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Martial Arts: The Casteless Ability

Martial Arts as an ability should belong to no Caste. Why? Because it's just not workin' out, that's why. There are too many demands on it for it to be subsumed under the Caste structure. Also, in my games there is a lot of emphasis on MA, and I want systematic support for this. So I propose that we add an ability, say War, and give MA the status of Essence - it is a similarly universal measure of personal power. For clarity, we'll call the new stat Fu. It's a ten-dot Magical Power Stat like Essence, but does not generate a mote pool.

This also solves the uncomfortable and inelegant problem of "universal" Charms tied to an Ability with Caste associations. Ick.

What are Martial Arts Anyway?

Prototypically, a martial art is a formalized system of combat, generally comprising a system of bodily movements and an attitude or strategy with which one employs them (For instance, Aikido's joint-locks can generally be performed in such a way as to produce terrible pain or profound injury, but practicioners should never do this; the cardinal rule of Aikido is to defend oneself while causing one's attacker the minimum of discomfort.)

The supernatural martial arts of Exalted are something more: they are formalized movements of the soul. I'm aware that that sounds horribly abstract! It's not. The Sidereals know this; it is clear by the structure of their magic. The Celestials know it to a lesser degree; their Forms are crystallized attitudes that allow them to interact with the world in a specific way, and they are capable of being taught to understand this principle in a broader sense. The Dragon-Blooded generally don't get it; their own martial arts depend on leveraging their worldviews to interact with the world more like themselves, and it's an extraordinary effort to give them the mental flexibility to even attempt Celestial forms.

Similarly, a supernatural technique is a truth derived from the attitude of a Form; while the lesser styles associate techniques with bodily movements, generally Sidereal styles are more aware than this.

Taxonomy of Martial Arts

There are three levels of MA: Terrestrial, Celestial, Sidereal. Rather than Charms, Fu has Techniques. They have these properties:

  • Terrestrial Martial Arts are keyed to Fu alone; they have poor access to exotic effects, but can perform limited elemental manipulations. Terrestrial Martial Arts often permit the use of armour.
  • Celestial Martial Arts have Techniques keyed to Fu and Abilities; within a Style, different Techniques can be keyed to different Abilities. The Ability req for a particular Technique should not exceed five. Celestial Martial Arts have access to exotic, thematic effects, but are bound by a theme and its interpretation. Celestial Martial Arts can be seen as analogous to Lunar Charms, in the breadth of ability they require to master. It is rare for a Celestial Art to permit armour with its more advanced techniques; it impedes the practicioner's movement or his Essence manipulation.
  • Sidereal Martial Arts are keyed to Fu and Abilities; within a Style, only one Ability is represented. A Style is bound by mood and imagery, rather than by theme; it has access to exotic and even rule-breaking effects if such a thing is appropriate. Sidereal Martial Arts often have Techniques that only function usefully in conjunction with other Techniques of the Style. They can be seen as analogous to Solar Charms with regard to the depth of mastery they require. Sidereal Martial Arts are universally incompatible with armour; the formalized motions and Essence controls are too delicate.

Similarly, Arts are divided with respect to their access to weaponry. This discussion was composed prior to the PG's discussion on form weaponry.

  • Unarmed Arts are generally designed to work just as well barehanded as with particular weapons studien by the martial artists of the Exalted. These permit the use of Martial Arts weapons with most of their attacking Techniques, though some may need to be used barehanded. Unless otherwise specified, a Style is unarmed.
  • Restricted Arts are compatible with a non-standard weaponry set.
  • Signature Arts have a weaponry set that they treat identically to barehanded attacks, and may have some special benefit for using that weaponry. The Immaculate Arts are an example of this.
  • Sidereal Arts are generally both Restricted and Signature - that is, they are compatible with a non-standard weaponry set, that they treat as identical to barehanded attacks, and no other weapons function with the Style.

System Changes

Fu requires experience or bonus points similar to Essence to raise, but the costs are as such:

  • Sidereals: 7 bonus points, current rating x 8 xp
  • Solars/Abyssals: 10 bonus points, current rating x 9 xp
  • Others: 10 bonus points, current rating x 10 xp

Dawn needs an indirect Ability, Earth needs a cool one, and the Battles interaction magics are really weird. Thus we create a new Ability, War. This will take the Battle Pattern Charm tree from Sidereal Presence (this forces us to expand Presence again).

