[SS] Adapting Exalted

Started by Eero Tuovinen, February 25, 2010, 07:15:54 AM

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Eero Tuovinen

I'm putting some preliminary thoughts on adapting Exalted for Solar System here for Dave's benefit. My perspective on Exalted is from rather early in the game's run - I've read most first edition books at some point, but played only with the core Solar book. So I'm not nearly expert enough to discuss the setting with authority. Also, I'm working from memory here, haven't cracked an Exalted book for the last five years or so.

Still, the way I'd figure this off-hand, I'd probably value keeping close to the structures of the original game pretty high here. That's my usual philosophy about these game adaptations: part of the funny in making and playing them is the fruitful friction caused by the peculiar systems of the original game when they rub against the new implications of the Solar System. Looking at it from this viewpoint, I'd say that my priority would be to make the adaptation work with the original Ability spread at the very least. Perhaps something like this:

Just one, Essence. I thought about it, and the Physical/Mental/Social thing falls down on not having a good Passive Ability spread, and not reflecting the game's fluff very well - my sense is that the tri-fold WW attribute spread is not nearly as important to Exalted as the game's caste system is, for instance. Also the problem that if you're going to make a Pool, then you'll have to deal with it like one, and it doesn't feel like Exalted if characters are paying out of mundane Pools for their amazing feats.

Mortals get one point of Essence to begin with and can raise their Essence to at most equal their highest Virtue (see below). The Essence Pool is refreshed by a scene of genuine human relations, like default Solar System. I figure that this is just a dramatic conceit on our part, it's easy enough to determine that all sorts of inhuman monsters have different Essence regain conditions.

Willpower (E)
The one and only passive Ability. Depicts a character's personal integrity and ability to resist all influences, whether physical or mental. Can support most actions, but not do anything by itself. All characters begin at Mediocre (0).

The 25 Exalted Abilities, plus Willpower (E). They're all associated with Essence. I recommend handling Craft as one Ability, that Exalted thing where it's split into several is just funky. All characters get 15 Abilities at Mediocre (0), 5 Abilities at untrained (cannot use effectively without training; I figure this can be a cultural thing, so mainlanders don't know Sail, etc.), three at Experienced (1) and two at Adept (2).

I'd say that we have two types of Keys, Virtue Keys and Intimacy Keys. All characters begin with one of one type and two of the other, I'd say - let the player pick which type dominates.

Virtue Key Framework
A Virtue Key depicts a habit, belief or vice a character has. It's not directed at the world, but at a belief or activity. Each Virtue Key is associated with one of the Virtues of Creation - Compassion, Temperance, Conviction, Valor. This association is important in that the character's commitment to individual virtues can be seen in how many, if any, Virtue Keys the character has for that Virtue.
1xp: The character's belief comes up.
3xp: The character demonstrates his belief conclusively.
Buyoff: Act against the belief depicted by the Key.

Intimacy Key Framework
An Intimacy Key means that a character has a worldly commitment that he himself considers binding to some degree. This is usually towards a person or persons, but can be towards an organization, place or even an item of emotional import. Social charms presumably work off the presence of Intimacies in different ways, and it's not unreasonable to give a character a circumstance penalty in social conflicts when acting against the interests of his Intimacy.
1xp: The Intimacy is present in a scene.
2xp: The character acts for or against his Intimacy.
5xp: The relationship is transformed.
Buyoff: Betray the relationship conclusively.

Key Elements
In addition to Keys, I would definitely, definitely use Key Elements according to Solar System: whenever characters experience or meet places, people or events lifted directly from the prepared backstory (meaning the sourcebooks used by the SG), there's xp in it for them. Keep a list of pertinent Key Elements and cross them off as they're introduced into the game. Should motivate setting exploration, which is good in a game with mundo setting like Exalted.

General Secrets
I figure that some common things from the Exalted system might be fun to represent as Secrets available to everybody, including mortals.

Secret of Attribute (specify)
Pick a WW attribute, one of those nine. Whenever the character is doing something related to that sort of thing, he gains a bonus die to his Ability check - he's just notably competent in this regard.

