Ask Robert Vance!

My fellow Exalted writer Robert Vance (aka “Robbles” or “Exigent of Puppies”) has generously volunteered to be the center of attention and answer questions from you, our many fans! Please post your questions in the comments below, and Vance will do his best to answer once he’s had a nap. As always, understand that we writers can’t provide substantive 3e spoilers.

Vance looks forward to hearing from you. Don’t be shy!

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110 comments

  1. Hello Vance, and thanks for taking the time to answer our questions! Since this seems to be the first comment, could you start by telling us what Exalted (or other RPG stuff) you’ve written before, what you worked in the new 3rd ed Core, and if you’re working on anything else (such as other Exalted books due for later release) now?

    1. I’ve written for

      • Compass of Celestial Directions: Autochthonia
      • Masters of Jade
      • like, exactly one Ink Monkey post
      • big chunks of 2.5 errata
      • Shards of the Exalted Dream

      I wrote a bit of everything in Ex3, to be honest. The big system-level things I worked on were the social influence mechanics, the rough beginnings of the combat movement system, and miscellaneous things like poison rules and various uses for Larceny. I wrote eleven martial arts styles as well as all of sorcery. I also wrote the Quick NPC rules, and, with help from Eric and others, the bestiary of animals, Exalts, and NPCs.

      Other stuff I’m working on:
      • Scion 2nd Edition
      • occasional bits and pieces for Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine that I’ve been sending to Jenna

  2. Well, with that intro, there’s a theme to which I feel obligated to adhere:

    Of the innumerable occasions on which you succeeded at, attempted, or considered including puppies where a writing assignment did not specifically call for them, which stand out to you as the most memorable and significant?

    1. I have included a puppy (broadly construed) in every book I have written for, and so far no one has called me out on it. Productivity rats were invented solely to fill the doglessness of the Realm of Brass and Shadows.

  3. And, with my manners now remembered — courtesy of that British arcanist — thank you Robert for being willing to answer our questions, Eric for offering this fine venue for such, and both of you for your work on EX3! Really looking forward to reading your contributions!

    Ooh, related question: Out of all you wrote in the core book, what 2-3 things give you the most pride?

    1. I think sorcery is by far the best design I’ve done so far, and it’s going to take a big’un to top it.

      I also did little snippets of mini-fiction that go before the descriptions of the Abilities, which was very fun to write.

  4. Whats going on with necromancy in 3e? Is it just another sorcery? Is it a totally different minion crafting system?

  5. Hmm…
    Hmmmm…

    Most of my questions about 3ed in general have already been answered (well, one answer was “We can’t tell yet”, but it’s still an answer)…

    Oh! Martial Arts!
    It’s been mentioned that, for example, Tiger Style and Ebon Shadow Style, or Crane and Snake Style go well together.
    Can you think of styles that go well with Black Claw?

    And, um…
    What’s the most “weird” charm you’ve written for 3ed? And what splat was it for (unless it was a MA or Evocation)?

    1. Black Claw pairs nicely with almost anything as long as you’re willing to fight bare-handed and play dirty, but I think Crane may have the best overall synergy.

      “Weirdest” goes to an Evocation I wrote for the moonsilver daiklave Nightmare Shard, which allows you to cut through illusions, false memories, and false utopias. It can be used only once per story, but it may reset in situations where you need it based on your Intimacies.

      1. Oh, I thought of a follow-up question!
        How well would Black Claw (“I’m so innocent!”) go with Dreaming Pearl Courtesan (“I’m so pretty!”)?

        Thematically, at least, they seem very compatible.

  6. Do sorcerers still go through the five stations, even if they get their sorcery from a ring or a devil living in their bones or something?

    1. The five stations aren’t mandatory. I think the need for the journey of personal transformation they fulfill is more than met by the sorcerous initiations, so I wouldn’t expect much to be made of them.

  7. Did anything you write get cut (substantially: I’m sure some sentences were cut, but I mean like charms, spells, MA styles, etc), and if so was it because it was bad, or because there wasn’t enough room, so it’ll appear in a later product?

    Can you tell us a bit more about Nightmare Shard? Sounds interesting. Is it in the Core?

    1. Heaven’s Ladder Style is gonna come back some day. I know I also had some NPC entries get cut, but don’t totally know which.

      NIghtmare Shard is slated for Arms of the Chosen.

    1. I’ll take this spot to thank Clayton Bell, aka Reminiscent Oasis, for helping me out on the megafauna antagonists with his astounding knowledge of prehistoric monsters. There’s a bunch of those. ^_^

  8. I’d like to ask about the transition from fan to writer for the game. How did that happen? Was it something you pursued of your own initiative, or were you invited by someone already working on it, or what?

