A Treatise On Charms
OK. My mission in this matter is to flesh out a set of guidelines for the purposes of making new Charms and revising official ones for a Golden Rule set in my games in the future. I always have lots of ideas, but I feel that if I manage to articulate the themes behind those ideas, I could better flesh out the mechanics and exact ideas it takes to make them reality.
What I am asking for here is feedback and advice. I want none of the "Solars should be able to roll over everyone" or the "DB Charms are just as powerful as Anathema's" arguments. I am not making any protests as to who is the best at what in your games. To be honest, the printed material can be interpeted so that the DBs backed by the Sids are too much for the Solars, Lunars, OR Abyssals to ever hope to face. It can also be interpeted so that the Sids are fighting a losing battle to hold together a Realm full of squabbling Terrestrial brats, while the Solars and Lunars, free from the full power of the Wyld Hunt and the threat of the Empress' superweapons, are very much free to conquer and build new empires as they like, and if they ever unite against the Realm, the Blessed Isle will be the only safe place for Dynasts ever again. You could also interpet it so that all the forces of Creation fight and weaken each other, until the twin cataclysms of increasingly powerful Abyssals wreacking death and destruction across the landscape and the Fae breaking the barriers at the edges of Creation collapses the world. Or, perhaps even worse, the Empress could return and command every living Dynast through some sort of high-Essence Infernal "I control my blood relatives" power, reveal the Sids, and direct the Dragon-Blooded Host against the 100 Chosen of Heaven, severely taxing the maintenance of Creation and weakening the Tapestry until the Yozis can escape and re-establish a very angry, vengeful reign of the world.
Really, I've read everyone's viewpoints, and they're all supported. So shush and provide me with some feedback -- again, these themes are just to make my future Charm creation and modifications more internally consistent. I'll be posting in parts.
Part 1: Dragon-Blooded Charms
Essence 1-3 DB Charms focus on tricks and negating bits and pieces of the rules in order to be more flexible. Effortlessly Rising Flame is a good example-- being knocked down sucks, and so the DBs can easily recover from it. Building off that principle, acceptable custom DB Charms of this range might involve being able to reflexively turn to meet any attack, thereby preventing attacks from behind, or being able to instantly string any bow. Higher-level Charms focus on drawing power from the elements to achieve powerful, but limited and predictable, effects. Stronger DB powers typically have a hole somewhere in them, like Arrow-Consuming Flame Defense's inapplicability against non-wooden projectiles.
DB Charms typically cost 50-90% of a similar Celestial power. This does not apply to the Immaculate Charms -- those follow most Celestial MA rules regarding power level. More powerful effects will certainly cost 8 or more motes, a Willpower, and a health level. Free reflexives are an advantage, but not TOO big an advantage -- note that currently existing free reflexives are either not enough to singly turn aside the assault of an Exalt (Flickering Candle), limited to specific situations and vulnerable to negation (Vengeful Gust Counterattack), or prohibitively expensive to rely upon (Five- Dragon Fortitude). Persistent effects at lower levels tend to be weak/easy to bypass (FD Blocking Tech., Whirlwind Shield)-- at higher levels, there are essential holes in the defense (Perfected Scales of the Dragon, Defense Against Anathema). Many Charms have nifty elemental bonuses spread throughout-- Effortlessly Rising Flame boosting jumping comes to mind.
Group-boosters are powerful, more powerful than typical DB Charms, but none are of much individual use (though some powerful individual Charms, like Whirlwind Shield, have group options) and all of them cost a frightful amount of essence. DBs cannot generally maximize their group-boosting, save enough essence for defense, AND still have enough to power active use of essence in attacking. Group- boosted DBs are not neccessarily more versatile or powerful -- the boosts tend to be straight dice-adding or penalty-inducing, instead of weird special effects. Their purpose is to make the DBs more dangerous opponents at the base level -- the DBs individual skills and Charms still provide all the extra punch.
Defeating a DB's Charms requires one to overpower the DB, which is trivial for Celestials, while at the same time being sure not to be caught in any of a DB's large grab-bag of smaller tricks, like Safety Among Enemies and Vengeful Gust Counterattack. The tendancy we see for powerful Celestials to NOT overpower single or small groups of equivalently-powered DBs, as canon suggests, is due to a tendency to ignore the need to watch out for a DB's tricks. A DB caught without a specific trick for his situation (for example, caught in waist-deep water/thick underbrush without Threshold- Warding Stance) is dead meat against a Celestial.
The DB Charms as written go fairly well with these ideas. Note that DBs are NOT encouraged to develop cross-aspect at higher levels, and each aspect has a set of abilities that can be bent or creatively used to fit most any goal (try imagining how you'd use the Aspect abilities of each caste, and not just the combat one, to make a ninja/spy/assassin).
The DB army-killing level is at Essence 5. Not even the best heroic mortal stands a chance against a combat-centric starting DB, but groups of elite opponents remain a danger to DBs well into the Essence 4 level.
Suggested directions for DB Charms: Stronger and more elementally-powered versions of Dragon-Graced Weapon. Thrown Charms at Essence 4-5 that aid/work against all ranged attacks that pass within a certain distance of the character, regardless of the attack's target, with a strong possibility of redirection of said attacks. Such Charms will seem overly powerful initially for DB Charms, but will have an essential weakness -- every type of Exalt has a basic Charm for ignoring enviromental conditions like wind, which invalidates these Charms. High-level Athletics Charms that provide frightening stat boosts, at a high and constant essence drain. Medicine Charms that inflict increasingly powerful bonuses and penalties to targets, culminating in a Charm at Essence 5 that can turn an opponent to a wooden statue given time and successful resisted rolls that are trivial versus mortals but fairly even versus Exalts. Such Charms will require committed essence, though the final Charm only requires it until the target is completely turned to wood -- this does kill the target. Investigation Charms to trace the effects of a significant action as they unfold by attuning oneself to the ripples of essence as they spread throughout the world via a series of difficult rolls.
