Welcome back, dice fondlers! This week we’re back with the real meat and potatoes in Exalted’s system — the Charms. While every portion of the character sheet specifies a different aspect of the character (as should be), the Charms are where the supernatural portion of the character starts to get fully defined.
With a game as fully robust as Exalted, you could play the game with strictly mortal characters. Combat at that level is pretty gritty, with the supernatural inhabitants both inside and outside Creation posing truly horrifying threats to existence as they know it. However, as enticing as this mode of play is, it absolutely isn’t the default mode of play. To get to the full Exalted experience, to feel the power to change the world through sheer will, to soar to the heights that make the hubris that almost inevitably becomes all the more bitter, you need to experience Charms.
The Ability of Charms
Charms themselves are organized by what relevant Ability they are attached to. For example, under Athletics, there are multiple flowcharts for which Charms need to be purchased to gain the next Charm further down the tree. Charms are powered by Essence, and in some cases, Willpower. Essence has two functions – both in “motes,” which you can think about like magic points in a console RPG, and in their Essence Rating, which sets the overall power level for the Exalt. Two dots of Essence caps the power level as just above normal humans. Level ten Essence is the nigh-unreachable power level of Gods and Primordials. We’re talking about a power level that can shatter existence and reshape it in a word.
The easiest way to think about Charms is to visualize them as cheat codes. They are the means by which the Exalted alter reality to suit their needs.
Charms by Exalted Types
Each type of Exalted interacts with these reality-bending/breaking Charms in different ways. The charms of the Solar Exalted make them pinnacles of human perfection and conjure golden tools for them made from concentrated sunlight. A Solar Exalted may pluck arrows from sunbeams and rain them down on an opponent or, given enough time, carve a perfect statue from stone with carefully considered martial strikes.
By comparison, a Lunar Exalted, hearkening to their role as Stewards of Creation, shapeshift or channel the abilities of animals to grant themselves new abilities.
Sidereal Exalted are restricted to a limited pool of Charms compared to all other Exalted due to the nature of their Exaltation, but they are able to push and pull at the threads of Fate in order to shift entire cities to new locations, or to sour a person’s relationships, making them toxic to everyone they meet.
The Dragon-Blooded choose from elemental themed Charms, with Charms matching their Caste as easier to learn and those opposing them as more difficult to learn. Among these are the ability to make enemies drown in their own blood or leap like a flickering flame.
Next, let’s discuss Combos. Normally, characters can only use one Charm per turn. With Combos, characters can stack multiple Charms together and have them trigger all at once. In character creation, Combos cost a number of bonus points equal to the number of Charms in the Combo.
One of the other features of Combos is that in order to activate, a character has to pay the full price in motes of Essence as well as a point of Willpower for the extraordinary focus required to channel such power all at one time.
Picking Our Solar Exalted Charms
In our case, we’ll be focusing on Charms for our Solar Exalted. We get to pick ten Charms from our Charm lists. Five of these have to be from our Favored or Caste Abilities. The base level Charm required to begin most of the Charm trees are any of the three Charms known as Excellencies, available for each and every Ability. Excellencies allow Exalted to add dice to rolls using that Ability, to add Successes to rolls using that Ability, or to reroll when the outcome isn’t as good as you had hoped.
Once we have an Excellency for an Ability, we can start picking Charms from the rest of the tree. For example, if we take any of the Excellencies for Archery, we can then choose between Trance of Unhesitating Speed or There Is No Wind. Trance of Unhesitating Speed lets us spend motes of Essence to make multiple ranged attacks. There Is No Wind lets us choose between two different options— the base version removes all external penalties, while the more expensive version even eliminates penalties for firing at the weapon’s absolute maximum range.
Now, here’s the real kicker about Charms. There are literally dozens of Charms in the core book just for Solar Exalted alone. Do not, I repeat, do not try to learn absolutely every Charm. It won’t end well for you.
Instead, understand two things. First, look into Charms based on Abilities that fit your character and their concept. Second, make sure that the GM and the table understand that bizarre conflicts between Charms may arise and need to be adjudicated at the table on the fly— AND THAT’S OKAY. These are literally god-like powers. Be willing to roll with the punches as you determine how the ebb and flow of Charm interaction functions.
I hoped this helped demystify the most complicated but flavorful part of the Exalted character power set. I’ll catch you lovely people next week with the start of the New Year, but until then, I hope you all remember to….