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Old 01-02-2013, 01:32 PM   #1
vicky_molokh
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Default Exalted: something broken, or just different power level?

Greetings, all!

I'm slowly trying out the wonderful interactive Exalted tutorial that Jürgen Hubert once linked (this), and I must say that the concept looks beautiful. Now, it is somewhat disorienting for someone with WoD expectations*, but I know it's meant for over-the-top heroic stuff.

However, I've heard negative comments about the system (not setting, system), and I think some or all of them here (I don't visit other WW discussions much if at all). So . . . is something actually broken/unbalanced/unplayable, or is it just a knee-jerk reaction against a system meant for high-powered characters?

Thanks in advance!

* == WP recovery every turn . . . What.
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Old 01-02-2013, 02:17 PM   #2
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Default Re: Exalted: something broken, or just different power level?

The system is probably more mechanical complex than would be desirable for a high-powered, semi-narrative game. It also has some obvious issues, like expecting people to routinely roll 15+ dice in their die pools. Weapon damage for even medium range weapons without charm usage is absurdly high compared to armor and health, making combat unreasonably deadly. There's a huge gap between what the fluff says a character's ability should be and the game mechanical representation. The charm trees are bloated, non-intuitive, and hard to remember, which leads to NPCs being nearly unplayable.

And all of that should be pretty obvious just from reading the core book, creating a few characters, and running some test encounters.

I'd say the game is difficult to play as it is. Supposedly, the errata is making things better, but there's a lot of fundamental concepts that make extended campaign play difficult.
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Old 01-03-2013, 03:25 PM   #3
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Default Re: Exalted: something broken, or just different power level?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mlangsdorf View Post
The system is probably more mechanical complex than would be desirable for a high-powered, semi-narrative game.
Noted. Though that's probably better than 'General Quick Contest. You defeat the generic Dragon-Blooded. Next.' sort of mechanics.

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Originally Posted by mlangsdorf View Post
It also has some obvious issues, like expecting people to routinely roll 15+ dice in their die pools.
Noted. I wonder if it is deliberate.

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Originally Posted by mlangsdorf View Post
Weapon damage for even medium range weapons without charm usage is absurdly high compared to armor and health, making combat unreasonably deadly.
Hmm. In the tutorial, I downed Crimson Rain in a single blow. I did throw all I had into it though, rolling 20ish dice.
Overwhelming, Hardness and Minimum Damage seemed to be the last straw of complexity. Though I suppose they're not that annoying once you're used to them.

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Originally Posted by mlangsdorf View Post
There's a huge gap between what the fluff says a character's ability should be and the game mechanical representation.
Hmm. In what direction? Generic WoD-inconsistent, or consistently lower effect than fluff?

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Originally Posted by mlangsdorf View Post
The charm trees are bloated, non-intuitive, and hard to remember, which leads to NPCs being nearly unplayable.
Ouch.

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Originally Posted by mlangsdorf View Post
I'd say the game is difficult to play as it is. Supposedly, the errata is making things better, but there's a lot of fundamental concepts that make extended campaign play difficult.
What exactly do you mean under those fundamental concepts?
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Old 01-03-2013, 03:40 PM   #4
Peter Knutsen
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Default Re: Exalted: something broken, or just different power level?

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Originally Posted by mlangsdorf View Post
The charm trees are bloated, non-intuitive, and hard to remember, which leads to NPCs being nearly unplayable.
Could this be because the unstated intent of the designers is that the GM should use a few highly detailed NPCs, as foes for the PCs, rather than a large amount of vaguely defined "mooks"?
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Old 01-03-2013, 04:14 PM   #5
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Default Re: Exalted: something broken, or just different power level?

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Originally Posted by Peter Knutsen View Post
Could this be because the unstated intent of the designers is that the GM should use a few highly detailed NPCs, as foes for the PCs, rather than a large amount of vaguely defined "mooks"?
It seems to be an assumption that Mooks are all Mortals anyway.

The Charm Trees are actually an appealing (in a way) idea, but it suffers from the same flaw that applies to WoW-style (pre-Pandaria) Talent Trees:

There are Desired Talents and Filler Talents. The other flaw is that some paths are just better, and some just worse, than others. E.g. you just never saw Bear-specced Druids in Vanilla.
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Old 01-03-2013, 07:52 PM   #6
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Default Re: Exalted: something broken, or just different power level?

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Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
It seems to be an assumption that Mooks are all Mortals anyway.
So the idea is that the PCs fight (or otherwise oppose) large hordes of mooks, who are not in any way individualized or defined in detail by the game mechanics, and then occasionally there's an interestnig fight against a detailed (and "named") NPC, one who makes use of the Charm Tree?

