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Exalted – Themes

May 18, 2010

Now that you’ve got a basic setting for Exalted, let’s examine what playing Exalted is all about. Now, some people may disagree with the statements I’m going to make here, but those people aren’t playing the Exalted I want to play. That doesn’t make their views any less valid, but it does make them irrelevant for the purposes of this exercise.

Exalted is, in short, about being awesome. Whatever type of character you play, it’s nearly impossible to not excel at something. One of my favorite aspects of this is that, while I tend to make characters that do, you’re not required to excel at combat. If you want to play a genius inventor, a surgeon, a lover, a thief, whatever you want, you can do. There is no problem that cannot be solved by whatever method you’ve chosen. If you’re a craftsman, every problem can be solved if you can just make the right thing. If you’re a warrior, then there’s no foe too tough. If you’re a talker, there’s nothing you can’t negotiate into or out of.

That’s not to say your choice will always work (or even be the best option available). Sometimes, hitting something is going to get you what you want, but it’ll cost you in other areas, whereas other times, hitting a thing in the face is the best way to get what you want. And, of course, victory isn’t assured. Bad dice rolls, other player interactions, plot twists… these things all still have their place in Exalted. But by and large, when a Socially aspected character walks into a social setting, he can be fairly certain he’ll do just fine.

Exalted CAN accommodate grim and gritty aspects. You CAN run the game where the characters constantly scrape by, losing more and more of their humanity to forces beyond their control. But that’s not the point. If you really want that game, go play Vampire: the Requiem. Exalted isn’t about dealing with forces beyond your control. It’s about TAKING control. When the barbarian warlord walks into town with his army and declares that he’s taking over, your choices aren’t run or hide. They include duel him, fight him and his army, talk to him, make him your ally, join his side, whatever. It’s a truly choose-your-own-adventure game. The plot follows YOUR actions, and you dictate them.

This can provoke a sense of helplessness and resentment from the gamemaster, if he feels he has to go to wider and wider lengths to force you into his track. But that’s the point. The GM shouldn’t HAVE a track. The story unfolds because YOU unfold it.

That doesn’t mean you get to ignore the rules, of course, especially the Golden Rule. Characters still function predictably. You still have to roll to do things, and the things you can do are limited by the kinds of rolls available. The GM still controls everything but your character, and you still need the GM’s permission to act. He’s still adjudicating the game.

But the idea is that, in Exalted, he has a lighter hand.

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