The Continuance of Exalted Complaints
So, let me see… I was working on a broad analysis of how Exalted took a serious turn for the worse, which led to the awful design decisions that led to the 3rd Edition philosophy. Where did I leave off last time … ?
Oh, yeah. Rape.
You know, I get it. White Wolf is edgy. They’ve spent a lot of time working on Mature Audience books. Hells, they have an entire separate imprint just to deal with things that they think should be left out of their core products. And they spent the better part of twenty years with vampires, werewolves and ghosts, the rough core of any horror based product line. Hells, they managed to base a sourcebook for Wraith around the Holocaust. Logically, they have a solid rhetorical base to work from when it comes to presenting adult oriented themes to a mature audience.
The problem is that I’m not really sure that White Wolf and I are working with the same definitions of ‘mature’ and ‘adult’ for these purposes. I define these terms along the lines of ‘having to do with serious and often horrific ideas that are inappropriate for minor’ or similar. Child abuse, prison conditions, human trafficking, and so on; these are the kinds of things that I would expect in an adult product. The Liberian Civil War? That’s an adult theme. Same with the Rwanda Genocide, the Rape of Nanking and the moral consequences of killing an innocent while a character is trying to defeat a powerful enemy. They’re mature subjects to be dealt with in an appropriate setting, and none of it really fits for a younger audience.
For White Wolf, it’s a lot of rape. And weird sex jokes. (For an older example, google: ‘tzimisce cover’. This was the kind of shit that they used to pull back in the day.)
So, I already went off on the rape bit for Infernals. The most depressing thing about this is that it made one of the more tragic aspects of the entire canon into a grotesquerie. There’s a complicated story that had been built up about the little girl, Lillun, who had been manipulated into entering the secret area that the Scarlet Empress held sway over. She vanished and was never seen again, with the central idea being that the Scarlet Empress was willing even to let her youngest daughter be sacrificed to keep her secrets.
Then they come along with this. Lillun is revealed as being the living storehouse for corrupted divine energy, and the means by which to reward the corrupted servants with this energy is through a lot of rape. So, rather than keep it as a grim parable or mystery, the books go into more detail about this aspect of the game. And I have no idea why. It literally serves no purpose whatsoever, other than to make obvious something that was already hinted at. Detailing her torture in text is gratuitous, and making a comic in the front of the book is wholly unnecessary.
Even if you were to make the argument that this is to drive home the vile and inhuman nature of the Infernals, that’s going to fall flat as soon as you note that this is one of the most popular books in the line, and the diehard fans will take great pains to defend it. Most of this has to do with the fact that Infernal Exalts are ridiculously powerful, and the audience apparently takes great joy in playing evil characters. I suspect that it all goes back to the adoration of Vampire characters from World of Darkness. My experience has shown me enough of the edgy fanboys that want to talk about the power and violence of their characters. I wouldn’t say that too many of them had ever advanced much beyond a middle school mindset of such things either, but this is only my experience of such gamers.
So naturally, this is the sort of idea that gets carried over into the 3rd Edition design. Many of the same people that are working on this edition are the same ones that were involved in the crappy final projects of 2nd Edition. One of the first things that showed up in relation to 3rd Edition was a design doc that went into the new powers of Abyssal Exalts, who bear the corrupted essence of a Solar Exalt in service of the lords of the underworld. In the Exalted world, they’re the fantasy versions of Vampires, and their popularity reflects this. In 1st and 2nd Edition, they were subject to the dark versions of many of the Solar powers.
For 3rd Edition, they’re all about rape.
There was a preview PDF that was released early on in the Kickstarter as an example of where they were planning on going with the later books. For the Abyssal Exalts, there was an entire page devoted to the charms that they could access which allowed them to rape weaker characters, turn them into slaves, rape them to death and use the power they had derived from the rape to fuel their own further schemes.
Needless to say, this PDF got pulled pretty quickly and is now ridiculously hard to find on the internet.
There was a lot of blowback from this. The article on Something Awful (which I linked to last time) went over the high points of the preview, but there was even more in the way of objectionable content that was left out. The writers had offered basic (and poorly conceived) apologies about the tone of the writing, but in the end, they largely shrugged and went back to doing what they were already planning on doing. The diehard fans felt that apologies weren’t really needed, and the casual fans that thought it was actually pretty horrible mainly forgot about it or were shouted down on the forums.
And here’s the thing: For the most part, I didn’t care a lot either way about this new rape aspect of the game. There were already some questionable bits to Exalted that I thought were in poor taste. Having fairly explicitly detailed new powers that served little purpose other than rape? Yeah, that’s weird and juvenile, but it’s not like I thought the Infernals sourcebook wasn’t equally bad.
What killed it for me was the general arrogance that surrounded the project. The rapey bits were stupid, but I have already left a lot of things like that out of my games. It’s the smug outlook that the new writers persisted with that all but killed my support for the product. The gist was that they were making a new product to fix all of the bad ideas that 2nd Edition had.
Okay, I’m listening. I know that there are a lot of bad and unplayable parts of Exalted. Take, for example, the whole powerset of the Sidereals. Sure, they’re fine for NPC’s that don’t need to survive outside of the GM’s spiral bound notebook, but they’re not terribly interesting and playable. And seriously, Social Combat needs an overhaul. So do the rules for Mass Combat. We tried them, and they were neither fun nor easy to use. There’s also the rules for the political machinations between regions and nations; those could use some work, since it was a neat idea that never really managed to pull off. Some of the different charms need balancing, martial arts needs a couple of revisions, and let’s trim back the bullshit like Infernals and the sixth Alchemical type. None of these things make sense.
Nope. First off, they’re taking apart combat, which was one of the high points of the edition. Combat in Exalted 2nd was one of the slickest systems I’ve ever seen, as it worked on a timed initiative. Different actions took more or less time than others, so the actual speed of using a given weapon type actually mattered. From what I have been very sternly lectured about, this was too complicated and boring. (From what I’ve been able to tell, the boring parts come from the seriously twinked out munchkin builds battling each other. All the years I’ve been running Exalted, there’s never been an issue, but other people play seriously different games.)
And from every indication, none of the other issues that I ran into in any of my games are being touched. Instead, they seem to be focusing on inserting their own weird ideas into the setting, none of which have any bearing. One of the theories involves all sorts of new Exalt types, including a variant based on the NWoD game, Promethean. This new Exalt is your basic Frankenstein’s Monster, for some damned reason, and there’s plans to toss in as many more as they can come up with. To borrow and paraphrase from The Incredibles, once everyone’s Exalted, that means no one is Exalted.
All of this is to fix a product that they have repeatedly claimed is bad, broken and unplayable. The general mindset is that 2nd Edition Exalted, the one game line that actually outsold their World of Darkness and Aeon/Trinity lines, is just an awful game and there’s no way they could revise out all the things wrong with it. It’s better to burn it down, salt the earth and build anew.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a hard time being all that enthused about being told that something that I love is objectively bad and implying that I’m an idiot for liking it in the first place. Especially when it comes from a guy that doesn’t really understand design philosophy and is a little too interested in raping children. And writing all new systems that allow for more rape.