The Compass of Celestial Directions, Vol. VI - Autochthonia rounds off Exalted 2e’s “Celestial” world book line, which focuses on various non-Creation realms. This time the subject is Autochthonia, the vast body-world of a dying Primordial, cast off into some sort of Void ages ago and almost (but not totally and permanently) cut off from Creation. It’s a dystopian world which was lightly described in the Alchemicals book, but the page count there went more towards describing the Alchemical Exalted. This book focuses on the world they live in.
It’s a fantastic book, possibly the best of the “Celestial” line. Autochthonia is clearly laid out as a dark and dystopian place, where endless toil is poor conditions is better than the alternative: utter annihilation, either via some Voidbringer cult, or by the final death of their world/god. The inhabitants of Autochthonia are somewhat aware of the plight they are in, though the clerical castes try to put a “pray and sin less, and things will be fine again” shine on things. Most know their world is dying, bit by bit, simply because they see districts vanishing into the gloom, never to return again – or at least return in any form that anyone wants to see again. I liked how this book emphasizes the fact that the mindset of most Autochthonians is very different from the Creation-born. Here, tradition and conformity is everything, since that keeps you alive (“except it doesn’t, anymore!” scream the few dissidents).
Autochthonia is Exalted’s answer to steampunk, in a way. The world is very different from Creation, and even their Exalts are… strange. Vast machines, the sound of distant engines, and dark, steamy corridors are constant facts of life, and “nature”, such as it is, is tainted both by the Void and the very nature of the world. Autochthon is/was a builder, and that is mirrored in every little detail. There’s machinery, there’s steam-powered weirdness, and there are goggles. Oh, and even zeppelins, in some areas.
So, what makes the book so good? Simply put, the writing and the ideas. Most of the page count goes into describing the eight major “nations” of Autochthonia, and it’s a fascinating read. They are all very different (though some have similarities and overlaps), and many of them are fantastic creations. I also liked the sections on the “Reaches”, the wild areas. We get a vast ocean of… oil and other lubricants, in which submersibles hunt for the best patches of oil while dodging things that can actually live in that environment. At the other end of things, there is the elemental pole of smoke, which is (if possible) even more nasty. There are so many cool locations and ideas crammed into here that any GM will find something here to love. In all probability, lots of somethings.
The only negative? Autochthonia is a very different realm, and a game that dives into Autochthonian life doesn’t really mix very well with stock Exalted. Sure, you could have Solars do a road trip around the place, but it would not be the same as with native-born characters.
Masters of Jade is one of the last books published for the 2nd edition Exalted game line. Many of the writers are people who are involved with the 3rd edition, here they present their view of the Guild – and it’s a very interesting one. While there is some very small overlap with the 1st edition “Manacle and Coin” book, this is mostly a very different viewpoint. The book is split into three main sections. The first one describes the Guild all over Creation (including a creation story for it), It’s interesting stuff, but nothing all that extraordinary. It’s the second part that is most interesting: details of how the Guild deals with supernatural creatures, including Solars. That’s something that the 1st edition book mostly just ignored: how do you form a huge organization that’s not vulnerable to supernatural mind control and other nasty tricks that Exalts and other powerful creatures may throw at them? The answer lies in many directions, but the main point is huge size, combined with very loose organization. It’s very hard to decapitate the Guild; it’s not trivial to even figure out what the leadership structure looks like. Sure, a Solar may gain control of one or two major movers and shakers (after much effort tracking them down), but that won’t give them the Guild on a platter. It may result in profit, sure, but the Guild can handle that. Alongside that, the Guild handles powerful figures much the way any large semi-criminal organization would: bribes, flattery, misdirection, threats…. whatever works. It’s a very interesting treatment of the subject.
The book winds up with a rules subsystem to handle organizations, “The Creation-Ruling Mandate”. This is the part of the book I can least comment on, since I have zero idea of how well this works based on just a read-through. I like the fact that the book includes rules for modeling big stuff like this, the game doesn’t have anything like that at the moment (most of the subsystems in the Exalted 2nd edition core books are… a bit broken). I’m not sure this is anything anyone will ever use, though, with 3rd edition heading our way. Hard to say.
Most of the book is rules-free, and as such works fine in any edition. I liked what the writers did with the Guild here, and especially liked the stuff about “big organization vs powerful supernaturals”.
