Mengtzu's Combat 101

(Originally posted by Mengtzu on RPG.Net)

Dice Pools and Difficulty

Tsune had heard of cities where climbing a gate to look at the other side did not entail at least a twenty metre climb and the risk of death due to spontaneous opening; frightfully boring places, to be sure.
But not for the first time, she prayed to nameless gods to make her a better climber.

To take an action in Exalted where the outcome is in doubt, her player assembles a dice pool based on her traits and attempts to roll a number of successes equal to or higher than the difficulty of the action. A dice pool is always based on an Attribute and an Ability, sometimes with bonuses from other traits or equipment.
Tsune is attempting to climb a gigantic gate, so she will use her Dexterity of 2 and her Athletics of 3 to assemble her pool, giving her 5 dice.
The gate is dauntingly tall, but the intricate reliefs carved into its metal surface and the chains that bind it shut give plenty of handholds. The Storyteller thinks this is a difficult task for a normal person, so it’s difficulty 1.
If there was any particular duress to Tsune’s climb (such as the gate opening), she’d raise that to 2. If the task wasn’t difficult for an ordinary person, she wouldn’t ask Tsune’s player to roll at all; Exalted is a heroic game and no dice are thrown for trivial matters.
Tsune’s player rolls five ten sided dice, getting 2, 3, 6, 9 and 10. Any dice showing 7 or higher is a success, and a 10 counts as two successes.
Tsune gets one success for her 9 and two for her 10, for 3 total.
That exceeds the difficulty, so she climbs the gate!

Opposed Actions, Penalties, Specialties and Willpower

The stalls and wagons filling the Meander Bridge were abandoned; with south and under gates closed no through traffic came from the north. Should the south open you would not be able to move here for people, but for now there was only Hikari, white hair catching the first of the dawn, eating an apple she hadn’t paid for.

Tsune attempted a very poor imitation of anger.

“You took the best route! How was I supposed to get up here in time with only ancient noses to support my feet?”

“Follow me rather than making every last thing a race?” Hikari tossed another apple, hoping the prospect of breakfast would quell Tsune’s haste. It was caught, and did indeed tempt, until the bridge rumbled with the north gate’s closing.

“That’s a race.”


The girls need (or at least want) to dash across the bridge and through the north gate before it closes. That is also a Dexterity and Athletics roll, and this time the Storyteller decides the obstacles of carts and stalls and the rapidly closing gate would raise the difficulty to 2.

However, what the girls (or more precisely Tsune) really care about is who gets through first, so this is an Opposed Action. Instead of setting a difficulty, a roll is made for both characters and the one with the most successes wins.

When the difficulty is already set, or based on another’s character’s roll, complicating circumstances become a dice penalty rather than raising the difficulty. The Storyteller decides the two factors she already considered are worth a die penalty each, so Tsune and Hikari will each take two dice from their pools before rolling.

Hikari’s Dexterity is 5 and her Athletics is 5.
She also has a Specialty in Athletics of “Running”, which gives a bonus die here because…she’s running. You can never apply more than one Specialty to a roll.
Hikari has 11 dice, minus 2 for the penalty and rolls a total of 9:

1, 1, 1, 6, 7, 8, 8, 9, 9

That’s 5 successes!

Tsune’s player knows her modest pool is unlikely to beat Hikari, so she spends a point of Willpower, giving her a bonus success.
Her Willpower rating is 5, so she starts with 5 points, and will be going down to 4 points. You cannot spend willpower for successes on a roll multiple times, otherwise Tsune’s player would probably spend all of it to suit her character’s sheer bloody-mindedness.

With Dexterity 2, Athletics 3 and no applicable specialty, Tsune has 5 dice as before, minus 2 for the penalties, for a total of 3:

2, 4, 4

She has no successes, plus one for spending willpower, for a total of 1.
Yet again, Tsune is trounced by her swift companion.

Extended Actions and Stunts

Hikari spun on her heel as she cleared the gate, extending a hand and willing Tsune to be faster. She seized the slower girl’s fingers the second they were in reach, and pulled her into an embrace as the metal doors thundered shut.

“My apple was still whole, yours was eaten! With such a handicap, how could I not lose?”

