Archive for the ‘Tentacled Vitriol’ Category

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Tentacled Vitriol – Craft

October 8, 2010

This post is about a week overdue.  Last week, I was involved in a fairly heated debate over the dilemma with the Craft Ability in the game, and I’ve been stewing about it…  well, since well before that debate, actually.  Finally, I’ve gotten around to shrieking about it here, where I have an open forum for this sort of thing.  Read on, if you care.

Craft, as it is currently written, is a filthy, insulting pile of crap.  Asking players to interact with the Craft system as-written is literally an insult.  I intend to explain why, but I need to rant a little first.  There are reasons behind my position, I promise.  I’ll even tell you what they are.  I just… God I hate Craft.

That’s not even entirely true.  I love Craft, or, rather, I love crafting in game.  I love the idea of the artificer, the engineer, the architect.  The problem is, if you want to make someone as good at Crafting as they can be (this is all before Charms, mind you), it costs substantially more in terms of XP than making someone as good at any other Ability.  Even Linguistics doesn’t have as much XP sink as Craft.

For example, when you learn Melee 1, you learn how to use swords, spears, short swords, chopping swords, axes, halberds, clubs, maces, tetsubos, slashing swords, knives, etc. etc. etc.  All these many and varied techniques are wrapped up in a single Ability.  Linguistics, slightly differently, grants you access to a single language for each dot you have in the Ability (with one free as a native tongue). 

Craft, on the other hand, is actually seventeen separate Abilities, each of which must be purchased wholly separately from one another.  Five dots of Craft (Fire)?  Good for you!  Want to carve a staff?  Fuck you!  You have to buy an entirely separate Ability for that!  Also, some of them have prerequisites of other Crafts, so if you want to know Craft (Magitech), you need Craft (Fire), Craft (Water), and Craft (Go Fuck Yourself You Stupid Bastard, Why Did You Bother to Learn Craft When You Should Obviously Just Be a Fighter). 

(You may not actually need that last one.)

There are two arguments for this disparity, as near as I can tell, and they’re both stupid.  The first is verisimilitude, the argument being that blacksmithing requires a very different set of skills than carpentry, or whatever.  While this is true, who gives a flying fuck?  A) Melee likewise uses different skills for swords than for axes, but those aren’t divided up.  Or what about Larceny, which encompasses knowledge of criminal syndicates, legerdemain, lock picking, pick-pocketing, and disguise, all of which are only thematically related?  And B) that level of verisimilitude does not enhance the point of the game, which is to have fun.  I don’t get a thrill when I realize I’ve spent three times as much XP to do my fucking job, just because I can make pinwheels AND be a tattoo artist.  The use of Craft is so much less applicable in so many situations (than, say, Melee) that it should be similarly priced.

The second argument is that Craft is somehow a precious, magical snowflake, and its niche deserves more protection than Melee or Larceny (or any other Ability, but those are my examples, so deal with it).  This argument, as near as I can make out, involves the idea that because Crafting is so inherently neat, it should cost more, nevermind the fact that its actual, mechanical benefits fall so far behind things like (you guessed it) Melee and Larceny.  My counterargument to this point is go fuck yourself.  I shouldn’t have to pay extra XP for “awesome,” especially when I don’t actually get more “awesome.”  The dude with five dots in Melee is pulling off stunts that make jaws drop and leave entire swaths of mooks dead, while the dude with five dots of Craft (Air) can make a very pretty glass unicorn. 

I brought my concerns to the attention of some of the writers active on the forums, specifically addressing the idea that mechanical cost should be balanced relative to mechanical benefit, with “awesome” tossed on as an a la carte item for free, since everything in Exalted ought to be awesome.  To my extreme relief, I was greeting with an open-minded willingness to address the problem, and while the writers didn’t automatically agree with me, they at least treated my premise with respect and dignity.

Writer*: Not everything has an equal mechanical benefit.

