[Let’s Study Exalted 3rd Edition] Part 5b: Combat 101, Or Twelve-Merit Scholar Gets Into A Bar Fight

Posted: March 28, 2016 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Exalted, Let's Study, Roleplaying Games
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Hey everyone, welcome to another week of Let’s Study Exalted 3rd Edition. Today we’re starting off with a combat Example starring  the Dawn Caste Solar we put together in our Character Creation article, Twelve-Merit Scholar.

For context let’s have the following scenario.

Twelve-Merit Scholar (or Twelve, for short) has been trying to lie low from his recent, rather overt actions that took place in a Guild warehouse in the docks involving a blazing inferno that ruined whatever contraband the Guild was hoping to sell.

So our hero is presently in the corner of a seedy bar with his back to the wall, nursing a watered down drink that surely must have been piss by the way it smelled. It was then that some beggar shuffled inside and nervously pointed him out.

Twelve resigned himself to the fact that hiding wasn’t really one of his strong points.

The beggar stepped aside as a young man in gleaming red jade armor entered the establishment, a red jade daiklaive already in hand.

Customers bolted at the sight of the Dynast, fearful of the possible violence to come.

“So you’re the one who burned down the warehouse.” The Dragon-Blooded smiled, “I suppose I should thank you. The Guild was eager to overlook a few outstanding favors in exchange for your head. If you’ll just stand still, I can at least promise you that this will be painless.”

“Generous.” Twelve grinned, “But I’m afraid I intend to fight this out all the same, if you don’t mind.”

The Dynast shrugged, “Suit yourself.”


Okay, to start combat, both sides make their Join Battle rolls, which is done by adding rolling a pool of d10’s equal to their Wits + Awareness.

Twelve has Wits 4 and Awareness 3, plus an extra die for his Fast Reflexes merit and rolls 10 10 9 8 8 7 6 4  for a whopping 8 successes!

The Dynast rolls six dice for 10 7 7 3 3 1  and nets 4 successes.

These successes are then added to a Base Initiative value of 3, for a final result of 11 for Twelve and 7 for the Dynast.


In Exalted 3rd Edition, attacks are mechanically classified as either Withering or Decisive. It’s important to note that these are mechanical distinctions that do not exist within the fiction of the game. Exalted characters attack with the full intent of harming the other.

In game terms however, Withering Attacks are those that degrade an opponent’s combat momentum while improving the character’s own. This combat momentum is represented by the character’s Initiative score. The higher the character’s Initiative, the greater the potential to deliver some truly savage punishment.


On the other hand, Decisive Attacks are ones that actually deal damage to the character’s health levels. These attacks do not use a weapon’s damage rating, but the attacker’s current Initiative Score as the base dice pool. Therefore, it is important to build up a good amount of Initiative before you can reliably deal damage to your opponent, especially if the opponent is wearing armor.

Twelve knew that he had to rush right inside the Dynast’s weapon reach to try and dominate the fight from there. He opens with a vicious combination of punches, forcing the Dynast back and off balance as he tried to defend himself with no place to swing his dailklaive!


Twelve’s player decides to further improve on his Initiative score by going for a Withering Attack. He then rolls Twelve’s Dexterity 4 + Brawl 5 + Specialty (Bare-Handed) 1, Weapon Accuracy Bonus 4 and Stunt bonus of 2 for a total of 16 dice. He has to roll equal to or greater than his opponent’s Defense score of 4.

He rolls 10 10 9 9 8 7 5 5 4 4 3 3 3 3 2 2  for 8 succeses, a hit! He also notes that he has 5 threshold successes. This is important as these are then added to his Raw Damage Pool, which is composed of Twelve’s Strength 4 + Weapon Damage of 7 for a total of 16 dice!

He then removes a number of dice equal to his opponent’s Soak (11 from the Jade armor!) and rolls the remaining 5 dice to determine his damage. He gets 10 7 6 3 2  for a total of 3 successes.

As a bonus for a successful Withering Attack, Twelve gains 1 Initiative right away. He then gains an amount of Initiative equal to the damage he rolls, for a further +3 to his Initiative Score.

This brings his Initiative up from 11 to a current value of 15.

Meanwhile, his opponent loses Initiative equal to the damage rolled, dropping him to 4.

The Dynast backpedals, but decides that he’s had enough. This brigand could fight, but it would take more than talent to best one of the Chosen of the Dragons! He shifts his weight and drops low while twisting clockwise, bringing his blade around to slice at Twelve’s legs with a back-hand strike.

