“Sell Me on Exalted Third Edition” Thread Summary

Now that I’ve gotten the developer Q&A summaries up to date, I figured I’d look for other dev notes to compile. So here’s the relevant developer and writer commentary from July’s “[Sell me on] [Exalted+] Exalted Third Edition” thread on RPG.net.


DoctorDogGirl:
What is this Edition going to be ABOUT?

What will make it different?

And why should I pick it up along with all of its supplements? About the only thing I know of is the Liminal Exalted.

Holden:
There are a lot of answers to that. On the most simplistic level, it’s still Exalted. You’re still playing the Chosen of the gods in the desperate twilight of an age of magic, wonder, and heroes, warring for love and passion and greed and ideology among the ruined splendors of a lost age of even vaster glories.

On one level, it’s a re-focusing on the game as a pulp fantasy revival. EX2 experienced kind of uncontrolled scope creep and in a sense it became about whatever element of sci-fi or pop fantasy or weird fiction that any given writer wanted to pull into the game. EX3 pushes the giant cthulhoid monstrosities and exhaustive laundry-list of First Age car alarms to the margins to re-focus on greedy kings and desperate heroes and wicked sorcerers and petty gods as the foundational bedrock of play.

On another level, it’s a controlled expansion of the game’s scope. Creation is bigger, and there are more fantastic oddities out there at the edges of the world waiting to be uncovered than ever before, from the sorcerer-kings of the Dreaming Sea to the Lunar/Dragon-Blooded war over the shrines of the Caul.

We’ve worked to recapture the game’s old weird fantasy feel, when it was this forgotten age of base ambitions and lost magic, and anything might be lurking around the corner– when the Exalted themselves were not yet quantified and nobody felt like they had an encyclopedic command of everything in the setting. Thus the new Exalts, the expanded map, the new West, the loose gods, the Ten Fathers of Volivat, the White Elixir, the thing that has awoken beneath Gloam.

System-wise, the game was re-built nearly from scratch to express the kind of game Exalted was always trying to be, without the hamstringing problem of trying to run a game of epic cinematic action and intrigue on a slightly-to-moderately overhauled version of the Vampire: the Masquerade engine. It has fairly tight balance, better scaling, and a hard focus on tactile communication of the feel of Exalted. According to most of the people who’ve gotten to try it out, it succeeds at those goals admirably.

You should pick it up because a) it does Exalted better than anything else has previously done Exalted, b) it’s full of new expanded coolness, and c) the supplement cycle is also full of new coolness.

Also 3e sorcery rocks and is full of flair, personal style, and functionality, rather than being this half-baked character trap that draws you in with the promise of coolness but doesn’t quite deliver. There’s that.

DoctorDogGirl:
Thank you, Holden!

Much appreciated and that clarifies quite a few things.

One thing I’m worried about is that I really thought Exalted was the one setting which emphasized, almost to the point of becoming a selling point, that they were movers and shakers in society. Exalted was a setting you couldn’t Metaplot because the idea was that the PCs would be changing things left and right: destroying Gem, breaking the Great Curse, slaying gods, overturning dynasties, and so on.

I’m curious what the expected power-level for the setting is going to be, honestly, and how that will affect the kind of stories to be told. One of the interesting things I discussed with my players was that you had the Terrestials for stories about Conan and the Gray Mouser, the Solars for Hercules and Monkey, and Lunars for….well, okay, Werewolf: The Apocalypse.

I’m curious what sort of power level the developers see for Third Edition and the kind of adventures Solars are expected to do. Be they, “We do the impossible” in figurative terms (“You stole the Perfect of Paragon’s harem!?”) or literal (“We slew Silence today!”). I’m also curious how the developers intend to handle game-balance between the various types of Exalted as the Tiers of Solar/Abyssal>Lunar>Sidereal/Alchemical>Dragonblooded thing was kind of built into the setting for better or worse.

I thought better, others thought worse.