    Is there any one particular Sorcery spell that is your favorite? Or maybe a few favorites?

    What about a favorite Spell/Charm/Evocation’s name?

    1. If you were reading the White Wolf forums way back then, I did almost near-daily homebrew threads. Eventually, Neph noticed one and started chatting with me, bouncing designs off me, talking me up to other writers, and then by the time Autochthonia came around, he, John, and Holden went to bat for me with Eddy. Lucky me!

      1. The most satisfying spell to write was Unity of the Closed Fist. It got pretty horrifically broken by the Twilight in my 2E game, so getting to wrestle its mechanics into form out of spite was satisfying.

      1. I assume the former would be their boss in the Hierarchy of Form, the latter would be their boss in the Hierarchy of Function.

      2. ….And now I’m thinking about the various ways that bureaucratic situation could shake out, including that Avanche, Shogun of Puppies, managed to sneak through a ruling that declared “puppy” to be a term describing all immature animals and thus managed to take over the Department of Baby Animals.

    1. I’ve been writing for House Tepet. The Shogunate-inspired spiritual and martial traditions they inherited from their namesake, the Empress’s consort and one-time enemy, are pretty swanky.

      1. D’you know anything about House Ledaal?

        I’ve got a scion of that House set to get some exposition in my Exalted comic sometime soon (read: in the next few months maybe, but quite possibly before the Dragonblooded books drop) and I’m trying not to outright contradict any Canon anyplace.

  9. Can you talk at all about if there are plans and anything about them for how 3rd Edition will handle elder Exalted characters (Chejop, leaders of the Silver Pact, etc)? I know there’s the desire for Charm trees to not just tier upwards in a way that leaves starting Exalted looking like they’re in the kiddy pool – but will elder Exalted still have some unique tricks of their own?

      1. Innnnteresting. I remember reading an interview/set of quotes when the developers said something among the lines of “We asked ourselves ‘what could an Essence 8 exalted do that another Essence 5 exalted of the same type couldn’t’ and the answer we had was ‘nothing’,” and how that helped them figure out their Ex3 vision for Essence 6 + stuff (that is to say, not with a whole other five levels of power in Charm progression).

        Can you say anything about the mindset of the team in regards to the Essence 6+ playing field for Ex3 at this time and going forward?

  10. Oh, I just realised the most important question of them all!

    …were Mercury’s and Venus’ colours finally fixed, or are Sailor Moon fans going to be disappointed for yet another edition? =P

    (And I dare you to give a more meaningful answer than “They have the colours they’re fated to have”)

      1. Holden makes a lot of noise about how bad Evangelion is and I have to fight him with knives over the ending (which, for the record, is great. The original one, and EoE).

        Utena never comes up in our Skypes, so I’d guess they haven’t.

      2. I like Evangelion as a work, but I still have reservations about the ending(s). I feel Utena does a much better job of delivering “the plot is wrapped up in meta and themes and surreal imagery” in a satisfying way.

        At some point I’d like to hear the Vance-fights-with-knives version of why the endings are great!

  11. As you wrote sorcery, could I ask you a bit about sorcerous workings?
    What sort of things did playtesters do with them?
    What sort of things did playtesters want/try to do with them, but couldn’t?

    Which is your favourite martial art?

    1. I wasn’t actually reading playtest feedback directly, so I can’t give you much there. However, when it comes to “things you can’t do with sorcerous workings,” there really isn’t a lot, especially for Solars. You can’t do time travel. You can’t do genuine raising the dead. You can’t do anything the Storyteller just straight up isn’t gonna let fly. Everything else can come down to negotiation, cooperation, and the dice.

      1. My favorite martial art is probably Crane, because it lets me take the “wuxia masters debating philosophy between attacks” imagery that got me into Exalted and finally actually have a style that wants me to do that in the game.

        Single Point Shining Into The Void is also a bit of a favorite, if only because of the sheer fact that I was able to write what I thought was an impossible style.

  12. A few more have struck me!

    1) Given a recent thread’s mention of Cup Boils Over… What is an impressive feat that a master of Solar Linguistics might accomplish with that skill?
    2) What Solar Ability Charm set (or two) do you feel is most improved over your impression of its 2e showing?
    3) Which of the magical materials do you feel creates artifacts with the coolest Evocation possibilities?

    1. Lore is awesome. One of my big complaints was that there weren’t any Charms that actually helped you play a scholar or a savant in 2E; you just had training, wyld-shaping, and Essence juggling.

