Exalted is a great game, but White Wolf is doing it wrong
I originally intended to write this post in June, but sometimes things just don’t work out as planned. At that time, I had just recently bought Manual of Exalted Power: The Infernals, a great source of information on the Green Sun Princes and their immortal masters.
A week before coming up with the idea of this post I had also bought HeroQuest 2.0, the new edition of Robin Laws’ story-oriented roleplaying game, at the Tentacles Convention. But more about that soon.
So, what actually is wrong with Exalted?
Firstly, I think I have to make clear that I really, really like Exalted. The setting and the attitude, that is. The problem is, the system doesn’t properly enforce either of these two things. Yes yes, we have the Stunts. Big yahoo-friggin’-doodle deal. The system fucks that up, too, especially in the second edition.
Still, it’s not my intent to belittle the work those designers have done. It’s not that the system is objectively bad. Rather, it’s a good system for some other game. You don’t get fast-paced anime-action with a system that makes you count Ticks and micromanage your resources (mainly, Essence).
Yes, the Golden Rule is there. But that is just a smokescreen to go on with sloppy design. You see, if I started to change the aspects that I see as needing fixing, it would brake too many related things. It’d be an endless cycle. Might as well do it myself from the beginning.
For example, dropping Ticks altogether and switching to exchange-based conflicts, would lead to the need of dropping or changing the movement rules. These two changes would brake many Charms. So you’d have to fix those too. Et cetera ad nauseam. Why drop the Ticks? They are just venom to doing Stunts. Ticks force you to break your narration into tiny bits that, when separated, aren’t that impressive.
First action: “I run towards the huge two-headed serpent.”
Second action: “I run up it’s back and left neck.”
Third action: “I take a good foothold, raise my Grimcleacer and chop into it’s cranium.”
And between every action, there are (likely) other people’s actions and almost-narrations of almost-cool things almost-happening.
It’s not like all that glorious Stunting-goodness is grinding the game to a halt, you don’t need to come up with specific mechanics to tone it down!
There are also other, smaller things on my list that seem counter-intuitive to the supposed “spirit of the game.” To make your character unique in the field of magic, you have two options. Your combos, and the option to come up with your own charms. And they they don’t support the latter. Why does that feel like there’s a “We’d prefer you playing with our pre-made charms instead of having you, like, being creative” -mentality behind that? The other option is that they’re just either lazy or stupid. And let’s be honest, none of these options is a desired conception.
There are many more small things that just annoy the hell outta me, but it’d take the whole night to go through all of them, so I’ll just stick with these that could be remedied quite painlessly (by changing the core design philosophy).
It might seem odd to state that despite all of this, I won’t abandon the game’s own system altogether. It is still sufficently good when I want to do some semi-heavy character-micromanaging, and of course for powergaming. That system positively welcomes anyone who wants to game the system or play the mechanics. It’s bulk just isn’t for every game.
But, it’s easy to complain about this and that, and do nothing about it.
This is where HeroQuest come in. With it’s flavor-driven character creation the second point above, the uniqueness of magic, is easily achieved. I have also been thinking about how the different magic systems in Exalted should be structured in HeroQuest. I have made some progress, and might put it up as a post of it’s own, some other time.
The first point is quite easily fixed with HQ, too, because it doesn’t have combat system that traces your actions, second by second. You’re free to “Stunt” your brains out.
So in conclusion, the people of White Wolf mean well. Their execution just doesn’t do justice to the game’s spirit.
I think I’ll leave it here for now. Let’s see if I want to poke on the pile of things-wrong-in-Exalted again some time.
Currently playing: Machinae Supremacy – Anthem Apocalyptica
This entry was posted on November 10, 2009 at 12:33 am and is filed under Game design, Gamecraft, Games with tags Exalted, gamemastering, HeroQuest, Moon Design, Robin Laws, roleplaying, roleplaying games, White Wolf. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.