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Sunday, 14 June 2020

An Exalted Quick-Start

As its title suggests, The Tomb of Dreams An Exalted Third Edition Jumpstart, is a ‘jump-start’—or quick-start’—for Exalted Third Edition, the high fantasy anime-inspired roleplaying game published by Onyx Path Publishing. It is set in a forgotten age when the world lay flat atop a sea of chaos, when the elements were sharply defined culturally and geographically. The gods made war upon the monsters that forged this world and give their human champions the gift of Exaltation, their divine power which granted them amazing gifts and fortitude. Led by the Solar Exalted, mankind would defeat the monsters and inaugurate the First Age of Man, but the Dragon-Blooded Exalted grew jealous, threw down the realm that the Solar Exalted had built, slew them one-by-one, and locked away their powers of Solar Exaltation. The Dragon-Blooded empire has ruled over a Second Age—an age of sorrows, warfare, and strife—for centuries. Now as lesser nations chafe at the Dragon-Blooded empire’s grip and the Dragon-Blooded empire has been wounded by the less of its immortal empress, Solar Exaltation has returned from its long banishment and death, its champions unleashing the powers of the Unconquered Sun upon the world anew. Will they bring light to the world or set it alight?

In The Tomb of Dreams An Exalted Third Edition Jumpstart, five Solar Exalted will follow their dreams into mystery from ages past. It provides five pre-generated Solar Exalted player characters, an explanation of the core rules for Exalted Third Edition, and ‘The Tomb of Dreams’, a short scenario. It is designed to introduce the Game Master and her players to both the setting and mechanics, as well as proving a starting point for an ongoing Exalted Third Edition campaign using the full rules. Besides The Tomb of Dreams An Exalted Third Edition Jumpstart, the Game Master and her players will need between ten and fifteen ten-sided dice—preferably per player, and copies of the character sheets and their explanation.

In Exalted Third Edition, a character or ‘Exalted’, ise defined by various traits. These include nine attributes—Strength, Dexterity, Stamina, Charisma, Manipulation, Appearance, Perception, Intelligence, and Wits; Skills such as Archery or Socialise; Merits such as wealth and political power, and traits of a singular nature; Willpower—representing mental fortitude as well as being spent for various things; Essence—magical potency, consisting of personal and peripheral motes which fuel mystical powers and can be committed to power ongoing effects; and Limit and Limit Trigger, representing the curse twisting an Exalted’s soul, levied when they kill the enemies of the gods. He will have Intimacies, what be believes and cares about, used in social interaction. Health and Defence cover static values such as Parry, Evasion, Defense, Resolve, and Guile. Now some of these elements are not used in The Tomb of Dreams An Exalted Third Edition Jumpstart. These include the Merits, Limit and Limit Trigger, Experience, amongst others. 

Mechanically, a player will be rolling a pool of ten-sided dice, typically formed by adding an Attribute and a Skill together—each being rated between one and five. Each die result of seven or more counts as a success with ‘double tens’, or rolls of ten, counting as double. A character may need to beat a given Difficulty, again rated between one and five. One notable way of increasing the number of dice a character rolls is a stunt, earned by a player giving an evocative description of what his character is going to do. Stunts range in value from one to three, and can simply add dice to a pool, raise a Static value, or grant an automatic success. The point of stunts is to make situations and their outcome exciting and grant players a greater degree of narrative control.

The Tomb of Dreams An Exalted Third Edition Jumpstart focuses on three aspects of the Exalted Third Edition rules—combat, battle groups, and social influence. Combat can be divided into two types of attacks which are rolled against the opponent’s Defence static value. These are ‘Withering Attacks’ which seize the flow of battle and steal an opponent’s initiative and enable to the attacker to use it as his own. Decisive attacks inflict damage directly on the opponents, and are typically used after a few Withering attacks have been made. An opponent reduced to an Initiative of zero is forced into Initiative Crash and is limited in his actions. The combat rules also cover rushing into a fight, withdrawing, and taking cover, as well as aiming, making flurry attacks, full defence, and more. Flurry attacks enable a character to act more than once in a round. There is a sense of escalation to combat, of attacks and high action going back and forth between the opponents, until one side or another manages to make enough Withering attacks to follow them up with a Decisive attack.