      1. It’s a bit of a surprise, but orichalcum artifacts make for some really kick-ass Evocation themes. On the other hand, I haven’t ever found myself in a situation where a magical material just isn’t cool enough. Nightmare Shard is moonsilver; Gnomon is starmetal; Huskflayer is soulsteel; and there’s a bunch of jade ones I’ve written.

  13. Thanks for the answer. Why did you think Single Point Shining into the Void was impossible?

    What kind of characters are you really excited to play yourself in this edition, that you found bland/overly complex/dull previously?

    Is there anything you wrote for 2nd ed that wouldn’t work for 3rd ed, but which you’re glad wouldn’t fit 3rd ed?

    1. When John told me his basic vision of the style, it involved a specific mechanic, which I placed at the form, that completely broke my understanding of the combat system at the time. Very tricky!

    2. Gunstar Autochthonia definitely doesn’t work with Ex3, just because it’s going so far in the alternative direction of ultimate cosmic war that characterized the endgame of 2E. In terms of my canonical forays into Creation, I’m not sure anything in Masters of Jade would be contradicted, and Autochthonia is so far out I wouldn’t know if it was gonna be.

  14. Apart from removing bloodline Charms, were there any major revisions in Dragon Blooded Charm concepts during development?

      1. Blood apes summoned to do your taxes!

        To be Grandma’s exercise partner!

        To teach Junior how to ride a bike!

        To give the new folks on the block a warm welcome!

        To help with the season’s harvest!

        To throw an awesome Halloween party!

  15. Hey Vance!

    What’s your favorite Artifact in the Ex3 Core and why?

    What do you think of Solar Awareness in Ex3? Can you give your opinion on what makes it cool and desirable?

    1. Beloved Adorei has won me over mostly just by sheer charm, although I will never not love what you can do with Volcano Cutter.

      Ex3 Solar Awareness takes the idea of having advanced or superhuman sets of senses as the basis for the Charmset, just like in 2E, but unlike that, it then builds distinct trees coming out of each of them. This makes it possible for you to create multiple different “builds” of Awareness Charms to take out of character creation, and also allows you to use the charms to meaningfully define yourself as the eagle-eyed archer, the blind swordsman who hears his foes’ every movements, or a righteous sage who is beyond the deceptions of the wicked.

      Also, Eye of the Unconquered Sun is still boss.

  16. Lets go with something harder!

    Tell us about solar Integrity, Vance! What is it good for besides avoiding supernatural compulsions? Why should I make it my Supernal skill?

    1. Integrity, the Ability, is the discipline of mindfulness and of critically analyzing the world around you as you decide what to believe. Its Charms evoke the legendary dedication of epic figures like Gawain and Penelope, and let you as a player invest the Intimacies on your character sheet with greater power and narrative weight in choosing how you define yourself.

      It also has Integrity-Protecting Prana and other ways to slough off transformations and curses, which Holden’s compared to Nobilis’s wound system, so you know I am hella excited about that

  17. Let us assume briefly that I am really really into poisons.

    Tell me about them? Is there one that kills slowly and painfully and another that kills quickly and painlessly? Can I whip ’em up in a standard kitchen, or do I need a dedicated alchemy lab, or do I need to go harvest herbs from dangerous places and catch snakes and milk them?

    Also: Can my Orichalcum Chef craft delicacies carefully designed to cover the taste of poison? Are there poisons that don’t take effect so long as you’re getting the antidote regularly but kick in in a nasty way if you stop taking your medicine so I can blackmail people? Are there two-step poisons where you eat the harmless cheese you saw me eating and you eat the harmless wine you saw your friend drinking but when you eat them both together, bam! Poison?

    1. Reconciling poisons with the way damage works in Ex3’s combat was kinda tricky, but the end result is pretty clean. You can kill someone over months with arsenic, or start a fight against the Wyld Hunt off with a volley of curare arrows from your tiger-warriors to get an edge. You’re not going to beat a Dawn in single combat just because you’ve got a poisoned blade, but winning a fight and winning a fight while severely poisoned are two different things.

      Where do you get your poisons? Most of the ones I wrote up are real, so you could just wikipedia them, but I’m sure Creation has tons of plenty of other sources of nasty stuff.

    2. And your Orichalcum Chef is probably going to have a pretty easy time catching people off-guard with their poisonous feasts—unless they’ve got something like Keen Smell and Taste Technique!

  18. The Scabbard of the Living Weapon and the Forgotten Blade always were two of my favourite artefacts.

    I’m pretty confident that the later is going to return (unless it’s been forgotten), but the formers “Ignore mortal combatants”-effect might not mesh well with 3ed.