Part 2: Lunar Charms
Lunar Charms fall into a pair of themes. DBT and many of the more straghtforward combat Charms (Ferocious Biting Sword, Deadly Claw Blow, Snake Body Technique) rely on being bigger, badder, and faster than the opponent, overwhelming them in a short amount of time through sheer power: tearing an opponent's head off or shrugging off a blow from a daiklaive or moving so quickly as to force an opponent to strike THEMSELVES. These effects are generally not perfect, or even close to perfect. Further development among these lines would just accomplish many of the same effects with bigger numbers against more opponents in a shorter span of time.
However, many of the Lunar Charms both in and out of combat (note: a good many of these are marked Changing Moon, though not an overwhleming majority) work on a different principle. These Charms
typically give a vague, wide, open-ended sort of effect that doesn't seem all that immediately applicable to anything (Emotion-Shaping Technique -- affects any Virtue both upwards or downwards... but what use is that?). This type of Charm generally requires the Lunar to figure out how to apply and adapt the Charm to his situation, just as the Lunar must be adaptable in both shape and mind to survive difficult situations ("Hey -- if the judge suddenly has Compassion 4, maybe he'll let me off, especially after I tell a tale of heart- moving intensity with Tale-Spinning Method!"). This especially applies to low-level Charms. Higher-Essence Charms of this type would likely look like Glib Tongue Technique or Insidious Moonsilver Shard -- not perfect, but very powerful if certain rolls are made with lasting effects.
Lunar Charms progress GREATLY in power the further one reaches into a tree. Specialization is encouraged. The reason for this is actually a brilliant mesh of system and theme -- Lunars adapt their Charms to the situation in their guise as clever tricksters. If one were to stat out Luna, her Charms would work the same way. A Lunar takes 3 Charms and adapts them to 30 situations, and the Charms should reflect this, which they do. The reason for the existence of the combat Charms is a combination of needs prompted by the Lunar exile and their original role as Solar bodyguards. They make EXCELLENT bodyguards -- easy to hide or make extremely obvious, hard to fell in a single blow, focusing on overwhelming opponents hard and fast with little to no preparation time and ever aware of their surroundings (Lunars are the only Exalted with both an anti-ambush AND an anti- observation Charm).
The power limits on Lunar Charms comes in their cost (though they tend to have high esssence pools) and in limitations on the type of combat they're suited for. Lunars are meant to take hits for and protect their Solar mates (not that that means anything to YOUR Lunar, but it had an influence on the original development of their Charms) -- thus, soak and regeneration are an easier method of defense, and many of their active defenses are dangerous to the attacker as well. Lunars don't do perfection well -- their only perfect defense in the book is Simple and requires a roll. Until higher Essence levels, this should remain true.
Lunar Charms that can be duplicated by turning into an animal are generally weak, though their Survival set is a little TOO spaced out. Many Charms, like the fins and gills Charms, could be condensed into one -- they're THERE just in case a Lunar without an aquatic totem wants to go DBT underwater and retain his mobility. Typically, this would be an ability developed later in life.
Individual mortals are utterly outclassed at character creation. Army-killing is possible at Essence 3, but slow -- mass-killing attacks are a likely direction of Essence 4-6 combat Charms.
Other war shapes, such as huge versions of the totem shape, are likely possible at higher Essence levels. Other possible directions include using animal Charisma to impress a hapless mortal to think and act as the Lunar would for a time or even permanently (making excellent agents), more wild and outrageous moonsilver manipulation (making any moonsilver weapon a potential Infinite Weapon comes to mind), or being able to shapeshift into a mass of smaller creatures, or being able to actively detect the fields of perception of others in order to better evade them.
Part 3: Sidereal Charms
Sidereal Charms are hit and miss, and hard to talk about as all (or the extremely vast majority) of Sidereal Charms (non-MA, of course, as those are universal and addressed later) are published, providing no need for guidelines for new ones. Instead, as I love Rebecca Borgstrom's work but find her Charms alternately perfect and infuriatingly broken, these will largely be guidelines for rewriting Sidereal Charms that irk me. No insult is meant to the author -- just, my game works differently from hers.
That said, Sidereal Charms are the opposite of Lunar ones. They tend to be very powerful and straightforward, and EXTREMELY limited. Shun the Smiling Lady is my example of a typical, well-made Sidereal Charm. It's powerful, and will even seriously hinder an Exalt in his romantic endaevours. But... what's the point? Why would the Sidereal WANT to use this power on any specific person, other than spite, and I doubt a paragon secret agent of the Celestial Bureacracy has a lot of extra time and essence to commit to screwing over someone's love life. And it's not permanently crippling. The Charm's primary effects drop when the essence is uncommitted, and it won't take THAT many Presence and Socialize rolls to make your old love come back to you, especially if you're a socially-oriented Exalt.
That said, Sidereals have to do the opposite of what Lunars do. If a Lunar adapts his 3 Charms to 30 situations, a Sidereal takes 10 extremely rigid Charms and finds a different way to approach a situation so that each of them are of some use. A Lunar adapts to the situation. A Sidereal adapts the situation to himself.
