Friday, July 21, 2023

(Exalted 3e) Tomb of Dreams

I'm not sure how much time I should waste having an opinion about Tomb of Dreams (Stephen Lea Sheppard). It's a 58-page introductory adventure for Exalted 3rd Edition, half of those pages are given over to a quick summary of the 3e rules, a quarter to five different sample characters, and the rest to a nothing of a story that is probably a superior alternative to "you all meet in a bar," but which serves a more or less identical purpose. I only bought this book because I had an otherwise complete Exalted collection (including the board games and the novels) and I only read it now because Exalted: Essence reminded me that I was one book shy of having read all the Exalted books (the rpg ones, anyway, I've only got through about half the novels). 

I think it would be fair to say that I knew, going into this, that this book wasn't meant for me, and having read it, I've confirmed that it was, indeed, not for me, and that's fine. I'm not sure how well it would work to entice people into playing Exalted - the initial pitch was more efficient than its Exalted: Essence equivalent, but there was less of it and the rules are worse - but assuming you've cleared that hurdle, it works fine as a single session shakedown run. You have a reasonable change to dabble in most of the game's essential mechanics, but the stakes are pretty low (the main antagonist more or less wants you to succeed). You don't see any of the setting's iconic locations, but you are exposed to the fact that the Solars' previous incarnations could sometimes be total dicks.

It's fine. There's a demon. In the First Age a group of solars bound it with sorcery, put it into an eternal slumber, and then hid a bunch of treasure in its dreams. Now, it's thousands of years later, the demon is sick of this, and so it has called out to the reincarnated spirits of its captors - "come and pick up your shit." There's an NPC who's on board with this plan, and another NPC who's not. You navigate their conflicting agendas, get some cool treasure, and maybe fight the demon, maybe let it free. I might have asked for a more charismatic demon (he spends most of his time being the dream landscape) or a more interesting location (the whole adventure is spent on an imaginary dream island with a volcano containing treasure and an ocean trench containing treasure and some caves containing a different treasure), but, again, I'd be surprised if this adventure lasted even a full session, so you can just use the set-up to get the group together in the physical world and then do a more consequential adventure after that.

The only real mystery here is the cast of sample characters. Most of them are from the 1st edition caste-books, but they're not from the same region or Circle (some of the 1e characters were obviously intended to be part of the same adventuring party, others weren't), but then one of the characters is 3e's new signature Dawn Caste and I can't help wondering why you wouldn't take the opportunity to introduce all of the new signature characters. Certainly, if the book had done that, we'd be having a very different conversation right now.

Volfer's okay, I guess. A reckless brawler who's kind of an asshole but redeems himself by always picking fights where he's the entertaining underdog. I'm not surprised to learn there's not more to him than that, but I am kind of surprised that they'd more or less say as much in print.

Overall, I can't say that I liked this book, but neither did I dislike it. If you'll excuse a somewhat labored analogy, it's like I was a decades-long collector with a library of more than a hundred Exalted books, all of which I've read, and I was reading through a short pamphlet directed at total newcomers. 

Ukss Contribution: I'm kind of scared of picking Mirror Flag, the self-centered revolutionary hero who is constantly remaking her own past, but I figure that's okay, because if you're not scared of her, you probably aren't paying attention.

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