Exalted Combat 101
Fight One: Basic Combat Training
Jaida lifted the practice sword, unsure of herself as she swung it a few times. She pushed back a stray strand of auburn hair, and looked at the master swordsman, feeling very much like the uneducated farmer girl she was.
Alright, here's our heroine! She has the following stats: Strength 2, Dexterity 3, Stamina 3, and a Wits of 3. She is a clever girl, graceful, and has been toughened by life on a farm, though she didn't bale hay like her brothers (hence the Strength of 2). She has a Melee of ZERO. Her practice sword has the following stats: Speed +0, Accuracy +0, Damage -1B, and Defense +0.
This means, basically, she does a base damage of 1B, and has a dice pool of 3 to attack and defend. (Note: She should actually have a die pool of 1, since trying to use a skill you don't have gives you a -2 on the roll. Since this is training, we're giving her a break.--ed.)
Steel Ribbon Warrior smiled at her encouragingly. He was tall and slim, an elegant face, and well kept long black hair. He smiled at her encouragingly, delicately bringing his own practice sword before him.
This is our other character. While totally mortal, Steel is a "Musashi" bad ass: Strength 3, Dexterity 5, Stamina 3, Melee 5 (Specialty: Slashing Swords +3), Wits of 4. He is the kind of person who may someday Exalt.
Jaida watched him, unsure, and then, blindly, charged him, flailing out an attack at the confident man. He effortlessly knocked it away, and and she felt his practice sword rap her bottom as she stumbled past.
Her face was flaming with humiliation as she turned to face the serenely smiling man.
(First, a note, for the most part, I will assume that half of the dice (rounded down) in a dice pool come up successes, rather than roll.)
Steel has an initiative total of 9 (Dex 5, Wits 4, Sword +0), while Jaida has 6 (Dex 3, Wits 3, Sword +0). Assuming they roll pretty close to one another, Steel gets initiative.
He chooses to hold his action.
She attacks, committing her entire dice pool to the attack. As she does, Steel splits his dice pool 2 ways (or, takes a multiple action for 2 dice actions), so his first dice pool is (Dex 5, Melee 5, -2 for multiple actions) 8, with 4 successes. She has 3, with 1 success, and he easily parries. His next action is at -3, so he has 7 dice. This is certainly enough to tap her, since she is not defending at all.
Enraged, she lashes out at him, thrashing out two quick blows at Steel Ribbon Warrior. He knocks her clumsy attacks aside, and then lets the tip of his blade slip past her defenses to lightly touch her chest.
Again, Steel gains initiative, and chooses to hold.
She splits 2 ways. Normally, this would be impossible (this would give her a dice pool of 1, 0) but her player stunts it for one point, describing her feelings as she attacks. This makes it 2, 1 (bonuses are applied before negatives).
However, this is hardly enough to get past Steel's defenses (split three ways: 7, 6, 5), thus, he parries and gets his hit in.
As soon as he had pulled the sword away from her, he suddenly springs to life, the air whistling through the reeds of the practice weapon as he launches his attack. Terrified, Jaida lifts her sword to defend. Despite the clumsy defense, the two swords clash, and Steel holds his weapon against hers for a moment, then pulls away, smiling.
"Good," he says "You have learned that defense is more important than offense. Rest now, girl."
For the last turn of this fight, again, Steel has initiative. He chooses to attack, and splits his dice pool 2 ways, one for an attack, and one for a parry (Steel likes to play it safe...just in case).
Jaida can take no action yet (it isn't her initiative) and so is forced to abort any later action for a parry. Her meager 3 dice won't beat his 8, but Steel is just trying to prove a point, which he does.
End first fight.
Commentary: Many people do not delay their actions, as Steel does. This is generally a good idea, to allow yourself the time to see what your opponent intends. In a mortal on mortal fight, it's generally just better to strike out and force him to abort, but defense is usually a safer option than offense.
Combat Lesson 2: Extras
Extras are what make the game of Exalted great, and anyone who has run a BIG fight against extras will quickly note that combat slows down. Hopefully, this illustration will show how to keep your combat fast paced and quick. I also intend to illustrate the tactics of losing initiative.
Steel Ribbon Warrior walked alone on the city road, his thoughts lingering on his student. She was advancing quickly, and this pleased him, but this was not why his mind dwelled on her.