A side-effect of this is that Sidereals can, to those who don't actually bother playing them, seem very, very powerful in the non- combat arena, more than even Solars (who, as we will see, utterly surpass others in the non-combat arena in 9 cases out of 10). Most Sidereal Charms follow this rule. Pain Amplification Strategem is only useful against wounded opponents. World-Shaping Artistic Vision ensures that a Sidereal plans ahead to push situations into his favor. A Sidereal's most powerful effects require him to carry around extremely stealable, extremely destructible pieces of paper that aren't easy to create on the spot.
Sidereals don't need to specialize. A Sideral doesn't as much develop more and more facets of a single schtick, which you see Lunars doing a lot (Smargadine Serpent-Eye who has mastered the 25 ways of the Snake studying under the Serpent Avatar) as much as a Sidereal really does just have a large, large grab-bag of individual tricks that allow for as much unexpected flexibility as a Lunar's shapechanging ability.
I have issues with the Sidereal combat Charms. The Thrown, Archery, and Brawl trees I love, though Archery is a little bland except for the first and last Charms, and the final Brawl Charm, though brilliant, gives me some unease as it's MUCH more flexible than I like to see individual Sidereal Charms. The Melee tree contains little in the way of special effects and is the main perpetrator of a theme I see in a lot of Sidereal combat Charms (and a few non- combat ones) -- 'Like That Solar Charm, But More Expensive And Also With An Extra Nifty Effect.'
Why is Impeding the Flow SO much better than Dipping Swallow Defense or Feline Guard Technique? A Sidereal is an outright better parrier than a Solar. ItF wouldn't be so bad if the next Charm weren't a perfect defense that coincidentally negates a big weakness in perfect defenses -- you have to be aware of the attack, meaning things like Blow-Concealing Technique force you to combo in anti- surprise Charms. A Sidereal skips that step everyone else has to take. The persistent parry also does the same thing for an entire SCENE and gives you convenient extra free attacks, you know, just in case you wanted to Full Dodge AND attack this round (Solars have to get Solar Counterattack for this effect, and the situation actually comes up fairly often -- it's NOT a rare build). Perfect Dodge? REALLY perfect dodge! Even dodges persistent and social effects! Persistent dodge? Available early and easily, in a tree you might want anyway, and even becomes obscenely powerful when combined with certain anima powers?
The head and tails of it being that Sidereals are at the start easily better than Solars at their own tricks. You can make an argument for Lunars doing the same thing, but they use an entirely different set of tricks (and really, I don't agree with the argument - - it's usually perpertrated by people who think that all a combat Solar needs is persistent and perfect defenses). And it's not as if Sidereals fall behind at higher xp levels -- mixing and matching Celestial MA styles, which Sidereals can do happily, even getting a background for training, remains a valid combat tactic well into the 400xp, Essence 5 level, to say nothing of the Sidereal Styles.
That said, I generally like Charms like the one that lets a Sid make a crime socially acceptable. My only other problem with the Charms is Avoidance Kata -- I like that it's THERE, I just don't like the utter ease of it, allowing the Sidereal to save his PERSONAL behind from any situation he didn't forsee, negating his biggest weakness, at least in matters of his own hide. Perhaps a Paradox die for every use.
The Sidereal army-killing level is Essence 3-4, though they're not that good at actually KILLING said army until much later. It's just their evasive effects stack with the martial arts quite nicely. The most important Sidereal combat weakness isn't the lack of soak, which they can bypass in various ways, with their many ways of preparation, but the fact that they have a lot of Charms, both combat and for general utility, that commit a lot of their essence, and their pools aren't great. Sure, at Essence 3 they only have 6 essence less than a Solar. But the Solar can commit that to an MA form offering many benefits, and still have the same amount of essence as a Sid.
Part 4a: Solar Charms
Solar Charms don't work with quite the breadth of Lunar Charms (which often surprisingly require you to be quite subtle) or the sheer overwhelming finality of Sidereal Charms (which often surprisingly require a fair amount of manhandling of the situation). The Solar Charm approach, especially for social Charms, works on the simple principle of "OK, you can trivially get 10 success -- now let's see what vastly overwhelming powers we can give you just to reinforce that point".
The Solar schtick is perfection and an amount of power and successes that make the Lunar combat Charms look like an excercise in subtle calligraphy. The other Exalts all have schticks because they NEED them, in the face of the all-conquering, all-consuming light of Solar prowess. But realize that while a Lunar is a better shapeshifter than a Solar and can turn into a bird or a lethally accurate and fast bird-man hybrid, that "being a bird" is rarely a GOAL, though it's a cool POWER. Why would you turn into a bird? To reach the top of the mountain without touching a single stone on the hill? Realize that though other Exalts overshadow Solars in certain POWERS, a Solar is, 99 times out of a 100, the better choice for a specific GOAL. The Lunar will turn into a bird and fly to the mountaintop; the Solar will just jump up there, stopping to land on a few clouds (a higher- Essence derivative of Graceful Crane Stance should allow this) if he needs to. Ensure that a young maiden dumps her brave true love and marries the evil tyrant? A Sidereal might Shun the Smiling Lady that young man and then make being an evil tyrant socially acceptable. A Solar will just do a 10-success Manipulation+Presence roll to tell her to do it.
