Graceful Wicked Masques by PurpleXVI
IntroductionOriginal SA post Graceful Wicked Masques
This is the 2nd ed Exalted book for the Fair Folk. Meaning it's one of the... eight or more splat books that exist(that is to say, the source books which each explain a major faction/exalt type to the extent that you can actually use it in the fucking game). Like all the others it details stuff that's nowhere else, at least not in a satisfying format or extent, so if you ever hope to use one of the setting's supposed major villains, you have to own this.
Also in case someone didn't catch it yet, despite apparently being extensions of the Wyld, a formless chaos that mutates and twists every creature of Creation that approaches it, the Fair Folk tend to look like very generic elves.
Exiles from the Wyld that surrounds Creation, the raksha are a threat to all shaped reality. Taking on physical form, becoming the very thing they despise, the so-called Fair Folk prey on the fringes of Creation, biding their time with unfathomable distractions until the next great crusade rides forth from the formless madness beyond the world’s poles to finally end the blasphemy of shape.
As usual, we've got between-chapter comics, and in this case they seem to excel at telling us literally nothing except that there are probably going to be giant monsters around. In the first one, an elf fights some goblins, gets swallowed by a giant monster, cuts his way into the monster's brain, and stabs the guy sitting in the control chair. Then they chat. In the second, a Solar duels an elf. In the third, that unlucky guy up there gets chased by a half-naked elf's giant cats.
Chapter One: The Raksha
But we've got a book to cover, so let's get to it. Chapter one purports to tell us just what the hell these guys are and what their deal is.
Were Creation an expression of the perfection that is natural to the raksha, there would be no history, for there would be no time, no succession of events and no actors to carry out those events. History is not a thing of the raksha, nor is it an affectation that delights them. The stories the raksha would prefer to tell concern only themselves and are timeless besides.
They consider it a conceit of lesser minds to chain recollections of interesting events too strictly to the drudgery of a single timeline, or even to rely overmuch on the strictures of causality. Were it the choice of the raksha, a recounting of history would flow unending from the stream of consciousness, with the rise and fall of empires and kingdoms given equal weight with the romances of farm girls and the obsessions of greedy tax-collectors. Only the fancy of the speaker telling the tale would elevate one event above another in importance, and that fancy would change with the concerns of the day—to say nothing of the embellishments and inventions of listeners passing the tale on to new generations of speakers.
So, to recap, we've got mysterious chaos creatures that invade solid reality to eat minds and emotions, and they're huffy because time and laws are silly things and wouldn't it be much more wacky if we just let whim and random personal bullshit guide everything.
Once existence was truly timeless. It did not necessarily come before the advent of what is now understood as time. The minds of the Creation-born understand it to have occurred “before” the current cycle of Ages, but that’s only because the understanding of the Creation-born can move in only one direction. Philosophical arguments could be made that this period is a state of being yet to come at the end of all Ages—the entropic perfection toward which all things strive. Even that distinction, however, relies on the Creation-born concept of time, and this period was not a time. To the best of the knowledge of the raksha, this period is simply Time Not.
It's a bit like they read the Glorantha review, got high, and then decided to write this while overdosing on wanky pretentiousness. Also keep in mind that every fucking thing I copy-paste here is usually repeated twice, wanked back and forth about whether or not it's real, and then repeated a third time. Someone was getting paid by the fucking word count.
Also remember how back in core Exalted, there was literally no law to the Wyld, and it was only when Creation was plonked down in the middle of it by the Primordials that anything actually really existed ? Well guess again, because now there are poles of order in the Wyld(sort of) and they're also kind of cribbed off of Azathoth.
shinma : Embodying pure concepts that exist in and even beyond the Wyld, the shinma abide somewhere between natural laws and idiot gods, venerated and studied by the raksha (as well as the Primordials and the Exalted savants of the High First Age).
But to shorten half a page of paragraphs: One of these guys decided that it was time to make time exist, and also to make other things exist, because he was apparently tired of the big soup of boring bullshit he was stuck in. So now, bam, things exist, including the other shinma, and time.
