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The Element of War June 18, 2008

Posted by Conrad Hubbard in : RPGs , trackback

(No, this isn’t a political article! It is a discussion of elements of the Exalted role-playing game published by White Wolf.)

The second edition of Exalted merged Brawl and Martial Arts and filled out the combat skills by introducing War to the game’s list of Abilities. For Solar Exalts, the new skill clearly belonged to the Dawn Caste, and this worked neatly as they had lost one favored “Caste Ability” in the process. For Dragon-Blooded character, the decision was less clear, and authors discussed a number of different options. In the end, the War Ability was given to the Earth Aspects. I argued for a different choice (well two different choices, but this article is about my favorite one), and I have decided to present it here for those who like to dabble in home-brewed changes to the system.

Given the hypothetical chance to assign Dragon-Blooded Abilities, I would give War to Fire and Melee to Earth. Each of the five Aspects takes one of the primary combat skills from Exalted, but War naturally underscores the Presence and Socialize skills of the Fire Aspect. From a purely mechanical perspective, having War as your free favored combat ability might seem like drawing the short straw to players who want a more personal fighting skill, but Fire Aspects also have the “secret” sixth combat skill of Dodge. As Athletics also has some combat applications, Fire can best afford to favor the least direct of the combat skills.

Since the very first Exalted book, the Dynasts of the signature Fire-Aspected Houses Sesus and Cathak have been lauded as great generals and military leaders. Indeed, the two Houses boast one third of the total legions of the Realm. Only the Tepet have ever come close to getting the same recognition, but they have become more mercantile since their defeat at the hands of the Bull of the North, and the other Air-Aspected House is stereotypically composed of scholarly types. Finally, the Second Edition signature NPC Dragon-Blooded is a Fire Aspect, and he is best known as a legion officer.

Giving Earth Aspects the Melee Ability instead of War ties their combat skill more closely to their other existing talents. Earth Aspects favor Craft, so one can readily imagine them crafting their own weapons. The imagery of the Earth Aspect includes the mighty hammer or tetsubo. The signature Earth Houses, Mnemon and Ragara, are rich and powerful, but they are not known as legendary tactical leaders. The Ragara are merchants and bankers, while Mnemon seems determined to weld her House into an unstoppable political force bent to her iron will. Signature characters of Earth Aspect are rarely presented as being especially skilled in the arts of military strategy when compared to their fellow Dragon-Blooded.

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1. Mike - June 19, 2008

Well, you already know this, but I’m completely in agreement that War made more sense as a Fire ability. Maybe it would make them a bit less cool mechanically, but hey… that’s what the extra 3 Favored are for. In my opinion, the biggest argument for this is what you point out last — Fire are known as generals in the setting, so it makes sense that War would be favored for them.

If there ever is a 3rd edition, I’d love to see this change. Though precedent being as strong a motivator as it is, I doubt it would unless there is some other change to Abilities.

2. Conrad Hubbard - June 19, 2008

Yeah, the existence of the Favored rule means that no character concept is going to be invalidated by making War an Aspect Ability for Fire. Meanwhile, War being assigned to some other Aspect *does* make the sheer preponderance of Fire-Aspected military commanders seem less plausible.