[Let's Read] Exalted First Edition Corebook


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The Eclipse anima effect requires being party or witness to an oath, and flaring the anima as the oath is sanctified, preventing any party from breaking it lest they suffer a horrible curse. I like the handling of it as a series of botched critical rolls, and is a clever way to keep a mythic tone where oaths are held sacred above life and duty.
I always loved the Eclipse caste effects for that mythic vibe - for me their diplomatic immunity effect is also just brilliant for this. Eclipse characters could do an Orpheus and walk in to the most dangerous places around, bargain with the scariest of the scary, and walk out unharmed, it was in the rules. No roll required to activate (though lots for everything else that happens as a result of trying something like this). Welcome to the Eclipse caste - here's your "HERO OF LEGEND" card, get out there and in the faces of the mightiest of the mighty. That blew my mind a bit when I read it.

One of the downers for me about 1st edition was that the Dawn caste effect was the only other caste power that felt like it had anything like the same weight.
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Sorry for the delay, things are interesting for me right now. I fully intend to finish this though, and we're already more than halfway through!

Let's make some magic with:

Chapter Five: Charms And Sorcery
Chapter fiction art depicts Arianna surrounded by hooded (and judging by the skeleton arm on one, undead) figures, a majestic white horse by her side. She is also quite on fire, but she seems to be okay with this. In the fiction, Arianna is fleeing the court of the Mask of Winters, pursued by powerful ghosts attempting to steal her back. What follows is a demonstration of not only sorcery, but what happens when a character is able to layer their magic, as she first forms her skin to bronze, then activates dodging charms, and finally transform her arms into dragon claws.

Exalted 1e core said:
She stood there, with her skin of bronze and claws of bloodthirsty wood, her form fluid and her being alive with power. She faced the Inquisitors, and she laughed at them. They set upon her, and she whirled through the village, leaping and spinning away from their chilling touch. Then she jumped, rolled and struck upward to catch one of the ghosts as it leapt past her.

Her oak claws pierced the cloth and memories of its spectral body, and she shook him until he blew away like dust. In the light from the brightening sky, she could just perceive the ash that billowed from her razor-sharp claws as his form disintigrated. She turned to regard the other three, her head bowed and her sap-glistening claws hanging loosely at her side.
Here sorcery seems to be treated in the same capacity as charms for an Exalt; as another power to aid them in battle, but with charms being somewhat instinctual enhancement of their natural abilities, while spells literally rewrite their body and reality.

In the charm chapter proper, we get a quick breakdown of what charms are (magic taught by the gods before history, much of which is now instinctual to learn for new Exalts) and how mote costs, prerequisites, and charm actions work. There's some odd terminology, as taking multiple actions is referred to as "splitting the dice pool" (throughout the book, not just here), even though the description of multiple actions is more like a cumulative penalty for declaring multiple actions, not a 1-to-1 division of dice into X actions. A holdover from a different system in World of Darkness perhaps?

Like abilities, charms are organized by caste starting with Dawn. To keep this brief, I'll give my onceover comments on each major section, saving extended commentary on combat charms when we reach the combat section next chapter.

Dawn (Archery, Brawl, Martial Arts, Melee, Thrown)
One thing I'll point out now; the featured Martial Arts tree is actually Snake Style. Thing is, we haven't actually been told yet how the Martial Arts styles work in Exalted, except for a blur in Snake Form that there are other Martial Arts styles, with their own form charms, but not that they are universal charmsets. Given that you're allowed to build custom charms, a novice could get the impression that these are the native Solar Martial Arts charms and you simply build custom charms off these to create new styles. Kinda odd that no mention is given as to how this works. It makes me all the more happy that 3e will have 9 (or was it 11?) styles in the core!

Zenith (Endurance, Performance, Presence, Resistance, Survival)
Has anyone ever taken the Ox-Bodys that offer fewer health levels at lower wound penalties? I've never seen the point when dice adders are usually the earliest in charm trees. Other than that the social charms are hit and miss; Memory Reweaving Discipline involves giving a very compelling argument, but Hypnotic Tongue Technique not only "programs" the target to do something, but only requires touch and opposed Willpower rolls, not anything spoken, like with a hypnotic tongue. Also social die adders are hella expensive, implying that you probably are making fewer rolls than in a combat situation. It's kinda annoying that almost each charm has its own sub system for how social actions are resolved when using it though.

