Monday, November 10, 2014

Meerkat steals the spotlight...the big issue with Lunars.

Exalted has a character type called Lunars. For those that don't know they are (or were) Shapeshifting, war machines, who suddenly in 2nd Edition were big into social experimentation. The weirdness of this description is part of the problem with the Exalt type. Looking back at 1E I was always curious what they were going to be but they had a few issues during their creation:
  1. Early in the corebook development they were said to be Loki-like Byronic heroes who use illusion and trickery coupled with powerful animal traits but Grabowski (1E and early 2E head designer) mentioned that illusion powers were more in the domain of Fair Folk and it didn't quite fit with the Lunar ethos. So by the time the 1E book dropped, these traits were minimized. Changing-Moons suddenly had what remained in the form of Anima illusions. The rest were related to shapeshifting charms.
  1. Lunars also had one of the most mechanically weird to describe charm sets. Building their charms based on attributes and not abilities made the clean 5 way divide of Solars moot. In it's place you have a incredibly over focused combat tree (and massive ability bonus), the slightly less useful and costly Social tree, and finally the extremely costly and very limited mental tree. Basically the character mechanics made it undervalued to be anything but a combat focused monster.
  1. What did the Lunars DO for the 1000 years after the usurpation? Sit around in the Borderlands of the Wyld fuming? It seemed that way, there was little talk about how they impacted the Realm, even WHY the Realm would bother hunting them? 2nd Edition tried to fix this by giving them the Thousand River Dream where the Lunars were doing social experiments to replace the Realm with something new...but it was so passive and overly cerebral for a so called Byronic hero.
  1. 1st Edition Lunar were too close in many ways to the Werewolves (and werecritters) that inspired them. They even had a copy/paste social mechanic of renown and honor from the then old World of Darkness Werewolf book. It didn't work in terms of Exalted's resource mechanics and 2E's take on it didn't add anything. Even though thankfully they toned it down.
  1. Finally, and most painfully they had so much potential. I think this is why Lunars keep dominating forum chatter on Exalted types. The lore of them, the short descriptions from promo materiel and books hints at potentially great beings who trick people, steal faces, have vast sorcery powers, but the final book we get doesn't quite deliver. We are left wanting and fan fixes only wet out appetite for what 'could have been'.
I have my theories on how this kind of character can be made more interesting and useful in Exalted 3E but before I do so let's talk about what we know the devs are doing with Lunars:

They are going to be devastatingly badass in a fight. I am lining them up to be able to take on Infernals. I want a Lunar swordsman who is just as capable in a fight as a Lunar going full-time DBT. Lunar thematics will be more tightly focused on the dualism of a "good" person who has a monster inside, or a monster who has a good person inside. Rage, transformation, and shapeshifting will be much more strongly evinced in their narrative and their mechanics. (John Mørke)

Definite support for social, mysterious Lunars. Not so much illusions. A Lunar has the most majestic god-body ever. They are all about being seen. (John Mørke)

Also, the connection between Lunars and animals is Gaia. (John Mørke)

Particularly when you expand "Frankenstein" to "all tales of created life or unnatural outcasts are fair game for inspiration," and particularly when you expand "werewolf" to "all tales of bestial dualism, and all shapeshifting folklore of any kind." I mean, hardly anyone in America has ever even heard of them, but I could riff on African werehyena legends alone pretty much forever. (Holden)

But yeah, one of the advantages of having new Exalted around is that Lunars no longer have to encompass literally every shapeshifter ever. Instead, they get to be a specific type of shapeshifter, broad enough to contain a wide variety of concepts without being so broad they lose thematic coherence. And it's really important that Lunars get that coherence in 3e.

Point being, Lunars can borrow animal-based symbolism for their powers without being limited to that. (Chai Tea)

Thanks to the Exalted 3E: What we know page for the details.

