Anathema

September 13, 2006

Last Updated Sept 17 2006.

The purpose of this project is to make use of the rich varieties of information in the Exalted core rulebook, to play by a completely different set of rules. These rules will largely be based on a “structured freeform” design aesthetic. This is a work in progress and comments and suggestions are welcome.

Thanks to Shreyas Sampat, Thomas Robertson, Selene Tan, Daniel Solis, Tobias Bindslet, Dev Purkayastha, Neel Krishnaswami, “Matt,” and Lauren Deans for help so far. And probably some other people too. Brand Robins really wanted to help but couldn’t.

I’m gonna walk through character traits to explain how to create a character and how to use your character in play. Shreyas and Neel have both created sample characters, with some dubious correlation to the actual rules listed here.

Name

Aside from being what people call you, your Name also indicates the general power level of your character (what is normally called your capital-E Essence). It demonstrates this by the number of capitalized words in your Name. Mortal have 1 (Aeryn, Lukka), mortal heroes have 2 (Aeryn of Taelsin, Lord Lukka), and the Exalted have 3 and up (Aeryn the Blade of Forever, Lukka Mask-of-Seven-Winters). When you create a character, it’s important to record their previous names too, since they have not always been the August Lady Vespertine, especially to those who know them personally.

People can have many names, so the being who calls herself Deadly Arc of Ten-Thousand Angry Shadows may be a charlatan without an ounce of power to her name. But she might not be.

You need not determine your Name at the start of character creation. In fact, it may be easier to decide this last or at least tweak your final choice once you have a better sense of who your character is. Character creation can often be an exploratory process, so do what works best for you.

Concept

This is who your character is and who the world knows them to be. A good plan is to write down a basic Concept before beginning character creation and then, once you’ve finished, change your Concept to reflect who the character actually ended up becoming. For example, you might start out with something like Spoiled Princess of a Formerly Illustrious House. But during the process of creating her, you might take a bunch of abilities related to sailing and fighting, which doesn’t quite fit your original Concept. So in the end, you might choose to shift your Concept to Blacksheep Princess Slumming as a Privateer.

Your Concept also must change each time you gain a level of Name (Essence, in the original rules). This reflects that you are no longer the person that you once were and that the world has made note of this.

Caste

This version of the rules only includes guidelines for playing members of the five Castes of Solar Exalted: Dawn, Zenith, Twilight, Night, and Eclipse. Your Caste is notable for helping define your original array of traits. It also determines the initial stylings of your Anima banner, as usual.

Motivations

These are exactly as normally described, the main purposes that drive your characer. Unlike the advice given in the core rulebook, Motivations don’t have to be especially mythic. They also include what, in other games, might be called ‘relationship traits’: you love someone, you hate someone, or you’re in a hierarchical relationship with them of some variety. In any case, Motivations are what gets you out of bed in the morning, whether it’s Killing the Elemental Dragons, Obeying My Mother, or Seducing Prince Hakka.

You should start with at least one Motivation but no more than two. Starting Motivations should place your character directly and unavoidably in the path of one or more of the other characters, for good or ill. Other Motivations can be spontaneously created during play.

In general, Motivations serve to frame the overall campaign (long-term Motivations) as well as particular sessions (short-term Motivations). Motivations develop over the course of play, either single sessions, multiple sessions, or the entire campaign. They inevitably transform into new Motivations, but at different rates based on whether characters are able to make real progress on them or not.

At the end of a scene in which a character has attempted to address one of their Motivations, their player should record a summery of what they were able to accomplish. If they were completely frustrated in their attempt, that’s important too and deserves to be written down. These are called Accomplishments.

It is obviously easier to work on Obeying Mom than Killing the Elemental Dragons. However, depending on the circumstances, the former might end up causing more pain and anguish (and, ultimately, growth) than the later. This game does not pass judgement on your Motivations. However, it does recommend that you try to maintain a variety of Motivations, from daily responsibilities to impossible moon dreams. This fits better with the rules and may even, we dare to suggest, lead to a more complex and fascinating character. But it may not.

