Exalted Skill Complications

From DivNull RPG

Exalted's ability system is fairly simple and works well; however, for legitimate game mechanical reasons, some abilities are significantly wider in scope than others. Some, like Dodge, are focussed extremely narrowly while others, like Lore and Occult are extremely broad. Cannonically, some of the abilities have been given special rules to restrict a broad ability (Craft, Linguistics), or allow expansion of an ability into areas it doesn't normally cover for a price (Occult). This would be fine, except that these special cases all work completely differently. The rules presented here attempt to:

  • provide a bit more unity and cohesion for how abilities behave
  • keep actual mechanical changes minimal, so that the changes augment, rather than completely alter, the ability system
  • provide a framework that allows people to collaboratively expand skills in expected, coherent ways, if they want to
  • provide a mechanism that requires a cost to use broad skills broadly
  • provide a simple mechanic for "defaulting" to other skills

These rules are written against Exalted: Second Edition, and assume that all rules in that edition are followed unless otherwise indicated here. They should be adaptable to First Edition with little problem. These rules explicitly replace they Thaumaturgy rules in Second Edition (pg. 137), using the Arts and Sciences of the Player's Guide as a basis instead. Inspiration to write this, however, came from Ialdabaoth's Abilities/Knowledges page, which was interesting, but too intrusive and free-form for my taste. Lastly, some of the motivation for this is technical. I keep character records using my own XML schema and adapting this schema and the code that uses it handle the various special case systems has been a large annoyance. Thus, a hidden agenda at work here is a desire to have all the abilities follow the same data model.

Extending & Unifying Abilities

The system outlined below uses three different mechanisms (all of which have been defined previously in canon Exalted) to allow you to alter and extend abilities you want to work differently in your campaign. All three mechanisms of tweaking abilities deal in some way with subsets of ability use. So, why have all of them?

The primary difference is purpose and how you want to tweak skills to work in your campaign. The "how" of each of the mechanisms is described below but, briefly, why might you might want to use each one?:

  • Use specialities unless you have a reason not to. Specialties allow an ability to work the same for everyone, but provide characters the option to take certain training to get even better at a certain facet of it.
  • Use arts for abilities you consider overly broad. Generally speaking, people without arts can still perform the same tasks as people with them, but do so at a comparative penalty. Essentially, arts reduce the effectiveness of broad abilities, but provide a way to gain that effectiveness back in a limited sphere, for a cost. Both the "artless penalty" and the effects of the arts themselves can be tweaked to tune the skill further. Arts are generally more expensive than specialties but less expensive than abilities.
  • Use sciences to add entirely new capabilities to an ability for everyone, usually including mortals. People who know sciences can flat out do more with an ability than than those who don't. Since improving science is three (or more) times more expensive than improving an ability, sciences tend to be very broad, potentially disruptive to the game if overused, or something you want to cap to prevent "power creep".
  • If you just want to give certain exalts an advantage with certain abilities, you may just want to use charms instead of tinkering with the ability rules.
  • If you don't want to deal with the formalism of this system and keep things loose, you might want to ignore all this and just use stunts for the strange cases.

Later in this document, the above guidelines will be used to reimplement the canon set of "unusual" abilities (Craft, Linguistics and Occult), but in a more uniform way. A later section will suggest other uses for these rules.


Stunts basically let you break the rules, including (perhaps especially) these. The rules below are bread and butter mechanics for everyday use. Nearly any of them could probably be transcended by a good stunt. That is, if you don't have a point of this or that, you can probably get the same effect with a decently described stunt.


Specialties in this system work as normal; however, the use some of these rules may supplant some specialties. That is, some things which are covered by specialties in canon are now covered by learning arts or sciences instead.


Some complex abilities may be broken into disciplines called arts. Arts generally cover the methods of a sizable subset of what the ability can do. Detailed knowlege of the art is not required to use that facet of the ability, but those that don't know the art don't have as complete an understanding of the art as those who do. The rules for arts presented here largely follow the rules in the Players Guide for Occult arts (pg. 126) but should be considered to entirely replace them.

Arts do not have a rating; you either know them or you don't. Some abilities rely heavily on the arts while others consider arts as "bonus" abilities. Most don't use arts at all. Those that do will have an artless penalty which applies to rolls made with the ability without using an applicable art.

