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[Let's Read] Exalted First Edition Corebook

Marduk

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I too am one of those who fell in love with the setting because of the opening fiction... it is a better sell than those pesky little comics in 2E.
 

Cadwyn

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Let's move on to:

The Introduction
Each chapter has full page artwork with accompanying fiction. Given the amount of detail that goes into them, I definitely prefer them to Second Edition's comics. They work to visually convey the setting, but artwork can do the same, while fiction can get into deep characterization and reasons for why characters do things, which is often more important in an RPG anyway.

Case in point, this piece details Panther's call to action, and our first glorious glimpse at the Unconquered Sun.

Exalted 1e core said:
"You who have no father," [the Sun] had said to him in a voice like the roar of a vast crowd, "I am your father now. You who shed blood and know not why, I give you a reason. In my anger, I turned my face from the world of men, but I shall do so no longer. Know you are among my chosen priests. Go, and make the world a righteous place as you know best. Take light into darkness, and know you act with my blessing."
It's short but so, so sweet. This right here helps to answer the question of how one goes about making a legend; the knowledge that you are no mere adventurer or sellsword, at least not anymore. The very heavens recognize you as carrying divine power, and urge you to use it how you see fit. It is at once both a nod to how PCs tend to act (preferring to do what they please rather than following orders) but with so much more gravitas and expectation baked in as well, it's almost intimidating.

The game urges you not to be shy. I like that.

The fiction also depicts Panther being, well, Panther-like, laying on the hill watching marauding bandits like a hunting wild cat. A far cry from other portrayals . Shame his more subtle elements didn't stand out more in second edition.

Moving on to the Introduction proper, starting with a quote from Clark Ashton Smith's "The Empire of the Necromancers". I've never read it, but I notice it seems to be describing a fantasy world taking place in a distant future, "in the latter cycles of earth." This is unusual in that the back blurb seems to imply the setting is prehistoric, but no matter, the imagery paints a picture of a place far different from our own time.

And right away, we're "treated" to a certain famous passage:

Exalted 1e core said:
Do not believe what the scientists tell you. The natural history we know is a lie, a falsehood sold to us by wicked old men who would make the world a dull gray prison and protect us from the dangers inherent to freedom.

Close your eyes to their deception. The time before our time was not a time of senseless natural struggle and reptilian rage, but a time of myth and sorcery.
Okay, not verbatim but gets the idea across. This passage gets alot of heat for being the second edition back cover blurb, and I wanna point out that it at least started back at the beginning. While I said I wouldn't comment on the World of Darkness tie-ins, I can kinda see here where it relates to some ideas of the classic World of Darkness like the Technocracy weaving a tale of scientific reality and the whole passage having a sort of 90's New Age rejection of stuffy authority feel to it. I'd prefer that interpretation at least, as it sounds more like Right-Wing Historical Revision to my present day ears, but I'm pretty sure that's not intended. I'll only point out that it seems odd that the back blurb mentions this as an age of "savage adventure," yet here rejects the idea of "senseless natural struggle." An odd distinction, though I guess it's to point out that it's not like cavemen times or something, as we already got an example of Fantasy Catholicism sending out Witch-Hunting Death Squads, which leans more mythic.

So, we get the introduction to roleplaying, or storytelling games, how it's sophisticated make believe for adults, you know the drill. We also get a hilarious disclaimer:

The Disclaimer said:
Exalted is not really the secret history of the world. You cannot really cast spells. You should not hit your friends or loved ones with swords. This game is not intended to be played by people who can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
I'm honestly curious how many other White Wolf games had this sorta disclaimer. Did Vampire have warnings against drinking blood and killing people? These were certainly strange times when roleplaying games were seen as a corrupting force of youth...

The Age of the Exalted describes how the Exalted were empowered to fight "the enemies of the gods," built a mighty Realm, and the great curse that turned benevolent rule to tyranny. It's interesting that the resulting civil war targets the Solar Exalted, "who were the rulers of the Realm at that time." Was there a time when they weren't? The book only describes "the Exalted" given dominion to rule Creation by the gods, maybe some rulers were non-Solar. Either way, this leads to decades of war, the Sidereals vanishing, and the founding of the Immaculate Order and direct rule of the Dragon-Blooded. The Wyld Hunt is described as aided by astrology, often slaying new Solars before they noticed their own change. Yikes.