The whole "filler options" thing could be because Exalted has opted for a unit cost system, where all available choices cost 1 opportunity each, similar to the Talent Points in WoW or the Feats in D&D3 (or 4). I don't know if Exalted uses unit cost, but it's a reasonable guess to make. Systems which can assign different costs to different abilities, because they use varied point costs, such as GURPS or indeed dozens of other systems that use some kind of points, doesn't have to have that problem, with "filler" abilities".
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Old 01-04-2013, 08:57 AM   #7
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Default Re: Exalted: something broken, or just different power level?

On the fluff/ability difference, read the description of how your ability in Fighting or Athletics progresses as your die pool increases. 1 dot, you're kinda incompetent. 5 dots, you're a master. Now go through some typical challenges and see how much adding a 1-2 dice does for your success rate.

The game does assume that many of your enemies are going to be throw-away mortal mooks, but it also assumes (if play the default Solar option) that you'll be fighting Dragon-blooded soldiers, other celestial exalts lesser gods, freaky monsters, and possibly the Wild Hunt. As the GM, try managing a full elemental circle of semi-experienced dragonbloods: that's 50-80 charms, about 2/3rds of which are unique. That's a lot of complexity.

And while I understand the 15+ die pools was probably a deliberate choice, having people scrounge up enough dice, throw them on the table, and count out the hits seems like it would slow things down at the table. It's not impossible or unfeasible, but something simple such as house-ruling that you get the average number of hits for all but your last 10 dice would be a big help.

Finally, as to (some of) the fundamental issues that make long-term campaign play difficult: it's trivially easy to one-hit just about anybody if characters are optimized at all (ie, using artifact grand mauls and reasonable amounts of fighting/dex). So everyone needs to have a perfect defense available at all time to avoid getting splattered. Since you can only use one charm per turn, you either have to give up on all those cool charms or put them all in combos. This is not actually very interesting.

That's before you get into problems like since the sample NPCs do not have those kind of perfect defense combos, optimized PCs will tear through them like butter. So the GM needs to recreate all NPCs from scratch to make sure they're well matched against the PCs, which is a hugely difficult task because of the charm trees. It's a similar experience to playing high level D&D3, only most people are less familiar with Exalted than d20.

All of this can be (mostly) worked around with enough errata, house rules, and gentlemen's agreement at the table. But that's still a lot of work, and if you're picking up the game for the first time, my hope would be there's a better game for your purposes out there. Sadly, I don't know of one.
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Old 01-04-2013, 10:32 AM   #8
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Default Re: Exalted: something broken, or just different power level?

I've run Solars, Abyssals, and Dragon Blooded for years, first and second edition. I even have some freelance credits for Exalted (I'm responsible for Stygia, among other things). I waved farewell to the system before they started revising the game with the unofficial exalted 2.5, but I think I'm experienced enough to make some comments here:

Quote:
Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
However, I've heard negative comments about the system (not setting, system), and I think some or all of them here (I don't visit other WW discussions much if at all). So . . . is something actually broken/unbalanced/unplayable, or is it just a knee-jerk reaction against a system meant for high-powered characters?
Broken is a... strong term, though it might not be inaccurate. I think unwieldy would be better, but it does veer into broken territory.

The core system works fine, in both editions. You roll dice, they come up with numbers, you find out if you succeeded or not. Because it uses successes and you need to get X amount of successes on a (usually) static dicepool with a (usually) static tn, you get a nice bell curve, and we who play GURPS know how appealing a bell curve can be. So that works just fine.

Combat itself is pretty decent, even exciting. I hate the initiative system in 2e with a white hot passion, but that's personal tastes. I hear other groups got great use out of it (Personally, I think your "speed" should either be the result of your stats or your choice of maneuver, not what weapon you wield). But you get a decent cut and thrust going on.

The problem comes at high levels of gameplay, with the emergent gameplay that inevitably comes out of Charms. In 1e, you had to choose if you were going to attack or defend, or split between the two. But with Persistent Defense charms (like Fivefold Bulwark Stance), you could always defend against all attacks with your full defense pool. On top of that, you could layer another defense atop that, like Flow Like Blood, which meant you had your full parry and your full dodge against all attacks. Finally, you could load up on armor so you had an insane soak. I didn't see this come up often in Solar games, but it was routine in Abyssal games where Abyssals had access to tons of artifacts.

The net result were two super-powered guys hammering helplessly against one another's defenses. If an attack got through, it would ping uselessly against someone's armor, inflicting maybe 1 point of damage (out of their 10-20 HP). This meant you had fights that went on and on and on with nothing ever character, where tactics stopped mattering because people would just keep hammering one another, and nothing you could do, other than blast the other guy with an insane combo, would really do the job. And if he DID blast you with a big combo, you'd just perfect it away with something like Heavenly Guardian Defense.

