Exalted Second Edition front cover, featuring the images of the characters (from left to right) Arianna, Swan, Panther, Harmonious Jade, and Dace.
Robert Hatch, Justin Achilli, Stephan Wieck, Andrew Bates, Dana Habecker, Sheri M. Johnson, Chris McDonough and Richard Thomas|
Robert Hatch and Geoffrey C. Grabowski (game direction first edition)
John Chambers (game direction second edition)
John Mørke and Holden Shearer (game direction third edition core)
Robert Vance and Eric Minton (game direction third edition)
|Illustrator(s)||Brian Glass (art direction), UDON Comics and many others|
|Publisher(s)||White Wolf Publishing|
2001 (1st edition)|
March 13, 2006 (2nd edition)
April 20, 2016 (3rd Edition)
|System(s)||Storyteller Game System Design by Mark Rein•Hagen|
Exalted is a role-playing game published by White Wolf Publishing. The game is classified as high fantasy and it was inspired by a mixture of world mythologies as well as Japanese Anime. The game is currently in its third edition. First Edition was originally created by Robert Hatch, Justin Achilli and Stephan Wieck. The original core rulebook was published in July 2001.
The setting is strongly influenced by Tanith Lee's Tales from the Flat Earth, Michael Moorcock's Hawkmoon, Lord Dunsany's The Gods of Pegana and Yoshiaki Kawajiri's Ninja Scroll. Other influences include Glen Cook's The Black Company; Sean Stewart's Resurrection Man, The Night Watch, and Galveston; Homer's Odyssey, the Bible, and Wu Cheng'en's Journey to the West.
The game uses ten-sided dice and a variation of the Storyteller System to arbitrate the action, and, as with many other RPGs, requires little beyond the rulebooks themselves, dice, pencil, and paper. The Exalted version of the rules were derived from the trilogy of White Wolf Publishing games Aeon (Trinity), Aberrant, and Adventure where the idea of a fixed target number of 7 or higher was first introduced.
Characters may be frequently presented with challenges that normal human beings, even within the context of the game, would find difficult, deadly, or simply impossible. However, as the chosen champions of greater powers, each Exalt possesses Charms, which may either enhance their natural capabilities or manifest as shows of great power. An Exalt with low-level archery charms might find her arrows hitting with preternatural accuracy, while greater faculty might allow her to shoot without difficulty to the edge of her vision, or turn a single arrow into a deadly rain of ammunition.
The Exalted frequently power their charms with accumulated Essence, a universal energy that flows through and comprises Creation and other worlds. While normally their Essence recovered slowly through rest, in the first two editions they could also regain it more quickly by performing stunts, actions given special description and embellishment by the players. In the third edition stunts no longer regenerate Essence, but combat automatically causes Essence stores to refill quickly. However, stunts continue to exist, and their primary benefit—adding extra dice to the actions they describe, thus enhancing the possibility of success—remains.
Exalted has mechanical and thematic similarities to White Wolf's previous game series, the old World of Darkness, but exists in its own product line, called the Age of Sorrows. The game has a sales record on par with the company's flagship title, Vampire: The Masquerade, the second edition core rulebook achieving a sales ranking at #23,558 on Amazon.com with a 4.5-star mean user review rating based on 13 user reviews as of January 2009.
The initial advertisements for Exalted placed the Age of Sorrows as the pre-history of the old World of Darkness. However, once the game was released such connections became uncertain: names and themes from the World of Darkness line run throughout the material, but rarely in a way that suggested a direct connection between one and the other. Meanwhile, some oWoD supplements also supported this; the Hunter Apocrypha gave a vision of the past that said that Hunters gained their power from the broken shards of the souls of great heroes of a lost age. which seems to suggest that hunters carry fragments of Solar Essences. Likewise, the Kindred of the East supplement gave a structure of the Wheel of Ages (mirrored in Exalted first edition books as the Ages of Man) that seemed to accommodate the integration of Exalted and the classic World of Darkness, the former the first and second age, and the latter being the fifth age.