Secret of Equipment (specify)
The character has a special piece of equipment. I might be attracted to using the complex WoN equipment rules here, but who knows.

Secret of Experience (specify)
The character has a mortal occupation of some sort that provides him with discipline and experience of the world. When he makes an Ability check related to this occupation, the character can make an Effect off the result for no Essence cost. However, he may only keep one free Effect at once for each time he gains this Secret.

Secret of Wealth
The character has disposable wealth. The player does not have to pay upkeep costs for any Effects he keeps as long as the character has this Secret. Trade this Secret for a Secret of Equipment when you find something you like.

By all means. Use the gift dice rules from Solar System.

Character creation
First create a heroic mortal by marking down one Essence, 15 Mediocre (0) Abilities, 3 Expert (1) and 2 Adept (2). (Probably easiest in practice to first pick the five untrained Abilities which the character doesn't know at all.) Pick three Keys according to the above. Get one Secret. Spend five Advances on Secrets or whatever. Can also get more Essence, but remember the Virtue limit.

A real man plays a mortal character in Exalted, is my own personal moral conviction. However, you can get an exaltation in character creation or later. Like so:

Solar Exaltation (Secret of)
The character has been picked out of the teeming masses of humanity for being a supreme bad-ass. You can get this at chargen like a wussy-pussy, or if your fellow players shout for it during play (spontaneously, no begging for it), causing Sol to pay notice. Getting Solarized causes the following on the character:
  • Empty the Harm track.
  • Double the Essence Pool and add five. Fill the Pool.
  • Pick the Secret of Solar caste (specify) you want.
  • Add one level to five different Abilities, probably the highest ones the character has.
  • Pick Solar crunch for five Advances. This comes to the character as a flash of insight regarding his past life, so the Story Guide spends at least half.
  • All Solar Exalted can shine like crazy by spending Essence. The character can thus spend Essence as penalty dice for creatures of darkness in their presence, or bonus dice for himself in a situation where shining with sunlight would be useful.
Requirements: Be a natural, non-exalted human. Can godbloods qualify? No idea, but luckily there are plenty of books on the details.

Secret of Solar Caste (specify)
I guess it's not unreasonable to give these some small special powers like in the original, but the main point is that each of the castes is associated with five Abilities for which the character gains a benefit: he can now spend unlimited Essence when using these Abilities, just like if he had the Secret of First Excellency (Ability) for it. Requirement: Solar Exaltation (Secret of)

Secret of First Excellency (Ability)
The character has no dice cap on checks made with this Ability - he can buy however many bonus dice he wants with Essence. Requirement: Solar Exaltation (Secret of)

Secret of Second Excellency (Ability)
The character does not pay Essence for Effects derived from this Ability up to the Ability rating in number. Requirement: Appropriate Secret of First Excellency

Secret of Third Excellency (Ability)
The character is preternaturally accomplished with this Ability, and can get zany with his featage in an overpowering manner, details depending on Ability - sailing up a waterfall with Sail and that sort of shit. He has superior leverage (as per this thread) in this conflict against anyone not using a similar Secret. Mortals do not get to resist at all, a simple success suffices against them. If there is no opponent, the character succeeds automatically, without an Ability check. Cost: 2 Essence per conflict. Requirement: Appropriate Secret of Second Excellency
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


  I like most of this.
  I think I will go with more than one pool though.
  In Exalted, the Virtues can be used to get bonuses. That's why I thought to use them as a Pool.
  Plus, Shaping Combat and the Fey use Virtues instead of attributes. So, it makes sense to make Virtue a pool.
  Also, my idea was to have physical charms use physical pool. With certain exalted able to supplement that with essence. But not all exalted, because I want them to "feel" different. So, a Solar can fire Physical Charms as well as a lunar, but they will run out of juice before the lunar. Which in the books, that is the one thing a Lunar is supposed to be able to do consistently, fight and fight well.

  Yeah, I won't be able to get away with a Solar-only campaign with my group. That's part of the reason why I want to convert it over to a system that I know, love and can produce a different feel without using vastly different mechanics...

