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  • Isator Levi
    started a topic Late reading of Exalted: the Lunars

    Late reading of Exalted: the Lunars

    All right, going to finally give the infamous Exalted: the Lunars a first hand look. I'd like to thank the generosity of BrilliantRain in providing a gift card towards its purchase. Going to try and do it in a style that I am totally stealing from somebody else who was looking over some older White Wolf books (mostly to try and give a sense of restrained structure that doesn’t leave me going over every fine detail for weeks).

    Just as a little disclaimer, it’s my intention to try and meet the book halfway, by way of reading it in terms that don’t condemn its picture of the Lunar Exalted from the outset. I’m going to try and look at things in terms of how well it presented and sold that vision, and reserve judgement unless it does a really bad job of presenting it in an appealing manner.


    So, Exalted: the Lunars. Written by Bryan Armor, Chris Hartford, James Kiley, Ethan Skemp, Scott Taylor, and Malcolm Sheppard. I’m actually a lot more familiar with Malcolm from his writing on Mage: the Awakening and general New World of Darkness stuff, and interacted with him a decent amount back when I spent more time in the other forums. I have a lot of respect for his style, and think I can guess at exactly the terms in which he’d argue against how people received this book, which I wouldn’t entirely disagree with in principle. As with First Edition Dragon-Blooded and Sidereals, was developed by Geoff Grabowski and edited by John Chambers. One last note on the credits is how this one, distinct from those other two, refers to a trio of contributors for “Charm Assistance”; given what I know of what the Lunar Charms were like, I wonder if that work consisted of anything like helping to straighten out their arrangement.

    Book is actually a good deal shorter than those two were, so I’ll be interested in seeing if anything winds up feeling distinctly cut down. In fact, just going to compare lengths in the table of contents… Dragon Blooded obviously has the longest in its setting and Exalted chapters, seeing as the former was a detailed description of the history, the institutions of the Realm and the Blessed Isle, and the latter covering the Great Houses, the lives of Dynasts, the secondary schools and a bit of what’s going on with sorcerers. The setting chapters for Sidereals and Lunars are about the same, but the Exalted one for the latter is a bit shorter (mind, the Sidereal one is also covering the Bureau of Destiny in detail). Traits chapters are all about the same length (although the Dragon Blooded one is actually the shortest), but the Lunar Charms chapter is actually the longest out of all of them (and the Sidereal one was pulling double duty for having a bunch of their Martial Arts). There’s a chapter on the Wyld which is about as long as the comparative ones for Immaculate Martial Arts and Sidereal Astrology, which has me wondering how cohesive it will be in comparison to those chapters. Aaaaand the Storytelling chapters are about the same length. So there’s probably not much significance to the shorter length, just a matter of how they’re different to the more organised Exalted.

    I want to make a quick note on the front and back covers. I actually think the front does a good job; whatever my feelings about the character of Strength-of-Many, his design about conveys the image I think the book is going for (and I think things like his build and expression make him look a bit less extreme than the brick shithouse that tended to show up in Second Edition). I also like the mural behind him; I think the colours are cool and crisp, and the way that they slot together and flow has a nice look to it, as well as having some distinct looking and colourful characters to it (one standing out particularly being a serpentine Lunar wearing a big red robe). The blurb to the book actually feels like it’s on the kind of point that Third Edition came around to; it focuses on the Realm from the perspective of exploited outsiders, the Lunars being held back from vengeance, and the opportunity presented by the Age of Sorrows to let them lead their in taking some of that wealth back. That feels like it would have been a good introduction to the Lunars, particularly as a contrast to how the blurbs of the other two books frame the Realm, I’m just guessing that the contents won’t quite follow that lead.

    Just as a last note before getting to those contents, I do like how the inner cover represents the Lunars with a curved, spiralling character, in contrast to the High Realm titles used in the others.

    All right, the opening fiction, and it’s Lilith again. I knew she would show up at least once, just didn’t expect it to be so soon (makes sense with her being a prominent named Lunar from the core, though). It’s covering the matter of her catching up to her reincarnated mate, introduced now as Swan, and I like how it ties their respective fictions from the core together by making the spirit who gave Lilith her lead be the wood spider that Swan tricked and bound in its cave. It’s got some nice language describing the manner in which she’s employing shapeshifting to follow and test him, and the elaboration on her experience with her prior mate is… interesting. There’s still a bit of physical abuse there, but it’s not the sole point of the dynamic, which sounds like it has a certain complexity to it. The impression I’m getting here is that they opted to present the hurt of Lilith’s past as having come from the intensity of long association with such an extreme and powerful personality, and I can see some merits to that. It also characterizes part of Lilith’s reason for becoming an owl as having been a form of guilt for what had caused the downfall of the First Age, which… actually has a couple of points above how she’s characterised in Fangs at the Gate, if I’m being honest. And it has a whole talk about the burden that the oldest Lunars bear for having lived to see the Old Realm utterly collapse into ruin… damn, there’s some good stuff here. I don’t want to jump the gun, but why isn’t this what the book as a whole is like?