Twilight (Craft, Investigation, Lore, Medicine, Occult)
For a game that doesn't track equipment durability, there sure are a lot of craft charms related to durability. Cconversely protection from chaos makes sense as the Wyld is such an important adventuring factor. Speaking of Lore, Wyld Shaping Technique is a pretty nice Craft charm... that's in Lore. I really think Craft needs an equivalent; instead of stepping into chaos and shaping reality, you step into a workhouse of raw materials and build any number of wonders. Other than that, I really like the Investigation charm "Unknown Wisdom Epiphany" (reinact a scene based on forensic evidence and gain insight into the character you're emulating).

Night (Athletics, Awareness, Dodge, Larceny, Stealth)
One neat thing first edition did was have lots of passively rolled abilities (Awareness, Investigation, Stealth) have scene-long dice or success modifiers rather than instant ones. This means the player could activate them if they think they'll need them, and the Storyteller could make secret (boosted) rolls without alerting the player by asking if they wanna use a dice adder. While Excellencies were a fine addition to the game (dice adders are boring compared to most charms) they kinda took away from these storytelling tricks by demanding transparency like this. It's also interesting that Surprise Anticipation Method does NOT make a character immune to ambush, only aware of danger they could normally sense. This is a bit unclear with the example of a carefully concealed pit (couldn't you notice that with a high success Awareness roll?) but more clear in that it doesn't make you a mind-reader; a trusted ally turning on you is not helped with SAM. And Reflex Sidestep Technique gives you a small dodge pool against unseen attacks, so a character is always somewhat vulnerable. I think this is as it should be; Solars can be vulnerable but still undeniably formidable.

Eclipse (Bureaucracy, Linguistics, Ride, Sail, Socialize)
After over half a decade I can never spell Bureaucracy without looking it up. The charms for it make me wanna play a Reccatear-styled item shop owner though. I like some of them (it's cool that Frugal Merchant Method helps determine whether artifacts are functional or not) but others seem needlessly fixated on determing exact price (multiples of market price, over or under charging) when the system uses abstract wealth. Far more useful is determing what items are acquired, what markets or opportunites are created, and the disposition of buyers and sellers. The stuff that would matter in a storytelling game that doesn't count coins, y'know. Strangely, Linguistics includes forgery enhancers when I figured Larceny would do that. And there still aren't any charms that blatantly let you learn more languages, meaning no character can ever communicated Creation-wide without using charades? Socialize is excellent though, with lots of context-sensitive effects and opportunities for interesting interactions.

I want to like Combos, I really do. The idea behind them is that multiple charms can't be activated on the same turn unless they're in a combo. This is compared to martial arts films where characters train long and hard to master elaborate special attacks. The problem is the one charm per turn rule applies to social charms too, and since every combo creates a brilliant display this limits their use for social actions that try to be subtle. It also creates a weird sort of bounded accuracy problem that's not apparent to novices; you've got an awesome dice adder, you've got an awesome damage adder, but you've gotta choose one or the other unless you have a combo, then you can potentially blow the competition away at will. Plus it costs bonus points or xp to purchase them and you can't modify them. This is bad for Solars who are encouraged to specialize and reach their awesome top-tier charms, so you don't wanna buy combos too early... and as a result you're more vulnerable to the drawback of using just one charm at a time.

By comparison, there's already a perfectly functional way of limiting charm use; the charm timing rules between reflexive, supplemental, simple and extra action charms. When you use a simple and an extra action charm together, you've gotta be able to do the simple charm that many times as granted by the extra action charms. This is self-limiting and yet advanced enough that a novice may not always do it. Throw in charms that create dramatic attacks like Thunderbolt Attack Prana and you've got a basis for creating super special attacks already built into the charmsets.

One nifty thing here; the signature characters Dace, Harmonious Jade, and Swan are used as examples of the combos (and Swan of all people has the super killer combo). And the players mentioned seem to be actual playtesters (Bleys and Rebecca, though Phyllis is credited as Charm Design Advice). Just a nifty factoid I noticed.

Along with innate powers and charms, sorcery spells round out the magical talents of the Exalted. Whereas charms enhance or modify native skill, spells rewrite reality itself, and have the risk of interruption and backlash on top of that. Interestingly, in first edition a sorceror can use scene-long charms to protect themselves, an example being Flow Like Blood to dodge even though you can't take any dodge action while shaping a spell. I wonder if melee parry charms work the same, if the character is wielding a weapon while casting? In any case this means the chapter fiction with Arianna is actually plausible if she had Flow Like Blood up already before casting her two spells. Far worse is spell failure; if you take damage and botch the occult roll, not only does the spell fail, the caster and those nearby takes 1 lethal damage per mote spent on the spell. To give you an idea, Terrestrial Circle spells start at 10 motes and Solar circle goes up to 60 motes. This damage can be soaked, but it's pretty injurious or deadly for most people by far, especially if you've already taken damage from a disrupting attack.