  The idea presented in the books was, Solars are the natural-born leaders, that's why I went with Social for them. Lunars are the enforcers for the Solars and Sidereals are the advisers. DB are the pawns/foot soldiers.

  You are right though, my little scheme doesn't have a good treatment for caste. So, I am going to have to change SOMETHING. I just don't know what.

  So, I thought I would share where I am coming from and see if anyone had good suggestions.

  In the end, here are my goals:
1) All characters use the same basic mechanics (secrets, pools, keys, abilities)
2) Solars feel different from Lunars, who feel different from Sidereals, DB, Abyssal, etc.
3) No tedious combat (aka ping or ticks)
4) Characters can change the world
5) Mortals are not a concern for balance, chargen, etc. We usually play high-power campaigns, so even heroic mortals are pretty useless.
6) Not porting over every skill, charm, artifact, etc.
7) Preserving and supporting the setting.

Here is the faction sheet I used for my last campaign:

  In that game, I gave the character like 700 xp at chargen. That way they could face all of the signature characters on even terms.

  I might do something similar this time, not sure yet though...

  So, what do you think?
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo


i've been working on a similar effort for sometime (in italian).

i'll come back later for a more extensive description of some of our solutions, for now i will say this

1) exalted was really, really about playing the exalted. do away with playing mortals or centering rules on them. treat most mortals as equipment, and exalted as png, unless a mortal has an important relationship of some kind towards an exalted. (aka "towards a pc or npc")

2) many "key phoenomena" of exalted mitology are really cool. others look more like "we had to fit the setting in the storyteller rules and conventions" or "we need some use in the setting for these otherwise-useless storyteller rules and conventions". i won't point which is which (except, sometimes i really wonder if a casteless exalted setting really feels "less exalted-like", ore instead feels "even more exalted-like")

3) we had a central mechanic for the great curse: basically, of your five keys, one must always be a "great curse key". you can't get rid of it (but you can change it). then, everytimes a character transcends, he can chose not to leave the game. if he does so, he gets to dictate how he changes the world in a yet-non-dramatic fashion, then his character skill reverts to 3, he permanently lose 1 key slot, gains a "secret of elderness", another "great curse key" and a bunch of advances to make up for those lost. this mean that by postponing your transcendence you can't save the world, you get more powerful (but not anywhere near invincible, due to the easily balanced SS rules) and you depend more on your grat curse key for advancing. the more you transcend, the more you change the world, the less non-curse keys you have and the more you depend on your curse ones for advancing.

4) i fully agree with having just the essence pool, not so much with only have a willpower defense. perhaps i'm too much ingrained in the original defense systems... it just "feels natural" for exalted to have a "social combat" Resist defense, a "parry/dodge" React defense and a "soak" Endure defense...

5) some skills were eccelent skills to convey the feeling of exalted, like bureaucracy, war. other were storyteller skills with a sometimes-cool-sometimes-not exalted spirit superimposed on, like dodge, investigation, linguistics. do away with these. also, do we really have to mantain a five-by-five simmetry in any place in which exalted did? sometimes, it just doesn't make sense to have 25 skill when you stop using storyteller system just because you have to fit 5 skill in 5 castes. fit 3 skills in 5 castes, make a skill list independent on the caste and base chams on castes and not skills, do away with the castes entirely, but, by all means, d away with restigial WoD-isms as soon as you recognize one for not really addig something interesting to the game that a player could't add himself in play, if he really cared.


6) one more thing: keep the system foused on cultural groups. Scavenger lands can ba a cultural grup and has his specific secrets and keys. "Lunars", "sidereals" or "dragon blooded" can be a culturla group. "solars" cannot (as of 5 years after the disappearance of the scarlet empress, anyway)

Eero Tuovinen

Domon has good points there - I understand that you're taking the setting of Creation a grade more seriously than I'd do in this sort of exercise, as can be seen from the nigh-frivolous way I go about just importing the whole ability array from Exalted directly, without considering whether the setting alone actually needs that. I appreciate that you could do a lot to actually get a better handle on the setting through Solar System, it's just that the idea of Exalted for me is so bound up with the WW rules approach that I feel like half of the fun in adapting it to SS is in commenting on the system and setting in tandem. The fruitful friction I mentioned up there - by including plenty of the mechanical metaphysics as a design priority I hope to allow the players to discover new ideas that would not occur to them if they just concentrated on getting the setting "right" with all of their power. But that's design theory, ultimately it all depends on what you're doing, exactly, and in that an individual Story Guide is in a much better position to judge than a separate designer.

