From Exalted - Unofficial Wiki
To struggle, to battle the odds, to gather your courage and stand against your foe, and at last, walk away victorious. This, to many, is the most exciting part of any adventure, and living it, is the glory of RPGs. Exalted is no exception. Its battles are the stuff of legend and the outcomes of these often determine the fate of nations.
Like chess, the system for Exalted combat isn't difficult. There are but a few moves to master. However, there is a depth that can be deceiving. There are many factors available to a fighter in Exalted that measure his chances for success. It is the test of a warrior is to select the advantages he wants to exploit, while minimizing his opponents advantages as much as possible. Before a would-be hero can do this, though, he must understand WHAT the advantages are, and what they entail. The basic concepts, the fundemental advantages and systems of Exalted, and how to exploit them, will be the focus of this article.
A Note on Twinkery, Munchkinism, and High Power-gaming: The bane of every would-be warrior is the twink label. After all, if you're character is awesome in battle, he's not as "cool" as the angsty social characters, right?
A well rounded, fun character is a well rounded, fun character. Do not assume that a competent, or even excellent, warrior is the sign of twinkdom. If you want to avoid this label, a few pieces of advice:
Style AND substance: While a good fighter should actually be GOOD at fighting, you should sacrifice concept for capability. A guy with a shield, on horseback, in Snake Form, with Terrifying Apparition of Glory may be effective... but he looks wierd. There are many ways to make a solid fighter without going off on the deep end. Chances are, if people see your character, and think he's/she's sweet as hell, then you're far less likely to be called a twink.
Win some, lose some: A focused character is, by definition, only good at a few things. If you pile all your points into combat, you're going to suck at some other things. This is good. This is how it should be. If your bloody-handed Dawn gets tossed into a social situation... play up how poor you are at it. Growl that all this "ettiquette" is unnatural, that the court is no place for a soldier, etc. Let the trickster trick you. Playing your weakness can be as fun as playing your strengths. What you SHOULDN'T do is make everything a fight. Sometimes, it's just the time for other people to shine.
And speaking of which:
Share the stage: So you're a bad ass. Great. So are the other players. The surest way to piss off people is to make the game about YOU. If you turn every game into a fight fest, then the social characters, and the thief characters, and the savants, will get no shine time. They'll get (rightfully) pissed. When its your moment, blaze with glory. When it isn't, let them have some fun too. Gaming is a group activity.
Exalted is MEANT to have high-octane combat. There is NOTHING wrong with a focused warrior. The game is designed to allow your cool fighter to rock. So, by all means, don't be afriad to have a blast with him. Just keep the above in mind, and chances are, the other players will like your character as well :)
A final note: All of the following assumes mortal characters. The Exalted will be dealt with in an independent manner.
The most important thing in a fight is not getting hurt. It serves no purpose to commit yourself to something that's just gonna get you killed. So, the question becomes: How do I fight, and NOT die? Fortunatly, Exalted is defense heavy. There are many ways to avoid injury, and they tend to be stronger than ways of inflicting injury, which means that you really have to put some thought into attacking your opponent. Most defenses are stackable, but some tend to cancel others out, and each defense, of course, has its weaknesses. The trick is, picking out the ones that will work for you in a way that works well.
The simplest, and most focused skill on defense, this defense isn't to be underestimated. What better way to keep from getting hurt than to not get hit? Dodge not only eliminates most attacks outright, but it also offers the greatest quantity of reliable defenses. Parry may result in better (higher in dice pool) defenses, but nothing beats Dodge for sheer quantity of defenses. When the shit hits the fan, there are few defenses better than Dodge.
Dodge has many advantages over the other defenses. Things like initiative aren't really important to a dodger, as he can always abort to a dodge, so having a high wits isn't such a worry. Due to its very efficiant Aborting rules, this technique is very effective against a great number of fairly weak attacks, as is typical when your opponent has split his dice pool quite alot. Best of all, so long as he has room to move, you can always dodge. You need no special items to do it.