To summarize, sorcery is big, flashy, dangerous to wield, and many higher level spells effectively change history whenever they're cast. Some can be used in combat effectively (moreso than in 2e as you can still protect yourself) but the best ones like demon summoning take long rituals. Still, being able to bind demons or elementals to tasks or service is easily the niftiest trick a sorcerer can learn, and probably the most bang for your buck you can get for a single spell considering that lets you summon your choice of demon types. When you get up to Solar circle, spells become powerful enough to end or alter entire campaigns, which I really like as an endpoint in magic systems; the character must think long and hard about casting them, but just that potential can command respect or fear.

Next time, the second system chapter!


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It's kinda annoying that almost each charm has its own sub system for how social actions are resolved when using it though.
This is a general gripe that I have with Exalted. There has to be some middle ground between absolutely standardised and flavourless effects-based systems, and the Exalted approach of making every single special ability work differently. It's why, although I love Exalted, I could never run or play it as written - my brain is too old to absorb so many rules :)

And there still aren't any charms that blatantly let you learn more languages, meaning no character can ever communicated Creation-wide without using charades?
Exalted seems to try to make languages a bit of an issue - Linguistics was brought across from WoD, rather than going for the D&D approach of giving brainy characters more languages for free. There's also nothing as handy as D&D's Comprehend Languages and Tongues, either. Sorcerers can learn The Eye and The Mouth spell, but it's clearly designed to be a plot device rather than a basic utility.

To summarize, sorcery is big, flashy, dangerous to wield, and many higher level spells effectively change history whenever they're cast. Some can be used in combat effectively (moreso than in 2e as you can still protect yourself) but the best ones like demon summoning take long rituals. Still, being able to bind demons or elementals to tasks or service is easily the niftiest trick a sorcerer can learn, and probably the most bang for your buck you can get for a single spell considering that lets you summon your choice of demon types. When you get up to Solar circle, spells become powerful enough to end or alter entire campaigns, which I really like as an endpoint in magic systems; the character must think long and hard about casting them, but just that potential can command respect or fear.
Sorcery is brilliantly done, I think. I picked up Chaosium's Elric! before Exalted 1st edition came out, and IMO Exalted does a far better job of portraying the magic in Moorcock's stories than Chaosium's rules. Exalted is also one of the few fantasy games that I've seen where magicians can't eventually start to replace other character abilities with spells.
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First of all, apologies for the lateness of this post; I had two more installments written up when I lost the flash drive it was on. That'll learn me not to backup files. >_<

With that though, let's continue to learn the meat of the system with:

Chapter Six: Drama
Now with...


This rather handsome color pic depicts a pitched sea battle, featuring Tepet Ejava facing off with a guy who seems to have a spear roughly imbedded in his back from behind. Much like burning!Arianna, he doesn't seem to mind.

Exalted 1e core said:
Burning Essence like a torch, the Roseblack plowed into the mass of buccaneers. In one hand, she swung her glittering jade daiklave, as fast and limber as a willow switch. From the palm of her other hand sprang a wickedly barbed javelin of wood, piercing the chest of an unarmored giant wielding a battle axe in each hand.
... *re-checks the picture* ... huh, the spear does seem to be originating from her outstretched hand. I guess the guy doesn't look like he cares because he hasn't realized he's already dead.

The Drama chapter delves into the meat of the system. Once again I have to lament this chapter coming after character creation AND charms, but I guess these books just weren't meant to be read linearly. As the name implies, these rules are meant to come into play when outcomes are really important and create tension or interesting changes (which is about the only way I could see ever bothering to roll, say, Survival). Rather cleverly, it's divided into sections by Solar Caste starting with Dawn, which conveniently covers combat.

My first impression is that the combat section? MUCH shorter than 2e's! I don't have any exact word counts, but there's only about 14 1/2 pages, where 2e clocks in at 19 pages, and that's leaving out Mass Combat! 2e's layout is also much denser than 1e. Anyway, combat proceeds in 3 second rounds, with initiative rolled every round (annoying) and with your weapon speed added to that (even worse).

