Exalted is a fantasy-technology tabletop role playing game produced by White Wolf Publishing. It was specifically designed to avoid drawing too heavily on any existing mythological model, and for that reason to Western gamers used to the works of J. R. R. Tolkien as a model for their games, Exalted will seem decidedly Eastern. Nevertheless, Exalted is a very fun system to play.
Setting and History
Exalted takes place within Creation, a vast world that began its existence as the product of the Primordials, massive thinking beings that evolved in the infinite chaos that now surrounds Creation, the Wyld. The current inhabitants of The Wyld are the Fair Folk, similar in form to the Primordials, but widely varying in size.
At the center of Creation lies the Blessed Isle, a harmonious paradise approximately the size of Russia and surrounded to the East by the Inland Sea and to the west by the Great Western Ocean. To the West is the Elemental Pole of Water, so the West of Creation consists of increasingly small islands in a very large expanse of water. To the North stands the Elemental Pole of Air, and as one travels towards it, the surroundings become progressively more bleak and frigid. The East of Creation is commanded by the Elemental Pole of Wood, and as one travels farther in that direction, the forests become thicker and thicker up to a point where they are completely impassible by ordinary mortals. To the South is the Elemental Pole of Fire, and for that reason the South is a searingly hot desert, and at its extremes becomes steady succession of active volcanoes.
The original size of Creation is only recorded as very, very big.
After creating the world, the Primordials tired of having to direct its movements, so they created the gods. The gods of Creation are simply controller spirits for every object within its bounds. There are the Celestial Incarnae (Sol Invictus, Luna, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), who are the most powerful gods; then the Celestial Gods, who govern universal phenomena such as storms and darkness; then a plethora of local gods, governing everything from the local castle down to a fancy pendant. Most of these local gods are too weak to take physical form, but the Celestial Gods can be extremely powerful. After creating the gods, the Primordials withdrew to the celestial city of Yu-Shan and retired to the Games of Divinity.
After some time, the Gods too became dissatisfied with the menial duty of running the world and longed to partake in the Games of Divinity. However, they were constrained by their natures to be unable to directly attack the Primordials. With the help of the Primordials Gaia and Autochthon, the Gods created the Exalted, mortals enhanced with immortal souls, to fight the Primordials for control of Creation. After many years of battle and much ruin to Creation, the Primordials were defeated. The Primordials who were slain were unable to reincarnate, as souls were supposed to, because of their enormous size. Therefore, they slid into the Underworld, and the weight of their presence began to slowly drag other souls away from the path of reincarnation and into the underworld to serve as ghosts. They became known as the Neverborn. Those Primordials who surrendered to the Gods were spared execution and were instead banished to imprisonment within the greatest Primordial among them, Malfeas. They became known as the Yozis, and created in their prison vast legions of demons to serve them.
The First Age
With the Primordial War concluded, the powerful among the Gods retreated to Yu-Shan and took up the Games of Divinity. They left the greatest among the Exalted, the Solars, to watch over Creation and keep the lesser gods in line. The Solars used their vast powers to construct a very advanced civilization centered on the Blessed Isle, full of high technology and wondrous artifacts. At its hight, the Solar capital city of Meru had over 25 million residents.
For the defense of creation, the Solars designed a vast network of battle manses that could be deployed to resist the invasions of the Fair Folk that occurred from time to time. These defenses were concentrated on the Blessed Isle itself, and could be controlled through an absurdly powerful structure known as the Sword of Creation.
The Usurpation and the Shogunate Era
Unfortunately, in their defeats, the Primordials had cursed the Exalted, most severely the Solars, with madness. The Solars turned away from their duties, and began to conduct bizarre and sadistic experiments. Seeing this, the Sidereal and Terrestrial Exalted conspired to overthrow the Solars and their Lunar consorts. The Solars were swiftly slaughtered, most during a feast held in Meru, and the Terrestrials rose to command creation under the Dragon-Blooded Shogunate. The Terrestrials were unable to master the artifacts of the Solars, however and the wealth and power of Creation was much diminished in the Solars' absence.
As the authority structure of Creation slowly fell apart, the Fair Folk invaded many times, and the Deathlords, powerful ghosts serving the Neverborn, released into Creation a terrible plague known as the Great Contagion. The Contagion caught the Shogunate completely off guard, and killed nine-tenths of Creation's population. The devastation was so great that it weakened the very fabric of Creation, allowing the Underworld to mingle with the regular world, forming Shadowlands.
At this time, the Fair Folk mounted their greatest invasion of Creation, and swept inexorably towards the Blessed Isle. Several artifacts remaining from the First Age were able to resist the invasions to some degree, but the majority of Creation was doomed to destruction.
The Rise of the Scarlet Empress
At the darkest hour for Creation, a young Captain of the Ninth Legion of the Dragon-Blooded Shogunate gained entry to the Palace of the Anathema, a long sealed fortress on the Blessed Isle, known in the First Age as the Sword of Creation. She entered with four of her lieutenants, but was the only one to survive its defenses. When she reached the heart of the structure, she was able to activate the ancient defenses that dotted the Blessed Isle and use them to repel the armies of the Fair Folk. However, her lack of skill with operating the defenses caused widespread devastation on the Blessed Isle, annihilating the majority of its surviving First Age wonders.
After rescuing creation, the Captain titled herself the Scarlett Empress and declared her succession to the Shogunate. Her previous display of power was sufficient to grant her control of the Blessed Isle, and most of the nearby regions in the Threshold submitted to her authority as well. However, the Seventh Legion of the Dragon-Blooded Shogunate refused her authority and remained to defend the River Province from their reconstructed city of Lookshy. The Empress was never able to gain control of Lookshy, but an uneasy truce has developed between the two forces.
