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A Closer Look: Solars vs Dragonblooded

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  • A Closer Look: Solars vs Dragonblooded

    So I've seen this kind of thing crop up in a few threads, there's even another thread about it but that's kind of drifted. I've got a lot to say anyway. Plus it's exam time and all my exams are over, so time to turn that hard analysis to Exalted! That means it's time for a closer look.

    I'd like to point out here that I love the DB charmset as previewed and I have very very few criticisms of it. I'm head over heels for most of it and this is not meant to bring it down.

    Most of what I've seen has concerned the idea of Dragonblooded being able to fight Solars, let's take a look at that shall we?

    Here in the spoiler is a close mechanical look at what lead me to my conclusion below



    Attack/defense

    Okay so the first thing that we might want to know is, how easily can a Solar hit a DB? The dice caps favour the Solar, 10 to 6, the good news is that the DB one is slightly easier to hit because attributes tend to be more valuable than specialties. The bad news is that's the only good news. Apart from their excellency DBs don't actually have many charms that make them harder to hit. Even then the few charms they get are often along the lines of "(Essence) 1s on the attack roll can reroll successes starting with 7s." which seems okay until you realize that the first melee charm for Solars rerolls 1s. The Solar also has a bunch of options like free full excellencies, big flurry attack charms and Rising Sun Slash to add bonus non-charm dice.

    Alright so let's check the other way around! Not so good here either, Same dice cap scenario, and DBs barely have any way to boost accuracy, often as little as rerolling (essense) non-1 failures. Whereas the Solar has cheap and easy penalty negators.

    Damage/Mitigation

    Damage? Well here the disparity is much larger. Solars have a plethora of ways to boost damage into the sky with things like Thunderbolt Attack Prana and Hungry Tiger Technique. What kinds of resistance charms might DBs have to counter this? Not much, they've got a 4 mote charm to add (Stamina) soak to a single attack, and a couple of other things further down the tree which aren't that impressive. Most of them are instant and/or very costly.

    Flip side for the DBs? Not good, the Solars have big scenelong charms that add a lot of soak, and other charms to do things like half withering damage. So they're going to struggle to get any initiative away from a really combat focused Solar, and even when they get it the damage they deal with decisives can be mitigated. On top of all that DBs have really few ways to actually boost their damage, almost none at all for withering OR decisive. They don't have a lot of multi-attack charms either that could help with this, and the ones they do have make 2-3 attacks tops.

    Higher Essence

    Things at least improve for the DBs with essence though, right? I'm afraid not. They do a little bit, but mostly the higher essence DB effects make things happen which are bigger, wider ranging, or with more targets, but not more damage or accuracy.



    Okay so if you actually read that, first of all thank you, second of all things are looking pretty bleak. TLDR; Solars have DBs beat in accuracy, damage, defense and soak/mitigation.

    Well it gets bleaker sadly, with one of the main schticks of DBs being that they tend to do better when they're already doing well. They have a big list of charms that can only be activated if you're already ahead in initiative, or have aimed for 2 turns, or have blocked multiple attacks in a row, or punish your opponent for racking up a big onslaught penalty. Against a Solar you probably won't have higher initiative, you won't have the luxury of sitting back and aiming, you won't defend against their superior attacks very often, and they often quite easily drop their penalties.


    What does this mean? It means that a combat focused Solar is a damn hard fight for a single DB! Or even a small group of them. "But Doctor Love Monkey" I hear you cry "I thought Solars weren't supposed to be impervious to DBs this time around.". Don't worry, they aren't. Let me give you a few Solar archetypes and show how they'd go. Spoilered again for space.


    The Beast*: We all know this guy, the guy who takes nothing but melee, dodge and resistance charms, always wears his heavy armor, never has less than 5 dex. This guy is a tough fight. At essence 1 he still stands a chance of beating an essence 5 DB, but it's not as bad as you think. His only hope is to burn them down with a quick series of combos before his mote pool runs dry, after that he's basically screwed. At higher essences he can start to put together combos that in a white room can wipe a whole party of Dragonblooded. If you're fighting him as a PC party of DBs do not let him whiteroom you. Be willing to take losses and wear him down. You're going to have to hit him with some tough stuff in order to make him spend motes though, so expect heavy losses. You're relying on lucky dicerolls of less than 50% chance to hit most of the time, and the reverse to being hit.