The Patchwork Scroll is a print collection of four small (originally) PDF expansions for Exalted. All share the trait of being “leftover material” from their respective main books, material that was actually pretty good but did not within the page count limit. Releasing it as PDFs, and now, later, as a print compilation, was a nice move. Especially so since there is a lot of fun stuff here, I’ve used quite a few bits and pieces from this in my own game. Nothing you absolutely need, but a pile of extra options for martial arts, Wyld creatures and encounters, Dragon Kings and ghosts.
The first supplement is The Imperfect Lotus, containing some extra martial arts styles (left over from Scroll of the Monk). Many are quite specific to certain regions, but can provide fun flavor. There’s also a weird set of MA for gods, based on the Virtues.
Splinters of the Wyld is next, providing some extra Wyld locations (and creatures), leftovers from the main Wyld book. Lots of good stuff here, I ended up using quite a few of these when my players were off in the Wyld. High weirdness factor, which suits the Wyld perfectly.
Debris of the Fallen Races contains some martial arts styles for Dragon Kings, some Chaos Pattern Charms, and some extra subterranean creatures. Useful if you have Dragon Kings or the Underfolk in your games, useless if not.
Lastly, Lost Arts of the Dead has some extra Arcanoi for ghosts. May or may not be useful, depends on the game.
Each of these can also be purchased separately as PDFs, of course.
Glories of the Most High started off as a set of three PDF-only releases, each detailing a major Exalted Incarna (or group of such): The Unconquered Sun, Luna, and the Maidens. It was such a hit that White Wolf decided to also do a print release (which collects all three). In the general scheme of things, this also slots into White Wolf’s new publishing strategy: most releases as PDF, with occasional “traditional” print runs and (in the long run) print-on-demand availability of all titles. It’s a nice model, since people can pick up the media format that works for them. Sucks for game stores, of course, since both PDF and PoD bypasses them completely. This release is still a “traditional” one, printed and sent for sale via the distributor network. We’ll see if White Wolf continues to do this; do traditional releases now and then of the popular stuff just to maintain visibility on store shelves. We’ll see.
Anyway, what about the book itself? Quite simply, it’s brilliant. It contains some of the best writing in Exalted so far, and at long last we get some insight into what makes the major “gods” of the game world tick. Up to now they’ve been fairly bland characters; yes, they provide the powers for some of the Exalts (Sun for Solars, Luna for Lunars, and the Maidens for the Sidereals), but what are they like? Up to now, not much on that, other than that they are all junkies, totally addicted to the Games of Divinity and mostly ignoring Creation.
Well, no more of that. We get the full stats of all of these… entities, along with their stories and motivations, and a ton of new cool and weird stuff. I think the Silver Chair takes the cake here – even though the fact that the sun is actually a physical artifact is fun, the moon becomes something very weird and wonderful here. One of the great thing in Exalted was always the fact that gods aren’t omnipotent and vague nebulous entities. They have distinct motivations (including petty peeves), distinct limits and yes, their ass can (at least in theory) be kicked. Maybe even by the PCs. This book gets points for providing stats that enforce and also explain many of the behavior patterns in the Incarnae. The motivations and related limit conditions of the Unconquered Sun, Luna and the others are just beautiful.
I can’t find much anything bad to say about this book. I might have wanted to see a bit more info on the Maidens, but that’s a page count issue: where Sun and Luna both get a third of the book, the last third is split between five Maidens. What we do get is great stuff, though. Sure, the target group for this book is somewhat limited, since it’s a book about Exalted metaphysics and backstory… but there are apparently enough of those to make this a good seller for White Wolf.
I like to think that I had a (very very tiny) part in the existence of this book. A couple of years ago we had a thread on rpg.net, where we brainstormed additional books for the Exalted line. Absolutely nothing official, it was just a bunch of Exalted fans, with some White Wolf freelancers (and perhaps also some actual employees) participating. I seem to remember suggesting a boxed set with exactly this title, ”The Return of the Scarlet Empress” and this very same subject matter: a “what if?” campaign book about the return of Her Imperial Scarletness. Ok, this isn’t a boxed set (my suggestion was at the time the Dreams of the First Age boxed set came out), and I’m sure the idea occurred to many others too. In any case, I like to think I had some tiny part in giving White Wolf the idea that people would be interested in something like this.
