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[Let's Read/Compare] Exalted 1e, 2e & 3e core

Felix

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Brief introduction:

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up Exalted 1e when it was offered as part of a Bundle of Holding. I’d read a some Exalted 2e books, but hadn’t really followed it for years, or paid much attention to 3e’s launch. Then, when I began looking at the 1e book, I was struck by how different it felt. A couple of things I’d assumed were core concepts of the setting weren’t mentioned (e.g., that there were 300 Solars in the First Age). And the tone seemed different too, as I’ll discuss in the individual sections when I get to them.

So I started thinking it would be interesting to compare the differences in the core books, and if I was doing that, I might as well go whole hog, get 3e, and do this publicly. It’s been years since I looked at 2e, I’ve only skimmed 1e, and just downloaded 3e a few hours ago, so my knowledge of the systems and settings ranges from rusty to nonexistent. However, I have zero objections to being spoiled if something I say makes you want to mention things further in the book or that are only revealed later in the game line’s history.

Without further ado…

Opening Fiction
A disclaimer: I understand that many people love fiction in game books, and find it helps immerse them in the world and story. I am not one of them. If I were reading this on my own, I’d probably come back and hold off on the fiction until I’d read the rest of the book to see if there were ideas for adventure hooks or what to do in the game. One of the things I appreciated about the comic-style fiction of 2e was that it was easy to get through quickly. So if you ask me if I enjoyed the stories overall, my reaction is generally going to be a shrug and "eh, it's fine."

Exalted 1e: This book starts out with two pieces of fiction. Aesha, a Solar, is being chased by the Wyld Hunt in Chiaroscuro.She hides in a haunted section of town so that the Dragon Blooded will need to get through angry ghosts and other obstacles to get to her. There’s a big fight pitting her against two Dragon Bloodeds and a group of mortals, which she wins fairly easiy, though she does take a stab wound in the process.

Detail I really like:
  • The spirit of the city, Grandmother Bright, wants the evil parts warded, and when she discovers the holy salt protecting it has been stolen, she will track down and horribly kill the thief no matter why they did it. A chilling boogey man.)

Exalted 2e: A circle of Solars comes across a flooded town, and are told that it is the work of a nearby river god. They pretty easily beat him up, and learn that he had caused the flooding accidentally, because he was sad the village had stopped sending girls to sing to him. It ends with the Circle confronting the villagers about why they didn’t tell the Solars this fact.

It’s a very different tone to take to start the book out. 1e had a Solar on the run, taking out her enemies through a combination of power and strategy, iike a pulp hero. 2e feels more like a superhero comic, where the good guys go in and beat up a monster with little thought or effort.

Exalted 3e: My impression of this piece is that it’s busy. Flashbacks. Changing points of view. History/creation myths of a city. Lots of chaotic fights and distractions from the fights. It starts in Wu-Jian, with a girl named Susu who finds what I originally thought was a Lunar, a pig with strange tattoos, but since it was killed and eaten was probably just some holy oracular pig. Then we don’t really hear much more about Susu, as the story turns to her older cousin Sabriya years later, after she’s become a Solar. She’s hunted down by two DBs in the Wyld Hunt, Jin and Toad Rat, and there’s this chaotic battle, later joined by a Sidereal named Eastern Star, and another giant boar (that I think is a god) who doesn’t like Solars or want them back.

Details that caught my eye:
  • During the fight, Jin and Sabriya spend time discussing whether you can get a decent pork bun in Wu-Jian while exchanging potentially lethal blows. That’s fun.
  • Would a Dragon Blooded allow themselves to be called Toad Rat? It doesn’t seem like the sort of name someone who believes he is destined to rule the world because of his divine blood would accept.that sort of nickname.
 

Sage Genesis

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Subscribed! I fell in love with the original Exalted setting, and as such my own vision of the game is forevermore cemented in the 1e core book and some choice bits of the first few supplements. As you note, the tone and certain setting details are very different. I look forward to you contrasting the three.
 

Felix

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Subscribed! I fell in love with the original Exalted setting, and as such my own vision of the game is forevermore cemented in the 1e core book and some choice bits of the first few supplements. As you note, the tone and certain setting details are very different. I look forward to you contrasting the three.
I can definitely see that. 1e Core seems like it would be a fascinating game to run (Lunars, for one, would play very differently).

Some more thoughts on the opening fiction. I suspect that the piece in 3e is aimed primarily at readers of the first two editions, with a secondary focus of people who are picking up the book for the first time. That's why it's denser, goes into the world's history in more detail, and introduces what (I think) is a new part of the setting.