It has weaknesses, though. As armor tends to slow a dodger down, he typically has a low soak. This means that if you get hit, it hurts. A single, focused attack tends to beat dodge, as dodge seldom gets as high in dice pool as a well wielded weapon. And to get the most out of your dodge requires you to sacrifice your action. A typical dodger will abort if he loses iniative, and unleash lots of attacks (or a few GOOD attacks) on his opponent if he gains iniative. Dodge simply isn't as good as parry at splitting for an attack AND a defense.
Dodge is typically defeated by hitting it with a single, high dice attack. Dodge is strongest against many, small attacks.
A good dodger needs a lot of Dodge, obviously. The most important attribute for this sort of defense, obviously, is Dexterity. This is typically the defense of choice for people who focused on ranged combat, where they must keep their hands free, and tend to be lightly armed so they can keep on the move. Stealthy foes also favor this technique, as does anyone who typically eshues armor. It's also a good defense for people who like heavy weapons like sledges, but don't want to wear alot of armor for some reason, as the defense penalty doesn't hurt your dodge at all.
Slightly more complex, this is similar to dodge in that it keeps your opponent from ever hitting you. Accounted by many to be the strongest of the defenses, this has many numerable advantages: It gives the highest defensive dice pool, it splits well, and it combines well with armor. When you think of a swordsman, you're thinking of a warrior that focuses on parry!
A good parrier has a high Dexterity, obviously, but he also is high in one of the parry abilities: Martial Arts, Brawl, or Melee (typically Melee). This is one of the biggest advantages of parrying: your offensive and defensive abilities are tied into one package. Further, a good parrier is typically has a bigger dice pool than a dodger: most weapons offer a substantial parry bonus. This makes it a very powerful defense against people who try to hit you with one single attack over and over again. Parry has no problem with armor, so you'll tend to see more armored warriors focus on this ability.
Despite its heralded status, it has problems. Parry relies a great deal on initiative. If you lose initiative, you only get a single defense. In other words, if your opponent splits his attack, you're going down. Further, parries are seldom as efficient as Dodge. While the parry bonus offers some offset to this problem, too many parries begins to cause problems (A weapon with +2 parry parries two attacks as well as dodging two attacks. But it doesn't parry 3 attacks as well as dodging 3 attacks). Finally, inevitably, parrying means having a weapon. Melee requires it, and Martial Arts and Brawl can't parry Lethal damage without a weapon. Without a weapon, parry is nowhere near as useful as dodge. And a poor defensive weapon is seldom a good idea for a parrier. Sledges do not parry well, and seldom give you initiative.
Parry is typically defeated by gaining initiative on your opponent, or stripping them of their weapon. Parry is strongest against a single, powerful attack.
Parry is typically used by swordsman or other characters that like to focus on up close combat. Like fencers, these warriors must be fast and with good weapons. Armored fighters also typically rely on parry.
Getting hit happens. Your dodge or your parry WILL fail you at some point, and only a fool is without SOME protection at that point. Soak is an important kind of insurance. In addition, it IS possible to rely entirely on Soak. Characters with obscenely high soak are often underestimated. It takes a great deal of effort to get through all of that armor, more than most people are willing to admit. This is the defense of choice for people who'd just like to focus on bashing away at their opponent.
This offers a great number of advantages. Most importantly, your character need neither sacrifice some of his valuable dice pool to activate this defense, nor does he need to gain iniative. He can easily allow his opponent to smack him one, laugh at him, and then lay into him with a weapon of his choice. Where this defense is strongest is when you get hit by a single, powerful attack. A massive blow with a Sledge can be soaked to nearly nothing, allowing you to slam back. And against smaller weapons, like spears and swords, this attack can soak them into near uselessness.