    Anything you can say about those two and if (and if yes, when) they make a return in 3ed?

    Also, Cup Boils Over is apparently so scary that asking about it is discouraged… are there any other fun tricks (read:charms) a Solar can learn that are less scary and more acceptable to spoil?

    1. I wouldn’t do the Living Scabbard as an absolute effect like it is in 2E, but I think it’s fruitful ground for Evocations. I know that one of my fellow writers has an Evocation write-up for the Forgotten Blade.

  19. Are artifacts still absolutely imperishable? Because I go back and forth about it.

    On the one hand, I don’t want to have to deal with sharpening and polishing my blade or whatever or generally have to worry about losing my evocations because someone broke my sword and getting the storied blade of my legendary previous life is just awesome. So, I can see why it’s in there.

    On the other hand though, there are lots of awesome stories to tell about finding (or being) the legendary master who fixes the weapon you thought lost, possibly even making it more awesome in the process. And I don’t really want to give up that set of stories either.

    1. I’m going off the top of my head, so this could be wrong, but my understanding is that Ex3 artifacts don’t have the absolute level of invulnerability that 2E artifacts did. They’re still really dang tough and perdurant, but it’s not completely impossible to have things like reforging the shards of Narsil.

      1. Also, it was *always* possible to destroy artefacts. It took efforts, occasionally, and destroying an N/A artefact might be the centre of a story, but *everything* could be destroyed.

        Which is just one hand-wave away from “damaged, but repairable”.

      2. Artifacts must always have had some vulnerability, otherwise every amazing wonderous thing from the First Age would still be in working order and the Age of Sorrows would be less sorrowful.

  20. Soo, above, you said: “You can’t do time travel. You can’t do genuine raising the dead. You can’t do anything the Storyteller just straight up isn’t gonna let fly.”

    The last one is obviously the big one (and may, in some circumstances, override the other two, but that’s never going to be canon), but also the most “fuzzy” and table-dependant.

    For the other two, I have some questions…

    …in a manga (Omamori Himari, which I only mention because it’s where I stole my nickname), there’s a scene where a mage restores a heavily damaged legendary blade… by reverting the blade back to the state it was before it received said damage. She uses the same trick to course someone else into the body of a child, but that’s just temporary.
    Would something like that work? If you have the pieces of a destroyed blade, could you restore it through sorcery if there’s no crafter good enough around, or does that go to far? Or is that already so far up in “ST decides” territory that you wouldn’t make a general suggestion on whether it’s applicable?

    …what kind of “fake raising the dead” would be acceptable? Simply zombies? Or could I, for example, summon the ghost of the deceased and create a puppet-automaton for it to inhabit, creating a being with the body of an automaton but the mind of the deceased? Or am I, again, lost deeply in the jungles of “ST decides”?

    1. Unwinding the history to revert it to an earlier state sounds cool and is definitely within sorcerous working territory. Why wouldn’t it be? The kind of time travel that’s explicitly nixed is the kind of Homestuck and/or Doctor Who shenanigans where you go to a different point in time. That still leaves a lot of kosher temporal magic.

      As to raising the dead, you can get as clever as you want with souls and whatever. The only caveat is that no matter how clever you are, it’s not going to be enough to bring back the person who died. The most powerful sorcerer in the world might bind his beloved’s paired souls into a sapphire before it can even pass into the Underworld, grow a perfect biological duplicate of her body, take any additional steps you can imagine, but the end result isn’t going to be the person they loved. It’s going to be a new and different person. You can’t beat death.

      1. So, as I understand the “resurrection” restriction…
        Well, assuming the Dawn’s family heirloom blade got thrown into the void. Sure, the Twilight supercrafter made a perfect copy with each and every etch impossible to differ from the original, and nobody may ever be able to tell the difference (and even if someone was informed about them straight up, they may not believe that such a forgery would be possible), but it doesn’t change the fact that the *real* heirloom got swallowed by the void and the sword the Dawn uses is a forgery.

        But really, that gets to philosophical about the nature of identity, and I don’t want to play “Ghost in the Shell” if I don’t even get Sailor Moon colours =P
        If it came up, I’d probably try to avoid the issue ahead of time by binding their life to mine, 3×3 Eyes style. (Basically, “hiding their life in an egg”, similar to what was mentioned in an example somewhere, except the egg is me, so to kill them, someone would have to kill me. Also useful for creating highly motivated bodyguards.)

        All of this, of course, under the assumption that I don’t have to dodge flying books for proposing these things to the storyteller. Flying books tend to spell “no”.