If a character ever completes, abandons, or wants to alter their Motivation, another Motivation needs to be created to replace the previous one. This need not happen immediately, since it might take a few scenes for the character to figure out what to do next.

Once a Motivation has been replaced, its associated Accomplishments are converted into Experience — 1 XP for each. Note that this XP is not gained until the Motivation has been replaced, even if it has been completed or is no longer valid.

Virtues & Limit

Each character interprets the four core Virtues (Compassion, Conviction, Temperence, and Valor; but not Deference) in an individual way. This demonstrates their morals and general personality. For example, Compassion might be interpreted as Never Abandon Those in Need or as Treat My Enemies With Honor.

Virtues serve to frame individual scenes. Each space on your character’s Undying Bell Chakram is connected to a specific Caste (and their related Excellencies) and their chief Virtue. A piece representing your character is placed on your Caste’s space when play begins. You frame scenes around either (1) the Virtue you are currently on or (2) a Virtue that you are moving to. Acting on your current Virtue allows you to stay on that space. Acting on the next Virtue (following the arrows) moves you to it.

Going against one of your Virtues gains you a point of Limit, but it also enables you to move backwards around the Chakram, from sunset to sunrise. Going against your Flawed Virtue gains you 3 points of Limit. Every Solar — except Eclipses — gains a point of Limit from demonstrating Deference, which is unnatural for Solars. When you hit 10 Limit, you experience Limit Break, a crisis of Virtue, and descend into the darkness of your Flaw.

It is the GM’s job to frame scenes in which characters can demonstrate: 1) their Virtues, 2) their Motivations, or 3) their struggles in choosing between Virtues and Motivations. The GM should vary between these three different types of scenes and choose different characters t
o focus on each time. In a scene in which the GM is not directly addressing one of your Virtues or Motivations, see if you can address it anyway, making the scene multifaceted and more interesting, but not hogging the spotlight at another character’s expense. This earns you experience, gets your character closer to their goals, and is also considered BEING A GOOD PLAYER.

Flaw

Sing, muse, of the rage of Achilles. You can pick a Flaw from the book if you like, but ignore the mechanics and keep mainly the descriptive concept. Or make one up. As usual, it’s tied to a particular Virtue (usually not the Virtue held sacred by your Caste, but it could be). Solars cannot have their Flaw be tied to Deference, which isn’t a proper Virtue, just something they’re all bad at. Eclipses are merely slightly less bad.

When you reach Limit Break, your Flaw takes over for at least the remainder of the current scene. You cannot continue around the Undying Bell Chakram to a new Virtue or demonstrate your current Virtue until you demonstrate your Flaw to the satisfaction of the other players (including the GM). Treat every new scene as a scene in which your Flaw (instead of a Virtue) dominates until this is resolved.

In order to crawl your way out of your Flaw-induced binge of sin, you must reinterpret one of your Virtues in a radically different way in order to restructure your values and carry on. Once you have satisfactorily demonstrated your Flaw, pick one of the Virtues that has been causing you to gain the Limit (by breaking it) and reinterpret it. For example, your Compassion might change from Never Abandon Those In Need might become Sometimes People Really Want to Be Left Alone.

Excellencies

These take the place of Charms, basically describing the cool things you can do. Some of them are bound to be combat-related, but none specifically have to be. In this version of the game, you can fight swords with rhetoric or dancing pretty easily. Excellencies start out with a rating that can increase over time as you develop your abilities. Like your Name, this rating is measured by the number of capitalized words in the title. For example, you might start off with (1) Sail, which later develops into (2) Unerring Navigation, (3) Expediant Migratory Pattern, (4) Sky-Spanning Solar Harness, and (5) How Perfect the Celestial Chart Memory.

You might notice that, as they develop, they also become more specific and imbued with a unique type of color, as you develop your own style and way of handling things. They also do not develop linearly, like (1) Melee, (2) Stabbing Things, (3) Stabbing Things Better, (4) Stabbing Things More Better, etc. Each new level centers on a different aspect of the level before it, becoming more powerful but also shifting focus. This serves to broaden the overall range of your abilities while narrowing specific instances of them, if that makes any sense.

