So you want to play Exalted. Either you found a group online who is willing to play 1st or 2nd Edition, or you are waiting to pick up 3rd and give it a try. But as a new player you have no idea how to build a character. Sure, you may read the lore in the book and think playing a Solar from Lookshy sounds cool, especially with the military family background, but you have no idea on how to build an effective character. Exalted has and will have it's share of pitfalls for new players so here is my rough guide on how to build a character and ideas on how to hopefully have fun and contribute to the game.
NOTE: This is from the POV of playing a Solar. Other Exalts are similar but have unique spins on issues like Charms and starting options. It is also based around what we know so far on 3E using what I remember of 1E and 2E.
When you sit down to spend your attribute and ability points the first thing to remember is your character had something special about them. Something that qualified them to be chosen by the Incarna to become an Exalt. This can be spectacular skill, fortitude, charisma, or just effort. Whatever that quality is it is best to focus on one or two primary abilities and matching attributes.
For attribute dots an accomplished warrior would have good Dexterity, Strength, and Wits. A Cunning Spy would have Manipulation, Dexterity, and Perception. As you assign you attribute dots don't be afraid to specialize. Due to the exponential cost of exp advancement attributes over abilities cost far, far, more.
Ability dots should be spread out more liberally. Don't over focus on any one skill expect for those critical to the theme or background of your character. Keeping this theme in mind will allow you to place your higher dot allotments in those area of focus while leaving some much needed 'well roundness' that allows for a character not to be sidelined during scenes.
Even though when you spend your freebie points you will want 4s and 5s in your favored specialties don't forget to cover some basics. Drop some points into a combat skill, defensive skill, integrity and resistance are good spends, and awareness if you want to be fast on the uptake. Now if you wish to play a more passive character consider marital arts as there are martial arts moves and charms that are non lethal. Every one can get something out of dodge, especially if you are not a melee or martial arts monster. Even a 1 point dip can be meaningful after a very short time.
This brings me to the first major tip in Exalted.
SHARE THE LOVE - No matter where you spend you points, charms, or merits don't fixate on any one element. Specializations do not need to come at the cost of character effectiveness. This is very important early on as not having a solid foundation for a character can leave critical weaknesses. You can if you wanted too dump all your points into Martial Arts, Dexterity, and Wits. Then dump all your charms to master a Martial Arts tree (well, as much as you can). The same goes with a Sorcerer who buys only spells and charms to enhance them. The catch is charms cost less than attributes and abilities down the line. Saving on early costs by spreading out a few points into social, knowledge (lore, survival, etc), and combat skills to cover your bases early on pays off on later development.
Remember Exalted get free Excellencies now in 3E on their favored abilities. Also in 3E if you buy 1 charm in an ability you get the Excellency as well. This is VERY important. Excellencies are the bread and butter of what makes Exalted more than human. Even low ability, attribute mixes with an Excellency can feel powerful. At least useful.
This is a tricky part. Merit buying is a one time deal at character generation. All future developments in this area are directly tied to what you do as a character. Want a larger number of contacts? You'll be out talking to people and trading favors. Need a new artifact? Go hunting in tombs or build your own. Etc. The tricky part of spending your starting points is you only get so many and there are dozens of things you'd love to pick up.
If you want to play a beastman race you need to dedicate a few for racial features. The same goes for any of the alternative human sub-races (created by Exalts). Once that is done look at what type of character you are building.
Artifact and Manse buys are very tempting. The catch to them is they tie up elements that would enhance your character theme. A Dawn Warlord might want to focus on Resources and Command. A Zenith might enjoy Boundless Endurance and Pain Resistance. And so forth. Social characters with out Contacts are asking for trouble, the game goes with sorcerer characters with out Language so they can read/speak Old Realm.
Just keep this in mind when buying mertis. Note, Evocations only come into play on Artifacts 3 points or higher. Daiklaves in 3E are now rating 3 because they can develop Evocations! If you have an Artifact or Manse/Demanse above a 3 point merit it's going to be noticeable and coveted by others. Keep this in mind as well. Having an edge is great, but not if it turns into a liability. Just think of the character back story and theme to guide you.
This is the second place you can trip up as a new player. Don't get me wrong Charms and Evocations are where a character pushes beyond mortal. However if all of your free choices are dumped into one or two things you might run into issues down the line. However 3E giving Excellencies to caste and favored abilities goes great lengths to fixing this. Now the issues is just how deep you go into any one trick. You can spend (just about) all your free charm picks in one or two trees. If it was something like Melee or Martial Arts it may not be so bad but it will leave you open in other areas that will benefit you down the line. This brings me to note 2.
REMEMBER PREREQUISITES - Seems silly but it is an issue. I can't tell you the number of times new players started cherry picking charms out of the trees not paying attention to the Ability and Essence requirements. And this goes for things like Sorcery charms and spells. Remember, you can buy the foundation charms now to pick up advanced elements later.
