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[Let's Read] Exalted First Edition Corebook

Cadwyn

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I first got into Exalted near the end of the first edition run, so second edition was the meat of my experience with the game. Despite loving it to death, I've been kind of an off-and-on gamer the past half-decade or so, just getting back into playing and running (exclusively online). Even running a second edition solo game as a primer to get ready for third edition.

I assume the recent Kickstarter needs no introduction. I should start off that I'm quite excited for the new edition, and have generally been happy with what has been presented. One of the themes the developers and writers are stressing is how this is essentially a "setting reboot." Not in terms of metaplot, which Exalted has never been very prone to anyway, but in terms of established conventions, power creep, and "meta-knowledge" of how the world works and what PCs must do to change it. All of which makes sense on the surface.

As preparation for all this, I felt it might be helpful to revisit the place where it all started: the 2001, Exalted first edition corebook. I never played first edition or owned dead tree copies, but I did pick up a couple DriveThruRPG pdfs over the years, including the core. Now it should be noted: I have read through it at some point in the past, but judging by the date modified, it was 2006 when I picked this up so there's been plenty of time for the details to escape me.

As such I'll try to take this Let's Read as an opportunity to return to the game with a fresh outlook, just letting the book present the premise on its own terms and drawing conclusions from that. Not only could it provide insight as to how and why the last two editions developed the way they did, it might also clarify why third edition is developing the way its being currently presented.

Anyway enough set up, let's get started, starting with:

The Cover
A simple, but nicely framed image of Harmonious Jade. One of the first ways that Exalted tried to distinguish itself from other fantasy rpgs was with the cover showcasing a signature character in a decidedly non-cheesecake pose, and with a non-European design. The background image wraps around to the back cover and is pretty detailed, though unfortunately I couldn't find any pictures online for it.

Flipping to the back, we get a very bad-ass looking closeup of Dace, with lovely shadow detail around his features. The back cover blurb is very brief, mentioning the Realm and how the Empress has vanished and civil war is looming, and the Solar Exalted are going to change everything. It also has an awesome line that I'm glad is returning for third edition: "What legends will they tell of your deeds?" To me this is what Exalted is all about; you're not just capable of changing the world, you're expected to do so.

The back blurb also has one other line of note: "Before there was a World of Darkness, there was an age of savage adventure." I didn't grow up with World of Darkness games other than nWoD, so it's probably why a lot of little elements added from those games always go over my head. As such I'll leave out commentary on those and just take the elements as they apply directly to Exalted.

First inside page is a large scrawl of Realm script (I think it says Exalted), right away giving the game an Asian flare. Next is the opening fiction. We're treated to a city of ruins with ghost-haunted districts, and a master thief turned Solar running from the Wyld Hunt. We get a quick summary of the Immaculate Order, which gives the surprising detail that it ordains followers not to pray to spirits, but to leave that up to priests. I always thought the Order merely scheduled prayers that followers were expected to adhere to. I gotta admit, I kinda like the idea of only the priests being allowed to address spirits; it shows that anytime you see non-priests worshiping, that's a sign you're in non-Immaculate territory. It also emphasizes how important worship is to the average Creation denizen that the Order's ways stand out from the norm.

Getting back to the fiction, it ends with a fight scene that demonstrates lots of expected gameplay elements like charm use, anima banners, and fading displays following a heated exchange. Surprisingly representative of a typical session.

And now we reach:

The Credits
I recognize a couple names, but other than Geoffrey Grabowski I don't think any of them are working directly on 3e in any capacity. Maybe Dean Shomshak? I honestly forget. Still, it's kinda cool that almost the entire writing staff is now composed of fans of the original game. The credits also list those responsible for Original Concept and Design, and Phase 2 Design. Apparently, once upon a time the game was going to be VERY different from how it turned out, more like a fantasy super hero game with every Exalt type playable out of the core, and with universal powers shared amongst them. It might still be a viable design for a different game, but for now I kinda like how each type has its own powers and works a bit differently from everyone else, since that suggests different ways of doing things and thus different outlooks and philosophies. I imagine it makes a mixed game more dynamic.


And that's the opening of the book. Gotta say, the fiction does a good job of selling the game as high-action fantasy, but with a sense of danger and alienation even for the powerful characters that are implied to be the PCs. After getting a taste for the power you can wield, it's likely the second experience new players are best introduced to. The question then becomes; after the initial thrill, what do you do in the game to make your legend?


Next time: The Introduction!
 