Lost in his thoughts, he almost did not see the flickering motion. There was a silvery flash, and then the sound of metal against metal as Steel Ribbon Warrior unsheathed his weapon and parried the thrown knife in one smooth motion.
First, Steel must make a reflexive (free) Wits + Awareness check. We assume he passes enough to parry. Then we get a pretty stunt allowing Steel to parry in the same motion as readying his weapon.
Steel is using a masterwork Slashing Sword, his ancestral weapon. It gives him a +3 to speed, +2 Accuracy, +3L Damage, +2 Defense. For ease of play, I find it easiest to note my weapon as the writers of Exalted do: All stats and bonuses already added together. So, for Steel, we have a Speed of 12, Accuracy of 15, Damage of 6L(ethal) and a Defense of 15. Incidentally, this is about as cool as mortals get.
Four shadows slipped from the alleyways, knives glinting in the distant lamp light as though they were hungry for his blood. Unprepared for the sudden rush, Steel Ribbon Warrior was forced to give ground to his aggressors, retreating quickly, slipping away from their slashing blades.
He cries out as a blade kisses his flesh, blood flying into the air. He grits his teeth against the pain, readying his blade for a counter attack.
These are elite Extras, thus, have an init bonus of 6, and a dice pool of 6 in combat. They must have surprised Steel, because they rolled a 10, and he rolled a 1, giving him an init of 13, and them an init of 16.
They go first.
If Steel wants to live, he must abort to a defense. He has a dodge of 3 (thus a dodge pool of 8), meaning that his parry is vastly superior. However, he could only parry once if he aborted, so he is forced to dodge. This is a dice pool of 8, 7, 6, 5. This gives us 4, 3, 3, 2 successes, and our assassins (dice pool of 6) get 3, 3, 3, 3. That last one hits. (Note: Extras, unlike Exalted or Heroic Mortals, don't get 2 successes when they roll 10s, lowering their average successes on 6 dice from 3 to 2.4. For simplicity, we're rounding it up to 3. Thanks to Garris for pointing this out.--ed.)
Assuming the assassin is of strength 2, with a knife (+1L damage), this is 4 damage (2 from strength, 1 from the knife, and 1 from the success), and it's lethal, so Steel has no soak. This averages 2 health levels. Oww. Steel is hurt (-1 wound penalty)
There are rules for stunning and knock down on page 234 of the main book, but I feel extras wouldn't get that luxury, and it would complicate matters, so I don't bother with them.
Steel launches himself at them, his blade flashing, blood flying. Four quick strokes leave three dead bodies, the other assassin having sprung nimbly away from the blow.
Steel rolls better for his initiative this time, and so goes first. He could attack once, and parry the rest, but if he attacks, they'll have to abort to a defense rather than attack, so here, a good offense is the best defense.
He splits his dice pool 4 ways, and with his wound penalty, he's at -1 to hit, giving him a dice pool of (10, 9, 8, 7) (That's 15, -4 for the 4 attacks, -1 for wound, and then an additional -1 for each action thereafter).
This is an average of 5, 4, 4, and 3 to hit. The Ninja have 6 dodge dice, and thus average 3, 3, 3, and 3. The last dodges.
Now comes the easy part. Because Extras can be automatically wounded for every 3 dice of damage they take, really, all we need to do is make sure we get 9 dice of damage. Steel does 6, so we need 3 successes to incapacitate. If this total is uneven, we can roll the remaining dice, or, if you're feeling generous, just round up the Heath Level's taken.
They ARE just Extras.
With the successes on the hits added to the base damage, we get 8, 7, 7 damage. Not enough to instantly kill them, but enough to give each a -3 wound penalty (enough to take them out of the fight) and possibly kill them, with the 8 very likely.
Remember: For Extras, determine how many successes a PC needs to get his damage up to 9. That's all you're checking for, and then roll roll roll. The Extra is either dead, or hurting badly.
The remaining Ninja launches himself at Steel Ribbon Warrior, and contemptuously, the swordsman cuts him down.
Once more, Steel has initiative. The Ninja chooses not to abort, because he knows he's going to die, and 14 dice (15 - 1 for wound penalty) will do a stellar job of splattering ninja boy.
Combat Lesson 3: Basic Charms
Ok, lets take a moment. We've looked through combat basics. It comes down to this: If you lose init, you parry/dodge. If you have it, you can split for multiple attacks, attacks and defenses, or you can hold to see what your opponent does. Now we're gonna get complicated. Let's begin:
There was the sound of metal striking flesh, and the fifth, unseen assassin collapsed to the ground, hand clawing for Steel Ribbon Warrior before finally succumbing to his wound.