Characters can move (Dexterity + 12 yards) by taking no other action (not even defense), or move half that and still act. This contradicts Chapter Two which described walking (5 meters), running (Dexterity + 12 meters), and sprinting ([Dexterity x 3] + 20 meters). Change from metric to imperial aside, it's hard to decide which one is intended, though I imagine the combat section's lower movement is a later change to prevent people from moving around too much. Still I kinda like the Chapter two distinctions, where walking may be the max speed you can move and still maintain stealth normally. Of course I vastly prefer abstract distances like the quickstart's Close, Mid, Long, Extreme ranges.

Much as was implied in the System chapter, characters declare all actions they intend to perform on their initiative, "splitting their dice pool" (note: not actually splitting any dice pools) to perform multiple ones, including defenses. Having no declared defense means it just takes one success to hit you, which is easy for just about anyone (shields and cover reduce attack roll successes to hit you, but only by a few successes). If you're attacked before your initiative, you have to "Abort to Full Dodge/Parry" in order to have a defense, which eats up your turn and effectively stun locks you if you keep losing initiative.

While I like that active defenses are much more important than static ones, this means that Initiative is king, and being ganged up is a very bad thing, but even then initiative is still king. Even with the need to roll each round, if you can win initiative consistently (just have a high Dex and Perception), you can force the opponent to abort to a defense or else suffer an attack to have a chance of their own, all while having your choice of declared actions.

But most importantly, the reason I went over this was to revisit the combat charms. In a nutshell, they are good. REALLY good. For starters most defensive charms are reflexive and create defense dice actions, which is POWERFUL in the default system. So powerful it quickly begins to turn the default system on its head. Normally the first to gain initiative can begin to dictate the battle by forcing the opponent on the defensive, and if you can get a hit in wound penalties will probably keep them that way. By reflexively creating defenses it doesn't matter if you lose initiative, you just defend yourself with the charms and devote your actions to attack. In fact the guy going first is now at a distinct disadvantage unless he has defense charms as well.

It gets even worse if you dare use a non-defensive charm. As per charm timing rules, only one can be used per turn, and if you use an attack charm without activating a combo, that means you can't use anything else. So the opponent who loses initiative is now free to wail on you if they defended with a defensive charm, or even activated their own combo of death. Even better, you can opt to delay your action to interrupt or go after someone else, which they can do as well. This must be where the infamous "race to initiative zero" emerged from, and which Power Combat (basically 1.5e) purportedly fixed. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.

Some of the changes I would impart if I were to run this:

  • Actions are declared simultaneously prior to initiative, (including attacks and defenses) and stunt rewards dived out.
  • Reflexive actions like charm use are still declared upon being used (ie., in response to an attack roll).
  • You can still abort to a full dodge or parry, but if you successfully defend, you get a +3 to your next initiative (non-cumulative).
  • Weapon Speed breaks initiative ties. If Weapon Speed ties, actions are performed simultaneously.
  • One non-reflexive charm per action rather than one charm period per turn. Combos are worth only the extra cost past the first charm (least expensive charm if bought with XP). You can declare any number of combos per turn as long as you can actually perform them (available actions, WP, Essence, etc) however a given dice action can only be enhanced by one combo.

I really would have liked the give-and-take of managing your active defenses versus attacking to have been more meaningful, but unfortunately charm use kinda renders all that somewhat meaningless, to the point where you can practically forget about needing to declare actions if you have charms.

After attacking comes damage and soak, which leads to my least favorite element of any White Wolf game... RECORDING DAMAGE! Seriously, I hate it so much I cringe whenever even the bad guy takes damage that doesn't one-shot them because that means we have to track this crap now. For the uninitiated, you have a number of health boxes, or "levels", each arranged by the associated wound penalty. Taking damage fills the boxes, starting with the least severe wound level:

So if you take 3 bashing damage just mark off 3 slashes. But if you then take 2 aggravated damage:

More severe damage is marked off at the highest wound level, but pushes down less severe damage into the more severe wound levels. And once you get multiple types:

It's ranked aggravated/lethal/bashing in decreasing severity, and you push down all the less severe. It's supposed to be simplified by just adding extra hash marks to lesser damage to overwrite it, but that's the problem! Every time you mark off damage you're overwriting the lesser beneath it. This can lead to situations like "Okay, I took 2 bashing, whoa now I just took 3 lethal, so I mark off 3 lethal and now to push the bashing down... wait, how much bashing did I have?"

Maybe it's more clear with a pencil and paper, but I couldn't imagine doing this in an organized way online; thankfully the only battles I've run online have used just one damage type. Still, this is way more involved than it has to be, and I really hope 3e rewrites how damage is tracked from the ground up.