While a very strong defense, it really isn't something you should rely upon exclusively. It almost universally requires good, heavy armor. Armor is fatiguing, obvious, and slows you down. This limits your ability to dodge, to move unnoticed, or to fight for long periods of time. Further, there is a well known tactic against it: since every attack gets a minimum of one die of damage, it is quite a simple matter for a character with a high dice pool but low damage to split his dice many ways, and attack over and over. A straight sword isn't much to someone with articulate plate, but if the sworsman hits five times, thats five dice of damage. Not pleasant.
Soak is typically defeated by multiple, small attacks. Soak is strongest against single, high accuracy attacks that lack damage, and negates most of the iniative advantage.
Soak, obviously, relies a great deal on Stamina. Good armor is also a must, making Endurance an important trait. It's the favored technique of people with low dice pools, or those who want to focus on very heavy, powerful weapons. It's also taken by just about anyone who can get it, in however small a quantity. A chain shirt alone is usually worth the investment. Close combat fighters, inevitably, need soak of some kind.
Often ignored is the fact that if your opponent cannot reach you, he cannot hit you. This is the axiom of choice of ranged combat fighters, such as archers. Further, staying a place that's HARD to reach, rather than just far away, is useful as well. Fire from rooftops, or from horseback, if possible. Most people don't think of this as a defense, but its extremely useful against close combat fighters. Speed and good athletics are a must for anyone who wishes to use this form of defense.
There are small, variety of ways to weaken your opponents attacks. Many things offer negatives of some kind that can be applied to your opponents attacks. Common elements are: shields (-1 success) and riding horseback (-2 to dice). The two of these put together makes a mortal nearly unhittable by 4 die extras. While not terribly useful on its own, its great when mixed with one of the above defenses.
Keeping your opponent from killing you is only half the battle: you've got to kill him as well. Some characters focus on this, as, after all, a dead opponent doesn't need to be defended against. While a little trickier than simply having a good defense, a good offense is a vital part of any soldier's routine. As with defense, your character will seldom rely on just one of these advantages, but instead, seek several out.
A skilled warrior is without equal. Having more dice than your opponent means, in the long run, that you'll hit him more often. While the most expensive of the offenses, it's also the most reliable and the most flexible. Simply outdicing your opponent is the surest way to victory.
Having a great number of dice allows you to get past most basic parry/dodge style defenses. But it also allows him to make more attacks (more dice means more to split), giving him an added edge. On top of this, a character with a high attack dice pool typically has a high defense dice pool as well. A Dex of 5 and a Melee of 5 means you attack AND parry well. Weapons only add further to this, giving you an even higher edge to your attacks.
But it can be beaten. Having a high dice pool is, inevitably, the sign of lots of xp. Getting those high stats costs time and effort. This means it isn't always available. More importantly, while high dice pool will result in high damage, it's inefficient. Every 2 dice in your dice pool will, on average, result in a single die of damage. This can be reduced further through defenses. And in the long run, it is damage that wins the fight, not successful hits.
A single, high accuracy attack is typically strong against Dodge, but weak against parry and soak. Many, smaller attacks typically beat soak and parry, but not dodge.
Gaining lots of accuracy involves a high score in a combat ability, and lots of Dex. Wielders of weapons focus on accuracy, and iniative where possible, creating "fencer" style characters with Slashing Swords as the weapon of choice. This is also the offense of choice for ranged attackers, who must deal with a myriad of penalties to their attacks.
Hitting well isn't, in the end, what matters. You must HURT your opponent to kill him. Little nicks and scratches won't do it. Often overlooked, this can be used to great effect. While you might not hit as often as a character with a big dice pool, when you DO hit, it HURTS.
High damage allows the character to split for greater effect. While a high accuracy character must rely on a great number of successes to hurt his opponent, a high damage character deals a great amount of hurt with just a few successes. This allows him to worry less about spending lots of xp to be really high in dice pool, and allows him to focus on other things.
But being low in dice pool means you're less likely to hit at all. If you can't hit your opponent, all that damage doesn't mean squat. Worse, most weapons that deal a great deal of damage are slow, inaccurate, and defend poorly. This means you'll need some very solid defense (usually dodge or soak) to get by until that lucky shot comes your way.
