posted by kaynorr Original SA post

Exalted 3 - Bloodless Edition

For an overview on the setting, please check out Monathin's posts - I'll assume you know what Creation is, why the Realm is (and is not) a bunch of dickbags, and who the Solars are. Let's dig into how this glorious weird awesome terrible fluff translates into actual rules on the table.

There is always something to spend

Getting shit done in Exalted is usually a matter of spending some sort of resource to invoke a special effect. Willpower is the most basic of these resources - it's the only thing available to the mundane citizens of Creation (I guess Health Levels are technically a resource as well, but those aren't usually spent voluntarily). You can spend a Willpower to increase the chance of success for almost any action in the game. For things with an Essence rating of higher than one, they also have a pool of Essence motes available. These are spent to invoke the vast majority of special powers in the world of Exalted, which are collectively referred to as Charms.

Within combat there are two more important resources to manage - initiative and anima level. Initiative tracks, similar to many games, the order in which characters act during the combat turn - but it handles immensely more than that as well. Monathin will almost get to combat before I do so please read in detail - it's a fantastic system and one of the biggest improvements to Exalted 3rd edition. For the purposes of everything else, Essence and Willpower are what's important.

It's worth mentioning that most of the time, the costs of non-combat Charms are fairly low compared to the size of Solar Essence pools - it's only near the apex of most Charm trees where you start worrying about having enough Essence to pay for the awesome power you want. Going from empty to full Essence is measured in hours, so there is a risk/reward where you spend all your mojo to achieve some impressive feat, but are vulnerable to ambush/response in the time it takes to recharge. Willpower replenishes even more slowly (matter of days), so spending it is a proportionally bigger commitment.

The deep end of the dice pool

Exalted 3 uses the Storyteller system, which makes it look a lot more like oWOD than nWOD in practice. Tests are adjudicated by rolling a pool of d10s (usually equal to Attribute + Ability + modifiers), and counting 7s, 8s, 9s, and 10s as successes. These successes are compared to the Difficulty of the test, which starts at Difficulty 1 and scales up to five. Get successes matching or exceeding the difficulty of the test and you achieve whatever it is you wanted - successes above the difficulty are referred to as the overflow and sometimes come into play in the consequences of the test. Seems simple, right? Time to start messing with it.

Exalted uses a number of, for lack of a better term, dice games to represent various ways that the mystical forces of the universe intervene. Many of these mechanics are (wisely) resused over and over again so let's get familiar with them in the abstract.

Double successes - while normally a dice showing 7/8/9/10 counts as a single success, there are exceptions. Almost all rolls have the double 10s effect, meaning that dice showing 10s count as two successes. Various Charms can grant double 9s, double 8s, or double 7s, with each one being generally more expensive than the last.

Dice adders are kind of the baseline Charm to boost yourself. Spend Essense and/or Willpower and you get to add a number of dice to your roll. Success adders are much the same thing, but skip over that pesky randomness thing and augment the successes on the roll directly. Each type of Exalted has their own limit on how much they can boost a single roll - Solar/Abyssal Exalted have the highest cap, that being the base Attribute + Ability being rolled, effectively doubling their overall dice pool ceiling. Terrestrials are capped at the Ability used, Lunars at the Attribute, Siderals at their Essence. Success adders count as two dice for the purpose of this limit, as do any effects that boost a static value (such as Defense, Guile, or Resolve).

Rerolls do just what it says on the tin - let you reroll a die that doesn't show a success in the hopes of getting something better. Many rerolls in Exalted are cascading rerolls, meaning that you reroll every die showing X until no dice show X. There is no flat limit to how many dice are rerolled, though many individual effects provide a guideline for their specific case.

Dice showing a 1 hold a special place of dread in older Storyteller/Storytelling systems. Early on they subtracted from your success pool, but that's been done away with because it does really terrible things to the probabilities. In Exalted, a roll which has no successes AND one or more zeroes is a Botch, with some sort of terrible consequence for the actor - this mechanic has been around for a while now. What's new in Exalted is that 1s (and sometimes 2s) on a roll represent the possibility for your action to be sabotaged by other people - there are various Charms, used in response to a successful action, that are powered up / made available by the presence of low dice in the initial roll. I personally think this is a fairly clever mechanic.

Any given action can be governed by some, none, or ALL of these mechanics at the same time depending upon the Charms in effect - you could start out rolling 8 dice, buy another 8 dice for some Essence, stack double 9s on top of that, and reroll all 6s until no more 6s are shown. Dice pools for Solars can get really, REALLY big - part of the fun, challenge (or heartache, depending upon your point of view) is thinking in terms of what's feasible when you can expect to get 8-10 successes in a single roll. In combat this comes primarily from opponents who command equally large dice pools - out of combat you have to think in different terms, and hopefully that's what we'll discover.

Nothing Succeeds Like Success

For most Charms, the only limit to how often you can use them is your pool of resources (Essence, Willpower, initiative, anima, what-have-you). Some Charms can only be used once per scene or combat - unless certain reset conditions are met. In combat this is usually about building up a degree of dominance over your opponent - out of combat the reset conditions usually revolve around achieving some sort of significant goal for your character that the Charm probably let you do. This ties in nicely with the Solar theme of overwhelming excellence - if you lay it all on the line with some big Charm and succeed, the Charm resets and you can reach even further assuming your Essence pool can sustain it.

Next time: Hiding Mouse, Seeking Cat - Awareness, Stealth, Investigation, Larceny!


posted by kaynorr Original SA post


The Larceny charms embrace a variety of effects revolving around criminal activity - pickpocketing, lockpicking, disguise and smooth talking your way into and out of places you shouldn't be.

Early on we have a pair of Charms intended for use at the gaming table, Swift Gambler's Eye and Lightning-Hand Slight. The first helps you read the tells of your opponents, the second lets you cheat successfully at a single round of a game (and doubles as a way to slip someone a mickey). The disguise charms start with a costume that cannot be penetrated by any mundane senses, and later on a master thief can wear multiple disguises simultaneously, choosing which one each person sees.

The basic lockpicking Charm is notable in that it's not just a boost to the Dex + Larceny roll, but explicitly says that when it is invoked the lock ALWAYS opens - a failure on the roll means that there is some sort of negative consequence in addition to the lock opening. The pickpocketing path also offers combat utility in the form of disarms and the Null Anima Gloves which lets the Exalt steal initiative or Essence, use a free full Larceny Excellency, free immediate disarm, and make a free immediate attunement to an artifact you just stole. The combat charms are fairly deep into Larceny, so it's intended to provide combat utility to a dedicated feat rather than something combat characters dabble in.

There is a meta Charm cascade farther down as well which simulates the just-in-time preparation of a heist. Living Shadow Preparedness creates a reserve of successes based on a Wits + Larceny roll that can be used to supplement a single Larceny or Stealth action until the Exalt sleeps. Unshakable Rogue's Spirit also functions as boost to lockpicking/pickpocketing/stealth/swindling, this time powered by borrowed initiative from the next time the Exalt gets into a fight. Finally there is Master Plan Meditation, which interlocks with the Investigation system we'll cover next. When the Exalt attemps something that might be investigated later (forgery, preparing an alibi, gathering info on someone covertly, getting blueprints in preparation for a caper, planning a caper, or running interference on the law/the mob), this Charm creates a pool of points that can be allocated to foil later interference or otherwise boost the impending caper - including leaving your calling card in a dramatic location.

Larceny's capstone is the decidedly underwhelming Unbroken Darkness Approach, which just allows a free full Larceny Excellency once per scene with the mute keyword, allowing the Exalt to spend a shitload of motes without flaring her anima.


Any discussion of investigation in RPGs should at least mention GUMSHOE, which is pretty much the gold standard in how to handle investigation & clues. The core innovation is that whenever the PCs use their skills to investigate, they should always find the bare minimum to keep the story going (GUMSHOE calls this the core clue). Seems obvious but it wasn't - and we're all better off for it. What's relevant for a discussion of Exalted is that this mechanic is pretty much entirely system-independent - and interestingly enough, the investigation Charm Ten Magistrate Eyes literally enforces the GUMSHOE rules: "Even if the Exalt's roll turns up no successes, she gains at least one clue to her Investigation".

