The book landed on the table in front of me with an authoritative whomp. The cover art was kind of cool, but the slightly mad look of the person who had tossed it to me was a little...intimidating.
“You want to tell stories? This game will make you tell stories.”
I was intrigued, despite myself. I didn’t know three of the five people I was going to be playing with, and I really didn’t like one of the other two. Still, it had been a long time since I had sat down and chucked dice. I took a character sheet and a deep breath. Why not?
That first Exalted 3E campaign was not a hundred percent successful, but it opened my eyes to the possibilities intrinsic in the system. I read through the fluff (aka the non-mechanical bits) and got really interested. Sure, there was a base storyline to use, but like looking into a fractal, I saw so many more possibilities...so, despite the unsuccessful first campaign I tried a second, using the lessons I had learned.
That game worked a little better, although the DM was a little more dictatorial in his storytelling and at least two of us got really frustrated. It was itching at me - the system was so good, but the games weren’t clicking. It felt stilted, awkward, like it wasn’t firing on all cylinders. It was almost there. I could see what I was looking for, the glint of the diamonds in the dross.
So, like all people with my personality flaws, I decided to take the reins myself, and I haven’t looked back since. If you have a group of people who are roll-players and not roleplayers, this system will either infuriate them beyond belief or teach them how to breathe life into those character sheets.
After a year’s DMing, I come to you, in this season of giving, with a passionate avowal of my love for Exalted 3E. Without further ado, Gentle Reader, I give you: seven reasons you should be playing Exalted immediately, forthwith, and NOW.
1) If You Can Think It (And Rationalize It), You Can Do It
Want to be a mason or blacksmith who creates with the skill of a goddess and has a literal fire elemental powering her forge? No problem. The assassin with a tongue of silk and the blade skills of a Jedi on cocaine? Sure thing. A brute force murder machine for the forces of the Unconquered Sun who could probably beat the Hulk in an arm-wrestling contest? There’s a charm for that.
While there is a great story involving the Scarlet Empress and the Unconquered Sun, the Immaculate Order and primal Luna, they are merely jumping-off points, with the only exception being that someone Immortal (Unconquered Sun, Luna, one of the Abyssal Death Lords, one of the Great Dragons, etc.) has to be at the base of your Exaltation. Why is this? Because you’re an Exalted - a Chosen of the Unconquered Sun, Chosen of the Moon, a Dragon-blood, a Deathknight (chosen of the Death Lords, referred to as an Abyssal for short), or the like. That designation literally tells you what charm schools are open to you.
Beyond that, you can use as much or as little of the nominal setting as you would like. For example, my current game has a very Egyptian feel to it, with a Solar Exalted who happens to be the high priestess of a necromancer cult and her Lunar mate, who has traveled with desert shamans who bear a striking resemblance to Bedouins. None of that has a single blessed thing to do with the rest of Creation - the name of the world of Exalted.
2) Exalted Has A Built-In Mechanic To Reward Roleplay For Experienced And New Players Alike
We’ve all (hopefully) seen some fantastic roleplay around our tables in our time, and sometimes, no matter how good the roleplay, the dice just aren’t on your side, or it’s in a skill you don’t have a lot of dots in. If you roleplay well enough, and your DM and other players agree, you can earn automatic successes, extra dice, and other DM goodies through “stunting”. This is basically a process in which your tablemates reward you for good roleplay by improving your chance of success.
Look, I’ll be the first to admit, it can be hard to improv when the spotlight is on you. Exalted has actually helped me to get better at doing the talking with the mouth and not the fingers (the curse of the writer). It’s easier to practice when you get a little treat every time you do something well. For example, if one of my players does something cool, I will ask for a stunt vote from the other players. If they vote yes, the player doing something gets a treat. If not, they know they need to work a little harder.
3) The Stunting Mechanic Is A Fantastic Way To Get People Moving From Roll-play To Roleplay
If you don’t stunt well enough in certain situations (like a priestess praying to get the attention of the Unconquered Sun to save her from certain doom) the NPCs might not pay attention to you - so make it epic.
“I pray to the Unconquered Sun to help me. I roll eight D10 for performance and charisma, with an automatic two successes from my charm.”
Result: 4 successes and a facepalm. Your dice hate you. Those stupid monks are going to crucify you in the name of the Immaculate Order.
“O great and merciful Lawgiver, keeper of the warmth of Heaven, guardian of Creation, hear your humble servant’s plea in her hour of need. You, who imbue your Chosen with all of Your gifts to carry out the will of Heaven, hear our prayer for Your strength and guidance.Your illuminating light frees those unfortunate souls trapped in thrall to the Immaculate Order, You who granted Creation to humanity in Your infinite generosity and wisdom. Free these souls that they may find their reward in the Underworld and their mourners may heap prayers in Your name for Your endless purifying mercy.” (actual in-game stunt, voted as a Level 2 stunt - 2 extra dice and two automatic successes)
Result: 4 successes from dice and charm, plus 2 more dice to roll and two more automatic successes from stunt reward. Roll 2 new dice: 2 more successes, including two tens (which reroll, generating two more successes). Ten successes (and impressing the DM) resulted in the Unconquered Sun standing up from his game in the Jade Pleasure Palace and hurling his spear into a small city for no apparent reason except that one of his Exalts, a homely priestess from a wide spot in the road in a valley that no one had ever heard of, asked him to. This manifested as a massive bolt of divine lightning striking the Priestess and radiating outwards. When the light faded, his spear was visible for just a moment at her feet before it disappeared from whence it came.
