With time past, and wounds less fresh, let me tell you about the biggest mistake Onyx Path made during the Kickstarter for Exalted Third Edition. Had designers not implemented the Red Rule, this mistake could have been the death of excitement for the line.
EDIT (3-11-2019): Wow, I didn’t expect this article to have so many eyes on it! A little update is in order, as three years have passed since I wrote this. Mørke and Holden are no longer the heads of Exalted 3e, and Abyssals has been pushed back. Both Vance and Minton are the new lead developers and their work has been amazing so far. I have full faith in them being able to avoid the issues presented below (especially since the primary individuals who caused it are no longer attached to the game). The article has been preserved below here as I originally wrote it, I just wanted to let everyone know that the problem is more or less solved.
The Kickstarter, like many others, featured stretch goals. These allowed the rewards and final product at the end to be more value packed, while giving backers a better feeling of ownership. This ownership leads to backers promoting the game to even more people, giving the project a better advertising result than money could buy. Exalted Third Edition featured several stretch goals, such as a larger art budget for more cool pictures and more products that backers could add-on to their pledges (such as cloth maps of the game world, or a compendium of more abilities that players could use to make their characters). The one that got the most attention from players of previous editions was the "Exalted Preview" stretch goals. These allowed backers to see what designers had in mind for returning Exalted types and what new Exalt types could end up looking like.
Now, we do need to back up just a touch more. Second Edition left a bad taste in people's mouths from more than just bad mechanics. Let me tell you about the Infernal Exalted. They were suppose to be anti-heroes or villains, wielding power stolen from the Unconquered Sun and tainted by the imprisoned creators of the gods and Creation as a whole. If the Abyssals were the death-obsessed version of the corrupted Solar idea, the Infernals were the corrupted Solars focused on debauchery and sin. Now, Exalted had never ran away from exploring sexual topics in the game line, the Infernal manual was an example of where that exploration went wrong. Most groups chose to ignore the chapter of lore describing Malfeas, the place where the Yozi are trapped and interact with their chosen. Among this description included the kidnapped daughter of the Scarlet Empress, who had been mutated to be a breeder of demons. In addition, Infernals were constructed mechanically to need to cause harm to those around them.
During the Third Edition Kickstarter, designers promised to drop these problematic elements. They presented Prince Diamond as a prime example of their intent. Diamond was a dereth from Chirascurio, utilizing a gray sash and clothing to emphasize his decision to be seen as a man, even if born with a body that is not recognized by most societies as being male. Prince Diamond was represented as a part of the Signature Circle, the group of Solar Exalted representing the character types in the game. Further evidence was promised, and delivered, in the Infernal Preview document. Rather than being forced into following the machinations of the Yozi, the Infernals are simply told to do whatever they desire. The Yozi recommend making Creation worse than Malfeas (which is already like New York in "Escape from New York"), but they don't force the matter as their powers will naturally lead toward chaos and disorder.
People didn't just like the Infernal preview. THEY FUCKING LOVED IT! As a result, huge swaths of former players rushed back to the game line, seeing proof that the problems that caused them to leave were going to be fixed. Then, backers were given the Abyssal Preview document, and those backers and more dropped what had been seen as one of the most professional and well-organized Kickstarters in the site's history. To put it simply, it appeared to players from Second Edition that Onyx Path had opted to shift the problems with Infernals to the Abyssals, rather than actually fixing the issue.
The issue revolves around the charms that had been provided for the Abyssals under the leadership of a Deathlord known as The Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears. She has been associated with sex and obsession, utilizing addiction to lead people down toward Oblivion. This is not bad for this character as she is emphasized as a villain. For Third Edition, she was given a set of Charms she could teach to Abyssals who follow her, all based on aspects of the Deathlord in question. Imagine the surprise as reading the full Charm set led to backers finding a chain of Charms that get people to create an Intimacy around the Abyssal (making it harder for the target to act against the user, and easier to act in a way that helps the user), makes it so the user can drain the life from the target through sexual intercourse, enable the Abyssal to send specters in the form of the Abyssal and other acquaintances of the target to drain them through sexual intercourse, and if the target is completely drained of health levels through the use of these Charms they become a ghoul who can only survive through sexual gratification. As in a Rape Ghoul.
Naturally, backers did not like this direction. While they could have been told that the feedback was received and appreciated, or simply told that the preview was not indicative of the final product, Holden Shearer (one of the head designers of the product) took to social media to defend why the Charm set as written was perfectly fine. He even took to SomethingAwful to rant about how this charm set wasn't defending rape, getting himself banned in the process. Rather than consider how these charms could be used to drain someone through giving them an obsession that would slowly kill them and make them a shell of their former selves needing that very addiction to survive, Shearer was insistent that having the Charms sexually themed was more important than thematically matching the feel of The Lover without resorting to sex.
Before you get too concerned, allow me to point out that under The Red Rule there is no mechanical way that this set of charms can currently work as written. Since owners of characters involved with potential sexual aspects have the right to simply say no, players and Storytellers are not able to force a Charm set like this to work. But the biggest issue everyone had with the preview is the biggest take-away from the "Rape Ghost" controversy: what you dedicate word count toward will be the most important aspects of your work. While backers were told that it was fully possible to run the Charms focused more on obsession, with sex being one of the options, and that a side bar would be provided to explain it, it does nothing to stop the focus from being on how the "correct" way to play the game was to addict someone else to sex with the user's character and use that addiction to drain and make the target into a sex-obsessed unloving monstrosity. Give word (and speech) count in games you design (and run) giving players and Storytellers options and autonomy instead of using it to express something alienating to the very basis of the game you want to have.
Christopher W. Reynolds has been running Pen & Paper Role Playing Games for over 16 years. He has a knack for explaining gaming concepts to others, and loves to teach people about the games he loves so much.