Now, Exalted doesn’t have a metaplot as such. The official game is stil frozen in Realm Year 768, with the Scarlet Empress having vanished 3 years ago after ruling most of Creation for 765 years, and the Realm (deliberately designed by the Empress to be unstable) slowly spiraling down into civil war. There have been lots of fan theories about where the Empress went, and if you read the (thousands and thousands of pages of) background material there are quite clear hints about what happened to her. However, until now it’s never been explicitly spelled out. The books contain comics (and short fiction in the older books), and those are not-quite-canon; they are more like if-game and small-scale “what if” ideas. Things like Arianna ending up as a “guest” of the Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears and the Prince of Shadows, Lilith’s love/hate relationship with Swan/Desus… all that. It’s stuff that fans love to ponder about and pick apart, but it’s not official. The game world, officially, is in a stasis on the brink of collapse, threatened by the Raksha, the Deathlords, the Alchemicals, various demonic cults and the Yozis themselves, the Bull of the North, and piles and piles of First Age doomsday weapons. That’s great, it lets each game be quite different, even if they start from the same canon moment in RY 768. Not that they have to do even that, of course.
Now, this book. It’s a “what if” scenario about the return of the Empress, and as the cover hints it’s not all love and roses. In fact, the cover (showing the Roseblack in chains at the feet of the Empress, with the Blessed Isle and Mt. Meru burning in the background), sort of gives that point away. The cover is a clever play on the older Blessed Isle cover, by the way, where the Roseblack is shown smelling a (black!) rose in front of an old statue of the Empress (one of my favorite Exalted pics).
I want to avoid spoilers somewhat here, but some are inevitable.
The basic plot of the book is that the Empress returns, and initially seems to concentrate on re-establishing her firm rule on the Realm and the satrapies. She uses the Sword of Creation to demonstrate that she’s not messing around, and slowly things quiet down. However, her return also heralds a demonic incursion, with an endgame which pretty much means the end of the world. Of course, this is Exalted, so the intention is that the PCs may be able to stop things… or help them succeed, if they are playing for the opposing team. The book is organized in a clear fashion: there’s an initial chapter outlining the campaign, and then separate chapters detailing what happens on the Blessed Isle and in the various directions of Creation. Events are separated into three “phases”, and there are a ton of events and mini-scenarios set all over Creation. There is also a chapter detailing what happens elsewhere (Shadowlands, Wyld, etc), and that one is especially cool and contains some really out-there ideas. Oh, and we finally get the full stats of the Empress (along with some other major players), and get to know her Aspect. It’s not what most people imagined, btw. Her original name… that’s a secret lost long ago, and perhaps forever (if one of the scenarios here plays out).
This is a book for the fans, and for people who have real a lot of Exalted background material. It contains a ton of tiny nods and winks to all sorts of things, and explains some things that the will make the fans go “oooh” but will probably leave many others scratching their heads. There are some very cool ideas and events here, and it’s great to see some of the canon NPCs finally act like Big Damn Heroes. Or not, in some cases. I especially liked Mnemon, of all people, becoming a (reluctant) hero; I mean, she’s a totally amoral powerhungry bitch and arguably “evil”… but here events force her hand. There are also great interlude comics, with one very hope-filled one about Lillun (and a surprise-Lunar), and another one that closes off the book and provides one possible link to one possible new future. We also learn the original author of the Broken-Winged Crane, which… sort of makes sense. It’s great stuff, but again: the information level is quite dense here, this is not a book for Exalted newbie GMs.
As with all scenario/campaign books, this won’t be to everyone’s taste. If you dislike the “official” explanation of where the Empress went, this book won’t offer as much to you as directly useful material (though there are some very interesting detail tidbits about Mt. Metagalapa, Gethamane, and some other places). Also, this is very much an big, huge, apocalyptic “endgame” scenario; running this will change your game world forever. If you don’t want to do that, this book is only useful as a source of smaller-scale “what if” ideas. It’s also a fun read just for entertainment’s sake, if you’re interested in Exalted “metaplot” (you know, that thing that both does and doesn’t exist).