The core of investigation is in two actions - casing scenes and profiling characters. The very first Charm, Watchman's Infallible Eye, makes the Exalt aware any time that she should use case scene or profile character, so the Storyteller & PC are easily kept in sync about when things are Important versus window dressing.

Investigation has the full spread of standard dice tricks available - a free full Excellency once per scene right out of the gate with Essence 1, double 9s / double 8s / double Essence in successes at Essence 2. Most of the Investigation boost Charms are once per scene, with the ability to reset all these Charms once per day at Essence 4 - a master Investigator can throw very large pools at a problem.

Evidence-Discerning Method warrants a mention, as it's a scene casing charm that also lets you build a profile on someone who was involved - once the profile is built, the investigator automatically spots anyone who meets the profile and any scenes where the profiled took action. It's also worth pointing out that the Charms for profiling are narrowly focused on detecting lies and building a behavioral profile - they don't necessarily help in learning a person's intimacies unless there is some natural connection between the two.

At Essence 3 the Charms start to involve psychometry - the ability to reconstruct destroyed evidence, touch an item to learn its history, and mentally reconstruct a sequence of events at a given location. The capstone is the cool but mechanically underwhelming Mind Manse Meditation, which lets the Exalt enter a memory palace containing everything they know about the case at hand and make "psychic connections between evidence, ideas, and facts that would otherwise be impossible." There are no mechanical effects listed unfortunately - but the Charm text is honest and upfront about this to its credit. The best interpretation I see is that this is basically a "advance the plot for free" card that can be used once per story. A power like this can be tricky to deal with as any Mage storyteller can attest, but its certainly not game-breaking.

Solar Spotlight - Larceny & Investigation

Having laid out the mechanics in isolation, how does this come into practice at the power levels of Solars? What do Solar thieves steal and what do Solar magistrates solve? In both cases there are a fair number of opposed rolls, so the answer lies in finding equivalent opposition - Abyssals, second circle demons, and the Fair Folk all have plenty of possessions to be separated from and deeds to be reconstructed. Note that Investigation die pools get significantly bigger than Larceny pools - a master Investigator can throw 20 dice with double 9s, double 8s, and five automatic successes TWICE A SCENE (but can only do that once per day). A master Larcenist only gets 20 dice once per scene by comparison. The balancing factor are the heist Charms starting with Living Shadow Preparedness, which are harder to math out but definetly give the feel of being a supernaturally talented thief.

Given the large dice pools for investigators, even difficulty 5 actions aren't going to be a huge obstacle past Essence 3 or so. The choices are to effectively increase the difficulty past five (probably by ruling that the evidence was hidden with magical levels of Larceny) and/or extending the trail of clues before hitting the payoff (factoring in the once-a-story automatic advance of Mind Manse Technique).

Some examples of investigations worthy of a Solar magistrate might be:
On the Larceny side, it's not so much about raw dice pools as versatility. A Solar thief can steal the rice bowl from the table of an Immaculate monk while he's eating, talk his way into the Imperial Treasury like it ain't no thing, and disguise himself as anyone in Creation. In my experience players with a skillset like this will create their own challenges - many more Larceny actions should be adjudicated as automatic successes with Wacky Consequences rather than opposed rolls. Storytellers should keep in mind the lower Larceny pools - only one full Excellency per scene and very little in the way of doubles or rerolls. Lower pools also mean that difficulty 5 is a reasonable hurdle at the top end for static Larceny challenges. This mostly applies to pickpocketing and lockpicking more than disguise or fast-talk.

One might expect that Solar thieves are so good that they can do their thing on immaterial things like memories, concepts, intimacies, and the like - outside of one particular Charm ( Doubt-Sealing Heist lets you convince someone that the thing you just stole always belonged to you) this doesn't generally happen. I suspect that Siderial Larceny will explore this space - Solars are going to have to content themselves with raiding Malfeas' personal trove of vintage pornography and the like.

Next time - Tinker, Tailor, Awareness, Stealth

Awareness & Stealth

posted by kaynorr Original SA post

Exalted 3E - Bloodless Edition; Awareness & Stealth

Awareness - I See You

The top two charms are pretty damn useful for dabblers - Sensory Acuity Prana gives you double 9s on Awareness rolls for the reset of the scene, and Surprise Anticipation Method has two handy applications. It recharges your Essence for every 9 rolled when detecting a hidden trap, enemy, or unnamed source of mishap; it also functions as a perfect, automatic trigger of her senses if she is asleep or Incapacitated. If I'm reading this correctly, you are more able to deal with ambushers in the night if you are sleep than if you are on watch. That's pretty Solar.

Awareness Charms can augment the Exalt's five senses, broken up into sight, taste & smell, hearing & touch. The Keen (Sense) Technique charms are pretty much the kind of effects you'd expect - Sight is about ignoring concealment penalties, Taste & Smell let you create a library of substances you've come into contact with and can recall them perfectly if you ever come into contact with them again, and Hearing & Touch basically turn you into Daredevil. All these Charms can be upgraded to Unsurpassed (Sense) Discpline at Awareness 5 Essence 3, where shit gets appropriately crazy. Sight gives you perfect telescopic vision out to a few miles with corresponding microscopic vision up close; Taste & Smell now work on scentless/tasteless things, allow you to smell things a couple miles away, and operates at the pheremonal level to help with determining someone's moods; Hearing & Touch are probably the most ridiculous - turning the Exalt's fingertips into a laser mic that works through a thick door, and can be extended by up to several hundred yards if there is a wire running into the room you want to eavesdrop. The Exalt can also listen backwards in time for the reverberations of sounds that occurred hours ago. Oh, and with Dedicated Unerring Ear you can hear someone who is addressing you anywhere in Creation at all times, so long as you have a Major or Defining Positive Intimacy towards them.

Unsurprisingly since we paired it with Stealth, the other primary function of awareness is to detect hidden people. Early on we have Unswerving Eye Method, which de-doubles the 10s (and anything else that would normally count double) on Stealth rolls she is opposing. Later on this is improved by Knowing Beyond Silence, where 1s rolled by the quarry add a 10 on the Exalt's roll, and 2s become 9s. There are also a few charms that derive from the Keen (Sense) Techniques that help you detect hidden people when the appropriate boosted sense, can be brought to bear, but they're nothing particularly noteworthy.

Given that the Join Battle action (which sets your starting initiative) is Wits + Awareness, it should come as no surprise that the primary purpose of Awareness in combat is to mess with your initiative - usually to give you more. Awakening Eye is the heavy lifter here - you get a full free Perception + Awareness roll, and a unique dice mechanic called a "cascading reroll of 10s". Each 10 on this roll lets you reroll a die that did not come up a success - 10s on the rerolls let you make additional rerolls. In addition, the number of dice you rerolled also becomes a banked reserve of successes that you can spend to detect hidden opponents in combat. So yeah, there is a lot going on there.

Finally we have the Awareness capstone, Eye of the Unconquered Sun. This one is kind of awesome. The Exalt's caste mark basically turns into the Eye of Sauron and cuts through any and everyone kind of obstacle to seeing clearly. Walls become transparent, fog lifts, dematerialized spirits are forced into form, disguises dropped, and shapeshifters reverted back their natural form. It's not a perfect effect (targets are given the chance to evade, but the Solar has pretty significant boosts to the roll BEFORE factoring in excellencies) but damn close to it - it also does not penetrate the Night anima effect. Normally this goes out to long range (hundreds of yards), but if the Solar also has Unsurpassed Sight Discipline than the ranges becomes extreme (hundreds of miles).

Stealth - No You Don't

I think we can all see where this is going - Stealth is all about hiding, both in and out of combat. Automatic visual & social invisibility come early on with Invisible Statue Spirit and Easily-Overlooked Presence Method, although you can't take actions to draw attention. Then comes the ability to hide in an open field or its equivalent with Blurred Form Style, and you can cloud the minds of others with Mental Invisibility Technique (at which point you can get away with pretty much anything short of starting a fight). In the right circumstances, Sound and Scent Banishing Attitude is crazy useful - it makes you completely undetectable by any sense OTHER than sight, and you can stack it twice.

