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My Exalted Collection is Finally Complete

Isator Levie

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However, in this book, the presentation of the Realm's government hearkens back to that 2e style of worldbuilding. It is corrupt and dysfunctional, but it never feels out of control. You don't get a lot of blurring of boundaries, unintended consequences, or loose ends. The Empress wanted an empire that only barely worked and that's what she got. I'd have liked to see more stuff that felt like an organic growth out of a living history. Personal fiefdoms carved out despite the Empress' suspicions, atavisms that never quite got wiped out, concessions to peasants inelegantly disguised as something intentional, and criminal syndicates not run by the Great Houses.
I find that it actually does have a lot of those things, to some extent of another.

It's not wrong for it to lack all of them. Successfully preventing Great Houses from having exerted too much territorial independence, for instance, is not only the kind of thing that some actual empires have managed, but can serve as a point of tension driving the motives of characters in the course of actual games.

When the thematic underpinning of the game is being in a setting in which the centre cannot hold, it's kind of necessary that people are used to the centre holding in some fashion. There's a degree to which these things need to be designed according to theme, tone, and being an engine for playing games and telling stories, rather than fully simulating an entirely realistic world to talk about.

Also, two whole Great Houses carved out a fief for themselves in the Southeast that the Realm tries to save face with by calling them cadet Houses and their empire a satrapy, so it actually does kind of have all the things you're asking after.

For the sorcerer stuff, I think you need to meet them halfway a bit; I don't find it reasonable to want them to filter out every possible thing that is reminiscent of stuff that people might have baggage about. Stuff with Bagrash Kol and the Eye is implicit in the fact that basically no magical item in the setting is capable of operating itself, nor do they have simple on switches.
 

SrGrvsaLot

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I finished reading the Realm tonight

The Immaculate Order's chapter fiction really cemented its place as a villain organization. Something about the smarmy way the priest manipulated those peasants really got under my skin. She knew the problem was the fault of the aristocracy, but managed to rhetorically turn it around and blame the petitioners. Fucking authoritarian creeds, man.

The only real problem I had with The Realm's portrayal of the Immaculate Order is that it wins a little bit too often. Which, yeah, I get it, "places where the Immaculate Order wins" is pretty much by definition "The Realm," but like I mentioned earlier, I'd like to see a bit more blurring of boundaries, of ideas that don't neatly follow borders. Maybe even the small god at a village shrine could be surprisingly formidable and not just someone you can send a monk in to intimidate. Maybe that only works most of the time, but then sometimes it really backfires and then you've got a serious situation. Also, maybe some ordinary people could occasionally notice how nakedly self-serving the Immaculate Philosophy is.

But that's really only a nitpick. I really enjoyed the second half of this book. I seem to remember an ambition to make the Blessed Isle a place that could support Solar games, and that was not particularly achieved, but it is nonetheless an extremely useful book for Dragon-Blooded and Sidereals. A lot of expansion of the Blessed Isle, making old locations more interesting and adding new locations to make the whole place more diverse.

My favorite detail was making Arjuf an independent city. That is the sort of weird historical oddity that I'd like to see more of. I'd have also liked to see a little bit more of the Dragonswrath Desert, simply because it's the most exotic location on the Blessed Isle.

Beasts of Resplendent Liquid and Mountain Folk still canon (I think I also saw a mention of the Dragon Kings somewhere, but I can't remember where), still all welcome returns.

I really like the Incandescence. I'm very interested in a family with a tradition of tending some ancient sorcerous working and then suddenly deciding to capitalize on it in a new way in dangerous times. It was also neat to have a source of power in the Realm that's not directly connected to the machinations of the Exalted.

Would have liked to hear more about the Blessed Isle's native cultures and the way their legacies have influenced the modern Realm, but I get that this isn't an anthropological treatise.

The Empress' potential low-born daughter is a good plot point and I'll probably use her in a game sooner or later.

The Satrapies chapter has a good overview of how the Realm operates, and thankfully doesn't sugarcoat things. I had misgivings when I saw the heading "The Benefits of Empire," but that subverted my expectations by being about the benefits to the Empire. This section leaves no doubts that the Realm is an oppressor that must be destroyed (or, at least, humbled) so good job.

Fajad is a new location and I like it quite a bit, but I wound up getting a little confused when the text moved on to Pneuma because I couldn't shake the feeling that "The Needle" and "The Nail of Truth" were different names for the same thing.