If an art is available for an ability, then what the art represents is not available as a specialty for that ability. For example, since Thaumaturgy is represented in these rules as various arts, and Summoning is an art, neither of these can be taken as Occult specialties.

Arts can be learned at three levels: general, aspect and focus. For any given art, you may learn any combination of these three levels. Mastering the general Art costs 5 bonus points to learn at character creation and 5 experience points to learn after, requiring three months of training. Knowing an art generally provide some kind of additional ability or bonus, but this is specific to the skill. (Note that this is a departure from the definition of art used in the Player's Guide. Specifically, arts do not provide +2 dice under this system unless otherwise indicated.)

Each Art lists a number of aspects that may be learned similarly to specialties. Aspects generally function just as if the character knew the general art, but only within the limited perview of the aspect. Some abilities may further enhance and restrict how aspects work for that ability. Aspects can be learned without knowing the general art, but if the character knows both the general art and an aspect appropriate to a test, the aspect provides +1 die. Characters may learn as many aspects for an art as they like (including none), but no aspect may be learned more than once.

Players may also define a more restricted specialty called a focus. Foci are just as intense as aspects, but sacrifice the breadth of an aspect with much more depth about a single topic. A focus functions just as if the character knew the general art, but only within the very limited purview of the focus. A focus can be learned knowing neither the art nor an aspect from which it derives; however, if the character knows either an aspect or a general art appropriate to a test that is in the purview of the focus, the focus provides +1 die. Characters may learn as many foci for an art as they like (including none), but no focus may be learned more than once. A focus generally has both a conceptual limit (such as a subset of targets or vocations) as well as a geographical or other more limited restriction, such as ("Eastern Fair Folk" or "Chiaroscuro Glass").

Benefits of arts, aspects and foci stack, but only one of each can be used on a single test. For example, if someone had all three that applied to a situation, the art would provide whatever bonus or capability the art would normally provide for that ability, +1 die from the aspect, +1 die from the focus. Keep in mind however that the most general of the three is always used to "act" as the art, providing the basic art benefit first. So, if a character knew only an aspect and a focus, for example, the aspect would provide the basic art benefit (but no extra die) and the focus would give +1 die. No more than one each of art, aspect and focus may be used on a single test. For example, suppose you have learned the Air art for Craft and have also learned two aspects: "glasswork" and "southern cultural design". You also have learned a focus in "southern-patterned glasswork". On a test to create a set of glass earrings covered in classical Southern patterns, you would get the bonus for both the Art and the focus, but you could only receive a bonus from one of the aspects (your choice), even though the test is in an area covered by both aspects.

Arts usually take the place of specialties for an ability, but it may happen that a situation where an an art, aspect and/or focus could be used also might allow the use of a specialty. In such rare cases, specialty bonuses stack with art, aspect and focus bonuses. To extend the example above, suppose you also had a general Craft specialty of "while blindfolded +3". If you made the earrings blindfolded, you'd get the specialty dice in addition to the other bonuses. (Note that someone with a +3 specialty, an art, an aspect and a focus would have paid 20xp for the combination, all to generate a bonus that could be reproduced with an excellency charm. For mortals, the price might be worth it.)

Each aspect or focus costs 2 bonus points at character creation or 3 experience points later. They take three weeks of training time.


A few abilities have complex bodies of knowledge, laws and rules that provide additional capabilities above and beyond the standard abillity feats, but require significant extra investment to understand and follow. Experience with such technical minutia is known as a science in an ability. Sciences have ratings, but these ratings do not translate into extra die or other bonuses. Instead, ratings define a limit of what can be achieved with the ability. That is, without the training in the science governing an action, you can't actually succeed at the act no matter how high your ability score is. (Again, really good stunts could possibly transcend this limitation.)

Sciences are based on the rules in the Player's Guide (pg. 136). At character creation, the first dot of a science costs 5 bonus points, with each additional dot costing 7. Afterwards, existing sciences can be improved by spending experience equal to the current rating time 6. The first dot of a new science costs 7 experience. Learning a new science takes three weeks and improving one takes a number of weeks equal to twice the current rating.

Characters may learn aspects and foci for sciences as well, but may only purchase as many combined as their rating in the science.


