Where I Finally Get Around to Bitching About Exalted 3rd
Blogs are sort of weird.
For the past three months, I’ve been throwing 1,000 words at a given subject every single night; rain or shine, broad inspiration or not. Sometimes these entries shined, and sometimes they just managed to fill the space. Either way, I post something, some of my friends read them, and I go on with things. Every now and again, I get a comment from one of my regulars, but I have the feeling that my rate of word production has left some people in the dust. I have no one to blame save myself, since I came to realize just how unlikely it is that someone would actually be able to go back through the archives if they hadn’t been keeping up in the first place. But I’ll get into that in a couple of days. There’s honestly too much for a casual reader to get into.
And then, every now and again, someone will stumble onto something I’ve posted up and read through it, looking for the subject tag for the thing that interests them. I know this because I get new likes on fairly old entries, which I find both endearing and weird. In my own mind, there’s a perception that, once an entry has faded into the archives, it’s dead and gone, never to be seen again or commented upon.
A little over a week ago, my new friend Eric started browsing through the Exalted entries. I’d always intended to go back and throw a couple thousand more words at the subject, but it never quite happened. But since I’m planning on putting the blog on hiatus for a little while, I might as well get around to this promise, even if it has been one that I’ve largely made to myself.
I’ve already discussed the baseline setting of Exalted and the kinds of characters that can be made to adventure within the bounds of this world. I’ve also touched on some of the historical and real world elements that went into the complex mythological foundations that build the world.
What I haven’t dealt with is the point in 2nd Edition Exalted when the designers finally jumped the rails and started doing really stupid and offensive things. Nor have I gone into how this abandonment of solid design philosophy is what forms the questionable basis of the 3rd Edition rules.
First, a little bit of history: One of the very first supplements for 1st Edition Exalted was the rather weird attempt at an adventure module, in the form of Time of Tumult. Ostensibly, this was the design team’s way of introducing the White Wolf fans to a whole new concept of fantasy RPG, namely the ‘epic’ style. And by ‘epic’, I’m using the classical sense of the term, where it refers to the deeds of legendary heroes. Exalted dealt with the nascent god-kings of an ancient era, determined to reclaim their fallen empires. This was a good deal different from anything that White Wolf had done before, and it was a fair departure from games like Warhammer Fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons, which were the go-to games for normal fantasy.
Sadly, Time of Tumult didn’t really manage to pull it off. It had some interesting ideas, but the main adventure was a strange cross between ‘haunted mansion’ and dungeon crawl, managing neither with any grace. But one of the short adventures that was included with the book dealt with the broad sketches of an alien force from outside of Creation that threatened to take over the world. In Crusaders of the Machine God, the epic fantasy world of Exalted is being overtaken by what amounts to being cybernetic and robotic invaders.
The idea was that all of humanity was based on the designs of one of the Primordials (think Titans from Greek myth) who had prototyped the first men for the other Primordials to build from. When it became evident that these new creations (in the form of Exalts) were going to cast down their Primordial creators, the one responsible for the prototypes in the first place fled creation to avoid being defeated himself. After millennia wandering the void beyond Creation, he’s been forced to return. As the titular Machine God, his children are the robots and cyborgs that have come back to do his will.
All right, so this is how it makes sense in the scope of Exalted. These particular versions of the established Exalts are weird and machine-based, but that’s because they’re based on the original prototypes. Like their master, they exist outside of Creation itself, and accordingly they are the exception to the pre-established Rule of Five that forms the basic framework of the game. The different castes of the Alchemical Exalts fall in line with the five types of Celestial and Terrestrial Exalts, formed as they are from the Five Magical Materials, but they represent a strange sort of sixth type of Exalt in their way. Even so, they are specifically built on the archetypes of the normal Exalt they correspond with. Orichalcum Caste fulfill a similar role to Solars, Moonsilver have a similar function to Lunars, and so on. It all made sense and fit within the established hierarchy.
Until the tail end of 2nd Edition Exalted, that is.