The swordsman spun to see Jaida standing over the corpse, blood on her face, on her sword. Her first blood. She raised her astonished eyes to him, and he took a step back when he saw what had changed in her.
Jaida watched the fear blossom in his face. She had been attacked herself, and quickly divined that he would need her. If she hadn't been there, he would have died, and she could not bear to see that.
The blood of her first kill mixed with the deepening scarlet of her anima as she stepped forward to Steel Ribbon. "Master, what's wrong?"
The burning mark on her forehead said it all. Her heart broke when she saw his sword rise up against her.
Jaida has improved some since we last saw her, gaining Melee 3. Apparently, Steel is an excellent teacher. She also wields a straight sword, and has a buff jacket. This gives her the following stats: Speed 6 Accuracy 7 Damage 5L Defense 7. The buff jacket adds 3 to her lethal soak of (now) 1 for a total of 4L.
There are no REAL canonical rules for new Exaltation, so we will assume she remains at Essence 1, and gains 5 Charms "instinctively". We choose Ox-Body, Retrieve the Fallen Weapon, Excellent Strike, Golden Essence Block, and Dipping Swallow Defense. This makes her an excellent Melee specialist.
Her personal pool is 8, Peripheral 22.
"Steel...please, what are you doing?"
Her master's face was pale, his hand unsteady as he stepped forward, sword whipping towards her in deadly strokes she knew all too well. Instinctively, drawing on knowledge she had no right to possess, she slid away from the attacks, her blade working furiously to keep the edge away from her skin. Sweat beaded on her forehead.
Steel is still the initiative king in this fight, and gets to go first. He chooses to split his dice pool 4 ways, slashing at her quickly in an effort to slip past her now demonic defenses. This makes his (still wounded) dice pool 10, 9, 8, and 7. More than enough to slide past Jaida's measly 7 defensive dice pool.
Desperate, Jaida chooses to abort to a dodge (assume she has a dodge of 2, giving her a dodge pool of 4: Dex 3 + Dodge 2 - Mobility 1 from the buff jacket), and uses Dipping Swallow Defense AS WELL against each attack. This gives her 4+7, 3+7, 2+7 and 1+7 for her defensive dice pools (the first numbers are her dodge pool, the second that which is granted by her Charm)
She has used up her Personal Essence pool.
As Jaida lept from his last attack, her mind worked furiously, coming to grips with what had happened, and she realized she could never bring herself to kill her master. Her mind suddenly seized on a possibility, and as Steel Ribbon Warrior readied himself for another attack, Jaida launched herself at him.
Before she her blade hit, she dropped to one knee, the glow of her power making her blade brilliant as it slipped past Steel Ribbon's defenses, caressing his thigh at a vulnerable point. He slipped to his knee suddenly, mobility weakened, blood darkening his pants. She backed away as he watched her, waiting for the final blow.
Jaida murmured "I'm sorry." And as tears streamed down her cheeks, she fled her former master.
Jaida is lucky enough to get initiative, and decides she would rather not harm him. Jaida's player asks if it's possible to just "wound him so he can't chase me", and the ST decides that it's ok, since it would further the story.
She uses Excellent Strike for its maximum (+6: She has a Dex of 3, and a Melee of 3), and channels Compassion for another +3. This gives her a total of 16 dice, against Steels 14. 8 successes versus 7, is enough to slip past the defenses, and achieve victory for Jaida.
It should be noted that this attack isn't canonical, but the point is that a relatively normal warrior was able to wound an extremely capable one, the only difference being Charms.
Also, it shows one of the intricate points of Exalted that will be expanded upon in the next chapter.
A Solar has to choose: A defensive Charm, or an offensive Charm.
Lesson Four: Advanced Charms
You've stumbled through basic combat. You've figured out Extras, and you know how Charms work. However, most discusion you will see around here is NOT how to kill Mooks. It's how to kill another Exalted. Exalted on Exalted action can be the most exciting thing to watch, simply to see how the Charms interact. This can also be the most complex topic in these lessons, and so, I will take it slow. Enjoy :)
Blood dripped from Steel Ribbon Warrior's mouth, one eye swollen shut, his arms aching from the restraints. He opened his good eye at the sound of bare feet on stone. Immaculate Toren stepped into view, his long black robes matching his cruel dark eyes. His skin was pale blue with white highlights, like the water of a rushing river.
