[Exalted+] Limit Break: Homebrew System

Ratix

Retired User
Yep, another one of those, folks. But hey, I figure I'm in good company when it comes to this sorta thing, so away we go...

I recall back in the third edition speculation thread someone mentioned their ideal Exalted system being something like "write down five things your character is good at, rate them 1 to five, pick 10 charms." Which sparked the idea to me "what if someone figured out a way to add charm complexity to the quickstart rules." So I had the idea of coming up with a ruleset that would be dirt simple on the outside, but enough potential nuance that a charm system could be introduced with little trouble. The result is this: My Exalted Homebrew.

Not sure what to call it yet, but Exalted Mini has been the working title for now. I'll come up with something better later, for now I wanna get the basics down:

Abilities: There are five Abilities, rated 1-5.

Warfare – Instinct for combat in all forms. It covers training and experience in combat situations, from skirmishes to the movement and engagement of armies, and any number of combat arts.

Prowess – Skill at being indirect. It covers a criminal’s instinct to act unseen, as well as the character’s athletic potential, being used when performing an aggressive physical feat or dodging an attack.

Majesty – Inner force of physical and mental resilience. It covers directly influencing others as a leader, as well as resisting influence. It also includes physical resistance to poisons, diseases, and surviving and communing with the wilderness.

Scholarship – Level of learning and ingenuity. It covers building and making things, knowledge of languages and the world, and talent for the magical arts, as well as understanding of the courts of spirits, gods and demons.

Embassy – Ability to bring situations into harmony. It covers control, rather than command, of social situations. It is also the art of safe travel, and is used when controlling a mount or sailing a ship.


Basic Mechanics: Roll and keep dice pool system. Build a pool using an Ability rating plus bonuses, roll the dice and keep the highest result. Matching sets can add together, making it possible to get results higher than 6. The result is compared to a target number, usually 4 or higher, or the result of a contested roll.

Backgrounds: Anything that's important to the character is defined as a Background. This can be a powerful artifact, a specialty in an Ability, a strong Virtue or defining Motivation, or connections or contacts the character has access to. These are rated in dots from 1-3, each dot giving either +1 dice to related actions, or a special effect (like being able to ask for favors without any fuss). No more than 3 dice may be added to a single roll from Backgrounds, but the character can benefit from any number of special effects. Also, Exalted characters begin with a free dot in a Virtue Background.

Conflict: Conflicts between characters can use one, two, or more Abilities. Simply declare how many are going to be used at the beginning of a turn, and build your pool using the lowest of those chosen Abilities. Then, roll the dice and keep the highest, one result for each action attempted. Matching sets added together only count for one action in this case. Then compare your results to your opponents, from lowest to highest. If one character attempted more actions than the other, those are considered unopposed actions, and are compared against a result of 0.

Damage: When results are compared, the character with the higher result has triumphed in that exchange, and inflicts damage equal to the difference. Rather than cumulative, damage is marked off one at a time. Meaning if you take 3 damage on one exchange, and 2 on the next, you'll have the 2nd and 3rd boxes of health marked off. If you later take 3 damage again, that is rolled up to a 4, so the 4th box is marked off. If the damage you take ever exceeds your available health, you're Taken Out, in a manner of your opponent's choosing.


And that's the bare bones! Basically, any conflict is possible within this system, be it a fight, a stirring performance, or a debate. And since it's Exalted, a single conflict could have all three! Since any Ability can be used, characters are free to participate and define the conflict however they want. Naturally there's the chance a character will think they can get away with maxing a single Ability for all their needs, but that's where using multiple Abilities comes into play! It lets well-rounded characters take advantage of more focused characters by forcing them to take a penalty or leave themselves open.

And that's just for mortals. Charms would add another layer on top of this, letting characters add dice, alter their rolls, use those other dice in the pool, etc... haven't exactly worked that out in detail yet. :p

I'm still unsure about what term to use for damage and health, as it's not just about physical health; it includes composure and integrity as well. I was using Harm at first, same thing as in tSoY, but it seems inappropriate...

Thoughts?
 

Ratix

Retired User
Re: [Exalted+] Homebrew System

More details!

Naturally I'm starting with Solars, as they should always be the baseline of the game. So let's look at the Great Curse.