So what does that all mean and how do you use that to think up improved Lunars in 3E? I'll boil my thoughts down to 10 points:

  1. Lunars develop charms based on the ties they forge. Animal themes from Gaian bonds. Ghostly themes from spirit pacts. Fair Folk from the Wyld. Demons from Hell. Etc. Lunars may forge connections via ritual, sorcery, or the classic hearts-blood consumption. Once a link is established the Lunar can make changes to themselves to gain access to the unique charms related to those beings.
  2. Lunars retain the animal spirits shape due to Luna's connection to Gaia. This representing their first bond beyond that to their Silver patron. But over time they forge pacts and take the blood, breath, or coup from other beings gaining access to their forms and charms that evoke an echo of their nature. 
  3. Chimeras would be more based on loss of self over endless shapeshifting blob monsters, though that may be one possible outcome. Consider Ma-Ha-Sushi made a deliberate alternation to his internal vision of 'self'. Taking the fawn like lover and turning him into a goat/wolf murder machine in his quest for revenge. Out of all the bestial elders he is the most in control because he hones his Rage to a fine point so it won't consume him. Alternatively Rakshi was lost sight of herself somewhere in the past. Her anger and frustration at her loss of status in creation manifested in a cannibalistic urge that she indulges. Each Lunar now has a monster, a beast inside of them that can force it's way out. A true Chimera gives up trying to control or direct it. Very much like Grangrel Frenzy or Garou Frenzy of old, loosing control means you loose control of your form and nature.
  4. 1st Age Lunars were just a bestial as they are now, but that was 'working as intended'. They were the enforcers of the Solars, the spies, and shock troops when Dragon Bloods alone would not do. The key difference would be the lack of support of the Exalted Host and no Heavenly mandate to rule at the Solars side anymore. The Sidereals have usurped their role in more ways than one. Where as previously they might have been asked to sit in council or act as go-between in the various Heavenly and Terrestrial courts, they are cast adrift. In their place the Dragon-Bloods ape age old rolls the Beasts of Heaven use to fill, and worse they are doing it poorly.
  5. The monster to person duality of Lunars allows for really interesting ideas of powerful beasts that might stop an attack to save children, or a beautiful maiden who eats the hearts of potential Dragon Blooded suitors. A lunar may fight to remain human mentally slipping out of control when Limit gets too high, or embrace their bestial nature only to be hammered by dormant compassion/fear at ill timed events.And the more in tune Lunar who walks both paths looking for control and rage when needed.
  6. Changing Moons would all up bonds and connections by invoking the tie of blood between themselves and others. At a basic level they can invoke human society instincts on others, or after tasting blood (or invoking a bond via ritual) use more specific charms to change family dynamics. In this way they alter themselves to fit into roles others might expect them to fill, or call up a sense of deja-vu about a bond that never existed before the Lunar got a taste of them. They command respect because they invoke the stance of dominance (be it a pack, pride, or kingdom) or they walk unseen because they sing the song of an Omega (and blend into the culture like the lowest strata would.) 
  7. No Moons might call up ancestor knowledge from fallen family members to consul the living, or perhaps they wear the totem mask of the night sky and see that which is hidden under it's sight. Their charms would be more themed around Shaman tales and stories. Taking themes and culture clues to create powers based around legendary creatures, people, and actions. This would open up appearance charms relating to themes of love, loss, and fear. Charisma and Wits charms that invoke the true trickster allowing for uncanny ability to charm and withstand external influence. The list goes on.
  8. However, a Lunar crafter and Sorcerer might benefit from emulation of other Exalt or spirit types. Imagine being able to alter you essence enough to pic up any artifact at moments notice to use would be a costly but effective trick. Or taking on an aspect of beast to craft Evocations that call out it's nature in a artifact. Now quite the universal power to evoke power like Solars, but rather dedicated focus.
  9. There might be some thematic crossover with the Solars with charms like Craftsmen needs no tools to represented the Lunar being their own tool. Or perhaps they both share social charms of similar design since they once were the highest social beings of the 1st Age. (After all the #2 in charge after the Solars were the Lunars per the devs.) This may mean they have abilities that work much like Solar Socialize and Presence charms but not so much Bureaucracy or War.
  10. If my guess is correct the Lunars will be if anything independent on the need of any other Exalt or magic. They will still have Sorcery (and charms that might enhance it uniquely) and the same goes for Martial Arts (enhanced by their physicality). But uniquely to themselves is the ultimate in adaptability and self 'definition'. They can customize themselves by adding features and associates that others may not. Infernals emulate and become their own unique demon, Sidereals must be sublte in their pressure on fate. Solar craft and cast their way to dominates. Lunars simply become what they need, be it temporary or permanent.
This is theory crafting pure in simple. But I've always like the Lunars. I've wanted to play Loki meets The Thing for ages. A true rakshasa or kitsune. It's was always one of my favorite mythological archtypes. So here is hoping 3E pulls it off...and how close my vision to them is. (Even if I'm way off if the final version of them invokes a full and exciting play style. I'm there!)