Creating an Encounter

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.

In such moments, one or more Scenes should be dedicated to it. This Encounter system is a framework intended to help Storytellers craft dramatic scenes.

An Encounter, at its fundamental, boils down to two overarching questions: “What You [PCs] Want” and “What They [NPC’s] Want.” Each group works to further their goals, while trying to prevent the other from advancing their own goal.

The Doom Counter (What They Want)

As a Storyteller, you are to write down What They Want, and decide how difficult it is for the NPCs to get to their target—how many distinct actions they will have to take in order to reach their goal if unimpeded. This is the Doom Counter—if it is filled,

If each action is certain, where an antagonist need only take the action to fill the doom counter, the number of actions should be:

       
Doom Counter (Certain)      
Easy Medium Hard Challenging
3 5 7 9

Certain Actions can represent a myriad of things—the simplest being the passage of time, an oppresive clock ticking down to harm to Player’s actions. But it can be any range of things, from a city guard pursuing them, an approaching avalanch burying the battlefield.

If each action is conditional, or are not certain to succeed when the antagonist takes their action the number of actions should be:

       
Doom Counter (Conditional)      
Easy Medium Hard Challenging
2 3 5 7

Conditional actions come in two flavors: they are advanced when an antagonists takes an action that requires a roll, and succeeds on said roll (such as attempting to sway, influence or otherwise inconvenience a Player character.). Or, they can be reactively advanced to whenever a Player Character does something—typically failing on a roll.

The Players should be made aware of this doom counter, even if their characters are not—it will only heighten the tension in the scene. This can be done simply by having a number ticking down on the screen, some figure being filled in, or physical counters being slowly taken away.

Of course, the nature of the Doom Counter should be rarely known—simply a ticking clock towards doom is enough.

There can be multiple Goals for NPCs in the scene, completely independent of each other—but it is suggested to never have more than 3, as that becomes too much to track.

As well, if a scene is relaxed and easygoing, there is a possibility that there is no Doom Counter—the risk here is not an external force that imposes complications, but the Player Characters making a mess of the Scene themselves.

Pushing Doom Back

Player Characters can counter the doom counter by taking considered actions to halt or reverse the doom counter.

You, as the Storyteller, will have to decide if the Player’s described action will either prevent the doom counter from advancing this round, or remove a point from the counter—the former being much easier than the latter.

Abstract Antagonists

It is easy to recognize an antagonist when it is an individual. However, Antagonists can be anything—mobs of people, the environment, or even Time itself.

Complications

Each time a Doom Counter is filled, a complication is introduced into the Scene, ready to trip up, halt, or just alter the course of the Player Characters.

The simplest Complication is the most absolute: the Antagonist gets what they want, the Scene ends, the Player Characters lose. Typically this is only associated with at least Hard Dooms, and is a result of the Players completely ignoring the impending doom.

The other complications, those far more likely to happen, will simply change the scene in a way that is detrimental to the Player Characters. As time goes on and more Dooms are fulfilled, the Scene will become more and more untenable, to the point where the Players may have to bail on their goals.

Examples:

  • The City Guard shows up, requiring the Player Characters to sneak around, or else risk an unwanted confrontation.

  • Half of the Scene gets buried under snow, unable to interacted with.

  • Characters needed for questioning scatter. The Players must actively search for them.

Key Issues (What You Want)

When the Encounter starts, a certain Goal must be clearly decided by the Players—if there is no clear Goal, take a moment to discuss it. The goal does not need to be overly complex: “Escape” is quite a popular one, after all.

Once the Goal has been established, think up 1-3 Key Issues that are preventing the Goal from being accomplished. Again, these need not be overly complex– a simple sentence is all that is needed for a Key Issue. If you cannot think of any at the spot, is is perfectly fine to use the Goal itself as the singular Key Issue.

Each Key Issue should have a Counter, much like the Doom Counter. Each successful action that Players take will fill in a piece of the Counter, and if there is a Critical Success (8+), it either fills in two counters, or fills in one counter and prevents a Doom Counter from being filled.

