Exalted - A Diamond In The Rough


Back in the early days of gaming there was One Game to Rule Them All. AD&D captured the hearts, minds and wallets of nearly every gamer out there. While other games had their market share (Champions and GURPS come to mind), everyone knew only one game was a household word. Negative press took TSR a step further, and by the time they released 2nd edition they were by far the largest game company out there.

Back in the early days of gaming there was One Game to Rule Them All. AD&D captured the hearts, minds and wallets of nearly every gamer out there. While other games had their market share (Champions and GURPS come to mind), everyone knew only one game was a household word. Negative press took TSR a step further, and by the time they released 2nd edition they were by far the largest game company out there.

They say all great things come to an end, and in the case of TSR they were right. Many of their most creative writers left to pursue other projects, and their products lost that special something. Sales dropped, and eventually they were bought out by Wizards of the Coast. Several competitors took advantage of this loss of momentum, and companies like FASA and Palladium flourished.

Wait a second, you may be asking. What does any of this have to do with Exalted? I'm glad you asked. One company in particular rose to prominence in the early nineties. Their games were dark and gritty, and gave birth to a new generation of gamers. White-Wolf's Vampire the Masquerade was an overnight sensation, and the rest of the World of Darkness games followed in its footsteps.

Today White-Wolf is a close second to WOTC in terms of RPG sales, and their Live Action games can be found in every American city with more than five thousand people. Mention Mage or Vampire to a gamer, and you can be pretty sure they know exactly what you are talking about. Of course no one can keep it up forever. Second edition WOD came and went, and then third edition arrived. By this time many of the people I knew had lost interest and switched to D&D third edition, and I am sure White-Wolf noticed the loss in revenue.

Being the intelligent company they are, they decided to branch out into other genres. Their first attempt was a Sci-Fi game called Trinity (originally named Aeon- then changed due to a law suit by MTV), but due to poor marketing and a horrid system it flopped. They followed it up with a super hero game called Aberrant, and this one did a little bit better. However, neither enjoyed the rampant success of the World of Darkness. White-Wolf needed a new game, and they put their think tank to work. They wanted a fantasy title to add to their stable of games, but also wanted to be sure some of their WOD player base picked it up. Around this same time the powers at White-Wolf also noticed Japanese Anime was swelling in popularity. It was a hobby every gamer seemed to share, and nearly all of us were saying 'Wouldn't it be cool if they came out with an RPG based on Anime?'

So Geoffrey C. Grabowski and Robert Hatch decided to give everyone what they wanted. Exalted is a fantasy game. It is the prehistory of the World of Darkness. Even better, it captures the feel of Anime like no other game that I have ever played. It has an amazing back-story, and has epic written all over it.

The plot in a nutshell goes like this: In the first age the gods went to war against Those Who Came Before. To aid them in their war they Exalted members of mankind. Solar Exalted were the most powerful, and served as generals and kings in a vast empire called the Realm. They took Lunar Exalted as mates, and used Sidereal Exalted as astrologers and advisors.

The war ended in success, and all of the Yozis were defeated. Those that died caused the creation of the underworld and the Deathlords. Those who were imprisoned became the infernal Malfeans. Players of WOD games will recognize both groups. Victory, however, came with a price. The Yozis cast a curse upon the Exalted as they died, and doomed them to become ever more corrupt until they tore creation apart. The Sidereal Exalted became aware of this fate with their auguries, and launched a purge to prevent it. Along with the aid of the Dragon Blooded (the lowliest and most common of the Exalted) they ambushed and killed the Solar Exalted. Their Lunar mates were allowed to flee to the edges of creation.

The charms and spells the Solar Exalted use are incredibly powerful, and as such they tore apart much of the empire when they were killed. The surviving Dragon Blooded took over the Realm as best they could, but much of its greatness had been lost. Then came the great contagion, a massive plague that wiped out nine tenths of the world. In its wake the savage creatures of the Wyld invaded and brought madness with them. They dwelled in the chaos outside of reality, and were intent on destroying creation. With very few people left to stop them, they swept across the land and slaughtered all before them. Things looked lost until a single Dragon Blooded turned the tide.

