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Late reading of Exalted: the Lunars

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  • #16
    So, next along (after a minor sidebar clarifying on the meaning of “young” Lunars in the context of people who can live several millenia and can be Exalted at any age) is the description of the experience of Exaltation itself; the standard package of typically occurring in moments of great stress (coloured by that survival standard), and elaborating on Luna’s presence in the ordeal. It actually strikes me as being described with slightly more diverse possibilities here than even Fangs at the Gate did, with the inclusion of ideas such as appearing as a vision, as well as sticking around for a variable length of time. We’re given a clear description of the unfixed Caste Mark, and how it not only shifts with the phases of the moon but also varies in brightness and texture; I think that other books have been a bit remiss in that detail, and I like the suggestion that prior to being tattooed, the Mark has a certain instability to it even besides shifting among different Castes. It also talks about the initial rush of predatory instinct (which can draw the Wyld Hunt to them) and making for the wilderness (which can be their salvation); I understand that at this point, even the Lunar’s totem shape was something that they didn’t have by default, but when that’s introduced in these terms, of potentially starting out with an overpowering urge to find their totem and claim its face, I think the notion has some charms.

    There’s a description of what Lunars are liable to do in the early stages of being alone, such as learning their initial powers by instinct (this is still a point at which Charms are described as more discrete things that might need to be tutored by others, with an added note of how Lunars being so promising means that some make it quite far on their own), and with many either living among animals in their manner or seeking authority in barbarian tribes. It lays out the principles behind why other Lunars feel compelled to seek new ones out, such as an unwillingness to let them risk becoming this Edition’s version of chimera without Caste, as well as a wish that they not be slain by the Wyld Hunt. Thus, it describes the processes by which they might be claimed (some within a pre-existing territory who get turned over by their people, some taken with little explanation or argument that would be judged to be time-wasting), as well as making a note of how and why some are not claimed, and can even prosper as legends in the Threshold (albeit required to be a bit discrete).

    Then it gets into the Lunar process of initiation. I’d known before about how Lunar Castes were meant to be unfixed as a matter of course as early as this, but I’m surprised at the idea that the First Age initiations are described as having been focused on determining a previous incarnation’s Caste and putting them into that. If it was a thing to play with, I would have objections, but to frame it as a thing that’s been departed from makes its own compelling point about how they’ve transformed and how they’ve lost some knowledge.

    The trials used to measure a new Lunar’s aptitudes are both described in a bit more detail than they were in Second Edition, and not codified within five specific traits associated with particular Castes that they’re trying to measure. I think the examples given of sample trials are very evocative, especially one concerned with putting an initiate into a hostile environment with only an elaborate riddle to figure out where to find food, and there’s something fun in the idea that all local elders might want to offer suggestions about how the Lunar should be tested. I also like some of the tone attached to the intent of the trials; that the point isn’t to succeed at any or all of them (although doing so can bring acclaim) but to give the tester a sense of how the Lunar tries and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Thus, it’s specifically laid out that while trials won’t pull any punches (to the point that there’s additional acclaim for coming through unmarred), they’re specifically not intended to be lethal; I particularly appreciate how there’s a line saying that elders would sooner have Lunars alive to try something different than dead to prove some kind of point, it’s a nice counter to what some might expect of some kind of Spartan Way. Still, there’s something fun to the idea that the test environments aren’t strictly controlled, and that the potential for interruptions by unexpected enemies and monsters is considered a valid part of the procedure. The two points together give me a nice image; of a Lunar in the middle of some cerebral test who is suddenly set upon by an unexpected fae attack, with their assessor holding back to see how the newbie can adapt and roll with the punches, but also ready to intervene if it looks like the new Exalt might die (after which they offer positive feedback on what they were doing to try). It ends with a description of Directional varieties in the types of scars used to indicate the initiate’s progress, which I like for the varied aesthetic it can provide to Lunars and the premise of allowing ones that have newly met to get an immediate sense of how the other did during their trials.

