After playing Exalted (both editions) for a while, I've come to the conclusion that the game's mechanics... well... just aren't very good. After looking at the tone and content of the Second Edition errata, it also appears this will not be improving any time soon. I do, however, love the setting, so have been spending a great deal of time thinking about other mechanical systems to use with the game. This page assembles my thinking on the subject.
- 1 Considerations
- 2 Existing Systems
- 2.1 Anima Prime
- 2.2 Godbound
- 2.3 One Roll Engine (ORE)
- 2.4 Cortex Prime
- 2.5 Tenra Bansho Zero
- 2.6 Cypher
- 2.7 FATE 3.0
- 2.8 Fate Core
- 2.9 PDQ
- 2.10 Tri-Stat dX
- 2.11 Wu-Shu
- 2.12 Primal Order
- 2.13 Savage Worlds
- 2.14 Artesia
- 2.15 In a Wicked Age
- 2.16 Apocalypse World
- 2.17 Becoming Heroes
- 2.18 Mystic Empyrean
- 2.19 GURPS
- 2.20 Nine Worlds
- 2.21 Sorcerer
- 2.22 HeroQuest
- 2.23 Weapons of the Gods
- 2.24 World of Darkness
- 3 Custom Systems
- 4 Comments
In no particular order, here are things that bug me about the canonical system:
- Charms. There are just to damn many of them. First Edition had nearly 200 charm trees (which equates to thousands of charms). Second Edition already has over 130. Since each charm is basically a rules exception, the level of interaction combinations is extremely high. Further, even the existence of charms tends to select for a mentality of "if it's in the book, I can do it, if it isn't in the book, I can't". Another objection here is that the way charms work has the effect (and probably the intention) more of driving sales than making a good story: when you set up your system based around a bag of very specific tricks, you can create a market for more bags of equally specific tricks.
- A disconnect regarding formalism. The fact that both 2e Terminology Refinements and DissectingDefenseValue were more or less necessary points to a basic flaw: Exalted, in spite of being a very rules-heavy system, is informal in design. That is, its authors don't feel that rigorous definitions (for example) are necessary and appear to believe that Exalted should be run loosely. (The irritated tone of the errata makes this even more clear). The problem is that the system they actually published doesn't back that up. If you want a loose system, then create and describe a loose system. If you want a crunchy system with lots of interlocking rules and exceptions (e.g. charms), then build and describe one formally. You have to pick one, though. Don't make one and pretend it is the other. The informal approach, combined with the aforementioned quantity of interlocking charm exceptions, is lethal.
- Combat. Exalted has one of the more ponderous combat systems I've used. (The only one I recall being slower was vehicle combat in Twilight 2000.) That much of the system is ambiguous, nonsensical or unfinished (e.g. grappling) doesn't help.
- Cause-based. One of the main problems with the charms, Exalted builds rules by starting with causes to build effects, rather than just starting with the effect and building rationalization(s) for it. For example, dragon blooded have charms to raise DV. Solars have totally different charms to raise DV. Each of these charms is basically differentiated by concept (cause) rather than effect (often identical between such charms). Basing games on effects, and making the cause a matter of fluff instead of crunch, seems better to me.
- Abilities. Both the fixation on having exactly 25 skills and the choice of these particular 25 skills hurt the game. Dodge as a separate skill with the same cost as, say, Lore, bugs me. I also think the idea of "favored" abilities isn't really necessary.
- SoybeanTrading. You'd think gaming companies would learn not to use totally different math for character generation vs. advancement by now, but they haven't seemed to. Generally speaking, reverse engineering the "points" needed to get a character to its current should yield exactly one number of "points", entirely independently of the order in which the character advanced.
I am positive that the private reaction of some of Exalted's authors to some of these objections would be to just roll their eyes, maybe with a "learn to play" thrown in. I can deal with that. That's the whole point of this page. I'm just "learning to play" with rules that don't intrinsically suck.
For its shortcomings, canon Exalted does have some things worth admiring:
- Stunts. This is such a great idea that I now add some form of it to any game I play.
- Money. The way Exalted abstractly handles money and similar resources greatly reduce the amount of character bookkeeping needed, and is very refreshing.
- Manses. This is more praise for the setting itself, but Manses are one of the few really excellent mergings of a setting idea with mechanics to back them.
- The idea behind Virtues. Although the execution isn't great, the idea of Virtues is interesting. I'm not sure it's good, but it's interesting.
- Setting. Obviously.
- Ticks. The idea of combat ticks instead of turns is intriguing. Again, I'm not sure it's good, but it's interesting.
So, what to use instead? A number of systems are worth exploring. Many even have Exalted "ports" listed in AlternateSystems. I'm exploring the following, in no particular order.