    The rest of it is about Lilith travelling through some ruins and reflecting a bit on the memory of them, reflecting on the Solars as a whole and what’s to be done with them in the future, and a bit of contemptuous examination of the part of the gods in leading the Realm to its destruction, with her own plans for recruiting gods to try and put together a more guided and restrained form of Solar rule. That leads to a bit of a montage of Lilith ranging around the North and East, feeling out various spirits for any assistance they might provide, leading up to her coming to the house of Jorst; I can see where this is going, but I think there’s some nice imagery to his mansion’s ornamentation and court, and I like that idea that she’s presenting herself with her own face, but a flimsy cover story. Ah, and I recognise Jorst’s line to her about the Sidereals having promised him extra holidays in exchange for setting up an ambush, I always liked that bit and I like seeing it elaborated on a bit here. It ends a bit abruptly, but in a manner I think effectively makes the point about how she was underestimated.

    This is a pretty good opening fiction, for the manner in which it portrays the experience of being an old Lunar, in terms of how they relate to their shapeshifting and their perspective on the transition in the world. I like how it characterizes Lilith as not merely fixated on figuring out her reincarnated mate, but expanding from that to some considerations for the future of the Solar Exalted and the world as a whole, and how she’s independently and proactively trying to make plans around that. It feels distinctively like it’s setting up a certain tone for what the place of the Lunars in the world is, that is compelling and unique to them, and never mind what the rest of the book says, why in ten years of Lunar discussions have I never once heard anybody cite this as a direction to follow?!

    And this opening is now… rather lengthy. I’ll beg a bit of indulgence for this part, just for the sake of analysing its introductions of the Lunar Exalted as a possible contrast to what the rest of the book does (as well as giving dues to what I think the book gets right). I already intended to break this up into a couple of posts, so I’ll just see what the Introduction chapter has to say as a formal summary of the book, before putting the break in there.



    Well, a quick aside to note this chapter fiction that is clear from the example of First Edition’s slightly rougher, somewhat manga-inspired style is concerned with Seven Devil Clever dealing with some monks. Huh, looks like the Fangs fiction starting with her hiding out in the river was a callback; catfish form and all. The tone here is a bit different, with a bit of focus on the perspective of an Exalt residing in Nexus, some of her interactions with Silver Pact elders (who are described as just smiling knowingly at her casual attitude to continuing to operate in a major city near to the Realm) and a few reflections on her own character. This is another nice fiction for contrasting the last one with a much younger Lunar, getting a bit at the plight they face in the Threshold, and hinting at a certain playful dynamic in the Silver Pact.

    All right, the introduction. Expanding on all of the stuff with Lilith, the premise given here is that the Lunars initially saw the end of the First Age as an opportunity to seek freedom in the wilderness, but over the centuries grew somewhat disillusioned in their change in status and circumstance, and wondering if they weren’t manipulated by the Sidereals. These are contrasted against the ones who’ve lived their whole lives in the Second Age, and those are the ones who are referred to as viewing themselves as enemies of civilization. There’s an interesting dynamic proposed between the two; that the length of the age has led to a lot of the prior generation dying out, resulting in becoming outnumbered by ones who are more directly hostile, with a particular idea that the enthusiasm of the youths is something that the elders had restrained, and the Time of Tumult represents a moment where their capacity to do so is slipping away. But there’s also a note on how elders are starting to raise armies for the sake of making war on the exposed Realm, and I’m not sure whether or not to read that as a contradiction or idea that their hand is being forced… if I was reading this fresh to my usual standards, I would probably give the benefit of the doubt and see it as the latter. There’s also a point on how the end of the Age provides an opportunity for the younger Lunars to engage in deeds of renown to match the stature of their forebears.

    It also adds a point about how the Fair Folk and Deathlords are becoming more active, and that those are adding complications to the agendas of Lunars at large, since there are those who see it as a necessity and a duty to instead focus their attentions on dealing with those newer threats. It finally brings in a line about decadent weaklings contrasted against the true heroism of the Lunars, but in context (in particular, when it’s identifying those weaklings with the Scarlet Dynasty), that’s… not altogether bad as a premise for how they would perceive the Realm and why they would want to focus on otherworldly threats. Last there’s a point about how some of these divisions have Lunars fighting to greater or lesser extent, and a final bit of posturing about the potential for achieving either great material success and reputation or being left dead and unremembered, with a line of “it’s the lot of the weak to fall beneath the tread of history, while all that matters is for the strong to rise to fame and power”, buuuuttt I can’t really find myself objecting to it, for two main reasons. One, like I said before, it’s the tone that the book is going for, and it’s not bad in its own right. Two, here it’s characterizing “the weak” as failed Lunars, so it feels like more of a thesis for themselves than the world as a whole (I find something about the language of trying to seek fame helps the medicine go down). Some of the points are conveyed a bit by an accompanying art piece, in which an individual (possibly a Dynast, going by his armour) is fleeing in terror from a beastly Lunar in ornate armour and roaring.

    I’ve got to admit, I don’t think it’s an altogether terrible setup for the Lunar Exalted. I do actually think there’s something compelling in a significant demarcation between Lunars on both sides of the Usurpation, and that the younger are seeing the new world as an opportunity to acquire the prestige of and break free from the former (who seem to largely be concerned with trying to get some of the comforts of the First Age back). And the idea that there are conflicted priorities based on the rising threat of Fair Folk and the dead, and a view that the Realm is not up to meeting those challenges. I think that a good group can be made from this introduction, so I’ll give props to that as well.

    Just looking over the chapter breakdowns, and noticing something that I missed from never giving them a second glance in the other books; how the description of the character creation chapters contain short notes suggesting how compatible they are with games of the Solar Exalted (here said to be fairly close and not too much trouble to integrate, in contrast to Sidereals that are close but have a distinct milieu that doesn’t mix well, and Dragon Blooded being lower enough that mixed-games need to be very carefully considered).

