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Why do mortals learn Martial Arts?

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  • Why do mortals learn Martial Arts?

    A lot of the written descriptions of martial arts describe mortals using those combat styles for specialized, seemingly supernatural purposes. Golden Janissary talks about mortal monks and ascetics using it to drive out Creatures of Darkness, for example. Silver-Voiced Nightingale Style doesn't even gain access to its iconic weapon until you buy its first charm.

    I've heard it argued before elsewhere that it's cheaper/more efficient for a practitioner to pick up Martial Arts instead of both Melee and Brawl - but that's mathematically not true. With the 15 Experience buy-in for Brawl 1 and the Martial Artist merit, it's cheaper at every rating to buy both Melee and Brawl than it is to buy Martial Arts. Brawl+Melee at 5 each costs only 22 Experience to MA5+MA Merit+Brawl 1's 26 XP.

    Am I missing something here? Do mortal Martial Artists actually get some kind of fringe benefit that mechanically and narratively justifies paying a premium for a narrower combat skill, or are they specialized without offering any kind of benefit to offset that specialty?

    If it's the latter, is the proliferation of these combat schools by mortals simply a matter of tradition, rather than any kind of actual efficacy?

    Sorry if this has already been asked before, I'm just wondering if I missed something somewhere.

  • #2
    I think it's a mechanics/fluff disconnect. (Which is not a bad thing necessarily)

    What I mean is, NPCs aren't losing out on 4 merit dots for Martial Arts. It doesn't "cost" them anything, fluff-wise.

    Fluff-wise, you can learn swordsmanship, or back-street dirty fighting, or gunnery, or to be a slinger, or Snake style, or Tiger style, just like in the real world.

    So mortals learn, say, Mantis Style, because it's useful to them, just like learning the spear or the bow would be. It's not inherently easier or harder.

    (OOC, the 4pt Merit for Martial Arts isn't there to reflect the fact Martial Arts is supposed to be, in-setting, harder to learn than Melee or Brawl or whatever. It's just a balance thing because the designers found Martial Artists too good.)


    My characters:
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    Brother Alazar, Zenith occultist and last survivor of the Black Monastery of Leng
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    • #3
      I think this is a case of the rules not modeling reality at the deepest level, and in particular of being poorly calibrated for mortals. It is intended that the difficulty of learning brawl 5 and melee 5 v. martial arts 5 is not the same as the amount of XP spent on them, because XP is a mechanic for player character growth and not a faithful representation of how people learn. It is intended that Golden Janissary Style, even without charms, is in some sense better at fighting creatures of darkness than Melee or other martial arts styles, just at a degree not worth the rules complexity it would take to model, especially since so much rules complexity goes to modeling that in the form of charms.

      This does leave the mechanics of mortal martial arts as fairly lackluster, but the mechanics of mortals in general are pretty lackluster.

      Separately, I think your XP numbers are off - you seem to count it as taking 11xp to reach ability 5, while my calculations say it's 23 (3+2+4+6+8), or 19 if favored (3+1+3+5+7). This puts brawl 5 + melee 5 at 46, and MA5+merit+brawl 1 at 38.

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      • #4
        There is also something of a hold over from earlier versions of the game where MA styles would have mundane techniques they could do; but it was dropped as too difficult to calibrate well for both mundane and Charm based combat.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Heavy Arms View Post
          There is also something of a hold over from earlier versions of the game where MA styles would have mundane techniques they could do; but it was dropped as too difficult to calibrate well for both mundane and Charm based combat.
          But not the completely pointless merit for some reason.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Epimetheus View Post

            But not the completely pointless merit for some reason.
            The Merit itself is there to make dipping into MAs actually a decision. I have argued at some point I kind of wish sorcery was like this too, actually. The goal was to make "being a martial-artist" something meaningful about the character, not something they do trivially along other stuff.

            I will admit, that I think the Merit being a barrier to learning Charms is probably more sensible than a barrier to learning the Ability itself however. And admit that if I were to run mortal or pre-Exaltationg ames, I'd wave its cost until mortals would pick it up. But in a context of Exalts-are-default-PCs, I think it has justificaiton.


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            • #7
              Dedication and an order of priorities.


              I have approximate knowledge of many things.
              Watch me play Dark Souls III (completed)
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              • #8
                Mechanically, there's no reason for mortals to learn Martial Arts unless they want to use one of the very specific weapons that requires an appropriate martial art - and those really wouldn't be worth the effort unless there's some social reason (some real-world martial arts supposedly developed among populations forbidden from carrying "weapons", for example, so lower-class people interested in self defense learned to fight with farming equipment). People have already mentioned why the Martial Arts merit exists as a mechanical barrier to entry for MA for Exalts, though in practice the main impact it has had at my games is to discourage players from taking a single style for less combat focused characters. If I did run a mortals game, I wouldn't personally require it.
                Last edited by HighPriest; 04-21-2019, 07:54 PM.

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                • #9
                  My big "mortal magic" project (still being drafted; right now I'm poking at the expanded Thaumaturgy section) goes ahead and lets mortals learn MA skills without the Merit, while requiring those following my "virtue path" system for Charm access to buy it.

                  (And my advice for non-Charm-using mortal martial artists who Exalt in play is that they can only learn Charms from one MA without the Merit, with purchase of the Merit required to take Charms from a second style. And that this is also my suggested approach for Exalts created normally.)

