Hello there my friends, it is I the author of this blog adjacent internet entity. I have been away for some time, some due to personal reasons (dealing with the death of a good friend) others due to simple laziness and also because I have been busy playing games with my friends. (Whom I blame for my new and dangerous addiction to X-Wing Miniatures).
However, today I am going to talk a bit about Exalted 3rd Edition. I’ve always loved the idea of Exalted, it is set up to tell a really interesting story about flawed beings with the power kill gods (which was their original purposes) and reshape their world.
Sounds awesome doesn’t it? Well it is, with anything up to about 3 to 4 players. Beyond that (And at higher levels) the extreme crunchiness of the system causes it to explode and collapse like a Jenga Tower made of Nitrogen Triiodide.
A very good friend of mine once heroically attempted to run a 2nd Edition Exalted game for a group of 9 players (a full circle of Solars, at least 2 Luna, an Abyssal & a Sidereal). It was immense fun, but the system problems just caused us to become bogged down in tedium the moment a combat started (which is pretty frequently in Exalted).
I was pretty skeptical about the 3rd Edition Kickstarter, I didn’t back it as I didn’t have a massive amount of faith that they could deliver what they promised and given the amount of issues that there have been around its release I think I was justified. However, all that said, 3rd Edition has been released in both PoD and PDF. So I have caved to my inner GM (you know the one, it’s the voice that tells you to just pick up the corebook and see how it goes or so what the previous edition sucked, this time it might be perfect) and picked up the print and PDF bundle. As a PoD title it’s going to be a week or so before I get the physical book, but I have the PDF and this post will be based on that. (Update, I have the PoD Copy and it is massive and very well printed).
Ok, initial impression, the PDF is massive, its 48MB & 686 Pages long. The art on the cover is awesome and the general standard of art throughout the entire book is very high with an excellent mix between the anime style of previous Exalted editions and a more illustrated style that reminds me really strongly of Yoshitaka Amano’s Final Fantasy art. The pages look pretty well set out and the page backgrounds are thematic and unintrusive.
Lets look at the content then, so character creation looks about standard for any Storyteller system game, spend points on stats and skills, buy advantages and then buy special snowflake powers. I will do some example character generation at some point where we will go into this in depth.
The dice pool and success mechanic are basically the same as is the way of defining difficulty and modifying for circumstance. The difficulty (between 1 and 5) is the number of successes needed, a single success is a dice result of 7+ with 10s counting as 2 successes. Modifiers to the roll are added/subtracted from the dice pool. So if you are trying to shoot an arrow trailing a rope into a building to enable you to climb it you’ll be rolling Dex+Archery (Difficulty 1) but as the heavy rope unabalances the arrow you will be at -1 die to the pool.
The stunt system still exists and is basically the same with a couple of tweaks. A 1 point stunt is a simple but good description that is better than “I hit it with my axe” and awards an extra die, 2 point stunts give one automatic success and two extra dice as well as allowing the player to recover a point of willpower (up to their max) and a 3 point stunt awards 2 extra dice, 2 automatic successes and grants 2 extra willpower, which can take you above your max.
Moving into Combat we see the first real major difference. I’ve been hearing things about the combat changes here and there but I am going into this mostly unknowing of what has been changed and boy has there been a big change. There are now two basic types of attack, there is the Withering Attack and the Decisive Attack and the characters Initiative now serves as a kind of tracker of how well things are going.
Pay attention as this bit is important.
A Withering Attack does damage to an opponents initiative, I know this sounds a bit weird but bear with me and I will try to explain. When you make a withering attack you are attempting to gain the upper hand in the fight, these are the attacks where it’s all blades ringing on blades and showers of sparks from armour etc. You roll Dex+[Relevant Combat Skill]+Weapons Accuracy Bonus as a dice pool versus the opponents defense, assuming you hit the target you deal damage by rolling (Str+Weapon+Extra Successes)-Opponents Relevant Soak as a dice pool (The two successes from a 10 rule does apply here). The ‘damage’ from this roll is taken off the opponents initiative and added to yours. This can push the opponent to zero or negative initiative and you get some cool effects for doing this.
The point of doing this is to build up a nice pot of initiative to allow you to unleash a Decisive Attack and try to end the combat.
A Decisive Attack is an attempt to exploit an opening or weakness to bring the fight to its end, usually with the bloody and violent death of your opponent. If, however, you fail to land a decisive blow you will be penalised and the advantage will pass to your opponent. So best make use of those withering attacks to build up some initiative first eh. To make a decisive attack you roll Dex+[Relevant Combat Skill] as a dice pool (weapon accuracy doesn’t add here as it’s more about timing and advantage than anything else) against the targets defense, if you fail to hit the target this costs you 2 Initiative if your current initiative is 1-10 and 3 if it is 11+. If you hit you compare your current initiative to the opponents hardness rating, if your total is lower than their hardness the attack does no damage but still counts as a hit for the purposes of charms etc, if your initiative pool exceeds their hardness then you roll the dice as damage (10s do not count as two successes here) and apply it as bashing or lethal damage directly to their health track. Then assuming the attack was successful your initiative resets to 3.
There is also a special kind of decisive attack called a ‘Gambit’, these cover things like Disarm, Unhorse, Grapple (the grapple rules are actually not bad and don’t require millions of dice rolls) and Distract. They all work in basically the same way as the standard decisive attack but rather than rolling damage you are rolling versus a difficulty. Worth special attention is distract, this allows you to pass your successes as bonus initiative to another character (Team Attacks anyone?).