The monks were obliterated (as was the temple the group was standing in and a fair bit of the surrounding countryside) and now the priestess can say “do you want me to pray about it?” and the other party members fall over themselves to “oh gods don’t let Bruna pray!”
Because my DM is a fair and reasonable person (and needed an excuse to make a time jump), at the end of the scene, Bruna was knocked into a divinity-inflicted coma for six months. That’s what happens when you channel a god, kids. Prayer is dangerous, m’kay?
4) The World Of Creation Is Infinitely Malleable
Need a desert setting? Head south, near the Elemental Pole of Fire. Pick any spot you like on the map, or create a new one. Want to be a privateer or pirate? Into naval battles, maybe? There’s plenty of ocean around the Blessed Isle. Forests so deep you could get lost forever? Head east, towards the Elemental Pole of Wood. The Elemental Pole of Air guards the frozen north, while the Elemental Pole of Water is far to the west, where the land breaks up into a nigh-uncountable number of islands.
There are cities held up by colossi, a lost city that floats in the air, trading posts and camps, and rarefied culture and traditional fantasy cityscape on the Blessed Isle, the residence of the Scarlet Empress.
In short, if you have an idea, there’s a landscape for that.
5) Lunars, Solars, Dragonbloods, Oh My
Want to be a man who turns into a direbear, a roc, a Siberian tiger, and, after some spectacular rolls and stunts, a large dragon? That’s a Lunar - if you can ritually hunt any kind of animal and drink its heartsblood, you can turn into it….IF you have the charms for it.
How about playing someone descended from the lines of the Noble Dragons? Someone descended from the Dragon of Wood, for example, might smell faintly of roses and have a very faint woodgrain pattern on their skin. Dragon-Bloods that are chosen by the Unconquered Sun are in in for a world of trouble, but they can be immensely rewarding to play.
(Author’s note: Exalted 3E as published in the base book does not provide stats or charms for Lunar players or Dragon-Blood players specifically, although Dragon-Blood can use almost anything that a Solar Exalted can use. We made do with adaptations from the 2nd Ed. Lunar book. Onyx Path has said they will be publishing a Lunar book, along with a Dragon-Blood book, What Fire Hath Wrought, but there’s no release date available yet for either of them. The Internet is full of useful make-do solutions in the meantime, many quite well thought out and eminently useable.)
Bear in mind, if a Lunar is the only Lunar in a Solar game, she is likely seeking her Solar “mate” - for every Solar, there is a Lunar, because Luna won’t let the Unconquered Sun (aka “that shiny bastard” in our game) get an advantage. The same would apply for the only Solar in a Lunar game - she may be looking for her Lunar mate. This does NOT necessarily mean consort/lover! In fact, the older Lunars often try to kill their Solar mates. Nor are the Lunars always of the opposite sex - a Lunar mate may be the best battle brother a Solar could ask for. It is a fun little wrinkle to play out, if you have a group that enjoys that kind of intragroup conflict.
6) Charms For Days
The Exalted 3rd Edition book is 659 pages, and a solid 250+ are pages of charms and evocations. There’s a charm for damn near everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING.
This is where you can really customise your game, DM, by choosing what charms your players can take. Playing with a bunch of kids? Super easy to keep stuff G-rated. War charms, Performance charms, Medicine charms, Martial Arts charms - all perfectly cool for the under 18 set or those who prefer to keep things in the G-PG range.
For the rest of us, there’s a small but interesting section devoted to sex charms, and an interesting supplement called Scroll of Swallowing Darkness that is DEFINITELY NSFW and not for those under the age of 18. Read at your own risk. It’s for Exalted 2E but has some things we have worked into our game as well. Remember the Red Rule and Rule Zero, but go forth and get as gloriously R-rated as you like. After all, this is a world where there’s a type of demon that likes to skin her victims alive, then make them watch as she carves beautiful designs into their flayed skin.
If you have the right group for it, go for it - even the Iliad and the Odyssey had sex in them, and there’s this little underground series of books called A Song of Ice and Fire...
7. Combat That Is Actually Interesting To Listen To
Look, I loathe sitting around in two-hour-long combats knitting and providing color commentary. It gets boring, okay? Seriously. Especially if someone just says “my character does x and y and z, then adds X bonuses, and Y feats, and Z weapons, so I roll infinity-minus-1 dice. What do I get?”
But, if everyone is on board with the stunting mechanic, and understands that they are playing god-touched characters, and has a reasonable grasp of their charm schools, it can be like listening to an audiobook narration of a character doing something awesome. At my table, we have gotten to listen to a Lunar hunt down a dragon with the help of his Solar mate, and I would almost swear you could feel the blood spatter as he ripped out the dragon’s heart and drank.
We had a trickster NPC Sidereal Exalted called Twisted Fate that used a pack of starmetal playing cards to turn a room full of people about to attack the priestess and the ninja (who had a problem with her dice not wanting her to be stealthy) into a literal thin red mist with occasional chunks.
I will admit that if you have a DM who insists on making all rolls separately (when attacking a group of low-level soldiers, for example) it can get tedious. In cases like this, I follow the Rule of Common Sense: make one roll, apply to all opponents, then split damage as the player would like. It lessens my paperwork and streamlines the entire process.
Gentle Reader, I was reluctant to embrace Exalted, but once I did, I haven’t regretted it for a moment. It’s an excellent introductory game for players who might not want the standard sword-and-board of D&D, or who aren’t fans of Star Wars, or, like me, intensely dislike most of the other options available because there’s too much crunch and not enough story.
You want to tell stories? This game will make you tell stories.
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a corporate employee while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.
Picture Reference: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/313563192789012620/ . Art is from the Exalted 3rd Edition core book.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.