However, per the commentary of multiple developers, the connections are deliberately tenuous, allowing players to be free to treat it as a prehistory or as its own world as it may suit their individual game. The similarities between Exalted and the new edition of the World of Darkness are even weaker. The Second Edition seems to imply that its story is the prehistory of our own world on its back cover, but this idea is not explored in any depth past that book; while the last book of Second Edition would posit a modernized world with the Exalted, it was clearly a technologically advanced version of Creation – the world of Exalted – rather than Earth.
Shards of the Exalted Dream, the final 2nd edition product, was published in January 2012. Development of Exalted 3rd Edition was officially announced in October 2012. A Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for Exalted 3rd edition ran in 2013 from May 9 to June 8, reaching its $60,000 funding goal within 18 minutes, and raising a total of $684,755 and breaking Numenera's record for the most funded tabletop RPG Kickstarter.
In March 2008, White Wolf Publishing unveiled a promotion that would allow 2,500 Dungeons & Dragons players to exchange their copy of their Edition 3.5 Player's Handbook for a copy of the Exalted Second Edition Core Rulebook. The promotion was called "Graduate your Game" and has received mixed reviews from fans of both games. The success of this promotion was not revealed.
In Exalted, the player characters are chosen by a deity and imbued with their powers (thus, "exalted", or "raised high"). There are numerous varieties of Exalted, each chosen by a different deity or group of deities; however, the core game is based around the Solar Exalted, Chosen of the Unconquered Sun, with the Core Rulebook covering the Solars' abilities, powers, and place within the setting. While the core rulebook mentions and discusses the other Exalted to the extent necessary for them to appear as supporting characters in Solar-themed games, additional sourcebooks provide the depth of detail necessary to stage other Exalted as playable characters.
According to the core sourcebooks and the supplementary materials, the history of the setting begins with the Primordials: vast entities akin to Greek primordial deities or the Outer Gods of H. P. Lovecraft's works, even going so far as to use similar epithets to the latter. They shaped Creation – a flat world of finite extent – from the primordial chaos, and placed the gods (numberless immortal spirits resembling the Kami of Shinto) to watch over it.
In time, the Celestial Incarnae, the greatest of the gods who represented great celestial objects such as the sun and moon, decided to end the rule of the callous and destructive Primordials and claim the Games of Divinity for their own, but they were forbidden from taking arms against the Primordials themselves. Instead, they imbued exceptional humans with their power (the titular Exalted) to fight for them. After a cataclysmic struggle, the Exalted finally triumphed over the Primordials, slaying many and then forcing the others to surrender.
Upon victory, the gods retreated to the city of Yu-Shan to oversee from on high, and granted the Exalted the Creation-Ruling Mandate as a boon for their service to the new order. The surrendered Primordials were banished to/became the Hell known as Malfeas, the Demon City. Now they are half-remembered only as the Yozis: ill-understood and impersonal cosmic deities whose continued worship is reckoned among the highest of heresies. The slain Primordials are known as the Neverborn, quiescent monsters whose impossible ending resulted in the formation of the Underworld.
Common to all of White Wolf Publishing's games, the primary character archetype, the Exalted, suffer from a systemic character flaw. In this case, this flaw is represented by a "Great Curse", uttered upon the dying breaths of the slain Primordials. This Great Curse manifests itself in a variety of ways and causes the "heroes" of the setting to be fatally flawed. In the game's history, the Solars eventually grew decadent and corrupt from this influence. After centuries of plotting, the Solars were slaughtered in a massive insurrection known as the Usurpation by the Terrestrial and Sidereal Exalted, their servants and advisors. After the Usurpation, the majority of the Exaltations of the Solar Exalted were locked away, and an organization known as the Wyld Hunt was organized by agents of the Sidereals and Terrestrials to kill all the others, and drive the Lunar Exalted from the civilised lands of Creation.
During the intervening age, the Terrestrial Exalted became the rulers of the world, ruling in a system not unlike the shogunate of feudal Japan. After the Great Contagion (a plague engineered by the Neverborn to swell the population of the underworld and weaken Creation) and the Balorian Crusade (a war with the Fair Folk, who seek to return the world to Chaos) wrought devastation across Creation, a young captain of the Dragon-Blooded armies gained access to powerful weapons of the First Age. With these, she first beat back the Balorian Crusade, and then asserted her rulership over much of the world, dubbing herself the Scarlet Empress. Nearly eight hundred years later—in the present day of the game—there are eleven Great Houses of the Realm, nearly all of whom claim direct descent from the Empress.