    There are a couple of sidebars here. One is concerned with the possibility of other Exalted wanting a shot at the kinds of ancient knowledge that only Lunars would have, for which they have to go through their own trials to get status as an “honorary Lunar”; where I liked the descriptions of the trials intended for actual Lunars to be non-lethal, here I have no problem with the idea that the difficulty is increased and the safeties are off, for the given reasons of “a petitioning Exalt can be assumed to already be an ‘adult’” and how they’re a bit protective of their status and secrets. I can sympathise with the idea that their pride might be wounded by an outsider whose performance could be perceived as showing them up, and I think the notion that they’d be resentful of somebody like a Solar making it through unscathed can be a source of compelling conflict. The other sidebar clarifies what becomes of Lunars who don’t acquire Caste; in its own right, it would apparently limit the level of Charms that they can acquire, and also has some of the beginnings of what the Second Edition version would be if they have exposure to the Wyld (said to be a risk hard to avoid without being traded for the danger of greater isolation from other Lunars and proximity to the Realm). Rather than having the potential to become an inchoate mass of mutations, it instead has the idea that shapeshifting can become an increasingly involuntary action, altering form with changes in mood, and the original shape loses some of its special status and gets forgotten; this is described as the prelude to the largely instinctual state of being chimera. It still has issues of a process for taking some Lunars off the table as meaningful characters, but I can at least grant that this is a form that doesn’t diffuse the image of what Lunars are, give them any kind of power that they wouldn’t have already, or attribute the matter to an inherent danger of their own nature; it’s not that there’s an inherent Wyld quality which tries to twist one’s use of shapeshifting, it’s just that shapeshifting can interact with the Wyld in a distinct manner.

    With that out of the way, it gets into the matter of actually fixing the Caste; starting on a point of how sometimes trials go on longer than the tester needs to make a decision, with them sometimes informing the initiate of this and making their final assessment based on the response (which I find to be a cute idea). There’s a statement that the majority of Lunars are Changing Moons, which is tied directly to the idea that they’re successors of the three lost Castes; this is a detail that I’m a bit iffy on, since I have a preference for the idea that Caste fixing is a matter of taking the Lunar on their own merits more than having them be part of a continuous change of role. I feel as though it detracts a bit from the significance of Caste coming after Exaltation in the first place; it feels less like role being a thing determined separately from Exaltation, and more like Solar Castes with extra steps. That said, I’m coming at this with a perspective formed long thereafter, and don’t exactly begrudge this as an early exploration of the concept; it is at least not an incoherent take (and at least lends something to the manner in which the book keeps referring to No Moons when it’s behind a premise of them being a minority of Lunars). The description of the tattooing ritual is also nice; the idea of it taking place under the moon of the new Caste, the description of how the shifting of the Mark gradually stops, and especially the simile of the tattoos having a form like a personalized prayer than a rote format.

    The matter of naming is elaborated upon; I’ve often felt as though there’s an unspoken premise around the line about people taking new names upon Exaltation, and I don’t think it’s a bad idea to elaborate upon it and make it more codified for the loose-knit and old society of Lunars; I like the idea of the so-called moon-name having a particular quality of devotion to Luna. There’s a nice emphasis on the Silver Pact as something distinct from Lunars as a whole with the idea that a representative might approach a new initiate and make a pitch, which requires no further initiation rituals beyond naming; while Lunars as a whole are reasonably accommodating to people retaining their mortal names, the Silver Pact is said to require at least a moon-themed modification to it. An exception to those customs is provided to First Age elders, with a whole premise of many finding their name to be their last possession from the Realm, which nobody has recourse to argue with. In contrast to Second Edition, names as reflecting accomplishments in trials are said to be the exception, given the limited prospect for distinct achievement therein; it’s instead usually determined following a shared psychedelic ritual. Apart from the thing about elders, I would find this section to not be outstanding, but at least appreciate the details.

    Hmm, taking a territory; I recall a few things that might lend a bit of infamy to this part. Well, nothing wrong with it so far; just making the point that many Lunars, free to go where they want upon receiving Caste, opt to claim a domain to reside in (often with authority over the people that they came from). I like how it’s phrased as a recent trend of the last few centuries, to maintain my perspective of Lunar attitudes having transitioned over time. There’s a point about how often young Lunars opt to challenge elders for possession of their more choice territories, which generally fails against the greater experience, but sometimes results in draws (which can lead the elder to take the newcomer as vassal and then they work together to expand their possessions) or occasionally even youthful vigour providing an edge. It can also be occasion to get into conflict with other Exalted, and in any case is framed as a basis to acquire excitement and luxury. Nothing offensive to it here.