When creating a character, you start with your five Caste Abilities and Favored Abilities (Solars get 5) as level one Excellencies. If you are starting play as a mortal hero and going to run the Exaltation, you get 3 points to spend on developing your starting Excellences, though none can be above level 2. If you are starting as a Solar Exalt, you get 8 points (3 + 5 more) and none can be above level 3. Feel free to draw inspiration from the Charms listed in the main rulebook (you may have to shorten or lengthen their names), but you can easily make up your own.

Excellences can be used during any scene, but they are most often invoked in conflicts, a special type of scene.

TEMPORARY CONFLICT RULES

1. Call somebody out and have your challenge accepted.

2. Declare relevant Excellencies being used, giving a short explanation for each. (Example: “I’m using Unerring Navigation to try to lead my enemy’s ship into some hidden shoals.”) You can only use one Excellency from a given related set. (Example: You can’t use Sail and Unerring Navigation together.)

3. Roll dice (d10s, of course) equal to Name (Essence) + Total levels of Excellencies being used. Count 7+’s as Impact (not Successes), but DON’T TOUCH YOUR DICE AFTER THE ROLL. Note that Impact does not indicate degree of Success or Failure, but rather the degree to which your actions make a difference to others and the world. The failure of some people can matter more than a great victory by others.

4. The dice rolled are used to frame the narration of the conflict. This can work in two ways:

A. If you are rolling dice of two different colors (which makes this easier), put your dice in order, starting with the person who rolled the LEAST Successes. So that player would place all their 1’s in a line, followed by the 1’s of opposing player, then the 2’s and so on. This line represents the “shots” (think movies) that make up the conflict. Each player narrates for their dice.

B. You can achieve the same thing taking turns narrating. Each player just seperates their own dice into 1’s, 2’s…. 10’s. And then you narrate ‘tennis’ or ‘pin-pong’ style, starting with the player with the LEAST successes. They narrate their 1’s and then the other player narrates theirs, etc.

5. After the narration is over, you determine the overall consequences using the Impact rolled by each player and the character’s Anima levels, described below.

Anima

The rest of these are story- or character-sized pacing/structuring mechanics. Anima structures individual conflicts. Players define a range of Anima effects for their character (originally based on their Caste, but these can change over time). When a character uses Excellencies above level one, their Anima advances a level. Once the character reaches their last Anima level, they have exhausted themselves (run out of Essence, in the original rules) and cannot invoke more. Characters gain new Anima levels (and the effects that go with them) as they grow in power, which is a new thing. This means more powerful characters can use a lot more Excellencies before feeling the burn.

After a conflict, the Anima levels of the participants also determine the scope of the consequences. No Anima indicates a minor consequence, while Anima 5 means the situation of the entire region was likely changed as a result.

Wonders

Memories

These are your recollections of your past lives. They start out cloudy and become much more focused and specific as play develops. So a mysterious guilt from past disobediance might turn into a complex story of betrayal involving specific historical people. Memories develop as players pursue them.

Memories are important for understanding and learning how to use Wonders, the lost relics of the First Age. Wonders only allow their secrets to be unlocked by those that understand their history or who were inimately connected to them in a past life.

23 Responses to “Anathema”

  1. Tobias D. Bindslet Says:

    Hiya. I’ve been following your blog for a while, mainly lurking on your story-arc ideas and the Avatar rules – which I loved. Had been fidgeting with an Exalted conversion myself, so I can’t wait to see where this ends up.About Wonders, I think they should tie into Memories somehow. Magic items are important because of their stories, and because of the way they link to former generations and characters. Maybe wonders should link to people you know in your memories somehow? Then in order to attune to an artifact you could need to either recall a memory involving them, or research their story (like in Earthdawn). Just a thought. Thanks for an interesting blog.