In short, Solar Charms have as wide a breadth as Lunar Charms with all the perfection of Sidereal Charms (the Charm isn't always perfect, but when it isn't, a Solar can roll outrageous numbers of successes). Respect-Commanding Attitude is a first-tier Charm that puts most Sidereal first-tier Charms to shame. Everyone always says Solars are weak in combat if denied power-up time. Ever read the source material? Wonder why the big heroes get to make all those speeches? Has it occured to you that that Charm will BUY you power-up time, as you cite your grievances with your opponents or denounce their cowardly ambush tactics? There's no defense roll. Unless the Solar becomes actively hostile towards you or is trying something sneaky like walking away, you WILL listen. Don't let the Zenith open his mouth, or you're friggin' screwed. Give a 15-second speech -- that's 5 turns of powerup. Go wild.
Even the basic Solar combat tricks reflect this. A Lunar gets a Charm to make your parries twice as difficult. A Sidereal gets a Charm to evade your attack perfectly, if he makes a roll that's not that hard to fail. A Solar gets a Charm you CAN'T parry, AND knocks you on your arse. A Solar gets a Charm to evade your attack. Period. A Lunar can evade 8 yards. A Sidereal can leave the situation, if he catches things in time. A Solar can evade some 40 yards, longer than most of your sprinting distances.
Now, the Solar advantage is slimmer in combat. Because well, it's a kung-fu movie, and the game would be less fun if everyone didn't stand a fair chance. Even a properly-built DB remains a challenge at every level of the game -- screw up, and even a DB will eviscerate you. But realize that a Solar rises to scary levels of power both the fastest and with the least effort. People always brag how their carefully built anti-Solar builds can defeat a Solar built for general combat (read: a Melee Solar with a persistent parry, a good dodge pool, and some counterattack Charms). Congrats. You can build any kind of Exalt to defeat a different specific kind of Exalt-- every strategy has holes, and believe me when I say it's easier to build Solars to exploit these holes than anyone else.
That said, high amounts of successes, scene-long boosts to essential attributes, outright negating bad situations and lack of tools and materials, knowing everything one needs to know beforehand, and the ever-present specter of perfection, these are the themes of Solar Charms. A Solar doesn't adapt to the situation or adapt the situation to himself. He runs the situation over.
This is also the Solar limitation. It's not that they can't be subtle. But even a Night caste being stealthy or an Eclipse being sly does so in an extremely flashy, perfect sort of way, to the point where anyone in the know can TELL when there's a Solar at work. The nature of the Solar Charms would prevent them from being able to be secret agents like the Sidereals -- when a Solar is at work, it's obvious SOMEONE is at work, as opposed to the Sidereal schtick: "It just happened to turn out that way -- the world was saved and no one will every appreciate we who did it". This also reveals certain holes in the Solar Charm set -- a Solar doesn't have an "I get up reflexively" Charm or a "I dodge when constrained" Charm like DBs get. It's assumed in their design that no situation can sufficiently constrain a Solar's overwhelming might, but this means that if you can set up a Solar in a sufficently screwed situation, you can put a serious damper on his power -- maybe. He probably doesn't have a Charm to reflexively turn around to meet an attack from behind. He might have a high-Essence Athletics Charm, however, that increases his reflexes and speeds to such an insane level that he is treated as effectively being anywhere within a 10-yard radius he chooses, negating all attacks from behind, cover penalties, and allowing him to reflexively retreat from or move forward to all attacks. If he does, congrats, you're screwed. You can drop a Solar 100 yards onto a half-flooded beach, but even prone and up to his waist in water, he'll probably still be able to hit you with perfectly-accurate flaming arrows of doom.
It doesn't make them invulnerable. It just means they're harder to individually drag down than most anyone else, and it does mean that they're actually more vulnerable in a situation they're unprepared for than most Exalts, because they don't have some always-on schtick to protect them like fangs, arcane fate, shapeshifting, or being an artifact-laden Dragon-Blooded Prince of the Earth.
That said, Solar Charms have the potential to go in any direction, and at higher essence levels they probably look a lot like the Sidereal MA Charms, just requiring fewer rolls and having a much wider breadth of effects with less required investment in a specific tree. I view the Castebook Charms (mostly those in CB:Dawn) as piss- poor examples of what Essence 5+ Solar Charms should look like, drawn from a previous vision of what game's power scale looked like. Every one of them is probably an Essence requirement too high-- agg damage archery is really only Essence 5, and the Brawl ones should be 4 and 5 instead of 5 and 6, respectively. Inexhaustible Bolts of Solar Flame being the exception -- THAT'S the kind of thing I expect at Essence 4 for Solars. It provides not just infinite ammo -- I can see that at Essence 3 or 4 for both Lunars and DBs as derivatives of their current Charms for that purpose (I think the Lunar one IS Essence 3 and scene-long, actually). It provides infinite superior ammo, that ignores enviromental penalties (like those seemingly-powerful DB anti-ranged-combat Charms like Whirlwind Shield and Arrow-Consuming Flame Defense). Everyone else does a trick -- DBs use plants to make arrows, Lunars use material from the enviroment, Sidereals use anything vaguely of the right shape. A Solar just conjures arrows from essence. Superior arrows of Solar essence.
