Exalted Third Edition Mechanics Overview

The following is a summarized list of major notable mechanics changes in Exalted Third Edition, intended to give an idea of the scope of the edition’s rules overhaul. It is not intended to be exhaustive or all-inclusive — it does not, for example, mention that the Defend Other action is returning with only slight tweaks.

Base System

  • Basic task resolution remains a function of combining Attribute + Ability scores with modifiers, rolling them to accumulate successes, and comparing the gathered successes to an action’s difficulty. Virtually all system functions are modelled with either a simple Attribute + Ability vs difficulty roll, or by an extended or opposed roll.
  • In the case of opposed rolls which result in a tie, the player with the better stunt wins.
  • Backgrounds are gone. They have been replaced by Merits. Merits are similar to Backgrounds, but are not required to be ranked from 1 to 5 dots, and in addition to the function of old Backgrounds, Merits may be presented as ‘perks’ such as a lightning-fast sword draw, a mutation, or the mastery of various languages.



  • Combat proceeds in rounds, rather than using ticks.
  • Combat is based on attempting to seize control of the momentum of a fight, and using that advantage to strike a decisive blow. Most attacks aren’t aimed at the opponent’s Health Track, but instead grant the character greater control of the fight’s tempo. Picking the right time to attempt a killing blow is key to success in Third Edition battles.
  • Characters may only make one attack per round without Charms, in order to make combat resolve much more quickly than in previous editions.
  • Rare multi-attack Charms exist, but have been meticulously examined and balanced. No multiattack Charm can be ‘spammed,’ to avoid slowing down combat.
  • There is no longer a separate Mass Combat system. Groups of similar, ‘extra’ combatants are abstracted into battle groups, which can fight in the same combat system as everything else. A battle group may represent anything from a dozen ninja assassins to a thousand of the Realm’s elite heavy infantry.

 Character Resources

  • Essence replenishment is no longer dependent on stunts. Essence instead returns at a fixed rate of 5 motes per round in combat, and at a slower rate outside of combat.
  • Willpower can no longer be regained by performing stunts, making it a much more precious resource than in previous editions.
  • There are means by which characters can gain up to 10 points of Willpower, even if they have a lower Willpower rating.
  • In addition to gaining experience points at the end of each session, players will have limited opportunities each session to earn “Solar XP.” Solar XP can be spent on Merits, sorcery, Martial Arts, Attributes, Abilities, and Evocations.

 Charms and Magic

  • Characters need not spend Willpower to use more than one Charm in the course of a single round.
  • Solar Exalted gain a free Excellency in each of their Caste and Favored Abilities, provided that they possess at least a single dot of that Ability. As soon as they buy a single Charm for any nonfavored Ability, they also gain an Excellency linked to that Ability.
  • Martial arts styles now contain Techniques in addition to Charms. All characters, including mortal heroes, can use Techniques. Techniques can be quite powerful, but often have particular tactical requirements to make use of them.
  • Terrestrial and Celestial Martial Arts are no longer distinct game concepts. Instead, what were formerly known as “supernatural martial arts styles” are simply martial arts styles. A mortal can learn Snake style, Tiger style, Celestial Monkey style, and so forth. If she Exalts, then her mastery of martial arts becomes supernaturally potent, in the same way her other skills do.
  • Certain Martial Arts Charms may be modified when practised by Dragon-Blooded, to adjust their power level appropriately.

Social System

  • Exalted Third Edition does not feature a social combat system. Instead it uses social influence mechanics, with a focus on character interaction, understanding the motives of other characters, and gaining trust or using appropriate leverage to influence others.
  • Exalted Third Edition characters do not have Motivations. Instead, Intimacies have been expanded to be much broader and more nuanced tools for fleshing out characters.
  • Intimacies may be “ties” or “principles.” A tie is an Intimacy describing the character’s feelings toward a person or place, such as “I love Prince Diamond” or “I hate the Mask of Winters.” A principle may be any concept that is important to the character, such as “I cannot abide cruelty,” “My word is my bond,” or “I don’t care what I have to do to keep my homeland safe.”
  • Intimacies vary in intensity, and may be Minor, Major, or Defining.
  • Social influence actions may attempt to modify a character’s Intimacies, or may attempt to convince characters to do things you want them to do. Intimacies are key to the success, failure, and possibility of such actions being attempted at all.
  • Social influence actions may be used during combat.