The Scarlet Empress' domain, known as the Realm, was greatly diminished from the First Age, but it remained a viable world, and the Scarlet Empress has ruled for eight centuries from the Imperial Manse (formerly Palace of the Anathema (formerly Sword of Creation)).
Magic and Technology
Exalted combines both magic and technology in its world, similar to the recent Final Fantasy games. All technology is powered by Essence, the "stuff" of existence, however, so the world can be better described as having magically powered technology rather than independent magic and technology.
At present, magical and technological artifacts are exceedingly rare in Creation, due to the many wars in its past. Most First Age artifacts are held either by the Great Houses of the Realm or by the Seventh Legion at Lookshy. However, many artifacts remain sealed in the tombs and manses of Solar and Lunar Exalted from ages past, and can be discovered by their reincarnations.
The most magically powerful regions of Creation are known as demesnes. At these points, the fabric of Creation is weak enough to allow the raw Essence of the Wyld to seep through. On these demesnes are constructed magical structures known as manses, which refine and focus the Essence so that it can be channeled to useful projects. Manses, like other First Age artifacts, are mostly controlled by established societal factors, though reincarnated Solars have quite the opportunity to find their past lives' manses and make use of them.
The Exalted are the main characters of the Exalted roleplaying system. There are seven types of Exalted, though some are featured more prominently in the game than others. All of the Exalted are considered to have powers that approximate that of a weak god, and some of the older ones can challenge the might of powerful Celestial Gods as well.
- Solar Exalted - The Solars are the champions of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, and are the most powerful of the Exalted. They were the leaders of creation during the First Age, but now are seen as highly dangerous to Creation and hunted down when discovered. In recent times, though, they have been reincarnating at a much higher rate than before, and the Realm is being overwhelmed with targets. There are approximately 150 Solar souls in existence.
- Lunar Exalted - The Lunars were created by Luna to be companions to the Solars. Many of them survived the Usurpation by fleeing into the edges of the Wyld. Lunars are all identifiable as such by virtue of a "tell", a distinctive feature of their appearance. They are also able to shapeshift into any creature whose heart they have drained of blood. There are approximately 300 Lunar souls in existence.
- Sidereal Exalted - The Sidereals are the agents of the Five Maidens (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) and are intimately connected to the Loom of Fate. Sidereals possess far more advanced powers of concealment and skills at intrigue than the other Exalted, and thus were able to pass relatively unscathed through the Usurpation and have remained on the sidelines of Creation ever since. There are approximately 100 Sidereal souls in existence.
- Terrestrial Exalted - The Terrestrials, also known as the Dragon-Blooded, are the Exalted of Gaia. Unlike the other types of Exalted, Terrestrials are not limited to a certain number, rather their abilities are passed by bloodlines. The Terrestrials formed the backbone of the armies of the Exalted in the First Age, but they are significantly weaker than the other Exalts.
- Abyssal Exalted - The Abyssals were formed from snared Solar souls that were corrupted by the Deathlords. They are held in thrall by the Neverborn, who will kill the Exalts' companions if he begins to displease them. There are approximately 100 Abyssal souls in existence.
- Infernal Exalted - The Infernals are the Exalted marshalled by the Yozis, also created from stolen Solar souls.
- Alchemical Exalted - The Alchemicals are the creations of Autochthon, the Primordial who first taught the gods how to created their own Exalted. Very little is known about the Alchemical Exalted, for they reside in the realm of Autochthonia, the body of Authochthon himself. Alchemicals are not constrained to a specific number of souls.
The game is played exclusively with ten-sided dice. Each roll is given a certain number of dice, and then the number of successes on those rolls (7, 8, 9, or 0) determine how well the action was performed. In many (but not all) situations, a roll of 0 is counted as two successes. A roll of 1 is considered a "botch" if no other successes are rolled, and leads to negative effects.
One of the most interesting aspects of Exalted gameplay is the concept of the "stunt". Because Exalted are all essentially superheroes, they are given extra bonuses for showcasing their levels of awesome. The core guidelines for awarding stunts (in the form of extra dice to roll) is as follows:
- The player gives an exciting description of her action.
- The player gives an exciting description and uses a part of her environment in the action.
- This action is simply made of awesome. The other players at the table will remember that event when they think of the session.
Stunt actions can result in regaining of temporary essence or temporary willpower points or can lead to an experience point award. Examples include: launching oneself on a catapult onto a ship while riding a barrel of flaming oil (3 die), slicing apart a stone wall to serve as a barrier to oncoming arrow fire (2 die), and slicing a cannon in half (1 die).
White Wolf has provided the players with a few dozen sourcebooks, thoroughly detailing Creation while allowing a lot of freedom for the actual game to play out. Through the course of the game, the Storyteller (Exalted's equivalent to a GM) is at liberty to overrule any part of the canonical world, and because of the scale of the Exalted's powers, this is pretty much a given in a game of any substantial length.
Unlike other tabletop role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, Exalted does not have a strictly regimented level system. Rather, the players gain experience points as they adventure and are able to spend them to purchase new abilities and upgrade their skills and physical stats. This allows for much more freedom with character design and specialization. For similar reasons, the class system, while extant, is considerably more fluid than in other games.
Five years ago, the Scarlet Empress disappeared during the end of year festival of Calibration. The Solar Exalted have begun to reappear in greater numbers and have successfully challenged the armies of the Realm. The Deathlords and Fair Folk have grown bolder and now openly attack various parts of Creation.
You are a newly recognized Exalt (usually a Solar, but variations are possible). You must brave the dangers of Creation. Good luck.