    The Well Rounded Fighter: He's a dawn, sure, but he's got hobbies. He's picked up some sail, some war, some lore and some medicine. He's got charms in all of them. He's got good stats but not perfect. He's got a basic setup of melee charms to get him through combats easily enough. This guy is actually scared of a high essence DB. Remember when I said a lot of DB charms rely on you getting ahead first? Well getting ahead on this guy isn't impossible, and once you do you can do some decent damage. Even at medium essence this style of character doesn't want to face a full Wyld Hunt. He won't have the combos needed to take them out quickly, and while his defenses are decent he can't afford to keep using Dipping Swallow + Excellency to defend against every attack. If this is the Dawn in your PC party, a powerful Wyld Hunt will still be a threat for sure, especially if he's not maxed his dex.

    The Ledger Jockey: This guy is not a Dawn. He's an Eclipse**. Which means he's got a target on his head. Literally. He's a bureaucracy supernal with maybe the essence 1-2 charms of a martial art that he picked up. This guy goes down hard to a high essence DB. This is really where DBs get dangerous, because you're likely going to crash him on the first turn, then your anima is going to burn him while you decisive him into oblivion. Even at higher essence he's going to need to use tricks to avoid Wyld Hunts because he doesn't have the huge melee/dodge/resistance suites to defend against the DB dogpile. Just make sure he doesn't have any friends like The Beast up there.



    Almost done I swear! This is all looking awful isn't it? It feels like the Solar charmset was almost designed to counter the DB one, with cheap, easy and hard counters to almost anything the terrestrials can muster. I mean if that's the case what's even the point? Can DBs do anything? You BET they can! They can strike weapons with the power of Earth to make them 1000 times heavier, they can use charms to fly across the battlefield in an instant and strike a foe, they can use presence to breathe fire and dodge to grab an opponents attack and hurl it at another enemy instead. It's SO COOL, it's just that the raw, pure power is low. You have to dodge the attack to redirect it, and that Earth weight one is a special gambit that you need to hit with, ect. It's not impossible, and it is helpful when it happens, but it's hard to pull off.

    So again, what's the point? The point is you're not always fighting Solar exalted, silly! This is where, in my opinion, DBs really shine. Fighting a Solar is a hard fought, frustrating slog, like a final boss fight. On the other hand fighting a pair of Hellboars is fantastic. For a Solar circle I wouldn't even ask them to roll, it'd be boring and pointless. For a DB sworn kinship on the other hand that's a fight! The boars can't ignore onslaught penalties, they don't have insane defense ratings or soak boosters or decisive damage negators. Plus if they stunt/willpower/environmental penalties they can actually hit a DB, whereas basically any Solar who's not intentionally gimped can raise their defense high enough to be 99% safe.

    Also, here the DB ability to deal more damage to things that they're already doing well against is an actual boon. Big monsters in exalted tend to not have the skill or dice caps of a Solar, but make up for it by big health pools and special abilities. Doing well against them in initiative doesn't mean you're going to win, but those punishing charms help to ensure you will.



    TLDR; So that's the light at the end of this tunnel. DBs don't have the raw power to match Solars for attack, defense, damage, soak, decisive mitigation, penalty negators or special tricks. They aren't so far behind though that Solars can't be beaten, it just takes luck, numbers and thinking outside the whiteroom. In exchange we get a splat that can meaningfully engage with most of the antagonists in the corebook with a veritable metric ton of charms that are really really cool and make for a dynamic and literally spectacular combat. Because who doesn't want to ride a self-made explosion to safety, or grapple a foe at long range with tendrils of water?



    *There is absolutely nothing wrong with this character type. It's perfectly fine to have a character who's whole motivation is being the greatest fighter ever. No criticisms here for doing that. At least until you do it every time for 5 campaigns.

    **Or Twilight or you know whatever...

  • #2
    This is the biggest difference I am seeing between the EX3 Core and DB:WFHW, you have this great system of mechanics in the EX3 Core that should make for one of the most exciting and complex rpg experiences out there...and the first thing the Solar charms do is make that entire system meaningless by boosting values to ridiculous degrees or just outright negating entire elements and challenges within the system. DB:WFHW doesn't do that, the DB charms presented in the book don't break the system, they let you find advantages and more optimal paths within the mechanics, but they almost never let you outright ignore mechanical challenges and that is how it should be. Up until this point the time I most enjoyed playing with the EX3 Core mechanics was actually as a mortal in a short game we ran, but looking at DB:WFHW I can see myself having that same experience while playing a DB.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by SpruceStripedGoose View Post
      This is the biggest difference I am seeing between the EX3 Core and DB:WFHW, you have this great system of mechanics in the EX3 Core that should make for one of the most exciting and complex rpg experiences out there...and the first thing the Solar charms do is make that entire system meaningless by boosting values to ridiculous degrees or just outright negating entire elements and challenges within the system. DB:WFHW doesn't do that, the DB charms presented in the book don't break the system, they let you find advantages and more optimal paths within the mechanics, but they almost never let you outright ignore mechanical challenges and that is how it should be. Up until this point the time I most enjoyed playing with the EX3 Core mechanics was actually as a mortal in a short game we ran, but looking at DB:WFHW I can see myself having that same experience while playing a DB.
      Yeah, that's sadly one of the reasons why the Solar Exalted have to be the Corebook splat instead of the second one.

