Thursday, March 19, 2009

Understanding Exalted

I get the distinct impression that D&D players don't like Exalted which might have more than a little to do with the fact that I know 90% of Exalted players hate D&D with every ounce of their black little hearts. But why is this?

I think anyone who reads this blog will be familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, but maybe not Exalted. Both are Tabletop RPG's and both are fantasy but from there the similarities end. I'll try to lay out some of the differences in the two games.

D&D is somewhat of a generic system, meaning that it's rules are designed to be used in any number of fantasy settings. However certain core elements of D&D such as Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and the like take their origins from JRR Tolkeen. Thus every fantasy setting using D&D's system will always be Tolkeen-based.

The exalted system is derived from White Wolf's Storyteller but is specifically designed for the Exalted setting, it is not generic. Exalted is not Tolkeen Based it does include Elves, Dwarves and Goblins but they're rooted in the actual mythologies of such creatures. Elves for example are a combination of Celtic Fae Creatures and Arabian Djinn, and goblins are their servants. There are no Character Races, in exalted. Race is an issue very much like it is in real life, simple mutations of humankind, some of these are natural and some very unnatural. For the purposes of making a character though nothing changes, you simply decide you want your character to be a particular race and stat him accordingly.

D&D is a level-based system. This isn't an official term but in a nut shell it means that it develops characters in "levels" which are basically broad platforms of character development. They allow players to easily understand what they need to accomplish a given task. IE: "To learn the spell that burns people up I need to be Level 8."

Exalted is a point-based system which means the character's stats, skills and the like have a value in points. To develop these traits you spend the appropriate amount of points and develop them individually. This allows for an increased degree of customizability and a more constant development of one's character.

However the biggest difference between D&D and Exalted is context. In Dungeons and Dragons the Player Characters are better than the average person because they've gained levels, which is too abstract to quantitatively explain within a setting or a story. This often means that world around the PC's becomes a "higher level" as quickly as they do in order to keep challenging them. Which from a gameplay perspective is fine but starts to break down when applied to a narrative.

Exalted on the other hand put's the power level of the players in context to the rest of the world setting. Most character to start are vastly more capable than the average person in the world setting because the gods have chosen them to be champions for them. This can be daunting to GM's because the average encounter that would challenge a normal person or PC is often child's play to an Exalt. Balance comes through a more etheric concept involving indirect consequences of one's actions. An example of this would be in that your character could certainly show his power and beat up someone to take over his house, but then everyone in town would know it and while they might not be able to fight you individually but they can make your stay unpleasant or call in someone who can kick his butt.

This difference in context is what I think makes Exalted unappealing to D&D players. Exalted makes no bones about the PC's being extraordinarily powerful and able to do extremely epic things. At first glance it comes across as a power-gamer's wet dream and the power gamer gets a very bad rap because they're the player that exploits the mechanics to be untouchable which makes things unfun for everyone else.

D&D on the other hand is disdained by Exalted players for being overly focused on combat mechanics, and unable to quantify what the players can do within the narrative and setting. To Exalted players this disconnect between the story and the resolution mechanics impedes immersion which in turn limits the capacity to role-play.

Honestly though I'm just an Exalted player starting to venture into a blogging community full of D&D players and not quite understanding why more Dungeons and Dragons people haven't tried it, and if they had, what exactly turned them off?

1 comment:

  1. I like both, but I'm known for playing for both teams!
    Uhh i mean i like both D&D and Exaulted.
    But its very dependent on the qualitie of the DM
    Make a post about noob DM's

    And I'm plugging my blog
    Its me bitching and moaning about like, and much ranting

    -Tangent aka Chels/Kat