I really dug Aqadar as a character right up to the point where the text implied he was a Lunar. My personal canon is that this is in-game prejudice because no one can believe that a "mere mortal" could live for a thousand years atop a kick-ass tower doing weird magical experiments. Nobody tell me if the Lunars book disabuses me of that notion. Let me have the dream for at least awhile.

Also, that section had another misuse of the word "thaumaturgist" - are the new developers backtracking on the core's redefinition of the term?

More information about Prasad was extremely welcome, though they'd better leave Champoor the fuck alone. It's perfect just the way it is.

Loved the Caul chapter, though I thought using the word "anathema" to refer to Lunars OOC was a misstep. This should be a book about the Realm, not necessarily a book written in The Realm's voice. More peasants, more celestial exalted, more gods, and more miscellaneous creatures like immortal snake women - they're just as much a part of the Realm's story as the Dragon-Blooded.

Overall, I kind of love this book. It didn't go quite as far as I'd have liked in mussing up the Realm's imperial swagger, but it added a lot to the setting, some of which I think is going to have some serious legs in future canon.
 

SrGrvsaLot

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I find that it actually does have a lot of those things, to some extent of another.
Not as much as I'd like, but you're right. Keep in mind that I'm commenting chronologically here. The "it feels like 2e" bit was my impression post-chapter 2. And while the last half of the book was an improvement, I still felt the need to clarify my earlier comment.

Stuff with Bagrash Kol and the Eye is implicit in the fact that basically no magical item in the setting is capable of operating itself, nor do they have simple on switches.
Well, I was only using Bagrash Kol as an example. Aqadar is a better one. Maybe the reason people see Lunars visiting him is that he's so good at sorcery that even Lunar exalted think him a force to be reckoned with. What I really meant with my Bagrash Kol comment was that I'm wary of "a mortal sorcerer can't rival the Dragon Blooded without some sort of equalizer like the Eye of Autocthon," when what I really want is for sorcery to be the equalizer.

I used to really criticize the Empress for ignoring the game's power curve, but I've now come to realize that my real problem was that she was the only one who was allowed to do so. In a setting where a mortal can master sorcery to such a degree that they create a wondrous magical empire that threatened to kneecap the Realm before it even got started, the Scarlet Empress seeming to break every rule about what the Dragon-Blooded can do feels a lot less objectionable. I'd prefer to think that Bagrash's prior unaided success led him to have the hubris to think he could master the Eye, rather than it just being another case where some overpowered Macguffin allows exceptions to the rules.
 

Isator Levie

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Not as much as I'd like, but you're right. Keep in mind that I'm commenting chronologically here. The "it feels like 2e" bit was my impression post-chapter 2.
I found chapter 2 to be something filled with developments of the Realm's culture focused on making it varied, nuanced and with a focus on essential humanity, while still largely focused on providing his to interact with games. A far cry from Second Edition's dry text book approach that often tested the populace at large as window dressing.

SrGrvsaLot said:
What I really meant with my Bagrash Kol comment was that I'm wary of "a mortal sorcerer can't rival the Dragon Blooded without some sort of equalizer like the Eye of Autocthon," when what I really want is for sorcery to be the equalizer.
How can that work when Dragon Blooded can have sorcery in addition to their own Charms?

SrGrvsaLot said:
I used to really criticize the Empress for ignoring the game's power curve, but I've now come to realize that my real problem was that she was the only one who was allowed to do so.
I think a better approach to the Empress is that she illustrates why some assumptions about the power curve ought to be revised.

In any case, the Realm might not be challenged by an empire run by mortal sorcerers and people with access to other forms of strange magic, but Prasad certainly is in the form of major regional rivals Ysyr (ruled by a class of unusually concentrated sorcerers) and Volivat (have access to First Age texts allowing them to create superhuman children with ten fathers that can challenge the Dragon Blooded).

Still, this subject is galvanising me to go back and finish The Realm myself; it troubles me to have had access to it for more than a month before somebody else who finished it quite rapidly (although in my defense, my tendency is to review in exceeding detail).
 

SrGrvsaLot

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How can that work when Dragon Blooded can have sorcery in addition to their own Charms?
Inconsistently.

Less flippantly, I do have a theory about this. I call it "The Big Move Filter."

Think about things like the Hail Mary in football, or going all-in in poker. These are things you do if you're behind, because if you're in the lead, it's much smarter to play conservatively and use the advantages that come from being in the lead to help you expand your lead. Weaker players want to maximize the influence of chance. Stronger players want to minimize the risk.