    Then it gets into the background of Lunar circles, which at this early stage are referred to as packs. It starts with referring to Lunars as generally sociable among humans, even if their totems are for solitary animals, but older ones tend to become jealous of their possessions and stability and begrudge contact with their fellows. Thus, packs are described as primarily the province of the young, a matter further encouraged by elders who think highly of how their combined strengths can allow them to achieve great feats and have safety against enemies. To that effect, elders are said to want to train young Lunars to function as a unit, which is presented as a task of such difficulty that it’s basically the only thing that will compel elders to gather together and work as a unit themselves; this is presented as a tense and volatile environment in which elders antsy about one another’s presence are liable to get into conflict, which can itself be a form of instruction to the pack in training. I find that idea to make for a dramatic and distinctive background, or even process to play through, especially with the description of how the training consists of even more trials, just ones intended to be overcome with cooperation, coordination, or simply combined effort. There’s also an idea that such training often takes place on neutral territories (which might be specifically set aside to play host for them), or accommodated by an especially respected and powerful elder (such as from the First Age); I just like the idea that pack training consists of a bunch of elders having to leave their comfort zone and struggling a bit with getting along while they provide instruction. When the teachers are satisfied that the pack is ready, they engage in a blood-sharing ritual (which I find to fit with the milieu being given here and have no issue with), a common identifying mark, and a name for the group. Thereafter, a pack is left to sort out its own hierarchy (suggested in terms of authority shifting to the one with greatest established expertise in appropriate circumstances), and there’s a final description holding the pack up as one of the greatest assets that young Lunars might have, to the point of there apparently being Charms that allow them to function as one.

    I’m going to leave it there for the moment, but there’s a point that I want to make. For a long time, my perspective on the contents of this book were based on an archived description of it given by Holden Shearer. He didn’t paint an especially flattering picture of it; the part that I viewed as the greatest indictment was this:

    But the one thing that came through very clearly was that you were not supposed to be some guy from Nexus who Exalted under Solar-like circumstances and did Solar-like things. You definitely ought to Exalt while wiping with a pinecone, and should rape at least four people per day who believed in the heresy of toilet paper.

    Oh, and they are full of natural instincts to go claim some territory and insanely attack anything that comes near it, including other Lunars, because they're like, animalistic loners, man.

    In a game that is designed for 3-5 players.
    And it’s just… not very accurate. Maybe the much maligned Storytelling chapter will do something different, I don’t know (and don’t wish to be told in detail before I get a look at it for myself), but even then that’s not a matter of clearly being about or excluding certain things. Never mind the points dotted all over making various kinds of accommodations, or the description that puts the trends into a context that both makes them a matter of circumstance and history and, thus, gives a means of playing somebody who does not particularly fit them. The thing that really stands out to me is the description of the territory thing being at odds with it being a group game, given how I’ve just gone through the section describing precisely how to make it a game for 3-5 players. The part I’ve already read about territories does not in any way attribute it to instinct, and describes scenarios in which custody between elder and youth can be shared. The part about packs (and another territory description a bit later that I skipped ahead a bit to skim) could not be clearer on how the part about being severely territorial is the province of elders who have a few centuries behind them, and is specifically contrasted against the kind of cooperation that goes on in a group of playable Lunars (combined with the prior sidebar making it clear that the kinds of “young” Lunars that are said to make up packs can be Exalted for decades). And like I said, I find the notion of that territoriality being a source of tension when those elders come together to mentor packs to be a compelling source of drama.

    I’m commenting on this now, because it’s a point where I’m seeing outright contradictions to the popular wisdom about how faulty and inept the book was. It kind of makes me wonder if there are any further faults in the reasoning or recollection of talking points springing from the 2002 Internet.


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    • #17
      A lot of the *most* objectionable stuff does come from the Storytelling chapter.

      There was also something of a zeitgeist at the time of the Lunar's release, around WW books; in particular, Mage was probably at or near the zenith of the 'The Technocracy are the people keeping the light of civilization on, and the Traditions hate indoor plumbing' in terms of RPG discourse, as well as a general pushback against civilization-is-the-enemy-let's-return-to-nature-ism. (On top of that, the Lunars weren't really presented as pursuing any kind of plan, and Grabowski got... uh, cranky, when people implied they were just sitting on their thumbs waiting for the sky to cave in, but never providing clarification in text or via word of God).