I like the idea of emphasizing cultural groups more than the base Exalted material does. Sort of like a TSoY approach to the setting. That's fundamentally uncompatible with the Exalted focus on high-level movers and shakers of the world, though, isn't it? Exalted is ultimately a very colonial setting, you have the primitive mortals living their lives with their foolish ideas and petty cultural technology, and then you have the totalizing grand narrative about heaven, exalted casteology, true history and such. If you produced TSoY-like amounts of crunch material on individual cultural spheres in the setting, a player would effectively have to choose between buying charms (universal, and I assume that these would still be mapped into Secrets of some sort) and cultural crunch, as both would easily add up to sufficient complexity for a character. Good for a game focused on the mortal civilizations, perhaps not so good for the high level adventure Exalted concerns itself with.

I am left to question, though - would the Exalted types and castes work better if you considered them as primarily cultural constructs instead of some sort of natural law? I discussed the difficulty of mapping Exalted charms into SS in the other thread - the tricky part is that most charms in Exalted are actually not much of an identity element for the characters who use them, as they're just the tools that are available, and not distributed in any sort of cultural manner in the world. I wonder if this stuff would be more interesting if you postulated some sort of correlation between the values of a character and the tools he wields - maybe a character's caste within his Exalted type could be a cultural construct, for instance; the in-setting characters just think that they are unchangeable and universal, and thus interpret characters as belonging in this caste or that, and then ascribe them all seven sorts of cultural traits due to this. Such a fluid conception of caste could then mean that a character unhappy with their identity could switch caste by delving into off-caste crunch and thus change who they are, which is a central tenet of Solar System.

Then again, I don't know if that'd help with the major themes of the game, considering how fixed the idea of Exalted typology is. Once a Solar, always a Solar, and the fact that you're Anathema to a major religion and a hidden master of the world isn't going to change, no matter the details and wishes of the character. In that regard Exalted is a very, very static setting - the most interesting matter of your identity was already determined when your player created you as a member of a particular Exaltation. I could almost see implementing this in Solar System in some sort of minimalistic manner: just have one Ability "Solar Exalted" for a character who is a Solar Exalted, and then fill the rest of the character crunch with things that actually are identity material, such as their cultural heritage and other experiences as human. This sort of minimal, Charm-stripping approach would turn Exalted on its head, but the benefits would be great in narratological terms. It'd be more important whether your character is from Lookshy or the Blessed Isle, rather than whether he is a human or a Terrestrial.

Anyway, Dave - those are all reasonable goals, and seems like you'll benefit from a relatively simple implementation that doesn't port over too much from the WW rules system. How about something like this:

Pools are Physical/Mental/Social, with Passive Abilities Endure, React and Resist. Essence is a special Pool that doesn't have Ability associations - it's just there for paying to do magic, and mostly doesn't do much for mortals.
Abilities are relatively freeform, strip the dull ones from the Exalted list and use just the interesting ideas. Associate them with the three basic Pools.
Keys are like I outline them above. There's a "Secret of Virtue" for those bonus purposes, below. Fey are weird, they can have separate Pools associated with each Virtue and that stuff, no need to complexify the overall system just for their sake.
Exaltation allows a character to spend Essence in lieu of the three basic Pools in certain situations. I guess it could be the way you describe, with Solars getting Social and so on - that doesn't feel like a very good fit to me overall, but if it works for you, what do I care. Exalted also get mucho Essence and whatever else.
Castes are just mandatory Secrets that everybody gets one of. Could work the way I described up there - each Caste allows the character to spend unlimited Essence for bonus dice for a certain facet of life, so a Zenith doing priestly stuff doesn't have a dice cap, etc. Essentially, "whenever the character acts within his caste's ascribed role, he does not have a Pool in his Ability checks". Note that this is a lateral bonus compared to the Exaltation thing, above - a Solar could only spend Essence for Abilities associated with the Social Pool, but a Dawn caste character could still spend unlimited Physical Pool. Of course there'd be some Secret, perhaps called the "Secret of Excellency (Ability)", that'd allow a character to spend Essence outside the given Exalted type's own purview. So a Dawn caste wanting to spend both Physical and Essence on fighting could get that Secret and then basically be on even terms with a Full Moon Lunar (or whichever caste did the fighting with Lunars, can't remember).