Holden:
Well, you’re playing the reincarnations of the guys who slew and/or imprisoned the makers of the world and then brought all of Creation to heel for thousands of years of glorious golden hegemony. You are still those guys. But most of your works have crumbled to dust in your absence, and there are a whole set of different badasses sitting on your thrones. You may want to do something about that!

EX3 is a game where a starting Dawn can absolutely break armies single-handedly, but can also be brought down by a heroic archer in the moment he stops paying attention or treating his foes like real threats. Wrestling an angry gorilla into submission with your bare hands is an impressive feat rather than something not even worth breaking out the dice to resolve. Octavian is beatable, but very scary. Basically, the scope of accomplishment the game offered in previous editions is still there, but the cruise-control aspect that was somewhat present in 1e and really bad in 2e is gone– you don’t hit E4 and then get to just put up some scenelongs and turn your brain off as you smash the entire setting (absent the odd Deathlord) into jelly any more.

sakii:
This is something that i still cant understand. How can you single handed destroy an army and hava a challenge wrestling an animal??

Eric:
This attitude downplays how powerful and terrifying many animals can be.

Vance:
Single-handedly destroying an army isn’t exactly a trivial feat, either.

Lea:
Yeah, animals are dangerous. D&D’s traditional “Half as many hit dice as an owlbear, no fancy supernatural powers like troll regeneration or ghoul paralysis, claw/claw/bite attack routine, exchanges blows until dead” representation does not exactly live up to real the real historical or mythic mystique attached to, say, the Tsavo Man-Eaters.

Lea:
One of the disadvantages of traditional combat abstraction a la D&D is that things like gorillas and crocodiles, by themselves, are difficult to model in an interesting fashion. In many RPGs, something like a crocodile’s bite-grapple-roll would be modeled as, well, a bite attack, which you are free to narrate however you want… but which in the mechanics isn’t very fearsome — it’s hard to get worked up about a crocodile bite when you’ve just fought a young adult dragon, which has that same bite but with a higher to-hit and damage number, and also the dragon had a wing buffet and a breath weapon and some spellcasting it could vary its combat routine with. This contributes to people thinking of animals as mooks — if a combat opponent doesn’t have something exceptional (that is, modeled-in-an-exception-based-fashion, in the manner of breath weapons or a paralysis touch) to bring to the table, then who cares?

Exalted Third Edition most assuredly doesn’t have this problem. An army and a pair of lions bring different things to the table, and there are characters who would prefer to face one and characters who would prefer to face the other. We’ve ensured that even things that don’t have explicitly supernatural powers can be tactically interesting and a challenge to face. Which is really handy once dinosaurs enter the picture!


Yama Dai O:
Does the new game drop, retain or have a new angle on the CCG elements of first edition?

Vance:
As a long-time Magic: the Gathering fan, I think, subjectively, that it feels more like playing a CCG than Second Edition did (I never played 1E). While there isn’t a systemized mechanic for combos, the synergies between Charms and strategies that arise from them are still very much a thing, and the dynamic “flow” of momentum in combat creates an element of change that is similar to drawing a new card every turn. I can make my Dawn Caste an “aggro” fighter whose goal is to build up for a first-round alpha strike, or I can go for a more “control”-oriented build that plays the long game, and both have their strengths and weaknesses.

Holden:
There’s a lot of tactical depth to EX3*, which owes something to the CCG ambitions of 1e, but also a lot to fighting games and other stuff. 1e and 2e, for all the big Charm lists, never had much in the way of tactical depth, since the intended play tactics revolved around “force or trick the opponent into making a mistake,” where the mistake was very obvious (leaving yourself with no defense) and completely avoidable at all times by just doing the same thing (using a Combo with your defenses in it).

