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Old 01-04-2013, 10:32 AM   #8
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Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: Eindhoven, the Netherlands
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:

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.

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).

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).

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.

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.

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.
My Blog: Mailanka's Musing. Currently Playing: Psi-Wars, a step-by-step exploration of building your own Space Opera setting, inspired by Star Wars.
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