The woman who later became the Scarlet Empress managed to gain control of the defenses of the Old Realm, and used their vast power to sweep the Fair Folk back to the edges of creation. She gathered the survivors to her, and created a new Realm. It has ruled over the Blessed Isle, and much of creation, for nearly 800 years. With it came stability, and more importantly, the Wyld Hunt. Each Solar was destined to be reborn again and again (much like avatars in Mage). The Wyld Hunt was created to kill them whenever they appeared. Using the predictions of the Sidereal it has never failed. Until now.

Five years ago the Scarlet Empress disappeared, and her Dragon Blooded heirs are scrambling for the throne. They have stripped the Wyld Hunt of much of its power, and are more concerned with the succession than with the fate of the world. Player characters are the newly returned Solar, and if they can survive to master their powers they will change the fate of the world. The rules of the game allow for things like players raising armies and conquering nations. In fact, the players are destined to rule creation.

At first glance many people condemned this game as a power gamer's wet dream. I won't lie to you either. The powers and spells that are available in this game allow things like the destruction of entire cities. But if you look deeper you see that the rules work very well. They allow the PCs to make a difference in the world, and if a campaign is played to completion, to restore their kind to their rightful place as rulers of the world.

In addition to a wonderful plot the game also has a great system. It retains the simplicity of other White-Wolf games, but with a few modifications; my personal favorite being the idea of stunts. Whenever a player attempts an action (particularly a combat action) they are encouraged to describe it in intricate detail. If the Storyteller likes the description, then they award the player with extra dice for that action.

Having been a Game Master for many years this is a dream come true. No longer do I have to hear 'I hit the orc with my mace'. Now I hear 'I drop to one knee, and allow his blade to whistle harmlessly over me. Then, when he is off balance, I sink my stiletto into his gut'. How cool is that?!?

Exalted combines Anime (mechs and giant swords), epic fantasy, a touch of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, and the roots of the World of Darkness. Better still, it does all this seamlessly. I could go on for pages and pages about the strengths of this game, and I still wouldn't cover everything. Hopefully this review has piqued your curiosity, and you will go take a look at the game for yourself. Trust me, you won't be sorry...

If you are intrigued by what you've read here drop by and check out some of the unofficial Exalted fiction that I've put up since writing this review...


I have to admit your description started to pique my curiousity, but upon hearing that it ties into the WOD I think I'll stay away. I'm not saying that the game sounds all that bad, but I really got burned out on the WOD and can't stand the idea of going back. Excellent review though. Like I said, you had me thinking about something that I have previously ignored out of hand.

Wooz, I gotta be honest. The WOD tie-in had me leery at first as well. In the end it turned out to be a very lose connection. The most the Exalted team was willing to admit was that the World of Darkness was one POSSIBLE future, and that it was most likely avoided due to the decision by the Sidereal to wipe out the Solar. Anyway, I think that you would be doing yourself a disservice to miss this game. The WOD link is only as strong as the ST wants it to be, and isn't really supported in the books...

Then I promise to actually pick up the book and give it a look the next time I see it. Unto your head be the guilt if I see one mention of the Masquerade, Apocalypse, Ascension, Oblivion or the Dreaming. :)

You won't ;)

The connection is very much like that of Earthdawn to Shadowrun. Its there for those who look, but not shoved down your throat if you don't. Works well for everyone in my opionion.

As a word of warning the system is white wolf standard, but character creation and the powers allow for the worst power gaming I have seen in any system. In most games a character starts off weak and with few good skills, in Exalted it is perfectly acceptable to create a character with combat dice pools of 20+ and the most powerful of magic abilities. I played the game for a few months last year and one of our players decided to make one of these uber characters and totally threw the game out of balance. It was impossible to present the party with any sort of combat challenge that his character couldn't walk all over and at the same time was not an insurmountable foe for everyone else. At one point I had to write a program for my graphing calculator to manage all the dice rolling he caused.
Don't get me wrong, the game is pretty good but as it stands it has terrible balance and character creation issues. My advice is either play the game with nothing but "cool powers" in mind, or find a game master who will establish some ground rules and set limitations on the characters. Otherwise the game boils down to dice rolling and power accumulating that makes any 20 strength half orc barbarian look tame.