The result of Advaita Iraivan’s act of infinite separation was to set apart the whole of conceivability into the opposing states of reality and not-reality. Not-reality consisted only of the absence from which the whole of Time Not had been taken. It is possible to conceive of this not-reality as Elsewhere, though it is just as likely that it is the Void. It is not entirely impossible, however, that both of those theoretical places are the same.
The Origin? posted:
The foregoing is not necessarily the true, verifiable origin of the Primordials and the raksha. It is, rather, a philosophical parable the raksha choose to understand about their origin and that of their bitterest enemies. No raksha believes in the literal truth of this parable, but it frames the context of the opposition between the denizens of the Wyld and the Creation-born. Ultimately, it’s only a story— one designed to amuse those who would ponder the unknowable.
I'm not sure it counts as a parable if it doesn't have a fucking point . Like aren't parables supposed to be story that communicate some sort of moral or ethic or something ? All this is communicating to me is that things apparently happen. But anyway, a bunch of the Raksha decide that "order" is groovy and become the Primordials and make Creation, which the other Raksha are too busy jerking off to do anything about, until suddenly a big chunk of their chaotic soupy bullshit home is now a solid brick that doesn't fall apart when they look at it funny. Also these new Shinma things which are apparently a central part of the whole thing are somehow used to make Creation.
But anyway, so, Creation, it's kind of gross and weird to the Raksha, and also they melt if they try to walk in there without making a solid form for themselves, first. But eventually, despite eventually adjusting to the existence of Creation itself and thinking they could just ignore it, the Raksha somehow get interested in the inhabitants, namely, they get interested in their dreams. The dreams and hopes and wills of gods, Dragon Kings(another, incredibly stupid and pointless, splat) and mortals. Like watching bad TV, though, watching too much Creation began to dull the raksha's brain analogues and they got bad at actually dealing with the Wyld they were living in.
Still, it's too fun to watch for the Raksha to tear themselves away, and so they get a ringside seat as the Primordials get their asses handed to them, cheering, eating popcorn and having a fucking laugh. But, to their disappointment, humanity didn't decide to destroy the world they were living in, and most of the Raksha go back to being fishmalks in the chaos soup.
The ones that hang around, though, learn how to convince humans to walk off the edge of Creation into the Wyld, where they rapidly melt, and then the Raksha eat their dreams and minds that remain. Okay, several pages of blathering later, what happens is that the Exalted get tired of these chaos-elves trying to eat their world, kick the Raksha in the pants, and start paving over more of the Wyld with Creation. The Raksha fight back, get their asses kicked again.
In the middle of all this, the Raksha literally lose what was supposed to make them interesting: The fact that they were strange, chaos-fuelled monstrosities that eat human minds and were hard to comprehend. No, now they're just generic villains with their own politics and bullshit. Some of them want to stomp Creation because WYLD GOOD, some of them want Creation to keep existing because HUMAN BRAINS TASTY. Every time there's some upheaval(like, for instance, the Usurpation), they've had their invasions on some greater or lesser scale and Creation has lost chunks of itself to the Wyld.
Despite the fact that they exist, the raksha are not real. They are not tangible, physical creatures with motives that the philosophers among the Creation-born can parse and puzzle out.
This is also bullshit as we've been clobbered with completely understandable motivations for some twenty pages by this point, "WANT EAT TASTY HUMAN DREAMS" is an alien motivation but still a motivation that we can parse. They've even got their own goofy variant on Virtues and Willpower: Graces.
what is with that fucking dwarf
The Heart Grace: Willpower & Essence. This defines how real/powerful a Raksha is.
The Cup Grace: Compassion. To Raksha, compassion isn't about being compassionate, it's about having a tool to make mortals love them so they can twist them around their finger-analogues.
The Ring Grace: Temperance. To Raksha, temperance is about staying true to your principles that define you(which sounds like Conviction to me), because if they don't, they're impermanent and barely self-aware.
The Staff Grace: Conviction. To Raksha, conviction is their personal restraint that prevents them from stepping all over each other and ruining their individual importance.
The Sword Grace: Valor. To Raksha, valor is about punching others to remind the world that you matter.