    And the lexicon contains a few subjects of interest: for instance, that “chimera” was initially a term referring more to Lunars like Lilith living primarily by instinct, with the alterations to their natural shape just being an extension of that. Huh, this is a point at which “hybrid form” is actually used to refer to that state rather than “war form”, even if Deadly Beastman Transformation is still the Charm to achieve it. It still has some of that early idea of Luna being primarily viewed in terms of a consort to Gaia, with dedication to her (I’m going to use the pronoun as employed in this book just for the sake of clarity) as a many-faced trickster, night sorceress and fearsome warrior queen being distinct to the Lunar Exalted, introducing the point about personal attendance during each Exaltation (as well as the possibility of a few later interactions), with that creating a lasting impression and a particular degree of dedication (with herself being noted to see the Lunars in a more familial manner rather than treating them as tools); it’s interesting to see that idea being brought in like this. Still has that point about it being possible to become shape locked by spending Essence, hence the distinction of “natural shapes”. What stands out in particular are the descriptions of the Silver Pact and so-called Silver Way: for the former, it’s described not just as a secret society for the mutual self-protection of Lunars, but describes their acquisition of the newly Exalted specifically in terms of kidnapping; that’s morally dubious, but would kind of make sense as a basis for them more uniformly being out past the Threshold (in addition to the motivating factor of wanting safety from the Wyld Hunt), as well as an added source of tension between younger Lunars and their elders. And the latter is referred to basically as the ideology of the Pact, a code of bravery, generosity and honour that Lunars many Lunars seek to live by, achievement within which grants rank and voice in the Pact as a whole. What strikes my interest is how generosity is one of those, and what it could mean for their pursuits within their own milieu (still noting how one of the other lexicon entries points out that the Silver Way is not considered to be necessarily extended to other Exalted or urbanised people). Sprinkled around these are a few pieces of terminology for Silver Pact rank, lifestyle points for the “barbarian” societies, and a reminder that at the early stages of the game line, “Wyld” was supposed to be a term that the Realm and Threshold used to refer to parts of the world they judged to be ungoverned in addition to the primal chaos.

    Sooo it’s err, it’s not a bad introduction. Like, it at least gives me a solid picture of what Lunars could be and what they’re about in the setting; I have no questions about what it’s trying to say, and think that what it’s trying to say has some potential. I’ll again note that I think there’s something compelling in the contrasting viewpoints suggested between different generations of Lunars.

  • marin
    replied
    Originally posted by 99wattr89 View Post
    Which edition's Lunars book is this thread about? First edition?
    Yeah, it's 1e's.

    Leave a comment:


  • 99wattr89
    replied
    Which edition's Lunars book is this thread about? First edition?

    Leave a comment:


  • Sunder the Gold
    replied
    I always found it odd how the Silver Way is treated as a purpose or mission statement, when all I remember it being is a set of tenets/laws for how Lunars of the Silver Pact are supposed to behave.

    Leave a comment:


  • Isator Levi
    replied
    All right, finishing off the Traits chapter.

    Going to skip right over the description of the most basic anima powers, and on to their version of the Great Curse. It’s honestly not very good; the whole opening about how it damns Lunars to degenerate into beasts and made it impossible to feel fully at home in human society might have had potential, but I’ll get to that. What’s really weird is the manner in which it is triggered; getting points of Limit from suppressing primary Virtue is all well and good, but the full moon thing is here, and it’s actually stranger than it was in Second Edition, since exposure to it doesn’t just make you have to roll to add points of Limit. A Willpower roll needs to be made, and if it botches then the Curse is triggered immediately and lasts for the night, while if it succeeds… each success equals an hour that the Curse can be held off, before it triggers. So if one is struck by the full moon’s light early enough in the night, there’s no getting away from the Curse. No basis is given for this, no sense of connection or provocation, and it has very little to do with the mythology associated with the actual Full Moon Caste. It’s not very evocative of the personalities of Lunar characters, and is overall strangely impersonal. Kind of makes Limit accumulation from Virtues feel a bit redundant.

    Same goes with the actual specific forms of the Curse (it’s never deigned to be given a name such as Virtue Flaw), as there’s only one for each primary Virtue. The specifics… aren’t exactly terrible, but I don’t quite find them to live up to the premise of being reduced to beasts; you’ve got becoming indecisive, submissive and risk-averse (Compassion), inconsiderate and merciless in the face of vulnerability (Conviction), impulsive and indulgent in the extreme (Temperence), and short-tempered and belligerent (Valor). They’re not terrible as premises for a kind of ironic inversion, but even if that was what they set out to be they end up feeling very bare bones next to the Solar one. The Valor form also has an unpleasant use of the term “autistic” in describing how uncommunicative the Lunar is rendered. I don’t know, the whole thing falls flat to me.

    Hmm, anima banner information feels especially disjointed, since this is where the point about form lock is placed. As for the concept itself, I was never as averse to the premise as most people were, but I can see how it felt contrary to the idea of shapeshifting Exalted. But that’s purely retrospective, in context it’s just another detail.
    Last of all is Status and Face. This begins with a statement that Lunars have an almost instinctual perception of status in general, and a quality that compels them to continuously test peers to figure out relative standing, something described as likely enhanced by upbringing in a culture where rulers needed to continuously demonstrate worth through deeds and gifts. When it comes to relations between Lunars, their own natures and the manner in which they’re scattered throughout the world’s wilderness makes a more formal kind of society impossible, so status is denoted by deeds of strength and wisdom. Yyyyeah I think this section is gilding the lily a bit, to the point that the setup doesn’t quite read to me as making the intended point. I think it would be enough to just state what they value without the backing of “it’s necessary because they can’t maintain something more complex”.