Should you get this? If you’re an Exalted GM and want some new story & world ideas (even if you don’t want to go into “end of the world” mode), absolutely. If you’re an Exalted fan and don’t intend to play through this, absolutely again. However, if you’re a player in an Exalted game, I’d skip this… if your GM decides to use parts of this, you’ll just be ruining the surprise. Also, if you really dislike the official version of this particular metaplot and/or dislike anything pre-plotted, this book probably isn’t for you. It’s more a toolkit of timelines and mini-scenarios and events than a coherent “PCs go to X and then Y” campaign (something like that doesn’t much fit Exalted anyway), but it’s still a pre-plotted possible timeline for the game.
I really liked it. But then again, I’m a fan of the game and have read pretty much all the 1st and 2nd edition sourcebooks. That’s probably in the order of 5-6 thousand pages of material.
As a final note, one thing probably needs clarifying: while this is sort of like the “end of the world” books for the old WoD (“Gehenna”, “Apocalypse”, etc), it’s also very different. As noted Exalted doesn’t have a metaplot as such, and this is just one possible “end game” scenario out of many. It’s totally optional, and in no way changes the core game. Also, this is not the final book for Exalted, the game line is not ending here. We’re getting more SAS adventures, a “directions” book on Autochtonia, print versions of many PDF-only Exalted products, and possibly much more. Everything depends on sales, of course.
I’d actually love to see more books like this, exploring other “game over man!” scenarios. “The Second Balorian Crusade”. “The First and Forsaken Lion Invades Everything”, “The Locust Crusade”, “The Silver Price Decides He Is Bored With Being Subtle”, “Kukla Goes Out To Play”, “The Empire of the Bull”….
…and of course “Gem Gets Wiped Out. Again.”
It’s been a semi-hectic few weeks. Oh, fun, and almost all of the “hectic” part has been due to various hobbies and stuff like that. Still, I’m left feeling a slight bit frazzled and thankful that this week looks more sane. Maybe I’ll just get time to curl up with a book, or something..
The weekend before was spent mostly in the forest, at a paintball war weekend organized by a friend. Good fun and nice exercise, and some of the scenarios were especially cool (notably the VIP escort one, where I was gunned down by “terrorists” but the VIP survived by doing an very fast “duck and cover”). Extra thanks to the cooks on site, the food was delicious and there was tons of it.
This weekend was also full of stuff: on Saturday I ran the Battle Lines storyline VTES tournament in Otaniemi. We has 16 players and the win went to Aleksi Nuora with his True Brujah deck. Nice work. I’ll post a short tournament report about that in the newsgroup soonish. Yesterday I ran Exalted for most of the day, which is always fun but also pretty exhausting. The previous week went into a combo of game prep, toying with the new “Planetary Interaction” thingy in EVE, the Roxy Music concert on Thursday, and just… stuff.
I’m slowly gearing up to run a limited Dark Heresy campaign, based on the fairly interesting Haarlock’s Legacy pregen campaign series. Character generation is next week, after that we’ll see what happens to mutants, aliens and other Enemies of the Empire. It’s possible that all that happens is “they get nice things to snack on”.
With Alchemicals, Exalted’s 2nd edition now has a full lineup of the Exalts defined in the first edition, with the addition of the Infernals which are 2nd edition -only. I haven’t read the 1st ed Alchemicals book so I cannot compare to that, but read on its own this is a good (if somewhat obscure) addition to the game.
The so-called “Alchemical Exalts” are weird in many ways. While generally classed as “Celestial Exalts”, that’s more to do with power level than actual origin. Properly, the Alchemicals would be classed as “Primordial Exalts” due to their origin, but that general category doesn’t exist as such. They are on the low end of the “Celestial” power scale; which they have tremendous flexibility, they are far below the raw power level of Solars. A large part of the weirdness comes from their origin: they were created by Autochthon as caretakers of his realm, which in actuality is his own vast body after his retreat into Elsewhere. Creation has no idea they exist, and they have only vague legends of Creation.