      Because if the Solars were anyone but the first Exalted out of the gate, they would seem INCREDIBLY cheap. Player resentment for that, and player sentimentality for the Dragon-Blooded as the first and most defining Exalted of the game, would basically doom any effort to persuade people to see Solars as anything but Anathema.

      To cast Solars as returning kings and queens trying to reclaim their unjustly stolen thrones and avenge their treacherous murders, they kind of have to come first. Also, they best fit the basic heroic protagonist mold, and are the biggest thing responsible for the sudden change in Creation's status quo.

      They're also the easy mode to the Dragon-Blooded expert mode; especially now.

      But if it weren't for those factors, the Dragon-Blooded absolutely should have been the first Exalted of the game, in every Edition.


      Formerly Inugami, formerly Tornado Wolf.

      My RWBY Blog on Tumblr: Semblances, Kingdoms, Grimm, and more!

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      • #4
        I haven't looked at the DB Charms much yet myself, but one thing I have to ask - Solar Charms generally don't ELIMINIATE the Onslaught penalty. They allow the Solar to ignore the effects, but the penalty is still, strictly speaking, there. You say that one circumstance in which the Dragon-Blooded thrive is their opponent having a high Onslaught penalty, and then say "but Solars can drop their penalties!" Aren't they usually just ignoring their penalties? Does that make a difference in this scenario?

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Ren9077 View Post
          I haven't looked at the DB Charms much yet myself, but one thing I have to ask - Solar Charms generally don't ELIMINIATE the Onslaught penalty. They allow the Solar to ignore the effects, but the penalty is still, strictly speaking, there. You say that one circumstance in which the Dragon-Blooded thrive is their opponent having a high Onslaught penalty, and then say "but Solars can drop their penalties!" Aren't they usually just ignoring their penalties? Does that make a difference in this scenario?
          That's actually a good question. I'm not sure if ignoring the onslaught penalty for your defense also ignores it for your opponent.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Sunder the Gold View Post
            Yeah, that's sadly one of the reasons why the Solar Exalted have to be the Corebook splat instead of the second one.

            Because if the Solars were anyone but the first Exalted out of the gate, they would seem INCREDIBLY cheap. Player resentment for that, and player sentimentality for the Dragon-Blooded as the first and most defining Exalted of the game, would basically doom any effort to persuade people to see Solars as anything but Anathema.

            To cast Solars as returning kings and queens trying to reclaim their unjustly stolen thrones and avenge their treacherous murders, they kind of have to come first. Also, they best fit the basic heroic protagonist mold, and are the biggest thing responsible for the sudden change in Creation's status quo.

            They're also the easy mode to the Dragon-Blooded expert mode; especially now.

            But if it weren't for those factors, the Dragon-Blooded absolutely should have been the first Exalted of the game, in every Edition.
            I totally agree with this, its like you read my mind. In fact I just asked in the Ask the Devs thread how they will be balancing splats going forward. The question came up if Lunars and Sidereals would be able to meaningfully interact in a circle with Solars and the response was "yes", but personally I feel that it would be a much better idea going forward to balance splats for how they should be able to interact with DB not Solars. To me Lunars will be much more fun to play if they are balanced to be a monster/antagonist scary enough to challenge a wyld hunt or a hero strong enough to fight the injustice of the Realm. Trying to crank them up to rival Solars in any way is a fool's errand if you don't want them to just end up being "easy mode" as you put it. In fact right now I think its more accurate to say Solar's are "god mode" where you just win, while DB's are "regular mode" where it isn't difficult to succeed but you still actually have to play the game to do it.

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            • #7
              A good thread, and one of the reasons why Solars (though I love them) are difficult to Storytell for. There are so many interesting antagonists in the core book (and the monthly additions) but that are pretty much meaningless opposition against Solars unless you buff them a lot first. I've found that if I want to make a simple Exalted QC antagonist for my Solars to go up against, I need to at least add extra dice to their rolls to make the fight even close to fun.