    Anyway, Face is described as primarily (but not exclusively) denoting perceived dedication to the Silver Way, and needs to be earned by personal deeds rather than proximity to another. It’s a measure of respect, so high Face Lunars can be honoured by others even when not particularly liked or otherwise cared for, and there’s no inherent censure to lower Face Lunars openly disagreeing with or disobeying another (although the slighted Lunars themselves might take exception to it and respond accordingly). Last is a statement of how it’s only a form of status among Lunars, although again the example is odd and seems to go on a tangent, with the idea of a Lunar who lives in the Scavenger Lands despite the disapproval of peers. In any case, Lunars with no Face at all are not welcome among fellows, although not persecuted otherwise.

    Next is a description of each of the levels: lowest is the urrach-ya, the ‘nonperson’, denoting Lunars who have abandoned the Silver Way as well as the general attitude for civilized people (which seems contrary to the idea that this is only for assessing Lunars). They aren’t afforded any mercy or respect from other Lunars, if not subjects of outright hostility, and might be subjected to severe exiles to the Wyld when among them (or at least slain without regard for blood-pacts if it comes to that); rising out of this status requires the witness of other Lunars due to perceived untrustworthiness, which is difficult due to typically being shunned. Face proper begins with the nain-ya rank, or ‘kin’, for the newly Exalted who don’t yet pay much more than lip service to the Way, seen as being worthy of leniency but little respect; it’s generally viewed as a state to grow out of, and those who remain at it for years form the bottom rung of Lunar society, and are viewed as irresponsible. It’s said that human barbarians might be viewed in an equivalent manner, although entailing less leeway for straying, while Lunars who came from the civilized Threshold are seen as permissible for taking longer to rise out of it due to the upbringing they need to overcome.

    Uf-ya is the status of the honoured, the expected rank of Lunars who have learned the tenets of the Silver Way and started making a name for themselves, and an acceptable ceiling for Lunars to rise to. It’s said that characters will often fluctuate between that and ikth-ya, the respected, being those who have gone above and beyond expectations by way of deeds such as commanding in war or other feats of distinct heroism; it’s a rank for those who can instruct and command, with valuable (but not undeniable) counsel, while still having others to defer to.

    Getting to the top is murr-ya, the revered, for those who have demonstrated a dedication to the Silver Way despite personal cost and sacrifice to oneself. For this they become viewed as particularly auspicious attendees of a new initiate’s trials, and as wise counsellors and great heroes have the authority to command many others. The pinnacle are the shahan-ya, ‘the greatest’, Lunars who have secured the reverence of a prophet or emperor by honouring the Silver Way even in the face of almost certain death or terrible evils, as well as consistent proof of strength, courage and wisdom. From this they become somebody whose statements are considered to almost be equivalent to direct pronouncements from Luna. It’s emphasized who rare Lunars of that rank are, and the elevation of a new one is treated as cause for celebration throughout their society.

    With the ranks described, it moves on to how one goes about obtaining them, by means of the Renown trait (which is distinct from the Renown Background). It appears that this is where things start getting a bit complicated: Renown comes in four categories, which correspond to the Virtues mixed in with some barbarian value. Each one runs up to one hundred points, with new Lunar characters beginning with twenty to divide between categories. When a Lunar achieves a significant and impressive deed in pursuit of a Virtue, the Virtue is rolled (possibly with bonus dice if the achievement was especially noteworthy), and each success becomes a new point of Renown in the corresponding category. Likewise, transgressing against a Virtue can call for a roll whose successes result in loss of Renown. A point is made here of how higher Virtue ratings thus make it easier to gain and lose status, justified in terms of how greater force of personality creates stronger expectations, and failing to live up to them spreads word from those disappointed or eager for your downfall.

    Each of the Renown categories is then described, with some examples of deeds that might call for them to be raised. Succor links to Compassion, measuring the Silver Way values of generosity or justice; it rises for things such as risking one’s life to save another, granting one’s own prized belongings to another in need, or taking pains to help a rival Lunar, and dropping for displays of needless cruelty or betrayal of guests. Mettle goes with Conviction, showing a capacity to endure hardship and willingness to take harsh measures in pursuit of the well-being of one’s people; it can rise for any display of endurance, fortitude and a willingness to undertake some grim necessity, while it’s risked from being too merciful to dangerous enemies, unwilling to take hard stops or buckling in the face of suffering. Cunning is the province of cleverness and self-control, showing Lunars to be more than mindless brutes, and connects to Temperance (something I view as the most tenuous, speaking to the shaky foundations of that Virtue); it goes up for managing to see through enemy traps and deceits and laying one’s own in turn, resisting wiles and effectively managing fickle spirits, and down for succumbing to temptations (especially to decadence) or acting rashly. Last is Glory, expressed from Valor, covering bravery, battle prowess and honour; testing oneself against and defeating dangerous opponents, resisting sorceries and general daring can lead to its rise, while it can drop as a result of retreat, letting an insult pass or turning down fair challenges.