I only see this as a problem if you approach the game with a D&D mindset. Exalted is meant to be epic in the sense that the characters lead armies, build cities, and slaughter infinite numbers of extras.

The best games that I have been involved in did not have combat every session. Most combats were built up over many sessions until two armies met, or the Wyld Hunt finally caught up with the PCs.

Each caste has its own specialty, and Dawn caste Solars are the undisputed lords of combat. Very little SHOULD be able to phase them in a fight, and of course the Twilight caste is not going to be able to stand toe to toe with things that give a Dawn pause.

I think that in the end it comes down to how the GM runs the game. Sure the Dawn can kill a ton of enemies, but the Twilight sorcerer can erect mountain ranges. The Eclipse can have kings do his bidding with a single word, and the Zenith can train elite armies in a matter of weeks.

Some people feel that these abilities are too powerful. I myself mentioned that this could be a powergamer's paradise much like Rifts can. It is the GMs responsibility to regulate things, and even with that supervision the game is still not for everybody.

But remember that the characters are, after all, Demigods imbued with the essence of the most powerful god of the pantheon. Solar's were the kings and emperors of the first age, and nations trembled at their power.

Yeah uh, I play Exalted as well and the description is pretty off on some points.
The Yozis weren't defeated, it was the imprisoned Primordeals who *became* the Yozis. And more of such details.

As to the munchkinizing with Solars, give me a break, please. Not only do most Exalted players run DragonBlooded games these days, but there is no way in hell a few Dawns can take on some Deathlord and his Abyssal minions. Or some Fair Folk warriors. Or a rampaging elder spirit/elemental. Or a behemoth. Or...
Do I need to go on?

Exalted's main strength is simply its setting. It sweeps you away, with tons of factions and stories waiting there to be found by the players. The only other setting that ever managed to overwhelm me with options is StarDrive (for the Alternity system), but all other games were pretty clear cut from the beginning to me. Exalted is a good game. Provided you have the maturity to handle so much power, that is.

Actually, we have a Dawn Caste player in our group who has walked through several elite Fair Folk warriors very easily. Of course, all of his essence is used up for the day. Our gm is fairly tough on us as I see it, but I guess you don't even really need to try to powergame with the Dawn Caste. You just pick a fighting technique and buy some charms for it. By the way, does anyone know where to get charm cards for Lunar Exalted?

The more I learn about Exalted, the more I like this game. I happened upon an excellent fan site for the game system, the Exalted Compendium. I found this site to be really cool, with campaign scenarios, short adventures, monsters, and NPCs along with inspirational music and artwork. Check it out, even if you’re skeptical of Exalted.


I personally believe a lot of old school White Wolf / World of Darkness players have trouble getting into this game because it is the ‘anime’ game from the studio. Traditionally, there seems to be a kind of schism between otaku (heavy duty anime fans) and gamers. Each is familiar with the opposite, yet both seem to look at the other the way a snake and mongoose would square off. I really believe that this is a good game to bridge the gap.

The first thing that one needs to do to appreciate this game is understand that this is World of Darkness in an anime/fantasy setting. The second thing is to forget everything you know about World of Darkness. When I first got the base book, I poured over it several time trying to figure out how it ties into WOD. Eventually, I just forgot about that as I lost myself in the wonderfully fantastic setting.

In a lot of ways, White Wolf is both giving players what they want, and giving them a little poetic revenge… I mean justice. One thing that anyone who is familiar with Werewolf will know about is the concept of the WereCritter. That’s having a character that can change into some unusual animal that is not cannon to the game, and is usually quite silly. Check out the White Wolf discussion forums under the Werewolf section sometime. There will usually be a new post once a week post for some new WereCritter that someone has invented (WereRabbits, WereDolphins, WereHumans, WereDungBeetles, I swear I’m not making this up). The problem with this lies in the fact that all of the WereCritters that were created for the setting are from real world myths and legends about shape shifters. With the Lunar Exalted, White Wolf listened, and gave players the ability to choose what animal they wanted to have characteristics of.