When you really, really need to not be around, there is Vanishing From Mind's Eye Method at the high end (Stealth 5 Essence 3). This lets the Exalt pull a Keyser Soze and fade from the memory of everyone, friend and foe alike. When pushes come to shove a person gets a Wits + Lore roll once a day to vaguely remember that they've seen Kevin Spacey before.

Those of you going for a no-kill playthrough will be disappointed to learn that a slight majority of Stealth Charms have to do with what you do when a fight breaks out. Unsurprisingly, what you should do is fade from view, sneak around behind your enemy, then stab him thirty-three times with your Orchichalum needle blades. Attacks from stealth come in two flavors - ambushes are for those who don't know that they're in combat (or that they're about to be), and set the defense against the attack to zero. Surprise attacks come when your opponent is wary but doesn't know where the attack is coming from - it provides a useful but not game changing -2 to Defense.

The first combat charm is Blinding Battle Feint, which lets you use your (probably much better) Dexterity + Stealth dice to Join Battle instead of the usual Wits + Awareness. Stealth Charm combat emphasizes getting the last word in - Flash-Eyed Killer's Insight resets a very useful initiative boosting charm ( Shadow Victor's Repose) when you incapacitate someone, and then Hidden Snake Recoil also lets you drop back into concealment as well.

Shadow Victor's Repose is also enhanced by the Mind Shroud Meditation, which makes your next attack an ambush for a number of rounds after it's used - so if you failed to regain concealment with Hidden Snake Recoil, you can STILL go right for his eyes with confidence. Those willing to wrestle with the grappling rules can use the Shadow Replacement Technique, by which you put your opponent into a chokehold long enough to hide in his shadow and hop in the driver's seat. The developers have been nice enough to make this explicitly compatible with Vanishing from Mind's Eye Method, so you can possess someone and then make everyone forget they ever knew him. This one scores top marks on the screwing-with-you-foes scale.

The stock "jump from one shadow to the next" is here with Shadow-Crossing Leap Technique to provide some mobility, and there is an even better Get Out Of Shit free in one of the three capstones, Flashing Nocturne Prana. This is a mechanic I've seen a lot in MMOs but never tabletop games - the Exalt marks a hiding spot with an invisible thread of Essence and then may immediately teleport back to it so long as it isn't more than a few hundred yards away (as a bonus, the Exalt arrives in concealment). The duration on this is indefinite, so a Solar can perform a perfect infiltration by reaching a spot at one point, then coming back later at any time ever so long as she doesn't find someone else she'd rather be more.

The other capstones are just as useful if not as flashy. Fivefold Shadow Burial inflicts the worst punishment imaginable on those trying to find her - older White Wolf rulesets. Specifically, 1s subtract from successes when trying to find someone who has purchased this Charm. The False Image Feint is an emergency escape just before being hit by a decisive attack, and if the Exalt rolled at least one 10 she enters stealth along with not getting skewered.

Solar Spotlight - Awareness and Stealth

Most Awareness and Stealth rolls are opposed, so challenge at the high end is mostly a matter of opponents with comparable dice pools. Stealth-focused Exalts will want to keep careful track of anima levels, as having a giant golden tiger appear wherever you go can be a disadvantage in certain circumstances; many Stealth charms have the Mute keyword to help with this and there is also the Charm Sun Swallowing Practice if things get out of hand and you just want to pay motes to suppress your anima.

An Exalt who pushes heavy into Awareness can be a supreme gatherer of information - the distinction between Awareness and Investigation appears to be that Investigation is all about the past whereas Awareness gathers information in the present (with the exception of Unsurpassed Hearing and Touch Discipline). It's also worth mentioning that Awareness feels decidedly less useful without things to obscure the view - thick fog, murky water, the cacophony of crowded market. The trick for a Storyteller is to create an environment that spotlights the Awareness Charms without rendering everyone else completely useless.

On balance both are good Charm sets, with only an average amount of bloat for Charms that handle circumstances that don't come up much. The only cumbersome part is that there are a number of Stealth Charms that have, as part of the effect, a discount on activation costs for other Stealth charms under particular circumstances. Mechanically this makes sense that Stealth would emphasis spending low amounts of Essence (because of the anima banner) but it doesn't flow as well as it could. By comparison, there are some special handling rules for activating the Awareness charms that can be summed up in "for a minor surcharge, you can have all your super-senses up at the same time and same duration simultaneously".

Next time: The Great Outdoors - Ride, Sail, Survival

Ride & Sail

posted by kaynorr Original SA post

Exalted 3rd - Bloodless Edition

Ride - Shadowfax Can Suck It

Let's start with the mundane mechanics around riding and mounts before digging into all the ways a Solar can brutalize them; mounts are, in generally, pretty damn useful. A mount is probably the single biggest way a mortal can punch above his weight class - they make him move faster, let him hit harder (versus non-mounted targets), and grant a minor +1 Defense boost (which may be a 25% or 33% improvement). Mounts don't have their own initiative, so function as really elaborate equipment.

Mounts can be armored and equipped just like any other combatant - which is just a nice perk for warhorses and the like, but keep in mind that Creation is positively packed with weird creatures waiting to be tamed and have giant lances strapped to their enormous shoulders. A number of unusual mounts such as giant hawks, mammoths, yeddim, and tyrant lizards are briefly mentioned along with a signature technique or other benefit that each one provides. No matter where you are, there is something exotic that you should be riding into battle. Wisely, having a mount attack for you uses up your combat action for the round, so the action economy (at this point) remains relatively intact.

OK, those are the basics, let's grind them into little bits of broken tears. We open up with the Master Horseman's Techniques, which like a lot of starter Charms offer an array of simple techniques that turn you into a cinematic rider extraordinaire. Effects include inability to fall off your mount, call it with a whistle from anywhere, render your mount immune from exhaustion for two hours, prevent the mount from panicking, and ride for twice as long without food, water, or rest. In a game which involves a lot of overland travel, having everyone in the Circle take this one Charm already gives you a huge advantage.

Non-combat Ride charms can be summed up as go fast ( Flashing Thunderbolt Steed), never fall down ( Single Spirit Method), go really fast ( Immortal Charger's Gallop), conjure a magical horse ( Phantom Steed), and go unbelievably, fast, seriously we're talking ludicrous speed here ( Win-Racing Essence Infusion). There are also a couple charms that let you instantaneously tack, armor, and arm your mount - these figure into a much larger conversation about that mechanic that we're not going to do yet. Suffice it to say they exist, are reasonably priced, and only serve as prerequisites for each other so you don't feel that you're paying an XP tax.

The weirdest non-combat Charm is Hero Rides Away, which literally rewards the Exalt for doing cool stuff with her mount. If you end a combat scene riding, and/or survive peril with the aid of your mount, you gain Willpower and Essence. If you accomplish a major goal with the aid of your mount, you reduce your Limit as well. Utterly gratuitous, but a nice flavor Charm.

In combat, the Ride Charms turn your mount from a minor set of buffs to a major factor in the fight in his own right. Most important is Seasoned Beast-Rider's Approach, which lets your mount enter battle as an independent entity with its own initiative tracking and action pool. Yes, that thundering sound in the distance is the action economy being trampled beneath the mighty hooves of the thunder lizards.

As you work down the Ride tree, the Solar and her mount becoming increasingly linked in terms of being able to defend one another Worthy Mount Technique, Mount Preservation Method, Woe and Storm Evasion, Rousing Backlash Assault, Untouchable Solar Steed), share resources such as initiative ( Immortal Rider's Advantage, Wrathful Mount Invigoration), and make coordinated attacks together ( Rousing Backlash Assault, Seven Cyclones Rearing).

Unsurprisingly, Ride charms also let a mounted Exalt dictate engagement ranges on the battlefield. She can enter combat from miles away in a few seconds ( Rapid Cavalry Approach) and pursue (or escape) a foe across water, air, or anything else ( Sometimes Horses Fly Approach, Soaring Pegasus Style) even on a mount that can't normally fly. Yes, you can be Creation's greatest horse archer with the right charms in Ride, Archery, and Awareness.