As this is a narrative section, you, as the Storyteller, must decided if a stated action would fill in the counter or not—but you must communicate this to your Players before they undertake their action.

Not all actions will lead to filling in the Key Issue—there are plenty of actions that are either in support, or lead up to a deciding action.

       
Key Issue      
Easy Medium Hard Challenging
3 5 7 9

Large Groups

If you have more than 4 Players, you should increase the number of actions required for each Key Issue by +1 per Player.

Hidden Issues

Like the Doom Counter, the presence of a Key Issue and the number of actions needed to perform it should not be kept secret—Players must know they are making progress in a Scene, and know that it is heading toward a resolution.

However, the nature of a Key Issue may not be known—especially in an intrigue Scene, finding out what blocks the goal is nearly as important as taking actions to counter it. There are two ways to handle it:

The first way is to simply not state what the Key Issue is, and periodically drop hints as to what it is. If they take actions that are even tangentially related to countering the issue, they get to take a reflexive action using the Read Intentions rules to uncover the nature of the Key Issue.

Accidental Progress

Most of the time, a Hidden Key Issue will require uncovering what the Issue is before proceeding. Only the most targeted actions are supposed to advance the Counter.

However, either through educated guesses or sheer good luck, a Player might take an action that precisely matches a Key Issue. In this case...let the issue be filled, and give them a large hint as to what the Key Issue is.

This should be the exception, though. If their action is tangentially or near to the Key Issue, simply let them uncover the nature.

The Second Way is to have another Key Issue whose goal is to Uncover the nature of the Key Issue. What you are doing here is essentially splitting the Key Issue in two—half of its actions are dedicated to uncovering the nature, the other half to countering it.

Consequences

In an Encounter, it is important that Player Actions have Consequences—these are Complications that arise directly because of the Player’s Actions.

The classic example is that of intimidation: if a Player Character gets what they want through terrorizing people into townsfolk, they should get what they want, but it will carry with it a price. The townsfolk will find themselves hostile, cowed, or scared of the Players, and be less friendly and forthcoming with information.

Essentially, an Encounter should never remain static, and should change and update with every character’s action. Think of it like a shifting scene with branching paths—sometimes some actions will close doors and possibilities, while others will open them up. Make sure your Encounter is dynamic.

However, care should be taken with Consequences: they should never feel like a punishment. Your job is to keep your Players on their toes, not to discourage them from taking unique and interesting ways to solve a problem. This is a situation where a little bit goes a long way: only introduce a mechanically-effecting consequence when it truly matters to change the scene.

Flow

An Encounter does not need to have a rigid timing system like Combat—it is a narrative space where actions and reactions happen as seems fitting.

The one rule is that all character should have a chance to act/react, before a character acts again.

Once the Players have fulfilled their Key Issues (or the Antagonist has fulfilled theirs), the Encounter scene ends—there is no need to stick around for anything but the optional final argument, which wraps up the scene and moves forward.

Specific Rules

Altering/Adding Goals

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 a separate existing Key Issue if the altered goal no longer applies.

Final Argument

Optionally, the Encounter is wrapped up with a Final Argument, where a chosen Player or Storyteller summarizes what has happened in the Encounter, rolling it together and pointedly delivering as a capstone. This can take the form of a grand in character speech, addressing the crowds.

The roll—if there is one—for this moment carries no risk of sabotaging existing progress, rather it is a push for something more.

Environmental Ailments

The Exalted are resistant to casual exposure disease, warping effects from the Wyld, and other such external debilitation of the soul, but it does not mean they are immune to such effects, to say nothing of their mortal followers.

Traversing past the threshold of the Wyld, the catacombs of the Underworld, or in the middle of a plague should feel dangerous and risky—if they choose to do such a thing, then they are inviting disaster.

Any of these effects should be treated as an Antagonistic Key Issue—at least of Average complexity against an individual Exalt. (Simple against a mortal).

The Storyteller can advance this Key Issue either as an active action of the Environment, or as a reflexive effect that happens when the Characters take a specific action.