Storyteller Characters

  • Exalted Third Edition presents two options for making NPCs: the traditional way (presenting NPCs as fully-realized characters with traits as robust as a player character), or as Quick Characters (QCs). Our intent is that characters you do not expect to play a major role in the story should be represented as QCs, while important, recurring NPCs be given full stats, but Storytellers are free to use QCs as heavily or as little as they like.
  • Quick Characters have greatly abstracted traits. Rather than a full listing of Attributes and Abilities, a Sijanese investigator might have only a few simple traits such as “Search for evidence (7 dice)” and “Question suspects (6 dice).” An easy guide is provided for constructing QCs, allowing Storytellers to simply eyeball the desired level of competence for a QC and plug in appropriate numbers in a few minutes.


  • Weapon traits have been greatly simplified. Each mundane weapon is now a Light, Medium, or Heavy weapon, with weapon nuance provided by tags. All light weapons, for example, have identical accuracy, damage, and defense ratings. A dagger and a whip, for example, would both be light weapons. The dagger’s tags might enable attacks which help it slip through an opponent’s armor, however, while the whip’s tags make it better at entangling and disarming opponents.
  • Magical weapons and armor provide superior traits to mundane equipment, but also provide a new form of magic known as Evocations. Evocations are Charms drawn from the rapport between a hero and his storied mystic panoply, and can be extremely powerful. Solars are the undisputed masters of Evocations among the Exalted.

23 thoughts on “Exalted Third Edition Mechanics Overview”

  1. This has only made me more exicted for 3E! I’m liking everything I hear, and it really feels like this edition is gonna play a lot smoother and faster than prior editions!

  2. This has only made me more excited for 3E! I’m liking everything I hear, and it really feels like 3E is gonna play a lot faster and smoother than prior editions.

    • They gave us an overview. It’s not detailed, else it would be titled ‘Detailed’. They’re showing us how some things haven’t changed, and how some are changing. Details come, funnily enough, when you actually buy the book. If you want the mechanics, and an awesome book to boot, maybe you should support the Kickstarter?

    • This is an overview. It sounds like you’re being a dick just to be contrary. It already sounds like they’ve made things mechanically simpler in key areas that were causing lots of problems.

      One question I have is that are there going to be economic rules for influencing large markets and running kingdoms?

  3. The only thing thats missing is a rough overview of how combat momentum is produced.
    It could be a stone-scissor-paper system (pick a move, gain advantage or disadvantage based on enemies move, roughly comparable to burn legend). It could be “just attack normally but dont do damage until you fire off a finishing move” as the Tyrant Lizard preview suggests. Or there could be a bunch of special moves that grant momentum just like there are special finisher moves.

    At any rate, a rough idea would be very nice! Just something like:
    “Combat Momentum is gained by picking the right form of attack for the circumstance. Which one is right depends on your and your opponents weapons, charms and on environmental factors” would hint at an intricate system and what we can expect.

  4. Love the combat momentum idea. Though I have no idea how it’s going to be implemented, I feel like it can be a good fix to both the paranoïa combat problem of 2e and the length of battles in Exalted. Plus, it doesn’t get much more cinematic than controlling the flow of a fight, and being cinematic is one of the most wonderful things about Exalted (IMHO).

    Social system… I want to believe in. Hopefully it’ll come out as a really sharp, streamlined system. I think if the Combat and Social systems are well designed, the rest of the book could be written in Old Realm and I would still be satisfied.

    Can’t wait to see the final product!

  5. It looks like you’re putting more focus into complex combat systems, and less in conflict resolution systems. That’s rather disappointing. Increasingly complex systems for creating characters, figuring out game balance, and a huge focus on combat (which only touches on 1/5 of most castes anyway) is what drove me away from using the Exalted system to play games in the Exalted universe. It sounds like we’re just getting a polished 1st edition.

