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Manual of Exalted Power: Abyssals RPG Review

Posted on September 15, 2008 by Flames


Available at RPGNow.com

Introduction
As with the previous edition the tactic with Exalted in this addition appears to be the release of ‘uber’ splatbooks. Apparently a successful model as it’s one that’s spread across various of the larger companies now in selling their products. While you have some fill-in material to use to play the various high-powered factions in Exalted they only come into their own with these larger splatbooks where they’re properly filled out, given access to all their powers and secrets and become a force in their own right.

This splatbook – or ‘Manual of Exalted Power’ – (a touch unwieldy as a name in my opinion) addresses the Abyssal Exalted, after the Dragon Blooded perhaps the most persistent enemy of the Solar Exalted, their twisted ‘undead’ antithesis. The version of this book for the earlier edition was very good and very evocative so this version has a lot to live up to.

Overview
The book is divided into eight sections:

* Introduction – which lays out basically what the Abyssals are and their role and place in the world. It’s rather sparse but, given the nature and depth of the rest of the book it doesn’t need to be that complete, still, it would have been nice to have more of a concise guideline to the forthcoming material here as the book is very, very dense with information.
* The Chosen of the Void – A more in depth coverage of the Abyssal Exalted, who they are, what they are, how they come to be what they are, what drives them and what controls them. All the basic societal information is here, but the most important parts are expanded on in…
* The Deathlords – Here we have more on the highest echelons of the civilisation of the dead and the Deathlords in particular, their powers, their agendas and more about their history, followers and tactics.
* Character Creation – Here we start getting into the meat of the rules with creation rules for the Abyssal Exalted making note of the (few) differences between them and the Solar Exalted. The differences are more keen than they were in the old edition however with the Abyssal Exalted feeling – rules wise at least – more like their own entities and less like Solar Exalted with goatee beards.
* Traits & Charms – Chapters four and five are filled out with all the magic, powers and other exciting whizz-bang stuff that makes Exalted go. This section continues the feeling of making the Abyssal Exalted their own thing with more of a unique feel and power set than the old Abyssals really felt like they had.
* Necrotech – This chapter is a vast improvement on old treatments of necromantic technology and feels more like a toolkit, combined with some of the fleshy excesses of the Tzimisce of the original (and best) World of Darkness. It also contains many examples of these artefacts and ideas put to good use.
* Abyssal Storytelling – The last chapter contains advice and techniques for running an Abyssal centred game or incorporating them into other games with relatively few bumps. There’s nothing particularly revelatory here but for new Games Masters you can never have too much advice and old dogs can still learn a few new tricks, it’s always interesting to get another perspective.

Artwork
The big drawback to this edition of the Abyssals sourcebook was what happened to the art, at least for me. The old book had a great Aztec/Mayan feel to it tempered by some very high quality anime style art, though it was let down by some scratchy work that didn’t work for me. Overall the old book did have a unified feel to it and did inspire you to play and use the Abyssals purely on a level of raw, visual, visceral appeal. Despite the greater polish to the look of this book it seems to lack some of that same ‘heart’ in visual terms and has a more disjointed feel, something I get from a lot of the newer White Wolf books.

Writing
The writing is solid and good and continues White Wolf’s trend away from their more florid traditional prose. The useful meat of the material is separated from the fiction nicely and the book contains everything you need to know. It is a little dense and can be quite heavy going, even with being broken up by comic strip sections, so it isn’t really a book to be devoured on one sitting.

Rules
The rules are serviceable and, given the nature of the Abyssal Exalted, are on a balance par with the Solar Exalted, making the Abyssals good recurring villains rather than daiklaive fodder. The necromanic magic and necrotech treatments are welcome expansions and additions though I haven’t really had enough time to delve into balance issues on those (not that balance should really be a sacred cow, certainly not in Exalted).

Upsides

* Very complete.
* Useful rules additions.
* Continued improvement in presentation/writing.

Downsides

* Schizophrenic art direction, lacking cohesion.
* Heavy reading.

Score
Style 3
Substance 5
Overall 4

Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough

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