    There’s a sidebar along the way that connects levels of Face (two per rank) to the minimum total quantities of Renown required to attain each of them, as well as a number of other requirements for certain levels; things such as having defeated equal foes, not having any Attributes below a certain value, and age minimums. The two Face levels of shahan-ya are the most onerous; in addition to requiring more than three hundred Renown points, the first requires having collected one hundred blood-debts from other Lunars, and the very highest needs Luna herself to have praised one’s deeds before an assembly of elders. This dovetails into the description of how to raise Face. Unlike acquiring Renown, it isn’t a mechanical process, just a description of the social procedure; once the minimum requirements are achieved, a Lunar calls together a gathering of peers and boasts of their deeds (or has a credible witness do it on their behalf). There’s also some advice on the specifics of how such activity might be undertaken; things like how the gathering needs to be worth the while of those attending, often with lavish gifts and feasts, and ideas on how the stories ought to be more poetic and epic than merely recounting the facts in detail, as well as the notion that, in boasting of action against enemies, humiliation will often be more lauded than death. If the attendees are suitably impressed or amused, they voice approval and then return to their homes and relay what they’ve heard among Lunar society; this is regarded as increasing Face, rather than needing some ritual confirmation.

    Likewise there’s a description of losing Face, although it ends up much simpler; merely dropping Renown before the minimum level required for each rank is considered sufficient for word of one’s disgrace to spread. There’s also a recommendation for Storyteller’s to use discretion in calling for loss of Face even if Renown remains high enough for it, such as for especially egregious betrayals of the Silver Way or actions such as abuse of one’s charges and refusing to honour debts, as well as offences that concern Lunars as a whole or Luna herself. There’s also a reminder that Face can drop through extended inaction, although it’s phrased in terms of garnering a reputation for laziness or cowardice rather than becoming forgotten or boring.

    Finally is the manner in which Face is respected, which is actually fairly simple; when Lunars who know one another meet, the lower ranked one is expected to make some minor sign of submission (if of equal rank it ends up being mutually exchanged), while unfamiliar Lunars are expected to examine one another for the Tell and other identifying characteristics to figure one another out, at which point they’re supposed to know their relative ranks through reputation and act accordingly; to be required or require another to introduce oneself and state their rank outright is meant to be something shameful.

    Face and Renown… I think they’re interesting concepts, and they’re reasonably fitting to this overall milieu of the Lunar Exalted. I particularly like the description of the events around having one’s status increased and the little touches of roleplaying advice. The problem is that it’s a little bit shaky on whether it’s exclusive to Lunars or not, and the biggest thing is how it entails way too much bookkeeping. The whole idea of continuously needing to track whether or not actions call for a check to add or subtract points, not to mention the sheer quantity of them… it not only strikes me as a severe burden, but it makes the prospect of the upper levels of rank seem like more of an exercise in tedium than especially renowned achievement. It doesn’t help that the consequences for achieving ranks seems fairly sparse. And if I’m being honest, the idea that one’s Renown is expected to spread so rapidly and efficiently through Lunar society seems at odds with earlier descriptions of how they organise and communicate. I’d push the idea that Lunars can reliably call meetings and have some of their neighbours turn up, but the idea that every Lunar within a Direction is supposed to recognise one another and know the status conferred by their peers… I can’t reconcile that. It’s an idea that I like in theory, but think that it falters in some of the details.

    The very last part of the chapter is a sidebar on Lunar regeneration. It makes a point of how, between the properties of their hybrid form and the power of the Halting the Scarlet Flow Charm, which are capable of functioning even if a Lunar is in their dying health level, Lunars are particularly difficult to kill since many can be in a state of rapid healing. It seems like an odd place to put it in the chapter, but at least gives Lunars some more distinct flavour and a touch of the formidable (as well as maybe a bit of context for how much they’re willing to risk themselves or one another).

    Leave a comment:


  • Isator Levi
    replied
    All right, time to finally get a move on. The Traits chapter opens with a picture depicted at a Dutch angle and set in what looks like a medieval dining hall, showing an unfamiliar young woman with her hands behind her back presiding over a couple of haggard men seated opposite a monstrous person, while the table is laden with things such as a candle entwined with a snake and a bowl containing a rough-faced human head. It turns out that this is Raksi (wearing the skin of a long dead princess) entertaining some petitioners from the Silver Pact. We get a bit of information about Sperimin and (particularly) Mahalanka, such as how Raksi permits the structures to become decrepit and personally mars the ones that are imperishable because she won’t tolerate any beauty within the city exceeding her own. There are some details on Raksi’s followers attending the feast (said to consist of boiled babies and cured hams from young men and women), such as how in contrast to her they prefer to maintain their hybrid shapes to present themselves as a menagerie of horrors fit to terrify even Tiger Warriors; one of them, an ape totem said to be dressed in concealing silk veils, is named as Raksi’s boon companion, reviled in Heaven as an eater of gods, but a lieutenant whom she trusts as a brother.