Virtue Flaw: This is linked to the character's highest rated Virtue. When acting in accordance with that Virtue for a scene, the character gains 1 XP. However, when she gains 10 XP in this manner, she suffers a Limit Break where she acts out her Flaw. Without holding back, the Solar gains back 5 Essence per dot in the linked Virtue, which can push them above their maximum pool. If attempting to control herself, she gains no Essence but acts less extremely.

For XP, I'm thinking of a system where every 10 XP you gain, you get a "Raise" which can be used to increase stats. Character creation will have you starting with a few raises, much like the standard system has bonus points.

And speaking of Essence...

Essence: Might be rated from 1-10, but I'm not sure if that's necessary right now. Most characters only care about the 1-5 range though. Mortals start at 1, Exalted start at 2. Essence is useful not only for your Essence pools, it also affects how much damage you can take. More on that later.

Essence Pools: Essence isn't divided into personal and peripheral, but nor is that necessary with how Anima works now. For mote pools, characters use the following formulas:

Solars/Abyssals: 15 + (Essence x 5)
Lunars/Sidereals: 15 + (Essence x 4)
Terrestrials: 10 + (Essence x 3)

Starting Exalt at Essence 2 equals:
Solar/Abyssal: 25
Lunar/Sidereal: 23
Terrestrial: 16

So yeah, I'm still keeping the different power levels. And one more thing Essence effects...

Harm: Still not sure what else to call this, so I'll go by the Shadow of Yesterday term for now. Characters have 5 Harm + Essence score, so typical Heroic Mortals have 6 Harm, starting Exalts have 7, on up to 15 for Essence 10. I'm thinking that Charms will reduce damage taken to simulate toughness magic.

Anima Flaring: Anytime an Exalt spends Essence, he may opt to flare his Anima, revealing his nature and improving his magic. Normally, the Anima fades on any turn in which the Exalt does not intentionally flare it. However, Charms with a duration greater than Instant may have their cost increased by a single mote, which is committed along with the Charm. As long as this extra mote is committed, the Anima continues to Flare every turn, even if the Exalt spends no further Essence.

Note: Yes, I have mention of committed Essence here. I'm not sure if I'll be using that concept or not, but it depends on how frequent I make Essence regeneration. I'm thinking, since characters have fewer resources (Essence motes and Harm, basically) that it should be harder to gain them back, so there's less need of a mechanic that was otherwise used to prevent people from getting free scene-longs by re-filling Essence with Stunts. Heck, I don't even think Stunts are all that necessary in this system... you're already free to use any Ability to take down an enemy, what changes is the Charms you have access to and how you can take them out (meaning, you can't kill someone with Embassy).

Advantages of Flaring: While Flaring, Exalts channel their Excellencies through their Anima, allowing them to activate Excellencies as innate abilities, without them counting as charm use. I'll get to Excellencies later.

Solar Anima Powers

Dawn – While Flaring, the Dawn becomes a worthy match for any force. The Magnitude of any opponent is reduced by 2, to a minimum of 0.

Zenith – Glowing with noon-time sunlight, the Zenith drives back the dark. The Zenith gains +1 Magnitude against Creatures of Darkness, but can’t increase effective Magnitude higher than 10.

Twilight – Flaring with arcane might, a Twilight remains bulwark in the pursuit of knowledge. Reduce any incoming damage by 1, to a minimum of 1.

Night – The banner of a Night caste obscures rather than reveals. The Night gains half her Essence in Magnitude for Prowess actions.

Eclipse – Eclipse castes call down heaven’s authority to sanctify a sworn oath. By flaring on an action in which an oath is agreed upon, the Eclipse sanctifies it. If the oath is ever broken, the breaker will “botch” a number of future actions equal to the Eclipse’s Essence score at the time of sanctifying. A botch means that the action is treated as if it had a result of 0.

Now I mention Magnitude there, and this is something that I really have to owe inspiration to Bailywolf and his tSoY conversion of Exalted. Basically, Magnitude makes your actions "bigger," and gives the system a nice scaling feature that should make up for its granularity.

Magnitude: Character actions are assumed to be on the human-level scale, or Magnitude 0. To represent larger actions, such as effecting or interacting with much larger areas, populations, or mass, there is the Magnitude scale.