Five years prior to the default starting point of the game, the Empress vanished. While she had temporarily disappeared before, by the present of the game it is believed she will not return, and the Realm stands on the brink of civil war. Simultaneously, the Solar exaltations held in the Jade Prison have returned. With the Houses ignoring the threat of the Celestial Exalted to position themselves to take control of the Realm, the number of Solar Exalted in Creation is slowly growing. Thus, the backdrop to the setting sees the newly arisen Solars (among various other heroes and villains) struggling to survive their enemies in this time of tumult long enough to make their mark upon the fate of Creation, for good or for ill.
The flat world of Creation is the primary setting of Exalted. Creation has two continents, the Blessed Isle and the unnamed super-continent which covers the northern, eastern and southern edges of Creation, populated by many nations and tribes, with the settled regions along the inner coast of this super-continent being known collectively as the threshold. The Blessed Isle is located in the center of Creation. The Realm rules the Blessed Isle and its proximate archipelago directly, and indirectly rules numerous tributary states known as satrapies along the threshold. The elemental poles of Creation color the directions of the map: the frigid North, near the pole of Air, is divided by the White Sea; The element of Wood influences the heavily forested East, the most densely populated region of Creation other than the Blessed Isle; the Scavenger Lands, formally named the Confederation of Rivers, is an organization of allied nations within the East; the South, drawing from the Pole of Fire, is a hot, arid region; the influence of the Pole of Water upon the West shows itself in the Great Western Ocean encompassing various major and minor island nations; finally, the Elemental Pole of Earth, the least dangerous of the five, is located at the top of the towering Imperial Mountain in the centre of the Blessed Isle.
Surrounding Creation is the infinite ocean of Pure Chaos known as the Wyld. The cosmology of Exalted also includes the Underworld, the celestial city of Yu-Shan, the demon realm of Malfeas, the machine world of Autochthonia, and Elsewhere.
At the core of the setting, there are several different types of Exalted, any type of which could play the role of protagonist or antagonist of the game. The Exalted of Creation can be divided into two categories: Terrestrial Exalted and Celestial Exalted. Celestial Exalted, being the chosen of the Celestial Incarnae, are significantly more powerful than Terrestrial Exalted, and can live for millennia, but their numbers are limited by a fixed number of Exaltations passing from mortal life to mortal life at any given time. Terrestrial Exalted are the chosen of the Elemental Dragons, children of the primordial Gaia, who govern the elemental underpinnings of Creation. While less powerful, Terrestrial Exalted (commonly known as the Dragon-Blooded) can pass on their Exaltation to their children, much like one would pass on other genetic features.
The Abyssal, Alchemical, and Infernal Exalted technically fall outside of the two categories, though their power level is comparable to that of Celestial Exalted. A brief synopsis of each type is given here, organized by relative power and significance within the game.
Most types of Exalted have certain collective predispositions toward or against other Exalt types, and may be viewed differently by the various mortals of Creation; while the Dragon-Blooded and their world-spanning empire are often seen as demigods and heroes, for instance, the Lunar Exalted are often seen as monstrous and dangerous; this is in part owing to their abilities to take the shapes of animals and monsters and other humans by killing them, but also due to the concerted efforts of Terrestrial propaganda.
The default protagonists of Exalted and the champions of the chief of the gods, a being known as the Unconquered Sun. There are five castes of Solar Exalted: Dawn (the warriors and generals), Zenith (the priest-kings of the Unconquered Sun), Twilight (the scholars and sorcerers), Night (the spies and assassins) and Eclipse (the ambassadors, diplomats, and negotiators).
Considered to be Anathema by much of the mortal world of the Second Age, the Solars are regarded as monstrous demons and few remember their former greatness. This is due to a prolonged and widespread campaign of propaganda orchestrated by the Terrestrials, via a now firmly established religion known as the Immaculate Order.
