An Issue of Theme

To start out I’m going to tackle the issue of Exalted’s theme and how that translates into FATE.

What is Exalted’s theme exactly? When you strip away all the mechanics of the game, preconceived notions and assumptions, what is the game about? What kind of stories does the game lend itself to? What were the designers after when they developed the game?

After some intensive noodling I’ve come to the shocking conclusion that Exalted’s core themes are both really obvious and really complicated.

If you ask A Random Exalted Fan what Exalted’s core themes are, they’ll probably talk about the wu-shu elements, over-the-top action and Big Damn Heroes. While, yes, these are all important elements of Exalted, none really address Exalted’s themes, at least as I see them.*

In my mind Exalted has two main themes: Power Corrupts and Your Fate is Your Own.

Power Corrupts is probably the one most widely reflected in the setting and in the mechanics of the game. The Great Curse is probably the single most important setting element, and one of the most interesting parts of the mechanics. Without the Great Curse, Creation would be a perfect utopia, with the Exalted ruling benevolently and wisely over mortals. Everything would be rainbows and kittens.

With the Great Curse, you get the Solars becoming more and more crazy/callous and increasingly unstable in the First Age. You get Lunars unable, and sometimes unwilling, to control the bestial nature of their exaltation. You get Sidereals who are basically unable to recognize they aren’t always correct. You get Terrestrials that are nearly slaves at times to their Aspect. Ultimately you get the Usurption and the decay into the Second Age. Most decidedly not rainbows and kittens.

Your Fate is Your Own is possibly not as straight forward as the other, though I certainly glossed over several bits of Power Corrupts. Exalted were created to change things. Ignoring methods, magic and intentions, that is the fundamental purpose behind them. They were brought into existence to change the order of Creation. This theme gives you the Primordial War, The First Age, the Usurption and the current state of affairs in the Second Age.

Exalts, and specifically PCs, are capable of telling Fate to go stuff its self more so than anything else in Creation. Even the Primordials and the Incarna aren’t so capable of taking their own destinies by the reins are directing it where they want to go.

A third central element that I can’t hardly decide if it deserves the full Theme title is the repeating cycle of betrayal present in Creation’s history. The Primordial War and the Usurption are really the same conflict with the names changed around a bit. The PCs’ own story will probably also be reflective of this same conflict. It is simply how the world was built, both in-setting terms and in terms of how the developers laid it out. What I can’t decide is if this repeated conflict is worthy of being its own theme or simply a result of the first working together. Further noodling is required.


*Which is of course one of the fundamental problems with something like this. What I see as a theme or core issue, some one else might not.

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3 Responses to An Issue of Theme

  1. Anders Smith says:

    I would say that the cycle of betrayal emerges organically from the first two. Those above are corrupted by power, leaving those below to fight and reshape the order of things to something less abusive, and then the cycle begins again.

  2. Joshua says:

    I think those two main themes are so easy to do in Fate that it would be easy to over think it. The first can be done with a compel of the high concept fitting your Exalted type, and the second just fits with a combination of having a powerful character and the Fate system itself. Which isn’t surprising, since Dresden Files has these themes as well to some degree.

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