Day 6 – Most Recent RPG Played
This is one of the softballs on the list, since today is one of my two weekly game days. If this question had come up on Friday like it was supposed to, it would have been our biweekly Edge of the Empire campaign. Instead, it’s one of our ongoing attempts to play Scion.
At some point in the mid-late 2000s, someone working for White Wolf realized that they could release another game powered by the Exalted rules. After some design and development work, it turned into Scion. The core idea is pretty good: the characters are children of the gods from ancient mythology, and have to use their newly acquired powers and relics to prevent the titans from unleashing Ragnarök (or something similar). As they ascend in power and influence, they even take over their parents’ portfolios and become members of their respective pantheon. So, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods using the Exalted rules.
Now, this is the third time we’ve tried to play Scion. The first time was a real sour experience and was always kind of a sore spot, bad enough that we proclaimed that it’d never happened and we’d never played Scion—not due to the rules, but due to the GM . The second time, I was running the core campaign, and the game died when the players’ schedules didn’t align. Now, one of my friends—and a former player from my failed attempt—is also trying to run the core campaign. And in all three cases thus far, we’ve ran into enough problems that we’ve joked about ditching it to play Exalted instead.
One problem is that roughly 25-33% of the three core books consists of adventure and metaplot, with a core campaign arc taking the characters from being heroes to replacing their parents. That kind of short-changed the rules, though, so you end up with a lot of odd and inconsistent mechanics. The grappling system is fairly byzantine and makes 3.x D&D grappling look easy. The spell system has only around a half-dozen spells per rank, and they’re all weird White Wolf stuff, like “I can track where a target is for a few days” or “I demand someone do a complicated chore for me.” (Just give me Death of Obsidian Butterflies and call it good!) And the list of weapons excludes common favorites like “fire axe” and “sledgehammer” in exchange for flavorful items like “Tepoztopilli” and “Skeggox.”
More problematic is how badly balanced the game’s combat system is. The first time we were playing, I was surprised when eight or nine successes wasn’t enough to hit and damage our adversaries, leading to several encounters where we were beaten around like red-headed stepchildren. When I ran it, I found out why; the main tweaks to the Exalted rules were to the combat system, leading to fewer health boxes, lower weapon damage, and higher defense/soak values. So it’s something of a challenge to reliably hit, and when you do, you end up dealing a modicum of damage. At even higher levels, exchanging bullets can lead to a point of damage every round (after soak).
In Exalted, rolling at least six or seven dice on an attack was usually enough to deal a couple points of damage, thanks to weapons having Rate (# attacks/round) plus the -1 Onslaught penalty to defense for each attack; decent weapons and armor were more common, and most characters were expected to have extra health boxes. When I was running Hunter, the characters could not just reliably do damage, I’d often worry about them exploding like blood sausages if they took a good hit—like Scion, they only had the base of seven health boxes.
In Scion, rolling eight dice for AK-47 from going full-auto will be enough to hit a target, but won’t generate enough hits to overcome soak, even with the AK’s Piercing quality halving the target’s soak value. Bashing weapons deal a bit of extra damage, but are something of a joke when some of our first encounters have Bashing soak values in the teens. Our group has two not-as-combaty-as-the-game-expected characters who can deal with minions at best. The other two get into a slugfest with boss monsters and trade one-damage hits using an overpowered geas + relic sword, and grappling (though that can turn out poorly if the monster is also big and grapply). Lock down one, or god forbid, both of our tanks, and we have a TPK on our hands.
We’ve already house-ruled some of Scion’s many, many other issues—overpowered Epic attributes, Dex as the god-stat, easy-access Legend—and hand-waved a few, such as cheap purviews and cheap minions (three of our characters have 5 followers each). It feels we still need to make a lot of tweaks, and we’re only entry-level Heroes—there’s still Demigod and God levels above us, which get even more broken.
Gah. Such a good idea, and I’m still boggled by how the rules implementation is not as fast, fun, or deadly as I remember Exalted being. Then again, a lot of people had a crazy time with Exalted, so maybe I’m just now seeing problems that else has seen for over a decade.