Some arts or sciences, such as the Occult science of Alchemy, depend on specific recipes for using the science called formulas or procedures. Using formulas follow the rules in the Players Guide (pg. 124). Formulas cost 1 bonus point or 1 experience point and take a day to learn. Generally the purpose of formulas is to further increase the expense of something or to control production of items made possible by the art or science. Thus, they provide another way of tweaking the ability system.


Every person has a limited ability to manipulate reality and can do so following certain formalized procedures, even without understanding them. These are rituals and they are generally slow, require tools or props and are fairly weak (compared to charms or sorcery), but tend not to cost much Essence and usually last longer than a day. Each ritual procedure is attached to an ability. Each ritual has a rating and to use the ritual, you must have an rating at least as high of the ritual being used in the ability connected with the ritual. At character creation, rituals can be bought for 2 bonus points, plus 1 for each level of the ritual. Later, rituals are bought for 3 experience points, plus 1 for each level. Mastering a ritual takes a number of days equal to its rating. It is possible to learn rituals for which you do not have the corresponding ability, but this takes twice as long, and you may not actually use them at all until you improve the ability.

Because rituals are usually much less powerful than sorcery or charms, they are used by mortals much more often than Exalts. The vast majority of rituals are attached to Occult, but some are not. In addition to the vast litany of Occult-based rituals, mortals have invented a number of superstitions and rituals to help them. Some of them even work. These tend to use meditation and focus rather than true magic. Some sample rituals can be found in Ability Rituals.

Correlated Abilities

Abilities tend to tread on similar ground to certain other abilities. For example, there are Resistance aspects to Survival and can be Socialize aspects to Presence. By rule (pg. 106), however, if you lack an ability, you suffer a two die penalty, regardless of what else you know.

Under this system, this penalty may be eliminated if a convincing case is made that another "correlated" ability could provide enough "reinforcement" to complete the task at hand. Note that the task is still made without rolling any ability dice, just the penalty is eliminated. If the correlated ability has a rating of three or less, the penalty is reduced to -1 die. If the rating is five or more, the penalty is eliminated.

This is, in effect, formalized stunting, really, though it is more about logic than style. The idea is that it would be possible to use a correlated ability and stunt on the same roll if your are clever enough. That is, use a correlated ability to remove the penalty (appealing to logic), then give a really cool description of what you are actually doing to get normal stunt bonuses (appealing to style).

Cost Summary

Bonus Points Experience Points
Specialty 0.5 or 1 3
Art 5 5
Aspect 2 3
Focus 2 3
Science (first dot) 5 7
Science (additional dots) 7 6 x cur. rating
Formula 1 1
Ritual 2+rating 3+rating

(Re-)Implementing Canon

This section indicates how to revisualize the odd canon skills under this rules system. Most abilities remain the same, with arts and sciences only used for the three abilities that have funky rules within canon already.


Craft is assumed to be a general measure of creativity and self-expression through creation of objects.

Specialties: Working in haste, improvised materials, style over substance, in groups,
Artless Penalty: Using craft without a relevant art or science imposes a -2 penalty. Worse, no charms of any kind may be used in areas of Craft for which the exalt does not have an applicable art, aspect, focus or science.
Arts: Knowing an art allows Craft charm use for tasks within the domain of the art. Standards arts are defined in the core book (pg. 107): Air, Earth, Fire, Water and Wood. A number of esoteric arts are also available, usually limited to certain character types. Often these arts have their own systems and/or require skills or costs to use (e.g. Colleges, gossamer, etc.), but learning the art works as outlined in these rules. Feats made possible with esoteric craft arts are not generally possible without knowing them. Esoteric arts include: Fate (Sidereals, pg. 104), Glamour (Fair Folk, pg. 104), and the ghostly arts of Jadecrafting, Soulforging, Moliation and Pandemonium (Abyssals, pg. 232-234).
When a character buys their first dot in Craft, they gain a general art of their choice for free.
Sciences: Known Craft sciences include:

  • Magitech: Described in Wonders of the Lost Age, knowing the science of magitech allows use of Craft skill on magical devices. Anywhere rules call for a Craft (Magictech) roll, use plain Craft ability (plus any magitech specialties) as the pool. The rating in this science acts as a limit: characters can only use the magitech science on artifacts, manses or devices with a rating equal to their magitech science rating or less. This science requires the Air and Fire arts and cannot be higher than the character's Lore rating.
  • Genesis: Also described in Wonders of the Lost Age, this science works just like magictech does, but replacing Craft (Genesis). This science requires the Wood art and cannot be higher than the lowest of the character's Lore, Medicine or Occult ratings.
  • Necrosurgery: Introduced in Abyssals and expanded in the Book of Bone and Ebony, necrosurgery is the science of assembling and animating dead flesh and harnessing necrotic energy. Anywhere rules called for Craft (Necrosurgery), use plain Craft ability (plus any necrosurgery specialties) as the pool. The rating in this science sets an upper limit on the size class (BoBE, pg. 97) or artifact rating of an item created using this science. Necrosurgery does not require knowledge of a craft art, but its rating may not exceed the lowest of the character's Lore, Medicine or Occult ratings.
  • Perfection: This science deals with creating exceptional weapons and other creations and represents the dedicated knowledge of metallurgy, heat and other minutia that are need to forge exceptional weapons, armor and other items. It requires an art for creating such equipment (usually Fire). The first dot of this science allows objects to be made up to the level of "Exceptional" (see Players Guide, pg. 145). The second allows creation of "Perfect" items. Generally learning this science beyond this is pointless. The magitech science may also be used for the creation of exceptional items, so this science is rare among exalts; however, the requirements for this science are less stringent, so mortals (and some exalts) may prefer this path.
  • Permanence: This lost science contains the secrets to making self-sustaining items (see Wonders of the Lost Age, pg. 7). No one knows it any more but, in theory, it's rating would define a limit on what level of artifacts could be made permanent.


Specialties: Codes, Subtext, Written, Speaking, Obscuring Truth.
Artless Penalty: Linguistics tests using a language the character does not know imposes a -4 die penalty and may require more time than normal.
Arts: Linguistics has only one general art: calligraphy. Characters with this art may use Linguistics skill instead of Craft (Air) for tests where the artistic impression of written text is important. While anyone with Lore can write, the art of calligraphy represents talent in rendering characters in pleasing ways, which may matter to some readers (e.g. pattern spiders). Characters without this art cannot use Linguistics in this way.
Individual languages are purchased as aspects. On purchasing each dot of Linguistics, the character gains a language aspect for free. (Alternately, the character may trade two aspects for the art of Calligraphy at character creation.) A dialect in a language is represented as a focus. Aspects and foci may also be purchased for Linguistics arts (i.e. calligraphy) as normal.
Sciences: None


Specialities: Supernatural Etiquette, Exotic Cults, Ghosts, Spirits, The Wyld, Undead.
Artless Penalty: None. Anyone with Occult skill can practice thaumaturgy without knowing arts.
Arts: Summoning, Warding, Astrology (Player's Guide, pp. 126-136). The primary effect of knowing an art is to provide +2 dice to tests that use it. (Note that this means that, since the most general art, aspect or focus provides the default art benefit, someone with only an aspect, for example, would get +2 dice.)
Sciences: Alchemy, Enchantment, Geomancy, Weather Working (Player's Guide, pp. 136-148)

Other Possibilities

It's possible to use these rules to extend and tweak other abilities. In an attempt to keep this fairly close to canon, this is left as an exercise to the reader, but some possibilities might be:

  • Arts to nerf the scope of Bureaucracy: Creation, Heaven, Fair Folk, Underworld. Aspects like Law, Finance, Military, Government. Foci as localities.
  • Nerf the scope of Lore by substituting its specialties for Arts. Perhaps an art for Instruction as well or instead?
  • Give Martial Arts an artless penalty of zero, but only allow Combos to include charms from more than one style if you know arts for those styles.
  • Add a science to Occult to cover spellcraft (i.e. creation of new spells). Maybe it only has three ranks, one for each circle.
  • Arts to nerf the scope of Performance: Oratory, Instrumental, Dance, Song, Acting. I'd make the artless penalty -2 and disallow supplemental charms use unless you have the art.
  • Add a science to Performance called Staging, which covers things like special effects, faking assassinations, lighting for emotional effect, etc. Not sure what it would limit, though.
  • Possibly arts for various environments: Alpine, Jungle, etc.
  • Possibly War arts, for things like strategy, tactics, logistics, siege, etc.