              I don't have that fear for my coming DB game.


              Ekorren's Homebrew Hub - Last Update: April 14, 2018

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              • #8
                Originally posted by SpruceStripedGoose View Post

                I totally agree with this, its like you read my mind. In fact I just asked in the Ask the Devs thread how they will be balancing splats going forward. The question came up if Lunars and Sidereals would be able to meaningfully interact in a circle with Solars and the response was "yes", but personally I feel that it would be a much better idea going forward to balance splats for how they should be able to interact with DB not Solars. To me Lunars will be much more fun to play if they are balanced to be a monster/antagonist scary enough to challenge a wyld hunt or a hero strong enough to fight the injustice of the Realm. Trying to crank them up to rival Solars in any way is a fool's errand if you don't want them to just end up being "easy mode" as you put it. In fact right now I think its more accurate to say Solar's are "god mode" where you just win, while DB's are "regular mode" where it isn't difficult to succeed but you still actually have to play the game to do it.
                Yeah, well honestly I think the DBs in WFHW can hang with Solars as long as they do it right. If the past is any indication though Lunars and Sids will be between the two, and have their own unique things to go along with it. It might be borderline a bit easy, but hopefully not go too far with it.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by SpruceStripedGoose View Post
                  I totally agree with this, its like you read my mind. In fact I just asked in the Ask the Devs thread how they will be balancing splats going forward. The question came up if Lunars and Sidereals would be able to meaningfully interact in a circle with Solars and the response was "yes", but personally I feel that it would be a much better idea going forward to balance splats for how they should be able to interact with DB not Solars. To me Lunars will be much more fun to play if they are balanced to be a monster/antagonist scary enough to challenge a wyld hunt or a hero strong enough to fight the injustice of the Realm. Trying to crank them up to rival Solars in any way is a fool's errand if you don't want them to just end up being "easy mode" as you put it.
                  I think Robert and the others will manage to achieve all of those objectives. Solar Exalted are already "monster/antagonist scary enough to challenge a Wyld Hunt", and they can't all shapeshift into werewolves and bears and elephants and birds and rats.

                  One other thing occurs to me: Having the Solar Exalted come before the Dragon-Blooded also makes it possible to cast the Lunar Exalted as something other than Anathema. Which would be HARDER to do for them than Solars despite them not being QUITE as cheap, because the Lunar Exalted seem much more monstrous by nature and because they've practically EMBRACED the label of Anathema to terrorize the Realm.


                  In fact right now I think its more accurate to say Solar's are "god mode" where you just win, while DB's are "regular mode" where it isn't difficult to succeed but you still actually have to play the game to do it.
                  I don't think they're quite as easy as that, but we nevertheless agree that they're the easiest mode in the game.


                  Formerly Inugami, formerly Tornado Wolf.

                  My RWBY Blog on Tumblr: Semblances, Kingdoms, Grimm, and more!

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Ekorren View Post
                    A good thread, and one of the reasons why Solars (though I love them) are difficult to Storytell for. There are so many interesting antagonists in the core book (and the monthly additions) but that are pretty much meaningless opposition against Solars unless you buff them a lot first. I've found that if I want to make a simple Exalted QC antagonist for my Solars to go up against, I need to at least add extra dice to their rolls to make the fight even close to fun.

                    I don't have that fear for my coming DB game.

                    I think there was an unstated expectation that the original Devs had in which the EX3 Core relies on players reigning themselves in and making suboptimal choices in order to make the game more balanced and fun. The problem is that they never stated that expectation and designed charm trees that quickly steer you into game breaking combo's. I love the Solar narrative themes, they mesh with the characters I like to play more than any other splat I think, but it is honestly exhausting trying to play a Solar that is so artificially suboptimal just to try and make them actually fun. And as you say if the people you are playing with don't do the same you are quickly left behind in every encounter while the GM struggles to take the useless antagonists presented in the EX3 core and make them a challenge for even the most minimally specialized Solar.

                    Honestly if it was up to me I would say that Solar's need a ground up rewrite, EX3 succeeded fantastically in creating a much better base mechanical system than 2e and I love it as it is, but honestly the rest of the EX3 Core still completely failed in making Solars any less a splat that just activates charms to unfailingly succeed. And to me that makes playing EX3 Solars so unappealing no matter much how they are supposed to be about legendary prowess in their themes.