At the top of the Ride tree we find the capstone Seven Cyclones Rearing, which lets your mount make a decisive clash (basically a simultaneous attack that functions as a parry if it succeeds) any attack made against the rider. It's an entirely valid battle strategy to keep your mount fueled with initiative to serve as your permanent bodyguard while you focus entirely on offense.

Sail - Assume A Joke About Seamen Here

In a show of astonishing foresight, the first thing that's mentioned with the sailing rules it that they're kind of all or nothing - central to a chronicle or not used at all. Good advice in any game, but given that there is a decently fleshed-out subsystem just for boat maneuvers it serves as a guidepost that this shit is going to get intricate, and it's not worth dabbling in Sail if the adventure doesn't suit it.

The basics of the sailing system is that the ship is rated in several characteristics (Speed, Maneuverability, Hull, Crew), and these characteristics become bonuses & penalties to the many Wits + Sail (always Wits, by the looks of it) rolls that you make to perform stratagems. The Positioning stratagem builds momentum, which functions like initiative in regular combat in that it represents tactical superiority over your foe(s). Other stratagems then expend momentum to fire weapons, ram, escape, or board your opponent. Though it's not outright stated, it's at least implied (by the lack of saying how actions should be resolved) that naval combat is resolved simultaneously, which each actor picking a stratagem in secret and then everyone revealing at once.

And so we come to perhaps the most quintessentially named Exalted Charm, first in the Sail tree, the Salty Dog Method. This starter gives the usually cinematic qualities (can never fail a balance check, perfect sense of distance & direction to anywhere she's been before, inured to supernatural horror), along with the reroll 6 effect on all Sail rolls - that's a very nice way to start the tree.

There is an unexpected bit of social defense in Fathoms-Fed Spirit, which lets the Solar resist the first attempt at social influence for free (it normally costs 1 Willpower), so long as she started the day waking up on a ship at sea. The image of the captain-who-gives-no-fucks continues with Orichalcum Letters of Marque, which makes creatures of darkness not count as such (for the purposes of other Charms) so long as they are faithful members of your crew. This is definitely a niche Charm, mostly only useful if you are captaining a ship of the damned and want to go up against some Abyssal Exalted or something similar that might be able to take control of your crew.

Out of combat there are a number of speed boosting Charms to help you get to your destination faster ( Ship-Sleeking Technique, Tide-Cutting Essence Infusion, Wave-Riding Discipline) while ignoring unfavorable winds ( Wind-Defying Course Technique), currents ( Current-Cutting Technique), and storms Weather-Anticipating Intuition, Storm-Weathering Essence Infusion). Worth a special mention is the Safe Bearing Technique, which provides a bonus to navigate any hazard that the Exalt has previously sailed flawlessly - an example hazard is provided in a sidebar (the Mirror Court, a maze of enormous mirrors left behind from a retreat of the Wyld) with the unstated assumption that the Storyteller will come up with more elaborate hazards to add to the captain's logbook. When you go all the way out to the West and sail off the map, Chaos-Cutting Galley protects the ship from the warping effects of the Wyld.

In combat, there are Sail Charms to supplement pretty much every action possible - Sail is a pretty big Charm tree. Indomitable Voyager's Perseverance and Ocean-Conquering Avatar both serve as general purpose boosters, the first allowing a complete reroll of all non-successes and the second giving a full free Sail Excellency, both only at Essence 2. The coolest thing at Essence 3 is probably Burning Anima Sails, which as the name suggests draws the Exalt's anima into the sails (replacing them if they've been shredded) and making the ship a blazing Solar beacon for miles in all directions. This is the "break glass when fighting creatures of darkness" Charm, as it inhibits maneuvers for ships of the damned along with instilling fear into the hearts of their dead crews. Also worth mentioning is the Sea Devil Training Technique, which lets you make a major improvement to the ships' crew along a couple of different axes (skill, combat prowess, Willpower, loyalty) once a month.

The Sail capstone is Black Fathoms Blessed, and for the significant but not oppressive cost of ten motes and one willpower it converts the ship's Speed into automatic successes on movement, and Maneuverability to automatic successes for defense. For a capstone this Charm is surprisingly restricted by a clause that limits all supernatural enhancements to Speed & Maneuverability to +1, so you can't buff your ship's stats to appalling levels for synergy.

Solar Spotlight - Kings of the Land and Sea

Both Ride & Sail are big Charm trees that can handle being the primary focus of a character concept - in each case there is a degree of cooperation with the Storyteller as there is a major component of the concept (the ship or the mount) that needs to keep pace with the escalating power level of the rest of the circle. A master rider will need to move on from elite warhorses fairly quickly to make best use of the higher-tier Ride charms, and although there isn't quite the same red queen's race with ships there is always that generic impulse to Make The Numbers Go Up that a Storyteller needs to be aware of. Phantom Steed is crying out for an Essence 4/5 upgrade that conjures up something more powerful, while we're on the subject of power levels.

The appendix provides a solid start for creature/mount building - including a list of passive and active abilities to use in creating unique creatures. There are about two dozen creatures provided, and while every one of them is not suitable to be a mount there is always the long standing tradition of increasing the numbers appropriate and just adding "Dire" to the beginning of the name. Get creative, folks.

Ride suffers from two failings, though neither of them are fatal. The first is that there are no Charms to increase the travel speed of an entire group - which can create a situation where the Ride specialist can cover so much more ground than the rest of the Circle that it becomes very tempting to routinely split the party for significant periods of time. The lame fix for this would be to have contrived reasons why everyone needs to stick together, but this blunts the fun of taking Charms that let you cover a week's worth of distance in a day. In keeping with the Solar theme of being an overwhelming badass (and roughly in keeping with the power level of the Charms involved), look at it as the ability of the rider to run errands / offscreen stuff while the Circle is travelling from point A to point B - and he can still meet them at the destination.

The other failing with Ride is that there are no Charms that offer a way to tap into a mount's power or have some other consolation prize when you're fighting in a place your mount cannot get to. Whether or not you view this as a useful balancing mechanism is largely a matter of personal taste, and figures into larger discussions about strategic circumstances that I'll try to get to after we've done all the individual Charms. Going deep into the Ride tree is a significant XP investment, and having all of that rendered moot can sting. I would have loved to see just one Charm that lets you tap into some quality of a mount that you are separated from, even at the cost of the mount being less effective the next time he is used in battle.

Sail is very solid all the way around, but the book is not joking when it says that involving naval hijinks needs to be all-or-nothing. Storms, winds, sea monsters, hazards....there are a lot of Charms dedicated to surviving naval terrain and getting a good return on XP investment means tackling those frequently. Sailing can also suffer from the Shadowrun Decking problem where the captain spends a lot of time on naval combat while the rest of the Circle is waiting to be useful again - however, this can be mitigated by having a very early boarding action before the captain is separated from the rest of the Circle, so that the rest of the players are fighting on deck while the captain is handling the elaborate spectacle that is happening in the background.

As with all static difficulties, the sheer power of the Solar Charmset means that hazards & weather are going to have to quickly scale up to ridiculous proportions to remain challenging & interesting. The example hazard provided of the Mirror Court says that each round of sailing through the hazard is at difficulty 5, but does not mention how many rounds are required to traverse it - the easiest way to increase difficulty would be to simply require more consecutive difficulty 5 rolls. As a side benefit, the captain could trade increased speed (fewer rolls) for margin of error (higher difficulty). A consequence of Solar navigation in-game is that it's entirely plausible to have huge swaths of territory that are simply too dangerous for anyone who isn't a Solar captain to navigate, making an excellent base of operations and/or lair of evil to be cleared out.

Next time: The harsh realities of life - Survival & Medicine

Medicine & Survival

posted by kaynorr Original SA post

Exalted 3rd - Bloodless Edition

Medicine - Shouting Wounds Closed As The Unconquered Sun Intended

Before we dig into the Charms, let's briefly cover the kinds of ailments can afflict characters in Creation. Poisons are fast-acting ailments that are intended to be applied and run their course during the duration of a combat. A character who comes into contact with a poison's Vector rolls Stamina + Resistance, with the successes reducing the duration on a one per unit (rounds, minutes, etc.) basis from the established duration of the poison. Note that while Exalted can be swole enough to ignore the effects of a poison entirely, mortals can AT MOST reduce a poison's duration to half.