Since they are artificially created beings (much more so than, say, Solars), they are unusual in many ways. Grown in vats, they immediately inherit the personality and (most) memories of their predecessor – they step into the world as full adults, lacking most of the chance and uncertainty of the Celestial Exalts. Their creation is always planned, and their capabilities are also planned and designed. Instead of Charms that directly manipulate Essence, their bodies contain extensions and artifacts which allow them to manipulate Essence. Each plug-in artifact does only one thing, so they are limited by what “hardware” they have installed – resulting in a much smaller set of “Charms” than typical Exalts. The flipside is that they can visit a friendly neighborhood vat technician and reconfigure their bodies as they wish, from a huge pool of available implants. As a result, they are very dangerous if they have time to prepare, but more limited in their ability to react to surprises.
In an interesting twist, as they grow in power (Essence-wise) they grow physically larger. At the end of this path, they actually become cities – it’s expected that all Alchemicals eventually “settle down” and provide more living space for the “Populat”… but not all want to do this. Alchemicals do not have a Great Curse (since they were not involved in the Primordial War), but they do have a stat named Clarity – the higher it is, the more “machine-like” they become. As a counterbalance, high Clarity opens up options in the Charm tree and elsewhere. Alchemicals stay at low Clarity by interacting with normal humans, a nice mechanical tweak which gives motivation for the “heroes of the people” to mingle.
As noted, Alchemicals live outside Creation (and also Fate, as a side result). Their world is a strange steampunk-ish underground realm, though it’s not strictly underground: it’s inside the body of an ancient sleeping Primordial. The whole thing is a strange mix of transhumanism, steampunk and “normal” Exalted, and the world has a lot of old Soviet Union echoes via the “planned society” and “limited resources” theme. It’s far from the dystopia that the Soviet Union generally was, though. The Alchemicals really do try to protect the people, and the rulers generally are honest. They’ve been made to be that, and have limited options to rebel even if they wanted to.
As to “what do Alchemicals do?”… well, for one their world is dying. Autochthon is sleeping, and cannot be woken due to ancient edicts. His planned society has developed flaws over the milennia, and inertia is creeping into everything. “The Void” is a major enemy, though the inhabitants of the world are unsure of what the Void actually is. It’s most often seen as the “hostile realm outside Autochthon”, though that’s not strictly true. Nevertheless, it’s a malign force which the Alchemicals can try to push back.
Also, Autochtonia (as the realm is called) contains a multitude of nations, with different views. Warfare is common, despite (or maybe because of) the dwindling resources. Alchemicals can represent “state heroes”, and act as vanguards of their nation. This ties in nicely with their role in society, since they are much more like “respected and well-known superheroes” than most Exalts in Creation.
Also, there is the whole “our world is dying” thing. One option is for a desperate (or brave) nation to break the seal that separates Authchtonia from the mythical Creation, opening up a vast new realm to strip-mine and exploit. Sure, the natives may raise a fuss, but there are lots of Alchemicals. Before the Realm and the other powers realize it, they may be facing a new enemy, one which just appears overnight “from nowhere” and has a lot of firepower.
It’s quite an interesting book. The Alchemicals themselves are a fun semi-cybernetic twist on the “Exalt” theme, and Autochtonia has lots of story possibilities. Of course, the complete separation of Autochthonia from Creations means the GM cannot just add this material to a normal Exalted game. There are basically two options: one is to run a game completely withing Autochtonia, and the other is to run an “Autochthonia Invades Creation” scenario. Both can work, but unfortunately only skimpy internal detail on Autochthonia is provided, the bulk of the book goes towards providing mechanics for the Alchemical Exalts… so a GM wishing to run an Autochthonia-based game needs to do quite a bit of extra work in populating the world. I get the feeling that the “Invasion of the Cyber-Exalted!” scenario is the most common use here. And why not, it provides a new enemy (or potential ally). Not that Creation was exatly lacking in forces trying to destroy it… but hey, the more the merrier.
In sum, a fairly interesting book which is also quite a ways removed from “stock Exalted”. Can be useful, but isn’t required reading in any way.
Scroll of Exalts has a very cool cover picture, a tribute to the old 1st edition AD&D Player’s Handbook. Nitpickers will note that all those Exalted signature characters being gathered into one place would be highly unlikely, and their gathering without bloody mayhem ensuing is even more unlikely (apparently someone’s offed whatshername, the lizard lady Lunar, perhaps as a prelude). Nitpickers will also be totally ignored – it’s a brilliant cover.