Next is bleeding, infection and healing complications, which are serious threats to mortals but Exalted can more or less ignore them. It's apparently not even possible for them to die of infection. Rules for ambush at first seem more forgiving than in 2e (you're allowed to use reflexive charms for defense), however most defensive charms specify they only work against perceived attacks, which presumably fail against ambushes. Rather muddy, which explains why the concept of unexpected attacks were introduced I guess.

Combat wraps up with Extras, and a discussion about how the tone of a game can be adjusted to be more gritty by simply not using rules for extras. In the meantime I like how a few quick statblocks are listed for extras (ranked as weak, competent, and elite) and corresponding Valor scores for use with the Dawn anima.

I still don't see any meaningful difference between Endurance and Resistance (they both are listed as being used against disease... one to resist contracting it, the other to recover if infected. WHAT.) At least there's handy rules for getting drunk which every game needs to respond to the inevitable Dead Alewives jokes.

I really like this system of crafting over 2e's, even if this one is really vague on just about every detail. Crafting consists of three separate extended actions; planning (Intelligence + Craft, presumably requires more successes for more involved or unfamiliar projects), materials assessment (Perception + Craft, more successes lets you do more with less or use exceptional material to produce a masterwork product), and finally crafting (Dexterity + Craft, or Intelligence + Craft for large-scale projects). This is in contrast to 2e's which presumably tried to simplify this into one extended action, but forced you to use the LOWER of Dexterity, Perception, and Intelligence (excluding Dexterity for large-scale projects). This was absolutely crippling as the dice cap for Excellencies, etc., was limited to your lowest of those Attributes and forced any decent craftsmen to raise essentially 3 Attributes for a +1 die bonus. At least here you can have craftsmen who excel at one or more stages (having high Intelligence is still important as the maximum number of successes you can accumulate to craft is limited somewhat by your Intelligence + Craft). And even then, making additional rolls only increases the time between actions.

The only rules for Artifacts describe how to work with the magical materials. You must be Exalted, suffer +1 difficulty when working with a material that doesn't resonate with your type, and need Lore, Occult, and appropriate Craft of 3+. That's it. Manses require ability scores of 4. Couple this with a universal Craft ability and you've got possibly the perfect system for crafting in Exalted.

As appropriate to the high-powered nature of the game, benchmarks for lifting and leaping are quite high, but scaling them down by half provides more realistic results. It's nice that Larceny includes rules on underworld activity like casing a target and disguises, though having more charm support for these things would be nice as well.

Here we find the rules for evaluating goods and making purchases, with the nice addition that you can substitute an Ability other than Bureaucracy if it relates to that Ability's use (such as a master swordsman using Melee to evaluate purchasing swords). Presumably specialties apply as well, though it doesn't state this explicitly. Strangely enough composing artistic works (music or poetry etc) is done with Performance rather than Lingusitics, which is disappointing given how much importance is given to mastering idiom and verse in order to be truly expressive. And of course Socialize remains useful for managing relations.

Naturally there's a lot more detail in each section about using every Ability for each Caste, some would likely see more use than others depending on the campaign. This decision should probably be left up to the Storyteller depending on what sort of focus they want for their game; one game set in the West might use Sail only to get from one island adventure to the other and thus would just require a basic Sail roll or even none at all to get around, while another would make ship-based travel an important part of the adventures and utilize all the rules for navigation and shipboard activity.

Next time, we get into that and other tidbits of running the game with Chapter Seven: Storytelling


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How the hell do you run this game anyway?

Chapter Seven: Storytelling

One of the things I love about the art in this book is how much it varies in style and tone. This chapter opens with a detailed picture of Lilith collapsed by a river, her helmet discarded (wow, helmets are rare in Exalted!) with what look like tears streaming down her cheeks. In the chapter fiction we learn that she’s a Lunar who has roamed the wilderness of Creation in various animal forms, until she senses the return of... him, at which point she takes her human form for the first time in centuries. She seems... curious about his return, neither vengeful nor forlorn, beyond memories of bad things that happened with her previous bondsmate.

Given that the Solar Bond wasn’t described as a thing earlier, it’s rather strange to see that Lilith’s relation with Swan remains as it always was even here. Was their bond meant to be unusual, an example of how binding love across reincarnations can go sour? Or were they intended as the default example? Or just an isolated incident, the bond never meant to be a regular thing? Who knows, though it’s still interesting to think that not ever Solar/Lunar pair has a permanent bond between them. Or for that matter, that not every Solar was a jerk to their mate...