Then The Contagion struck down 9 out of 10 people in the world, and we get the first description of the Fair Folk as beings of chaos running rampant and corrupting the land. This is for all intents and purposes the apocalypse, as the world is reshaped irrevocably by their passage. Until a Dragon-Blooded officer breaks into Realm's defense systems and upon activating them, single-handedly drives back chaos and becomes the most powerful person in the world. At first I thought there might have been a plothole here with the Fair Folk hordes free to attack because the Realm defense grid operators were dead, even though they're located at the center of the world and may not have been hit by the Contagion until late in its run, but then, I think it's implied that the Contagion made its full run first, leaving the world reduced and every power center abandoned or broken (including the defense grid operation), and it was only after it was apparent the whole system was down, THAT'S when the Fair Folk horde attacked. So it could easily be years later, when I originally thought it coincided with the Great Contagion.

Anyway, the officer consolidates her power, declares herself Empress, and with Sidereal allies, rebuilds the Realm. This is the same basic story of the rise of the Dynasty of lineages, the Scavenger Lands resistance of Realm advancement, and nearly eight centuries of stable rule.

This same page also has a neat line art image in the style of ancient world art (reminiscent of Egyptian painting or Greece pottery), though given its placement it's unclear whether it's in reference to the Exalted war against the enemies of the gods (the Primordials aren't mentioned yet) or depicting the fight with chaos following the Great Contagion. The chapter fiction art mixes this with modern realism, depicting the Sun as an iconic symbol rather than the same style as Panther. I always liked this kind of iconic style, the sort of image you might see depicted on the wall of a ruin in-setting. It implies an image of the First Age sort of like magical Aztec or Egyptians. You even see this sort of "homage to ancient artwork" in other media like the Legend of Zelda games.

But of course, we now reach The Disappearance of the Empress, five years prior to game start. We see that there is no precedent for determining succession, everyone kept in check only by a regent appointed as a figurehead, and legions and Wyld Hunts are called away. And everywhere else the scent of blood is picked up by every faction, from raiding barbarians to the legions of chaos and the underworld. It's a world on the brink of shifting power balances. And right into that, the Solar Exalted reappear en masse throughout the world.

And here we answer the final part of how one builds their legend. You have the imperative, you have the calling of being chosen. Now you have a world filled with opportunities around every corner, as the status quo breaks down everywhere. It's like cracks opening up in rock, letting water flow in, to freeze and shatter it further.

This is why, while it's taken to ludicrous degrees at times in second edition, I still like the idea of a "world on the brink" as the default setting. It ensures there is always something happening, even if players are shy or unsure of what to do. Here it's laid out as being a series of numerous local disturbances, all of which taken together ensure that the world will not survive unchanged. Gets me so pumped to play, I just wanna find a spot on the map and get started.

We then get an overview of the chapters, and a lexicon of terminology. This is very useful as Exalted has tons of unique terms, many of which I've been pronouncing wrong for years (for instance, did you know Anathema is pronounced "ah-NAH-theh-mah," not "ANN-uh-THEME-uh"? I didn't until maybe two years ago). I'm really hoping third edition includes a pronunciation guide. Is it Demesne to rhyme with "da mean", or "immense"? Especially since we're getting more fun terms like Getimian.

The Introduction finishes up with Suggested Resources, where the works of Lee, Moorcock, Cook and Dunsany are praised as inspiration for all or various aspects of the game, as well as classics like The Histories, and modern movies and video games. Here we see the start of Final Fantasy's influence on the series, which is looking to be repeating itself for third edition as its combat system is said to be heavily inspired by Dissidia, to the point where I'd be surprised if that game didn't get a mention in the Other Media section of the third edition core.

As for suggested readings, a lot of the books I've been reading the past year or so have been directly or indirectly related to Exalted. I've read Night's Master (Lee) and two other Flat Earth books years ago, recently finished part 1 of the Elric Saga (Moorcock), and am reading through Debt: the first 5000 years (Graeber) and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Haidt). The last two are non-fiction, but recommended by the current writers as influencing how they wrote setting aspects like the Guild (a personal favorite of mine) and social influence mechanics.