Intended to replicate Final Fantasy, Anima Prime feels fairly Exalted-like. It uses a Creative Commons license, and has a much more "indie" feel to it that some of the other games on this list. It's also built as a bit of a toolkit, so hacking it into Exalted should be like hacking it to any other setting.
I built a hack to the Exalted setting at ExaltedPrime. This has since expanded into a more detailed private hack called Exaltation Prime, but many of the details have spilled into my public tinkering with Anima Prime.
Though it is largely an "old school" style game, Godbound functions a lot like Exatled with the serial numbers filed off, particularly the deluxe version (there is also a free version). It might not handle lunars particularly well.
One Roll Engine (ORE)
The ORE, and particular its use in Reign, are a pretty close match to Exalted already, and designed by one of the best game writers around. Martin 'Democritus' Nerurkar runs a Google Group to merge Exalted and Reign. (The cover of the resulting PDF is a brilliant merging of imagery of the two games, btw.) While I see what Democritus is trying to do, its not really the approach I was looking for.
I'm commenting about how I would approach this port onOR Ex Thoughts.
Jeremy Puckett has created an implementation of Exalted using the Cortex Prime system, called Blood and Fire. Cortex Prime is a flexible system with predecessors that were particularly good at managing ensemble play. Unlike a lot of Exalted hacks, it contains support for all the different types of exalted. It also distills magic down into a manageable number of effect-based powers. Even supports warstriders.
Tenra Bansho Zero
Tenra Bansho Zero's self-described "hyper Asian", cinematic approach works pretty well as for Exalted, if you already have an idea of the type of story you are after and are all on the same page.
The Gods of the Fall implementation of the Cypher system lends itself towards Exalted, geared towards characters that are rising godlings.
Several attempts have been made at porting Spirit of the Century, but none are that coherently written:
- Spirit of the Exalted
- Conversion to Spirit of the Century
- Spirt of the Unconquered Sun
- Wheel of Fate better than most, but dragon-blooded focussed
- PDF of solar-centric FATE conversion
- Strands of Fate-based
It is likely that the release of Dresden Files will re-energize such porting, as it will be a "higher powered" version of the same FATE system that Spirit of the Century uses. Probably should wait until its release.
Many seem to make the mistake of keeping Exalted, and importing bits of Spirit of the Century. This seems wrong to me. StoC is a really good game, and you're better off starting with it, setting the game in Creation, and adding adjustments. One great idea from Rob Donoghue is to use the following steps for character gen:
- Memories of the First Age - each has to involve another player's character, and while the PC had that memory, the other PC didn't, at least not initially
- Memories of the First Age - each has to involve another player's character, and while the PC had that memory, the other PC didn't, at least not initially
- Exaltation - possibly a required aspect here related to caste. Could be that anima flares could be how you gain fate points with such aspects.
- Since Exaltation
I'm also wondering if charm like powers could be abstracted as placing or altering Aspects on other people, while sorcery level effects could be abstracted by placing or altering aspects on the set.
I also wonder if martial arts styles could be made into aspects, with each style having defined guidelines for how they can both use and gain fate points.
A number of people have remarked that the Fate Core supplement Venture City Stories has some good techniques for running Exalted with the system. Similar statements are made about the Six Viziers magic system in the toolkit.
Some more directed conversions also exist:
An Exalted conversion exists for the Prose Descriptive Qualities (PDQ) System. I haven't played it, or the original PDQ system.
Being a free (even if largely defunct) game that works around effect-based thinking, where a handful of mechanics are massaged into an infinite number of effects.
I'm making an Exalted dX port on TriStatConversion.
Wu-Shu is about as light as a system can get and still be functional. It also was built with the same Wuxia sensibility that Exalted is supposed to have. The net hosts several different Exalted conversions for WuShu, which I don't like. I play with them and other Wu-Shu ideas atWu Shan.
Scroll of the Fist is a fairly extensive Wu-Shu/Exalted conversion.
Primal Order, an old "capsystem" for handling gods, changes the focus of the game when used in an Exalted setting. There may be ways to avoid this, but I'm still looking for them. One of the more intriguing aspects of this is that primal energy offers a better way of handling perfect effects such that they don't take over the game. The question of what base system to use also matters. Thoughts:
- Gods become more important
- Control of planes is rare. This makes Exalted gods much less powerful than typical Primal Order gods.
- Sanctums are planes.
- Primordials are their own planes.
- Large Exalted "planes" (e.g. Creation, Wyld, Yu-Shan, Underworld, etc.) - metaplanes?
- Creation is a created plane, built by use of omnipotence and investment of primal base by the Primordials. The base remains there, but is out of reach to the Primordials. The Neverborn seek to resurrect themselves by claiming this base, which would probably destroy Creation.
- Spheres of Influence
- Matter a bit more than in standard Primal Order.