Octopoid: Then it shouldn’t have an equal mechanical cost.  It should have a cost commensurate with its benefit.

Writer: No.

I sure was relieved!

While I’ve seen a lot of suggestions to solve this problem, one of the big issues in addressing it is that no two people agree exactly how bad the problem is.  While everyone I’ve talked to seems to agree that Craft is too expensive, the exact amount of overprice seems to vary from person to person.  To me, however, it seems like Craft ought to be priced roughly the same as every other Ability in the game, rather than cost seventeen times as much. 

This wouldn’t be much of a rant if I didn’t posit my own houserule solution, for your viewing pleasure.  Never let it be said that I only bring up problems without providing options.  You may not LIKE my options, but I provide some, nevertheless.  In games I run, Craft is a single Ability.  When you purchase the first dot, you gain basic proficiency in all five basic elemental Crafts (Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Wood).  This lets you make anything a mortal could make.  Each dot beyond that grants Exalted (fuck mortals) proficiency in one of the twelve remaining fields of Craft.  Note that even in this model, no one can be proficient in all seventeen fields, though I’ve allowed people to buy access at the cost of specialties in the past. 

I’ve seen more elegant solutions, but this is the one I like the most, mostly because it takes Craft and drives a dump truck right through its pretentious, niche-protected crotch.  Craft isn’t special.  It’s an Ability just like all the others.  Anyone who tries to make me pay more XP just to be a pretentious artiste can gargle my schnutz.

*Douchebag

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Tentacled Vitriol – Social Combat

August 18, 2010

Once upon a time, I talked about how much I liked the Social Combat system in Exalted. I still do, but I have some problems with it, problems I’ve always had but that have been exacerbated by my most recent game with my roommates. I felt it would be an excellent topic to showcase the newest feature here on Octopoid Prevarication: Tentacled Vitriol, where I spit and froth at some aspect of Exalted that pisses me off.

The Social Combat system has two major problems as I see it, both of which combine to make the system vary wildly in its usefulness, from cripplingly unhelpful to idyllicly smooth, depending on one’s Storyteller. The first problem is that the Social Combat Abilities are frustratingly vague, and the second is that there is no established guideline for spending Willpower to resist mental influence.

There are ostensibly four Attributes that govern Social Combat: Investigation, Performance, Presence, and Socialize (Integrity is a special case, and not terribly relevant to this problem). Investigation and Presence are, ostensibly, used to make Social attacks against individuals, while Performance is used on crowds, and Socialize limits the others in Mass Social Combat, much like War does in regular Mass Combat. However, there is no clear delineation between when one uses Investigation or Presence (which is less of a problem, as they are interchangeable), or when one uses a flurry of Presence attacks or uses Performance on a group. Moreover, there is no clear delineation of when Mass Social Combat begins. Finally, Mass Combat is, by its definition, making an attack against a social group of multiple individuals… does that mean only Performance is viable? What happens to the guy who is cornered by three men in an alley? Does he have to make a Performance attack to convince them to back down, since they’re in a group? And why the hell is there a Social attack Charm in the Linguistics tree?

The second isn’t something I have questions about, so much as gripes. There is no set mechanic to determine when NPCs spend Willpower to resist mental influence. This leaves the mechanic entirely in the hands of the ST, who can choose to make NPCs spend Willpower on every single attack, or can choose to make mental influence nigh irresistible. Now, normally I’m happy with options to make individual powers as strong or as weak as the ST needs for his game, but the utter lack of guidelines is… problematic at best. It means players never know if their Social character is going to be amazing, worthless, or in-between.

Aside from those problems, I’m really happy with the Social Combat system, because it’s a unique and insightful way to model Social influence without abstraction (at least, without AS MUCH abstraction as some other systems). However, these two glaring flaws do detract from the enjoyment of the system without significant hand-wavium, an element I prefer to remove from my games as much as possible.

If you have suggestions for how to avoid or repair these flaws, please don’t hesitate to post them! I’m always eager for more feedback!