Damage is beaten, usually, by dodge or parry, unless you're also high in Accuracy. High damage is usually used against high soak, to even things out.
High damage needs high Strength. Simple as that. Good, heavy weapons are useful as well. The Sledge, and weapons like it, are the weapon of choice for damage dealers. A good, solid defense is advised.
This advantage is all too often ignored but can be the most vital in many wys. If you have initiative, your opponent cannot split his dice pool. This means he must parry once, or abort to a dodge to defend. If he wants to attack, he must suffer your attacks without defense, while you can freely split as you please. This can be a devastating turn of events, especially against people that focus on parry. A person who consistently takes initiative consistently owns the fight.
It isn't a perfect tactic, though. Dodgers can defend efficiently on full dodge and soak monsters can just wait for your puny attack to plink off their armor and then lay into you. It's seldom a good idea to rely on this alone, but when augmented with other advantages, it can be deadly.
A high Dexterity and Wits is necessary to pull this off. Also advised are "quick" weapons, such as knives, slashing swords, or spears. This combines well with parry and high accuracy fighters. Iniative only truly matters in close combat fights. Don't rely on it in ranged fights.
A note should be made about wrestling. Clinches and Holds are exclusively the domain of Martial Arts and Brawl. If you can penetrate someone's parry or dodge, you turn the fight instantly into a match of damage against soak. This can be traumatic for Melee fighters, who have almost no advantages in this field: they don't have the dice pools to escape, and they typically don't have the raw strength to deal much damage. This can be an instant fight winner if you know what you're doing, and should be considered in any bare knuckle fighters routine, especially if he focuses on soak and damage.
It is not enough that you focus on a few of these. You must weave them together into a seamless character design. This isn't as difficult as it might sound. Most characters split between fast and strong. The fast are typically good at dodge or parry, have good iniative, and good accuracy. The strong are typically good with soak, and good with damage. But it doesn't have to be this way. Any number of possibilities are available to your characters.
A few examples:
Fire Eyes, a southerner, is both wiry and strong. He has a good dice pool (Dex 4 + Melee 3) and is strong (Strength 3) but lacks only stamina (Stamina 2). He focuses on quick movements (High dodge), and eshues armor as a result. His weapon of choice? A Great Sword strapped to his back. The result is a character that, when he loses iniative, can abort to a dodge to survive. But when he wins, he can attack multiple times with a very powerful (9L) attack, which will typically cleave most extras in half. Should he get hit, however, it's over. His lack of initiative means he might have to be patient before he can strike.
Shala Wind Rider is an Marukani Mercenary. She prefers to ride horseback, and wields the short bow. Her horses speed allows her to keep out of range of most hand to hand fighters, and her arrows allow her to plink them from a distance. While not great in damage, its difficult to hit her, or slow her down. In close combat, she wields a short sword: not very effective, but good enough until she can get away.
Prince Brand is a knight-trained northerner. He also rides horseback, and wears heavy (Plate and Chain) armor. This gives him excellent soak. His target shield, combined with being on horseback, makes him very difficult to hit, blunting most small attacks enough so that he has little to worry about againt multiple, small attacks. His only weakness is his offense. He is neither particularly skilled, nor is his straight sword particularly formidable.
As you can see, there are a broad pallette of options available even to a mortal for you to choose from. Choose wisely.
A note on Exalted:
We all know Exalted have their own special advantages. This does not, however, entirely exclude them from the above rules. It is entirely possible to run an Exalted just as you would a mortal. A Solar with a Orichalcum Daiklave and Orichalcum Plate will typically have a larger dice pool, better stats, and stronger soak than any mortal. With these advantages alone, Charms aside, he will win more than he loses against most mortals. Do not be afraid to pattern your Exalted after more mortal level warriors. While you will be unlikely to take down armies, you will still be quite formidable.