Fortunately, the cover isn’t the only good thing here. This book is quite straightforward: it’s a collection of Exalts of different types and power levels. Some are “signature characters” we’ve seen before (without full stats, though), some are new to this book. Each is given a full page spread, with a picture, some back story, and full game stats. Included are (among others) the new Infernals, and even the new Alchemicals get a section even though that sourcebook is a later release.
Oh, and we finally get full stats for Chejop Kejak (affectionately also known as “Ketchup Carjack”). Yes, he’s scary. No big surprise.
Since statting up Exalted NPCs has always been a major chore (and one of the problems with the system, imho), I really like this book. It gives you a bunch of ready-made NPCs to play with, and it also illustrates designer intent in what various sorts of characters might be capable of. Oh, and the character writeups are also very cool, some old fairly “meh” characters have been given a new makeover, generally making them rock. Meticulous Owl, for instance, is very interesting now.
Good book. I wish more NPC writeups like this were available, it would lighten up some parts of Exalted GMing considerably.
On Saturday I ran a release tournament for the new Heirs to the Blood set. Went well; we had 19 players and these release tournament things are always fun. I had personally avoided reading spoilers much at all so for me the cards were largely new surprises, but even for people who had bought some the previous week (when it went on sale) it was probably the first chance to actually play with them.
The win went to Tuomas Vuokko, playing with Salubri Antitribu. Tuomas has been in torpor for almost a year now due to suffering a bunch of pretty horrific real-life events… but he decided to join this at the last minute and proceeded to win the whole thing. As an amusing side, all the players with game wins were playing Kiasyd/Lasombra, Tuomas was the only one able to get a game win with something else. Impressive.
Sunday I ran another segment of my ongoing Exalted game. I had done quite a bit of prep, due to having no real certainty of how the players would react to the things I threw at them… so even though I suspected they’d go for Plan A, I also had to have Plans B,C and D available in some form. Mostly things went as I had suspected (though there were a few surprises). The gang is now in the Northern Wyld Borderlands, planning an assault on a massive Pale Hunter fortification, all because a young Lunar managed to land on their lap.
I was pretty happy with the thing, especially since a major part of it had been written from scratch.
We stayed cooped up inside for most of the New Year extended weekend; we originally intended to “do some stuff”, but the extra-chilly weather and general laziness put a stop to that. It was nice to just cozy up inside for days, don’t get me wrong. Anyway, yesterday we felt like doing something, so we decided to go see Avatar since a) it’s by Cameron who is generally awesome and b) it had been getting generally positive though slightly mixed reviews.
Well, it was very much worth seeing. It’s not a perfect movie; the plot is more than a tad predicable and follows the classic “boy meets girl and becomes hero” pattern a bit too much by-the-numbers. Maybe the most fitting thing to say about the plot is that it was serviceable; while it could have been (a lot) more original, it didn’t get in the way. But the visuals. Damn, they were jaw-dropping, especially when seen on the large screen with 3d. This is the best visualization of a science fiction world and native culture that I recall even seeing. Even though I knew that most of what I was seeing was computer-generated, my eyes were telling me the stuff was real. During the whole 3-hour span, there was only one short clip where the CGI was obviously CGI in a way that jarred me. That’s damn well done.
So. The complaints about the plot do have merit. But it’s not that bad, and this is one movie that is worth seeing for the visuals alone. They are just that good. The star of this movie is the planet Pandora.
(Added later: here is a hilarious plot summary. Spoiler alert, you might want to skip until you’ve seen the movie!)
On the TV side, I managed to watch:
True Blood season two. Good stuff, and very interesting “bad guy”. Still among the best of the current crop of series. Not for the prudish, though.
Californication season two. Very good and very funny. Also not for the prudish, and I mean it: this show is mostly about sex. And about how people deal with it. I really like this show, because the characters are excellent and it somehow manages to be lewd & irreverent and warm & understanding at the same time. The characters screw up (and just screw) all the time, but you can’t help understanding and liking them at the same time.
The Doctor Who “specials” Waters of Mars and End of Time (parts 1 & 2). Watchable but nothing all that special. Will be interesting to see how the new Doctor works out, since these were the final ones with the (great!) David Tennant.
Some other bits and pieces… some Heroes (meh, but at least getting a bit better), Sanctuary (meh), etc. Nothing much worth commenting on.