I suspect it’s true of everyone who went to CottageCon II that they like Exatled. They want to play Exalted. The trouble is I’m also pretty sure it’s true they want to play the concept of Exalted, but not the actual Exalted game. This is because the Exalted game is one of the biggest dichotomies in the history of gaming. It’s not surprising it comes from the White Wolf stable, who are notorious for preaching one thing in the guidelines and flavour text and then delivering another in actual rules and supplements. Exalted is their master class in this approach: always talk as if the game is epic heroes, with an ego the size of a planet, and melodrama ramped up to the max, and the power to change the world with their very words, yet actually deliver a complex strategy game on a CCG-scale as soon as these titans actually get into conflict. It is inevitable the Solar Exalted and their enemies will clash, and as such the game gets dragged down into resource management and charm builds.
The first brilliant decision regarding this game happened before it actually started: the horrendous mash-up of Exalted and Scion that was originally meant to be used as the system was dropped in place of the Exalted Quickstart Rules with Fate 3.0 Aspects bolted on. This was an excellent decision, and made for a perfect system for the session. I understand one choice was to use Spirit of the Century but the GM didn’t want to trample on Thrilling Tales, I actually think the Exalted Quickstart Rules empowered by Aspects was actually a better choice. The system captured all the good stuff about Exalted, as rolling buckets of dice is kind of fun, and didn’t get caught out by the relatively ‘nomal folks’ scale of Spirit of the Century, yet still had the true heart of Fate 3.0 in Aspects. It proved to be an inspired decision. We had 5 Attributes covering 5 broad areas of skills, we belonged to a Caste, we had Caste and Favoured abilities, we had 10 Aspects to bring the awesome covering all sorts of things with a little sprinkling of powers and artefacts and we had 10 essence to burn up and obtain with invokes and compels.
Bring it on. Bring it we did.
I find it very hard to describe what happened at the table, because anything I write probably won’t do it justice. What we got was a great, concentrated injection of pure Exalted. I don’t think it could have been better over an extended campaign. I certainly don’t think it could have been any better if the true Exalted system was used. I actually think it was pure, undiluted Exalted because of the people at the table, the system chosen and because everyone played to the strengths of it being a one-shot deal. Perfect synergy. Why play it for weeks or years when you can have injected directly into your brain over five hours?
We had Exalted sailing the vast Western ocean. A great race to find an ancient floating island of the First Age that only appears every hundred years. We had a God controlling the western sea work against us, so we gave him the finger and made the journey through the ‘realm of demons’ instead. We had a one-on-one epic battle between an Exalted and the Thunder God, which proved to be a massive Tyrannosaurs Rex. We had seriously high stakes. We had conflicting goals, but not in some crass ‘let us set-up player-v-player goals’, but in the true awesome of Exalted being brought down by their egos and failings as the epic situations unfolded. In the end the grand tale proved to be a tragedy in which everyone lost. The island exploded. We died, got betrayed by comrades, engaged in final battles to the death against the Dragon-Blooded hordes with past life lovers by their side, fell to demon-kind, sacrificed ourselves for family or gave ourselves up to our greatest fear (slavery) as the drama concluded. In the end only the ‘Old Man of the Sea’ Exalted survived or remained free, floating out into the western sea alone.
It couldn’t have been written better. In that five hours we had an epic melodrama that perfectly told why the First Age fell and got to the quintessential heart of Exalted.
I know it’s easy to say this, and I rarely actually keep track of my top gaming experiences, but the Spirit of Exalted session was astounding. It demonstrated an inspired hacking together of the Quickstart Exalted rules with Fate 3.0 Aspects. It was brilliantly delivered. It had a brilliant conclusion. Even if on reflection it is moved down the scale of my greatest experiences, one thing that can’t be taken away from it is this: it was a master class in how to deliver a one-shot experience at the table. For this alone, everyone at that table deserves to take a bow.