From the intricate dance of ballroom politics, to battlefield war bands, to the high-drama of a courtroom, an Exalt’s life will be filled with scenes of great importance where the fate of the world hinges on well-spoken speeches or careful deliberation.
An Encounter starts with a Goal for the scene: what the Players intend the outcome of the scene to be. If there is no clearly defined goal, or that goal is unreachable, an Encounter should not start.
On the southern shores of the Inland Sea party decides that they will need a full caravan to traverse the Burning Sands.. There is a local Trade-Prince whom they think they can convince to finance and supply them this caravan.
Once the stated Goal of the Encounter has been established, the Storyteller should come up with 2-4 Key Issues that will need to be overcome to accomplish this goal, and how difficult each Key Issue is.
Key Issues range the gamut from personal ideology to political entanglements to logistics. So long as it is something that prevents the party from moving forward, and is (relatively) self-contained, it may be a valid Key Issue.
Once the Storyteller has come up with the Key Issues, they will need to tell the Players the number of Issues at play. The nature of the Issue may be revealed at their discretion.
Simple 5 Influence
Average 10 Influence
Complicated 15 Influence
The Storyteller decides there are 3 Key Issues preventing the Trade-Prince from funding the caravan:
- Needing a return on investment. (Simple). Understandably, the Trade-Prince will need to be convinced it is worth his while to dedicate so many resources to this goal. This Key Issue can be easily guessed, so is revealed on Encounter start.
Antagonistic Sycophants (Simple). The Trade-Prince has surrounded himself with sycophants, who deeply despise any perceived change to their position. The Party must silence their influence.
Fear of the Immaculate Order (Average) (Hidden). Through the party’s past actions, the Trade-Prince has secretly caught on that they are Anathema. He does not personally care, but he will need a way to make sure that the Immaculate Order will not find out about this deal—or at least be convinced of this fact.
There are a thousand ways to approach the scene and its Key Issues: starting rumors, researching tactics, beguiling tricks, intimidation.
Taking any action to tackle a Key Issue directly is called a Gather Influence action.
A Gathering Influence action starts as a normal [Att. + Abi.] roll—determine if the action is possible, assign a Difficulty, and allow the player to roll.
If the Player is successful on their roll, they then gain Influence equal to the original Difficulty of the task, and apply it to the appropriate Key Issue.
Changes to the Difficulty after it has been stated—either raising or lowering it, do not affect how much Influence is gathered.
The Socialite of the group, a Solar Eclipse, moves to address the “Antagonist Sycophants” Key Issue by suppressing the Intimacy the Trade-Prince has of them. He performs a “Influence Intimacy” Social Action, rolling 5 Success against the Prince’s 3 Resolve. He gains 3 Influence Points against the Key Issue, as well as successfully lowering the Prince’s Intimacy.
Once enough Influence has been gathered against a Key Issue, it is considered resolved, and the Players are one step closer to their Goal.
Overflow Influence is allowed, and can help secure the safety of a contested Key Issue.
Delving into research
Intimidation of Sycophants
The Influence gained from an action is linked to how Difficult that action is—the harder the action, the greater the reward.
However, a Key Issue may be resistant or susceptible to certain Influence actions. In this case, grant an additional +2, or subtract 2 from their Influence gained.
Not Everything is a Gathering Influence Action
There are plenty of actions that are helpful, useful, and actionable in the scene—but they aren’t Gathering Influence Actions. For example: Discovering Intimacies.
The general rule of thumb for rulings is “Does this directly, singularly address the Key Issue.” If not, it is not a Gathering Influence Action.
The Storyteller may choose to “exhaust” a source of influence, meaning that further Gathering Influence Rolls cannot be done on this source. After all, there is only so much you can intimidate bystanders to do in one Scene.
This limitation should be clearly expressed to the Players so that they may take this factor into account—either by changing their approach, or finding new sources of Influence for the scene.
The Storyteller should try to give hints and paths toward discovering the nature of Hidden Issues.
Players, in turn, may use an action similar to “Probe Intimacy” to divine the nature of the Hidden Issue, with the same rules and effects—the Player summarizes a list of actions, events, or behaviors, and then attempts to divine what the Key Issue behind them is.
As well, it is perfectly possible for Players to gather Influence over a Key Issue they do not fully understand.
A Player Intentionally “going in blind” is taking a risk—if their assumption is wrong on the Issue, they do not gain any Influence Points for their roll, no matter how many Successes they roll.
The Players have managed to completely avoid uncovering the nature of the Third Key Issue. So far, the Storyteller has dropped hints that the Trade Prince may know of their true nature in their conversations, and has even told them that intimidating a particular Sycophant (with deep ties to the Immaculate Order) could be applied to the hidden Key Issue, if they wanted.
One Player now decides to use the “Probe for Key Issue,” trying to divine the relationship between the Sycophant and the Trade Prince. They succeed on their roll, and the Storyteller responds by noting that the Trade Prince “Fears what that man represents,” and notes that the man has signs of the Immaculate Order woven into his clothes.
During the Encounter, the Players may decide they want to alter the ultimate goal—perhaps they have decided to push further, or have found an alternate goal they prefer.
In both cases, the Storyteller should add an additional Key Issue to encapsulate this difference. They may decide to drop an existing Key Issue if the altered goal no longer applies.
An Encounter is not like a Combat Scene—the timing is fluid, and actions do not follow a set order, depending primarily on the natural flow of the narrative.
However, a “Round” is still defined: each character has one and only one Full Action (Primary + Secondary) in a round.
The Storyteller should make sure that all Players know they have the option to act each Round.
Balancing Antagonist Actions
The Rule of Thumb is that the number of Antagonist Actions should be around 1 for every 2 Player Character Actions.
Antagonists are operating on their own goal during the scene, and have their own Key Issues that they must Gather Influence upon.
Typically, the Antagonist’s Goal and Goals and Key Issues are directly related to the Party’s—whether in direct opposition, or competing to get there first. For convenience sake, these are referred to as the “the same” Key Issue.
However, antagonists having the same Key Issue is not a requirement—they may be working on a separate Goal for the scene, and they have tangential or completely unrelated Key Issues. Typically, these start out as Hidden to the Party.
It is easy to recognize an antagonist when it is an individual. However, Antagonists can be anything—from mobs of people to an avalanche to Time itself closing off a Key Issue.
The Antagonist and Party’s Influence tracks are independent of each other—only a dedicated Sabotage Influence Action allows one side to disturb the other’s Influence.
This action is nearly identical to a Gather Influence action, save that the Influence is taken away from the opposing party’s Key Issue.
The Character is not allowed to split the effect of Influence: it is either fully a Gathering Action or a Sabotage Action.
Once one side or another has reached the Influence Requirement of a Key Issue, they have control over the issue.
Control may be taken away if a different side gains more Influence than the previous owner, either by decreasing it through sabotage or reinforcing their own claim..
If a side manages to keep control over a Key Issue for a full Round, it becomes locked and can no longer be challenged.
The Encounter ends the same Round that all Key Issues become controlled—though they do not need to be under control all by the same side.
If a Goal’s Key Issues are completely controlled by one side–they will achieve their Goal.
A Goal with split Key Issue control will find they have a partial victory—they do not get the full Goal they wanted, but they do not get nothing at all.
When weighing a Partial Victory, the Storyteller should lean heavily into the uncontrolled Key Issues—why will this bring trouble to them? Perhaps they get what they want, but only at a certain cost?
This Final Argument cannot change the result of the Key Issues, but a well-delivered Final Argument can transition to the next course of action.