The nature of Solar charms tends to express itself instead through human excellence taken to superhuman extremes, and as such their raw prowess in most skills easily exceeds any of the others. Their three greatest advantages are their large Essence pools that give them more raw power to work with, their powerful, efficient, straightforward charms, and their ability to use the highest of all forms of sorcery, the Adamant Circle – also called the Solar Circle due to the Solars alone being able to access that circle of sorcery. With the addition in the third edition of Evocations—powers derived from legendary artifacts—the Solars have attained another area in which they are the undisputed masters.
Loyal servants of the Deathlords, the Abyssal castes are a dark reflection of their Solar counterparts; Dusk (soldiers, generals, and martial champions), Midnight (priests and leaders), Daybreak (scholars and artisans), Day (assassins and spies), and Moonshadow (bureaucrats, diplomats, and couriers).
In the present of Exalted, the Neverborn sow their revenge from beyond the grave through their Deathlord servants. The source materials, primarily the second-edition sourcebook The Manual of Exalted Power: Abyssals, present the Deathlords as the largely insane ghosts of First Age Solars slaughtered in the Usurpation, who are easily among the most powerful beings in the Underworld of Exalted. The Deathlords have varied goals, but most strive not to conquer or corrupt Creation, save as a path to the Neverborn's desire: the complete destruction of existence.
The named agents of the Deathlords in the world of the living are the Abyssal Exalted, also known as Deathknights; these antagonists are dark reflections of the Solar Exalted and are presented as being their equal in power. They were created by the Deathlords through powerful sorcery taught them by the Neverborn, using Solar Exaltations stolen from the Jade Prison. Willing Solar Exalted can also be converted to Abyssal Exalted with powerful magic. They field vast undead armies, bolstered by ancient knowledge long since lost in the world of the living but still readily available in the lingering dead, and a powerful form of magic known as necromancy. Several sourcebooks present the Abyssals and the Deathlords as having a tentative foothold in Creation, likely representing a grave threat.
Presented as the most anarchistic and chaotic of the Exalted. In the sourcebooks, they are often referred to as cunning shapeshifters, skilled fighters, and capable generals.
Within the game's history, they were very tightly bound to the First Age Solars. While many stood and died beside their Solar friends and spouses in the Usurpation, those that were not killed along with their companions fled to the edges of Creation.
At the borders of the order of Creation and the chaotic turbulence of the Wyld, their natures were changed over a great many years. Lunars follow at best a loose tribal hierarchy and ritually tattoo each other to protect themselves from the warping effects of the Wyld. This further serves to mark them as different from the rest of humanity; the tattoos are made of moonsilver and are often visible over much of the Lunar's body.
Second edition materials detailed the Lunar Exalted's subversive influence on Creation's societies and revealed the Thousand Streams River Project, a complicated system of social engineering designed to create self-sufficient human societies that do not require Exalted leadership to function. Several major societies within the game were declared the results of centuries of subtle, behind-the-scenes guidance, with varying degrees of success.
These Celestial Exalted are the least numerous of all the Exalted types (with the exception of the newly created Infernals), yet are described as major players in the fate of Creation. Sidereals, in addition to their mastery of martial arts, evidenced by their access to the highest forms of martial-arts magical abilities (known as Sidereal martial arts), excel at foreseeing and manipulating fate. Within the Exalted universe, they are often presented as celestial bureaucrats who often work in the Bureau of Fate of the Celestial City of Yu-Shan, the home of the gods, directing events in the mortal world from behind the scenes.
They were the viziers, prophets and cunning advisers of the First Age. Toward the end of the First Age, a prophecy came to them that warned that without action, Creation would fall to darkness. Seeking to save the world, the Sidereals looked into the future and saw two options: attempt to reform of their maddening kings, or destroy the Solar Exalted and raise up the Dragon-blooded in their place. The Sidereals, possibly under the effects of the Great Curse laid upon them by the Neverborn, elected the path that offered a guaranteed future for Creation. As such, they orchestrated the end of the First Age, known as the Great Usurpation.
Sidereals slip from the minds of those who meet them, mortal and Exalt alike, which can be beneficial to Sidereal characters or harmful, depending on their intended goals as player characters and non-player characters. Some unpredicted events prior to the "present" setting of Exalted, such as the Great Contagion, have jarred their faith in their precognitive abilities. Meanwhile, the loss of the Scarlet Empress, their secret ally at the top of the Scarlet Dynasty, has greatly weakened their influence.