Use that as a baseline for creating further Solar Charms. Obviously, they shouldn't be "I win!" Charms, but they're the closest things to it. They're not minor tricks like the DBs, cute powerful ones like the Sids, or even ones you have to be clever to use like the Lunar ones. They typically give an effect of both breadth and power, and in combat at higher Essence levels they'll look a lot like Sid MA Charms, except with less wonky restrictions and side effects and more, you know, straight kicking of arse. This is ESPECIALLY true when it comes to leadership, the building of things, and the influencing of others -- the provinces of kings and leaders and the forgers of society. Note that these are abilities where they buy successes better than even Lunars, have more and better perfect effects than Sidereals, and can do so much with a single Charm that even if you hate Solars, you admit having one on your side would be NICE. This is why they are an unavoidable part of the setting and the first part of
everyone's "other Exalts" section -- of all the Exalt types, they're the ones the others worry about the most because their very nature is to rewrite the world around them, even if their trade is subtlety and secrecy. Even as a secret agent, they'd be less of a Man in Black (Hi, Sid fans) and more James Bond. Sure, an individual outcaste DB can MAKE a huge difference. An individual Solar IS a huge difference, by his very nature. Both the setting and their Charm sets reflect this. Their victory isn't inevitable or even especially LIKELY -- it's just that no one else will even have a victory without having to expend a lot of effort dealing with all these demigods wandering about cluelessly, unlike the Sids and Lunars who spent the past milennia purposefully ignoring each other and writing themselves into relative obscurity.
Part 4b: Abyssal Charms
Neph made a very good point (he should, being the author of the Charms) when he noted that Abyssal Charms are only like Solar ones at lower levels, and that later on they likely develop an entirely separate, horrible set of powers.
That noted, we can still learn some things from the Charms in the book.
First thing is that Abyssal magic is... well, bad for everyone but them, ESPECIALLY their lessers. But it's not always that good for the Abyssals themselves.
While the Solar schtick is becoming the paragon of all things practiced by mortal man (no shapeshifting, no shifting the stars, no controlling fire, just being the best at those things men do), the Abyssal schtick is... well, different and monstrous. They do killing and unhappiness well, and this by its nature sort of extends to become an affinity for striking down the dreams and mutability of the Fae. They also do a Vampire-ish "death is sexy, baby" thing that goes horribly wrong when their anima or Resonance get high.
They suck at supplemental things. They can't craft worth a damn-- I imagine the Deathlords themselves have to make the more powerful Soulsteel artifacts, because the Abyssals themselves just can't make the rolls. Nor are they the masters of Investigation, like Solars are -- they can't muster the same number of automatic successes in the same amount of situations. They can't build supernaturally successful bureacracies (though they can rule already-extant ones with supernatural fear). They can make others screw up socially, but can't do well socially themselves.
In essence, Abyssals can't be nice, even if it temporarily suits their dark goals to be so. They're reliant on the stratified structures of the dead. This in itself isn't much of a problem until you realize they can't be SUBTLE, either. They can't train troops without killing the souls of their men. They can't pass through the wilderness without scaring even the predators in the wilds. Even though they excel at not being seen, the effects of them actually DOING anything are far more obvious than the hero-worship and spat of heroic youths who inevitably follow a Solar around.
That said, mechanically, Abyssals do perfection and successes just like Solars, except in matters of building and creation -- they DO retain very good social skills, however, though nothing to rival a Solar. The weakness in their Charm set is a long list of negative side effects on the environment, which ruins their ability to be subtle, and a preponderance of powerful but extremely expensive Charms. This is the Essence 1-3 level. Just follow the Solar Charms, and remove auto-successes and huge amounts of dice and abilities when it comes to creating concrete things, unless it has specifically to do with death energies.
Something to be noted at this level is that where a Solar typically has a Charm like Fire and Stones Strike, enabling him to do damage just like normal, but even better and more effective, an Abyssal has our friend Artful Maiming Onslaught. Perhaps as a hint to what their later Charms look like, Abyssals sacrifice convenience and efficiency for sheer, mind-bending horror. A Solar might take the ability to do 5 automatic damage, while an Abyssal will do but 2 levels but cut off your hand in the process. The advantage? Depends on whether you needed that hand, or those health levels.
This is an important point. The Solar kills, the Abyssal debilitates (which makes killing easier). A Solar probably has more perfect effects and does individual things better than an Abyssal. In exchange for this slight drop in horsepower, the Abyssal spark gains the ability to do horrible things that go outside the normal realm of "I roll 15 successes to hit". Meaning the Abyssal is more versatile, in the direction of Bad, Bad Things, but outside of that direction, their Charms are slightly weaker than Solars.
Case in point, Surprise Anticipation Method VS Ominous Portent Method. Really, SAM doesn't just alert you to attacks. It'll alert you to cues in the enviroment that relay things other than ambush. Anything that would surprise you -- has someone stolen your Circlemate's weapon while he wasn't looking? That'll alert you. Are there only 99 of the 100 scrolls of your spell research in the stacks? SAM will pick up on that, too. In the specific realm of bodily danger and death, however, like an assassin about to hit you with some poisoned arrows, the Abyssal gets the advantage, because his Charm doesn't cost anything or require a Charm use. Just realize that outside of that, the Charm doesn't activate at all.
The implications of this are also hinted at in Essence 1-3, in the social trees. Abyssals take social violence to a new level. I'm not just talking Withering Dirge -- that was just a really cool idea that didn't fit in any other trees. I'm talking the horrible, mind- bending powers like Irresistible Succubus Style. I don't know if Neph intended us to activate that Charm at the same time as Heart- Stopping Mien, but it's a horrible, mean, mind-raping combination of effects, the kind that encourages the ST to start assigning mortals derangements because a being whose very presence can easily give you a stroke just rolled 20 some dice on a seduction attempt on you. Sure, a Solar can roll more Performance successes than you (and Presence ones, though this builds Limit like nobody's business and is for some reason turn-long -- read: uncomboable), and can even do so without scaring everyone in the room and making it blatantly obvious that he is a Bad Person, but when it comes to using social skills to do bad things, Abyssals win. Doesn't mean you won't have friends. But we all know people in real life who are, well, evil or close to it, who mistreat others horribly and everyone KNOWS is wrong in most things they do and yet have this weird charisma that makes you flock to them and take their abuse... multiply that by 1,000 and that's an Abyssal social monster.