Code:
[b]Magnitude     Equal To…[/b]
0                The immediate area, individuals, as much mass as a person could move.
1                Village-sized area, up to a few dozen people, up to a ton of mass.
2                A town, a few hundred people, several tons of mass.
3                A large town, up to a thousand people, several hundred tons of mass.
4                A city (Lookshy), several thousand people, a small island’s worth of mass.
5                A City-state (Nexus), tens of thousands of people, a mountain’s worth of mass.
6                An entire territory (Hundred Kingdoms), a million people, the mass of a large island.
7                A nation (Scavenger Lands), a few million people, the mass of a mountain range.
8                A large nation (Realm), tens of millions of people, Mount Meru.
9                An empire (Shogunate), hundreds of millions of people, the Blessed Isle.
10             A colossal empire (Old Realm), billions of people, all the mass of Creation.
Magnitude Bonus: Forces that rate as Magnitude gain bonuses. Every rank of Magnitude grants +1 result for all actions, +1 damage when determining damage from the difference, and +1 Harm when suffering damgae, which adds extra health boxes that can be checked off, starting with Harm 1, up to Harm 10. Natural sources of Magnitude, such as armies, cities, etc., grant all these bonuses; Magnitude effects generated from Charms or supernatural power rarely convey all these bonuses, though high-Essence charms or Sorcery might.

Excellencies: Every Exalt type has a unique Excellency for Abilities. Buying charms under a given Ability always requires buying the Excellency for that Ability first. Normally Excellencies count as charm use, and can't be placed into Combos with other Charms. However by opting to flare Anima, Excellencies can be used without taking up charm use.

Solar (Ability) Excellency
Cost: 1m
Keywords: Excellency
Duration: Instant
Solars call forth raw talent from Essence. This Excellency adds one die to the pool when using this Ability
Essence 4: Solars are wells of infinite talent. The Excellency can now add a number of dice up to the rating in the Ability, at the cost of 1 mote per added die.

Lunar (Ability) Excellency
Cost: 1m
Keywords: Excellency
Duration: Instant
Lunars channel Essence to ensure success. Activating this Excellency after rolling the pool sets a single die to one higher value, to a maximum of six.
Essence 4: Lunars bring their entire being into harmony. The Excellency now increases the value of a number of dice equal to the Ability, at a cost of 1 mote per die increased, still to a maximum of six.

Sidereal (Ability) Excellency
Cost: 2m
Keywords: Excellency
Duration: Instant
Sidereals recover effortlessly from failure. After rolling the Ability’s pool, this charm may be activated to re-roll any one die once.
Essence 4: Sidereals command fate to erase their errors. For a cost of 4 motes, the Sidereal re-rolls up to a number of dice equal to the rating of the Ability.

Terrestrial (Ability) Excellency
Cost: 1m
Keywords: Excellency
Duration: Instant
The Dragon-Blooded aide their allies well. This Excellency adds one die to an ally’s pool. It can only enhance the same Ability, meaning both the Terrestrial and the ally must attempt actions with the same Ability.


Notice that Dragon-Blooded get what is essentially a Solar Excellency trick, but it applies for their allies. But a whole party of Dragon-Blooded, using this on each other... oh mama. However, they don't get an Essence 4 upgrade.

I'm not 100% sure on the balance of all this yet. Especially Lunars. An older version of the rules had matches granting multiple actions (as opposed to selecting them) and less consequence for performing fewer actions than your opponent. Given the current rule, I should probably change those, 'cause that makes Lunars a lot better at getting results right now. Hmm...
 

Ratix

Retired User
Re: [Exalted+] Homebrew System

So, I did some playtesting today, between 2 mortal characters of differing stats, but otherwise equal in potential. And right away I see a problem with the mechanics; specifically multiple actions is a bit TOO powerful. Characters that don't take multiple actions are basically guaranteed to eat damage and may not get much out of going all out in return. So I've modified the rule about what happens when a character's action is unopposed by another character's. Basically, the defending character can use some of their excess dice to block the action, reducing its effect. Unlike dice used for actions however, matching sets can't be combined into one result, nor can you cause damage by rolling higher.