      Also, a lot of folks just didn't like how *rigid* the Lunar's were presented. Especially the ritual testing / tattooing / strong implication about How To Lunar (and triple that for the Renown lifted from Werewolf). It forced a very specific set of background *stuff* that I think a lot of folks weren't interested in.

      On top of that, there were some serious mechanical whoopsies- some are like the charm clouds with intermixed Attributes or having no Appearance charms so as to not penalize ugly totem concepts, ideas that I can squint and understand how they were made; others were like Two-Target Method (an Extra Actions Charm that is strictly worse than splitting your actions was). Not everything was that bad, but the bad ones really stood out, and there wasn't a lot of good to counter-balance them.

      At least, that's how I remember it.


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      • #18
        Originally posted by wastevens View Post
        A lot of the *most* objectionable stuff does come from the Storytelling chapter.
        Still too much detail!

        Originally posted by wastevens
        There was also something of a zeitgeist at the time of the Lunar's release, around WW books; in particular, Mage was probably at or near the zenith of the 'The Technocracy are the people keeping the light of civilization on, and the Traditions hate indoor plumbing' in terms of RPG discourse, as well as a general pushback against civilization-is-the-enemy-let's-return-to-nature-ism.
        Yes, 2002 Internet.

        Originally posted by wastevens
        (On top of that, the Lunars weren't really presented as pursuing any kind of plan
        I think everything from Lilith going around in the opening fiction trying to gather god support for a new Realm in which the Solars are kept more in check, to ones who see the disappearance of the Empress and fracturing of the Realm as an opportunity to lead great hordes in sweeping away civilizations that they view as not good for people's moral character or satisfactory livelihood, to ones who instead want to turn all of that energy against the impending threats of the Fair Folk and the dead kind of put the lie to that.

        Originally posted by wastevens
        Also, a lot of folks just didn't like how *rigid* the Lunar's were presented. Especially the ritual testing / tattooing / strong implication about How To Lunar (and triple that for the Renown lifted from Werewolf). It forced a very specific set of background *stuff* that I think a lot of folks weren't interested in.
        There must have been some epic complaints about how Exalted: the Dragon Blooded presented the majority of Terrestrial Exalted in the world growing up in the Realm, eh?

        Originally posted by wastevens
        On top of that
        I keep saying that I don't want to be told the specifics of what are in parts I have not yet read. Even to the extent that I'm familiar with the complaints about the First Edition Charms, and have seen diagrams of the clouds, I want that to remain stale and distant in my mind so that I can view it with fresher eyes.

        Originally posted by wastevens
        At least, that's how I remember it.
        Part of my thesis here is that how people remember the book has been distorted by time and echo chambering of narratives that weren't necessarily ingenuous takes in the first place.

        Like I said, a way in which Holden once remembered the book was blatantly inaccurate.


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        • #19
          Doh! Fair enough. Apologies ><


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          • #20
            I mean I'm all for rigorous discussion of the things that I've already covered, and my responses to them.

            Indeed, I prefer it. In its absence, it kind of makes me feel as though I'm talking to a wall and that my view count is referring only to the activity of bots.

            It's a really nagging feeling on RPG.Net when I've had threads discussing my playing of Demon's Souls and Xenoblade Chronicles (the latter is still an ongoing process and is being done blind despite the game being close to a decade old).


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            • #21
              Originally posted by Isator Levi View Post
              I mean I'm all for rigorous discussion of the things that I've already covered, and my responses to them.

              Indeed, I prefer it. In its absence, it kind of makes me feel as though I'm talking to a wall and that my view count is referring only to the activity of bots.
              Nah, I've been following along. Just got ahead of myself, and then kept going, because sleep brain is dumb ><

              OTOH, re: rigid expectations - the difference was in expectation, I think. The Dragon-Blooded were always presented as being part of the Realm, and even so there was a non-trivial amount of text dedicated to Outcastes and the like. With the Lunars- well, there was Jaguar whats-his-face in the Core, and one or two fiction pages, and the Storyteller's Guide that still had orange Sidereals. The Lunars there had no mention of the Silver Pact or any kind of larger organization; there was a very strong emphasis on every Lunar having their own territory and tolerating no interlopers. The closest thing to organization there was, was mentioning sometimes banding together to try and save a newly Exalted Lunar from the Threshold before the Hunt could get 'em. Slap tattoos on, then tell them to fuck off and find their own territory.