EX3 has a lot more moving parts and elements to worry about, less binary tools to manipulate them, and way more options to choose from. It is also hugely, hugely skewed toward group combat tactics, rather than 1v1 tactics that just happen to be taking place in a crowded room as was the norm with 1e and 2e. During the playtest, I could tell you with 100% accuracy which feedback emails were coming from people reading the packets and either theory-crafting scenarios or running small set-piece tests, and which ones came from people actually playing at a table, because the tactical paradigm transformed completely for the latter, and things that looked useless in white-room duels became powerhouse game-changers in group fights.

*I try not to toss that out as an idle boast. Many games claim tactical depth, but in my experience very very few actually deliver it.

taichara:
Goddamnit. There goes the long-held-in-abeyance plans of a single-player campaign for my flatmate, sounds like >_<

Holden:
Nah go ahead with that. The game plays very differently, but it doesn’t stop working.

MemoryBeast:
I’m fascinated by this. I know you can’t give detailed mechanical information, but is it possible for you to speak in general terms about some of the “tells” that showed which groups were actually playing and which were just theorycrafting? No specific Charms or anything, just the general tactics and options that reveal themselves in play but not in white-room?

Holden:
In MMO terms, imagine the difference between getting feedback from three groups that are trying to clear dungeons with five Mages, and one group that has discovered that one guy can ‘tank’ for everyone else, if someone else heals him. Tactical specialists open up all kinds of doors you just don’t see if everyone tries to build their character as a self-contained solo combatant– although even if they do that, the group that fights together and pays attention to what’s going on across the whole battlefield will trump the one that just pairs off into self-contained duels, almost every time.


DoctorDogGirl:
I mean, *I* play Solars and I use Dragonblooded but maybe, just maybe, I’d want to do an Alchemical game.

J. H. Frank:
Then you’d have to wait until the Alchemicals book, just like second edition. Or, come to think of it, first edition.

DoctorDogGirl:
True but I suppose the larger question is whether or not it might have been better to present the various Exalted options upfront.

Holden:
That would have definitely been better.

Also, impossible.

Alas.

Isator Levie:
Autochthon, Alchemicals and Warstriders will surely be in the game at some point, but… even discounting that the last one will be in the first place, they’ll hardly be part of the core experience of the game, and never have been.

I mean, what, does one need an assurance that Alchemicals are going to be in a book eventually before one consents to play games of Solars and Dragon Blooded and a couple of the others fighting for love and glory amidst the beautiful and merciless Creation? On what, a matter of principle?

Or is one not going to play those kinds of games in the first place, in which case the core book wouldn’t be useful for much anyway.

IntegralENT:
How about one eschews playing a game of Solars and DBs cause one does NOT WANT TO play a game of Solars and DBs, but wants to play a game with Alchemicals that doesn’t feel like it’s been tacked on as an afterthought?

Holden:
One will have to wait several years, until that supplement comes out.


Mengtzu:
I think it’s useful to understand Ex3 as not wanting you to invest less time in mechanics, but rather getting a significantly better return on that investment.

Unless you’re a GM, it does really want you to spend less of your life statting NPCs.

Holden:
This is entirely in line with what we tried to do with the game, yes.

Isator Levie:
Surely GMs are the only people who need to spend their time statting NPCs, and would certainly appreciate getting to spend less time doing it?

(I know that your sentence is meant to read “it doesn’t want you to invest less effort in character building unless you’re a GM who’ll want to easily make NPCs; this is what semicolons are for )

Holden:
He means that the only people it wants to invest less time in mechanics than previous edition are GMs, who will no longer be required to blow 15 hours on prep work for their game each week.


Lea:
I think if you’re in the position where personality mechanics like Limit seem obviously and axiomatically terrible, it can be difficult to hear “New, improved edition of Exalted!” and not assume “Okay, if their claims of improvement are true, they’ll be removing the obviously and axiomatically terrible bits.” See also: People who don’t like exception-based power-sets.

Nihnoz:
The only thing I can confidently declare obviously and axiomatically terrible in 3e is using different resources for chargen and advancement. That’s easy enough to houserule out, though.