So if a character who performed 3 actions rolled 5, 5, 3, 2, for results of 10, 3, and 2. If the opponent only made 1 action, and rolled 6, 4, 1, 1, 1, for a result of 6, then the first character would inflict 4 damage on the single action character with the first action. The 3 action would be blocked by the 4, but since this die wasn't part of an action, it can't inflict damage for being 1 higher. The last 2 is blocked by one of the 1 dice, reducing it to just 1 damage. The three 1s can't combine together to completely block the action, however.

The other thing I noticed is, combat is lethal for mortals! A fight between two equal opponents basically always has a chance of being a complete shutout when one character rolls three 6s and the other can't get more than a 10. Because a difference of 7 or more is a one-hit KO for Esssence 1 mortals. Basically, mortals really want to be able to add non-matching dice, which is most likely gonna be a Charm effect of some sort.

So for, things are looking good, but any comments people have would be great.
 

Ratix

Retired User
Re: [Exalted+] Homebrew System

So, after reading over the What has D&D 4e taught you about good game design thread, I thought I'd take the time to lay out some of my design goals with this homebrew. Hopefully it'll help me communicate exactly what I'm driving at with it, and even help critique.

My main goals are:

All inputs are equally valid - This is pretty much saying that characters can use just about any ability to solve a problem. The difference is in how the problem is solved, which depends on the ability and charms used, and what the consequences of using that ability are. So beating everyone up with Warfare isn't good PR, and conning/dissuading everyone with Embassy leaves your enemies around to plan and scheme behind your back. These are tangible enough consequences, which don't need mechanics directly tied to them, in my opinion.

Fluff/Mechanics division - This is a big one which I got from 4e, and something I think Exalted really needs. Let it be known, I love Exalted fluff, but especially in Charm descriptions, it can be unclear what is fluff and what are rules. When I get serious in writing charms, they'll all have a line or two of fluff which is kept noticeably separate from the rules discussion. Not only is this good organization, it leads to cleaner, more concise writing of rules that doesn't have to use the same long-winded flowery language as the fluff.

Emphasize each archetype's appeal - Another lesson from 4e, I'd like to take this opportunity to really lay out why someone would want to play a particular Exalted type or Caste/Aspect. By doing so, I'll also be able to keep their themes well-established, which can further help in writing the rules.

Minimal of subsystems - Right now aside from what I've outlined, the only subsystems should be charms themselves, and maybe building things. And even then that'll be pretty loose. The main point of this goal is to not create a different way of playing for each Exalt type. Yes, I know that the differences in how the Exalt types work is a big attraction to the game for some, and I agree. That's why I'm implementing it in a more direct way, mostly in how Charms work. A lot of them will involve different routes to accomplishing the same thing, some more useful at times than others, but all relevant nonetheless.

Freedom to describe and interpret results - The main draw of Stunts, in my opinion, is the freedom they allow to describe what a character is doing, and to work with the results. Since the basic roll-and-keep/compare mechanic is so simple, and you can use any ability to oppose any other, I think I have this goal down pretty well already.

Simple mechanics on which to build Charms - The whole point of a dirt-simple basic mechanic in this case is so it's easy to learn and apply it to Charms, which are gonna be the main way of performing huge actions (in other words, the actions that matter in the setting). Of course, the granularity of the basics would require a re-thinking on how Charms effect the character. One mechanic I want to avoid are "perfects" of any kind. The system is just too granular for them to have a place. The Magnitude mechanic serves just as well in representing overwhelming attacks and defenses.


Lately, I've been thinking about how to implement charms, and this has gotten me thinking on what I WANT out of them. Obviously they'll be the biggest influence a character has on actions, as otherwise you're mostly trying to roll the biggest pool and hoping you get lucky (which is fine for mortals, IMO). In the Alternatives to net-loss resources thread, Mailanka notes that most games either have you going all out at first, or holding back until your opponent is depleted. Obviously it's the latter that typically happens in Exalted. What caught my eye was this quote:

Mailanka said:
I'd rather see a system that encourages probing blows and tactics on the outset, and then increasingly powerful and dangerous attacks later on.
This is something that I'd be interested in trying for this homebrew, and would definitely distinguish it if nothing else. Most of my favorite fight scenes play out this way anyway, so it'd be awesome if the mechanics encouraged it.

Only issue is how to do so. I already am on the right track I think with Excellencies, which become innate abilities when your anima is flaring, meaning anytime your anima flares means you're drawing on more resources suddenly.