They even have their own fucking limit breaks, called "Bedlam." The one unique thing here is that the Raksha literally hammer their graces into physical objects, which can convey power over them if you have them, by effectively being buttons you press to activate an appropriate Bedlam(or for the Heart Grace, just a remote control for that specific Raksha).
not sure which the Tits Grace is, link-through is of course NSFW
Oh also remember how they were voracious chaos predators that would consume minds for sustenance? Guess what: They don't really need to do that. Some of them just do it anyway, because they're dicks. They can just huff some of your dreams without permanently ravaging your brain.
the Fair Folk take special joy in the effort, reward and sense of accomplishment the hunt provides.
Also again, I would like to point out, that despite their being "UNKNOWABLE, CANNOT BE PARSED," all their motivations so far sound pretty much human/mundane. Define themselves, be successful, complete challenges, gain sustenance. Not quite Nyarlathotep, there. Oh and because this is Exalted, there needs to be a line about how some of the Raksha score human prey by literally prostituting themselves for hits of emotion.
The raksha are not truly creatures or beings as such— certainly not in the way the Creation-born understand those terms. The raksha are, instead, sentient stories and living myths exerting the narrative power of which they are made up on one another and on Creation. Their home is the Wyld, that realm of infinite potential in which pure story best thrives. When they move upon the deeps of chaos or even in the shallows where Creation and the Wyld overlap, they can alter the nature of the fluid reality that surrounds them in ways that best suit their purposes. The acts of doing so can be as simple as opportunistically grandstanding in the currents of environmental mutability or as complex as tailoring the landscape and current events to hew to one’s specific desires.
Also this "sentient story"-thing comes completely out of fucking left field at this point, because so far they've just been chaos dudes with very human behavior, right down to politics and shit. And they had those even without having bodies or being in Creation. Here we're also told a bit about Shaping Combat, which is when two Raksha whip out their favourite Graces and Freeform Roleplay each other into submission.
Look they even have a fucking SOCIETY, they have social classes, THIS ISN'T ALIEN OR WEIRD. And we're rapidly treated to the fact that the whole "sentient story"-shit mostly describes their goddamn self-centeredness and how they derive power from feeling(and acting) like they're at the center of the goddamn universe. They've even got courts and other social units formed around specific philosophies(which Grace matters the most), they've got a major "religion" and they fight over its specific interpretation.
Fuck it, half of this is repetition, so let me just summarize this real quick: The main feeling you get from reading the first fifty-something pages of fluff is that no one was quite in charge of the project. After having read the core book, and the main fluff in GWM, you see that there are three forces each pulling their own way.
#1: Wants the Raksha to basically be like people, except they eat emotions and do their wacky shaping thing.
#2: Wants the Raksha to be SENTIENT STORIES OH MY GOD HOW CAN WE EVER COMPREHEND THIS?!
#3: Wants the Raksha to be analogous to Lovecraft's Elder Gods, horrifying, shapeless creatures we cannot comprehend and which rend our minds.
The first group ultimately won the battle to do the writing, but the second group snuck in afterwards and did a lot of editing to make things sound more flowery and insist that it really was their way things were. The third group, on the other hand, got to write their version of the Fair Folk into the core book. Hence why you'll recognize nothing but a few terms when you start reading GWM.
My eyes are severely glazing over from the fucking word salad that the rest is, as it is, as mentioned, 50% repetition and 50% trying to split everything off into neat little boxes and castes and classes for pages upon pages instead of just admitting that they are basically like people!
Chapter 2: 24 pages about the Fair Folk's hick cousins that live out on the edges of the Wyld, play banjos and never wear
Lords of ChaosOriginal SA post Exalted: Graceful Wicked Masques
Chapter Two: Lords of Chaos
By which the book means those Raksha who hang away far from Creation and genuinely have no shape. The farther they are from Creation, the less logical and orderly they are, but if they're sort-of-near Creation, or have brushed against its edges on occasion, they tend to adhere to some somewhat recognizable rules.
Unshaped raksha do not have Intimacies . Instead, a Chaos Lord has a set of behaviors and beliefs known as Imperatives that perform the same function as Intimacies . Each unshaped has one Imperative for each of its Graces.
If anything this is what really pisses me off about GWM, so many times they make up a new word for something(like the Graces), and then go: "But, yeah, okay, it's the same thing as in the last book. We just renamed it!" This chapter goes even further by throwing stats for the Unshaped(in a very broad way) at us before we've had stats for anything else, or really had the relative strength of stats explained. And then pelting us with a new dumb vocabulary for the Unshaped.