I’ve been really excited about this chapter for some time now, mostly because for me, game master advice chapters can make or break an entire book. As god-awful a system it might be, I still have the Dragonball Z Anime Adventure Game on my shelf. Despite being possibly the worst system to play DBZ (I’d prefer M&M personally), it has a fantastic game master chapter. It’s chock full of advice on actually running a DBZ-styled game (best rule: DON’T use the main cast!) with tons of adventure hooks and campaign examples. To this day I still think a Warring Schools game done DBZ-style would be hella fun.

So how does Exalted’s storyteller chapter stack up? Right off the bat it hits a special spot by discussing the phenomenon of creator’s remorse.

”Exalted 1e core” said:
Essentially, it sets in after you’ve been running your game for a while and you’re starting to develop some new ideas. As you pursue these ideas, maybe you start wishing that you’d done some things differently way back when you started running your game. In fact, you wouldn’t mind the chance to start over and try out your new series ideas or house rules -- but the players are having lots of fun with your current game... You don’t want to be the bad guy and tell them to throw away their characters and start fresh, but you’re not very happy with the series’ current direction. Hence: creator’s remorse.
SO. MUCH. THIS. If I were any more THERE I’d be living in it. It may not seem like much, but it’s so refreshing to see a game book discuss this sort of real gaming issue. So to counter this we need to do a bit of preparation, starting with five questions:

  • What do the players want to do? -- Find out the players’ genre or style preferences. Typically I find this is decided pretty early on just by proposing the game to potential players, but it’s always good to be sure.
  • Will this be a collection of stories or one long series? -- Basically are we going episodic adventure-a-week, or soap opera epic? I have a bad tendency to dream up long epics but never even get close to executing them because I can’t get the details down, so in the end going episodic might be for the best.
  • Where will the stories take place? -- Will you use a default location or a custom one? The best part about Exalted’s setting in my opinion is that it’s really four or five settings in one, due to the size of the world and disparity of directions. I usually leave this up to the players if I have a small number of them, but might also be included in the initial proposal (“How about a tongue-in-cheek ocean adventure game inspired by One Piece, set in the West?”)
  • How dark do you want the series to be? -- SO IMPORTANT, especially in a game like Exalted. I haven’t had any personal horror stories (heh) about this, but I’ve read some unfortunate things where people’s feelings were hurt over content of sessions. Hopefully you already know your group’s comfort zones, otherwise just ask I guess? May also be heavily dependent on the initial proposal as well.
  • What kind of characters will people be playing? -- Totally agree that character creation should be a group activity, even if it winds up going slow. This is the best way to avoid the guy with a harem clashing with an abolitionist--nip the problem in the butt at concept.

Next we address series closure. Essentially, you should begin with at least a vague idea of how the game will end, or whether it will just continue so long as players are interested. Given the short life of most campaigns I’m in I find it best to have a short story arc in mind, with room for it to open up into long-term shenanigans.

Cinematic Tricks
This section is, oddly enough, not about action movie descriptions or stunting, but rather actual cinematic narrative techniques. It talks about using flashbacks, cut scenes (that is, scenes in which the PCs are not present at the time), and establishing shots (enriching description of the setting as a scene starts). I have to say the cut away scene is a new one for me, and while I’ve never seen it used, the example given where you describe the villain showing displeasure with a henchmen after the PCs escaped him seems to make sense; the idea isn’t to give away critical information, but use it to add flavor to NPCs who aren’t otherwise present.

Being Flexible
This section basically states that it takes actual experience to learn how to be spontaneous and improvise (sooo true), but one starting point is to have players be as descriptive as possible in their actions in order to better gauge what they’re trying to do and how to react. Not too sure about this, as I know as a player I sometimes just wanna say “I open the door” or “I attack”. Still, considering the details of what a character is doing can help both the player and story teller find direction again in case the action is starting to let up or players get confused as to what to do. Also included here is advice that you should let players get away with outrageous stunts without needing charms as long as they have dots in Attributes or Abilities for it. Totally agree on this, especially since you can’t start as an expert in everything and sometimes you just wanna run across the heads of a crowd.

Genre Conventions
Just a breakdown of various dark fantasy tropes typical to Exalted.