I think the answer might lie in the idea of "combos" in Exalted. As it is, they're ways to use more than one Charm at a time, which is useful, but not quite what I'm looking for. Perhaps an Exalt has difficulty in using a powerful Charm at first without having used lesser ones. One way of doing that is to have low-level charms give small benefits that can add up to making a more powerful attack more accurate and likely to be successful. Or low-level charms can give defensive advantage and thus would be the first to be utilized in a serious match.

I'm uncertain if I want to implement a system of tracking "combo points" where lesser attacks add up a resource that allows you to use more powerful charms. Mostly because I don't want the build-up battle to be so heavily enforced; characters should be able to break out at times in odd matches and use their best move right away, it just won't have the same benefits as building up.

I still haven't ruled out the possibility that this could be done with a means of gaining Essence throughout the fight; you start off with a very low Essence amount, and you have to engage the opponent in order to "accumulate Essence" much like some fighting games have you accumulate chi or "tension" to use your best moves. I'm just not really sold on this idea, and would interfere with other things like Sorcery, which isn't necessarily done in a combative situation. I also had the idea to borrow tSoY's pool refresh idea, and have different Castes/Aspects recover Essence in different ways, and a "super bar" doesn't work well with that sort of idea.

In the meantime, I have some thoughts on Exalt type theme, at least as far as how they accomplish things:

Solars have a "trick" for every situation
Lunars are resourceful, adapting to the situation
Sidereals change the situation to suit their needs
Terrestrials need to work together to accomplish what Celestials do

With that, here are the revised Excellencies. I leave out things like "Keyword:" and "Duration" because I'm not sure if that's necessary at this time. Heck, even the costs might change.

Solar (Ability) Excellency
The Lawgivers call forth raw talent from Essence.
Cost: 1m
Increase the action result by 1.

Lunar (Ability) Excellency
Ever adaptive, the children of Luna channel Essence to insure success.
Cost: 1m
Add two non-matching dice to determine the action result. Matching sets cannot be added to this total.

Sidereal (Ability) Excellency
The keepers of Fate re-weave the Tapestry to change any outcome.
Cost: 2m
Increase or decrease a single die’s value before determining the action result.

Terrestrial (Ability) Excellency
The Dragon-Blooded are united in adversity, aiding one another towards victory.
Cost: 1m
Increase an ally’s action result by 1. Any single character can only benefit from this Excellency once per turn.

So, Solar's Excellency always applies, but may not be as useful with low results. Lunars use theirs as a way to get out of sub-par results (like if your highest roll is a 5, then a 4). You can nab a higher result, but it doesn't benefit if you have matching sets. Sidereals mainly use their Excellency to create matching sets when you've got, say, a 6 and two 5s. Simply reduce the 6 to a 5, and you've got a 15 instead of a 10. The fact they can get pretty drastic changes is why I rated its cost higher. Finally, Terrestrials get Solar-like effects, but only by enhancing their allies. But if a whole sworn brotherhood enhances each other... watch out.
 

Ratix

Retired User
Re: [Exalted+] Homebrew System

Okay, big development that I wanted to post. I've come up with what could be a workable system to handle charm combat as a "buildup-to-finisher" pacing, that doesn't walk all over mote regaining. For this, I actually have the old DBZ RPG by Talsorian Games to thank for the inspiration; say what you will about that game, I've probably said as much myself, but it did a GREAT job of modeling the "power up" sequences of the series.

Using Charms
or, the Combo System

There are no universal limits to how many charms one can use in a given round. However, you must have an available action related to an ability to use charms associated with that ability. The exception are charms with the Reflexive keyword, which can be used in rounds where their corresponding ability is not being used.

Flaring the anima allows Excellencies to be activated for free, though as Excellencies lack the Reflexive keyword, they still require their corresponding ability be utilized in the round.

Accumulating Essence

The key to Charm-enhanced conflict is accumulating Essence. The Essence pool is only the potential resources an Exalt can call forth. Before they can be utilized for most charms, Essence must be accumulated, shifting motes from the latent pool to the active pool. Outside a conflict, it only requires a moment of concentration to gather the Essence necessary to activate a charm. This is one of the first tricks learned by new Exalts, and is completely efficient; the character simply expends the cost in motes needed for the charm. Once conflict rounds begin, however, accumulating Essence is more involved.

