This is an interesting book. So far, most of 2nd edition Exalted has concerned itself with providing 2nd edition updates of stuff that existed in 1st edition. Sure, there has been a lot of (good) extra material thrown in and lots of nice improvements, but still…
Infernals is the first major addition to the line that has no counterpart in 1st edition (other than by brief mention and hints). As can be guessed, the book describes the “Infernal Exalted”, the Exalt shards given to the Yozis in exchange for some… favors back in the world history (I’m trying to avoid too many spoilers here). There aren’t very many of them, but they are potent and quite delicious opponent material. As with all the Exalted major hardcovers, this book makes the Infernals playable as PCs. However, it’s likely that the major use for this book will be as an antagonist NPC creation toolkit.
Contrasting this book with Abyssals is a fun exercise. While at first glance the Infernals and the Abyssals may seem similiar, they are actually worlds apart in style and motivation. Abyssals serve their masters in trying to destroy the world, to push it over the brink into Oblivion. The Infernals, on the other hand, do not want to destroy the world. They want to ruin it, to make it as much like Hell (Malfeas) as they can. Why? That would be a spoiler. Where Abyssals may relish in pain and torture “just because” and because it reminds them of the comforts of the grave, the Infernals use atrocities as a deliberate tool. Oh, and because they find it “fun”, in many cases – most Infernals aren’t exactly 100% sane, and most are just plain evil at this point. The Infernals go through a nasty process in order to be “born”, and one that is designed to strip away any vestiges of morality they might have had.. The Yozis give “their” Infernals much more leeway than the typical Deathlord gives his/her Deathknights… but the leash does exist, and getting a tug on it is not pleasant.
On the power scale, the Infernals seem more or less on the same level as Solars. In other words, damn strong. They are also not as crippled in Creation as Abyssals are, not to mention the Fair Folk. This makes them extremely dangerous. However, the fact that they typically want to operate “under the radar” (because of Heavenly retribution, among other factors) and the fact that they are simply very few in number make them quite balanced. At least in theory.
An interesting facet of the whole thing is that each “splat” of Infernals serves a specific different Yozi. This gives them a concrete reason for being very different and for having extremely varied operational modes, and it also opens up an avenue for expanding the lineup if the GM wants to. Very nice. Kudos must also be given to the mechanical side of things… since the Infernals are meant to act in typically “villanous” ways, they have been given various mechanical bonuses to encourage such. For example, an Infernal may get a bonus if he/she actually acts like a typical James Bond villian (prepares elaborate deathtraps, gives long speeches describing her Ultimate Evil Masterplan, etc). To be sure, this is not the first time Exalted does this; the idea that game mechanics should try to encourage a certain “style” is an old one and has existed from the get go in the game line (“stunts”, “limit”, etc). Still, I found the mechanics here to be especially fun and suitable for creating a certain type of Evil Bastard for your PCs to face.
I’d say this is a very good addition to the Exalted lineup, and having yet another canonical group of bad guys to throw at your players is never a bad thing. Especially since this group is wonderfully colorful and bizarrely motivated.
And then there is that certain upcoming wedding, which has everyone just shivering with anticip..p…pation…
Fun to read Exalted material that I wasn’t too familiar with before. Sure, 1st edition had the Fair Folk, but that’s one of the (few) 1st ed books I haven’t read – so while I cannot compare this new incarnation with the previous one, it was an interesting read with lots of new info (for me, that is).
So, Graceful Wicked Masques updates the “Fair Folk” (or Raksha, at they call themselves) to Exalted 2nd edition. First off, I love that they used the “Graceful Wicked Masques” title; as far as I understand, it was the working title for the 1st ed book but they decided to scrap it for the more mundane “Fair Folk” at some point. Fans objected, and now it’s the main title of the new book. This is a hardbound “exalt” book in the fashion of the previous books, so while the major use for this book will no doubt be in fleshing out NPCs, creating Fair Folk PCs is quite possible… if not exactly easy, due to the alien nature of the Fair Folk. The implications of this are discussed in the book.
To people coming from other games: the “fair folk” of Exalted are far from “elves”/”fae” in most other games. These are alien creatures who don’t really strictly exist as such; in “pure” form they are just matrices of Essence (energy) with one of more “feeding maws”… which can eat things like memories, feelings, and your will to live. In order to come over to Creation they need to create a physical “shell” for themselves, but that (often beautiful) apparition has nothing much to do with the real creature. Or it does, since most Raksha create shells which embody concepts which they are associated with – and concepts & drama is what the Raksha live on. In a way, they are imaginary, brain-sucking LARPers from hell. They wear their virtues as physical objects, and are absolute lords over their domain in the Wyld. In Creation… they are still dangerous, but more limited. As alien as they are to humanity, they are also alien to their original kin, the “unshaped” Raksha dwelling in the chaos of the Deep Wyld. The Unshaped, now, are again something different and bizarre. More intelligent “locations” (to use the word losely) than single creatures, with shattered multiple souls, they bear some similarity to the Yozis… without the malignant history found there.