The resultantly changed Ability groupings:

  • Dawn
    • Archery
    • Brawl
    • Melee
    • Thrown
    • War
  • Earth
    • Awareness
    • Craft
    • Endurance
    • Resistance
    • War
  • Battles
    • Archery
    • Brawl
    • Melee
    • Resistance
    • War
  • Endings
    • Athletics
    • Awareness
    • Bureaucracy
    • Medicine
    • Presence


In any canonical Charm listing, Martial Arts Charms have a Martial Arts prerequisite and an Essence prerequisite, and have effects stemming from these. We don't want this; MA is no longer an Ability and we don't want a strong linkage between MA and Essence. In all cases of "Martial Arts", replace that with the name of the Ability the Technique depends on; in Terrestrial Technique effects, use Essence. In all cases of "Essence" in the original text, replace it with "Fu".

Sorcery, the other "universal" Charm set, should be removed from Occult and be keyed to Essence alone; do not, however, change spell effects that rely on Occult.

There are no longer any "Martial Arts actions"; use the appropriate Dawn Caste Ability for Celestial and Terrestrial attacks, even when using Martial Arts Charms. This is not an exception to the general replacement of "Martial Arts" in a Technique with the Ability that Technique is keyed to; generally attack Charms will be dual-keyed to Brawl and some armed Ability (in which case having either at the required level makes it possible to learn the Charm). Some Charms may be specific exceptions to this rule; Malachite Void Eyes might be able to supplement actions of its keyed Ability as well as combat actions.

Sidereal Martial Arts are not generally keyed to Dawn Caste Abilities. Roll the keyed Ability for all attacks, regardless of their nature. The Style should make it clear what attack modes are appropriate.

Canonical MA Style Abilities

These were originally posted by DariusSolluman. I've edited them slightly.

  • Terrestrial
    • Five Dragon - none
  • Celestial
    • Snake - Brawl
    • Tiger - Brawl
    • Mantis - Brawl (arguably, these three are inferior Celestial Styles, for taking on only one Ability when they have the option of broader capability)
    • Ebon Shadow - Athletics, Stealth
    • Air Dragon - Stealth, Thrown
    • Earth Dragon - Melee, Resistance
    • Fire Dragon - Melee, Dodge
    • Water Dragon - Brawl, Endurance
    • Wood Dragon - Archery, Medicine, Occult
    • Violet Bier of Sorrows - Melee, Brawl, Awareness
  • Sidereal
    • Prismatic Arrangement of Creation - Occult
    • Charcoal March of Spiders - Brawl
    • Citrine Poxes of Contagion - Medicine

- FourWillowsWeeping



I have a question. In order to buy a technique, do ALL of the key Abilities need to meet the old "Martial Arts" prereq? For example, to get Air Dragon Form, would one need 4 dots in both Thrown and Stealth, or just in one of them? _Ikselam

Er, oops. -dissolvegirl
Although this question was inspired by Gia's character sheet, the real thrust of my question is, "Do I really have to have Melee AND Brawl AND Awareness all at 4 to get VBoS Form?" _Ikselam

Um, no, I don't really think so. Consider the Init charms to need the appropriate amount of Awareness, and Melee and Brawl will both allow you to learn the rest of the Charms, but you can only use them with the Abilities you meet the prereqs with. Death-Parrying Stroke might require Awareness as well. Basically, just try and guess what Ability the Charm should require. - willows

Have you ever thought about making Sorcery, as well as MA, dependent on Fu instead of Essence? It seems like it would make sense, if we posit that Essence represents "instinctive" power and Fu represents "formalized" manipulation of that power.
If this rationale is in fact correct, it might also make sense to state that one's Fu may never exceed one's Essence. _Ikselam

Ok, so this is probably obvious but I feel like I'm missing something. I feel like I get what's going on for like 95% of this, but you've got this stat - Fu. Ok, so you raise it as per 'System Changes' (and I assume it maxes out according to your age the way most stats do). So now, when do I use this stat? I mean, under 'Consequences' and 'Canonical MA Style Abilities' (the latter I take to mean a list of 'keyed abilities') I don't see Fu getting mentioned. Further, on the one hand you're saying "MA is no longer an ability" but on the other hand later down we start talking about swapping around various stats and we get this line about replacing Essence with Martial Arts. So it seems like:

1. MA is no longer an ability but its still a stat.

2. References to MA in that paragraph might assume MA and Fu are interchangeable terms. If that is the case, then I gather the only significant function of Fu *seems* to be a replacement prereq for Essence barring someone writing new/house ruling old charms to use Fu for various and sundry opposed rolls, difficulties, etc. If MA and Fu aren't interchangeable terms, then I feel like I'm lost again as to the question of "What do I do with this?"