AliasiSudonomo:
Also, it’s not ‘obviously and axiomatically terrible’. If your desire is to encourage a starting character to buy more of thing A than thing B, and to encourage acquiring thing B as a result of play, then it makes perfect sense to use a different scale in each case and at that point, you might as well call the two different currencies different names, too. The explicit advice on how to spend your bonus points gives that a lot of validity in my eyes. Now, that doesn’t mean I agree with it, necessarily – one of my first house rules will be to replace the geometric XP costs with something flatter, most likely, as my group does now – but it’s still not axiomatically wrong.

Black Flag:
Yeah, it helps to keep in mind why certain things are thought of as bad. Having multiplicative XP costs in combination with flat costs in character creation strongly encourages min-maxing. The thing is, in Exalted characters are kind of supposed to be min-maxed out the gate, since these are people with extraordinary skills in certain specific areas. So, annoying as it might be in something like WoD (hence their making it all flat in 2e), in Exalted it at least makes a kind of sense.

As for the other stuff, it never ceases to amaze me how many people were hoping that the new and improved Exalted would be made for people who didn’t actually like Exalted to begin with—or who kind of liked the idea of it but none of the actual particulars.

Kath:
The problem is less encouraging min maxing and more that it favours certain character concepts over others. And when I say ‘favours’, I don’t mean ‘is 5% more cost effective”, I mean “is 50% more cost effective”. This means that a player who picks a sensible but not system-favoured concept can be sessions and sessions and sessions behind in xp compared to someone with a system-favoured concept. By my rough calculations, the difference between the best and worst chargen choices if 50+xp, in a game where you get about 6xp per session. How is it fun to have someone be almost 10 sessions of xp down on another character?!

If the game genuinely wants to encourage people to build specific types of characters in character generation, that’s fine – just outright remove the newbie trap options, rather than keeping them in to preserve the illusion of choice. D&D 3.0 is often justifiably criticised for including deliberate trap options, but the degree of asymmetry you see with Exalted’s chargen is just as much of a deliberate trap as the Toughness feat.

For example, rather than giving a bunch of bonus points to spend as you want, why not limit them to the options that are favoured by the system? Being transparent in your rules is a good thing, and only makes the game easier and more fun to both run and play.

Holden:
1) Sometimes people want to make a thing. I would prefer to let them know what it is they’re buying, and then let them buy it if that’s still what they want.

2) This was a huge problem with EX2 because there was a certain way to build that let you crush the game, and a bunch of other ways that got you humiliatingly destroyed, and little space inbetween. This is not a problem EX3 has– just picking the stuff that describes the guy in your head will produce a powerful, effective character nearly every time.

Holden:
This is about the seven thousandth time someone has tried to do the chargen argument. The book’s text was set in stone back in January. This is a + thread. I’m really not interested in arguing about it.

Mattheq:
I’m not really trying to convince you, I just think it’s very strange you that you don’t seem to see the issue.

Holden:
Okay. I’ll bite. It won’t make you happier– it never does– but you pushed for it.

It’s a complex issue with a really obvious-looking first-contact summation which happens to be mostly wrong, but which most people fix on and never move past. I’m aware of everything you’ve said, and it’s the conclusion set that is arrived at after five minutes of looking at the issue. We’ve put probably twenty or thirty total hours of in-depth design tinkering and discussion into this subject. (Add in all the “Holden idly works the angles while taking a shower” time and that total triples or quadruples.)

The fact that I don’t share your conclusions is not the result of not understanding the subject, or failing to examine it.

I would like to leave it at “read the book, follow the chargen instructions and advice provided, and your entire group will end up with powerful, effective characters that match the concept you want to play and that will make you happy” and leave it there, because walking through the whole design-side breakdown of chargen and advancement from first causes to full ramifications for the thirtieth time is really exhausting.