These trends-- debilitating special effects in the combat Charms, an extreme social aptitude for mistreating others (and obviously so), and weaknesses in several Twilight and Eclipse abilities, likely continues in the higher Essence levels. Not outside the realm of possibility for Essence 5 includes Lore Charms to make everything touched by your anima effectively a shadowland or to leech essence and then health levels from any Fae in a similar area, or extensions of Blight that not only ruin the area, but sap the essence out of it giving you a boost. Even more Charms that fight off the limitations of the living, like the need to breathe or skin that is at all affected by the cold. Presence Charms to make the Abyssal the only person you trust, Performance Charms to lower the Virtues of your audience (temporarily for magical beings, permanently for mortals). Socialize Charms that allow you to take an act and make it commonly accepted as a vile practice antithetical to all respectable mankind. And combat Charms...
... the one Melee 5, Essence 4 Charm we have is frigging frightening. I don't imagine things will get less so. I can imagine Brawl Charms at higher levels that inflict damage that doesn't heal, period, without the intervention of magics that will heal aggravated health levels. Thrown Charms that leave weapons inert, only to spring into attack at a later time when specified prey has appeared, thirsty for their blood. Or maybe being able to whisper a target's true name to a quiver of arrows and drench them in a health level of your blood, and then firing them all at once with inhuman speed into the air -- as long as the named target is on the same plane of existence (Creation, Underworld, Malfeas, doesn't work in the Wyld), the arrows will find him within a day and an hour and descend from the sky all at once in a rain of arrows.
So yeah. Obviously Neph is invited to criticize my interpetation, which is a bit sparse because I generally apply the same rules as I do to Solars, with less of a lean towards perfection and more of a lean towards mean, nasty, powerful tricks. Like extremely powerful, malevolent Sidereal Charms.
Solars and Abyssals are hell on earth to armies at Essence 3. At Essence 4 (we have confirmation of this for Solars, I image it goes the same for Abyssals), sending mortals against either becomes a real excercise in futility.
Part 5a: The First Exception - Combat Charms
Combat Charms bear special mentioning in any discussion about Charms in general. Not just because they all end up looking a little similar because everyone's first trick with a sword is the same -- "I Swing Even BETTER" -- but because the game balance is entirely different.
That Solars are on the top of the heap and DBs at the bottom is obvious if you look at the other Charms. No Lunar will be a better king/rouse a better peasant rebellion than a Solar; unless he's on business, no Sidereal will have such an easy time bribing the spirit of the Yu-Shan Golden Path that his dragon boat has every right to be there as will an Eclipse using an entry-level Charm (who, co-incidentally, does NOT have to be on business). That's fine, things like ruling men and excelling at things that aren't shapeshifting or astrology are part of the Solar schtick and always have been. But the Exalted were ALL created for the purposes of killing things, and so they all excel at the smacking of down.
In-game, this means that their in-combat power levels are much closer than their out-of-combat power levels, with a small exception for DB secular Charms -- thankfully for the DBs, the Sids fixed that problem some time ago with the Immaculate MAs.
Unfortunately, we really can't make too many statements about power level, as, except for the Sids, we really only have the Essence 1-3 level statted out. The Essence 4-6 Solar combat Charms in Castebook Dawn are largely badly designed and too weak (except, IMHO, the 2 Essence 4 Archery Charms and Protection of Celestial Bliss), considering that the Sidereal MAs have shown us the kind of thing really possible at those levels. We have a bare handful of Lunar Essence 4 Charms (nasty, each of them -- easily comparable to the evil that is Maw of Dripping Venom), and a few DB ones.
The sad part of this is that we really can't complain about Sidereal MAs as we have nothing to compare them to, and unless you're fond of making lots of custom Charms at power levels we have no real official reference for (not that there's anything wrong with that) because MA is weird, they're barely usable in-game as very little is statted up to be able to stand against Essence 6 combat-master Exalts.
A fairly consistent feature of the Essence 1-3/4 level of combat Charms, though, is that each Exalt has an avenue of power that's a little easier to get going than the others, that plays to the strengths of the Exalt, henceforth referred to as the "Obvious Build". The most notorious Obvious Build is the Lunar soak/regen monster, but the Solar/Abyssal stacked persistent build (Invincible Sword Princess), the DB dodge/armor/init build (Fire Aspect with lots of jade artifacts), and the Sidereal VBoS/ItF build are also easily recognizable.
Note that only the final one of these builds is defined by its offensive options, and coincidentally, it's the one that also sucks the least.
That's because there's no unbeatable defensive tactic in Exalted, at least at Essence 1-3. Oh, sure, defense trumps offense for any one specific attack (at great expense), but over time, a sufficent offense will eventually win unless the attacker dies. Goes counter to that little toolbar we all live by, but it's true. And by sufficient, I mean you need a specific offense for each kind of defense -- lots of dice against stacked persistents, the ability to do on average more than 1 hlvl/round against soak/regen (or alternately, the ability to do agg damage, or the ability to do so much damage in one round that regen just won't cut it), and so on.