Sloppy editing on my part! I changed the "Martial Arts" Trait to the Fu Trait kinda late in writing. - willows

Huh. Just read this. I hope you didn't think I stole anyone's idea for my Shataina/CastelessSorcery page; as a matter of fact, I think I'll go over there and link here when I'm done posting this. At any rate, I was wondering if there's any actual advantage / disadvantage to having a style keyed to more than one Ability? Also, do you ever roll Fu for any reason? I think it would be helpful if you could add an Example section with an explicit point-by-point explanation of what happens when someone buys and uses MA Charms under your system. Oh yeah, and are there any ways in which a person can more easily learn Fu (like a merit along the lines of Brigid's Heir or something)?
~ Shataina

You're a free thinker; I think I'd seen casteless Sorcery before and never made the connection myself. Anyway, the advantage of keying a Style to more than one Ability is, like, the advantage that Ebon Shadow has over Snake: it has a broader pool of things it's able to do. Rlling Fu happens whenever you would roll Essence in the normal game—infrequently.
Also, I think Brigid's Heir is stupid, but I might set up new costing paradigms for Sorcery such that it's cheaper to buy for Solars. One possibility would be to associate each Spell with an Ability and give them out at favoured/unfavoured costs. Basically, I think that "I am t3h aw3x0m3 pr0di6y!" should be handled by favoured abilities rather than Merits. - willows
Hey! a free thinker! woot. But back to rolling Fu: you still have an Essence stat, right? -- so presumably you don't always roll Fu in place of Essence? Just looking for a sample roll here. Also, what's the max on a character's Fu? I assume it's not Essence, in which case, have you considered removing the limitations on who can learn Martial Arts Charms and / or placing a max on how high certain types of characters are capable of raising their Fu?
~ Shataina
The limit for Fu kinda sorta gets dealt with up at the top, at the end of the very first paragraph. "For clarity, we'll call the new stat Fu. It's a ten-dot Magical Power Stat like Essence, but does not generate a mote pool." I do not recall seeing a limit on how high anybody can raise it. I imagine it's coming or will be dealt with. Though, if you're a Dragon-Blooded, you're paying current rating x 10 to raise Fu, and it gets pretty expensive pretty quick, so it might not be very worthwhile to put a hard and fast limit on Fu. The exhoribtant experience cost will keep those who should have a low Fu from getting an improperly high Fu rating. ~ Andrew02
I guess you might want to use the age caps for Essence with Fu as well. Flipping through my books, I see that Soul Mastery requires an Essence + Martial Arts roll to use; under this system, you'd replace that with Fu + (Medicine or whatever). If Soul Mastery were just a regular Archery Charm, though, rather than a Fu Technique, you wouldn't change the roll.
At one point, I thought about calculating Essence pools based on max(Fu, Essence), but then you partition off the amout that comes from the higher stat and you can only use that for the appropriate kinds of effects...that seemed too complicated to me, so, to retain some of the value of Essence for martial artists, I left the combination of Fu and Essence as the limiting factor for a martial artist's growth. With the current setup, Andrew02 has the idea; it's so crazily expensive to develop both power stats in line with each other that you're basically expected to give up on MA and set into secular Charms after a while, or start having the Sidereal problem of expensive Charms biting away at your tiny Essence. Or your ST gives out a lot of XP and then it's not so much of an issue.
So I'm left feeling like I haven't really answered the questions you're asking, but it's very late and I'm confused, so I'll look again in the morning. 'Night, all. - willows

So, I've got this nagging thought that there should be this underlying system going on here where Casteless Fu and Casteless Sorcery are basically different branches off the same really basic fundamental metaphysics, you know in vein of how Mountain Folk are vastly different from Raksha but willows wrote this really interesting theory where you basically construct Mountain Folk off the Raksha rules. In the end, you still get pretty much the same Mountain Folk but you've got this really interesting system of metaphysics that 1. connects two things in a cool consistent way and 2. let's you potentially spring board off into other directions.

Now, I'm not saying that if you're a MAist then you need to be (or are automatically good at being) a Sorceror just as the Mountain Folk are still pretty different than Raksha... Huh, I just realized I feel like I'm more or less repeating Ikselam's "if we posit that Essence represents "instinctive" power and Fu represents "formalized" manipulation of that power." comment about linking Sorcery to Fu, but while looking to attach a nifty fluffly developed theory on the end of it.

Hmm, indeed!


Suggestion - Martial Arts should be War's version of Sorcery, as follows:

(For Solars) -

Lotus Bulb Discipline (Terrestrial Circle Martial Arts)</b>

 <b>Cost: None
 Duration: Permanent
 Type: Special
 Minimum War: 1
 Minimum Essence: 1
 Prerequisite: None

A character who learns the Lotus Bulb Discipline has begun to open his mind and body to the Ways of Essence, allowing him to learn and create Terrestrial Martial Arts techniques.

Lotus Blossom Understanding (Celestial Circle Martial Arts)</b>

 <b>Cost: None
 Duration: Permanent
 Type: Special
 Minimum War: 2
 Minimum Essence: 2
 Prerequisite: Lotus Bulb Discipline

He who has achieved the Lotus Blossom Understanding has fully opened his mind and body to the Ways of Essence, and may learn and create Celestial Martial Arts techniques.

