help with stunting: 1) Think about some way you can use the environment in your action. 2) Think about what Jackie Chan would do. 3) Think "what is the coolest possible thing that could happen right now" (note, not "the coolest possible thing I could do", but the coolest possible thing that could happen.)

    Lastly, if you get really into this game (seems unlikely, but maybe), sounds like you might have more fun playing a sidereal. This is much harder than playing most other types of characters in Exalted, but sidereals are set up to have a number of sort of weird, generic, "tool kit" powers that sometimes don't seem like much. The art to a sidereal is in finding ways to use these in odd ways to meet your objective, which seems from your description that you might be fairly good at.
  • One of the by-the-rules things in Exalted that made me figure out how my characters could afford to act, physically speaking was this:

    The average dude hanging out in a field (Str 2, Athletics 1) can punch a fist through a wooden door and has a three-yard vertical jump.

    And those dudes think my character is the bomb. That's how I should act.
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