Secret of Virtue (specify)
A specific virtue is especially important for the character. When he acts to fulfill this virtue, he gains bonus dice equal to the value of his Virtue (the number of Virtue Keys related to this Virtue he has) to all checks in the on-going situation. Cost: 1 Essence per scene Requirement: The Virtue in question is dominant for the character at the moment - he has more Virtue Keys related to it than any other Virtue. This is not an on-going requirement, a character can gain multiple of these Secrets by going through different phases in life.

I guess that if I put aside my own twisted preferences and look at your approach, Dave, the weakest bits to my eyes are the separate Virtue Pool and the idea of associating magical Abilities with Essence directly. So read the above as an effort at laying out your approach without those things that annoy my aesthetic sensibilities. And of course I suggest a way to implement Castes in there, too.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


Hey!  I've been running Exalted, using Solar System, over google wave.  I used the overflow concept for Essence, but most superpowers can use Pool or Essence (loosely approximating the personal/peripheral thing), put together Exalt Caste and Anima-related Secrets as needed, a basic set of Excellencies, with other 'Charm' Secrets expanding leverage or scope or color.  My players and I talked over the things that engaged us in the setting and its situations, so I didn't focus on mapping Virtues and Great Curse/Limit Break stuff (each Exalt type gets XP for certain thematic things, which is close enough for the players).

To be honest, I'm not a fan of the setting or original game, but it's easy to get people to play.

Mmm..., here's something specific; someone's a Sidereal of Journeys:

Sidereal Exalted gain 1XP for dealing with Sidereal Faction issues, for investigating and addressing snarls of Fate, and for protecting Creation from threats outside of Fate.  For 1 Essence (or, automatically when Anima is at 7+), they may know the time and date, or sense a nearby gate to Yu-Shan or Malfeas.  Sidereals are under an Arcane Fate that makes it very difficult to record their doings or remember anything about them - most individuals have to make an Integrity check to remember interacting with them, and other works that would normally record their activity in Creation will have to make an appropriate test if they might be used to recall the Sidereal; this can be mitigated by negotiating with the Pattern Spiders to create a Resplendent Destiny, a sort of false identity - most Sidereals will have one or two that they can call up to interact more normally with Creation.

The Chosen of Mercury also gain 1XP for fostering great journeys or changes.  For 1 Essence (or, automatically when Anima is at 7+), they triple normal overland movement when on foot or mounted, for themselves and nearby allies, for a scene.

The subtext here is that the player and I will read the source material, and I'll approximate pain-in-the-ass things like Sidereal Astrology as needed if they'll accept that the crunchy nuances informing the original game might not translate well.  Admittedly, it's easier at the pace of wave gaming, but Solar System really facilitates that kind of 'what do you want to focus on' finagling anyway - hacking out Secrets take moments if you have a clear vision of what's to be achieved with them (my experience).

Dave, I'm interested to find out how you approach this, and I'd be happy to show anything else you're interested in, or make something up to help out.