Of course there are the Fair Folk *cof cof Changeling cof cof* who are a plague upon the edges of creation. Waiting in the Wyld places and nightmare of humans, they pray upon innocent and unsuspecting morals, ripping the very emotional essence from a person leaving them nothing more than a sad, emotionless husk of a person. Bet you wish you’d supported the Changeling line a little more huh?

It may take some more time for Exalted to get really accepted, but it’s going strong and has a bright future (no pun intended). Give it a shot and I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Oh, and an amusing observation came to me while playing Warcraft III the other day. In the middle of the undead campaign I was thinking to myself man, the paladin prince turned death knight would be a really cool example of an Abyssal Exalted. Later that day I went out to the White Wolf web site and, lo and behold, Sword and Sorcery Studios is producing Warcraft III for tabletop. Funny how things work out like that!

Ok folks I am going to clear a bit of mis conceptions up right here and now.

A: Any game system out there that you play has the potential of being a power Gamers Dream, but as stated before, "If your ST knows what he is doing and knows how to handle a power gammer... the game session should never be thrown off."

B: The Age of Sorrow or the Second age of man [ which exalted is set in] IS NOT PRE WORLD OF DARKNESS. Like stated before there are many similarities IE Lunars - Werewolves, Abyssal - Vampires, Solars - Mages ect. but nothing is ever put forth saying it is. Geoff G has specificly stated that there is no direct conection at all period.

C: A character playing a Dawn caste shouldn't be ale to just walk through any given city and wipe them out, what people forget to realize and they should be more reasonable in looking throug the Exalted core book is that the Wylde Hunt is still very much active. Yes the Scarllet Empress is missing but that doesn't stop the realm from Hunting. All Solars have the draw back of tryingto hide whom they are not just flaering essence and bringing forth an anima banner, that would usually bring forth a wylde hunt on the party. Many ST's don't take in to consideration that NPC people are around.... and the Solars aren't cruel sadistic cold hearted killers ( wellmost aren't). IN the fact of the Abyssal's they have their own problem... not only does the wylde hunt huant them but a good portion of their artifacts can never leave the Under Wolrd Period they would become useless and crumble to pieces. Creation takes it's toll on Abyssal's and unless their essence is mediorcer ( 2-3 ) they have hard times fitting in to normal society. Lunar sessions should be more driven towards batteling the wyld and mabey helping their mates or fighting the solars. Not all Lunars trust the solars any longer. A dragon blooded session is the most easily abused game you can have.. they don't have to hide that Reaver Daiklave and try to be slick about the use of their essence. A Terristal's Anima Banner shots out and lights the town square people scurry away but no one hunts them. then the Side reals are still up in the air about how they have to basicly act, as the completion of the book nears it's end and hopes in realse in the fall of 2003 so be looking for it.
What people have to realize is that they see a game with exterm amonts of potential to be powerfull but yet they don't stop to read any further into the books and read how this great power is contained. Well folks I have giving the base of how each should be kept under control... remeber if your ST is allowing the Dawn caste to wipe out the Band of City Mob type people by doing extensive Combos with charms IE: Dipping Swallow techn. + GEB+ Excelent strike Method + Hungry Tiger Method and no one giving a rats behind then it is the fualt of the Storyteller not the game. I am sure I can walk into any Ad&D game and pick out certain combat abilitites which will make my character a combat monkey... but it leaves me open to social attacks and mental type attacks. A Storytellers job is to make sure that the game doesn't run like a Hack and slash game... that is not the purpose or targeted purpose of a Storyteller game. Lastly I will say this... to the person that said that a person in theri game was using a 20+ die attack at character creation. A Respectable ST will limit a character to only one stat being at 5 and mabey 3 stats at 4, but say your ST likes a powe game and feels that hack and slash is the way to go... * thinks of many nights playing D&D* SoI will break it down for you. A character has Dex 5 Melee 5 and Spec in Daiklave of 3 there is 13 then I use Excelent strike which stats I can not spend One essence per a added die up to twice my Dex + melee pool giving me an aditional 20 dice to 13 maing it a total of 33 dice to roll ( mind you I just blew 20 Motes of essence and therefore a person nearly 3 miles away in the day can see my anima banner and the essence flair) I roll say I get 18 Suxs the ST then rolls dodge and gets 5 I then have 13 dice to add to raw damage so the Daklaive is 8L +13+5( say he had for strength) = 26 DMG Dice minus his armor which is 5 giving me 21 damage dice. I then roll then and get 13 Lethal damage after soak and all this will sluaghter any one even a Exalted that has not purchased Ox-Body. Now I am asking you...why did you stay past the time when the ST allowed a character to have a Melee pool of 10, from that point you knew the ST wasn't good... this wasn't the games fualt. Iam sure I can sort through my old books from AD&D and then go through my friends new books and find just as lethal potential. Folks it is all in how the ST runs the game. I don't care if in the game there is a potential to blow away the whole knowen Universe, if the ST is running it to where that is a goal that will never be reached but is a hook to entise players then your in a good game.

