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Ox-Body Technique: A Minor Dissertation

The Problem

In the First Edition corebook, the Solar Ox-Body technique assumes that players can take one -0 health level, two -1 health levels, or one -1 health level and two -2 health levels. This creates an image; that is, that one -0 health level is equal to two -1 health levels, each of which is worth two -2 health levels. This is supported by Exalted: The Lunars, in which four -2 health levels are one of the two options for Lunars (the other being two -2 health levels).

The problem with this theory is that it is patently false. In all my years of running Exalted, players almost exclusively choose the option with the most health levels. Rarely, two -1s will be taken. Never will the lone health level be taken. In fact, Sidereals are generally considered to have a weaker Ox-Body due to only being able to take one -0 health level, even though that is a Solar option. (In fact, I once had a player ask me if his Sidereal could take the Dragon-Blooded Ox-Body, which is categorically worse under the rating system developed).

The Reason

Why is this? It could be that players aren't thinking things through. After all, even if you can go longer without dying, the 'death spiral' of health means that you're spending more time in wound penalties, and more time healing after fights. However, two things came to my attention recently:
1) People either heal fast enough for the levels to not be a big deal, or slowly enough that they shouldn't have Ox-Bodies anyway.
That is, it's easy as hell for Celestial Exalts to get healing; one Charm for Solars, two Charms or one Gift for Lunars. Even Sidereals don't have much trouble with it (just ask a spirit with Touch Of Grace). Dragon-Bloods have a bit more trouble, but not a ton (early Medicine Charms, hearthstones, spirit summoning). God-Bloods don't get much Ox-Body. Because of this, the healing times stop being a critical issue.
2) Die pools in Exalted are big.
Okay, this mostly goes without saying. But consider the implications. In combat, it is fairly easy for an Exalt to have 15-20 dice to hit, consistantly. It's possible to hit 29 or 30 with Charms, without being obscenely strong. In the old World of Darkness, where the system originated, it was rare to have more than 7 or 8 dice to hit. The difference between 13 and 15 is about 14%. The difference between 28 and 30 is about 6.5%. The difference between 6 and 8 is 25%. In the old World of Darkness, a -2 penalty was crippling. In Exalted, it's annoying. Therefore, it's almost always better to have three times as many health levels, if you're going to be annoyed. Better annoyed than dead.

The Solution

I don't like this. I prefer to think of Ox-Bodies as being all valuable options. Therefore, I suggest the following change:

The core rules value health levels as follows: OK = 4, -1 = 2, -2 = 1, -4 = n/a. All Celestial Ox-Bodies are worth 4 pts, and Terrestrial Ox-Bodies are worth 3 pts.

My revision is as follows: OK = 4, -1 = 3, -2 = 2, -4 = 1. Lunar Ox-Bodies are worth 7 pts. Solar Ox-Bodies are worth 6 pts. Sidereal and Terrestrial Ox-Bodies are worth 5 pts.

(Notably, Alchemicals choose between two -1s and three -2s when getting health levels, a departure from former systems, and Fair Folk consider a -0 to be equivalent to a -1 and a -2. The newer Ox-Body Charms follow my system better.)

Solars may choose one of the following: OK and -2, -1 and -1, or three -2s.

Lunars may choose one of the following: -1, -2, and -2, or three -2s and a -4.

Sidereals may only choose the following: OK and -4.

Dragon-Blooded may only choose the following: -1 and -2.

Alchemicals are unaffected, and Fair Folk may choose either one -0 or two -2s.


While I mostly agree with your conclusions, I don't agree with your fix. I see the widely-acknowledged power of the Lunar Ox-Body to be a perk: they are supposed to be the one Exalt most capable of simply soaking up damage and laughing at it. Given that, they should have a better Ox-Body option than the Solars. Vargo Teras

That's actually not a bad point. Perhaps Ox-Body should be considered a category where Lunars are superior to Solars. But don't forget that they technically have the -1 and -1 option as is. - FrivYeti

While your problem statement is accurate, I also disagree with the 'solution'. To me, as a Solar, I'll still be heading straight down the "most health levels please" road, getting 3 bonus HL's (all -2), which is the same # of HLs, just worse than before (-1,-2,-2). As a Lunar, I'm stuck with only 3 HLs, not my happy 6 (was it 6?), which allowed me to have the soak-build that's so key for Lunars. With more HLs, they have more buffer to allow their healing to take effect. Especially important for Full Moons, this allows you to run in, tear some stuff up, step outside for 3 rounds, and tear right back in - your faster healing and mobility allows you to keep up a fight much longer than almost anyone, and as long as you have the HL to absorb their essence-boosted attack as you run by, you burn their essence and not yours. Sidereals, at least, benefit, getting two HLs, but now they get twice as many as before, which, to most players, is twice as good (while Solars and Lunars actually lose out, thus changing balance). To me, a proper 'solution' accepts that HL's are the goal, regardless of penalty. Going along with that, you need to find out where the pro/con balance is. My guess is that most Solars are 'happy' with (-1,-2,-2), but would require thought to decide if that's better than (-2,-4,-4,-4) or perhaps (-1,-2,-4,-4). Hence, that, to me, are a fair set of options. Lunars, AFAIK, love their current (-2,-2,4*-4) system, so I'd keep it that way for them. Leave the poor Siddies in the dust as always, or perhaps give them the opportunity for (-2,-2), which is still patently worse than the Solar version, but at least gives them some padding so they're not purely paper. Just ideas, is all. -- GregLink