“I still carry that apple in my stomach, it no more vanished once swallowed than last night’s roast. Perhaps next time a few less servings, and less risking your life for bootless pride?”

Tsune smiled rather than give a false promise or start another argument. Hikari released her body, but not her hand.

Contrary to the expectations of the Scavenger Quarter children that so idolised them, escapades were not romantic. Holding hands on a rooftop chase would slow both, kissing during a heist meant no-one was watching for soldiers, and an embrace during a fight would be ill-advised for those who preferred their ribs un-sworded. Hikari took the moments she could.

“We should keep moving, love. The soldiers will…” Tsune started, looking around the square. A few merchants were looking at the gate in disgust, no doubt wondering when the city would condescend to let them use Meander Bridge. A few workers took breakfast on their balconies, as if considering a route to their labours or a valid excuse for tardiness. But the watchposts were empty; none stood beside the dragon bells. “…fail to exist. Come on, we can use their lift to get up the Denandsor!”

Hikari pouted a little at the long ropes dangling in front of the ever-shut gate at the far end of the square, and the pulleys far, far above.
“As ever when you fail at speed you find an excuse to turn to strength. I regret both apples.”

The girls want to use a curiously abandoned military lift to reach yet further heights. This uses a lever/crank system that relies on raw muscle power rather than agility, so the pool will be Strength and Athletics, much to Tsune’s player’s delight.

The Storyteller calls for an extended roll, allowing the characters to progress towards their goal over multiple rolls (and ruling that allows them both to contribute to the shared task). They will clearly get to the top eventually, but she decides she’ll give them a bonus if they can do it within four rolls - that’s the action’s terminus, if they can’t succeed within that limit they are considered to fail. She decides they need 12 successes total, which is called the action’s goal number. Finally she declares each roll takes two minutes of time in the game world - this is the action’s interval - which isn’t terribly important in a low stress situation like this, but helps the players have a sense of scale for their action.

Like normal actions, extended actions have a difficulty. Successes meeting or exceeding the difficulty count towards the goal number. The Storyteller thinks that the girls’ lack of experience using this equipment raises the difficulty to 2, so only their second and subsequent successes on each roll will count towards the total.

Both players decide to Stunt. Stunting just means describing your character’s action in a way that isn’t repetitive and is more interesting than a basic declaration of intent while still being short and snappy.
This gives bonuses to your roll and sometimes restores willpower points, essentially rewarding you for contributing to the game by hitting a low but fun roleplaying target. You can stunt any and all actions; in a normal game the roleplaying that would have created our story in italicised text would have included stunting for the earlier actions.

Tsune’s player says:
“Tsune pumps at her side of the lever with all her might, but every time Hikari seems to have the weight of the thing she takes a hasty and messy bite of apple.”

Hikari’s player says:
“Hikari isn’t nearly so strong, but it’s easy for her to maintain a smooth motion so she applies what strength she has well. She gets a little lost watching Tsune’s muscles, but that just helps the pumping trance.”

The Storyteller figures they’re both one point stunts, which means both characters roll two extra dice. Two and three point stunts exist but are rarer rewards usually reserved for more dramatic moments. She also rules that the stunts cover all rolls in the extended action, as the fictional situation won’t change during the action and there’s no point asking the players to keep coming up with new ways to describe continuing to pump a lever.

Tsune’s Strength is 5 and her Athletics is 3, plus two for the stunt for a total of 10 dice. Her first roll is:

2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 10

That’s 6 successes (remember 10s count twice)! With difficulty 2, that means 5 count towards the goal. Nearly halfway there already thanks to her powerful muscles.

Hikari’s Strength is 3 and her Athletics is 5, plus to the for stunt to also total 10 dice. Her first roll is:

3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7, 7, 8, 8

4 successes! With difficulty 2 that adds another 3, so the girls’ total is 8.

Tsune’s player rolls again:

2, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 10

An amazing 7 successes, adding 6 to the total. That brings them up to 14, exceeding the goal number and thus beating the terminus handily.
With three rolls, that’s three intervals elapsed for six minutes of game time. The Storyteller gives the players some extra information when they reach the top: the banners on the ships they are about to see will still be visible.

To be continued in the Stage 2...

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