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, and thus should be treated as guidelines rather than firm rules.

Goal

You have to first decide what the Goal of the scene is. What is it the Players ultimately want? Sometimes it may be obvious from the context, but many other times you may need to ask them what their ultimate goal is. This is the first hurdle in starting an Encounter.

It is fine if the goal changes during the course of the Encounter, there just needs to be something there to start with..

Simple Goals

It’s perfectly fine to have simple, assumed goals. Not everything needs to have a complex or structured goal; sometimes a primal need is all a goal has to be. “Survive” is quite a popular one.

Key Issues

Once a goal has been established, identify and breakdown what stops the Players from reaching their goals. (2-3 are suggested, and never more than 5). Each of these obstacles are Key Issues that need to be overcome before the goal can be reached.

Key Issues can truly be anything—personal or political entanglements, terrain difficulties, or even logistics issues. So long as it fits the theme of the scene, and is a solid, self-contained idea, it can be a Key Issue.

Once the Key Issues have been identified, decide how many successful, distinct, actions must be made to overcome the Key Issue. This is an abstracted representation not of difficulty (that is determined by individual rolls), but of complexity.

Visualizing progress is important in an encounter—and it is recommended you keep your players in the loop that they are working towards their Key Issue! Having a set of tokens to remove, or something as simple as check-boxes to fill does wonders!

   
Key Issue Complexity  
  Actions
Simple 1
Average 3
Difficult 5
Complex 7

Generating Key Issues

It can help to visualize distinct challenges relating to the key issue, such as: “Number of people to convince over to my side,” or “stages of stealth to overcome.” However, always remember that you are setting up a challenge for players to overcome, not the method for which they must go through, and this abstracted count of actions should allow that flexibility!

It is entirely possible for you to expect your players to talk to individual bystanders, to inspire each one of them to raise moral of the village, yet your Players instead craft a monument of glory—and that is perfectly fine and encouraged! So long as each action has a narrative weight, even if unexpected, it should be allowed!

   
Sample Key Issues  
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Complications

Complications are anything introduced into the Scene by the Storyteller that will distract, inhibit, or otherwise challenge the Player Characters in their pursuit of their goals.

Complications can change, alter, or otherwise shed different light on the Key Issues, and may even block certain methods of attaining their goals. Perhaps a landslide occurs, burying the way to a quarter of the city; or there is a patrol of guards cycling through the way; or even perhaps something a simple as the chiming of the bells, denoting that a new hour has arrived.

Complications should show up fairly regularly—there should be at least one per Encounter. However, they should always make sense and be telegraphed to players beforehand. If the source of a Complication is a character, say a primary antagonist or a group of guards, this is quite easy—players will expect them to take an action every “Round” or so.

However, when it is something more abstract, such as the passage of time, you should signify it with something, be it the description of a clock’s hand ticking down, or the more abstract notion of displaying a counter filled up after actions performed. Suspense in a scene is not necessarily surprise: if you give your Players just enough information that there is something going to happen, when their Characters do not, it is far more satisfying and impactful when it actually does.

   
Sample Complications  
1 There is a mutually exclusive choice the players must make. Should they choose one, the other will become cut off.
2 The Environment is slowly, consistently deteriorating—either literally or metaphorically.
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Playing an Encounter

Flow

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.

By default, the concept of “Round” is not necessary in an Encounter—only in the manner that each character gets one action per “Round”–i.e. a character cannot simply chain actions together without others getting a chance to act.

However, if an encounter is timed, you may use Turn Order method as detailed in Combat.

Consequences

Consequences are essentially Complications that arise in the story because of Player Choices.

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.

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.

Antagonist Goals

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.

Abstract Antagonists

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.

Sabotaging Progress

The Antagonist and Party’s Progress tracks are independent of each other, and can be thought of more as a “race” rather than anything. However, just like in a race, participants can sabotage the other’s progress.

When taking an action, a Player can apply one of their actions to removing the progress of an antagonist by one action. Or, they may attempt to wrest control over a completed Key Issue piece by piece—the latter of which often requires one action greater than

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.

In order to wrest control over a completed Key Issue, you must take 1 additional action more than what would be normally required. So for an Average (3) complexity issue, you would have to make a total of (4) actions.

Characters on the Defense

Convincing important characters, particularly Player Characters, is a single Key Issue with a complexity equal to their Resolve + intimacy bonuses, rather than a simple roll.

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. Typically they should reference one of their Intimacies, backstory, or Facts when doing so.

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 End

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?

Final Argument

Typically, 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.

Preferably, Encounters do not end with a roll. The work has been put in already, there is no need for one.

But in the cases when a roll feels In those cases, this final roll carries no risk of failure with it: after all, all of the ground work has been laid for the outcome already. Rather, it is a measure of how successful the characters will be in their endeavor. A failure would just represent not being able to push their success further—or at worst, a request to do something in return.

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.