I have no proof of this, but I think 2nd Edition started going off the rails when the lead designer, John Chambers, left the company for greener pastures. Up to a certain point, the design philosophy adhered to fairly strict guidelines and managed to streamline much of the rough material from 1st Edition. It had a different, more cosmopolitan feel than the earlier edition, which had touches of pulp fantasy and eldritch horror around the edges, but it didn’t try to contradict any of the established lore.
Then came the Alchemical book for 2nd Edition. And things started getting weird.
Represented were the same five castes of Alchemical Exalt that appeared in the original publication, with the strange addition of a sixth caste formed of a non-magical material that only really showed up in Time of Tumult. But not in the module that introduced the concept of Alchemicals. The material, an extremely brittle and lethal form of glass known as Adamant, was one of the few materials available that would inflict Aggravated Damage on its own. (For those unfamiliar with White Wolf, there were three basic damage types: Non-lethal, lethal, and aggravated. These differed mainly in how long it took to heal them.) It was a weird addition to the module, and it really never showed up anywhere else. Nevermind the fact that Adamant implies unbreakability, and the glass was almost impossible to use because it would constantly break.
This new caste combines all manner of nonsensical aspects, to the point that it comes across seeming like a power gamer’s wet dream. (This perception is not helped by the fact that the iconic Adamant character is a female that is incapable of wearing pants. The only piece of clothing she actually wears in a sort of shawl-like covering that only barely covers part of her breasts. Wet dream, indeed.) Adamant caste have the innate ability to avoid having any observer remember them, along the lines of the Sidereal abilities, but unlike the Arcane Fate of the Chosen, trying to resist this power of the Adamant Caste requires an inane amount of Willpower to be spent. And compared to the battle-oriented powers of the rest of the Alchemicals, this is particularly weird. In addition, they’re the angst-ridden loners who know more about the inner workings of their machine society, seeing fit to judge even the other Exalts for their actions. They are the ‘mysterious strangers’ and the ‘tactical lynchpins’ prone to ‘flamboyant displays of strength’ in their role as the ultra secret agents of … somebody. They wait in the shadows to ‘strike a blow that will break their own hearts’.
In short, they’re better than everything else. And filled with angst.
This was followed up shortly thereafter by the sourcebook for the Infernal Exalts, which were equally overwrought and unnecessary. They were so edgy and extreme that they might as well have been a Mountain Dew flavored bag of Jacked Doritos. And where the Adamant Alchemical was pure fanservice on its own, the iconic characters for the Infernals were particularly egregious. In no specific order, they were a pirate, a ninja, a Scotsman, a sexy nun and a mummy with an oversized eldritch claw grafted on his right shoulder. They were one step away from appearing on a middle school boy’s homeroom notebook.
And when you actually try to delve into the lore of these Exalts it gets even squirrelier. All right, so we have the appearance of the Adamant Alchemicals, with their non-Magical Material basis. All of the other Alchemical Castes correspond directly with the Exalts that are roaming around Creation. Does this mean that the material that’s associated with the previously unknown Infernal Exalts is Adamant?
No. That would almost make sense.
Instead, they have access to a weird substance called Vitriol, which forms the basis of Infernal item crafting. It’s said to be a demonic acid of sorts, but it ends up just being Evil Lacquer that you soak all of your gear in. There’s all sorts of gnarly, wicked prose to explain the demonic and awful processes that it’s supposed to represent, but the simple truth of the matter is that it’s just Evil Lacquer. No more, no less.
There’s a relatively solid reason for the existence of Infernal Exalts, tracing back to the various plots that set the whole Age of Sorrows setting in motion. It’s not a bad idea, overall, but the implementation of it gets stupid pretty quickly. They have clear antecedents in the Abyssal Exalts, but where the Abyssals have to atone through self mutilation or the sacrifice of something they love, Infernals have to undertake acts of mustache-twirling evil, the kind of which echoes Dr. Evil from Austin Powers.
And that isn’t even to talk about the systematic rape of a young girl as the basis of the characters’ power.
I think I can safely finish the rest of my complaints out in the next post. Those images should be enough to get most of my current points across.