Earlier this year, the PDF and print on demand versions of Exalted 3rd Edition were (finally) released. For mega-fans like myself and my gaming group, this was a time of measured exuberance. I immediately began to pour through the text of the new edition, searching for changes to the setting and system. Creation hasn’t changed overmuch. The Solar Exalted are still feared by the Realm, the Scarlet Empress is still missing, and the Sidereal Exalted are still fate-altering jerks. Only relatively minor alterations were made to the world map and history of Creation. The systems, however, have changed significantly. Additions or wholesale substitutions have been made to character creation, combat, social interactions, and much more. Today, I’ll be sharing five such changes so as to explore what really sets 3rd edition apart from its predecessors.
1 . Combat
Those who’ve played 2nd edition Exalted almost certainly know about the ten steps of combat. Meticulously crafted and detailed, the combat system outlined a specific step for every instance of conflict, from the attacker rolling the dice, to the defender declaring charms, even counterattacks (which could have you repeated several steps), all just for one tick on the initiative chart. While certainly well crafted, the ten steps system was very hard for new players to get into and made for some relatively long combat sessions where little “in game” activity actually occurred. This system has been completely replaced within the newest edition. The creators, by their own admission, were heavily influenced by the combat within Square Enix’s Dissidia: Final Fantasy. As such, most attacks the characters make against one another aren’t aimed at wounding their opponent, but instead gaining the upper hand in the fight. This causes fights to play out much more cinematically, with blows putting defenders off balance or setting the attacker up for a finishing strike. Each successful “withering” attack steals initiative from the defender, and when the attacker finally believes they’ve gained enough of an advantage, they may make a “decisive” attack to finish off their adversary. In my opinion, the writers accomplished their goal of creating a brand new (to tabletop RPGs, at least) combat system that delivers a truly unique, cinematic experience, especially coupled with the return of the Stunt mechanic. Does it have its share of problems and limitations? Of course, like any system. However, I believe it’s a positive change overall.
2 . Intimacies and Social Rolls
While intimacies existed in 2nd Edition, they were often used as character-establishing traits and nothing else. The new edition utilizes these interpersonal connections and strongly held beliefs more directly, and showcases them as the centerpiece of their social conflict system. Want to make that Dragon-Blooded lieutenant bother someone else? Roll to discover one of her intimacies, then roll again to exploit it. Through social skills and Charms, characters now focus on dismantling or building up intimacies that they can then use to get the bearer of said intimacies to do what they want. For example, if an Eclipse Caste Solar Exalt wants to get the local regent of a southern city-state to go to war with one of their allies, he’d first have to use his skill (often supplemented by charms) to build up a negative intimacy within the regent regarding the allied city-state. The Solar could even use the regent’s existing intimacy of “protect my people” by insisting that their allied city-state will pose a threat to his citizens’ safety. Once this negative intimacy has formed, the Solar need only cite that intimacy while they make their impassioned plea for a righteous strike against the (former) ally. Success means that the regent goes to war. While it might seem a bit crunchy, the system strikes a good balance between roleplaying and game mechanics, and provides a believable set of steps necessary to convince someone to do something, or even undermine their most firmly held beliefs.
3 . New Exalted Types
While the character options in the first and second editions of Exalted were extensive, I’m happy to report that they’ve grown even greater in the newest iteration. While only the rules for creating a Solar are included in the Core book, details regarding new Exalt types such as the Liminal and Exigent are discussed at length, and a few details regarding their powers and castes are displayed as well. We learn also about the Getimian Exalted, new antagonists born from the rebellion of a maligned Sidereal Exalt. While details about some Exalted from second edition are not present (specifically those regarding the Green Sun Princes and the Alchemicals), I imagine they will return in later supplements.
Of these new additions, I must say I’m taken most by the ideas surrounding the Exigent Exalted. The sheer freedom to create not only a character with a unique history and personality, but also with a unique set of abilities and charms, is simply enthralling. Of all of the supplements expected to release for this newest edition, I am most excited about the Exigent book, which will detail all of the customization options for this eclectic Exalt type. I just hope that it comes sooner rather than later, considering the spotty release schedule this line has experienced already.
4 . Martial Arts and Sorcery
For those characters looking for a break from the basic charm systems related to various skills, there exist Martial Arts and Sorcery. In 2nd edition, Martial Arts ended up being extended or alternate melee charms that were most often (but not always) used unarmed. The Sidereal Exalted, the unequaled masters of esoteric martial arts, received the most benefit from these techniques, but others could benefit as well. The key differences presented in the new edition are armor restrictions for certain styles, mastery effects, and the requirement to buy a merit to access martial arts. In the previous edition, martial arts became a bit overpowered at a certain point. With these new balancing mechanics, as well as the mastery and Dragon-Blooded enhancements, Martial Arts has been transformed for the better.
Sorcery has seen some major improvements as well. The previous edition left sorcery in the lurch, to an extent. It wasn’t very useful in combat compared to charms, and the practical applications were typically reserved for niche effects or transportation. In this new edition, many of the spells return, albeit with a different system powering them. More spells have been added, enhancing the sorcerer’s repertoire. The most significant addition, however, is the “sorcerous workings” system. This allows a sorcerer to create or change almost anything they can think of, limited only by their imagination and their proficiency. Given enough time, a sorcerer can create minions from nothing, raise up cities into the clouds, or alter the laws of the universe. Here, sorcery really shines as a wholly separate power of great influence and importance.
5 . Evocations
For the Core book, no change has been more intriguing to returning players than the addition of the Evocations system. While previous editions included artifacts of great power and distinction, 3rd edition now let’s those artifacts have personality and increased utility. Like charms, Evocations are purchased with experience, but are tied specifically to an artifact weapon, set of armor, or other such item. The wielder or bearer of such an artifact grows with the item, unlocking its secrets and power over time. The sample artifacts and their evocations presented in the book clearly suggest that these objects are meant to have history and presence. As Solars are the masters of Evocations, I imagine most Storytellers will get a lot of use out of them during this edition’s early existence.
All in all, Exalted is still the same over-the-top, Anime style epic game of larger than life heroes accomplishing incredible things. While the new edition deviates in many ways, some positive, some negative, it still captures that same incredible feeling players experienced playing prior iterations. Let me know what changes you noticed, and what you think about them!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him out at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.