Wow that last part got away from me there. Oh well, point is the suggested resources sections are always a treasure trove of reading/viewing material. If you dig deep enough you can find genuinely educational stuff too. And with that I conclude this post.

Next time is Chapter 1: Setting!
 

DarkMoc

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We then get an overview of the chapters, and a lexicon of terminology. This is very useful as Exalted has tons of unique terms, many of which I've been pronouncing wrong for years (for instance, did you know Anathema is pronounced "ah-NAH-theh-mah," not "ANN-uh-THEME-uh"? I didn't until maybe two years ago).
Yes, but I had the unfair advantage of being a theology major :D. It's a Greek word, which originally was used for offerings to the gods. It later came to mean something set apart or something dedicated to evil. All of those meanings work for Solar exalts - they offer themselves to the Unconquered Sun, their natures set them apart from mortals, and from the perspective of the Immaculates, they are evil itself.

I'm really hoping third edition includes a pronunciation guide. Is it Demesne to rhyme with "da mean", or "immense"? Especially since we're getting more fun terms like Getimian.
deh-MAIN or dee-MAIN (with the long e sound being very brief, not a dragged-out "eeee"). That's Old French.
 

Black Flag

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A lot of the words can be found in any good English dictionary. Anathema, caste, demesne, manse, orichalcum, sidereal, etc., are all words that were adopted into English some time ago, yet I keep hearing Exalted fans mispronounce them as if they were made-up fantasy words.

Gene Wolf also uses this approach to fantasy terminology, and I approve. Plumb the dictionaries first, I say, then make up words when you have to. Exalted's relatively low mass of wholly made-up names is actually something in its favor.
 

TheMouse

garmonbozia
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A lot of the words can be found in any good English dictionary. Anathema, caste, demesne, manse, orichalcum, sidereal, etc., are all words that were adopted into English some time ago, yet I keep hearing Exalted fans mispronounce them as if they were made-up fantasy words.
I can't think of a single time when I've seen "orichalcum" written or heard it spoken outside of the context of gaming or by searching for it on Google (after reading it in a gaming context). Even then, only in reference to Shadowrun, Earthdawn, and Exalted.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it's not a very common word in the lives of most English speakers.
 

Samiel

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I can't think of a single time when I've seen "orichalcum" written or heard it spoken outside of the context of gaming or by searching for it on Google (after reading it in a gaming context). Even then, only in reference to Shadowrun, Earthdawn, and Exalted.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it's not a very common word in the lives of most English speakers.
Hi,
it is not very common, but "orichalcum" is actually a legendary metal from greek mythology (linked to Atlantis as reported by Plato). All those names are a lot easier to remember and to find in latin and greek derived tongues

Bye
Samiel
 

DarkMoc

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Validated User
Hi,
it is not very common, but "orichalcum" is actually a legendary metal from greek mythology (linked to Atlantis as reported by Plato). All those names are a lot easier to remember and to find in latin and greek derived tongues

Bye
Samiel
Says the person whose user name is either based off the Hebrew name for an angel whose name means "venom of God" (Samael/Samil) or a transliteration of a Turkish word for a hot, sand-laden wind (samyeli, transliterated into English as samiel) :D.
 

TheMouse

garmonbozia
Validated User
Hi,
it is not very common, but "orichalcum" is actually a legendary metal from greek mythology (linked to Atlantis as reported by Plato). All those names are a lot easier to remember and to find in latin and greek derived tongues
Yes, it's mountain copper. I know that.

What I'm saying is that it's a rare word to your average English speaker. I would imagine that the majority haven't heard it before and wouldn't necessarily know that it's even a word in English. And complaining that someone can't pronounce a rare word is, I don't know, off. That's why I singled it out.
 

kongurous

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The guy said "Plumb the dictionaries first, I say, then make up words when you have to", exactly the sentence before the one you quoted. No one is arguing orichalcum or any of the other examples are common words, just that they're not made-up words.
 

TheMouse

garmonbozia
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The guy said "Plumb the dictionaries first, I say, then make up words when you have to", exactly the sentence before the one you quoted. No one is arguing orichalcum or any of the other examples are common words, just that they're not made-up words.
And I'm not arguing that it's made up, just that it's rare enough that I think it's weird when someone complains about hearing it mispronounced.
 
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