I will say that we didn’t receive any playtester complaints about wild efficiency disparities stemming from chargen decisions, out of a pool of a couple hundred playtesters ranging from 2e veterans to first-time roleplayers. Think hard about that, because I can assure you the playtest pool 100% absolutely included people who hate Bonus Points.

Mattheq:
Okay. If you say you’re confidant character gen will work fine, I believe you. I’ve got a lot of hopes for the new edition, and I known very little about it so I’ll wait and see. It’s simply that the way you were responding made it seem like you were not aware of the degree of disparity possible in earlier editions, and that concerned me.

Thanks for responding.

Holden:
Even in earlier editions, the problem tended to be heavily misidentified, simply because it was easy to isolate as a thing and most reasonable human beings don’t want to spend countless hours dissecting failure states in gigantic complex rule-sets. Usually it was getting pointed at and blamed when the real problem was “certain informed character builds are orders of magnitude more powerful and useful than 98% of other builds,” and this remained true even if you built out of a huge bundle of XP. Give me totally flat and normalized creation-advancement rules, drop me in with a group of four other people who are all first-time players, and in 2nd edition, I can still build a character that can kill the entire rest of the group single-handedly without breaking a sweat. The fact that I can squeeze out more Ability dots than the guy who goes “KROG WANT MORE CHARMS” is the smallest variable influencing this result, but it’s also the easiest one to isolate, so it got to carry all the blame. The real problem is that the system itself was heavily exploitable in ways that were unintuitive to a first-time player, had lots of dead-ends that were not marked as such, and had lots of rules bits that didn’t actually do what they claimed they did (Flaws of Invulnerability, Intimacies).

Or to put it another way, this was a problem EX2 shared with D&D 3.5, which had completely flat and even creation and advancement. Uneven builds were not the real problem; the game containing shitloads of trap builds was real the problem, which uneven builds could exacerbate.

The real biggest problem with 2e chargen and advancement (and 1e chargen and advancement, too, but 1e didn’t have as much additional shit compounding the issue) is that some of the pricing was not only wildly out of whack with both advancement and the utility of the stats in question, but they then imposed a steep “character concept tax.” Virtues were the worst offender, followed by Essence and Willpower.

Edit: Also, that one “problem” was SO MUCH easier to “fix” than the problem of “the Charms are unbalanced, perfects are misconceived, the weapon and armor stats are all wonked, the combat engine is slow because it has two competing go-fast mechanisms, and the social combat rules don’t work very well.” The issue was that “fixing” that one “problem” didn’t significantly improve play once you did it, because it wasn’t the real culprit, just a minor amplifying factor.

Solar:
One might suggest that what you are saying doesn’t actually explain why one would keep the divide, if it’s a minor problem compared to a far more encompassing balance issue (which I agree it was) it’s still a minor problem that needs solving.

Holden:
Because it had a host of benefits that we highly valued, once the problems it was aggravating stopped existing.


Phaide:
Do you suppose we (backers) might see the PDF of the book this week prior to Gen Con? That would sell me on it.

Holden:
I would love that, but the PDF is not quite there yet. (Like, the current proof draft I’m going over, half the QC stat block for the yeddim mysteriously vanished somehow. That seems like the kind of thing you would want to fix before proudly going HEY GUYS LOOK AT OUR MASTERPIECE, you know?) We’re getting it ready as fast as we can, though, and it’s very close, at long last.


PrinceOfSwords:
Now, we know that there are over 300 charms in the book and 15 or so charms at character creation. A barrier for my group in the past has been that keeping track of that many discreet powers can be intimidating, especially if we have only one copy of the book to share. How lengthy are the charm descriptions in 3x? Would a first time player be able to quickly look over the available charms, select the ones that appeal to them (and be reasonably certain they chose “correctly”) and record them quickly in such a way that they can look back 2 weeks later and kick the monkey king in the tooshy?

Holden:
We built specifically to enable that, yep.

The total number of Charms in the book is over 700. The total number any given character can actually choose from at chargen is probably more like 50-60.

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