And sorcery is a risk. "I am going to stand in the middle of this collapsing manse and channel all of its energy DIRECTLY INTO MY SOUL" is a more attractive proposition if you're an 80-year-old mortal staring down a decade of decrepitude and eventual death than if you're an 80-year-old Dynast who still has another couple of centuries of being feted as a living god.

Now, generally, Big Moves are a bad idea (or, more accurately a Bad Idea), and the statistics bear this out. Very few would-be tier-jumpers survive the process. But some do. And of those that survive, some are still discontent, and they go for the next Big Move. And most of those people fail as well. But sometimes you get someone who, through providence, skill, or luck manages to survive again and again, and they become your Bagrash Kols or your pseudo-canonical Aqadars.

But what, you may ask, is to stop a Dragon-Blooded from doing the same thing?

Nothing.

That is my current theory about the Empress. She was following the same playbook, and it worked . . . right up until the point where it didn't.

Ah, but what is to stop a solar from doing it?

To that, I refer you to vol 1 of my upcoming treatise Causes of the Fall of the First Age.
 

Isator Levie

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That just reads to me like an Eye of Autochthon with extra steps.

That said, you don't need to be equal to win.

And workings are conceivably a way to build up something that Exalted won't casually replicate or contest. Sure, in the mechanics somebody with mortal dice pools will have a hard time managing that, but there are things a sorcerer can access that could boost their dice, and the achievements of NPCs in the backstory don't need to have all of their mechanics rolled out.
 

Morty

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It's a practical term, sure, but my issue with it is that the "mortal" in "mortal sorcerer" sounds like a diminutive. Like, Sorcerers are these weird and scary people with unknowable powers, but mortal Sorcerers are the lowest category there is. It dovetails with the greatest weakness of Exalted as a setting - the way power tiers can sometimes seem hard-coded, such that you wind up with a very narrow selection of antagonists for any given character type. I once said (in this thread, I believe) that if there was any word I could banish from exalted writers' vocabulary, it would be "mere." And "mortal sorcerer" kind of brings the same energy. It feels one step away from saying "mere mortal sorcerer." I'd rest a lot easier if it was explicit that the Eye of Autocthon is what destroyed Bagrash Kol's empire, and that what built it was Bagrash Kol.
What else are they going to call them? "Mortal sorcerer" is a good short-hand to describe someone who mastered sorcery, but isn't Exalted. "Unexalted sorcerer" is unwieldy and can also feel disparaging if you squint.
 

SrGrvsaLot

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That just reads to me like an Eye of Autochthon with extra steps.
Sure, if you erase all nuance. What I really want is weird, uncharacterizable, rule-breaking things at every level of power. "The Exalted" as a taxonomy and not a metaphysical category.

What else are they going to call them? "Mortal sorcerer" is a good short-hand to describe someone who mastered sorcery, but isn't Exalted. "Unexalted sorcerer" is unwieldy and can also feel disparaging if you squint.
It's not that big a deal. Although if we're really nitpicking terminology, I'd prefer "sorcerer" and "exalted sorcerer." But like I said, not a big deal. My main worry is that the main mechanism for thwarting the power curve will turn in to 2e's thaumaturgy - a curiosity that adds texture to mortal characters, but nonetheless keeps them locked out of the setting's big leagues.
 

Isator Levie

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Sure, if you erase all nuance. What I really want is weird, uncharacterizable, rule-breaking things at every level of power. "The Exalted" as a taxonomy and not a metaphysical category.
I get that as a thing to want, but don't think it's an entirely reasonable thing to ask for. Like, the game is a muffin; there are differences in flavour, but it's not at fault for not being a cupcake, even if there are people who like those.

I say this as somebody whose interest in Exalted was precipitated by the fact that it could do things that Mage: the Awakening could not, and that I never expected it to no matter how much I wanted them.
 

SrGrvsaLot

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I get that as a thing to want, but don't think it's an entirely reasonable thing to ask for. Like, the game is a muffin; there are differences in flavour, but it's not at fault for not being a cupcake, even if there are people who like those.

I say this as somebody whose interest in Exalted was precipitated by the fact that it could do things that Mage: the Awakening could not, and that I never expected it to no matter how much I wanted them.
Oh, I don't know. The bulk of 3e is as yet unwritten. Better to get my lobbying in earlier rather than later. That said, this conversation has gotten me thinking about reviving an old project I've had bouncing around in my head - Exalted: The Prodigies, which would be all about mortals and animals empowered by singular events throughout creation and which would focus on making both antagonists and PCs at every power level out of uncategorizable one-offs. It's an idea I had about a year ago, but decided to shelve until I saw Exigents.
 
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