Exalted “cosmology” is both surprisingly internally consistent (for a high fantasy game) and complicated. The Fair Folk form part of the more complicated section, simply due to what they are. In case your brain doesn’t start to overload from trying to understand the “base” Fair Folk and how they operate, we also have the Shinma. What they are… is anyone’s guess. Some of them form critical junction points “between” the Wyld and Creation, but other than that… hard to say. One Shinma is a gate through which a Raksha can recreate itself in a form suitable for Creation… but it’s not quite that simple. And it’s not a “gate” in a physical sense.
So, like I said, complicated. I’m not complaining, since the convoluted nature of Exalted metaphysics is one of many the reasons I like the game. I’m given to understand that this 2nd edition is easier to understand than the 1st edition, which is famous for RSB’s typical style of graceful but convoluted descriptive text. My brain is still complaining from trying to understand the Forest Witches from the 1st edition description…
This was an interesting book to read, and gave me lots of ideas on how to (better) use the Fair Folk in Exalted. I’ll have to re-read portions if I ever do anything more complicated with them, though, understanding things like Shaping Combat isn’t totally trivial. Or, to be more exact: I get the idea (I think), but would need serious think time to figure out how to run it in a game.
The reaction to this book has been pretty positive among people who have read the 1st edition version, so apparently this is another successful update book.
With The South, Exalted’s 2nd edition expands detailed coverage towards, well, the South. Before this, we’ve had to make do with the details found in the 1st edition books, where some regions like Ang-Teng and Harborhead received quite good coverage while others (Paragon, Varang, Lap) were left quite sparse. This book fixes a lot of those detail gaps, all major Southern regions and locations (Harborhead, Paragon, Chiarascuro, Varang, The Lap, Gem and Ang-Teng) get nice, long writeups. It’s good stuff too, the new info is largely very interesting. For example, it makes the Perfect of Paragon into a much more complex figure than I had previously supposed. I also liked the detail on how Lap society is organized. The end of the book gives us some 2nd ed stats for various creatures, some from the first edition and some new.
While the cover does show an action shot of Harmonious Jade escaping the destruction of Chiarascuro (by a Thousand Forged Dragon, it looks like), no such calamities are detailed here; this is a setting book, like the other “regional” books. Still, as everyone know the South is extremely unstable, and anything from the almost-inevitable destruction of Gem by one of a dozen antagonists to the aforementioned razing of Chiarascuro is quite easy to imagine. As always, Creation exists as a huge kitchen sink for the PCs to mangle as they will.
No complaints on this book. Solid information (some old reprint, some new), reasonably readable writing, entertaining inbetween comics. Very useful stuff, especially if you intend to run an Exalted game set in the South. Lots of good stuff here even for 1st edition games, since many of the regions detailed here have mostly just been mentioned in passing before.
Scroll of Fallen Races updates two “lesser races” from Exalted 1st edition to the 2nd. These being the Dragon Kings and the Jadeborn (“Mountain Folk”, also known as “the dwarves of Exalted”). I haven’t actually read the 1st edition writeups on these, other than what’s in the Rathess book about Dragon Kings, so I can’t compare much to the previous version here.
Like the Black & White Treatises, this book is in dual flip-over format. Half the book is about one race, and then you flip it over and have the second half with a different cover. It’s a pretty nifty format, no complaints on that. The content feel like (and probably is) a compressed summary of previous information, with a large part of it dedicated to “crunch”; the Jadeborn get “Patterns” and the Dragon Kings get “Paths”, both being special forms of sort-of-charms. Both are much more limited than Exalted Charms, but both have their strengths. There are also rules for creating player characters of either race.
The races themselves aren’t bad. The Dragon Kings are probably the more interesting ones here, but the Jadeborn turned out to be more intresting than I had expected… they both are and aren’t typical fantasy “dwarves”. Yes, they do live underground and (at times) dig for ore… but their reasons for doing so and their society structure are very different from you base fantasy variant. In fact, one of the more interesting bits in here is what these creatures actually are… some possible story elements to be found these. Their endless war against the spawn of the Neverborn is also good stuff (though only limited details are given here).
While it does seem to contain all the required info, the book does seem a bit lightweight at times. There is reference to a pact between the Scarlet Empress and the Jadeborn, but nowhere is it specified what this pact actually says. In addition, the details on their Geas are a bit slim. I do get the impression that I’d need to read the 1st edition to get the full story. This lack of detail is of course a function of the page count, 160 total pages gives only 80 pages pre race, and when the bulk of that goes into charm lists and character creation rules… well.