              People expected a higher degree of autonomy and independence with Lunars than happened, and that clash exasperated stuff-and-nonsense.


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              • #22
                Originally posted by wastevens View Post
                A lot of the *most* objectionable stuff does come from the Storytelling chapter.

                There was also something of a zeitgeist at the time of the Lunar's release, around WW books; in particular, Mage was probably at or near the zenith of the 'The Technocracy are the people keeping the light of civilization on, and the Traditions hate indoor plumbing' in terms of RPG discourse, as well as a general pushback against civilization-is-the-enemy-let's-return-to-nature-ism. (On top of that, the Lunars weren't really presented as pursuing any kind of plan, and Grabowski got... uh, cranky, when people implied they were just sitting on their thumbs waiting for the sky to cave in, but never providing clarification in text or via word of God).
                We got a fair number of posts about that, actually. People may not have liked it, and shown hang-ups about their expectations about what was necessary to stabilize Creation vs the Wyld, but the writer quotes are still floating around to this day.

                Also, a lot of folks just didn't like how *rigid* the Lunar's were presented. Especially the ritual testing / tattooing / strong implication about How To Lunar (and triple that for the Renown lifted from Werewolf). It forced a very specific set of background *stuff* that I think a lot of folks weren't interested in.
                It was generally a lot lighter than they thought, but the passages mentioning this could have done better not being buried in a section where certain other distracting passages lay.

                I still can't process the why of Renown, though. There were reasons it was in W:tA and tracked the way it was, and none of them exist in Creation. There aren't any spirits like there were in Werewolf, there isn't a structure for learning powers from them because Charms, and there's no particularly compelling reason to transfer any of this to the gods of Creation, because they're functionaries and not souls of the world. If they die, it's not an immediate existential crisis. In fact, certain regions may end up better for it.

                On top of that, there were some serious mechanical whoopsies- some are like the charm clouds with intermixed Attributes or having no Appearance charms so as to not penalize ugly totem concepts, ideas that I can squint and understand how they were made; others were like Two-Target Method (an Extra Actions Charm that is strictly worse than splitting your actions was). Not everything was that bad, but the bad ones really stood out, and there wasn't a lot of good to counter-balance them.

                At least, that's how I remember it.
                I've often thought that if the mechanics hadn't been botched so terribly, the book probably would have been way better-received. After all, Exalted: the Autochthonians was hobbled by its adventure scenarios, but it still manages to find recognition as a quality work otherwise.

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                • #23
                  Originally posted by wastevens View Post
                  OTOH, re: rigid expectations - the difference was in expectation, I think. The Dragon-Blooded were always presented as being part of the Realm, and even so there was a non-trivial amount of text dedicated to Outcastes and the like. With the Lunars- well, there was Jaguar whats-his-face in the Core, and one or two fiction pages, and the Storyteller's Guide that still had orange Sidereals.
                  I mean, their big section in the core book, placed alongside those of the other non-Solar Exalted, is pretty firm with the whole "they foreswore loyalty to the Realm and fled into the wilderness, where a lot of them became changed by the Wyld to have a more monstrous outlook, and even the ones that don't rule barbarians and hate civilization". If anything, the sourcebook softened that portrayal a bit, offering context and, dare I say it, nuance.

                  Originally posted by wastevens
                  The Lunars there had no mention of the Silver Pact or any kind of larger organization; there was a very strong emphasis on every Lunar having their own territory and tolerating no interlopers. The closest thing to organization there was, was mentioning sometimes banding together to try and save a newly Exalted Lunar from the Threshold before the Hunt could get 'em. Slap tattoos on, then tell them to fuck off and find their own territory.
                  I mean, yeah, it didn't have the Silver Pact. It's only the introductory book, what do people want from it? For that matter, what's the big objection to the Silver Pact?