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                    • #11
                      I don't need a rewrite, to be honest. I've used the system so much in the last few years that I've learned to live with the hiccups. The only thing that bothers me are dice tricks such as "reroll X many 1s unless Y rolls a 6 because then the Z transforms into a Pony." For a game that was supposed to be relying on less dice rolls (which is why attack flurries were removed), it sure failed to comprehend why dice tricks are bad game design. My only gripe with DB charms is that this stuff is continuing.


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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by DrLoveMonkey View Post

                        That's actually a good question. I'm not sure if ignoring the onslaught penalty for your defense also ignores it for your opponent.
                        That's the case according to the devs in teh Q&A thread, but I would need to dig to find it. But for effects depending on a Solar having onslaughts, Charms that let you ingore them don't like,s top you having that penalty by default I Think.


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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Ekorren View Post
                          I don't need a rewrite, to be honest. I've used the system so much in the last few years that I've learned to live with the hiccups. The only thing that bothers me are dice tricks such as "reroll X many 1s unless Y rolls a 6 because then the Z transforms into a Pony." For a game that was supposed to be relying on less dice rolls (which is why attack flurries were removed), it sure failed to comprehend why dice tricks are bad game design. My only gripe with DB charms is that this stuff is continuing.
                          They have a free dice roller app that seems well set up to handle it when that kind of possibly annoying book keeping is needed. Lets you select double successes on numbers and auto reroll on other numbers (and you can select more then one number at a time). Doesn't cover 'and if your opponent rolls such and such' but it does save the rolls so you can reference them instead of having to write them all down to simplify it a little.


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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Sunder the Gold View Post
                            I think Robert and the others will manage to achieve all of those objectives. Solar Exalted are already "monster/antagonist scary enough to challenge a Wyld Hunt", and they can't all shapeshift into werewolves and bears and elephants and birds and rats.

                            One other thing occurs to me: Having the Solar Exalted come before the Dragon-Blooded also makes it possible to cast the Lunar Exalted as something other than Anathema. Which would be HARDER to do for them than Solars despite them not being QUITE as cheap, because the Lunar Exalted seem much more monstrous by nature and because they've practically EMBRACED the label of Anathema to terrorize the Realm.

                            I don't think they're quite as easy as that, but we nevertheless agree that they're the easiest mode in the game.
                            Solar's definitely fit that role as the monster/antagonist, though as the original poster states they maybe stretch the bounds a little too far in the difficulty of DB overcoming them as an antagonist. My point with Lunars and Sidereals was more that when you are balancing them it seems to me that it is more productive to build them proportionally to being a challenge to DB rather than designing with the intent to make them a rival to Solars.

                            In my mind if there was a scale of 1 to 10 in potency within the mechanics of exalted you would have a mortal at 1, a DB at 3 or 4, and a Solar at 10 in the current state of the game. The problem is that the base mechanics work really well even at 1, and the further you go up the scale the more you compromise those mechanics and the ability of EX3 to be a game where you can be meaningfully challenged without making your GM jump through burning hoops. If you are now designing Lunars and Sidereals that leaves you with a choice, do you balance them at a power level of 5 or 6 with the goal of making them a step up above DB, or do you place them even higher at 7, 8, or even 9 in an attempt to put them in a playing space that overlaps with Solars? In my mind the later option really runs the risk of Lunars and Sidereals falling into the same pitfalls of mechanical power that Solars suffer from. I think it would be healthier for EX3 as a whole if Solars are left up on their pedestal for better or worse as these unapproachable gods, while future splats ignore them and look to each other to set their relative power within a range that compliments the mechanics rather than overwhelming them.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Ekorren View Post
                              I don't need a rewrite, to be honest. I've used the system so much in the last few years that I've learned to live with the hiccups. The only thing that bothers me are dice tricks such as "reroll X many 1s unless Y rolls a 6 because then the Z transforms into a Pony." For a game that was supposed to be relying on less dice rolls (which is why attack flurries were removed), it sure failed to comprehend why dice tricks are bad game design. My only gripe with DB charms is that this stuff is continuing.
                              The DB do have some of those dice tricks but they seem a bit less arbitrary to me, they feel more like a clear bonus and less like matching three cherries on a slot machine.

                              Our group kinda did the same thing feeling out Solars, through a series of medium length campaigns we learned the in and outs of playing EX3 Solars and pretty much found every trick and option to make them more playable and challenge them...but then we moved on to other systems for a bit and realized looking back that we have literally ZERO interest in playing EX3 with Solars ever again, and its not like we just got burnt out on them for the time being, with the benefit of hindsight we are really certain that they just aren't something that we consider worth wasting the time and effort on to massage a satisfactory experience out of playing them.

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