In the present, a growing rift between the Bronze Faction (which supports the Dragon-Blooded hegemony) and the Gold Faction (which backs the newly-returned Solars) renders the Sidereal Exalted uncertain of their future.
There are five elemental aspects to the Dragon-Blooded: Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Wood. In the history of Exalted, they were the elite infantry and servants to the rest of the Exalted in the First Age. They are less powerful than other types of Exalted, but most of their strength lies in their inheritance – rather than being chosen by a god, the Dragon-Blooded have the potential to share their Exaltation through their bloodline. With their comparatively massive numbers, along with the help and guidance of the Sidereal Exalted, they were able to overthrow the Solar Exalted at the height of their power and end the First Age.
The most prevalent Dragon-Blooded in Creation make up the ruling class of the Realm, currently the most powerful empire in Creation. The state-sanctioned faith known as the Immaculate Order paints the Solar and Lunar Exalted as dangerous Anathema who will bring ruin to the world if allowed to exist. Because of this, the Realm organizes the Wyld Hunt, which actively seeks out dangers to the Realm (such "Anathema" include many other types of Exalted, rogue gods, and the Fair Folk) and destroys them. This practice had effectively kept the Solars from rising to power again since the end of the First Age, but has faltered with the recent disappearance of the Scarlet Empress; the power struggle to fill the resulting vacuum has destabilized the Realm and allowed the Solar Exalted to escape the purges of the Wyld Hunt and rise in Creation once more.
The ruling Dragon-Blooded of the Realm are made up of the eleven Great Houses. Most houses were founded by and named after one of the Scarlet Empress's Exalted offspring, though at least two are descended from the Empress' late husbands and consorts, and three unspecified houses are descended from adopted children of the Empress. The prominent Dragon-Blooded families of the rival city-state of Lookshy, across the Inner Sea, are known as Gentes.
 Creations made from clay and the Five Magical Materials, built in the world of Autochthonia. They were introduced in the supplement "Time of Tumult". Alchemicals serve the Great Maker Autochthon, a primordial who assisted the Gods by sharing the secret of Exaltation with them. The Champions are infused with the souls of dead Autochthonian heroes, and they serve as protectors of the inhabitants of a parallel world made up of the body of Autochthon himself, and enforce the will of the Tripartite, the theocratic government of this world. They divide themselves into castes according to which material was mainly used in their construction: there are five canon castes, one for each of the Five Magical Materials, as well as the optional Adamant caste. Instead of wielding Essence directly and using their Charms in a "magical" fashion like other Exalted do, the Alchemicals have Charms "installed" like peripheral parts. As Alchemical Exalted grow in power, they also increase in size, eventually physically joining with Autochthon and forming living, sapient cities. The Alchemicals are not subject to the Great Curse, as they did not fight in the Primordial War. In gameplay, in place of curse driven insanity, they have a Clarity track which measures their distance from humanity. Those Alchemicals who have been infected with Autochthon's illness have a Dissonance track in place of a Clarity track, with Dissonance measuring their madness, corruption, and drive to violate boundaries. A brief tour of the world of Autochthonia can be found on the game's website.
They currently have less published material covering their nature, back-story and abilities than other Exalts. There are two types of Infernal Exalted, the Akuma and the Green Sun Princes.
Rules for Akuma were first introduced in the 1st edition Exalted Player's Guide (April 2004). Akuma are Exalted of another type who have given themselves over to the cause of the Yozis and have been remade according to their masters' desires. They retain access to their native charm set and gain the ability to learn and use their patron Yozi's Infernal charms.
The Green Sun Princes are made with the fifty Essences of Solar Exalts which the Yozis took in payment from the Neverborn and altered to emulate themselves in exchange for teaching the Neverborn to corrupt Solar Essences to create the Abyssals. While the first edition hinted at their existence, they did not get official rules until 2nd edition's Manual of Exalted Power - The Infernals (April 2009). The Green Sun Princes were created by a cadre of five of the Yozis; Malfeas, She Who Lives In Her Name, Cecylene, Adorjan, and the Ebon Dragon. Each of these Yozis is responsible for the creation of one caste of Green Sun Princes and the charms associated with that caste, Malfeas created the Slayers, Cecylene created the Malefactors, She Who Lives in Her Name created the Defilers, Adorjan created the Scourges and the Ebon Dragon created the Fiends. Green Sun Princes of any caste can learn the charms of all five castes, as well as the charms of any other Yozis who have opened up access to their charms to the Green Sun Princes; in the default setting, Kimbery is the only other Yozi who has done so. The Yozis have tasked the Green Sun Princes with transforming Creation into a mirror of Malfeas, which they believe will break their bonds and reverse their disfiguring imprisonment. They call this effort the Reclamation.