I guess I could assume that 2e's tone is designed to say "It's okay to play this as a game where you kick ass and take names."
 

neOmega

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Would a Dragon Blooded allow themselves to be called Toad Rat? It doesn’t seem like the sort of name someone who believes he is destined to rule the world because of his divine blood would accept.that sort of nickname.
I would interpret that name as an attempt at invoking desired aspects via animal motifs. Kind of like how the animals in the Chinese zodiac are associated with various character traits. So it isn't supposed to imply that the character looks like a toad and/or rat, nor to suggest anything about their place in any proverbial food chain.
 

Felix

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Before I start this section, I need to get a major, major, major complaint about 1e off my back. The tracking. I hate how there are lineswhereallthelettersseemjammedtogetherunreadably.

Anyway, each edition has things in roughly the same order at the moment, but not quite. Where both 1e and 3e give a brief history in the Introduction, 2e holds it till the next chapter, but I'm comparing them all together. I’m sure this will be a problem as I get further into the books, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Exalted 3e’s introductory quotes are from Tanith Lee, about the Iron Princess, and Abraham Lincoln, about how power is the true test of a man’s character. 2e begins with a Shelly poem about greatness returning to the world. 1e started with a passage from Clark Ashton Smith about a dying world. Probably a good example of where to focus.

Credits page and Table of Contents:
I don’t really have much to say, Anyone on rpg.net is going to recognize quite a few of the names in 3e’s page. And since 3e’s goes into subcategories in each chapter, I guess I could comment on a few new things that were added, but I’ll talk about them when we get to them..

Fiction before Introduction:
Exalted 3: Novia, a Solar, uses her stealth to sneak onto a boat and steal some documents and jade before she gets caught. I get the sense she’s not taking it that seriously. (Also, I’ve seen threads about 3e’s art, and the drawing of Novia on the mast of the ship is kinda disconcerting if you look at it too long.

Exalted 2: The introductory comic is the Bull of the North fighting an Abyssal. At least, I’m assuming it’s the Bull of the North and not some other older-looking Solar. 2e could definitely have done a little more to make you care about its iconic characters, like have people use their names occasionally.

Exalted 1: Panther reflects about how he will use his new Solar exaltation to prevent barbarian hordes from taking over his nation. He also thinks about how Sol spoke to him when he Exalted. Of these three mini-stories, this is the most interesting to me for a couple of reasons:
  1. It gives a glimpse of Sol. And I appreciate how he speaks like something you’d find in the biblical prophets.
  2. Panther apparently became a Solar while lying in bed. While I’m not sure it’s ever explicitly stated anywhere, I got the impression playing and reading 2e that PCs were expected to Exalt in the middle of a crisis situation, ideally leaving a trail of corpses and alerting everyone within miles with their Anima.

Introduction
1e and 3e start with essentially the same story. There was a golden age, then the ruling Solars became corrupt and were overthrown. Time passes, the Great Contagion messes everything up. Then the Scarlet Empress unites the Realm, and rules until disappearing five years ago. Suddenly, Solars come back, Abyssals begin appearing, and Deathlords are taking over cities. The only notable difference I see in 3e is that it mentions Lunars a little more often.

2e spends a lot more time on prehistory, It mentions when the Primodials ruled the world, that they created gods so they could play the Games of Divinity, how the Yozis and Neverborn came to be, details of the Great Curse, and so on. It also mentions the Dragon Kings and a few other things I’m not sure are really useful for a player starting out. Does it matter that the Deathlords are the ghosts of 13 long dead Solars?

(I have just answered my own question: It does if you want to play someone who wiellds the Deathlord’s shard, which is a pretty reasonable concept, but fairly niche.)

Reading 1e and 3e’s introductions, I get the idea the focus of the game will be on dealing with the chaos of the slowly decaying Realm. 2e tends to point out a lot of other areas to focus on.

One thing that 2e does neither of the other editions bothers with is a “what makes Exalted unique” section, which I rather like. Part of it is just saying that you get to play really powerful characters, but part of it is explaining that J.R.R. Tolkien is deliberately ignored as an influence, with a focus on older works (pulp sword and sorcery), much older work (Journey to the West), and newer sources such as anime and video games.

Lexicon
A few notes on this:
1e: What would later be called the Neverborn are known as Malfeans. And Abyssals are much more mysterious than they were when I started reading: “Not even the wisest of the Sidereal Exalted knows from whence the Deathlords summoned them,” notes the book.

2e: One new word in the listing is “savant.” Another is “Yu Shan.” Apparently mortal magic users were not considered big things in 1e, and heaven had yet to be defined when the book was written.