Lotus Bloom Transcendence (Sidereal Circle Martial Arts)</b>

 <b>Cost: None
 Duration: Permanent
 Type: Special
 Minimum War: 5
 Minimum Essence: 6
 Prerequisite: Lotus Blossom Understanding

He who has mastered the ephemeral Transcendence of the Lotus Bloom has grasped the true nature of the Ways of Essence, and may learn Sidereal Martial Arts techniques.

(For Others) -

Lunars would be able to learn 'Lotus-Eater Manner' at Dex 2 / Ess 2 (Terrestrial) and 'Beast Among the Lotuses' at Dex 3 / Ess 2 (Celestial); Sidereals learn at War 1 / Ess 1 (Terrestrial), War 2 / Ess 2 (Celestial) and War 4 / Ess 5 (Sidereal); Dragon-Blooded learn Terrestrial at War 2 / Ess 2 and Celestial at War 5 / Ess 3; Gods learn Terrestrial at Temperence 2 / Ess 2 and Celestial at Temperence 5 / Ess 6; Mortals learn can Terrestrial at War 3 / Ess 3.

Each given MA "Charm" is now called a "Kata"; learning all Kata in a given Form means Mastery of that Form. The first Kata in a given Form is learnable once you learn the correct Circle of Martial Arts.

This completely resolves the problem of why MA is so weird; MA Kata aren't Charms any more than Sorcery Spells are Charms.

- Ialdabaoth

Uh, one question. Why War? - sssssz
Because War is the generic "understanding of the battlefield and tactics" skill. Individual MA, like FourWillowsWeeping suggested, should be based off of what they do - Brawl if they're hand-to-hand, Melee if they use a weapon, Thrown or Archery for esoteric 'ranged' MA's, or even weirder Endurance or Presence or Ride or whatever-based ones for stranger MA's. But at core, the first understanding comes from within; from one's innate connection to one's own Essence and how it flows through the Self and the Other during combat. The Lotus charms are basically 'the tactics and strategy of Essence' instead of 'the tactics and strategy of Calvary' or 'the tactics and strategy of Infantry'. See my MartialArts/KataSystem for where I'm going with this.

- Ialdabaoth

While I like this concept, I think there's a problem - namely, that by adding a new magical trait that costs a ton to increase, you're vastly increasing the cost of Martial Arts Charms, to the point when they're just flat-out not useful to have. Assuming Fu begins at 1 for free, which I think is meant to be true, reaching Fu 3 costs a Solar 24 experience, putting them three Charms behind non-MAists right away. By Fu 5 (finishing most Celestial trees), you're a whopping 80 experience behind. That's a lot of experience for mid-range Exalts.

Aside from the Fu thing, though, I like the idea. Fu needs to be a lot less expensive to raise. - FrivYeti

I like this idea overall, though I need to read over the text a couple more times to fully internalize everything that's happening mechanically. I might be missing something, but it seems like Fu is just redundant. I'm having a really difficult time coming up with way in which it's substantially different from Essence, which makes me wonder why it can't just... be Essence? Drawn like that, Martial Arts styles become these unmoored Charm cascades, not connected to any particular Ability, just kindof hanging out for anyone (Terrestrial/Celestial/Sidereal distinctions notwithstanding) to pick up, exploring whatever theme or way of being it is they explore. Speaking of which, I'm also wondering why Sidereal styles are tied to a single Ability. I understand the notion that Sidereal styles are designed along more restricted themes, but it seems like these themes are orthogonal to the Ability grid, rather than in-line with it. Actually, that seems like an essential element of the coolness and power of Sidereal Martial Arts: they are potent examinations of very specific and, frequently, novel ways of being. It seems like you could well have a Silver Tempest of Blades Style, which is just all about particular sort of Melee, but it doesn't seem like Crystalline Shots of Inebriation is diluted (heh) by cutting across Resistance, Dodge, and Performance. It seems like it ought to just depend on the style: maybe some Charms have only an Essence prerequisite, some additionally have an Ability prerequisite, and others use two Abilities or a Virtue or something weirder. ~ VioletCrazyGirl

Sorry, completely unrelated comment... but is Crystalline Shots of Inebriation actually written up anywhere? ^_^
-- Darloth wants to know!
No, sadly. I have on numerous occasions considered writing a Sidereal drunken style ^_^ I'd probably either call it Crystalline Shots of Inebriation or Amaretto Sours of Perfection. “I trip over his attack, hiccupping as I face-plant gracelessly. I'd like to spend a mote of alcohol to dodge.” ~ VioletCrazyGirl