"She won't come. The last time I saw her, I tried to kill her. You're wasting your time." The words croaked out of Steel's blood crusted lips, but they did not phase Toren.
The Immaculate smiled, and carressed the face of the imprisoned warrior with black jade claws that glistened wetly like the carapace of a scorpion.
"I would not under estimate the love a student holds for her master, heretic. She will come, and I will put her down like the animal she is. For your aid, I will assure you are given a quick death."
Let us examine our enemy. Immaculate Toren is a skilled warrior. He has a Strength of 3, Dexterity of 3, Stamina of 4, and a Wits of 4. He has Martial Arts of 5 with a specialty in Water Dragon Style (+3). He has a Personal Essence pool of 14, a peripheral pool of 31 and 2 motes committed.
He has Jade Razor Claws that, with his style, give him the following combat stats: Speed 14 Accuracy 13 Damage 7L and Defense 13.
He has all Charms up to Water Dragon Form, and Theft of Essence Method, all from Water Dragon Style, and their effects will be described for those that do not have the book as they come up in play.
He has 1 level of Dragon Blooded Ox-Body Technique.
This makes him a very experienced Immaculate, considering most starting Immaculates only have 2 immaculate Charms if they have Ox-Body.
The sounds of sword clashing against sword announced the presence of Jaida. Slash marks appeared in the door, and then it burst open to admit the woman.
She stepped over the body of a guard and the debris of the door, her weapon leveled at the Immaculate. It was Steel's sword...they had sent it to her as proof that they had captured him. Her form was trembling with rage.
"Release him, you bastard. I'm the one you want, not him."
Jaida has grown more experienced since the last time we saw her, to be on par with most starting Solars. She now has Strength 3, Dexterity 3, Stamina 3, Wits of 3, Melee of 5, and the following charms: Ox Body (-1, -2, -2) Excellent Strike, Hungry Tiger Technique, Retrieve the Fallen Weapon, Golden Essence Block, Dipping Swallow Defense, Bulwark Stance, Five-fold Bulwark Stance, Heavenly Guardian Defense, and Solar Counter Attack.
With Steel's Ancestral Sword, She is at Speed 9 Accuracy 10 Damage 6L Defense 10
She is now at Essence 3.
All of this can be done at character creation. She is rather typical of an excellent Solar swords(wo)man.
Toren turns, his expression serene as he executes a few quick motions, and then adopts a very fluid, graceful stance. His claws glisten like the rocks in the rapids of a river.
"He suffers because of his involvement with you, Forsaken. His screams have been like hymns to me." His grin is wicked.
Faint lines of golden essence glitter around her as she lifts her blade.
Toren has activated Water Dragon Form. This gives him a Lethal Soak of 9, and adds 3 to his accuracy (making it 16). He has 9 personal Essence remaining.
Jaida has activated Five Fold Bulwark Stance, giving her a reflexive 10 die parry against all attacks that are made against her for the remainder of the scene.
Jaida has 10 personal essence remaining, and 5 willpower left.
Infuriated, Jaida streaks towards Toren, blade shining with essence as it lashes out at him. Toren's motions become even more graceful, slipping away slightly from her attack, but she still strikes home.
He does not lose his serene expression as the essence of her attack splashes against his form, leaving him unharmed.
Instead, he reached for her, and she lept back, sword arm moving instinctively along a tracing of golden essence to parry his attack, but he simply slides through her defenses as though she were not there. Her body rippled faintly as his claws tore away wisps of essence from her soul.
Jaida, angry, decides to go full bore the first turn and pull out Excellent Strike. She can buy 8 dice for 8 essence, making her attack 18. Toren reflexively activates Flowing Water Defense (it subtracts 1 die from his attack pool, and subtracts 3 from Jaida's) to lower her attack to 15, and then doesn't bother to parry.
Jaida gets 7 successes for 13 damage. In response, Toren activates a special ability of Water Dragon Form, spending 2 motes to add 4 to his soak, making his soak 13. She rolls one die of damage, and gets no successes (you always get at least one die of damage except in very special circumstances).
He responds with Theft-of-Essence. It should be noted at this point that, although he already activated a Charm, it was reflexive, and Dragon Blooded may activate reflexives in the same turn they activate another Charm.