The key idea is to dip a bit more into your specialty of choice. So if you have 10 charms, dedicating five for it and then spending the other five in additional useful charms will help you a lot. The good news is a lot of the early charms in trees tend to have low cost high yield effects. Look at Salty Dog Method from Sail, it has a massive no-cost list of benefits that happen when you are on anything that counts as a ship. But lets look at a few important areas.
Melee vs Martial Arts - Melee is a crowbar of combat. You can attack, defend, counter attack all in the baseline tree. For Solars it is one of the most efficient trees. It has a very linear growth and eventually a player would have to dip into Evocations with their signature weapon to really customize their attacks.
Martial Arts has many trees, but each focuses on different attack styles and weapons. It is a swiss army knife that changes based on the charms/attachments you put into it. Key to Martial Arts is the form charms which allow (often) lethal hand damage, parrying of melee weapons, and unique scene long benefits. If a martial artist is working on honing their art they will focus more charms on the trees and less on evocations. Unless they are specializing in one style. But that's the catch, really good martial artists as they grow in power will pick up multiples.
That's the trade off. If you want just to dip into Melee the Excellency and one or two charms will do. If you want to dip into Martial Arts, try to aim for the form charm if it is not too deep in the tree.
Sorcery - This can be tricky. Going full in grants some amazing feats you can accomplish. The catch is however you will lack much else to do and Sorcery is a BIG give away you are not mortal. It's impossible to hide it. Starting out with a handful of useful spells is amazing though. Summoning Elementals and Demons is like having a multitool you have to negotiate with. Travel spells are a godsend for a party on the move (but in 3E they may not be as powerful as in 2E...but this isn't bad.). And Ritual of Elemental Empowerment is like being a magical gadgeteer.
Attack spells are costly and may or may not be useful so keep that in mind. Death of Obsidian Butterflies is a great mook cleaner but does not much against armored Exalts. Often a good Sorcerer will dip about 5 charms into their spells at first, and then pick up dodge and archery or thrown to have a more dependable ranged attack.
Social - This is going to be WAY different in 3E. First off merits that tie into charms will be important early on. So keep that in mind when buying merits like Followers and Contacts. Also the social influence system will reward you for doing ground work. It's less overt mind control from prior editions, but you still can put the mental whammy on people with your charms. Picking up 'info' charms like Know the Court, Judges Ear, are going to be you big foundation. Mastery of Small Manners, etc. These are how you can walk cold in to a scene and pick out your target to use your social excellencies on.
And what social charms you pick up depend on your intended social styles. Presence is great for one on one. Performance for group actions. Socialize is for moving through various social strata smoothly (think covert but in the public eye), and finally Bureaucracy is perfect for pushing buttons against faceless organizations. Pick you weapons carefully, or dip a charm into each and use your excellencies early on until you develop more specialized charms. Note that Linguistics holds a lot of the more subtle social tricks like seeking socalize actions and encoded messaging. Just keep that in mind.
Virtues are a thing of the past. So are Motivations. In their place the Social Influence system has stepped up. What we do know is that it is much toned down from the days of 1E and 2E Solar mind control. Merits that grant you social benefits can be used to greater effect and all of this will tie back into your intimacies at a character level. Now how the Great Curse will play in or how the dice to mechanic will play out? No clue yet. That said there are a few things I want to point out about Intimacies for new players.
Personal with Societal - It is perfectly fine to have a mix of lesser personal intimacies detailing your characters life, loves, hates, and wishes. But it is also helpful to add in elements of their background society. Perhaps a Realm born Solar would like to be acknowledged as a person and not monster by his people. A person from Paragon wishes for freedom for their people from the Paragon. Or maybe you want to be the most celebrated Scavenger Lord of all time. However it goes the key element is Intimacies are varied in both an internal and external.
Change - Intimacies are not static. And it's important for a player to grow and change theirs over time. The character is not a mountain, even though Exalted they have mortal desires and worries. If you meet someone and they seem important to your character then take the time to establish and cultivate your connection to them. The same goes for oaths, personal beliefs, and maybe regional plans as a Solar. If you don't then it WILL come to bite you down the line. One of the classic avenues of attack vs someone is to erode their Intimacies. It's not mind control, but you can alter someone (even your PCs) hard held beliefs to make them more open to outside influence. Build up your mental connections, I have a feeling they will be important in the new social influence system.
To end my newbie guide I want to highlight one of the big changes the developers have told us. The power level of the game is slightly lower than 1st and 2nd Editions. This was to cut out the overpowered travel and social systems. And also to drive down die pools vs target numbers. Now, you will still be throwing buckets full of dice, but that will be at more critical moments. The other big change is the 1000 Dooms that pressured characters into trying to "save the world" right away are diminished or gone. In their place is more local issues and worries. This is not to diminish the scope of the game but to give it much needed focus. Accomplishments in nations, or local regions, matter more now. You might eventually bring you game to taking over the Realm, restoring some of the 1st Age's lost glory. Or you can carve out your own Empire from the Lap to Nexus and forge your own legacy for years to come. That's one of Exalted's big strengths and this refocusing is an attempt to restore that joy and potential from earlier editions crisis bloat.
So I hoped this guide helped and have fun playing!