    I would have hoped that such a successful kickstarter, with such a bold new potential would have done more serious game design updates to bring it up to recent RPG game design breakthroughs, instead of playing it safe.

  6. I was mildly excited about this new edition previously. Having read this mechanics overview, I am extremely excited. The combat system in particular has me going “YES.”

    • The combat sounds like a blatant ripoff of Edge of Empire’s momentum building system. I’ve seen this before. It was picky and ugly there too.

  7. I love it when armchair quarterbacks start talking about how the newest White Wolf game “is going to suck”, with next to no information to base that *always loudly stated* opinion on. I’ve seen the same type of entitled, whiny nonsense every single time WW has released a new game, released a new edition, or even announced vague plans for a new game, since the mid-90’s. Inevitably, there’s a small group of overly vocal whiners, crying and screaming on the internet about how ‘it’s all going to suck, blah blah blah ad infinitum ad nauseum’. It’s gotten so predictable, I could set clocks by it. Funny thing is, all the douche-canoes who howl and shriek and declaim their eternal enmity for all things White Wolf, are the same ones buying the game on the day it releases, reading it all, and then buying all the supplements too. Funny how that works out. Keep hating, haters. Keep making kickass games, Onyx Path.

  8. I’m a bit skeptical currently.
    There were 2 aspects of Exalted that I thought were brilliant ideas and really made the system special: The Tick combat and stunts.

    Both are apparently either cut or severely diminished.
    I’m looking forward to seeing the new system, but so far it looks a bit blah.

  9. I looked at the tick system when 2e came out and saw one very big book-keeping nightmare. I’m glad that’s gone.

    What I am stoked about:

    * Essence regenerating in combat. This is going to remove the Essence micromanagement hurdle to the combat I wanted to see in Exalted.

    * Excellencies for free. The Excellencies were a great idea in 2e; they just weren’t implemented well and served as the same speed bumps they were supposed to replace.

    * Martial Arts become a little more useful. Nice. I hope Sorcery improves likewise.

  10. I thought the game as of late 2E was too much of a tangled mess, with a fragmented fanbase, to ever be salvaged, but I really, really like these changes–this blog persuaded me to invest in the KS–and I’m very hopeful that Exalted can finally become the game I’ve always wanted it to be. I get a sense that there’s a real back-to-basics attitude, with no sacred cows being held over from earlier editions and a strong focus on making the game WORK.

    Even after being turned off from the game by twelve years of fighting cruddy, over-complex rules, the setting and core premise is still unique & wonderful, and you’ve made me dare to hope you could finally do justice to it. 🙂

  11. I just found out about this. Sorry to have missed the kickstarter, but still looking forward to purchasing the new edition when it comes out.

  12. Hmmmmm… I’ve been a fan of Exalted since 1st Ed. Exalted was my first pen and paper tabletop rpg(was that about 10 years ago? WOW). The game setting and concept was always rich and dynamic in ways other games were never able hold candle to. Even with its issues, true fans powered though. That being said, the fan-base has always had it’s head up it’s own posterior regarding certain things or “scared cows” as it were. As long as these changes are just for mechanics, fine. Just remember storytelling and mechanics don’t have to “line-up” 100% of the time. The reason I bring it up is because I recall a late 2nd Ed book detailing the mechanics of how the “Great Curse” was able to bypass Solar perfect mental defenses, as if it really needed a reason besides a plot hook. This example specifically turned me off to getting that book and put a sour taste in my mouth regarding the new writing team… and my current skepticism of this new edition. If you’ve made these mechanics changes in an effort to address obscure aspects of the overall story and setting or just not include things that don’t fit into these new mechanics, then piss off and die poor in a ditch. If the game is in its essence the same with a stronger, faster, sleeker engine under the hood running the mechanics then I’ll be the first to buy a copy when it comes out.
    I have just few concerns from this overview. Battles between Exalted (social, sorcery or melee) were and are meant to be epic and not entirely purely meant to just kill your opponent as quickly as possible, as long as this isn’t being streamlined to the point of D&D style “roll and move on”, I’ll be happy. The other concern being this dumbing down of the weapons… I’m not quite sure what to make of it from this overview. Well that’s my 2 cents.


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