Categorized | RPGs

Manual of Exalted Power: Dragon-Blooded Review

Posted on March 17, 2010 by Megan

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    The Introduction sets the scene: for a long time the Dragon-Blooded have ruled Creation (or at least, the Realm of the Scarlet Empire) but now their position is threatened, particularly by the resurgance of the Solar Exalted but also the rise of the deathknights and other disquieting – at least, if you’re Dragon-Blooded – events. A rule that seemed certain, fixed, timeless, is now at risk and an all-encompassing war seems likely. Interesting times, as they say… and good if you want to run an exciting game! The purpose of this book is then stated, to present a wealth of further detail about the Dragon-Blooded to enrich that game, whether you want really well-developed rounded adversaries or want to actually play Dragon-Blooded characters. The first part of the book focusses on information about the Scarlet Dynasty – the Great Houses of the Realm – and on those Dragon-Blooded who Exalt outside of that organised structure, then there comes all the rule mechanics you need to create Dragon-Blooded characters, and rounds off with notes on the sort of games in which all this detail will be of benefit.

    So, on to Chapter 1: The Scarlet Dynasty. This is the powerhouse of the Terrestial Exalted, the core of their rule, peopled by descendants of the soldiers of the most powerful army Creation ever witnessed, even if that was many thousands of years in the past. There’s still a distinctly military bent to the Dragon-Blooded, and no hesitation about backing up their wishes with brute force. Rulers of the Realm, centred on the Blessed Isle, the Scarlet Dynasty’s influence is felt far and wide. It’s a highly-structured society, with even the most powerful individuals operating as cogs within a greater whole. They start young, as the ‘normal’ children of the great families are whipped away at birth and educated thoroughly in much of what they’ll need to know even before they Exalt, usually around their early teens. If they do – it is common but by no means certain, and if they do not, they at least have an excellent education and maybe a good marriage to survive on although they will forever be viewed as somewhat lacking. There’s plenty of detail on family life and upbringing here, useful background for those who want to play Dragon-Blooded and interesting, showing how they are moulded from an early age, even if you do not. Once educated, the youngster begins to take his place in his family’s affairs, although travel through the Realm or military service are equally-respected choices. While Dragon-Blooded are at least as interested in love and sex as anyone else, marriage and procreation are seen as Dynastic duty rather than something done for love. While the practice of sorcery is fairly common and acceptable in society as a whole, sorcerers are often viewed askance and not everyone wants to marry one!

    After the discussion of the educational opportunities available to young Dragon-Blooded, the chapter moves on to explore the history of the Scarlet Empire, based around the Scarlet Empress herself and her vast brood of descendants, the Scarlet Dynasty. These form the eleven Great Houses, each with a multitude of family members who live comfortable and opulent lives… yet not lazy ones. Between them they keep the Empire working, controlling everything from the army and the bureaucracy to banks and businesses, not to mention the Immaculate Order who promulgate religion. Each House is described in turn with information on its leadership, business dealings and other alliances and a few prominent members. For those who enjoy games full of intrigue and political maneuvering, there’s a wealth of ideas just waiting to come alive in their plotlines. The Houses explored, the next topic is that of ‘Lost Eggs’ – Exaltations that occur in the most unlikely families, ordinary human stock with no dynastic pretensions. To understand them, and why some consider it to be a problem, the early history of the Dragon-Blooded, right back to their origins in the First Age, is discussed. This makes fascinating reading and goes towards explaining many of the Dragon-Blooded views.

    Chapter 2: The Outcaste looks at those ‘Lost Eggs’ who Exalt not just outwith the Dynastic Families but somewhere other than on the Blessed Isle. Depending on where they happen to be, they can be adopted or taken in by someone and put on an appropriate path… or find that they have to discover what it means to be Dragon-Blooded all on their own. Naturally, patrons are rarely altruistic, but survival is better for those who have been taken under someone’s wing, even if the most common career path is the military in some shape or form. Those who decide to go to the Realm are offered a choice, the Razor (the life of a monk) or the Coin (that of a soldier) in exactly the same way as their counterparts who Exalt on the Blessed Isle but are not adopted by one of the Great Families. Independents can meet a whole range of reactions, from being lionised through being exploited to treated the same as everyone else, although few communities are outright hostile. The text scans around prominent locations, detailing the likely reception and opportunities a Lost Egg might find there – to gain full benefit from this it’s helpful if you have access to the Compass of Terrestrial Directions series of books. There is a wealth of detail here, sufficient for detailed background or convoluted plots should you wish your game to take place in these parts.

    Descriptions of Terrestial Exalted, both Realm and Outcaste, done, Chapter 3: Character Creation deals with the rule mechanics necessary to create your own such characters, or at least those that differ from the creation of Solar Exalts as detailed in the core rulebook. As well as using the material presented earlier to understand just where he fits in to Creation as a whole, it’s useful to remember the origins of the Terrestial Exalts – created by the gods as footsoldiers to serve under Celestial Exalted – and that they rose to their current status by banding together to defeat said Celestials, the best way to do so as on the whole Celestials are stronger. So whatever a particular Dragon-Blooded decides to do, the traits of military expertise and co-operation run strong and deep. You’ll need to know your character’s origins as although they all start with the same Attributes, Abilities and Advantages are dependant on where and with whom he grew up.

    Chapter 4 continues character creation with a discussion of Traits as they apply to Terrestial Exalted characters. While many are the same, or at least similar, to Solar ones there is one very marked difference. A Dragon-Blooded can have the Trait of Breeding, because alone amongst Exalted there is at least some element of genetics involved – not every child of Exalted parents will Exalt themselves, but they have a far better chance of so doing than any other human. The five Aspects that apply to Dragon-Blooded are also detailed: Air, Earth, Fire, Water and Wood. Following on, Chapter 5 lists Terrestial Charms. They work much the same as Solar ones although by and large they are weaker. They make up for it in verstatility and a capacity for co-operation in Charm use.

    Chapter 6 covers Martial Arts, a favored means of combat of both monks of the Immaculate Order and more militarily-inclined Terrestials… not to mention lesser mortals, ordinary humans who can study the basics even if not capable of augmenting them with Charms. The style most learn, at least at first, is based on their Aspect and it is not until that style has been mastered that the keen student of the martial arts can go on to learn others. Each style is described along with its Charms and it would be easy to lose oneself, if so inclined, in a comparative study of these styles and even to contemplate a whole plotline based around the study and mastery of them! (eep – finish the review first THEN write adventures!)

    Finally, Chapter 7: Storytelling looks at the particular demands of running a game based around the Dragon-Blooded. While just about any flavour of game is possible, a distinct possibility here is a game full of intrigue, whether it is merely Great Houses seeking temporary advantage or making a major play for the Scarlet Throne itself. Whatever intrigue you settle on, the characters can play a variety of roles as spies and intelligence-gatherers, assassins, diplomatic envoys, politicians and their aides in the Deliberative… the possibilities are endless! And indeed lots of ideas are presented here, sometimes with an over-reliance on references to TV shows, comics or books that I’ve never heard about (and insufficient reference to let me track them down quickly!), but on the whole a good array of thoughts to get your creative juices flowing.

    If you want to understand the Dragon-Blooded, whether to play a game using them or to enhance the setting in which a more conventional game of Solar Exalteds will occur, this is a fascinating and absorbing read.

    Review by Megan Robertson

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