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Riddle of Essence

Essence is a statistic that has changed much in the course of Exalted.

In the beggining, the power of one's Charms was one of the most important features in Exalted, and raising Essence , at least to its highest levels, was an important, but not nessessary thing. But that has changed. More and more Essence becomes the sole measure of power, more so than Charms possessed or anything else, and begun to blur the line between mechanics and flavor a little too much.

Moreover, they went from being unique, grand tricks that they once were to assembly-line powers one is expected to have, and with an assumption of 'High Essence Combat' which does not work. High-Essence Charms worked as tricks, but as a base of mechanical combat, they break the system and it would take much work(more than it went into making the system on the first place) to make that combat framework useable. Thus, this is an attempt at bringing back some of the old flavor, and make Essence a little more manageable again.

Assumptions of Essence

Essence is a measure of enlightement and raw power.

But, as most Exalted discover early after their Second Breath, raw power is hardly everything. It takes training, focus and understanding to use the raw power they have, much less to pursue greater heights. A Chosen soon learns, when facing those 'more enlightened' than them that knowledge, training and focus will always be victorious against sheer enlightement. It is on an Exalt's mastery of ten thousand Charms, their judicious use and combinations that ensures victory!

Currently, in the Terrestrial Courts of the Scarlet Dynasty, few Exalted ever reach past Essence ****. Even getting this far is a harsh proccess, taking determination and heroism from the part of the Exalt. It is a trying and time-consuming proccess which usually involves great epiphanies... and for which most Exalted have neither the time, nor the need for. Even in the height of the First Age, many remained at Essence **** for most of their preternaturally long lives, with others, those who had a remarkable specialty, stopping at Essence *****. However, the arsenal of those princes of the earth had a depth and breadth which dwarfed that of any young Chosen in the Age of Sorrows, able to duel with Chosen twice as 'enlightened' as themselves and emerge victorious, for the enhanced functionality of a few of their abilities was dwarfed by the combinations of multiple skills and specialties of the more savvy Chosen.

There were few even on the First Age who saw the need to reach higher enlightement.

Sorcerers are faster to raise their Essence. Their art requires a greater ammount of enlightement and raw power, and the proccess of understanding how all Essence flows and to guide this proccess with one's own bare hands makes them particularly enlightened. From the few Exalted who surpassed Essence ***** in the First Age, the overwhelming majority was that of Sorcerers.

The trials of the end of the First Age changed much, however. They were harsh and unforgiving. The Contagion and the breakdown of civilization was no less so, and while it was a Dragon-Blooded who saved the world, most other Exalted put their lines in the line against the impending doom. Those were times of tries, of enlightement, of epiphanies. It is assumed that even the most combat-minded survivor of the First Age, such as Ma-Ha-Suchi, possesses an Essence score of *******. Most other Chosen of even great age hover between Essence **** and *****, however, with only exceptions exceeding this.

Those guidelines refer exclusively to Non-Player Characters.

Greater Powers

Exalted powers acquired past Essence ***** are different. Exalted may only buy a handful of Charms past Essence 5.

Each one is unique to themselves, the stuff of legends.

Solars work as thus.
A Solar may not have a total of Advanced Charms in a given Caste's Abilities in excess of...
No more Eclipse Charms than their Compassion.
No more Twilight Charms than their Conviction.
No more Night Charms than their Temperance.
No more Dawn Charms than their Valor.
No more Zenith Charms than the average of all their Virtues, rounded up.

This is the total of Charms. A Dawn Caste has his Valor in Dawn Charms, his Compassion in Eclipse Charms, and so on.

Sidereals and Lunars work as thus.
No more Advanced Charms than their Essence rating.

In games without Sidereal Martial Arts(as I favor) Sidereals may create Prayer-Strip Charms on Martial Arts based upon one or more Celestial Martial Art. Those are comparable in power to Sidereal Martial Art Forms, although they are not Form-Charms, and have the cost of 1 Willpower and 1 Health Level as Prayer Strips are wont to have. Those Charms are based on their understanding of Martial Arts, and may enhance their pre-requisites, break rules of Martial Arts, or allow them to access abilities only peripheral to Martial Arts in the fashion only Sidereal Martial Arts allow.

Dragon-Blooded work as thus.
No more Wood Charms than their Compassion.
No more Water Charms than their Conviction.
No more Air Charms than their Temperance.
No more Fire Charms than their Valor.
No more Earth Charms than the average of all their Virtues, rounded up.

This is the total of Charms. An Air Aspect has his Valor in Fire Charms, his Compassion in Wood Charms, and so on.


Lunar Charms are of greater breadth and utility than Solar Charms. Sidereal Charms are only Martial Art combat powers. Hence why they both have less Charms than the Sunchosen or the Dragon-Blooded, as Sidereals with more Charms would outstrip the Dawn, and Lunars with more Charms would have even more breadth in their abilities than the Sunchosen.

Peanut Gallery

Personally, I think it depends on the type of game you play and how long it lasts "in-game" and how much XPs is given. But I do agree with you that the essence trait is really the power stat, but it also depends on the charms you buy and how you use said charms. And that definitely, charms that are post essence 5 -should- be scary, odd, and very peresonalized. As for restricting charms purchase to highest virtue +1, that seems to be something that I can't quite agree on. There shouldn't be such a limit on charm purchases. I think the sheer fact that you have to -design/create- each and every charm in character (which increases the time 'training' on said charm) would normally be enough. ~ Haku

See, playing in high-Essence games, I have seen the system stress and begin to break when people have enough Charms at Essence 5(even with the 'saner' Charms at Sol Invictus). And with still tons upon tons of Charms to buy. All non-MA high-Essence Charms we have seen are 'tricks'... one-shots signature tricks that are very powerful. The way they are designed, it seems like you will have only one or two of them, not leading anywhere, and amalgamating many abilities in them, appearing to be there for shock and awe. The exception being SMA, and it alludes to a combat system model which both does not exist, would be a nightmare to implement, and would render obsolete most of the rest of the Charmset. And would make elders too crazy to fight, and I *like* fighting them. I realised that most elders I build are like this, anyway - an insane number of pre-5 Charms, and a couple post-5 as 'the one or two really powerful tricks', so I went and wrote it on stone. Maybe it should not apply to PCs. But for me, it really should apply to NPCs. Given the way those high-essence charms break things, they really should just have a couple of those, in their respective specialties. ~ GoldenCat
A fair enough point, and yes, SMA does tend to break the mold a fair bit. Perhaps, take away SMA, but allow sidereals to have custom charms post prayer strips? Something about how they've internalize the lessons from the prayerstrips about their abilities, etc etc, and now they can design custom charms that work without their patrons having to rubber-stamp everything? Aside from Sids, thou... you do make a fair point for the NPCs... ^_^; ~ Haku
I have thought of that before... and it would solve all problems! Unfortunately, I happen to like some SMA effects ;_; Hence, why I am changing to a 'a handful'... this way, no cap, but it pretty much goes and say Sidereals only master a single SMA! Which seems more... in line with things, I hope. And without placing any artificial cap, but a reminder to keep it damned low. I wrote this more to make the people I ST to know more or less how I view the power level of older Exalts, especially when I am the sort of Storyteller that allows people to create vast swaths of the world, including some NPCs... ~GoldenCat, who's sorry it took him so long. Every time I started to write this reply, I stopped it, never seemed good enough >.>

... but ended up giving a set limit, after all ~GoldenCat, who found a way that seemed elegant.