Okay, so I've talked about what Onyx Path did wrong during the Exalted Third Edition Kickstarter. But let me be fair: Exalted Third Edition is an amazingly well crafted system. Reading it gave me a feeling different from Second Edition in all the best ways, leaving me inspired to create a whole new epic campaign for my game group in the upcoming year. In return for the criticisms, here are four things Exalted Third Edition did right:
1) Three Words: Combat, Combat, Combat
One of the biggest challenges developers faced in making a new version of Exalted was fixing the combat engine. It was a big enough mess that fixing it in Second Edition involved the errata (known as the "Scroll of Errata") expanding to be over 200 pages in an attempt to stop certain character types from being too overpowered. Combat basically boiled down to how many "Perfect Defense" or "Perfect Dodge" Charms combatants had. Whoever had more, won. Whoever had less, lost. If you want something more fun and excitingly, you had to roll up those sleeves and enter "House Rules" Country! As someone who ran Exalted for three years, let me tell you: that level of crafting gets exhausting. Having a solid set of rules that didn't need to be patched and repaired every encounter would be much easier. Onyx Path started from scratch, throwing away everything that didn't work. The PSP exclusive "Final Fantasy: Dissidia" ended up inspiring designers toward something much more fun.
Combat now involves characters using withering attacks to shift the tides of battle in their favor (represented by stealing points of Initiative away from targets). This makes them act sooner the next beat, and when they feel that the narrative has been fully swayed to favor them, they can use decisive attacks to take their Initiative and MAKE PEOPLE BLEED WITH IT. Sound familiar? It should: the system is now more cinematic reflecting Kung-Fu and action film fight sequences.
2) Push it to the Limit, but not in the way You'd Expect
So, Limit and The Great Curse are big staples of the Exalted line. For the uninitiated, the Exalted (which includes the player characters) are burdened by The Great Curse - a magical effect that results in them eventually becoming massive douchebags who ruin all of the great acts they've performed. The way of measuring it mechanically was with a statistic known as Limit. In past editions, when your character acted against their Virtues (Temperance, Compassion, Conviction, and Valor) they would build Limit. When they would hit their 11th point, they would suffer the effects of whichever Limit Break they chose at character creation. This effect would keep the player from having control of their character until the time limit lapsed (resulting in them having 0 Limit again).
Forget Virtues. Who gives a shit about how brave or compassionate you are - ideas and people your character highly values matter more, and these Intimacies are the avenues that push characters towards Limit Breaking. If a player is forced to act against an Intimacy, or in a way that puts that Intimacy in harm's way, the player builds Limit. Once that character would hit 11 Limit, the Storyteller instead decides whenever they feel is narratively optimal for the character to Limit Break (maybe in the middle of battle, or after the battle when everyone is celebrating). In addition, they can chose what exact Limit Break the character suffers, meaning one Break could result in the Solar being in the corner crying while another sees them launch into a bloodthirsty rage. This doesn't mean the player is totally out of the picture - every Limit Break has a trigger that results in the Limit Break immediately ending. This flexibility and mystery is appropriate because...
3) Creation Will Never be the Same
EVERYTHING IS FUCKING NEW AGAIN! While the same basic occurrences that led to the disappearance of the Scarlet Empress and the return of the Solars is the same, the lore and setting of Exalted is being presented with more questions and mysteries than answers. Only time will truly tell if this will remain a constant of Third Edition, but the way the setting is currently described presents a massive world where players actions will have an impact, but who and what they'll be affecting is up in the air. The Unconquered Sun and the other Incarne are no longer addicted to the Games of Divinity (though the Games still exist). Instead, The Unconquered Sun turned his back from the world out of heartbreak due to his chosen destroying what they were suppose to protect. Luna turned her back on Creation due to her heartbreak over the loss of her love Gaia. Hell, instead of just one Yu-Shan (think Heaven, but like Washington DC and filled with God Bureaucrats) there's two, with the second one being a secret that could house a threat to the world. There are new Exalt types that could be world enders. And the rest of Creation isn't sure whether or not it likes the re-emergence of the Solar Exalted. But no worries about having a world full of mysteries, because there is one thing for sure...
4) The Safe Word is "Red Rule"
Next time, I'll be explaining the biggest issue Onyx Path caused during the Exalted Third Edition Kickstarter. In the meantime, allow me to point out that designers did learn something from that huge mess. Apparently the backlash left the designers talking, and a new rule was formed: The Red Rule. The rule states that the Storyteller (the person running the game) can force a sexual situation on a player-controlled character if that player is not okay with that effect being applied in the first place, and no Player may force a Storyteller controlled character to do something sexual that the Storyteller is not okay with. This is big, because Second Edition was infamous for campaigns where certain players would build sex cults, using mind control Charms to sway Non-Player Characters and other Player Characters at the table toward hooking up in game. The Red Rule makes that an impossibility, as player and Storyteller consent are needed before such content becomes a part of their games. Since the game explicitly details conditions where that content can and can't happen, designers have enabled players to have an experience they are comfortable with, giving groups the ability to use the game to tell dramatic stories that can involve questionable content in an attempt to give survivors or those who want a better understanding of what survivors of trauma have experienced the opportunity to work through such issues. While leaving it open, the rules still prevent the game from being used by players or Storytellers to force others at the table into uncomfortable situations.
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.