Monday, April 15, 2019

Exalted, 3rd Edition Core - Chapters 1 & 2

Part 2

Part 3 

Part 4

Thank goodness, I was able to get the best part of the book out of the way quickly. I'm now one step closer to getting to read the 200 page charms chapter.

Okay, all sarcasm aside, there's very little out there that would be able to convincingly follow an Exalted setting chapter, and 3rd edition's was especially good, even by the high standards previously set by the line.

But I suppose I should disclose my biases here. I am something of an Exalted superfan. Not only do I have all the books (including the tie-in novels, the two board games, and the art book), but I've done extensive homebrewing over the years. I personally rewrote the second edition core book, came up with a complete alternate charmset for the Sidereals, and have created more than a dozen custom martial arts and evocation trees. I have opinions about Exalted.

I'm reluctant to admit this (because it really is earnestly close to my heart), but my fondest dream, as a writer, would be to be in charge of an entire edition of Exalted. I've taken no steps to pursue this goal, because I'm certain that I would be bad at every part of the job that wasn't "be the ultimate arbiter of what goes in the game," but I do look forward to the time (hopefully far in the future), when the licence has lain fallow and the fandom is in chaos, and I can finally write the perfect game for the, like, 8 people who have consistently landed on my side of the innumerable faction-splits the community has endured over the years.

Hopefully, that provides some illuminating context for my upcoming posts about the game. Exalted is something I profoundly love, but with which I also have a long experience in feeling moderately disappointed by its flaws.

With that out of the way, let's break this thing down bit by bit.

The opening fiction was great, in that inimitable way that Jenna Moran has of making things that are awesome and epic, but also just a little bit offbeat. It's the straightforward story of a Solar Exalted getting cornered by the Wyld Hunt, but there's a digression as the principals discuss the setting's regional cuisine and it ends in this ambiguous way that could be a catastrophe or could be the prelude to an unlooked for grace.

The introduction is the best of all the Exalted cores, but mostly by default. First and Second edition both had serious problems with their presentations. Third gets the job done and doesn't embarrass itself.

Chapter one, I have quibbles with. I'm not sure I should go into it, though. Yes, the purpose of this blog is for me to write down all the thoughts I have upon reading these books, but most of those thoughts would be me getting my digs in about minor doctrinal matters that would be confusing and alienating for readers who hadn't spent the last 15 years getting into Exalted flame wars and infuriating and alienating for those readers who had. If you're really curious, go onto and start a thread titled "Should Patrons Choose Their Exalted?" I'd be bound to sniff it out sooner or later.

(All of that was my long-winded way of saying "Chapter One was good.")

Chapter Two, however, was better than good. It was probably the best setting material since 1st edition's Scavenger Sons. There are things I take issue with, of course. For example, the Realm has always been presented as the main protagonist on the stage of history, which can come across as imperial-apologist even when the text itself is critical, and that's not a flaw that has been corrected here. Behemoths are shoved into the back of the chapter under their own separate heading. Technically, it's an improvement because they'd been previously relegated to supplements, but they are such a fertile part of the setting that you could get a lot of mileage out of allowing them to inform the chapter as a whole.

And I'm doing it again, sorry.

Back to what makes the setting chapter great. The thing to know about Exalted third edition is that it came after Exalted 2nd edition. And by this I am not simply making a fatuous point about 3 being one more than 2. Rather, Exalted 2nd edition had a certain . . . energy about it.

 I think history, in the long run, is going to be kind to Exalted 2nd Edition's setting choices, but if you were there towards the end, you know it was starting to feel moribund in some undefinable way. It was audacious and interesting in a way you'd never find anywhere else (check out the brick-making passage in Oadenol's Codex and I dare you to not get immediately carried away by the science-fantasy possibilities), but the very things that made 2nd edition unique also made Creation feel like a "solved" setting.

The Setting chapter in the third edition core manages the remarkable feat of "unsolving" Creation. It's no one thing in particular, it's just a combination of little factors. The new locations help. As do the occasional hints that they have weird and irreplicable magic. Also relevant is how no one location overstays its welcome. Almost every place described leaves you wanting more.

It's a very satisfying start to a new edition, which makes it all the more tragic that it's been close to 3 years since the release of the core and we still haven't had a significant follow-up to the new setting material. In a way, it's a testament to how compelling the new stuff is that I'm feeling so frustrated right now, but . . . I don't like feeling frustrated? ::Shrug:: What will be will be.


  1. One of the best tricks any setting can perform is to feel broad without being overdetailed, that is, "solved." It's quite a line to walk.

    What were the problems with 1st and 2nd Ed's intros?


    1. 1st edition had some vestigial White Wolf-isms that didn't really track with the setting at all, and were also intrinsically silly on their own "Do not believe what the scientists tell you . . ." and all that.

      2nd edition committed the cardinal sin of rpg introductions and passive-aggressively described itself in terms of what it wasn't "In most games, a player's 'heroic' character starts out as a complete wuss . . ."

    2. Oh yes, I remember the old "before there was a World of Darkness" bit. I didn't remember 2nd Ed's self-aggrandizement through comparison, but I believe it.