This is something of a trap within the Charms themselves. That "defense trumps offense" sidebar makes everyone go crazy. Just realize that the only point of ANY defense is to give you time to deliver an effective offense, that you need different defenses and offenses for different situations (hey, stacked persistents and soak/regen work WONDERS against masses of mortals, just less so against Exalted duelists), and that you cannot design a defensive tactic at Essence 1-4 that you can't also design an Essence 1-4 offensive tactic to make mincemeat out of. And vice-versa, but hey, the attacker doesn't die when his OFFENSE fails.
Part 5b: That Other Exception - Martial Arts
I'll start with a controversial claim: No experienced combat Exalt should be without Martial Arts Charms.
The way I see them, for everyone but Sidereals and Immaculate DBs, MA is the ultimate supplemental ability in Exalted. There's nary a non- MA combat style in Exalted that can't be supplemented with one of the 20 published MAs. But unless prohibitive amounts of experience are poured into learning multiple MAs that complement each other (often one filling in the weaknesses of another), the styles don't stand up very well on their own (except, you'll notice, the Immaculate and Sidereal Styles, and even the Immaculate Styles have essential defense holes).
Basically, MA doesn't stand on its own-- this is its balancing factor. Even when an Exalt like a Solar uses MA as his primary combat ability, he typically has healthy amounts of Dodge or Resistance or Athletics.
You COULD say the same thing about Brawl, but Brawl also lacks the investment of MA -- you typically don't need 4 Brawl Charms before the tree starts to pay off. Thunderclap Rush Attack is 2nd Tier and honestly one of the best combat Charms in the game at that level (it comboes with ANYTHING).
But I digress. MA for most Exalts syncs up well with their natural abilities (though a Lunar is probably better off buying DBT if it's not too inconvenient) -- there's not much better use of the Solar Athletics damage-boosters than to help Snake and Tiger Stylists hit HARDER.
Another feature of the MAs is that they're geared to a very different focus than everyone else's favorite combat abilities, Melee and Dodge. Both of those abilities, especially in Solars and DBs, are geared towards more and better attacks/defenses -- this works wonders against mortals and beasts (funnily enough, they also excel at turning aside other Melee/Dodge attacks). Other than having a bit of a grab-any-trick-you-like feel that comes from taking on a theme, most non-Sidereal MAs (because they're weird and can't really be compared, I'll ignore them here) have both a defensive and a defense- negating element.
What's important there is the defense-negating element. Snake bypasses soak, Tiger can bypass both moderate active defenses and moderate soak through sheer dice/damage, Air relies on having just a few more dice than the defense and then pinging the opponent to death, Hungry Ghost works like Tiger but by lowering the opponent's defense rather than boosting the character's offense (by the way, Tiger and Hungry Ghost work WONDERS together).
The implications of this is that while Melee and Dodge are great for beating through mortals and other lesser opponents, they're not so great for fighting defensively minded Exalts, because fending off single 20-dice attacks and 3-5 12-dice attacks are the first things most Exalts learn to do in their defensive-Melee and Dodge trees.
Most of the non-Sidereal MAs are geared the other way around. Most of them will fall when those 6 fangs of archers surround you and blanket you in a storm of arrows -- ping damage hurts, you can only full dodge so many arrows, and there's only two full-pool reflexive defenses in the whole of the published MA trees, one of which doesn't work at range.
But when it comes to facing Exalts, the MA trees work wonders. Suddenly you have a large bag of tricks. Now, again, the MA won't stand on its own -- Snake has an EVIL weakness to active defenses and Hungry Ghost has nothing in the way of defense, but each MA typically presents an offensive solution that must be very SPECIFICALLY defended against.
As for a discussion of what's possible with MA, and the essential differences between the levels of supernatural MA Styles, I think the PG covers it quite, quite well. My shorthand thoughts about it would be that the Terrestrial styles offer bonuses that would make the user deadly in combat with mortals, but would never be more than supplementary in combat between Celestials (not that Celestials wouldn't use them -- the Terrestrial styles also tend to have fewer user restrictions, and I recommend the Five-Dragon Style, at least through the Form, to any PC who has xp to burn and isn't already using an MA), Celestial styles each are deadly but have essential weaknesses that need protecting, and Sidereal styles are of such a power level that we need comparable complete Charm sets for other Exalts before we can really begin to speculate. All of the styles sync up best with the Exalt they're most prominent with (animal styles with Solars, for example), generally because they're written by the same author with those Charms in mind.
The Immaculate Styles tend to have a wider breadth of attack options (Air Dragon has like 5 different methods of attack) and somewhat stronger defensive options than the other Celestial styles -- this is because the Sidereals designed them with the full knowledge that against a Celestial Exalt, an Immaculate would NEED a Celestial- level MA that stood on its own as a complete fighting style. This is a strength: the styles are generally superior to the others. It's also a weakness: Immaculates don't generally have the xp for a lot of supplementary Charms, and theirs aren't as great as the ones backing the Anathema's styles, AND the defense isn't much wider than the normal Celestial Styles -- an Air Dragon who runs into an undodgeable attack is quite, quite screwed unless said Immaculate has quite a bit of xp.