  2. Jonathan Walton Says:

    Hey Tobias. Glad you’re enjoying the blog! I started a big discussion about story-arc stuff over on Story Games, if you haven’t see it already. And Daniel Solis ran with it to create some interesting stuff.Wow. That suggestion to link them to Memories is hot. Totally stolen. Now I just need to figure out what Wonders actually do. Maybe they allow you to perform Excellencies without increasing your Anima? That could be cool.

  3. Dev Says:

    You could experiment with tying a Wonder to mostly any mechanic you have so far.Here’s one: maybe they are linked to a Virtue, either as its exponent or opposite. The lantern is embued with compassion or defiance (anti-deference). Use of this Wonder can let you instantly move to that Virtue’s space (breaking the cycle of the board). Maybe a Wonder can have multiple Virtues, representing multiple things to each character. Maybe these Wonders are now empowered to be McGuffins, describing what each session of play is “about”, and what lessons are learned.

  4. Jonathan Walton Says:

    I really dig the general “Wonders as Rules Mod” idea. Maybe we could have a bunch of examples of different types of Wonders that do different things, but also give players freedom to just make some up.Looks like you’ve just been drafted to create some magic items once the playtest draft’s ready 🙂

  5. Shreyas Says:

    Man there is a lot of sweet stuff you can do, treating Wonders as local rules disruptions.I wonder if there is any power in Wonders that restructure your personal chakra…rearranging links mainly, I think, not so much adding or deleting nodes. Possibly changing the root of your Virtue, from which your various interpretations spring: what happens if you have Acceptance in Dawn, instead of Valor?

  6. Tobias D. Bindslet Says:

    Thanks for those links – I’d followed one of those threads before, but the other one turned out to be the missing piece I had been looking for to understand why you were doing things the way you where!Wonders. I also love them as rules mod – why not combine the two ideas? A Wonder after being introduced in play, needs to be linked to a memory to some degree (or maybe to 1 memory for each level of power it has, similar to excellencies). It then can modify a virtue that relates to the revealed memory.An example: This way you can find an ancient sword, then recall the memory of how your ancient forefather was killed with the sword, and then use the sword to skip to the conviction trait for a revenge arc.

  7. Neel Krishnaswami Says:

    The name has no specific mechanical effect? And two paragraphs later you have the WAY AWESOME idea that the power of a trait is based on the number of capitalized words in it? Why not make a character’s name part of his or her power, too?I mean, Maiden of the Mirthless Smile is just obviously a cooler Exalt than Joe.

  8. Jonathan Walton Says:

    Neel, you fell for my trap :)You also solved the problem of Name being non-mechanical. Now, the number of capitalized words is obviously an indication of your Essence level. Right on!

  9. Jonathan Walton Says:

    Also, one other thing:The strength of Excellencies is capped by Essence (I think Exalts will start at Essence 3). Essence also determines the number of Anima levels you have.Essence is raised by persuing Motivations, which should tie everything in together, right?Pursue Memories to get special moves.Pursue Motivations to gain potency.

  10. Matt Says:

    Good stuff!Are you linking scene framing to virtues in some way. “I want a compassion scene” would be amazingly cool.

  11. Jonathan Walton Says:

    That’s the idea. Each stat is a different layer of framing.Motivations = session framingVirtues = scene framingAnima = conflict framing

  12. Lauren Says:

    Hey, good looking arrows and paths. Nice fixes.

  13. Shreyas Says:

    Jon, I tried making a character with this system. I like it.It needs to be re-ordered a little: Flaw should follow Virtues, I think (since, like, it arises from them). Do Anima levels follow Name?

  14. Jonathan Walton Says:

    Thanks, Lauren!Shreyas, wow. That’s nuts. Is he for that alternate Exalted setting you had in mind?Yeah, you get Anima levels equal to your Name. They should be based on the Anima Banner descriptions for your Caste, but can be more individual, since we’re not using the actual rules for them.And you should start out with one Memory, which is probably just a fragment of a hazily remembered dream, or even a specific emotion or image. Like “Drowning in Sand” or “Nameless Dread.” I don’t think you determine the specific powers of your starting Wonders until you unlock more Memories. They’re just pretty objects until then.I’ll move Flaw. You should probably link to these rules from your blog post too.

