Exalted was the RPG I lived and breathed in college. It was an odd thing, especially as it was the glorious heydey of White Wolf, the one product line that was rumored to outsell all their other lines combined. My group played it obsessively, almost obsessively as the inbred L5R group played their Asian-themed CCG and RPG. Unlike them, though, we could only wish for a CCG property based on our RPG of choice, and made due with the War for the Throne… a boardgame that was a lot like like Risk, if Risk was Exalted-based, and the board consisted only of Australia, and the rules were kind of sucky and stuff.
On the one hand, it’s like coming home. On the other hand, it’s like coming home to find that your childhood bedroom was kept perfectly intact, still full of your old toys and racecar bed and various other crap you’ve either forgotten or outgrown.
Exalted was never really a “complete” game, as my three pages of house rules would attest to. That’s pretty standard for Exalted fans, the 2-3 pages full of bonuses and balance fixes, because while much of the game “worked” (if you squint), a lot of it falls apart under heavy scrutiny. Sorcery had a high buy-in cost without a whole lot of immediate reward… until you’re throwing Flying Guillotines around and decapitating people. Lunars and Sidereals never really seemed playable out of the box, even though we tried. Social combat is an exploitable mess made out of the normal combat rules, a good way for one attacker to whittle away at others’ willpower without much fear of retribution.
I could go on, but I think the fact that the game has over 200 pages of clarifications and revisions—the Scroll of Errata, aka Exalted 2.5—should be enough to point out how many things were screwed up about this game. Exalted fans take the Scroll for granted. Editorial insight at the time of Exalted 2nd Edition was focused elsewhere, and writers would come up with whatever cool-yet-contradictory shit that they wanted. 1st Edition was its own mess, and while 2nd polished up the rules and added some cool new stuff, it was still imperfect.
Then there were the Ink Monkeys, and the Exalted 3rd Kickstarter, which promised a highly-playtested game that was mere months away when I backed it, back in the summer of 2013. I’ve only skimmed part of the pre-release .pdf, but when I did I realized that Ex3 wasn’t the Exalted I was expecting—this wasn’t the game I wanted, but is what the designers were ready to build. This is a game where the subsystems for “fight a battle on land” and “fight a battle on sea or in air” were different and incompatible, where the “bloated” tick-and-battle-wheel initiative system was replaced by even more byzantine rules.
I wanted a little more Fate or Cortex+ in my Exalted, dammit; it needed streamlining, not more bloat.
But there is just so damn much about the setting to LOVE. It has some of the most epic scope you can ever imagine. Think about it. You’re playing bronze-age fantasy painted in broad anime strokes, where you’re the reincarnation of one of the god-kings of old. Your viziers foresaw you going insane and destroying creation, so they had your footsoldiers rise up against you. And now you’ve reincarnated, several thousand years later, with the descendants of your killers in control of your old toys—magitech and powerful artifacts. And you have a chance to make it right.
Exalted will always win me over for epicness of its setting, a scale almost unimaginable in your average D&D game—massive battles everywhere, intense intrigue and diplomacy akimbo, where characters shake the pillars of Creation. Players aren’t dealing with goblin caves or bandits, instead they’re wrestling the little-god of a river, battling world-swallowing leviathans or legions shaped from pure chaos, enacting diplomacy with the Celestial Bureaucracy, swaying city-states to your cause or warring with them. Skim the core book for ten minutes and you’ll come up with a couple dozen great ideas for campaigns.
It’s somewhat awkward coming home, but man, it feels good to be back.