Disease, meanwhile, is where the real pain is Diseases have a difficulty to contract when you come into contact, difficulty to avoid progressing, and an interval of time between checks to progress - these are the Virulence, Morbidity, and Interval respectively. While poison damage is represented as some sort of tangible loss of resources(usually health levels or initiative), disease is handled more freeform - diseases progress from minor, to major, to defining symptoms paralleling the severities of an Intimacy. And much like an Intimacy, the higher a disease's symptoms the more prominent those symptoms will play in the life of the afflicted. And once again Exalted have it easy - they cannot die from disease (unless, of course, explicitly called out in the disease), wherease mortals progress from defining symptom to no more symptoms because you're fucking dead (unless the disease explicitly says it cannot kill).

Mortal healers can their best to treat afflictions - Intelligence + Medicine to treat either poison or disease, with a penalty to treat poison on the battlefield and an implicit penalty in that it takes a Long Fucking Time to treat disease. One hour per day of the sickness' interval - so a single healer could treat at most a dozen or so cases of cholera or hemorrhagic fever, or two people with infected wounds. It may or may not be intended that leprosy requires a doctor working night and day for three days straight to be treated, or that syphilis requires 365 HOURS of treatment to improve a patient's chances of recovery.

It is a recurring theme, no doubt intentional, that some systems are initially laid out in a punishing way just so Solar Charms can come along and make the whole thing look effortless. The very first Medicine Charm, Ailment-Rectifying Method, alone makes a single Solar doctor better than an entire fucking army of mortal medicine men. It reduces the time required to treat a disease to one hour no matter the illness, at which point the patient gets to use half the Solar's successes an Intelligence + Medicine at the end of the current interval. The interval is no shorted and the patient must be receiving decent bedside care, but that can come from any number of nurses, assistance, or demon-summoned candystripers. So already, a Solar doctor can treat, conservatively, hundreds of patients a week more than his mundane counterparts.

If the Solar rolls well enough, the need to wait for an interval is dispensed of with Plague-Banishing Incitation, which can end the disease on the spot for the price of a single willpower (oh, which gets refunded if you save a patient from imminent death). Instant disease treatment comes later with a higher price in Instant Treatment Methodology, which causes any one Simple Medicine treatment Charm to become an instant - useful either in the battlefield or the treatment room. There is also one other Charm that augments Simple Medicine Charms, that being Benison of Celestial Healing, which reduces the cost of one Simple Medicine Charm to zero, once per scene. As per the Nothing Succeeds Like Success principle, this can be reset if you save a dying character. After instantly curing a patient, the Solar can also reduce the convalescence time to zero with the Body-Sculting Essence Method, ensuring that the patient is completely healthy in the time it takes to preparing the celestial insurance paperwork.

For those who are thinking less Red Cross and more White Mage, there are lots of Medicine Charms devoted to getting fighters back on their feet. Wound-Banishing Strike is the kung-fu version of status recovery, where the healer literally punches an ongoing penalizing effect out of the patient, so long as that penalty is temporary in nature - it's not clear whether poisons count although they certainly meet the requirements as written. Body-Purifying Admonition explicitly does cover poisons, although it's slightly more expensive AND requires the patient to eat one last interval of damage before the poison is gone for good. With an hour of treatment, Wound-Cleansing Meditation turns all aggravated damage to lethal, and can explicitly mend severed limbs (although that's immediately followed by "does not allow the regrowth of lost tissue", so be careful how you word those crippling wounds!). For those really grotesque injuries there is Wholeness-Restoring Mediation, which picks up where the Wound-Cleansing Meditation left off and can basically treat Everything and grow you back from anything so long as there is a pulse to work with. There is a special exception for Derangements, which can be treated down to a minor symptom but CANNOT be cured by the Solar, although the symptom can stay at minor so long as the Solar continues to treat the patient with weekly counseling.

Pain is just another condition to be treated, starting with Touch of Blissful Release which numbs the pains of surgery, childbirth, and other invasive illnesses for a few hours at a time - including up to -3 in wound penalties. The Charm abates if the patient is out of bed for a few minutes, so that wound penalty alleviation is of limited utility. Later on down the comes Anodyne of Celestial Dreaming, which cancels wound penalties for all circumstances - but if the patient does anything strenuous during the scene, the Solar suffers a -1 penalty as she takes on the pain that could not be nullified. Even better than nullifying wound penalties is not having any, which comes with Feit of Imparted Nature - this Charm lets the Solar grant -0 health levels to the patient, though at a healthy (ahem) cost of 10 motes which remain committed until they are checked off or the Charm is allowed to fade.

Rounding out the Charm list is a large number of meta Charms devoted just to larger, better, more handsome dice pools & successes. Healing Trance Meditation lets the Solar generate extra motes & willpower for use with Medicine, one per story; Life-Exchanging Prana provides another source of motes for Medicine, although these are bought with the doctor's (non-temporary) health levels instead. Life-Sculpting Hands Technique is the usual full free excellency Charm, Healer's Unerring Hands is the reroll Charm, Immaculate Solar Physician doubles all successes once per day, and Perfect Celestial Chirurgeon grants double 7s once per story.

Survival - Tracking, Hunting, and Capturing Pokémon in Tall Grass

There aren't much in the way of tangible systems for survival - the book wisely notes that characters going on a journey are assumed to take adequate food and shelter for the trip. Survival is called upon when you're dropped in a northern tundra unexpectedly, or when your pack yeddim falls over a cliff and you're two hundred miles from Nexus. The book also offers some good advice that failing survival checks shouldn't result in outright death, but coming into contact with more disease, death to those ever-present redshirted companions, or having to cut a deal with unsavory characters to make it back in civilization in time to do whatever is you wanted to do. Tracking is called out as a explicit contested action of Wits + Survival versus Perception + Survival, for what it's worth.

The Survival Charm tree implicitly builds out this system by laying out Charms for discrete elements of life in the wilderness. Food-Gathering Exercise does exactly what you might think, explicitly noting that you don't need tools of any kind and that even a roll with zero successes can still feed a single person. Hardship-Surviving Mendicant Spirit makes the Solar immune to being exposed to extreme climates, along with helping to forage and find shelter. Trackless Region Navigation lets you take a group of people flawlessly through even the harshest conditions, an unerringly find the next topographical feature nearby that the Solar wants. The ultimate in travel Charms is Element-Resisting Prana, which allows the Solar (but only the Solar, annoyingly) to survive in environments antithetical to life (mentioned are volcanoes, undersea abysses, and the very limits of the Elemental Poles).

Tracking is covered by a handful of Charms as well - Unshakable Bloodhound Technique is for the hunter, providing a cascading reroll of 5s and 6s along with taking the quarry's 1s and treating them as 10s for the tracker. Trackless Passage is the counterpart when you are the hunted - making it impossible to be followed by mundane means, and providing automatic successes and double 9s when in a contest with a supernatural opponent. Eye-Deceiving Camoflage rounds out the list by letting the Solar create a hiding spot that is similarly immune to mortal perception.

All that is fine and good, but now we come to the real meat of the Survival Charms - befriending the animals of Creation and getting them to do things for you. Masters of Survival can call upon a bevy of animal familiars, which can include some fairly terrifying creatures when you look at the bestiary in the back of the book. First up is Friendship With Animals Approach which lets establish a basic rapport with any non-sentient animal. Spirit-Tied Pet is the follow-up and for the cost of 10 motes, 1 willpower, and 1 XP you establish a bond of essence with the critter. This brings a number of baseline powers to the new familiar including a supply of 5 motes & 1 willpower a day to its Solar, a Defining Tie of loyalty to the Solar, and the ability to actively possess the familiar (sensorium & voluntary actions). That alone is no slouch if you can claim a tyrant lizard, armored terror, claw strider, or other example of why the God Of Animals is really good at his job. But that's just the beginning, as everything else in the Survival tree is dedicated to making your familiars (plural, it only costs 1 XP per familiar so there is no reason now to collect them all) more badass.