The Green Sun Princes are few in number; only 50 infernal essences are controlled by the Yozis, and they do not yet have the ability to corrupt further Solar Essences as the Deathlords can. On the other hand, the Infernals have the full resources of the demon realm at their disposal, along with numerous Yozi cults which already exist in creation. It is implied that despite currently revelling in their power, the vast majority of Infernal Exalted will grow disillusioned with the alien Yozis and their obvious insanity, and go rogue. The Infernals' Primordial power gives them the potential to grow into new Titans themselves, not bound by the same shortness of vision their current patrons possess.
Three new types of playable Exalted have been announced for 3rd edition: The Liminals, the Getimians and the Exigents.
The Liminals "stand at the border between life and death, humanity and monstrosity". They are created when someone attempts to bring another person back from death; resurrection is explicitly impossible in Exalted, but some will still try. On occasion, this attempt draws the attention of some other power that raises the corpse to life again. The new Liminal possesses the memories of the body that she wears, but does not possess the same soul, and thus does not have the same personality. In their initial introduction at the end of Second Edition, it was mentioned that they possess an interest in severed limbs and body parts, but the full explanation for this has yet to be given. Like the Dragon-Blooded, they are divided among five aspects—Breath, Blood, Flesh, Marrow, and Soil—depending on the motives of the person who created them.
The Getimian Exalted are described as "drawn from stillborn destinies to serve as agents in one man’s war against Heaven". The Getimian Exaltations predate their current use, but the rogue Sidereal Exalt Rakan Thulio has employed them. The Getimians have their own will: one sample character works as a special consultant to Heaven rather than opposing it. The Getimian Exalted have Essence split into two pools, but unlike the other Exalted types, their charms interact with their separate pools in different ways; their personal pool is akin to Yin essence, while their peripheral pool is Yang. Some of their charms can only be powered by one or the other, or cause different effects depending on which one is used.
The Exigents are described by 3rd edition developer Holden Shearer as follows:
The Exigents are a scattered host of Chosen of many lesser divinities, from gods of mazes and masks to gods of field, hearth, and blazing volcano. Each is unique, born of desperate circumstances in which Creation needed a hero.
A god may petition the Unconquered Sun for the power to Exalt their own champion. If successful, then the God receives the Exigence, which they may use to create their own champion. The process is taxing on a god, and can destroy it in the process. Some Exigences have been sold or otherwise passed into the hands of gods who do not have the Unconquered Sun's approval, while others have been heavily modified from multiple sources; the writers have referred to the former as "black market" Exaltations, and the latter as "dirty bomb" Exaltations.
Alongside the various types of Exalts found in Creation, there are also other magical creatures that use the same Essence that Exalts use to power their magical effects. The following are the most prominent types of magical beings.
Due to the terms of the Yozis' surrender, all demons can be summoned and bound.
Essence is the mystical force which the Exalted and gods manipulate to gain their supernatural powers, as well as the energy that forms all things. Within the game, the mystical force "Essence" is always capitalized to distinguish from other uses of the word.
The Five Magical Materials are used to forge artifacts and weapons. Each material is associated with a type of Exalted, as well as one of the castes of Alchemical Exalted, who are partially constructed from that material. These materials are all easily enchanted, and each one resonates with a particular type of Exalted. This resonance makes any item that is both constructed from one of the magical materials and attuned to an Exalt's anima preternaturally deft and sure in that Exalt's hands. It also gives the Exalt access to the powers of any hearthstone mounted on the item.
First Edition Exalted hints at a sixth magical material, but it is not presented in full until the Second Edition release of Dreams of the First Age.
See the list of Exalted sourcebooks for further information.
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