Not a bad book, but the fact that it details two rare “secondary” races in Exalted does makes it a bit of a fringe one. If you only want to read background on these, I do get the impression that you’ll get more information from the 1st edition books (Player Guide for Dragon Kings, Alchemicals for Jadeborn). Of course, if you want 2nd edition stats for these, and/or want to use these for player characters, you’ll get your money’s worth here.
War of Ages collects two old (1st edition) Vampire: the Masquerade sourcebooks, Elysium and The Anarch Cookbook, into one compilation.
Elysium is a soucebook for playing and running Elder characters in a Vampire chronicle. Now, these are pretty damn difficult characters to play – most of them have been “alive” for hundreds of years, and have (quite static) worldviews that are mostly quite alien to modern sensibilities. How do you play or run a creature like that? Answer: usually, not very well. Elders tend to become either overpowered cliches or overpowered monsters stealing away the limelight from the players. And what if one of the players is an Elder? Can he/she think about the character beyond “whee, I have tons of kewl powaz!”? All too often… no. While this book doesn’t give any real solutions to the above, it does outline how Elder society and society games differ from those of younger vampires, and gives some pointers on how to play them (many stolen directly from Machiavelli). While the book doesn’t contain a huge wealth of info and didn’t really give any new info to me (having helped run a Vampire LARP thingy for ten years)… it’s not bad.
Anarch Cookbook shows the other side of the coin, the (usually) younger generation who have left the Camarilla and who wage a war of sorts against the Elders. The book goes into why this is usually doomed to fail, but also highlights that it can work, now and then. There are notes on tactics, logistics, and on how to survive when an organization with lots of power is out to get you. Trust becomes a major issue, especially when you feature in things like a possible Blood Bond and the various Disciplines that may be used against you. There’s a small bit of silly emphasis on the words “Gothic-Punk”… but that’s forgivable, this is an old book from the era when Vampire really tried to be “Gothic-Punk”. Whatever that means.
When these books were written, Vampire was still something very new and different and the WoD metaplot hadn’t yet started to descend into the silly depths (mostly). Oh, I have a fondness for those silly levels myself – but these are from an earlier time, when the game was still figuring itself out.
Hunter: the Reckoning was a conflicted game. People were expecting something like what the new Hunter is: a game about people kicking supernatural ass, in Buffy style. The artwork for the game (especially the covers) supported this view. Problem? The game was nothing like that, and featured normal people given strange supernatural powers by unknown entities, and struggling to survive in a world they suddenly see is filled with monsters. It’s easily the most “horror” game White Wolf has ever done, and also totally dark and nihilistic. It got a very mixed reaction, probably due to the above mismatch between advertising and reality. I was very sceptical in the beginning, but then bought a huge pile of the books from a sale. After reading them I was quite impressed with the game, and now consider it one of the better “old WoD” games. The books are all written in an intentionally confusing multi-viewpoint subjective style, which I loved (but which also split opinions), and are the best reads of all the White Wolf books I’ve read to date. And I’ve read quite a pile. Special mention goes to the book Fall From Grace, which is a fantastic and disturbing look at what happens when the “Imbued” (Hunters in this game) get to high power levels. It’s not superhero territory.
So, nowadays I’ve been tracking down the few books I’m still missing from the full set. I recently managed to get The Infernal, a sourcebook about demons for the game. Like most of the H:tR sourcebooks, it’s very good. It also features the trademark shades-of-grey style of the game… demons are shown to be evil, but not mindlessly so and not necessarily so; the “evil” they do is often a function of them being alien, not malevolent as such. There is even some viewpoint given to demons trying to do “good” (in a fashion). Told in typical fashion for this game, it features four separate storylines, all telling the story of one encounter between the Imbued and demons. All are very different, though none of them exactly have happy endings.
I remain impressed with this game… and the game’s split personality remains with this book: the cover shows some sort of demon summoner in what seems to be some sort of occult (summoning?) circle. All fine and good, but “summoning demons” is almost non-existent in this book – the things are quite capable of entering our world on our own. So once again, the cover has very little to do with the actual content.
By the way, this book is a link between Hunter and White Wolf’s short-lived Demon game (which I haven’t read, but have actually heard quite good things about). Might have to pick it up sometime.
Well, the new VTES set Keepers of Tradition is out, and it’s looking very good. It’s a new “core set” for the Camarilla – and it’s been a while since the Cam got any new toys. The vampires are all new, and the library consists of part new cards, part reprints. The best value of all this is, of course, for new players: this is a chance to get some cards that have been quite difficult to find for a while now. For the older players, the value here is the new set of vampires, the new cards, and the reprints (which feature some very much in-demand cards). Some weird choices among the reprints, but generally there’s a lot of good stuff there.