Last and formost Mysterious Writer from White Wolf

You know what? I made a character very similar to the one you described, though dragon-blooded. Keep in mind this was quite a change after playing a cold-hearted sorcerer and an androgynous courtesan with steel fans. Was the game balance upset? Not at all. I made my character a paragon of a true warrior, a devoted soldier, and though he was undoubtedly the best combat tank in the group, he could barely stand up to the bad guy we had to fight. Moreso, he had no rank, and had to deal with incompetent superiors and his own code of honor.

Pure combat tank? Explain, then, why I was voted best roleplayer out of the group of eight or so? Even a combat master can be played well enough to be interesting, and any storyteller can take down a tank in zero seconds flat while leaving the rest of the party with appropriate challenges.

Think of it as anime. I don't care if you can hack a building in half, there's someone wandering around with a 1st Age war gauntlet who could split you in two like an overripe orange.

I've played in just about all the white wolf games and I've seen more power gaming(some of it from me) than I really wanted to. But I do agree that it's up to the ST. Take my Night Caste archer for example. He had a 13 base dice pool. Plus whatever he got from charms. He could easly kill an exalted opponent no problem. So the ST sends us on a quest to secure a manse(caern). We had to take a ship to get there and ended up being jumped by the Imperial Navy. Our Dawn took to the water to attack the boats while I defended the ship with my bow. Easy enough, if it weren't for the dragon-blooded monks on the crew(about 40 in all). So in all, all it takes is a smart ST to make a game a challenge. Oh, and for all the Dawn combat monkeys, just send them on a diplomatic mission if they get out of line(like killing all the people of a city)

I must say I picked up Exalted because I was a WoD fan and I really enjoyed it. It does have the potential for some serious powerhouse characters right off the bat but have you seen some of the starting Werewolves? They're just as bad. All in all I really enjoy Exalted, it wi8ll never take the place of WoD for me but it is alot of fun to play.

I believe that the intial ad campaign that White Wolf launched was brilliant. There were teasers for quite a while implying a WoD tie in. I wasn't really disapointed when there wasn't one because the game was so cool without it. I think if Abberenat and Trinity had had the same kind of intial ad campaign they would have sold better. I never went and picked them up just because I liked WoD like I did with Exalted. I have played Abberant but not Trinity and its also a really good game, one of the best supers game I've ever seen actually. I hope all tree survive the continued test of time because I am under the belief that White Wolf put out quality products and games.

What about Feng Shui???!!! An Anime RPG with a stunt system. Sounds familiar? It came before Exalted and the reviewer should have mentioned that.

Exalted is brilliant though.

Feng Shui is Hong Kong movie style not anime, my mistake.