    And of course there is Raksi herself. For one thing, her stance is attributed to a habit of coyly concealing her backwards bending claws behind her back. The main focus of the passage is of her regards for the visiting Silver Pact elders (who are described as disgusted by her meal but unwilling to deny the hospitality behind it). They’re said to be there seeking advice in war that she’s fully ready to provide once they sample her table (and possibly after soliciting sex from some), despite being said to not really understand the Silver Pact. Her main assessment of the group is that, while they’re worshipful of her and she’s accepting that, she finds that to just be a stance they put on while trying to manipulate her. This is described as reflecting her outlook on the Pact, and even barbarian peoples as a whole; that they’re too sophisticated, too calculating and formal to truly internalize the wisdom of the Silver Way, and thus can only ever treat it as a means to an end. She’s not really concerned by it as it doesn’t distract from her educating herself with the Book of Three Circles, but still looks to share her supposed insight with them, even while doubting their capacity to learn.
    It’s interesting to see a piece getting into this version of Raski, considering how I’ve had complaints and relief about no direct depiction of the Second Edition version. As I said before, I think it’s okay for Raksi to be a bastard, and I do find something interesting in this idea of her viewing herself as lacking in pretence, if only as the world view of a character such as that. And I like how it rounds her out a bit with a reference to her having a positive and trusting relationship with somebody (even if he’s not a very nice person either). And there’s the basis for a compelling dynamic in the idea that she’s a magnetic and educating figure among Lunars who is willing to respond to them in hopes that they’ll learn her perspective (while she doesn’t seem to make that level of commitment a condition). I’d say that this fits as a chapter fiction depicting this Edition’s version of her.


    Now for the meat of the chapter. First up are some altered Backgrounds, justified on the basis of Lunars and barbarians often coming from a significantly different cultural context. Artifact is not so much changed as contextualized, with a description of how moonsilver can possibly change form with a shapeshifting Lunar, reiterating their possessiveness of the metal and things made from it, and describing how this can extend to younger Lunars, possibly requiring a bit of backstory as to why a player is considered worthy to own a piece. Backing is described as an uncommon Background for non-Casteless Lunars, owing to little interest in engaging with groups besides tribe and Silver Pact, and Followers are said to be primarily barbarians and beastmen. Possessing the Manse Background (said to almost always consist of a Celestial aspect due to Silver Pact possession and conversion) is given as typically being the result of seizing a manse from another power or having done service (with a few samples) for an elder rewarded by the right to attune one. The Mentor Background has a bit more of a significant revision, owing to the idea that all young Lunars have some manner of elder teacher; rather than dots connoting the power of the mentor, they represent the degree to which an elder Lunar is involved in the player character’s life, and what kind of proximity they have (with a reminder that even the closest relationships won’t have an elder solving one’s problems for one).

    There’s a sidebar describing how literacy works in these circumstances (requires an extra dot of Lore than the norm, with barbarians at only one dot assumed to learn through things like songlines), and then the introduction of what was then a new Background, Cult. The basic outline is what became familiar throughout Second Edition, but some of the framing is different. For instance, it’s compared to the Manse Background as a source of Essence (less powerful, but sturdier in the face of opposition), and it clarifies how worshippers don’t need to actually like the character so long as they perform the proper rites (although positive feelings are said to stand up better in the event of a hostile political climate). Solar players starting with the Background is said to be odd enough to require Storyteller permission, and the very highest-ranking Dragon Blooded are said to possess some dots owing to secular veneration of all things. Other than that, the only difference is that the top levels were not described as summoning Wyld Hunts (although the pinnacle is said to be something that will require competing with other gods). I can’t imagine what it was like to newly introduce this concept that the Exalted could be fuelled by worship, but I will say that I appreciate how this rendition laid out a few points clearly.

    Heart’s Blood is more or less the familiar format, although it happens to include a note on how the consumed blood needs to be drink directly from the prey’s heart or throat, as well as how hunting other Lunars is limited to only their human and totem shape. It also conveniently provides a breakdown of the Charms required to have access to human, large and small shapes, and it is “strongly recommended” that the Background be limited to animals from the Lunar’s local region (if an exception is provided it needs to take the form of a separate purchase of the Background). Heart’s Blood does double duty for human shapes if the character has the proper Charm, although it also requires the Background to be bought separately with that focus (here I’ll admit that I never gave a close enough look before to the Second Edition version, and missed how it made no distinction between human, animal or otherwise for the shapes added towards one’s library).

    Last of the new Backgrounds is Renown. It provides a brief description of the kinds of deeds that lead to rank and status among Lunars, with dots in the Background representing a young Lunar whose rite of passage or other early exploits had a particular distinction. It’s said to be important for player and Storyteller to collaborate on determining the specifics of those deeds and the traits they evinced, and there’s a warning that high Renown should come with pressure to continuously outdo oneself. Mechanically, dots in the background provide additional starting points that go towards calculating Face (more on that in a bit). I’ll say that, if nothing else, this one at least sets the stage for characters navigating the intricacies and obligations of Lunar society.

    There’s a sidebar providing ideas on what animals are to be found in each region, and then it’s the Caste write-ups. Full Moon is first… mythic background is given as the moon that shines openly in all of her power and glory, corresponding to Lunars who are direct and straightforward. Described as getting by with the power to batter down all obstacles, dynamos of endless energy and paragons of development, that radiates strength even when at rest. They’re called the greatest warriors of the Silver Pact, with an emphasis on how as they get older, they’re liable to develop a variety of fluid battle styles tailored to hone on enemy weaknesses, and that outside of battle they’ll still hone their prowess with the likes of hunts and (more interesting to me) things like intense physical labour or journeying into harsh wilderness. The trials attributed to them follow those cues, such as how they prove themselves not just with beating enemies or prey to death with bare hands, but carving it up with rapid blade work or pursuit until exhaustion, as well as dealing with treks through wilderness through sheer endurance. There’s a nice accompanying quote about the inability of chains to hold or walls to contain, and that when freedom is acquired the Lunar will come for their captor first, and I think the picture of Strength of Many in his war form looks good, nicely shaded and solid while having an angular face that conveys a firm resolve.