Beast-Mastering Behavior lets you train the animal in various special techniques such as disarms, rushes, grapples, blinds, etc. This can be done by a mortal trainer, but of course only after weeks of work with the animal and a number of required specialties. A Solar beastmaster just looks his new friend in the eye, maybe tosses him a bit of meat, and they're off plucking the eyes of out of anyone who gets in their way. Bestial Traits Technique expands upon this and lets you increase the attribute, abilities, and Resolve of your familiar for 2 XP per. Hide-Hardening Practice and Life of the Aurochs provide soak/hardness and health levels, respectively.

Familiar-Honing Instruction is the next major Charm, because it allows you to roll your familiar into battle as an independent actor - this is enhanced by Ambush Predator Style which lets the familiar Join Battle with the Solar's die pool instead of its own. Now that we're off to the races we have a similar list of Charms to Ride that enhance the familiar's fighting prowess in various ways. Red-Toothed Execution Order improves decisive attacks, Ghost Panther Slinking benefits the familiar's stealth, Force-Building Predator Style gives the familiar a constant initiative gain, and Crimson Talon Vigor lets the familiar gain bonus initiative every time its Solar makes a successful withering attack. Longtime Exalted fans will recognize the name Deadly Predator Method as the Survival capstone - this gives your beast a Beast Mode. At a cost of 15 motes/1 willpower, your familiar gains size, armor, an intimidation aura, automatic successes to all attacks, and a chance to Join Battle again and use the new result if its better. This transformation costs 1 initiative each round (and suspends Force-Building Predator Style) and can only be used once a scene with a reset upon felling an opponent with Red-Toothed Execution Order.

Also worth mentioning is that the Survival tree also grants some ability to interact with the immaterial - presumably as a way to not be at the mercy of the spirits of nature without having to go ask some bookworm occultist for help. Spirit-Hunting Hound lets your familiar see immaterial beings, and Phantom-Rending Fangs lets your familiar attack, grapple, and then make material the aforementioned spirits.

Solar Spotlight - Healing and Hunting

Although it tends more towards animal husbandry than actual outdoorsmanship, the Survival Charm tree is generally well-put together. The real advantage to familiars isn't so much raw power (they top off at 10-13 dice for attack, after that you have to start pumping XP into them to keep pace) as the special techniques they can make available - disarms, blinds, grapples, ambushes, etc. The bestiary in the back of the book is good (if limited), enough to get a sense of the power scale for both latent (mundane) and magical abilities. The XP cost of keeping a familiar's dice pools relevant is more than balanced out by the fact that you have another actor in combat who is independently building initiative and making attacks. Never forget that the action economy is king, even when the developers do.

Medicine is a little more interesting. There isn't a lot of instant battlefield healing (Body-Sculpting Essence Method being limited to once a scene), but that's probably for the best considering the last thing Exalted needs is ways to make fights go longer. Having a master healer on your team means minimum downtime between engagements, so your circle can press ahead where others have to turn away. Also, the number of dice trick Charms means that a master doctor feels impressive, rolling huge stacks of dice just as the warriors do in combat. Those huge dice pools are particularly important with Wholeness-Restoring Meditation, where 20 successes and up are the starting point for rebuilding someone better, faster, stronger.

Where Medicine can also make a huge impact is when a Solar healer sets out to make the world a better place. Mundane healers can do alright when it comes to minor diseases, the occasional infection or the like - but they absolutely cannot deal with even a minor outbreak. When plague comes to your village or city district, a Solar healer can singlehandedly turn the side - which is the kind of thing that gets people to follow your causes. Amongst the wealthy & nobility, a Solar doctor can fix maladies like no other, which can open doors when you can cure the satrap's son of his blindness or deliver the troubled baby of a Guild merchant.

A Storyteller with a devoted Medicine character will need to carve out spotlight time for that skill - poisons are a good thing to use regardless of Medicine (particularly as a way for mundane warriors to even the odds against the Exalted), but diseases are where a Solar doctor can shine. Solars can travel into parts of the world that no others can (particularly in the deep East), as they can survive the incredibly potent illnesses & venoms found there. Survival offers much the same benefit - it expands the world for masters of these disciplines, and lets you create spaces on the map at the edges where no one else is, because no one else can survive it.

Next time: Crafts, where White comes after Gold and Silver


posted by kaynorr Original SA post

Exalted 3rd - Bloodless Edition

Crafts - If You Build It, You Can Then Build Something Else

Crafts is the art of the tangible - if you can lean against it in pride and/or fear, you can build and repair it with the Crafts skill. Creations that are primarily magical and intangible in nature are governed by the sorcerous working rules, which we'll cover later. For now, let's review the basics of how to build something and then move onto the Charms that render these basics if not moot, then less onerous.

A craft project is classified as basic, major, superior, or legendary based on the complexity & scale of what you're trying to do. Major projects are things that take significant effort on the mundane scale - a suit of armor, a house, a carriage, etc. Basic projects are everything that falls below major projects - things you can bang out in an afternoon. Superior projects are either extremely large scale mundane projects (shipbuilding, palace construction, outfitting a battalion) or anything which is infused with and/or manipulates Essence (generically referred to as artifacts). Legendary projects are the pinnacle of crafting in creation, achievable only through years of work and capable of changing the cirumstances of a kingdom - legendary projects are almost exclusively the domain of the Solar Exalted, and as such they are exceptionally rare in the Age of Sorrows.

As you work your way up the project hierarchy, the investment in time and materials becomes correspondingly larger. Material needs are left up to the Storyteller's discretion, and some broad guidelines about time requirements are provided - a few hours at most for a basic project, a few days for major, weeks to years for superior, and nothing less than TEN SUN-DAMNED YEARS for legendary. Of course, this is before Charms kick in.

Aside from time & materials, projects beyond basic require a certain amount of logistical support which is abstracted in the concept of project slots - all characters can sustain three major project slots without effort. Here we see the first little bit of meta peeking through - crafters are intended to be (among other things) multitaskers, capable of doing many things at once. What if you want to do a superior project? Superior slots have to be created by fusing together multiple major slots, equivalent to the dot rating of the artifact you're creating (mundane superior projects are always either two- or three-dot equivalent). What if you want to create a four dot artifact? What about legendary slots? Good questions - major and legendary slots can be purchased with crafting experience points, which we're about to explain.

Crafting XP is what you get when you finish a crafting project, aside from the actual thing you were making. Because things weren't complicated enough, crafting XP comes in three flavors - silver, gold, and white - depending upon whether you finished a basic, major, or superior project. The more important the project was to someone else (interacts with the Intimacy of another), yourself (interacts with one of your Intimacies), or materially valuable, the more crafting XP is produced. Crafting XP is spent to fuse major slots into superior slots, buy additional major slots, buy legendary slots, and to attempt to finish superior & legendary projects.

Once you have the materials, slots, and skills (each tier of project has its own skill prerequisites, of course), and have invested the Storyteller-determined time, you get to roll Attribute + Craft. Basic & major projects require just one roll versus a set difficulty, while superior & legendary projects are extended rolls which occur each time the crafter accumulates enough crafting XP to make an attempt. Assuming the gods favor you, in the end you'll have a new horseshoe/sword/temple/deathray and some crafting XP to show for it. Time to start the next project!

What I've described above is the baseline system that everyone in Creation uses, from mortal apprentice blacksmiths up to deathlords crafting rings of absolute power. Materials, slots, time, rolls, XP. It's a very fiddly system, not quite on par with combat but certainly a close second along with social influence. Given the explicitly crunchy nature of Exalted, there are lots of places to use magic to change the circumstances, and enough design space that Solar crafters should mechanically feel different than Terrestrial or Siderial smiths. While our children will one day review the Dragon-Blooded book and talk about the Craft charms there, let's content ourselves with looking at how the Solars can make a mountain out of a molehill for only 5 motes and a willpower.