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                  • #10
                    They learn martial art because it used to actually mean something in past editions, and we had lots of cool Mortal Martial Artists running around using martial arts charms. No it's just stuck as part of the setting. I just simply ignore the lore change preventing mortals from enlightening their essence and using martial arts charms because it was a stupid change and simply use the old mortal enlightened essence rules, 10 mote/Essence dot max Essence 3, somehow hitting 4 results in transcending to become a god it something. Also Mortals can only use Martial Arts at the Terrestrial Level.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Hark View Post
                      They learn martial art because it used to actually mean something in past editions, and we had lots of cool Mortal Martial Artists running around using martial arts charms. No it's just stuck as part of the setting. I just simply ignore the lore change preventing mortals from enlightening their essence and using martial arts charms because it was a stupid change and simply use the old mortal enlightened essence rules, 10 mote/Essence dot max Essence 3, somehow hitting 4 results in transcending to become a god it something. Also Mortals can only use Martial Arts at the Terrestrial Level.
                      I honestly always thought that mortal martial arts in previous editions was more kind of like a plastic potted plant. It looked nice, but didn't provide any actual functionality due to how weak/bad at MAs mortals were. I think the setting simply didn't lose anything for them going away as they didn't add anything save for the idea that Essence use in itself is what determiend in-setting worth. I kind of also never quite liked the whole "generic blank Essence-using mortal" thing.

                      They use them now in part since the Aiblities actually do reflect martial arts schools,a nd as stated a few times, the rules are pretty much Exalt-facing first this edition. It's why there's also no rules for bleeding and inefection by default. Because while theyw ere interesting ways to distinguish mortals from Exalts before, it's not something meaningful for most games.


                      And stuff.
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                      • #12
                        In Second Edition, mortal martial artists meant that if you went through one of the processes giving you an Essence pool, you got to study at one of the "schools" that logically had to consist of about three Terrestrial Exalted, and be the special outlier. Either that or source books concerned with Martial Arts had to exist in this kind of side setting in which there were a lot more mortals that could use Essence to sustain the schools, and it was the Dragon Blooded who would be the special outliers when joining them.

                        Also, Celestial Styles had no schools at all, because there were only a few hundred people in existence who could or would do anything with them. You got Righteous Devil Style, a pretty cool idea that attached itself to a backstory in which nobody had actually been practicing it for ages, but we're going to make it a tie-in to these chapter comics that keep coyly hinting at this one guy being a survivor from the First Age as a means of it being introduced back into the setting.

                        Now you at least get the idea that the styles are being sustained by regular practitioners across the world. Are they very mechanically varied without Charms? No, but neither are any of the other Abilities. Some of the matter of developing distinct style has to come from player priorities in any format. I think it helps for a lot of the styles to not just be about how you hit people, but attitude and priorities; your mortal Righteous Devil won't have the capacity to burn somebody with their own sins, but they're still being taught to use flame pieces and firewands as weapons to fight the wicked. Your mortal Golden Janissary can't inflict aggravated damage on creatures of the night, but they're still being given values of going out and beating them up with sticks.

                        Sure, the character creation rules are a bit severe if one assumes that's how mortals learn martial arts. Those rules are for slotting a player character into games placed in the setting, they're not a simulation of how learning anything works.

                        And the difference between ratings in Brawl or Melee and Martial Arts are kind of irrelevant when most mortal characters you encounter are given quick character stats anyway.

                        When we get a book dedicated to the martial arts, their might be a bit more to this. Maybe some extra gambits, maybe some mortal-only Merits, maybe even a revival in some form of Techniques as an optional rule set.

                        For the moment, the way to approach mortals learning Martial Arts isn't in them making decisions about optimal ways to spend their XP, but about backstory to how a character learned to fight and/or what ideals they aspire to.


                        I have approximate knowledge of many things.
                        Watch me play Dark Souls III (completed)
                        https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDtbr08HW8RW4jOHN881YA3yRZBV4lpYw Watch me play Breath of the Wild (updated 12/03)

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Hark View Post
                          They learn martial art because it used to actually mean something in past editions
                          In First Edition, it meant that you learned one of the two ways of unarmed fighting that were largely distinguished by how clean-shaved they looked.

                          In Second Edition, you learned Martial Arts because there was no Brawl stat.

                          Originally posted by Hark
                          we had lots of cool Mortal Martial Artists running around using martial arts charms.
                          You might have. The books and general setting didn't really. Probably the largest body in the setting for teaching Martial Arts was the Immaculate Order, and I recall it actually being kind of opposed to mortals having Essence pools.


                          I have approximate knowledge of many things.
                          Watch me play Dark Souls III (completed)
                          https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDtbr08HW8RW4jOHN881YA3yRZBV4lpYw Watch me play Breath of the Wild (updated 12/03)

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                          • #14
                            They didn't like god-bloods and demon-bloods, but IIRC, they were fine with Immaculate Monks enlightening their essence (and in fact, that was the only mortals they were okay with). Five-Dragon was essentially the generic Monk style, since mortal monks could not use any of the actual Immaculate Dragon styles. Monks were, after all, attempting to enlighten themselves to get closer to the Dragons, and it also gave them the power to take on the spiritual enemies they had to face.

                            Also, Celestial Styles had no schools at all, because there were only a few hundred people in existence who could or would do anything with them. You got Righteous Devil Style, a pretty cool idea that attached itself to a backstory in which nobody had actually been practicing it for ages
                            I actually thought the most ridiculous ones were Tiger Style, Monkey Style, Snake Style, etc... which unlike the Terrestrial styles, are actual styles you can learn in the real world.
                            Why in the real world can a mortal human learn Tiger Style, but not in Exalted?


                            My characters:
                            Dr Soma Vaidya, viper-totem Lunar and kung-fu doctor
                            Brother Alazar, Zenith occultist and last survivor of the Black Monastery of Leng
                            Avatar by Jen

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                            • #15
                              Depending on power level desired mortal martial arts serves as flavour, justification for weird merits or justification for godblood-hood if you really want to go crazy.

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