  15. Shreyas Says:

    He’s for a modern game.It’s very cool how this method gives you good story-meat and doesn’t tie you to a setting – it only takes a slight color shift to change completely. I’ll edit my post a little…

  16. Tobias D. Bindslet Says:

    I like this better with each update. Makes me want to start similar projects for other games I’ve long loved for their theme and setting, but where the rules would be used mostly for chargen and support for freeform play. (Fading Suns and Werewolf to name the first that spring to mind.)I’m really curious about your session, scene and conflict framing ideas. Will they be based loosely on the associated traits or do you have ideas for some kind of mechanical structure?

  17. Jonathan Walton Says:

    Tobias, there are more detailed framing instructions on the way. Just let me get to the weekend. I’m also in the middle of working up a character sheet.I’m planning to seperate these instructions out into character creation and then how traits are used in play (which’ll be in associated text boxes).

  18. Daniel Solis Says:

    Wow, I’m finally reading your notes on the Avatar/4N project and I feel like I’ve been stepping on your guys’ toes. (Specifically, using the “journey” structure for a series of lessons learned.) When you mentioned me in the list of thanked names, I was like “wha? – How’d I help make this awesome sauce?” I still don’t know. :PSpeaking as someone who knows nothing of Exalted: Wonders as rule mods are many kinds of awesome. Names as mechanics are very flavorful, do you mind if I yoink that in some form?Wonders tied to memories of past lives is dripping with savory.Stats as scene framing devices are just brilliant.

  19. Jonathan Walton Says:

    Daniel, when I started that thread about “key chains” on SG, people responded with uncertainty and doubt.When you started your thread about journeys, people were like “Awesome!” and “I’m totally stealing that!”Often, it’s not about who came up with an idea first but who’s able to put it in terms that really appeal to people. And yeah, it’s a little annoying that you got Chad and Mo saying “Awesome!” while I got Tony and Mike saying “Huh?” But sometimes that’s the way these things go.

  20. Daniel Solis Says:

    Dude, I was just as shocked as anyone at people’s reaction, especially with the sheer volume of clunkers I spit out every day. 😛

  21. Matt Machell Says:

    “Matt” was me, Blogger seemed to pick up my id, then loose it…Oh, also have you considered linking motivations to virtues (and their inverse) as well? That would seem to dovetail nicely.

  22. Neel Krishnaswami Says:

    Hi Jonathan, One thing I’d like to see is some way of giving the other players handles on my character, and vice-versa. So, if Khazharkhan has “Transcendent Ambition of the Overman” as a Presence Excellency, right now I can use it to narrate how he does the raging Nietzschean jerk thing for the win. That’s pretty cool, but it would be super cool if this were also like for this to be a handle for the opposition. Like, say Khazharkhan wants to flatten a mountain so that his condo has a better view. There’s a little village on the mountain, and a dinky little heroic mortal named Foolish Heroine shows up to try and stop Khazharkhan. So, Foolish Heroine can’t possibly hope to match Khazharkhan power for power, but she could conceivably do something like play off his hubris and vanity. Say, she could convince him that leveling the mountain is a pointless gesture, because there’s no one on it with the power to provide him meaningful opposition to his will, and so his supremacy will not really be demonstrated when he does it.It would be really cool if Foolish Heroine’s player could use Khazharkhan’s “Transcendent Ambition of the Overman” Excellency in her own roll, to represent the heroine using Khazharkhan’s personality traits against him. That has the kind of hero-vulnerable-to-his-own-nature quality that really says mythic action to me.Maybe some traits can be marked “Private”, so only the character’s player can use them, and some can be marked “Public”, so any player can use them. And some might even be “External”, which only other players can bring into a scene. (In Hindu myth, Hanuman was under a curse of modesty, so that he could only use his superpowers if someone else first reminded him he had them!)


  23. […] part is, I believe, kind of a riff from the way Jonathan handles charms in his Exalted hack. Thanks […]


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