Crafting Charms - The Real Exalted Begins

There are four separate Charm trees, labeled Efficiency, Momentum, Repairing & Reforging, and Power. A crafter will want to work his way down all four trees more or less together, as they all support different aspects of crafting. Someone counterbalancing the sheer number of Charms is the fact that there are two Charms ( Supreme Celestial Focus and Spirit-Stoking Elevation) which let you purchase certain skills with crafting XP instead of regular XP.

The Efficiency tree is about project slots and crafting XP. There are permanent Charms that grant you additional slots - Tireless Workhorse Method for more major slots, Dragon Soul Emergence for superior slots, Summit-Piercing Touch to use a major slot AS a superior slot, and God-Forge Within for legendary slots. Getting more bang for your crafting XP is another theme: Efficient Craftsman Technique and Copper Spider Conception reduce the cost to buy slots, Sublime Transference allows you to convert one kind of crafting XP to another, Spirit-Gathering Industry cuts down the XP cost to complete a project ( Vice-Miracle Technique takes it further by letting you "finish" an artifact that you just happened to never mention or plan for, costing no XP and gaining none by completion). Wonder-Forging Genius lets you jump directly to the finish of a legendary project, when you have ten or more legendary projects underway. I have absolutely no idea under which conditions this would actually be useful in play. Finally we have one combat-useful charm, the Dual Magnus Prana which lets you retroactively declare that it wasn't you who just got killed, but rather a simulacrum that you had painstakingly built at some prior point.

The Momentum tree is primarily about gaining more crafting XP than the baseline rules, either through 10s on Craft rolls ( Brass Scales Falling), finishing projects ( Red Anvils Ringing & Chains Fall Away), having Craft abilities rated at 5 ( Supreme Perfection of Craft), or just being awesome ( Divine Trascendence of Craft). Several of these Charms are, once purchased, completely passive XP generators (either per day or per story) and help a crafter feel like he's not falling behind on his homework when he's out with his Circle saving the world. Thousand-Forge Hands boosts the speed of a project, allowing the first finishing roll to come within a few months at most for legendaries, or weeks for superior projects. Lastly we have Words-As-Workshop Method, whereby a crafter can just describe a minor artifact into existence for a single scene.

Reparing and Reforging is just what it describes, because Solar warranties are for life. Repairing is just another kind of project, although usually with lesser time & materials requirements. It includes a little bit of everything ( Time Heals Nothing for a repair slot, Blood Diamond Sweat for extra crafting XP, Breach-Healing Method and Realizing the Form Supernal for dice tricks) all for repairs only, usually slightly cheaper than similar Charms for entirely new projects. There are also Charms to strengthen objects ( Durability-Enhancing Technique, Crack-Mending Technique, Object-Strengthening Touch, and Chaos-Resistance Preparation with the last one about keeping things protected in the Wyld), and one to weaken them ( Shattering Grasp). Finally there are two Charms that can change or add Evocations ( Design Beyond Limit and Celestial Reforging Technique), which are the unique magical effects found on artifact equipment.

Finally we have the Power tree, which is where all the dice tricks and other flat boosts live so you don't end up wasting narrative years of your life on a project just to roll nothing but 1s. We've got rerolls ( Flawless Handiwork Method), the full free excellency ( Triumph-Forging Eye), double 9s/8s/7s ( Supreme Masterwork Focus), non-Charm dice & successes ( Experiental Conjuring of True Void, Unbroken Image Focus, First Movement of the Demiurge, Divine Inspiration Technique, and Holistic Miracle Understanding). There is the first sighting of a Charm that lets you mess with the magical dice cap rule, allowing you to extend it to (Attribute + Ability*2) with some silver XP. Lastly we have a few Charms ( Inspiration-Renewing Vision and Horizon-Unveiling Insight) that let you push out the terminus of the extended crafting rolls, giving you more shots to complete your project before the whole thing collapses in a pile of celestial investigations and cost overruns.

Solar Spotlight - Did You Write An Instruction Manual For This Airship?

Let's say to start that there are zero concerns with this subsystem scaling up to Solar levels of competence. Solars will naturally tend to work at the superior/legendary end of the spectrum, with the ability to do major projects without any significant investment of downtime. The only thorny part is that aside from some general guidelines, it will be up to the Storyteller to determine the time/material investment for these projects which work as a balancing factor. Experienced Storytellers can probably eyeball it pretty well, but newcomers to Exalted might unintentionally make the crafting components either trivially easy or overly onerous - the former is obviously the way to lean, as there are a number of other mechanical breaks (primarily crafting XP) to keep the circle's smith from cranking out a dozen Daiklaves Of Absolute Ruin a month.

Like a lot of other non-combat specializations, crafting requires a certain amount of individual spotlight time to really feel awesome, and the system is structured around downtime projects rather than something that is thrown together out in the wild (or Wyld). However, as we proceed we'll see more systems like that, which leads us to believe that the intention is for there to be a very deliberate pace to the game measured in months and years as well as combat rounds. It's not as structured as the seasonal system in Ars Magica, say, but the rules are pretty clear that there are fun and rewarding things to do in your base of operations other than wait for your aggravated wounds to patch up.

The crafting system also does some thematic heavy lifting in how the project slot system & repair rules are structured. The way that crafting XP flows from basic all the way to legendary means there incentives to not just execute world-shattering feats but make smaller projects for those you know and care about. Crafters are expected to be juggling multiple projects simultaneously, erecting new wonders in Creation while at the same time attempting to rebuild the glories of old. A Storyteller can (and should!) easily scatter in mentions of long-decayed First Age wonders such that the crafter has a long list of superior and legendary projects that they'd love to overtake, creating a certain "just one more project" drive that will be familiar to anyone who just stayed up another hour playing Civ so that the new bank in their capital came online....

Yes it's big, and it's complicated, and requires a fair amount of bookkeeping - but the rewards are relatively inline with the effort and Exalted is a system which is all about that level of crunch. The fact that there is something this intricate outside of combat bodes well for the future, as we dive into sorcery and the occult.

Next time: Sorcery and the occult, of course!

Occult & Sorcery

posted by kaynorr Original SA post

Exalted 3rd - Bloodless Edition

Occult - Get these Motherfucking Spirits out of my Motherfucking Watch

The Occult Charms deal primarily with the affairs of spirits, the large and small unseen gods who manage the affairs of Creation. Survival has a pair of Charms that basically amount to "your familiar can see spirits" and "your familiar can rend & tear spirits", but for those who want more tools in their toolbox you have to look to the Occult.

First order of business is to see the damn things, as spirits are inherently immaterial unless they deliberately choose to Materialize. This is handled by the first charm, the Spirit-Detecting Glance, as well as the follow-ups Uncanny Perception Technique (which basically gives you spidey-sense for spirits & Wyldlings), and then the Keen Unnatural Eye when attempting to use Survival or Investigation in a spirit context. The rest of this particular tree is devoted to the greater abilities to punch spirits once you see them, usually with the side benefit that you don't just hit the spirit, but you take their Essence motes as your own. Spirit-Cutting Attack, Spirit-Draining Stance, Ghost-Eating Technique, and Spirit-Slaying Stance are the core spine of Charms for this purpose. Those without initiation into the unseen are not left in the cold - Phantom-Seizing Strike causes spirits hit by the Solar to become material so others can join in. A spirit ally normally must pay motes to fight by a Solar's side in the physical, but the Solar can foot the bill with Spirit-Manifesting Wind. Material Exegesis Prana expands on this and lets the Solar attempt to materialize multiple ally spirits at once - and has a unique dice trick where if three 6s are rolled, everything materializes and she gains two willpower points. All Souls Benediction is the last word in being solid - all willing & unwilling spirits must Materialize, and may not revert back without the Solar's leave or the end of the scene.

As Werewolf players can attest, spirits are also prone to occasionally possessing others. Solar occultists can intervene with the Burning Exorcism Technique and have the power of the Unconquered Sun compel them. More skilled exorcists can apply Soul Projection Method and enter the body of another to clean house. It's nice to see that this ability is left open-ended; it can also be used to retrieve the soul if it was eaten by something that does such things, or battle a Derangement within a person's mindscape. This is later upgraded to Immortal Soul Vigil, where the occultist can passively explore a subject's dreams and memories. This charm has some very weird wording, as it implies that the user can engage in a kind of time-travel back to when the subject was influenced by a spirit and attempt to confront said spirit. The implications of this are non-trivial to say the least, and opens a much larger set of doors than I think the author intended.

