Overwhelming Errata: Exalted and the problems with repeated fixes in tabletop

By Alexander Leach

We haven’t done a pen-and-paper game post…well, ever. That was supposed to be part of the blog, but given that I’m in a bit of a rut for gaming, I’ve been putting it off. Also, video game news seems to move a lot more quickly than pen-and-paper news, so it’s generally easier to find something to talk about with video games.

But since I’ve been musing on this for a while, I think I’ll give my opinions on the Exalted system and the errata.

Exalted is a game published by White Wolf Publishing, known primarily for its World of Darkness, which includes Vampire: The Masquerade (for you video gamers, there were several video game adaptions, including the wonderful Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines). Exalted ostensibly steps away from the modern, nihilistic WoD to a world of high fantasy and larger-than-life god-heroes. The plot is that the world of Creation is ruled by the Dragon-blood Exalted, humans who have ascended by chance to become supernatural beings, who usurped the world from the corrupt god-kings, the Solars. Hundreds of years of rule, however, hang in the balance, as the Dragon-Blooded lose their immortal empress – and the Solars begin to return, as humans begin to ascend to become Exalted.

There’s a massive slew of other stuff as well, including multiple kinds of Exalted, supernaturals, and even entire other worlds in the multiverse. There are dozens of supplementary books – in addition to the core book, which focuses on the Solars (costs about $40-50), there are individual books for every kind of Exalted (seven at least, including the Raksha, which aren’t Exalted but operate in an entirely different playing field that necessitates a full book), at the same price. Then there are the other supplements, usually $20 a piece, which are softcover and usually focus on certain aspects of the world, adding new Charms (supernatural powers), new items, and new NPCs.

And then there’s the Errata.

Exalted errata is, luckily, free. You just download the ‘Scroll of Errata’, and you’ve got a list of all the changes to the system and the stats. This is far better than the switch from 1st to 2nd Edition, where all-new books were released.

Exalted is, in a word, a mess. The combat resolution perplexes me to no end – it’s multistage, relies heavily on derived values, and tends to involve dozens of dice rolled at once. Certain features, like social combat (a system to resolve debates and persuasion and mind control) are anemic and crippled by silly variables (Join Battle is essentially an instant defense against all socialling). Balance issues abound, particularly in martial arts systems, and are compounded by the sheer number of available powers for every kind of Exalted.

I’ve never found a GM for Exalted who’s willing to actually use the system without cutting out or flat-out ignoring most of the rules for it. Every character optimizer I’ve talked to has mentioned that there are basically four Charms you will ever need. While I don’t know much about that, I do know that it’s a tremendously daunting and confusing game to play, with character creation leaving me feeling like I’ve missed something every time.

All of the errata fills me with further doubt – the constant alterations to the game doesn’t inspire confidence in its functionality. Similar to online game patches, it seems like it’s just a constant waiting game, watching what’s broken by the fixes and what new problems will arise, and how it will inevitably make your next session a nightmare in rules reworking. Depending on your player base, this can be heavily compounded, as players who’ve read the errata can lord the changes over their less-aware brethren.

It’s an unfortunate state for an interesting universe, where mechanics outstrip theme. It’s the exact opposite of good gaming as I know it, and it ultimately leads to a weakened experience.

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