What about having only the Essence pool and making it Exalted-only? Charms would be Secrets that allow the use of an Ability on a higher scale or with supernatural effects.  This would fit the idea of Ability-realted magic powers from the original game, since having an Essence pool fundamentally allows a character to alter reality with some of his Abilities, while the non-illuminated are stuck with "mundane" practice of their arts. As for cultural crunch, it could be included as well: SS mechanics allow it to be balanced with Charms. Take an hypothetic Secret of Hot Blood, only available to Southern people, that gives a bonus die against all kind of intimidation, fear and moral threats: thanks to the Leverage rules, it would be useful for an Exalt to face a Deathlord, while a mortal with it would still pee in his pants in the same situation, because the supernatural threat would have Superior Leverage against him, but not against the Chosen. That bonus die is as useful for the Exalt as for the mortal - the characters are on a different level of the scale of power, but the Secret is the same. Also, since all the characters are Exalted, they can buy bonus dice while their mortal opponents cannot, therefore making them paragon members of their cultures: anyone can, in an emergency, sail a boath on a river, but only the Western know the secrets of oceanic navigation, and a Western Chosen is Creation's Odysseus, Columbus and Magellan all toghether.
Hope I was clear enough. :-)


Hi guys,
  Two things:
1) My group did not buy into playing Exalted setting with SS rules.
2) The love my idea for an Inselberg campaign.

  Also, overflow dice as Essence is insanely brilliant.
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo


Also, I was thinking of doing Castes as Keys. I mean, if the Exalted type gets its own secret, it does not make much sense to stack even more secrets on a starting character.
Also, the last version of Pools I was thinking were:
  I guess the reason I keep trying to slip in mortal-level pools is for the Dragon Blooded. Their schtick is making mundane skills awesome through essence and teamwork. Like one of the DB Dodge Charms lets one DB make a Dodge roll for another. and it just seems like if I don't give them enough crunch to pin their secrets on, then all the DBs will end up being the same...

  I don't know. I guess if I can get a group to bite, I'll circle back and make it make sense...
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo


Wow!  Very sorry to hear that.  Yeah, the overflow thing seemed very natural, between 'first excellency' (aka secret of training), 'stunting' (aka gift dice), and specializations, the Essence kick-back is intuitive both in the Exalted context and the SS context.  Also, you'll note that there are XP intrinsic to the Type/Caste Secrets I write, exemplified in the Sidereal Secret (everybody gets their type/caste free...).  I really can't buy into the Pool set-up you got there, but I use the Vigor-Instinct-Reason set anyway; with overflow Essence, something like 'willpower' (as used in the white wolf games) is comprehensively subsumed in really game-functional structures that already exist.  If I were to change the Pool, I would use something even more abstracted, like the Heroics-Influence-Exposition thing I do for other SS adventure games, not try to map over Exalted idiosyncrasies.

Maybe another time!

Luca Veluttini

Hi Eero.
With my 2 friends I'm adapting Exalted too.
However we're keeping 3 Pools.
We made only 1 initial brainstorming, to decide the guide-lines we'll follow.

BODY [Endurance]
Distance Weapons
Melee Weapons
Martial Arts

MIND [Coherence]

ESSENCE [Awarness]
Exalted Sorcery

Secret of Solar Exaltation
No Effects from common diseases and natural aging. After rolling a check, if you spend 1 Essence, automatically you obtain a (2) as result. Automatically, eventually in debt, you obtain Secret of Solar Aspect (specify).

- If you don't have Secret of Exaltation, in creation phase you cannot put more than 1 point in Essence pool.

Secret of Solar Aspect (specify)
Cost to activate aura power; if you spend many points, the aura manifest itself. Related to the Solar Aspect (Cast) create an Effect.

Key of Solar Virtue (specify Virtue and Limit)
1px: Virtue comes into play
2px: an effect that in the Storyteller add Limit Point
5px: Limit Break
Buyoff: Remove the Great Curse

- Keys for normal Virtues. No doubling of a Virtue (normal and Solar)

Key of Quest (specify) [base Solar System]
You can obtain the buyoff when you Transcend.

Secret of the Excellency (Ability)
You can spend 1 Essence (max equal to the Ability rating) in addition to the normal pool cost for bonus dice.

Secret of Infinite Mastery (Ability)
Prerequisite: Secret of the Excellency (Ability).
Remove cap from the Previous Secret in the chosen Ability.

Other Secrets to change the base Ability pool into Essence

Eero Tuovinen

That seems like a pretty reasonable low-maintenance solution all around - I like. Doesn't make any strong statement in any particular direction, so keeps out of the way pretty well.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.