I like this idea, I think it will make the combat much better and will likely remove the over reliance on perfect defense/perfect attack that the first 2 editions had, you can have a huge creature with loads of armour and a high hardness that the PCs have to gang up on, launching a flurry of attacks to try and push it onto the ropes and allow them to launch their final strikes. It seems much more in theme.
I also like that the armour is added versus a withering attack but not a decisive one, so good armour makes it harder to gain an advantage over you but doesn’t make you invulnerable if you are in a bad place.
I mentioned earlier there are special effects related to initiative changes forced by withering attacks. I’ll give the brienf rundown here:
Initiative Crash – A character whose initiative drops to 0 or a negative is considered to be in initiative crash, they are considered to have a hardness of 0, cannot launch decisive attacks, cannot use charms with the perilous keyword and is still vulnerable further withering attacks. If a character survives 3 turns in initiative crash their initiative resets to 3. Finally, if a character enters initiative crash due to their own actions (a combat action or charm that costs initiative to use for example) they immediately lose another 5 initiative.
Initiative Break – When a character forces another character into initiative crash they gain an initiative break, this adds +5 to their initiative.
Initiative Shift – While in initiative crash if you can cause the opponent who crashed you to also crash, you immediately leave initiative crash and reset to base initiative 3 then roll join battle on top of that, all your movements and act ions are reset and you immediately get an action, if this action is an attack then it must be aimed at the character you crashed.
These special kinds of initiative changes really work to reinforce the ebb and flow of battle, say the opponent is some kind of massive stone demon that has a completely insane hardness rating, keep going at it until you push it onto Initiative Crash and its hardness zeros out then you hit it with a decisive attack. There is also a great option for turnabout using the shift rules, I can imagine that a hard pressed solar could dig into the essence bank and lay some serious smack down to invoke initiative shift.
Defense wise you still have the standard Evade/Parry for not getting hit and the option of using resistance charms to suck up the damage on an actual hit, armour still adds to soak and there are still the various options for artifact and non-artifcat armours.
Exalted has always been heavily about charms, these are the little bits of magic that your Exalted character can use to enhance nearly every action they take.
Charms are quite different in 3rd Edition over 2nd Edition. First up the extra action and perfect defense charms have been heavily de-emphasised, this ties in nicely with the new combat system as it has removed the Perfect Defense or Immediately Killed problem that previous editions had.
Other than that there are a LOT of charms in the book, many more than in previous editions with a lot of changed and updated charms that fix the obviously mechanical issues. One of the small issues I have with the book is down to the layout of the Charms, there are no charm trees anywhere in the book so telling what the available options and branches are in the book is very difficult. Thankfully this is one place where the fans have chipped in and created Charm Trees in PDF format that show you all these things. I understand why they are not in the book, it’s already huge, but it should have been something that the publisher offered as a PDF from release.
Now, sorcery, one of the big things from previous editions. Sorcery was always extremely powerful but you had two major problems with it, the essence cost was extremely high & it cost a number of actions to prepare and cast a spell. What they have done in 3rd Edition is quite nice, when you cast sorcery you take a shape sorcery action (as in previous editions) however the action itself is now a Int+Occult roll that generates ‘Sorcerous Motes’ equal to the successes rolled, once you have accumulated a number of sorcerous motes equal to the cost of the spell you pay any outstanding willpower cost and the spell casts immediately.
The big change there is that the essence cost for sorcery no longer comes from your own essence pools. This is a good thing as it means that characters can take sorcery without having to worry about spending all their essence in one or two spells.
SOCIAL STUFF & INTIMACIES
Building on the ideas put forward in Exalted 2e, the 3rd edition has a simplified (but still extremely powerful and flexible) social combat system. In this case it is based on the intimacies that you define for your character and the NPCs, the idea is that without a relevant intimacy you don’t have the emotional leverage to convince someone to do what you want. So there is now a Read Intentions move (Per+Socialize) that lets you discover peoples intimacies and then other moves that let you exploit, strengthen and weaken those intimacies.
There are, obviously, a bunch of charms related to social-fu that let you modify read intentions and things that trigger (social defenses) when others try read intentions on the PCs.
The world of 3rd Edition Exalted is pretty much the same as the world in previous editions. The idea behind Exalted has always been a giant sandbox which the players get to change over their campaign. Want to destroy the realm, cool we can work with that, want to invade heaven and hold the gods to account, we can work with that as well, want to run a little corner of creation as your own personal empire, also possible. This kind of sandboxy approach is still very much in evidence and really suited to a game where you play beings as powerful as the exalted.
Big change for the game here, your characters essence trait now increases according to the amount of (regular) XP that you have earned. This is something we had always houseruled as being the case in our games, it makes such a difference to have it in the game itself that I’m glad to see it there.
There are now also two pools of XP, there is Regular XP and Solar XP, you can reasonably expect to recieve 5 regular XP and 2 solar XP per session. The difference is that Solar XP can be spent on anything that is not a charm.
My immediate thought is that these two pools of XP give you a faster growing pool of XP which will almost certainly end up being spent on charms. The solar XP pool grows slower and would be intended to provide a pool used to raising stats and abilities.