He must hit her to use this Charm, and his attack is currently at 15 (he's at -1 due to (Flowing Water Defense), which averages 7 successes, which will beat Jaida's defenses (10 averages 5 successes). At that point, he doesn't do damage, instead he uses the rules for his Charm: He rolls Strength + Martial arts: 10 dice(5 successes) vs her Stamina + Resistance: 5 dice (2 successes). He has three successes on her, and so this allows him to steal 9 essence (3x successes) to replenish his stores.
Jaida is at 0 personal Essence, 30 peripheral Toren is at 6 personal Essence, 7 willpower.
I would like to make a note at this point: In general, just whipping out a big attack at the begining is a BAD idea. Inevitably, your opponent will have some kind of defense that will nullify most of your attack. Jaida wasted 8 essence, and Toren only had to burn 3 to nullify it.
Additionally, using an attack charm keeps her from using another charm to defend herself, thus a major attack leaves you vulnerable.
Defense is better than offense. Wait for your opponent to make a mistake, or wear him down.
Jaida lept back from the insidious attack, but Toren pressed the attack towards her, claws lashing out over and over again like waves slamming against a cliff. She dodged and slipped away from the attacks, her sword always in the way, and then flickering out at each momentary opening to strike home.
Her small attacks were begining to have an effect. Blood slipped from a few small cuts.
Her body is gleaming with sunlight, her caste mark igniting on her forehead.
Toren has a major speed advantage, and takes initiative. He uses it, splits his dice pool to attack 3 times, giving him 12, 11, 10. The player describes the action well, and so the ST gives him a 1 die stunt bonus on all of his attacks, making it 13, 12, 11 (note, Flowing Water Defense is still active).
This is enough to beat Jaida's defenses, so she opts to abort to a dodge. Again, she is at 4 dodge (5, -1 for buff jacket), so she gets 4+10, 3+10, and 2+10. This is barely enough to fend off his attacks.
Additionally, she uses Solar Counterattack on each attack, spending 9 essence. This is a reflexive charm, so she may use it before her initiative.
Each counter-attack is at 7 dice(Flowing Water), and he cannot parry or dodge, so she gets 3 successes on each, for 9 damage. 1 die gets through each time, for a grand total of 3 damage. We give her 2 successes (I round up this time, because I round down last time), meaning his wounds have brought him to -1.
This begins to show basic Solar superiority. While Toren may activate multiple charms in a turn, Jaida can parry, dodge AND attack at full dice pool THREE times in one round, if she's willing to spend the essence.
It also shows a good way to get past a soak monster. Lots of small attacks will work better than one big one, unless you are VERY strong.
Toren's eyes darkened, and, determined to kill her, he sprang forward, his fervor pushing him forward with impossible speed, like a tsunami trying to crush her. His hand reached for a vital essence-point on her body, one that would kill her with a blow.
There was the sound of a thunder crack and the flare of essence, and Jade clashed with steel. Her anima explodes outward, the billowing sunlight the color of blood, with Jaida at the center, grinning maliciously, held her sword before his attack, foiling his attempt.
Then she stepped forward, her blade slicing a pattern she had learned from her master.
Toren again has initiative, and decides to go all out. He uses Drowning in Blood Technique, a very deadly Charm, and channels Conviction (5) for a total of 19 (!) dice. (13 accuracy, +3 for Water Dragon form, -1 for Flowing Water Defense, -1 for wounds, +5 for conviction. 13+3+5-1-1=19.) This is the last turn Flowing Water Defense is still active.
Jaida cannot defend against such an attack (her best defense pool is 14 dice), so she activates Heavenly Guardian Defense, automatically parrying the attack.
Then, having learned from last turn, she splits her dice pool three ways, for 4, 3, and 2 dice. This is barely enough to connect to the unprotected Toren, and will not penetrate soak, but each time, she gets at least one die of damage, for 3 more dice. That's 1 HL this time.
Toren leaps back, taking a defensive posture as Steel Ribbon Warrior chuckles at his back.
Toren snarled, his teeth bared. "I have underestimated you, Forsaken. But I will not make that mistake again..."
Jaida, still grinning, raised her sword defensively, ready for whatever he could throw at her.
This ends the basic lessons.
Written by Mailanka.
Edited by Arbane the Terrible (Nitpicker).
Copy and use freely, but give credit where credit is due.