But why? If you say that three -2s is still superior to two -1s, there's still a problem. I feel that three -2s is the point where the equation shifts. Yes, I'm deliberately reducing the power of one side of the Solar Ox-Bodies and increasing the power of the other. If you want to take the 'more health levels' road, you're a bit less powerful than before. If you take fewer health levels, therefore, there is a corresponding advantage. (Also, remember that when you hit -2, your mobility is halved. That's a big deal, even for Lunars.) Sidereals are getting more. This is because the Sidereal Ox-Body is amazingly weak, and I don't see why it should be so much drastically weaker than the other Celestials, really. (And I like the dynamic of Sidereals having "Oh shit" health levels, whose main purpose is for running like a scared rabbit.) As for Lunars, they currently have -2, -2, -2, -2 in canon. Not the six health level option. - FrivYeti
Sorry, I'm gunna have to disagree with your premise. More HL = Better. Flat out. Three -0's vs four -4s is a significant difference, I agree totally...but when it's a -1 difference and a single HL seperating them? I'll take my extra health level. Only when the penalty is, say, two steps different, does the seperation of a single HL become unimportant. So I'd take three -0's over four -2's or -4's, but not three -1's over four -2's. -4's aren't really as good as -2's or -1s because a -4 penalty DOES start to become annoying since you can't just stunt that away. However, since no Ox-Body offers -4's, that isn't an issue. Between -0, -1 and -2, it has to be the difference between three -0's and four -2s for me to take the lesser number. - Telgar
Hrm... I can see your point, although I'm not sure whether I agree with it. Do you think there's a good fix, or should I just throw my hands up and surrender? - FrivYeti
Perhaps you should come at the problem from another angle, such as prorating the xp cost based on the number of HLs granted. Perhaps a 2 xp penalty per HL beyond the first? IOW, if you favor Endurance you can buy one -0 for 8 xp, two -1s for 10 xp, or one -1 and two -2s for 12 xp? Or you could flip it around, if you wanted to use the carrot rather than the stick. Have the -0 cost only 4 xp, the two -1s cost 6 xp and the -1 and two -2s for the standard 8 xp. That second option might be better, because it has the best potential to favor the Lunars. - Hapushet
Messing with the XP cost of Charms is not really the best way to balance them. In fact, it's possibly the worst. And it makes ALL the ox-bodies far weaker. Far, far weaker. - Telgar
As a rule, I agree with you - but Ox-Body is a Charm by the barest skin of its teeth. I'm not convinced this couldn't be the exception that proves that rule. As for making them weaker, I can only see that as being true in the case of raising their cost. What about the option to lower it? - Hapushet
I just don't like messing with XP costs at all. Unless it's to include 1 XP or maybe 2 in the cost of USING a Charm. But buying one? No. Bad idea. - Telgar
I just don't mind that people always take the most HL. Maybe if you changed the Charms to offer multiple -0's or slightly more multiple -2's some would opt for the -0's but probably the best thing is just to go with it. - Telgar

I would say Alchemicals get four -2 HLs because of their innate advantage in HL. For every Essence they have, they gain one -2 HL just because they are huge.- sssssz

I think the problem is deeper than Ox Body. As you suggest, the problem is really that wound penalties aren't all that important. One solution might be to rethink the way wound penalties are applied. An example? How about this (off the top of my head): Instead of wounds applying penalties to die pools, they apply maximums to those pools. Four different levels? 1. OK(no max) 2. Attribute limited to Essence 3. Attribute+Ability limited to Essence 4. Attribute+Ability+Specialty limited to 1/2 Essence. Charms may add to these as normal. -szilard

Eugh! Don't mess with dice-pool caps. There's enough math already! How about we all just ACCEPT that wound penalties are basically unimportant? How many times do heroes in fiction just fight right on after being stabbed or whatever? All the bloody time. Just pare all Ox-Bodies down like the Sidereal and DB versions. One version. The Lunar version is four -2s and the Solar is -1,-2,-2. That's it. No other options. Everyone wins! -Telgar, who favors the Rule Of Simplicity.
If wound penalties are unimportant, then why use them at all? Either get rid of them altogether or make them mean something. -szilard
Actually, I think Szilard might have hit on something. To Exalts, wound penalties rarely mean anything other than movement penalties. Is there a better way, then to simplify things? I'd think that maybe labeling them "Full, Three-Quarters, Half, One-Quarter, and Crawl" might carry more weight with players, and be less of a hassle. If you want, you can always leave the penalties intact for mortals (who don't really matter anyway). Or if you really want, just make them all -0's - it wouldn't really hurt the games I've been in, come to think of it. -- GregLink
I dunno - that strikes a chord with me. I've always liked wound penalties, and I like that they're an annoyance (or, for low die pools, serious problems at times). I like that they bother you less as you get less skilled. - FrivYeti, who seems to have unleashed the whirlwind on this one.
We have wound penalties, as far as I can tell, for two reasons: first, for the same reasons we have infection rules, and god-awful healing times, and permanent wound penalties, and so on - because life sucks for mortals, and being able to ignore the things that make life suck for mortals is a perk of being Exalted. Second, there are ways to increase wound penalties to the point where they are non-trivial - Conclusion-Pursuing Approach is the most obvious (and basically moves "you're dead" up a HL, as -12 dice is killer) but not the only example. - Hapushet, who also favors keeping them around.
Agreement. They exist as a minor rule to be played with by Charms, Artifacts and Spells. They're not, in and of themselves, that useful or important to Exalted. Like Knockback, Knockdown, Bleeding, Infection, Mobility and Fatigue Penalties, all sorts of things. They exist to be used on mortals and as Charm fodder. There's nothing wrong with Wound Penalties or Ox-Bodies except for the minor problem that the writers of the Corebook were in a WOD-mindset and thought wound penalties would be a big problem, so they offered the reduced penalty Ox-Bodies. Since the Ox-Bodies for everyone were IN the corebook, this idea wasn't ever dropped. It easily could have been, but probably got left in for flavor or because some *really weird* folks like them. - Telgar