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Soybean Trading

Term coined by Ron Edwards, author of the Sorcerer RPG and principal proponent of the GNS theory of role-playing games, to describe a class of problems that arise from overly-complicated currency mechanics in games. One classic example of soybean trading comes from the HERO System, in which it used to be possible to increase your character's Constitution to infinity for free by selling back the consequent increases to derived attributes (until a rule was added specifically to stem that abuse).

In the opinion of MetalFatigue, Exalted suffers from soybean trading problems on a massive scale, both during character creation and afterwards. This may largely be attributed to the profusion of different currencies, which make constant resource management a central feature of the game.

-- MetalFatigue

Two Things\\ 1, I've added a link to this page to the Discussions page, because it is not just a definition but also an opinion about Exalted's system which can be discussed.

2, my opinion on the opinion. Once again, I break into two parts- first, questioning the fundamentally negative attitude the author expresses (suffers from esp), and second if Exalted actually does have such a feature.

I'll flat out disagree that all soybean trading is a negative, and to claim that Exalted, or any game, 'suffers' from it implies that such activity isn't fun. It could be a character flaw, but I like manipulating systems; making them whimper and beg for mercy. Part of my personal fun from roleplaying is system optimization for a given concept; it's exploring the rules of the game itself. Ergo, soybean trading is not an inherently negative quality, so Exalted may possess currency manipulation as a central feature without suffering from it.

Then, if Exalted has such a feature. I'm inclined to say it doesn't, because those resources are translated in only one direction. Experience/Freebies turn into other attributes of a character, such as Essence, Charms, Willpower, Virtues, etc. However, you can't gain MORE freebies by reducing those attributes, which is a crucial step in the consideration of currency. To be currency, a quantity of the currency in question should be translatable to any other quantity. Having multiple of these currencies can then lead to an endless recuring loop of one apple is worth two bannannas, one bannana is worth two oranges, and one orange is worth two apples.

For Exalted to have Soybean Trading, it seems like you would need to be able to turn motes of Essence into Willpower, Willpower into Virtue, Virtue into Experience, and Experience into anything else.

Now, Exalted certainly does have a large bit of system optimization and mastery; I'm not convinced it can be broken in the conventional sense, however, since so little content is meant to be inaccessible, and the typical way of determining something is broken is by providing access to inaccessible content. A character may be broken relative to the other characters by being powerful enough to monopolize stage time- but even that would be somewhat difficult.


To be currency, a quantity of the currency in question should be translatable to any other quantity.

That's not the definition of the term I've seen used elsewhere. Currency is anything you can spend to get some other quantity. Temp Willpower and Temp Virtues can be spent to buy successes and dice, respectively.

I like a little bit of resource management in my gameplay sometimes, but Exalted has too much for me. If you look at discussions like Thus_Spake_Zaraborgstrom/ImpedingTheFlow, you'll see that I'm not the only one struggling with the intricacies of currency conversion. --MetalFatigue

Currency as we are using it here is a technical term of roleplayng game theory; it is not currency in the dollars-and-pesos sense. Currency is an interaction rather than a thing, the way I define it; it is the exchange relationship borne by a group of resources (and, arguably, effectiveness). So you could say that Exalted has a unidirectional currency, in most cases; you spend various resources and dice or effectiveness in other ways (see Summon the Loyal Steel) come out. Rebecca broke this currency by creating such things as the Essence Replenishments and Joy in Adversity Stance, but not in a way that's completely awful, IMO. - willows

I don't feel like the term "soybean trading" has been sufficiently explained. Please elucidate upon the subject. Domino

"Soybean trading" is, approximately, the use of (poorly constructed) Currency mechanics to get effectively infinite values of some resource. The JiAS + ItF situation is one of these, where you can get infinite parrying benefit and motes at practically no cost, provided you have an infinite source of dangerous, imperfect attacks. - willows

That definition is perhaps a little narrow, Willows. I've seen "soybean trading" used to describe any situation where the system rewards artificial manipulation of currency/ies in a manner unconnected to the simulated world. I'm not so much concerned about the Essence Replenishments, though when combined with the Sidereals' unique ability to use Virtues with Charms regardless of moral context, they allow Sidereals to trade temp Virtues for temp Essence in a somewhat hokey way. I'm mainly concerned with issues during chargen. This was highlighted for me when I went over one of my NPC sheets and reduced the NPC's total XP value by 57 without adding or subtracting any dots or Charms, just by changing which items were purchased with starting dots, which with Freebie Points, and which with XP. --MetalFatigue

Good point. There you are then. - willows

So you are basically just saying that you dislike character-generation systems in which optimization is possible? I don't think designing one without such a possibility is feasible. If nothing else, we could have a hypothetical case where I play a character for a couple months. I then go back and, like you, discover that I could have saved n experience points if I had favored Ability X instead of Y, or taken Charm I instead of Charm J. The hypothesis I would create to explain this phenomenon would be as follows: If I had perfect knowledge of the game's course when I created my character, I could have optimized based on that. However, I cannot see into the future, so I optimized based on some other criteria, which turned out to be incorrect. My inefficient xp spending was probably the result of me either deciding I wanted the character to go in a different direction than I'd originally expected, or purchasing certain powers due to in-game situations which I had not foreseen.