When you want to make sure that someone shall not pass there is the Spirit-Repelling Diagram which creates a fairly sizable (short range) ward that is completely impassible for weaker spirits, and only crossable with difficulty for stronger ones. However, that's mostly just a prelude to the Spirit-Caging Mandala, which is probably the most versatile workhorse of the tree. It's a magical cage for spirits, preventing them from moving and making them solid, and can be invoked at a fair distance from the target. Once you've got the pesky ghost trapped, you can throw it into someone else with the Soul Projection Method above, draw motes from it with Spirit-Draining Mudra, hit it through social influence with Demon-Compelling Noose, or finally unmake it with the Spirit-Shredding Exorcism.

Rounding out the list are a number of utility Charms that fall under the heading of "unseen energy manipulation". All-Encompassing Sorcerer's Sight makes its return from previous editions, and as always it gives the Solar the ability to see sorcerous workings and other persistent magical effects. This becomes a free effect at the iconic anima level with Sorcerer's Burning Chakra, and is a prerequisite for one of the capstones, Spirit-Drawing Oculus. Also only usable at the iconic level, this Charm is nicely described as sweeping up all the stray fragment of essence that have fallen into Creation's couch cushions, too small to be worked but taken together representing a dozen or so motes (on average). The other capstone is Ephemeral Induction Technique, which lets a master occultist conjure forth a spirit from nothing but raw Essence and good intentions. The spirit can then be held in thrall to the occultist as a familiar (subject to the full range of Survival Charms, suggesting a nice Occult/Survival hybrid build) and may be released into the world or have the bond renewed at the turning of the seasons.

Sorcery - I Do What I Want, No Really, Whatever The Hell I Want

Occult is all about the unseen world as it is - parlaying with anything bigger than you and laying the smackdown on anything smaller. Sorcery is unconcerned with what exists and focuses on creations of pure Essence - and notably NOT the Essence of the sorcerer. Sorcery comes in two flavors, spells and sorcerous workings.

Spells are pretty much what you'd expect - codified magical effects that provide a very tangible, set result. There are three circles of spellcraft - Terrestrial (the maximum a Dragon-Blooded sorcerer can perform), Celestian (where Lunars and Siderals max out), and Solar (guess who reigns here?). These are the only Charms per-se in the Sorcery tree; everything else is a spell (which are also purchased with XP, thankfully).

Spells are cast in a method differ from Charms - the sorcerer doesn't volunteer his own essence for the deed but siphons it in from Creation by means of a shaping ritual, which mechanically serves as an extended action until the sorcerer has gathered the necessary number of sorcerous motes (successes). Each sorcerer has at least one shaping ritual - they're intended to allow sorcerers to personalize their magical nature by putting a distinct stamp in how they operate. Fifteen sample shaping rituals are provided - for example, a sorcerer may have been initiated through a pact with one of the mighty ifriti fire lords, in which case their shaping rituals draw upon any nearby flames, adding free successes to each shaping roll in proportion to how much fire they pull in. Each sorcerer is also personalized by having a single control spell, which is a normal spell that they have customized into a more potent, signature version (the nature of which is covered in the spell description).

In combat, shaping rituals are the big gun that requires many rounds (possibly) to fire, and may require the rest of the circle to create a defensive perimeter to allow the sorcerer to charge up. Once shaping has begun it can be paused, but the spell progress degrades slightly every turn that the sorcerer does not continue to shape. Once you've accumulated as many sorcerous motes as the spell calls for, it goes off. Those on the receiving end have a few options as well - a sorcerer can attempt to counter a spell in the process of being cast, although she is at a disadvantage if she does not also know the spell being contested. If the effects of the spell linger, a sorcerer can attempt to distort it after the fact to mitigate it in some way - each spell is differently affected by distortion, as listed in the spell description. If that's not enough, a sorcerer can attempt to undo the spell entirely, which requires a sorcerous working. What's that, you say? Let's find out!

Sorcerous Workings are the last and greatest word in the magical arts. They are long-term, long-lasting, immense undertakings on bar with a craftsman's legendary projects. Possible effects are nearly limitless, but should be fundamentally immaterial in nature to preserve the space between Sorcery and Crafts. However, the system for sorcerous workings is distinct from that of projects, as it has a very different feel. At their core sorcerous workings are extended challenges, with a basic interval of one week. The number of successes is set by the Ambition of the working, with three tiers of Ambition possible in each of the three sorcerous circles. The terminus (how many rolls you can make) of the working is set by the Means, which represents how many resources you have brought to bear on the project. Here the guidelines are fairly fluid, so Storytellers will have to eyeball how much is worth what.

Finally we come to the difficulty of the rolls, and this is dictated by the Finesse of the working. Finesse is chosen by the sorcerer on a scale of 1 to 5, and essentially represents the degree to which the sorcerer can dictate all the consequences of the working. Finesse 5 is the hardest, but assures that you get exactly what you wanted and nothing else. Finesse 1 is essentially a monkey's paw, where you get what you wanted and Oh So Much More. I think this is a pretty elegant system, and sums up the choices a sorcerer must make to gain power. The gaining is assured (more or less), but its how much you care about the consequences that matter. A sorcerer who finds himself running out of time before the terminus can even voluntarily lower the Finesse involved, but each degree of ease will impose a new complication on the final work. Botches are handled similarly - a botch does not end the sorcerous working early, but is a hidden catch that will only be apparent when all is said and done.

Another nice touch is that while spells can be undone with sorcerous workings, it is impossible to undo a sorcerous working by any means. They are woven into the fabric of Creation itself, and once you lay it down you're stuck with it. The most that can be done about an unwanted sorcerous working is, yup, another sorcerous working with the same Ambition and Finesse as the first. The book notes that this is not the same thing as destroying the first working - the two powers are going to be in constant conflict, and while it may seem like everything cancels out there should always be some sort of mystical sparks as the two engines of Essence push against each other.

Solar Spotlight - An Unlimited Number Of Shotguns

One problematic Charm aside (Immortal Soul Vigil), Occult is a solid if unremarkable Charm tree. It only offers a limited number of ways to interact with the spirit world that don't involve hitting them or trapping them, but that's because you are intended to also be able to call upon social influence to resolve conflicts with spirits. Demon-Compelling Noose is helpful in getting your way, but it's something of a blunt instrument and while it may command obedience you won't get loyalty without actually persuading.

It's unclear the degree to which spirits are intended to function as familiars outside of Ephemeral Induction Technique - I've looked through the book and can't seem to find any firm text on the subject. They would be significantly more powerful than animal familiars, with the ability to Join Battle independently without a Charm, materialize as needed and call upon their inherent Charms. Were it my table, I'd say it was fair game if you could persuade a spirit to work with you, but that relationship will have a lot more give and take than just keeping your tyrant lizard fed and healthy.

Sorcery, by comparison, is absolutely great. The spells break down into either combat magic or large-scale plot coupons, and by my extremely rough math are worth the actions it takes to cast them in combat. The spells might seem to suffer a bit with the problem that when all you have is Rain of Doom, all you see are ways that problems can be solved with Rains of Doom - if it weren't for the sorcerous working system which is a high point.

It's another downtime system, which the game needs plenty of to incentivize stepping back for everyone. It's also distinct from Crafts for a good reason - Crafts is about reliably putting the work in and getting a tangible reward, whereas sorcerous workings encourage a certain amount of risk-taking. The Finesse system is a great narrative negotiation between player and Storyteller, and it leads to more interesting stories than just "ritual fizzles, you lose your 5000gp diamond". Note that high Ambition projects can require 75-100 successes, and there are no Charms to increase the potency of your rolls to complete the working - everything comes from having enough Means and Finesse, so have your shit together before you start building a permanent gate to the demon realm.

Next time - Bureaucracy, When All Else Fails