Battle Groups are designed to handle anything from a squad or a band to a mob or a formation. They have their own values—Size, Drill (training), Might (supernatural power, if any), and Magnitude (health). A Battle Group inflicts Withering attacks, does not gain the benefits of ‘Double Tens’, and only gets one attack per round. Essentially, the rules for Battle Groups treat them as Mooks, making them dangerous, but not as dangerous or powerful as the NPCs who lead them and whom the Exalted player characters are likely to face on the battlefield. The rules for Social Influence work with the Intimacies which are divided between Ties, attachments to people, places, and organisations, and Principles, beliefs and ideals. For example, ‘My Mentor (Grudging Respect)’ or ‘I am the greatest swordsman who ever lived.’ They can be used increase a target’s Resolve against efforts to influence him, change a target’s feelings and beliefs, and threaten, inspire, and more. 

Lastly, an Exalted can tap into the real power of Creation, which expresses through his Anima Banner. This exhibits first in the caste mark on his forehead and then grows into raging glow around him, becoming more and more as an Exalted uses motes of the Essence that underlies all of creation—either his Personal Essence or Peripheral Essence drawn from around him. These motes are used to fuel various Charms and Spells, for example, ‘Excellent Strike’ ensures an automatic success and lets a player reroll any ones, which requires three motes, whilst ‘Death of Obsidian Butterflies’ costs fifteen sorcerous motes and one Willpower to a create a torrent of razor-edged black butterflies which can inflict a Decisive attack!

The five pre-generated Exalted all come with character sheets and a couple of pages of description and explanation, which includes an illustration and some background. They include Volfer, a pit-fighter; Karal Fire Orchid, a retired general who once served the Dragon-Blooded; Iay Selak-Amu, a witch from the Windward Isle; Faka Kun, a desert pygmy acrobat-thief; and Mirror Flag, a revolutionary actor. They are a reasonable mix, though they do lack personal motivations as to their involvement in the scenario.

‘The Tomb of Dreams’ scenario in The Tomb of Dreams An Exalted Third Edition Jumpstart begins with the player characters arriving on a strange island, seemingly walking out of the ocean along a reef. They are drawn here by dreams of their legacy of their recent Solar Exaltation, and must find their way between the ongoing, ancient struggle between a god, an elemental, and a demon. Their ultimate goal is to locate a cache of ancient weapons and more, but to do that, they will need to determine the motives of the three antagonists. This is key to uncovering quite what is going on the island, but the likelihood is that they will need to enter into a few battles too. The adventure is not quite linear, a couple of options being given which vary according to which of the NPCs the Exalted meet first. Overall, this is a decent scenario which hints at the long history before the Third Age, though it could have done with stronger hooks for the given player character Exalted.

Physically, The Tomb of Dreams An Exalted Third Edition Jumpstart is well presented and well written. The artwork is good, some of it excellent, though some of it is slightly cartoony. The four characters are given some fantastic abilities to bring to the game and often the battlefield, both high action and high fantasy.

What The Tomb of Dreams An Exalted Third Edition Jumpstart is not, is a quick-start. Although it drops various elements of the full Exalted Third Edition, there is still a complexity to the mechanics of the roleplaying game which requires a careful read-through upon the part of the Storyteller. In fact, the Storyteller would be advised to sit down and run an example of the various mechanics herself prior to bringing it to the table for her players. Otherwise, The Tomb of Dreams An Exalted Third Edition Jumpstart is a serviceable introduction to Exalted Third Edition, which though requires a bit of preparation, enables the Game Master to bring anime style high action, high fantasy to her gaming table.

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