Large Scale -- Emphasis is placed on making the world feel massive. I like how this is described as making the immediate surroundings feel imposing and awe-inspiring rather than stating how many hundreds of miles tall the Pole of Earth is and expecting the players to be impressed. A video game example immediately comes to mind; remember the Giant of Babil from Final Fantasy IV? It was so massive you didn’t actually battle it, you went inside of it and it was a whole dungeon unto itself. That sort of personal touch is what counts.

Romance -- VERY nice section here about setting up romance. The key is to have both chemistry (the characters should resonate with or play off one another well) and adversity (you have to work for your romance). I love that it advises having several NPCs throughout the game who could potentially catch a PC’s interest, and if the player decides to pursue it, then start the subplot. Another lesson from real life; it’s not that there’s one soul mate for you, just lots of potential partners. It also explains why villains and rivals can make potentially good romantic interests; they already have chemistry with the heroes! I always thought it kinda made sense when people shipped villains and rivals with the protagonist, but I never quite understood why that was; nice bit of insight given here.

Intrigue -- Gotta admit, Game of Thrones has turned me on to intrigue more than any single recent work of fiction I can think of. The trick is doing it right. Here it discusses how dark fantasy intrigue tends to involve characters who are morally shades of gray, with absolute good or evil characters in secondary roles. I dig the Black Company reference too. Still seems like something that can be tricky to pull off, but as long as revelations or motivations make sense when they come to light it should be alright.

Melodrama -- aka being shamelessly over-the-top and over emotional. I love the honesty here; it’s easy and people like doing it, so feel free to drop the subtlety once in a while.

Flawed Heroes -- Give not just your PCs flaws, but your supporting cast as well. I’m totally for this, but sometimes you need some guidance to make characters who are flawed but aren’t incompetent or unsympathetic. Honestly I kinda like it when games help this along with Hindrance systems like Savage Worlds--half the Hinderances are actually just character quirks that can serve as inspiration. In Exalted proper you’ve got the option of taking one or more Virtues at 1 (encouraged by the math of character creation too), and even high Virtues are their own form of character flaw if they get you in trouble.

Storyteller Rules
Extra rules for the Storyteller, like stunts and experience.

Adjudicating Stunts -- We get details on what exactly is a stunt (detailed description of character actions that is evocative and exciting) followed by a concrete guide of one, two, and three-die stunts. Of note here is that while one or two-die stunts are inherently predictable or cliched, three-die stunts should be surprising or genuinely impressive. It’s always been the most subjective part of the rules; I’ve been in and run sessions where a two-die stunt was decided after the fact that it was really more like a three-die stunt (because we kept talking about it when reminiscing about the session). It’s why I don’t care to award experience for them, both because I don’t like giving disparaging rewards (more on that later), but because I’d feel silly for rewarding xp after the fact.

The next sections discuss using stunts as insurance against critical failure (except in combat), and using them to do the impossible, like block melee attacks unarmed. It’s a bit unclear how far this should go though; the text describes letting stunts do impossible things like block blades bare handed and parry with a bow with no further modifications, but recreating an athletics charm is done with a roll at a high difficulty. When do you make charmless stunts require a high difficulty and when do you just let them work?

Best guideline I can come up with (and I wish the book made it clearer) is this; if the basic action is fundamental to the character’s agency (ie., defending in combat), a stunt should just enable it, no strings attached (ie., bare-handed blade catches) even if that’s impossible in real life. If the basic action directly involves or interferes with the agency of other characters or the environment (ie., leaping onto a stampeding cow and controlling it with no equipment or breaking... and yes this was a stunt a player of mine attempted before) you should require a roll and high difficulty (3+) to pull it off, whereas a charm may just allow it normally. In my experience this is the best way to prevent stunts from being better than charms.

The advice given for gritty games is also excellent; just limit the impossible things characters can do with a stunt. I vastly prefer this ruling over 2e’s bonked rules for mortal stunting (their stunts are treated as 1 die lower, requiring a 2-die stunt to gain even 1 die, and a 3-die stunt to recover Willpower in combat, which unnecessarily screws them over even more).

There’s discussion about NPCs and stunts, which admittedly is a thorny issue. On the one hand, you wanna save your word count for important characters, naturally. On the other, stunting is powerful, and can turn an even fight into a complete mismatch in favor of the stunting character (this is especially true in 2e, where stunts boosting defense can make you practically unhittable). I’ve never tried the advice about letting the players judge the stunts... maybe judge by their reactions, like if they find the description engaging or gives them ideas about the environment, count it as a 1 or 2 die stunt respectively. It’s based on their input, but it’s ultimately my call. I’ll probably try it out in the next game I run with stunts.