3e: This adds a pronunciation guide to some terms. I guess that someone at Onyx Path got tired of having their players say “I have a Hearthstone from my Dee-Mes-Nee.” One word I’m surprised wasn’t in earlier editions was Daiklave.

They also mention two new types of Exalts here, Exigent and Liminals. Exigent are created by lesser gods with help from Sol, and Liminals are… another sort of death-themed Exalt? I’m not clear on the concept at this point There is, also, no mention of Infernals. I know that they were problematic (both because their power set was tied to 2e’s mechanics and they encouraged too many “Yozis escape” plots) but I had the impression they were a fan favorite.

Recommended reading:
My thoughts: All of these lists look pretty good. Exalted’s got a lot of influences, so I’m not surprised there are substantial changes from one edition to another.

1e: I am not surprised 1e mentions The Black Company, but I’m surprised it doesn’t say the Taken are models for Abyssals (the Lady is described as a Solar, and one of them as a Lunar, but a bunch of dead, nigh-invulnerable warrior-mages says Abyssal to me).

Herodotus is included in the Classics section as an example of how sophisticated ancient societies could be. It makes sense, though I wouldn’t have thought of that. I've always thought of his work as the thing that straddled the line between legends and history, purporting to tell what happened but willing to accept the fantastic as truth.

Grave of the Fireflies is recommended because people might not believe anime can be emotionally effective, not because it’s reminiscent of Exalted. I guess the developers in 2001 thought people wouldn’t know what to make of suggesting cartoons for inspiration. (I bought BESM 2e in 2001, so it strikes me anime was accepted as serious stuff in the RPG world then, but I could be wrong).. Another somewhat strange suggestion is the game Thief, which doesn’t really bring to mind any particular setting.

2e: The Bible is added to the classics section, which I think is an interesting choice. This also answers my question about Thief, by saying Deadly Shadows is great for Night Castes and its arrows for Wood Aspects.

Both 2e and 1e suggest Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but the attitude toward the movie changed. 1e says it’s got good wirework, but is “long on dialogue and short on action.” 2e says it “rises above the many such films released from Hong Kong studios every year.”

3e: I have to say that these lists all send me to Amazon to look things up and think about purchasing. I hadn’t heard of The Bride with White Hair, and never got around to reading Imajica. I’m not sure why the BIble was condensed to the Book of Judges. (I guess because reading dozens of pages about ancient genealogy isn’t fun. But Moses makes a pretty good Zenith.)
 

bottg

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That reminds me, i must get back to my own WIR for 3rd. Seeing the differences will be interesting though.
 

Sage Genesis

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Does it matter that the Deathlords are the ghosts of 13 long dead Solars?
This is one of my pet peeves. The 1e core doesn't define what Deathlords are and implies that there may be hundreds of them. Then later on supplemental material set the number to 13 and established they were all Solar ghosts. It was exactly this sort of detail which made the setting less fun for me.
 

Felix

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This is one of my pet peeves. The 1e core doesn't define what Deathlords are and implies that there may be hundreds of them. Then later on supplemental material set the number to 13 and established they were all Solar ghosts. It was exactly this sort of detail which made the setting less fun for me.
The later editions do tend to go into a lot of -- arguably unnecessary -- detail compared to 1e. I don't know how much was because details hadn't been invented, or they wanted to give people a reason to buy the supplements.

For example (spoiler alert for my next entry) 3e's next chapter has an extensive sidebar on how long Exalted live. I'm not sure what this adds to the game that a couple of lines "DBs live 2-3 centuries (with the exception of the Empress), a few Celestials remember the First Age so live at least that long" wouldn't have done.
 

Lord Raziere

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Exalted 2e: A circle of Solars comes across a flooded town, and are told that it is the work of a nearby river god. They pretty easily beat him up, and learn that he had caused the flooding accidentally, because he was sad the village had stopped sending girls to sing to him. It ends with the Circle confronting the villagers about why they didn’t tell the Solars this fact.

It’s a very different tone to take to start the book out. 1e had a Solar on the run, taking out her enemies through a combination of power and strategy, iike a pulp hero. 2e feels more like a superhero comic, where the good guys go in and beat up a monster with little thought or effort.
Uh no.

The Solars confronted the bandits who took the singing girls away from them. the town opening narration specifically says "their many wives and daughters stolen in bandit raids". the people they confront wear different clothes and clearly have weapons. if they confronted the villagers, they would've confronted the same old man and people who were downtrodden in the flood.
 

OnyxHope

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I am happily following this thread, I will likely pop in to give fan impressions of Ex3 as they come up. I have read but never played 1st and joined 2nd just before revision hit so have a skewed view of the line as a whole I think.
 
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