- Might need to play with costs. Could be that sphere gain primal base, not cost it.
- Maybe spheres cost (representing effort to tame) but also provide "idea planes" (generating base)
- Exaltation acts as a way to bolster the primal base of the god who "sponsors" it. Somehow.
- Terrestrials spend primal inefficiently, where half generates elemental effects around them.
- Perfect effects == primal lacing. This makes perfects weaker, because they can be defeated by primal.
- Definitely need Essence, acting as a way to boost base.
- Probably need at least some attributes and abilities. See how Knights does stats.
- Maybe exalts have to pay sphere like costs to be able to use primal with certain abilities, given some free based on caste.
There is a great write-up of an Exalted port to Savage Worlds at NPCNWO/SavageWorlds. I need to read more about both it and the original game. Others have recommended just using the fantasy and super companions, with the "rising stars" power option. Or maybe Savage Rifts.
While not as full of over-the-top kung-fu action, Artesia seems to be designed for many of the same design goals as Exalted, at least in terms of consequences of action, social manipulation and so on. Some thoughts on how to adapt to to the setting of Exalted:
- Keep the idea of the Arcana, but replace the tarot cards with what amount to the various castes.
- Instead of picking castes, exalted get certain advancements in that arcana for free at character creation.
- Possibly the arcana/castes are grouped, or have a "parent" caste. That is, the Dawn and Twilight arcana might have a parent arcana of Unconquered Sun. Maybe not.
- Need some way that those exalted by, say, the Unconquered Sun, have access to powers from the arcana unreachable by those who have not been exalted by the Unconquered Sun. But otherwise, it should be possible for anyone to walk any arcana at least partially.
- Change the life-path constellations to use the standard Exalted constellations.
- Muck with the dice in some way to balance exalted power?
- Most of the Artesia magic system matches what Exalted would call Thaumaturgy, at least in principle, but is a bit more powerful.
- Might be the game keeps the gap between exalted and mortal much narrower than canon, which could be cool.
- Maybe martial arts paths act as "minor arcana"?
In a Wicked Age
Since In a Wicked Age is based on the same source material as Exalted (specifically, Tanith Lee's Flat Earth stories), it seems a natural for the Exalted world. It is a much more story oriented game, however, and doesn't lend itself to long campaigns. (Well, sort of. Like Lee's stories, a game that went on for years would do so by moving the focus down a chain of characters, so the players remain the same, but they characters they play always change.)
Anyway, not sure how to adapt to Exalted. Certainly some new Oracles would be needed. Possibly also some dice changes to simulate exalted magic. Needs more thought. Maybe make one for each Virtue?
Becoming Heroes is game of heroic fantasy where "characters have great powers and greater destinies, but walk a narrow line." Designers claim that Exalted's "sense of scale" was a design goal and that they wanted "play to deliver on the promise" of Exalted.
Mystic Empyrean "focuses on world creation, social character development, and storytelling". Characters are semi-divine, powerful beings, seeking to restore a destroyed world.
This isn't my bag at all, but for completeness, it is probably worth mentioning a GURPS conversion. One thing I do like about the conversion is that the author is thinking about the themes of Exalted and how the mechanics fail those themes.
As a "game of cosmic drama", Nine Worlds could fit the Exalted setting pretty well.
Weapons of the Gods
Weapons of the Gods appears to be an over-the-top wuxia game, based on a comic series.
World of Darkness
Exalted vs. The World of Darkness is Holden Shearer's conversion for "offering story and rules for playing the Exalted within the World of Darkness".
He also created a very move-heavy PbtA version, Exalted vs. The World of Darkness: Apocalypse Edition, which could also work for playing in the Exalted setting, minus the World of Darkness bits.
Qwixalted started as an expansion of the first edition quickstart rules, and become something else.
This web project is pretty far along. Seems based mostly on the idea of keeping the basic system intact, but cutting way back on redundancy and the number of choices for various things. Not sure if I like it yet. Its approach to charms doesn't impress me.
Also need to compare with XerExaltedLite.
Exaltalypse offers a PbtA take, with a small number of thematic playbooks, customized by type of exalt.
Johnathan Walton produced UnConquered, pulling ideas from a number of other games.
[[Exalted Reincarnated]] aims to redesign Third Edition as a less complex and more streamlined system.
Uncouth is a variant of Exalted that keeps much of the systems intact, but entirely replaces charms with something more manageable. Using the Munchkin card game as part of its inspiration, this system provides a way of mixing and matching effects into tests, providing a much smaller set of special rules than thousands of charms.
I'm fleshing out Uncouth at Uncouth.
A while back tried to address just the problems I saw in the ability system. The resultingAbility Redesign was pretty bad, but still better than what it hoped to replace.