    The mythos given behind the Changing Moon is how Luna’s phase twisting and shifting over time constitutes deception and misdirection to hide her true face, aligning with Exalted that get by with stealth, cunning and manipulation to guide others to pursue their ends. They’re thus the Silver Pacts premier spies, assassins and leaders, with a talent for getting into places where they don’t belong and bending others to their will, often establishing them as tribal leaders and urban gang commanders, or else just being completely invisible. In keeping with the idea that all Lunars have martial talents, it also describes them as masters of guerrilla warfare as well as premier army commanders; they’re also effective as scouts and infiltrators, able to get into enemy camps unseen or seducing information from dupes. There’s an odd little point about how their commonality in the Threshold means that they’re viewed as being more common than the other two (going by the prior chapter… are they not?), and the trials that mark them consist of things like undermining foes through trickery, bringing down prey with stealth and traps and impressing spirits with grace and charm. I didn’t mention any of the Full Moon extras because they’re in common with Second Edition, but I want to note that the Changing Moon anima power for disguise is described as being unable to be sustained through direct physical activity such as combat or sex, not changing the character’s scent or voice, and that it doesn’t work on the Fair Folk. The illustration of Red Jaws looks a bit more lean, elfin and catlike than the familiar wolf-man, but I like the accompanying quote of “the beasts of nature have a thousand faces. Which of them do you think is mine?”

    The introduction of the No Moons is a bit more purple than the others after giving the mythos of Luna using full concealment as an opportunity for contemplation and experimentation, with things like describing them as having eyes that are deep pools of forgotten lore and hidden secrets. Then the description of their place in society puts far too much significance on their value as sorcerers, although it does still have the point about how they’re the prime storytellers and lore keepers, often having to rely on empowered memory. Following from their setup as more organised than the other Castes, there’s a description of practices when they’re gathered in council, with youngest members required to demonstrate their capabilities through reciting stories, answering difficult questions and solving complex riddles, in order to continuously hone them for the role of arbitrator and advisor. They’re also said to favour pastimes such as mock combat and target shooting for developing awareness and reaction time, and are expected to be capable of recognizing oncoming threats and adapting to variable circumstances. Trials are said to be dealt with by quick thinking or mystical insight, such as defeating enemies with superior tactics or navigating dangerous situations with comprehension of surroundings, as well as binding or warding ghost or gods. There’s a fun quote in which wisdom is compared to a pretty bird (beautiful to see and to eat), but I find the illustration of Anja to be inferior; a bit too stylized towards a lollipop physique, if you get my meaning.

    I find the No Moon write-up to be the weakest of them, but overall think they’re fairly decent descriptions of how the Castes live and what they’re about. The Changing Moon one in particular stands out to me, as I find it does a good job of making them compelling and sinister, and appreciate how it doesn’t have any concern whatsoever for the lost Castes.

    Aaaaand one for the Casteless. It really just reiterates the backstory of the Castes in general (finally stating that exposure to the Wyld caused even the pre-existing Castes to warp and need to be re-fixed in the new template). It does at least provide a brief description of Lunars who go without Caste, but in terms of ones cut off from society and stranded amongst the Threshold, needing to take up with whatever they can manage and generally deficient; there’s no sense that anybody would elect to that existence.

    For a reason that I cannot fathom, there’s an introductory description of Castes in general that is placed at the end of this. It’s a bit odd to me; it opens with a comparison to Solars by saying that their Castes are divided along aspects of leadership (which… they’re not), and says that the First Age Castes were similarly divided along the lines of war (which seems rather limiting). I do like the Second Age ones being referred to as different applications of survival instinct, though.

    There’s a bit of the chapter left, but I’m going to just take a break here because I want to get something out on The Realm before the end of the day.

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  • Isator Levi
    replied
    Okay, so, the backer preview copy of The Realm has come out, and caught me a bit off guard. I'd like to read it in my usual manner, which would end up entailing putting this on hold.

    Probably not for very long, mind, but still.

    What I'll do is finish and post my look at the Lunars Traits chapter today, and then transfer attention to the new book.

    Leave a comment:


  • Isator Levi
    replied
    Originally posted by Saur Ops Specialist View Post
    Going back to critiques by former developers, while Holden did dunk on 1e Lunars a bit, I recall a thread in part lost to a forum software error (around 2011, I think) that absolutely ripped into the presentation of 2e Lunars all around. The elders that are terrible forwards and backwards, the factions that make no sense, the inability of the TSR to actually do anything but steal cheap heat... I may be misremembering, but it seems that while 1e was a low point, 2e in that light was presented as even worse. That's before you even get into the 2e Nameless Lair and its Ma-Ha-Suchi; while it might have taken a bit of time, it seems that 2e was intent on making Lunars go from tepid to 1st Chapter Infernals.
    Recollection of that thread informed my question after reading the First Edition descriptions of the First Age elders.

    Leave a comment:


  • Saur Ops Specialist
    replied
    Going back to critiques by former developers, while Holden did dunk on 1e Lunars a bit, I recall a thread in part lost to a forum software error (around 2011, I think) that absolutely ripped into the presentation of 2e Lunars all around. The elders that are terrible forwards and backwards, the factions that make no sense, the inability of the TSR to actually do anything but steal cheap heat... I may be misremembering, but it seems that while 1e was a low point, 2e in that light was presented as even worse. That's before you even get into the 2e Nameless Lair and its Ma-Ha-Suchi; while it might have taken a bit of time, it seems that 2e was intent on making Lunars go from tepid to 1st Chapter Infernals.