The Sidereal MAs DO have weaknesses (well, CMoS and CPoC do. The Prismatic Arrangement of Creation is downright infuriating -- it makes fighting a Water Dragon Stylist look like fun), but not as large as they initially look. Anyone working the Charcoal March of Spiders Form, you must remember, already HAS an entire MA's worth of tricks to call on. The Charms themselves, though, aren't THAT sick and disgusting if you look at them in the context of Exalts of that power. I can't imagine an Essence 6 Lunar using only the Charms listed having much to fear from a Sidereal who uses the Cannabilistic Heritage Technique. However, the extreme prevalence of MA 6, Essence 6 Charms in the CMoS Style that will basically win a fight in a single blow suggest that somewhere in the Essence 4-6 range we start seeing a lot of soak effects in either Resistance or Occult that protect Exalts from 'extra' effects lingering around on attacks.
Just giving a shout out that this is an AWESOME summary of Charm Design and theory. You are the winner :) DS
I second that. Reading over this not only gave me a better idea of how the Charms are supposed to work, it made me rethink how to play Solars and Dragon-Blooded. Nanaki
I too immensely enjoyed reading this. I hope you don't mind, I went in and fixed as many typos as I could. I tried my best, where your wording was unclear, to clean up without changing meaning. - DigitalSentience
I agree. Seriously, this should be linked at the top of the charm section, near the guidelines for new ones. I wonder if we can persuade the designers to rewrite the caste-books with this in mind... Glad I found this. I shall be referring back to it often.
Feh. Sorry for the double comment... but reading all of the rest made me forget something. Since you appear to be much better at summing and realising basic charm assumptions than I, could you debate whether Wood-aspected dragon-bloods have as many cross-useful in-aspect charms as others? Because I recently found that I was having trouble making a wood aspected character using only in-aspect charms, wheras I can usually manage with the others. If this develops, I may move it to somewhere else, but this seemed the best place to try and start it off. Anyone else is welcome to comment, but if it turns into an actual discussion, probably best to move it there.
- A cover as a dancer or other performing artist is wonderful for Wood aspects. Hidden Petal Aria Method can function in place of a dead drop to pass information, while Enchanting Performance can poison the populace against a rival. If someone tries to use Charms to convince you to defect, wrap yourself in Verdant Curtains of Serenity. Use Blossom Hides Thorns in combination with Dance of Flashing Swords to perform an assassination in full view of your audience, during a performance, without being spotted. Catch your quarry on the road with Quarry Revelation Technique, and ambush him, when there are no witnesses - and even if there are witnesses, they'll never see you, as you'll be firing a flurry of arrows through the underbrush (and their carriage!) with Unobstructed Hunter's Aim, Spring Follows Winter, and Swallows Defend the Nest. When he and his entire entourage lie dead - and Harvest of the Hunter ensures you have sufficient arrows for the task - you can evade detection and capture with Trail Concealing Measurement. If they do catch you, Scattered Pearl Hoof Falls, Heaven-Gracing Leap, and Cloud-Harnessing Method can help you escape them. If you haven't got a mount handy, Dance of the Jade Bridle can provide one given a sufficiently large animal. And if they finally bring you to bay, use Ebony Spur Technique and Elemental Halo's Mercy to keep the mounted advantage, and Jade Crucible Method to keep a little something in your Essence pool - remember, you can use simple Charms in a turn that your mount makes a full move. Use this to your advantage. To really fight dirty, Combo Swallows Defend the Nest with Ravenous Thorn Technique and Dread Infection Strike. Remember - free reflexives are your friend, especially in social situations, when they allow you to unobtrusively use multiple Charms at once, something no other Exalt can do.
- I was actually surprised when I saw how few Charms the Wood aspects have which deal with inflicting problems on other people's biological systems. Perhaps a Medicine tree based on Dread Infection Strike, and a Survival tree based on Nature's Healing Bounty, involving inflicting disease and creating poison, respectively. (Although really, I can't praise Blossom Hides Thorns + Dance of Flashing Swords enough - they're even both reflexive, so if you want you can throw in something like, oh, Dread Infection Strike, or Stoking Bonfire Style, or even Falling Star Maneuver with a well-described stunt. I'm seeing a Dragon-Blooded conductor of an orchestra, who - whoops! - drops her baton during a particularly flashy move and - whoops! - it goes right into the eye of an audience member, killing them instantly. Blossom Hides Thorns + Seeking Throw Technique, there. You could reinforce the baton ahead of time, maybe give it the stats of a shuriken or a throwing knife...) - Kurulham
- Seems like, in an odd twist of fate, the aspect-book for wood actually has good and useful mechanics that add a lot to the aspect, since I don't recognize most of the charms. I suppose it is the last written, and so should have practice behind it, eh?
- Seems like, in an odd twist of fate, the aspect-book for wood actually has good and useful mechanics that add a lot to the aspect, since I don't recognize most of the charms. I suppose it is the last written, and so should have practice behind it, eh?
Very cool, something like this really belonged in the Player's Guide.
About the Sidereal charm set: I think the idea was to make Sidereals amazingly powerful in a few areas, but very weak in most. I havn't played with it, so I'm not sure if it worked. But it sort of makes sense. -MeiRen
Something you might want to add in the sidereal section (which you start to touch on at the end): in addition to having smaller essence pools to start with, there can be (and usually are, in my experience) at lot more reasons why a sidereal would be unwilling to spend peripheral essence than other types of exalt, even during combat. Most sidereal's I've seen played tend to don resplendent destinies most of the time and dropping them (even in the middle of combat) to avoid gaining paradox from an anima banner tends to cause more problems for them than it solves. - Wordman
While certain aspects of this may or may not hold true in 2nd Edition or in individual games, this is a great resource for ideas on Charm design and a general guideline for things. It's certainly a starting point. - MoonSword
This is an insanely good reference. it's just really really cool and generally awesome. I feel really stupid. - Han'ya