      2. Isn’t there a contradiction in these two paragraphs? If I can wind back time (even locally), will that not also bring back those who died during that period?

  21. What’s going to be the rough ratio between Daiklaves and non-Daiklave Artifact Melee weapons in core and arms of the Chosen?

    Also, any cool and unusual throwing weapons you’re planning?

    1. In general, I think it’s slightly lower than it was, because we’re introducing more types of artifact weapons in the core and none of them are new variations on the daiklave. In terms of fully-written up, individual artifacts with Evocations, daiklaves are probably going to be a bit more prominent because swords=cool

      1. Swords also have the advantage of being pretty versatile.

        One of the PCs of my seafaring game has been gifted with an ironwood-and-orichalcum warclub made by his thunderbird mother; my plan for it is to have a lot of destructive, thunder-and-lightning, spirit-fighting kinda Evocations. Does this seem reasonable?

  22. Is there a Merit akin to the old Henchmen/Retainers Background, for when you want people who are more significant than Followers but weaker (and more loyal) than Allies?

      1. Coolio.

        On a related topic, sort of, what Allies rating would you assign to a nephwrack? I have… ideas.

  23. Following the discussion in the “Ask the Devs” thread on rpg.net (but not wanting to wade into rpg.net), it’s been stated that there is no hard and fast Bureaucracy system. How viable would it be to just plug CRM into 3rd edition and tweek to taste?

    1. I don’t think that’s an entirely statement. There is, in fact, a system for leadership and projects.

      If your table doesn’t like that, nothing stopping you from pulling out Creation-Ruling Mandate.

  24. Is there a artifact Warfan in arms of the chosen?

    Or an artifact god-kicking boot?

    PLEASE VANCE I HAVE SO MANY GODS TO KICK AND NO SPECIALISED FOOTWEAR TO DO IT WITH

  25. Who is your favourite E3 NPC?

    Are there more legendary animals native to Creation proper?

    Do gods still look down on Dragon-Blooded?

    Are mortal Akumas still a thing?

    Will thaumaturgy be worth the expense for the Exalted?

    Will Solars still gain XP faster and buy new powers cheaper than other Exalted?

    While resurrection is impossible, would it be possible to control the parameters of someone’s reincarnation and what memories they get of a previous life?

    1. It’s been confirmed that akuma aren’t a thing in general. The idea of selling your soul for power is still around, but the idea that it always manifests in one particular way is gone. Each demonic pact is going to be its own individual event with its own rules and restrictions.

  26. Hmm…
    Are there any war fans (I like playing diplomats, and war fans were invented as the “It’s totally not a weapon so I can totally bring it to the negotiation meeting, really!”-weapon, so that’s pretty much how I use them) with Evocations?
    I mean, they obviously exist somewhere in the setting, but are there any in the core/arms of the chosen/some other official book?

    And how high/low in the Solar charm tree would you place a charm that lets the Solar’s voice be clearly understood over any amount of ambient noise, even if the Solar merely whispers? (Or would that be inappropriate? The idea is that his speech is so clearly pronounced that its meaning can always be discerned, no matter how silent it is.)

    1. As to the Charm idea, I could see it potentially working in a Solar context—maybe Presence, or with the description you’ve given it, Linguistics?

      I could see it at Essence 1, within certain constraints. Speaking over the din of a war to direct your armies or carrying out conversation in the middle of a hurricane seems more like something I’d put in the 2-3 range, off the top of my head.

  27. I’ve been doing some reading on the great wiki of “What We Know” and I came across something that really interested me. Sidereals and Gods now having a relationship of reverence and respect. Is this still true or is this something that’s still a ways off to determine?

    I ask because I get this evocative image of while respectful, some may not like the others, and there is that veneer of civility over the boiling pot of conflict, waiting to run over.

    1. Heaven is still full of political intrigue, back-room dealing, and the general shenanigans it is known for. However, the Sidereals do hold a position of honor in Heaven, and its one that earns the respect of gods. That doesn’t preclude shenanigans, but it sets a slightly different tone for them than earlier editions did.

  28. on a scale from 1-10 where 1 is everything is arbitrarily decided by the gm and the books contain no rules and only fluff, and 10 where everything is over explained, analyzed and every single possible situation that could ever happen is explained in great detail leaving nothing to the STs imagination or interpreting. between these two extremes where would you say the game currently lies.
    my second question is what’s you 2 cents on people torrenting any book you might release.

  29. I believe you wrote the craft system (which I’m loving in general)? If you did, could you give a bit more clarity on what basic projects someone who does something like Weaponsmithing as a craft might do?

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