Impractical Applications (A Culture/Anger Study)

As with many weeks, the blame for this week’s riffs can be laid at the feet of one of my players: mostly for the exchange at the end of the post, but in general for the range of characterization I’ve seen from him on the subject of anger. In the time since I’ve met him, we’ve been pretty much constantly gaming together, both in my Exalted game and in another one run by a mutual friend of ours. He’s played four characters in that world that I’ve been present for, three of whom I’ve seen upset at different points—and all three of them expressed their anger, and dealt with it, in completely different ways, often reflecting the culture from which they came. It’s something worth watching, and worth learning from.

In the beginning, as he was still trying to accustom himself to the world, there was Shoren. He was the archetypical Zenith—loyal, brave, zealous, and highly prone to righteous indignation. And there was his perennial foe, our old friend Jalil, who had an absolute gift for inflaming Shoren without actually being there. (This is important.) Shoren was a hotblood, and likewise prone to hot anger: when face to face with the enemy, it was generally expressed with punching and property damage, but when the enemy was not in fact present, as was more often the case, the end result was more yelling (if he didn’t get more use out of the capslock than the rest of the group put together, he came pretty close). This led to jokes about the “Pavlov’s Zenith effect”, where one would mention Jalil doing something and the shouting would begin; it also meant that by the time he actually came face to face with the enemy, most of the incoherence had worn itself out and he’d gone from “I WILL PULL OUT YOUR LUNGS AND SMOTHER YOU WITH THEM!” to an almost calm, “I fight you because I hate you.”

Then there was Itara—this one I played alongside rather than GMing for, but I like to think I still understood her pretty well. She was pretty much designed to be the kind of person who would have issues with the surrounding culture—she was an illegitimately born half-djala Fire Aspect in the Realm (for the unfamiliar, read: visibly different, from a people generally looked at by her culture as subhuman, and in a place where bloodline mattered like mad). As he explained to me, she’d long since worn out her immediate rage at the world, and had settled down to a very cold, very long view. Itara didn’t get mad, she got even—every now and then it would be an immediate thing, like swiping the name list from a man who’d insulted her while announcing her arrival at a social function and planting it in the pocket of a potential political enemy—but most often she’d create a grudge, tuck it away, maybe enlist one of her partners to help, and around the time her tormentor was starting to forget what had happened, show up and make them pay.

Last, but definitely not least, we return to my game and Timorous Sky (this time independent of his hotblooded sentient hat, usually the prime character in that duo), the group’s lone Sidereal. As the player himself put it, he built Sky “specifically to be the very model of a proper kung-fu bureaucrat”; he was laid-back, very proper, concerned with his duty in protecting Fate and the world from enemies both within and without. Throughout the group’s adventures, he was mostly the laid-back one, advocating restraint and patience and dealing calmly even with enemies who were trying to get his goat. Until, that is, he met Solace, the cover identity of the traitor to the Bureau of Destiny that the group had been trying to track down pretty much since he’d arrived, in a situation where an armed confrontation would as likely as not get the group killed. Here was someone who ran counter to every ideal the man had, and he reacted with what could only be termed very intense, lukewarm anger, explaining in a deadly-calm voice, with phrasing that pretty much belonged in the office and behind a desk, that if he didn’t have allies it would endanger he’d try to take her out himself and just what was so reprehensible about her (see below), surprising both himself and his player in the process (“I don’t get angry, I don’t get angry, dear god I’m pissed, wait, how’d that happen?”, as the player described his mental processes). It would be no exaggeration to say that for several of us, that exchange was the highlight of the session.

Sky is visibly rigid with tension. “If it weren’t for worrying about the safety of my companions, I would now be introducing you to the insides of interesting forms of marine life. As it stands, I’m not sure what to do.”….
With deadly calm: “To think that someone could so easily betray all that we work for, all that we sacrifice our lives, our blood, our hearts to. It makes my blood boil.”

Nothing’s ever as easy as people make it out to be.

“We are given a trust, traitor. You spit on that.”

Culture and anger—isn’t it amazing what they can do to differentiate characters?

2 comments

  1. Shinali says:

    I know *I* was shocked when Sky reacted so forcefully. He’s always been the sane (and sensible) one, and here he is yelling at some powerful enemy in the middle of enemy territory, while we are under tenuous diplomatic protections (which amounted to “if you behave, we won’t kill you, on account of the type of shiny one of you is”).

    If anything, Samar (my character) was even more shocked than I was – this is the guy with all the forms who knows all the protocols and he’s doing something she’s pretty sure breaks every last protocol. She stepped in and tried to calm him, which ‘worked’ mainly because it startled him back to sensibility.


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