"An unshaped, however, can have only one Fountainhead, Glory, Stronghold or Throne Room, and only one Emanation can control each of them."
See, these words? All those Capitalized Nouns? The only one of those we've had explained so far has been Emanations. In fact none of the others have even appeared in the text before this point at all . As for Emanations, as mentioned, all Raksha have Graces. But where for the normal Raksha a Grace manifests as an object, for the unshaped, Graces manifest as Emanations... which are in effect Raksha with shapes.
We've also yet to be told how to stat up a normal Raksha, but now we're being bombarded with the rules for statting up Emanations as normal Raksha. There's also another word they keep bombarding us with, "Waypoint." You know what that means? "A place in the Wyld where things can happen." OH, WOW, REALLY? YOU MEAN YOU INVENTED ANOTHER FUCKING WORD FOR "LOCATION"?
But, anyway . Despite supposedly being alien and mysterious, the unshaped can be "politically active," which basically means that they're really just huge raksha who grow smaller raksha as puppets. Their purpose for shaped Raksha is to either somehow blob over near their holdouts in the more shaped chunks of the Wyld and have a slapfight with them, or for the shaped Raksha to "quest" against them, from which the shaped Raksha get some fancy new Wyld chunks to make stuff out of, and from which the unshaped gets experience to boost its Emanations with. On the downside, if the shaped fucks up the quest, they can be subject to some bad stuff, one of which is called "ravishment," which the book actively defines as "psychic rape." You know what else makes me really excited about getting deeper into the book? That it's naming the following charms: "Ecstatic Reproduction Style and Akshata Sexual Methodology."
The questing consists of TESTS, first you have to properly challenge the unshaped, then you have to punch your way through a Cup, Sword, Staff and Ring test. These are done through shaping combat, but basically consists of sticking to your virtues/graces in some manner. If you ever played the Ultima games, the suggested tests are about the same level of moral and intellectual complexity: "A SUDDEN MOUND OF TREASURE APPEARS. DO YOU STAY ON THE PATH OR GO CHASING AFTER IT LIKE A MORON?!" Obviously it could be done better, but the description so far, especially since we know nothing about how the shaping combat would work, sounds goofy as fuck.
The Cup is Compassion, the Ring is Temperance, the Staff is Conviction and the Sword is Valour. Either you have to embody the virtue and really stick to it, or an Emanation representing the virtue shows up to slap you around for not representing it properly.
In other Ring tests, the Ring Emanation might be a more direct character, such as a stern puritan who seeks to physically punish the challenger for some perceived (or genuine) character flaw. For example, if the challenger is a Sword-based raksha who typically relies on violence as a first response, the Ring Emanation might be a powerful Cataphract who cannot be defeated in battle but who is incapable of ever standing against one who preaches non-violence.
Psychological problems caused by ravishment or incumbrance typically cause the challenger to act in accordance with the Imperative the Emanation represents. For example, Nine Rabbits Slayer, the Ring Emanation of the Golden Mirror, is obsessed with understanding the concept of love. Accordingly, he usually incumbers those he defeats in questing battles to explore some aspect of that emotion. Examples might include: “ You must try to seduce every innocent you encounter ,” or, “You must seek the affections of someone you think will never love you.”
Also you know how there are four virtues and five graces(One Willpower/Essence, the other four representing virtues)? Right now, a chapter and some twenty pages after first introducing the Graces and explaining what they are, a sidebar(or rather, topbar, it just eats up the entire top 2/3rds of the page) pops in and informs us that other Graces can apparently be made up and possessed, too, giving us an example of the Way Grace. And, in fact, attaches said new, poorly-explained Grace to the first example Unshaped we get.
as usual, gratuitous titties behind the link. NSFW
And again, I'd like to re-iterate, every few fucking sentences this chapter babbles at us about Shaping Combat, which we won't see rules for until chapter five . It then proceeds to, most graciously, describe several unshaped for us. And I mean describe only, it doesn't actually stat up any of the emanations, or tell us how powerful the Unshaped is. That's up to the GM to decide, I guess, we're just given the general flavour of what sort of bullshit it's likely to pull. It also continues to undermine itself, having previously stated that the Unshaped don't really have any proper concepts of time and relativity and etc., by now giving them extremely human emotions like hate and Unshaped-wide goals like revenge and loathing.