    Leave a comment:


  • Isator Levi
    replied
    Oh absolutely. I've been consistently thinking that whatever might have been in error about how the book was recalled, if that conceptual history is what produced Fangs at the Gate, it was all worth it.

    And it bears saying that the things I find most compelling in that book are undeniably responses to what was present in First Edition. I get what Grabowski was going for with the infatuation for the "harsh life ethos emerging from impoverished circumstances", but I think there's something powerful in how Fangs interrogates the concept of barbarians while still displaying a lot of what Grabowski was talking about.

    And I particularly like how, in place of Fair Folk and chimerae, we've got some Lunars who are fully cognisant of what they're doing, and might have understandable, even sympathetic, reasons for it.

    Originally posted by Sunder the Gold View Post
    In First Edition, the Lunar Exalted were optional and tepid. The Elders didn't do anything, the youths weren't a real threat to the Empire, and there were practically no generations in-between.
    Ah I don't know about that now Ted.
    Last edited by Isator Levi; 05-22-2019, 11:06 AM.

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  • Sunder the Gold
    replied
    Originally posted by Isator Levi View Post
    Lunars and their perceived lack of evocative or consistent place in the setting
    You've done a lot to show how more of the original Lunars book was better than we've remembered or made it out to be over the years, and I don't quite remember if that including their place in the setting, but...

    I much prefer the impact the Lunars have made on the history and shape of Creation in Third Edition. Third Edition's Creation would clearly have been very different if the Lunar Exalted had disappeared along with the Solars, given that they are the single greatest reason why the Scarlet Empire doesn't currently control the entire world. The Lunar Exalted are the biggest reason why new Solars can appear in the threshold and survive long enough to accomplish anything in the Time of Tumult.

    In First Edition, the Lunar Exalted were optional and tepid. The Elders didn't do anything, the youths weren't a real threat to the Empire, and there were practically no generations in-between.

    The Abyssal Exalted could be said to have more impact on First Edition because one of the Deathlords was responsible for the Great Contagion that helped close the chapter on the First Age, and another Deathlord allowed the Fair Folk Crusade that finished closing the chapter.

    Leave a comment:


  • Isator Levi
    replied
    Originally posted by The Wizard of Oz View Post
    Glad things have calmed down a bit for you.

    I always assumed the thought process behind Lunars originally was "We should do Exalted Werewolves. Hmmm... how about if they can turn into all animals instead of just one? And instead of being allergic to silver, they loved silver?"

    Them as working with the Fair Folk was probably in a phase where Grabowski and other early writers went through a variety of different conceptual ideas.
    The thing I get from the Making Of was that, since part of the basic pitch of the game was that it visually resembled a mythic prehistory for the World of Darkness, there has to be an analogue for Changeling.

    Grabowski and Rich reportedly grappled with the question of whether or not such elfin beings were conceptually and aesthetically fitting to the setting. Part of the process of trying to reconcile them was to look at them as Lunars whose experience in the Wyld made them lean, sleek and insane.

    They ultimately moved on to a concept of them being chaotic beings (whose relationship with the world was more complex than Moorcockian demons) who anchored themselves by taking on qualities of the elements.

    So it appears to me that the drift away from Lunars was a matter of the Fair Folk being developed, and that the association meant that, far from being an afterthought, were integral enough to constitute an entry point for something else considered more dubious.

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  • The Wizard of Oz
    replied
    Glad things have calmed down a bit for you.

    I always assumed the thought process behind Lunars originally was "We should do Exalted Werewolves. Hmmm... how about if they can turn into all animals instead of just one? And instead of being allergic to silver, they loved silver?"

    Them as working with the Fair Folk was probably in a phase where Grabowski and other early writers went through a variety of different conceptual ideas.

    Leave a comment:


  • Isator Levi
    replied
    So, now that my period of crisis has come to an end, I’m feeling up to putting time and energy back into this subject. I’ll resume in earnest tomorrow.

    Just to get a little start, though, I want to point out something that I’ve come across while looking back over the Making of Exalted artbook.

    As I recall, a popular narrative surrounding Lunars and their perceived lack of evocative or consistent place in the setting came from an idea that they were an ad hoc addition; that they were around at first as an extrapolation of the Fair Folk, and only very rapidly developed into proper, playable Exalted when much of the rest of the setting had been laid down and didn’t quite know what to do with them.

    But looking back on reports of the original developers in that artbook (if one assumes they’re to be believed), that doesn’t seem to be the case. Rather the opposite, in a few manners; Rich Thomas wrote that they were “always an element of Exalted because we wanted to have the potential for World of Darkness players to enjoy a variation of their already established characters”, and Geoff Grabowski stated that he was happy for such a thing to already be part of the setting because he would have otherwise brought it with him.

    There’s a line about how there was a point where the idea for them was as “sane counterpoints to the insane Fair Folk”, which does sound reminiscent of the things some people have said about them having originally been hunting hounds for the Fair Folk. But when that’s placed in the context of the commentary about Fair Folk development, it seems apparent that this wasn’t really about the conceptual evolution of the Lunars themselves, but of the Fair Folk; it wasn’t about Lunars as a vanguard or servants for fae, but that an early idea for fae was that they were what happened to some Lunars after the Usurpation.

    Yet, I’ve often heard the other reading. It makes me wonder how it popped up, and why it perpetuated. It’s interesting to me, considering how hearing other people talk about them has influenced the development of my own outlook on the matter.

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  • Isator Levi
    replied
    I know, it was a joke.

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