GoldenH

Darmok & Gilad at Tenagra
Validated User
Before the Great Flood,
Before the Mythic Ages,
Before the Impergium,
Before the Sundering,
Before the Shattering,
Before there was a World of Darkness,
[size=+2]there was something else.[/size]
 

DarkMoc

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::gets out the popcorn::

I'll be interested in this, since I have some 1e sourcebooks and 2e core books.
 

Kraus

Diligent Procrastinator
RPGnet Member
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Gotta say, the fiction does a good job of selling the game as high-action fantasy, but with a sense of danger and alienation even for the powerful characters that are implied to be the PCs. After getting a taste for the power you can wield, it's likely the second experience new players are best introduced to. The question then becomes; after the initial thrill, what do you do in the game to make your legend?
I absolutely loved the opening story - it sold me on the game instantly.

Reading it again, one of the striking things is how much horror there is in it. The main character is a Conan-grade badass, but she lives in a *haunted*, ruined city:

Aesha had heard Clove's voice now and again in the years since, calling out from this ruin or that, chanting her name in childish taunts. Such sounds were common in Chiaroscuro, and Aesha sometimes laid awake at night and wondered if each of the voices had once been a person like Clove or if some or even most of them were just sounds the place itself made, the way the ocean roared as the waves crashed into the beach.
The combination of a really capable but less than law-abiding character in a down-at-heel city with touches of grandeur and horror felt very much like Robert E. Howard to me. There may also be a bit of a Hawkmoon flavour to the opening, suggesting a post-apocalypse world where magic and science are completely mashed up:

Once, centuries ago, Chiaroscuro was a jewel of the Old Realm, and they say that 20 million souls had lived within its dazzling towers of glass... After the plague, the streets were choked with rubble, bones and broken glass. The ruins proved an irresistible target for looting, and for centuries, the city was a nest of tiny bandit kingdoms. The brigands lived by picking through the rubble for the wonders of a bygone age and using weapons whose power they could no longer comprehend to annihilate their rivals for control of this block or that building.

But eventually, the weapons were exhausted. Without the danger of First Age magic to keep their armies at bay, the city's beautiful harbor and imperishable glass breakwater had drawn conquerors as surely as it had drawn looters 200 years before.
In any case, it's pure sword and sorcery, old-school, and I think that it still rocks. It was great to see the full text posted in a thread explaining what Exalted is meant to be.
 
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Cirv

New member
I'm also looking forward to this thread. I like that you're commenting on the art. Since 1e varies wildly between the good, the bad and the ugly that should be interesting.
That opening story is great. It always represented Exalted perfectly to me.
 

Skywalker

Back Off the Buddha!
Validated User
I absolutely loved the opening story - it sold me on the game instantly.

In any case, it's sword and sorcery, old-school, and I think that it still rocks. The full text is posted here.
The fiction in the 1e Corebook is of very high quality. I remember a few pieces vividly, such as Panther's Exaltation and Roseblack in battle. I had forgotten about the quality of the opening story.

And, yes, it oozes Book of the New Sun and Hawkmoon with all it vividly exotic yet creepy vibe :)
 

TheMouse

garmonbozia
Validated User
I absolutely loved the opening story - it sold me on the game instantly.
The intro fiction pretty literally sold me on the book.

I'd gone into a game shop and located three books from which I intended to select one to purchase. One was Exalted 1e core, and I don't even recall what the other two were. I asked the proprietor for some help, indicating that I was planning to buy one of the three books but didn't know enough about any of them to make up my mind. "They're all very good products," he said, without either looking up or asking me what the books were. Or something to that effect.

So I flipped through the books and then read the first page of each. I reached the opening fiction of Exalted, and that pretty well decided me.
 

Kraus

Diligent Procrastinator
RPGnet Member
Validated User
The fiction in the 1e Corebook is of very high quality. I remember a few pieces vividly, such as Panther's Exaltation and Roseblack in battle. I had forgotten about the quality of the opening story.

And, yes, it oozes Book of the New Sun and Hawkmoon with all it vividly exotic yet creepy vibe :)
The Roseblack particularly stuck in my mind as well - there's a whole Julius Caesar thing there that really caught my imagination, because I had just finished studying that period of Roman history when I first read Exalted.

I'm always a bit cautious about name-checking Michael Moorcock with Exalted. I saw a lot of parallels when I first read the core book, but perhaps more than was intended - I'm more familiar with his stuff than with some of the other works that influenced the writers.
 
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