2e attempted to fix a lot of this by revising how defense worked. You couldn't double up anymore, and basically everyone had persistent defenses, so the system turned on the notion of getting past that high defense. They also changed the minimum damage after soak based on the weapon, so hitting someone with a goremaul had a higher "damage floor" than hitting someone with a knife, and the result was that hitting someone became more doable and inflicting damage became easier. Fights became more decisive.

But 1e required the expenditure of a willpower for a perfect defense, while 2e did not. This, paired with improved Essence regeneration with stunts, meant two people could simply perfect away one another's attacks constantly, provided they had meandering stunt-descriptions of their attacks to regenerate the essence they spent stunting. We returned to the fights of two guys whaling on one another without seeing any change in the actual dynamic of the fight.

I'm simplifying (there are some other issues that require more nuance and a discussion of specific Charm sets), but it's not broken in the sense of, say, Scion or Rifts where the game simply stops working. It functions, arguably as intended, but the way Charms shapes emergent gameplay creates boring, stifling gameplay that violates the core premise of how the game should feel. You could call that "broken." I think that's a fair assessment. It doesn't give you the gameplay you'll want for that setting.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mlangsdorf View Post
The system is probably more mechanical complex than would be desirable for a high-powered, semi-narrative game.
It was never intended to be a narrativistic game. It was always mechanics-heavy. GC Grabowski was heavily inspired by games like Diablo II and Magic: the Gathering. He even referred to Charms as "the deck-building aspect of the game." That's much of the appeal of the game, in fact: You're cobbling together characters with unique combat and problem-solving approaches, which is something I very much like, but I think other games did it better (WotG, LotW).

Quote:
It also has some obvious issues, like expecting people to routinely roll 15+ dice in their die pools. Weapon damage for even medium range weapons without charm usage is absurdly high compared to armor and health, making combat unreasonably deadly.
But paradoxically, Exalted are extraordinarily difficult to kill. Thus even with all that insane deadliness, the game drags down because combat isn't decisive enough (Dragon Blooded are arguably the sweet spot, because they lack perfects and so can't just magic away attacks, but they're tough enough to take the nastier attacks in the game).

Quote:
There's a huge gap between what the fluff says a character's ability should be and the game mechanical representation.
I don't agree with this. Exalted are absolutely the army-slaying badasses portrayed in the fiction. There's a different problem, though, and that's if you follow both the fluff and the mechanics to their logical conclusion, it's pointless to play a Solar. When the game came out, it was supposed to be about these long-suppressed Solar Exalted returning to (attempt to) right Creation and return to the world to its golden age, and also to take revenge on those who had slain them. But the fiction emphasizes these supremely powerful elder Exalted, and the mechanics match it. Someone like Chejop Kejak is basically untouchable for a starting Solar, or even a highly experienced Solar, or really for anyone with less than Essence 7.

This actually created a retroactive problem in the fiction. The Exalted were created to defeat the Primordials, so the Gods Exalted mankind, and gave them cool weapons, and sent out what amounted to starting characters to defeat these cthulhu-like super-beings, and yet we're to believe they got EVEN MORE powerful with time? So either Primordials were pretty weak, or Solars were way cooler at the dawn of the first age, or Solars had WAY more training time than the book implied.

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The charm trees are bloated, non-intuitive, and hard to remember, which leads to NPCs being nearly unplayable.
Yes, and on two levels. First, high-powered NPCs have dreaded "Charm blocks," these unparseable lists of Charms in a wall of text. But even low powered NPCs have 5-10 charms each and are as nuanced and detailed as PCs. This makes them hard to track and run when one guy is running 5 NPCs vs 5 players each running 1 PC.

Quote:
Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
The Charm Trees are actually an appealing (in a way) idea, but it suffers from the same flaw that applies to WoW-style (pre-Pandaria) Talent Trees:

There are Desired Talents and Filler Talents. The other flaw is that some paths are just better, and some just worse, than others. E.g. you just never saw Bear-specced Druids in Vanilla.
Yes.
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Old 01-05-2013, 04:46 AM   #9
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Default Re: Exalted: something broken, or just different power level?

Note that there will be a new edition coming out this year, which will hopefully solve some of the problems. Details here.
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Old 01-09-2013, 08:44 AM   #10
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Default Re: Exalted: something broken, or just different power level?

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Originally Posted by Jürgen Hubert View Post
Note that there will be a new edition coming out this year, which will hopefully solve some of the problems. Details here.
I actually have high hopes for that. GC Grabowski is involved again, and the people actually writing it have shown they have some decent mechanics chops (and are willing to take criticisms regarding balance in stride, which is good).
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