I assert that this situation can arise in any role-playing game which uses stats. It's almost always possible to go back and think of a better way to build your character, because your aims for that character usually change over the course of a game, as you react to the actions of the other players in your group.\\ _Ikselam

This is probably just because I'm in an algorithms class and we're currently talking about P and NP, but what about a nondeterministic experience system? At any given point, after you're done updating character, if there was any cheaper path to get to your current point, then you've only paid as much XP as the cheapest path. You still have the rest to spend. This would actually get rid of a lot of min-maxing.

Since it's probably not clear what I'm getting at, let me provide an example. Say you have two stats, Strength and Dexterity. Initially, you get to divide seven points between them. Raising one of them costs XP equal to its current value. So, if your character starts as Str=4 & Dex=3, and you want to raise Strength to 5, it only costs you two XP instead of four, because you could have built a character with Str=5 & Dex=2 and then raised the Dexterity by one. This probably a nightmare to work out in practice. (In fact, I can almost guarantee that it's NP-Complete without a proof.)

-- Mapache

Yes, that problem is a stone bitch to solve computationally. I've tinkered with it, and it's a lot like the traveling salesman problem but without any obviously useful data structure. --MF

The phenomenon seems like it should pop up in any game that doesn't have a universal value controlling every numerical facet, or a very few that are wholly independent of each other. It's unavoidable in any game that feature complex mechanics and variable values with not-always-predictable interactions. I agree, though, that one can abuse abilities at character generation to a degree by juggling Bonus and Ability-point values, but, again, that can't be fixed without alligning ability- and bonus-point values, which ignores other mechanical aspects of character creation. _Jabberwocky

In the case of my play group, there is at least one character who would have been considerably better off if the player had bought the same things in a different order. A system this complicated rewards people who have nothing better to do than look for the numerical breakpoints--or, in the case of my players, penalizes the one who isn't good at spotting that sort of thing. It is certainly not the case that this situation can arise in any game with numeric stats; I defy you to find an opportunity for soybean trading in, for example, FUDGE. (Not that I think FUDGE is a particularly good system, but it doesn't have this problem.) --MetalFatigue

Oh, true. There is some definite min-maxability in character creation and advancement, largely stemming from the treble benefit of having a pair of high Virtues at the start of the game (higher Virtue, higher Willpower, more Essence).

However, I'm not sure if it's a breakpoint- rather, I think the most efficent route is meant to be used to create normal characters. Deviating from that creates characters which are both slightly abnormal and slightly weaker. - DS

I remember participating in discussions of the most efficient use of bonus points. It might even have been here; I can't recall... Ah, here it is: Discussions/PowerfulStartingSolars. The efficiency discussion occurs near the bottom. \\ _Ikselam

I think the system is designed to specifically encourage certain purchases at creation, and encourage different purchases with XP. For example, the system discourages high Essence at startup. That seems logical, as high starting Essence in some ways limits the way the game can progress (you're already "farther along the path" to those high Essence Charms, and probably have more Charms in the same tree). It encourages high Abilities, and multiple specialities. That too seems to fit in with the idea of Exalted having such high Abilities. It encourages high virtues, which are something Characters would never take otherwise and will aid the storyline. Note that it does not encourage high Attributes, as these can as easily be obtained without spending bonus points (min maxing sadly). I truly think that it is a feature in this case, not a flaw. After creation? It encourages pushing up your Essence, and buying Charms ... just the kind of thing you want to make for an exciting progression during play. ^_^ -- BrokenShade

Whereas, looking at it fron a psychological rather than mechanical point of view I've noticed that people seem to be reluctant to spend XP on Essence because it takes so long to save up the 16 or 24 points it needs (it's even worse for other types of Exalt!), so they're more happy to take the cost in BPs at character creation. Similarly, whilst I always want more Virtue points it's hard to shake loose enough BPs once I've increased all the Backgrounds and Abilites above three that I need... -- Senji

Ah Senji, that is the beauty of it! ^_^ It doesn't force you to make the choice, it simply makes it more attractive not to up Essence at creation. You can, and you clearly do, but you pay a price for it by being less "XP efficient". And think how much less hesitation you would have about upping your Essence to 4 if each extra dot cost 4BP instead. Its not about forcing choices, just making some choices more attractive than they would otherwise be. This way, you have fewer starting characters with Essence 4 (or 3). Fewer, not none. ^_^ -- BrokenShade

This problem exists in any system where the costs of creating a character differ from the costs of improving the character. In Exalted, the basic disconnect is that costs are linear when generating a character but use triangular sums for improvement thereafter. Shadowrun has the same problem. The obvious solution is just to use one system all the time (i.e. generate characters by giving them a pot of experience to spend). - Wordman