The new cards and vampires are interesting, and some open up some very cool new tactics. Too early to tell yet what will work in the long run and what won’t, of course. The set includes a weenie hoser Event, an anarch + ally hoser Event, and off-clan stuff like a (poor) combat end for Obfuscate. Oh, and the promos include a card that will probably become quite significant: Two Wrongs, an OOT Master which hoses bleed bounce. Honestly, it should have been part of the core set, not a promo… but thankfully VTES promos aren’t all that hard to get, in the long run.
We had a “post-release” tournament for this set on Sunday, braving the snowstorm. 19 players, and the Malkavian starter proved to be far and away the most powerful: the top 4 rankings were all Malkavian. Not that the other starters were bad, strictly, but there was nothing there that could really stand up to the stealth bleed power of the Malks.
Very happy with this set, myself. Oh, and it also contains (nice) new art for a lot of old “staple” cards.
The East (wielding the full title of The Compass of Terrestrial Directions Volume 3: The East) is the latest “direction book” for Exalted 2nd ed, and one which I’ve been waiting for since my game takes place in the East (well, up North at the moment, but anyway).
It was worth the wait. While some of the info was just (re-statted) repetition of stuff in the 1st editon books, there is a lot of new stuff here – and some of the old bits have been tweaked in very interesting ways. While Halta is still the darling of the North-East, the Linowan have now been given a proper writeup… and one that doesn’t conflict too much with my own version, which is handy. The Bull of the North is only lightly mentioned here, he may be given more screen time in the North book. Or not, we’ll see.
The star of the show is the Chaya writeup. Where before we were given the (interesting as such) peaceful region where people go apeshit bugfuck nuts from time to time, now we’re given the reason why. And it’s good. And very, very creepy. Kudos to whoever wrote that; I think it was StephenLS but not 100% sure. Mount Metagalapa is also statted up in a useful fashion, as is the realm of Raksi, the Queen of Fangs (talk about bugfuck crazy part two…).
All in all, an excellent region book for the game. If you’re running a game set in the East, this book will give you tons of ideas. The only minus goes to the map in the beginning of the book: it’s worse than useless, and whoever did it apparently never read the book itself. Rubylak is set hundreds of miles from the river (while it’s clearly set next to it in the text, as in 1st edition). Raksi’s lair is set in the middle of the eastern rice paddies, instead of the middle of the jungle. And so forth. White Wolf seems to have a general hatred of exact maps, or even semi-exact ones. Maybe their developers think that maps don’t matter in a game like Exalted, but I find it hugely annoying. So skip the map. Read the text, it rocks.
Books of Sorcery, Vol. V - The Roll of Glorious Divinity II is, besides a tongue-twister title, a book of demons and ghosts for Exalted. It updates info about demons from the old Games of Divinity book into 2nd edition stats and adds the Abscissic demon summoning method (also updated) from Savant and Sorcerer. The second half of the book contains new rules and stats for ghosts, including rules for “Heroic” ghosts (though, bizarrely, it omits xp costs for those).
It’s a welcome update; I immediately included the new demon summoning rules into my own game (as of yesterday) – now those damn Blood Apes have to be kept entertained or they go…. apeshit. Or something. The writing is quite clear, though as always this 2nd edition lacks some of the fun flavor from the 1st edition books. Some of this may be due to reduced available word count per subject, which (while helping keep things clear) I feel is also one of the main problems with this book: there’s just too much crammed into here. I would much rather have seen the whole book devoted to the care and feeding of demons, since they are such a cornerstone of Exalted sorcery. Ghosts we’ve already had elsewhere, I would have stuck the text now found in this book somewhere else.
So… a good book, with welcome (and long-overdue) updates of 1st edition material to 2nd edition, but marred a bit by cramming a bit too much into one book and by having most of the book be just a repeat of material from older books. I’m hoping to see some more demon stats in other books down the line, now the book just gives the same list of demons that 1st edition had, with updated stats. Would be good to get some actually new stuff.
One new detail liked a lot: the “obscurity” rules for figuring out if a sorcerer has heard (enough) about a given demon type. Handy.
This is a bit more like it. While still staying very far away from high art, at least A Shadow Over Heaven’s Eye is a pretty good read. Set in the horoscope-obsessed Varangian city-states, it has a young girl rebelling against her destiny, Swan as a visiting diplomat, and an interesting Sidereal-fueled main plot. The writing is good enough and the book has some nice details and flavor on this region of Creation. Swan is himself, trying to be the perfect diplomat while dodging assassins and the Wyld Hunt. I’d rank this among the best of the Exalted novels – nothing spectacular, but good entertainment and useful potential world flavor for GMs.
Like all the Exalted novels, it’s a very quick read; large font and not that many pages.