All participants of a conflict begin the first round with a number of motes shifted into their active pool equal to their permanent Essence. These points are immediately available to power charms. During any round, a successful action allows the character to accumulate more Essence, shifting a number of motes into the active pool equal to the damage dealt by that action. Additionally, a single action can be “sacrificed” per round to accumulate Essence, shifting the character’s permanent Essence in motes into the active pool. Sacrificed actions are lost for that round; their dice are set aside, they don’t count as actions for the purpose of using charms, nor can they resist the actions of opponents. Any time Essence is accumulated, the character can always opt to shift fewer motes than permitted; however, motes cannot be shifted from the active pool back to the latent pool.

Charms with the Combo keyword generate “Combo Essence” when used. Combo Essence can fuel other Combo charms, allowing the character to tap into far greater resources then they’d normally be capable of. Combo Essence must be used quickly however; it dissipates at the end of the next round. The downside to using Combo Essence is that it automatically flares the Exalt’s anima when used to activate charms, whether the character wants to or not.

At the end of a conflict (that is, when the available opposition has been Taken Out, or all participants opt out), any remaining motes in the active pool are lost. The character must regain Essence as normal, which fills the latent pool.


So far it looks like it'll be very workable; Combo Essence basically replaces the need for building pre-set Combos as in the original system, and gives a tactical edge by combining different charms to build up power. I haven't yet decided about the specifics of charm timing and declaration, such as whether you need to declare all charms used at the start of a round and must be able to pay for them all, or if you can declare charms without the necessary motes in your active pool, and hope you can accumulate them to use them. It might not be too big a deal; charms that can't be paid for simply wouldn't activate, no need to complicate things further with reward/drawbacks to this sort of thing.

Another change is the benefit of flaring anima, though that mostly comes out of eliminating the restriction of one charm per round.
 
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Ratix

Retired User
Some more notes, this time focusing on Extras and mass combat (physical and social combined, naturally).

A note on Magnitude: I've drastically simplified the bonus this gives; it now simply gives a +1 to the action results of the character it benefits, rather than all sorts of odd bonuses.


Extras

Extras are lesser skilled characters, usually unheroic mortals or minor supernatural beings. Individually they are weak; Mediocre extras roll 3 dice, decent extras roll 4 dice, elite extras roll 5 dice. Any successful action against an extra Takes it Out. Each individual extra can perform only one action per round. It is only by teaming together that a group of extras can prove effective against worthy opponents.

Magnitude Units: Any number of extras can be organized into a unit; this can be an army, an organization, a god’s followers, or any other social or martially organized group. If a group of unorganized extras want to join together, they do so at the end of the current round of conflict. Units act as a single character, gaining a Harm track equal to the leader’s Harm. Most leaders are heroic mortals or exalted; a unit led by an extra has 5 Harm.

A unit has a Magnitude rating depending on its size, but is always a minimum of 1. Note that units with more members than Magnitude 1 (i.e., over a dozen) only count as higher Magnitude if they are trained to work together. Otherwise the unit is little more than an unruly mob or corrupted organization.

Mass Conflict: Units perform actions just like characters, using the lowest of the leader’s chosen abilities plus bonuses, and adding the Magnitude rating to all action results Units led by extras only take one action per round; needless to say, extras make poor leaders.

Damage taken is applied to the leader’s Harm. Damage that exceeds Harm means either the unit or the leader are Taken Out, defender’s choice. Should the leader be taken out, another character can take over the unit at the end of the round if the unit is not ready to surrender.

Alternately, the leader can subtract 1 or more points of Magnitude from the damage dealt. This reduces Harm taken, but also the unit’s Magnitude by the same amount. This weakens the unit, representing soldiers killed or routed, government officials quitting or indicted, or believers deserting. This reduction lasts until action is taken to restore it, though this cannot usually be done in the midst of combat. Outside, it is comparable to an action taken by an Exalt to regain Essence; it must be appropriate to the original unit, and be an action that can be carried out by the unit’s leader or other authority.

Note that a unit reduced to Magnitude 0 is not unable to act; it still counts as a unit for the purpose of Backgrounds and Charms, and it has a Harm track (including those led by extras). It is merely disorganized, corrupt, or shaken, and adds nothing to the leader’s action results. Such a unit can succeed only by the merit of its leader.
 
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