Friday, December 05, 2008

Did 4e D&D Kill Exalted?

Hey, two games I shouldn't be talking about in just one post! Warning: Baseless speculation ahead.

Exalted's obviously not dead, or even really dying. People still play it, people still talk about it. (It occurs to me that the only people I personally knew who played it don't anymore, but they're not playing anything; graduation broke the group up and then business. So anyway.) But it doesn't dominate like I hear it used to, and there's been a bit of talk about why that is that suggests at least some people have stopped playing it.

If that's true, there are a lot of reasons for it, from the somewhat unwieldy system to the inevitable loss of the new and shiny factor. But it occurs to me that the drop off in net activity, and theoretical corresponding play activity, happened in about the same time frame as the rise of 4th Edition D&D. Which, when I was playing it, struck me as remarkably similar to Exalted in some ways.

There's the obvious mechanical similarities between charms and powers, for one--though charms are a much broader animal than powers, the combat ones at least still have the same "bite-sized tactical awesome" vibe. And there's the general "this is a game about epic heroes, built on top of a crunchy tactical combat system" goal.

I don't know how far to credit all that "Exalted is broken!" stuff on, since the people I know who played it got on just fine, but from what I know from experience that 4e's base system is very tight, and I hear the 4e supplements are about as clean as could be expected. It does, at the very least, have a higher rate of book production than Exalted, which could appeal to some sectors. And it's also got a much greater general fanbase, which if 4e is a factor in this hypothetical drop off at all is probably the main reason. I can easily imagine people giving 4e a shot because it covers a lot of the same ground as Exalted and they figure they could get a group together a lot more easily.

Right. So. I'll stop writing about games I don't play now, I promise.


  1. I'm actually getting ready to run an Exalted campaign. I've run it twice before, and I continue to like the game. I love the world it takes place in, and the motivations for various types of Exalted (I'll be running just a vanilla Solar campaign).

    That being said, DnD 4e, which I"ve never played but would like to appeals to me as a gamer for different reasons entirely. Exalted's over the top powers, at least in our group, bring out a more narrative kind of combat, whereas (I'm just saying in our group) DnD (3.5) is all tactics. Neither bad, just different.

    On Exalted being broken... I wouldn't go that far, however it has all these wonderful ideas, and uses this very heavy gamist engine to run it. This time around we're going to try a Wushu/Exalted hybrid which seems to be fairly popular.

    I just wanted to chime in since Exalted's about to be reborn in our group. If anything I would have been more worried that Scion would have killed Exalted, but they both seem to be selling fine.

  2. I tend to think that you're right that (consciously or unconsciously) the power system owes something to charms. I like the way you put it as a single tactical bit. Also, the idea that heroes are intrinsically built differently than your average Joe is some ground that both games cover.

    That being said, 4E and Exalted are enormously different games -- in play and philosophy, and even if now there is some running to 4E because it's shiny, as time goes on that will decrease. The other issue to consider is that the big books for Exalted (the manuals of exalted power for the mainstream exalt types, the sorcery and martial arts books, the most played setting books, and Dreams of the First Age) have been out for long time. There's less to talk about them on the 'net for mechanic nuts.

    Some areas of substantial difference between the games to justify my claim that they don't really detract from one another:

    *Every power in 4E is a combat power, while Exalted has extensive charms devoted to non-combat pursuits (Bureaucracy! try convincing a DnD player that what DnD needs are Bureacracy based powers), and social domination.

    *4E has a very smooth playing combat system that sacrifices accuracy for fun, while Exalted sometimes takes the opposite approach. 4E is the most gamist game I can think of, and Exalted is a very funny way simulist.

    *Exalted comes with an extensive pre-fab universe with canon, outside of which you really can't play Exalted, and 4E, with the curious exception of including gods in its base mechanics, is setting-independent.

    *Exalted is a dark, martial arts, Anime-ish Magic-tech styled game. It's very idiosyncratic in scope. 4E, even with the stronger Robert E. Howard feel than previous editions, is still high fantasy.

  3. Look out, it's an edition rant!

    I've been playing Exalted for four years now, three of which I've been running an extended game. So I was there before and after the edition swap, and... well, I see it making a difference.

    My opinion is that Exalted has been killing itself; D&D 4E had very little to do with it. The new edition suffers from a rather ugly combination of massive power creep ("Wait a minute, didn't we say we don't bypass Perfects last edition?"), being crushed under the weight of its own metaplot (You'd think they would have learned something from OWoD, but no....), the fact that they're turning a bunch of vague sorts of plot hooks into a canonical "This is how we do it" and thereby decreasing ST flexibility, and some of the most silly changes to the world I've ever seen (I am still waiting for an explanation as to why the bureaucractic Deathlord has a logistically impossible battlefleet, or what in blazes justifies turning the Labyrinth into Dante's Inferno). What it's been turned into just isn't sustainable, and I'm seeing people who were pretty gung-ho dropping like flies as the supplements pile on top of each other.

    Then you add to that the stringent rules that White-Wolf has for its fanbase (there's a reason why I'm so vague about my games), the PR mistake of "Graduate your game" (how many people did we offend here?), and the fact that it's got its own edition wars, and really, the decrease of enthusiastic talk outside of specialized locations is hardly surprising. Depressing, yes, but not surprising.

    (And then we get into my issues with the illustrators, but.... that's another rant entirely.)

  4. As someone who's been playing Exalted 2nd edition for about 2 years, and then discovered D&D 4e, I'll just share that I still like both systems.

    Exalted for setting: I've never seen anything quite like Exalted, all the metaplot you can hopelessly mangle with your Exalts, no matter what variety. After all, that's one of the implicit things about Exalts, they have free will and therefore they can spin, mangle, or do whatever they damn want to the world. Especially since your players aren't just any plain vanilla Exalts, they're YOUR PLAYERS.

    That said, I really, really wish Exalted had a better system. I've played D&D 4e and was floored by the smoothness of the battle system. This is because they have one rules subsystem doing multiple things presented in an intuitive manner. Whereas in Exalted, charms could be their own rules subsystem!

    It's really hard to build an Exalt if you're a new Tabletop RPG gamer, because of all the choices you have for Charms, but really easy to build a D&D 4e Heroic tier character.

    To sum things up to me Exalted is Setting done right, and D&D 4e is GAME done right. I wonder if it's possible to combine the two somehow...