Advice on the XP awards, which averages to 5 (4 for attending, +1 for player performance in or out of game), with an additional 5 for completing a story. Personally, I’ve always preferred uniform XP rewards, whether they’re by encounter or by session. The first reason is it’s easier to track and dole out if everyone has the same amount. Second, I don’t see it as motivation to attend or speak up. In my games everyone has the same XP totals at any given point. If you miss a game hey, that’s life, but I’m not gonna punish you in the game because your work schedule changed.

Spending Experience -- A chart shows the XP costs to raise or buy traits, while the next section covers the infamous training times. I’m of two minds of the inflating XP costs and training times. On the one hand, I almost never see training times used (in the last Exalted game I ran I just allow free spending of XP in any period of downtime of a month or more), on the other, they seem to be balanced against certain “instant spending” of XP like buying favored or caste abilities, and buying up Virtues and Willpower. In the latter two’s case, this might be the reason for the seemingly prohibitive cost of raising Virtues and Willpower; you can do it with no downtime.

This also leads into the next section, Bringing new characters into old games where it talks about new players joining or new characters being made to replace dead or departed ones. There’s discussion about the pros and cons of starting them at zero XP or the same value as the party, but the proposed solution is pretty lame; figure the base rewards of XP (minus bonus XP) and for every 10 points, roll a d10 and award that much XP to the new character. Not only is it the worst of both worlds, it’d be a pain to roll out 100 or 200 experience worth with this system (though I suppose you could always use a digital roller). I prefer to err on the side of what’s more interesting for the player; starting at 0 XP means everyone else will be handling the problems. Even if the new character fills a totally non-existent niche in the group, an established group has likely already accounted for this in either tactics or allies. All this goes away if you just give them the same XP as everyone else.

Final Advice
A quick list of last-minute advice to round out an overall excellent chapter:

  • PCs are the most important characters in the game, not necessarily the story -- Keep a scope in mind and don’t feel the need to make it reliant on the characters whether or not the sun rises tomorrow; even if they just stick to their little corner of Creation they can still have awesome stories.
  • PCs can be the most important characters though -- If the players are actively interested in saving the world, give it a go! This is understandably harder to pull off compared to personal stories.
  • Customize the setting -- I couldn’t play Exalted any other way. I love adding whole countries and territories to the map, and the text offers an example of customizing existing areas (by detailing a specific street or district in Nexus). The idea is to give the PCs a place they can identify with personally and feel a connection with the setting.
  • The ST is the final arbiter -- Somewhat of a controversial statement nowadays, but there’s a lot of truth to this and it helps keep games coherent and running. It’s why I think the whole drama chapter should be seen as a huge list of optional rules; they’re there to give guidelines of how to do things if they’re important to the story. The only requirement should be the ST should be upfront about what they’re going to focus on or leave vague, and stick with that decision.
  • Play to the senses -- This harkens back to earlier advice about embellishing the details of a scene, extending to how you portray the setting as a whole, from the vibrant colors of noble clothing, to the cold feel of edged weapons, to the suffocating depressive state of shadowlands. A thesaurus is recommended.
  • Don’t confuse power level with drama -- This advice describes picking a power level and sticking with it rather than trying to constantly up the ante, a tricky proposition considering charms tend to escalate in power as you progress in trees, and custom charms mean you don’t necessarily have to peak either. What power level you remain at is pretty much up to the players and how high in their charm trees they’re willing to buy. Which I guess is working as intended, as the point isn’t to needlessly escalate.
  • No such thing as over-the-top -- Of course what power level you settle on may still be quite out there, and it helps to have a reference point. You’re advised to sit down with your players to watch movies like Ninja Scroll and Crouching Tiger, and that certainly works; a more modern take on it would be to share Youtube clips of whatever example work fits the intended campaign; I remember catching a few clips of Wakfu got me in the mood for a Western game.
  • Have fun -- Well said.

Quite a fun chapter! I’m trying to think now about whether it answered the question posed at the beginning; how do you avoid creator’s remorse. In the end there’s no formula you follow to avoid that, as it’s different for everyone, but going over this chapter will hit on just about every potential problem with a game (barring social issues with players and scheduling, on which it unfortunately doesn’t have anything to say). The rest is just practice, practice, practice. In my experience, it’s being able to improvise and come up with a “close enough” description, explanation, or plotpoint that’s far more important than meticulous planning. However having no prep can leave you devoid of anything to “bounce” off when you improv.

Next time, we learn about Chapter Eight: Antagonists!
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