                  I'll note that the core doesn't also have the stuff you're saying about having territories to which they tolerate no entry. Some of them are described as being solitary hermits, and... I guess there were people who really wanted to play those?

                  The stuff you're saying about only ever banding together to save the newly Exalted is also not in the core, nor is that degree of significance given to the tattoos yet; at this point, they're purely decorative, and associated with moon worship.

                  Do you know what else the First Edition core did not have? Seven Devil Clever, or any other references to Lunars who still, by inclination or isolation, continue to operate and even thrive in the civilized Threshold. Their sourcebook was the one that introduced that level of variety away from being Wyld monsters and rulers of barbarians.

                  It's so weird, because another thing in that Holden summary I've referenced and that I initially took as gospel was the idea that people became really attached to a portrayal in the First Edition core that the sourcebook didn't live up to. That fascinated me; it was honestly one of the big reasons that I wanted to buy that book, to find out what this initial unsullied vision of the Lunars was that never would be, before they became buried under the infamy of their barbarian sourcebook and Thousand Streams River stuff.

                  And... it was just saying that they've either become altered by the Wyld or lords of barbarians and the wilderness. I didn't have a deep-seated objection to that, but it made me really confused about precisely what Holden was talking about.

                  Originally posted by wastevens
                  People expected a higher degree of autonomy and independence with Lunars than happened, and that clash exasperated stuff-and-nonsense.
                  It seems to me that people got attached to a vision of Lunars entirely of their own fabrication, rather remarkably so for just a single year in between book publications, and then got mad at the sourcebook following the Lunars in the core (and then some, with the likes of Seven Devil Clever and other presentations that were... pretty autonomous), rather than the ones in their heads.

                  And like, I've got the Holden quote suggesting that the book had a shortcoming for portraying Lunars as animalistic loners as an obstacle to functioning as a group of three to five players, and here you seem to be telling me that was what the player base actually wanted?

                  Good Lord, no wonder Grabowski was cranky about it.

                  Unless my view of the order of events is disrupted? Have I wound up with a version of the First Edition corebook that edited things more in line with the sourcebook presentation such that I can't actually see what formed the original outrage, Dreams of the First Age style?




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                  • #24
                    Please keep up your review.
                    I don't have the same bad memories of Lunars, but then again did not play them (although the folk that did seemed to like them). So your read-through is very interesting to me.

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                    • #25
                      Originally posted by Isator Levi View Post
                      For that matter, what's the big objection to the Silver Pact?
                      Having Uka the Boar as the book's example of the Silver Pact mentorship was a really bad idea.



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                      • #26
                        Will everyone please stop tainting the experiment? No talking about parts of the book he hasn't read yet.

                        I've been enjoying Isator's efforts to give the original Lunar book a critical retrospective.

                        If I can patiently follow this without feeling any need to defend my past opinions, can't you?
                        Last edited by Sunder the Gold; 04-06-2019, 09:38 AM.


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                        • #27
                          Originally posted by Sunder the Gold View Post
                          Will everyone please stop tainting the experiment? No talking about parts of the book he hasn't read yet.

                          I've been enjoying Isator's efforts to give the original Lunar book a critical retrospective.

                          If I can patiently follow this without feeling any need to defend my past opinions, can't you?
                          Yah. I apologize for the digressions from last night.


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                          • #28
                            He's already gotten to Uka.
                            Originally posted by Isator Levi View Post
                            So, proper start to Chapter Two: The Lunars. It starts off unusually with another fiction piece, of a new young Lunar being chased by Uka the Boar so that he can explain to her what she is and bring her into the fold. It had me as an interesting piece to convey the experience of a fresh Exalt in being recruited by an elder, but loses me a little bit in the manner of the circumstances of the Exaltation having been from Uka attacking her village, for which he is not remorseful, and even somewhat mocking. I’m not against characters in the setting having problem values, I just wonder a bit at the intended tone when it seems to veer from him being a kind of inspiring presence to her declaring him as her sworn enemy.


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                            • #29
                              I know it's off-topic, but... orange Sidereals?


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                              • #30
                                Originally posted by The Wizard of Oz View Post
                                I know it's off-topic, but... orange Sidereals?
                                Original colour of the Maiden of Endings.


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