Monday, March 13, 2023

Mythic Exalted

Back n 2001, I heard White Wolf was releasing a fantasy game. I was interested when I heard (I don't remember where) that it was going to have a Sword & Sorcery vibe and was inspired by CAS's Zothique and Tanith Lee' Flat Earth series. Still somewhere near the height of my old school Sword & Sorcery mania in those long-ago days, and impressed with the White Wolf products I had, I was bound to check it out as soon as I could make the purchase. 

I was a bit disappointed with what I found. Tanith Lee's series was namechecked (and the world was flat), as was other intriguing inspirations like the Old Testament, the Ramayana, and Greek myth, but the world failed to deliver anything close to that flavor to me. Some of that was the anime and video game aspects. Another was how the World of Darkness related-framework was implemented.  None of those things were bad, just different than what I had thought I was going to get. Maybe as Grabowski said: "it's not just Ninja Scroll the RPG, it's also a pulp fantasy revival game that happens to have anime parts," but the pulp fantasy elements seemed pretty low in the mix for me.

Mainly, the world of Creation, just didn't seem very flavorful. One of the original writers was of the opinion that the made-up words/names common to fantasy are silly to modern audiences. I've seen later writers support that view. Whether that was true (and whether it remains true post the success of Lord of the RingsGame of Thrones and The Witcher), I was and am a fantasy fan, and it doesn't reflect my preferences.

Over time, I got over my initial disappoint and came to appreciate Exalted's Creation for what it did do well: providing a sort of fantasy supers in a world with a background conceptual complexity not unlike the other "deep settings" of rpg lore: Tekumel and Glorantha. I recognize the little bits of cool worldbuilding that existed side by side with what I had seen as an unevocative initial conception.

But I still sort of wonder what the setting would have looked like had it leaned heavier or Sword & Sorcery and Sword & Sandals and ancient myth instead of fighting anime, the requisites of White Wolf splat book based line-development, and magitech.

So, I think I may spend a few posts thinking about that.


Dick McGee said...

Interesting. The pre-release hype my distributor was giving me (I was managing a game store when Exalted came out) was "fantasy superheroes in a high-magic anime world" without a hint of traditional sword & sorcery. Also the World of Darkness connection, which got likened to the Earthdawn/Shadowrun relationship. So pretty much lived up to expectations for me.

It is a pretty deep setting when you get into it, although a bit less coherent than either Tekumel or Glorantha IMO. Too many cooks stirring the stew compared to those other games to stick to a single vision as well.

Trey said...

Yours was more accurate, though (as I quoted above) the primary creators would have bristled at the assessment. Grabowski also said that Hatch's original outline for the setting was "even more" S&S than what was eventually produced.

Angry Wombat said...

I will follow this with some strong interest!

I really enjoyed exalted, but always played it with a more "classic" feel - imperial china (blessed isle), sparta/Greeks (scavanger lands) 1001 nights (the south) iron age tribes (the north)...

i never liked the "magitech" so much... I took lots of inspiration from old Ray Harryhousen movies :)

Trey said...

I dig your approach!