Twelve catches the motion and realizes to take a risky counter by throwing a low left kick to strike at the Dynast’s wrist to block the blow!

The Dynast’s attempt to reduce Twelve’s Initiative advantage comes in the form of his own  Withering Attack. The ST spends 4 of the Dragon-blooded’s peripheral motes of Essence to bolster his Daiklaive attack of 9 dice + stunt bonus of 2 by another 4 for a final result of 15. His difficulty is Twelve’s Parry Defense of 5, and +1 bonus to his Defense thanks to his own stunt for a final value of 6.

The ST rolls 9 8 7 6 6 6 6 6 5 4 3 2 1 1 1  for only 2 successes! This isn’t enough to meet the difficulty of the task and so the attack fails.


At the end of each round, all Exalted combatants recover 5 motes of Essence.

Twelve hasn’t spent any, but the Dynast gets his 4 motes back.


Twelve takes advantage of his opponent’s failure (and crouching position) by following up his parry with a vicious right knee to the Dynast’s unprotected face!

The desperate Dynast infuses his reflexes with Essence in order to block the attack in time, raising his free hand to catch the strike!


Decisive Attacks are different in the sense that the character only rolls their raw Attribute + Ability plus bonuses. They do NOT get to add their Weapon Accuracy at all in this pool.

Twelve then rolls his Dexterity 4 + Brawl 5 + Specialty 1 and 2 dice from his Stunt for a total of 12. Not comfortable with the odds just yet, Twelve’s player decides to spend 6 motes on a Brawl Excellency charm, adding 1 more die for each mote spent. He also spends 1 Willpower to buy 1 automatic success!

The ST declares that the Dynast is suffusing his body with Essence and spends 4 motes to increase his Parry Defense to 8!

Twelve’s player rolls 10 10 9 9 8 8 7 7 7 5 5 5 5 4 4 2 1 1  for 11 successes and a threshold of 4! The attack hits!

Twelve’s player decides to add insult to the injury by triggering Heaven Thunder Hammer, a charm that allows her Solar to multiply the force of their attack many times over!

For damage, Twelve’s player rolls a dice pool equal to his current Initiative Score of 15. This exceeds the Dynast’s armor’s Hardness rating, and therefore any successes go straight through to damage! Unlike other rolls in the game, 10’s don’t count as 2 successes for damage.

Twelve rolls 10 9 9 8 8 7 6 5 5 5 4 3 2 2 1 for Six successes, dealing 6 health levels of damage. But that’s not all, thanks to Heaven Thunder Hammer, the Dynast is also thrown back into an object with tremendous force! This deals damage as if the Dynast had fallen from Medium height.

Falling damage does both Damage Levels as well as a pool of Damage Dice. These ignore both Soak and Hardness and is applied to a character’s Health Track.

A quick lookup at the Falling Damage chart shows that the Dynast receives 4 Lethal automatic damage, and Twelve’s player rolls 7 dice of bashing damage on top of that. Twelve continues this exercise in cruelty and rolls 10 9 9 6 5 5 1  for 3 more bashing health levels.

The Dynast brings his hand up in time to catch the blow, and for a split second the thought of victory crossed his mind.

That was quickly erased as he realized that not even his Essence-laden body was able to slow the strike for an instant. Time slowed for the Dragon-blood as he felt the blow land on his face, his cheekbones fracturing, and his neck cracking in three places.

He hurtled backwards head first, his body twisting like a rag doll thrown by a toddler in the midst of a tantrum to smash into the wall of the bar. Cracks on the wall radiated from the point of impact, leaving the Dynast’s head stuck inside.

Twelve-Merit Scholar straightened, then frowned as he felt the familiar sensation of his Caste Mark manifesting on his forehead. He saunted over to the body of the Dynast and picked up the Jade Daiklaive with a whistle.

“Looks like it’s time to go.”



Combat in Exalted is still pretty much a “Fistfuls of Dice” affair, but I really do like the Withering/Decisive combat mechanics. It lends the fight with a feeling more more weight, and helps give the sense of making tactical decisions without needing to resort to a grid and miniatures for positioning.

Overall, I found this a lot more fun than the Ticks and Battlewheel system of the previous edition, and I was able to run 4 combat scenes in one session last night in my home Exalted campaign, something that would have been impossible for me with 2e.

In our next entry, we’ll take a look at the other subsystems of Exalted 3rd Edition, including Combat Groups.


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