If successful, the character should gain a dot or two of a deleterious “merit” that must take a Project to remove.

Characters on the Defense

Convincing important characters, particularly Player Characters, is a single Key Issue with a base complexity of Average (3), or Difficult (5) if they have an opposing Intimacy to the idea.

This can be anything from forcing the character to see their point on an important fact, charming them, lying to them, or even instilling a particular Intimacy.

A successful application does not force the character to do anything—this isn’t unnatural influence, simply convincing speech. But they should take this new idea as part of their decision process. As well, after the idea impacts their life negatively once, they may reconsider and reject it.

As always, Players reserve the right to declare something as Unacceptable influence, if they believe it violates their character or ideas—but they must Cheat Death in order to avoid the influence.

It’s Hard to Convince Player Characters

Ultimately, it’s up to the Player whether or not their character is convinced by something. As a Storyteller, you have control over all aspects of the world, and how difficult each action is; the one thing that you don’t have control over is what Player Characters think and do—you should only suggest it to the Player, not force it upon them. Even powerful effects, such as “Theft of Memory,” should be used with caution.

Ultimately, this is a story about the Player Characters and their actions, not about Non-Playable characters and your world!

Social-focused Antagonists should be primarily represented by their actions and charm against other NPC’s. While they should not shy away from trying to charm the Player Characters, don’t expect them to succeed!

Encounter Types

The Journey

The Player Characters are on a journey from one point of the map to the other. Their Goal is to simply get there as fast and safely as possible.

Unless the terrain is actively hostile, such as the treacherous deep sea or the ever-shifting Wyld, the Doom Counter is only filled when the Player roll poorly—but there may be a creature or force actively hunting them as well.

Complications:

  • Getting Lost

  • Losing supplies

  • Coming upon dangers.

  • Leaving a traceable trail.

Key Issues

  • Unknown Path

  • Dwindling rations

  • Hostile environment, such as frigid temperatures.

The Court

<TODO>

Murder Investigation

<TODO>

Stealth Mission

<TODO>

Example Encounters

Example 1: The Trade Prince

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.

Goal

Convince the Trade-Prince to fund their expedition.

Key Issues

The Storyteller decides there are 3 Key Issues preventing the Trade-Prince from funding the caravan:

  1. Monetary concerns
    (Simple—1)

    Understandably, the Trade-Prince will need to be convinced it is worth his while to dedicate so many resources to this goal.

  1. Antagonistic Sycophants
    (Average—3)

    The Trade-Prince has surrounded himself with sycophants, who deeply despise any perceived change to their position. The Party must silence their influence.

  2. Fear of the Immaculate Order Retribution
    (Difficult—5)
    (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.

Complications

Hidden Key Issue. The Storyteller will not immediately indicate that the Immaculate Order has a presence in the scene, only dropping hints along the way to signal that its influence is here.

Example 2: Escape

They were on a simple reconnaissance mission: infiltrate the Guild’s meeting, and discover their end goal. They didn’t realize that a Slave Trader was part of the meeting, nor that their Zenith caste would have such a violent reaction upon discovering this fact.

Now, they need to escape before the entire city is called down upon them.

Goal

Escape from the Guild Hall.

Key Issues

  1. Physically Escape (silently)
    (Average—3)

    They will need to traverse the complicated and guarded corridors of the guild hall.

  1. Remove Presence
    (Difficult—5) (optional)

    If they are to get their plans back on track, they will need to confuse people who saw them into misremembering what happened, and remove any indications that they were here tonight.

  2. Calm Rampaging Ally
    (Difficult—5)

    Their Zenith cast ally is currently limit breaking, seeking to destroy the slaver’s guild and free all of the ‘merchandise’ with their sheer force of will. They need to be either appeased or forced to take their mission in a better way.

Complications

This is a timed scene, with actual defined, structured rounds. The Storyteller has decided that on Round 3, the guards will alert the guild hall.

On Round 5, more guards and innocent bystanders will fill the hall, increasing the difficulty of all stealth rolls.

On Round 7, the gates will be closed, presumably forcing a failure of the scene.