None of them really catch my attention much, but I will of course be copy-pasting the dumbest passages.
Nine Rabbits Slayer usually manifests to others in a form calculated to appeal to the sexual or romantic ideals of one or more of his visitors. He often favors the shape of a virile hunter (or huntress) whose identity is suggested by the presence of nine rabbit pelts attached to his (or her) belt. When he adopts an abstract form, he takes the shape of an extremely romantic location, such as an idyllic grotto or rose garden. He has even been known to shape himself into a bordello full of his offspring and minions shaped into the form of concubines and catamites.
Welcome to the Raksha: Now in the form of bad Oglaf knockoffs.
Orchinast most commonly shapes herself into a perfect copy of the person with whom she interacts, save that the body is nude, female and made of golden fire.
Because this totally serves a purpose beyond giving the author a hard-on.
The use of the word “it” in describing this Emanation is deliberate—Exquisite Laceration rejects gender as one of Creation’s most hateful limitations and will never assume a gendered or even recognizably humanoid form under any circumstances.
Ah, that explains why In Dark Alleys abandons all fucking logic: It's actually the product of an unshaped Raksha.
Because of Adrigal, Salt That Cuts is truly self-aware in its own right instead of merely acting through the awareness of its subsidiary selves.
Being self-aware is supposedly something unique to this particular Unshaped? But the last one we read about wasn't exactly a machine or an animal, it had emotions and goals that would usually be associated with a self-aware and intelligent entity...
Sagacious Embryonic Wanderer generally manifests in a most disturbing form—as a rainstorm of tiny, male embryos falling from the heavens onto the heads of those who intrude into his domain. When he wishes to communicate, the falling babes avoid the intruder. Instead, they pool on the ground or waters at the intruder’s feet and speak in unison the words of the Wanderer.
Aside from the stupid fucking name, this isn't even disturbing, this is just some shit produced by a mad-libbing random generator.
About the only one of these that I particularly like in concept is Swar. Basically it crawled into Creation with the other Raksha back when they tried to pull it apart. Then when the Scarlet Empress drove them all back, the others either died or bailed, but it crawled inside a manse and basically wore it like a hermit crab's shell to hide from the Realm's defenses. And somehow that worked. Now, Swar is basically a huge, slightly-mobile city that lures in treasure hunters to kill. It's stuck so far inside Creation that it can't recover from any damage done to it by tapping into the Wyld, and what it really wants is just to get the fuck out, but to get out, it'd have to abandon its shell, and it if did that, the Realm's defenses would nuke it.
And right after Swar we get to another example of shitty or non-existent editing: The Charms of the Unshaped. That's right, we get Charms for things we can't play (or at least, it's heavily suggested that we aren't supposed to, their first charm basically consists of "turn into a shaped Raksha and become a PC/NPC"), and things that are usually only encountered by shaped Raksha, before we get charms for the shaped Raksha themselves.
This book is stupid and I wish I could slap the author around with it.
Next: Character Creation and Shaping Combat
Fuck ThisOriginal SA post Exalted: Graceful Wicked Masques
I can't finish this review, because this book is literally just too goddamn dull for it. Everything after chapter two(and a lot before it) is either "we renamed a concept from the core book and are pretending it's unique and alien"(hello stupid renamed time units, hello stupid castes, hello stupid "graces.") or just completely uninventive "we've got shaping combat where you describe entire scenes!" where the only real mechanical difference is that you can attack with a lot more skills and have a health bar for each of your Virtues. And the fact that your players' stunts will now be five-page short stories instead of descriptive sentences.
Oh and there's no attempt whatsoever at actually making it compatible with other Exalted splats. Where the power levels aren't completely out of whack, the Raksha are loaded down with only-in-the-Wyld mechanics and abilities while the Wyld is completely inimical to anyone from the other splats not specifically fortified against it with the right charms and abilities.
This book can go smoke a pile of pretentious cocks.
Even the art is fucking stupid!
NSFW and stupid