Welcome back, dice fondlers! I have escaped from the warm embrace of Youmacon. (Honestly, it’s more like the darn thing ended and they look at you funny if you show back up later in the week.) In my return, I bring you more tales of godlings, hubris, and genetically engineered wildlife. Let’s get back to it.
Back to Exalted’s Glorious Setting
Last week, we did a high-speed rundown of Exalted’s setting and history. Check that out if you aren’t already familiar with this particular world. Trust me when I say that it was incredibly pared down for time. We didn’t cover the sun-worshipping, blood sacrificing, past life remembering dinosaur people, the genius Mountain Folk who the Solars forced to live underground as a buffer between themselves and the weird horrors that come from the dark, the super plague and the holes it made in Creation that function as portals to the Underworld, or the shape-shifting Cthulhu elves that live beyond the borders of reality who devour emotions and whose very existence is a story they tell others.
Yeah, I meant it when I said this is a DENSE setting. That density almost threw a wrench in my plans for talking about character creation in Exalted.
Handling the Exalt Types
You see, in White Wolf’s World of Darkness, each product line is really its own game with similar enough rules that they can all be blended together. The storytelling defaults that come with, say, Vampire are absolutely not the story defaults that come with Werewolf. Experienced WW Storytellers already know this. Exalted… is a little muddier. The developers of each major Exalt book absolutely took inspiration from the World of Darkness product lines and very obviously have separate types of stories that are most interesting to tell with each. However, in the presentation, each of these separate Exalt types historically worked closely with each other where the World of Darkness corebooks tend to mention and gloss over the other supernaturals pretty quickly.
With the lines quickly blurred, many players immediately wanted to put them all into the same game at the same time. This isn’t as easy as an egalitarian table might hope because each Exalt type is a different power level from the others. Solars are far and away the most powerful, Dragon-Blooded are far and away the weakest, and there are some pretty wild thematic differences and powersets for Lunars and Sidereals to keep them from playing nicely together. Furthermore, of the initial Exalt types talked about, the Abyssals and Infernals are EXPRESSLY working for evil. They are certainly some of the richest stories emotionally, but their core mechanics are often destructive to anyone around them that isn’t aligned with their goals. Put simply, this isn’t D&D where you can have both Good and Evil characters in the same party and make everyone place nice. This is a game where if you want a mixed party of Exalts for your characters, you’re expressly making choices that contradict the game lore.
THIS IS FINE.
Let me repeat that. THIS IS FINE.
As I said once before, trying to fit all of Creation in your mouth at once isn’t a good idea. You’ll choke trying to make it all work together and the flavors won’t go together AT ALL.
Choosing Our Team
A group that’s brand new to Exalted should pick an Exalt type, make a team with no repeating Castes (Castes are kind of like classes, but more on that soon…) and choose a recommended genre for that Exalt type. Until you get the hang of the power levels and have some experience with the system’s quirks, this is much more manageable. With that in mind, I recommend starting as most of the core rulebooks do, with Solar Exalted.
Why Solars? Solars are hands down the most powerful Exalt types with over the top powers that let them perform actions perfectly. Divided into five Castes, each Solar is born with a Caste mark on their forehead that becomes visible and eventually glows as they channel Essence and use their divine magic called Charms. Their Castes are Dawn, Zenith, Twilight, Night, and Eclipse.
- Dawn have affinity for physical combat and war.
- Zenith are thought of as priest-kings; being both durable and capable in social situations.
- Twilight are often the scientists and generals of the Solars, proficient in crafting, lore, medicine, and the occult.
- Night are a combination of thieves, magistrates, and assassins; all those who slip through the places where the Sun can’t reach to pursue a person or a secret.
- Finally, the Eclipse are travelers and diplomats, those who can walk into enemy territory to broker deals. It was the Eclipse who bound the Primordials into their prison and made them the Yozi with vows enforceable by reality itself.
Now, understand. A Solar Exalt excelling at Archery can pretty quickly use their magic Charms to make Perfect attacks, create arrows out of light, create a bow out of a light, or make all the arrows they just fired divide into separate missiles of piercing light and rain down on their opponents. Relatively young characters can, experience-wise, stand on top of the highest mountain in the world, the one that almost touches Heaven, and fire an arrow that hits LITERALLY ANYWHERE IN CREATION, perfectly, without fail.
To some of the folks I’ve introduced Exalted to, this sounds like a bad thing. If you start with powers this crazy, where do you go from there? How do you challenge a party of players that are super competent at thrashing reality into whatever shape they want it? The same way you write a good story for Superman. You don’t make the story about making big enough monsters to challenge them – you make the story about attacking the things that they love and hold dear.
This is the core of Exalted, the real truth of the setting. Those with the power to fix things and to enact change are often the most flawed and human among us. Can your characters truly defend a fractured and divided world that stands to be consumed from LITERALLY all sides by forces seeking to undo it? And if they do repel the forces seeking to undo them and reality, what collateral damage will they themselves do to the place they’ve decided to call home?
Now that we have a better idea on where we’re going to start and a brief warning about how to approach launching a game of Exalted, we’ll be returning next week with honest to goodness character creation for a Solar Exalted. Take care of yourselves between now and then, my dicey friends, and remember to…