Exalted: The Dragon-Blooded
Exalted: The Dragon-Blooded Capsule Review by Eric Brennan on 24/04/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
Exalted: The Dragon-Blooded is another success in a line full of successes, and outside of a few slight flaws, it is a valuable addition to anyone's Exalted collection--especially if they're interested in the Dragon-Bloods or the Realm.
Product: Exalted: The Dragon-Blooded
Author: Bryan Armor, Richard Dansky, Heather Grove, Ellen P. Kiley, James Kiley, James Malizewski, and Hal Mangold
Company/Publisher: White-Wolf Game Studio
Page count: 296
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Eric Brennan on 24/04/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Anime Other
Overview and Art:
Exalted: The Dragon-Blooded is a 296 page hardcover book from White Wolf Game Studio which describes the Terrestrial Exalted, who are at the same time the weakest of the Exalted and current rulers of Creation. It’s also full of information on the history of the Realm, the Immaculate philosophy and its Sidereal created martial arts. More importantly, it details the life of those who live under the boot of the Scarlet Empire and the lifestyles of those who wear the boot—the mighty Dragon-Blooded.
It retails for $29.95, with black and white interior art. It is not a complete game in itself, requiring the Exalted core rulebook. It’s written by Bryan Armor, Richard Dansky, Heather Grove, Ellen P. Kiley, James Kiley, James Malizewski, and Hal Mangold.
The cover of the book is a deep maroon, and similar in layout to the Exalted core rulebook. An Immaculate Monk graces the foreground of the cover, with the other Dragon-Blooded signature characters in the background. The interior art is of a uniformly high quality, and even those artists whose work I didn’t care for in earlier releases have come along to the point that I really enjoy the pictures they did. The interior of the covers bear a map of the Realm, this time with a scale.
The format and layout of the book will be familiar to those who’ve purchased Exalted products in the past. The margins are tight, the text detailed, and overall I call the book a good value for its $29.95 price tag. The editing has come a long way since the core rules, and there are very few mistakes. As in the main rules, chapters are split by short vignettes that center around the new Dragon-Blood signature characters, as well as old hands like Chejop the Sidereal. Yes, Virginia, the fate of the Empress is revealed.
What’s in it?
The book opens with the standard opening fiction, a nice piece centering around the Dragon-Blooded signature character from the core rules, the Roseblack. Following that is a table of contents, and an Introduction which states the goals of the book. Chapters One centers around the history, geography, religion, government and politics of the Realm and its Immaculate Order, while Chapter Two describes the Dragon-Blooded in detail. The Great Houses and their lifestyles, including upbringing, marriage, death rites, education, social taboos, and everything else one could possible imagine are all laid bare for the reader. There are very few things left out of these chapters, at the same time none of it’s overwhelming, a victory I ascribe to the easy writing style.
Chapters Three and Four describe character creation guidelines for Dragon-Blooded characters and the new Traits that they use. These are both short chapters, and the main changes revolve around new Backgrounds more fitting to the Terrestrial Exalted, as well as changes to old Backgrounds to make them fit the lords of the Realm. Artifact, for instance, grants a Dragon-Blooded more Artifacts per dot than their Solar cousins, while Conacts and Influence have been replaced with the “Connections” background, and Followers are replaced with “Henchmen” and a military “Command” background. New additions include the aforementioned Connections, Henchmen, and Command, as well as Breeding, Family, and Reputation.
What follows are the chapters on Dragon-Blooded Charms, as well as the Immaculate martial arts Charm trees. There are roughly 250 new Charms, as well as one Terrestrial Circle spell. Following these sections is a large chapter on how to run a Dragon-Blooded campaign, with brief notes on how to expand these rules to cover the Seventh Legion of Lookshy as well as Northern rural houses. There are guidelines on multigenerational games, school-age games, as well as how to run the decadent Dragon-Blooded and their corrupt and cruel Realm without upsetting the delicate sensibilities of the players.
Exalted: The Dragon-Blooded is a fantastic book. It keeps up the high standards set by the rest of the Exalted line and manages to make running a game located in the Realm, or a game with Dragon-Blooded as central adversaries or PCs, a viable option. Like the main rulebook, it’s almost impossible to turn the page without discovering another new plot-hook or being inspired to add this or that to a game.
The Charms are well balanced and emphasize the difference between Solars and Dragon-Bloods. While a Solar is a one man army, Terrestrial Exalted are foot-soldiers meant to work in units—as such, many of their Charms and the sole spell in the book are aimed at helping the Dragon-Blood’s allies as well as herself. That’s the central theme of the book, seemingly—the Dragon-Blooded fight for the greater “good,” be that the good of the Realm, their House, or their Sworn Brotherhood.
Of course, that good may involve trampling the Threshold underfoot and stabbing their fellows in the back, but the Dragon-Blooded have been born into a world where each of them is raised to believe she is a super-powerful, elementally-aspected messiah. Of course they’re going to feel a bit entitled…
At the same time, the Dragon-Blooded are not as powerful as the Solars by themselves. Charms that lie at the beginning of Solar trees lie at the end of Dragon-Blooded ones. This isn’t to say that they’re weak—while their Essence pool is smaller, their Charms seem more efficient, at least until you get to the ones that work like a death-touch. Another notable difference is that while Solar Charms are showy, they have nothing on the elementally-imbued bolts and fiery Aspects of the Terrestrial Exalted.
That’s not to say the book is perfect. Exalted: The Dragon-Blooded goes out of its way not to duplicate information present in the core rules, so the write-ups for the Five Immaculate Dragons and what each represents isn’t copied from the core rules. Given that each Aspect’s description relates the Aspect to each Immaculate Dragon, that means that a reader might have to do some cross-checking between books if they can’t tell Pasiap from Daana’d.
Another problem (in my view) was the lack of information on the Wyld Hunt. While the Imperial Ministries were well-described, and the section on the Magistrates exactly what I was hoping for, there’s almost nothing on the Wyld Hunt outside of some general notes related to how the All Seeing Eye is involved with them, and the fact that they’re technically under the power of the Immaculates. Beyond those brief mentions, there’s nothing, even given that they’re part of one of the vignettes. Maybe I’m wrong, but the Wyld Hunt would seem to be an ideal way to bring characters from the different Houses and the Immaculates together, and it could bring them into the Threshold and other hot-spots. (Of course, hunting down Anathema probably isn’t going to be a way to have a long-running campaign, but still, it would be nice to have details just to help in building adversaries for a Solar group.)
Finally, there are a few unclear Charms or Charms that open up odd cans of worms, but nothing that can’t be puzzled through—I’d actually be surprised if, out of 250 new ones, there weren’t a couple I scratched my head at.
The few flaws do nothing to detract from the overwhelming successes of the book. Overall, Exalted: The Dragon-Blooded is recommended to any Exalted fan, especially if their campaigns pit Solars against Terrestrials, or if they’re looking for a game where the protagonists are lower-powered or more concerned with intrigue.