Infernals Ruined 2e?

It's a bit more nuanced than "Infernals suck" or "Infernals ruined 2e." A lot of things contributed to us needing— not wanting, needing— a third edition.

For starters, Infernals didn't suck. They were a ton of fun and a lot of people (including myself and John) loved them. I kept playing my playtest Infernal for years— it was one of my favorite characters.

They were problematic as all get-out though.

I'd like to just skip past the whole "the first two chapters of the book were bad" thing since everyone seems to know and accept that— but I can't, because it seems they really don't. I mean, they SAY "it's bad, ignore it," sure, but the fact of the matter is that chapter one of MoEP: Infernals established the focus of the entire splat.

Which is to say, the Reclamation. Which is to say, Operation: Yozi Jailbreak.

There was a very good reason that in 1e Geoff and Jenna stretched black and yellow caution tape around that concept and stuck it out of bounds. The Primordials are huge. Their defeat was the defining act upon which all of the game's history was built on. If they get loose, or if they are in danger of getting loose, then

1) There is no other valid story to tell with them; everyone will run the obvious story of "the titans are breaking free again!"[1]

2) Worse, now that there's an entire Exalt type pushing the concept, there is no other valid story to tell with ANYONE. Ma-Ha-Suchi is planning to march to the sea and burn everything in his path? The people of Harborhead are rising up in revolt to throw the Realm out of their nation? A mighty potentate has unified the raksha in the South and is laying siege to Chiaroscuro? Who cares, MALFEAS IS UNBOUND. He steps on them all.

The Reclamation as presented in MoEP: Infernals pushes all other stories off the table.

Next problem: Infernals hanging out in Hell is cool too! Or should be. But it's not, because the Yozis, strangely, obviated Hell. Putting such an intense spotlight on Malfeas… obviated Malfeas. Now he's basically a tanky nuclear Karkat from Homestuck, rather than a vast and mad and terrible city that occasionally speaks. Second and Third Circle demons? Forgotten, unimportant, irrelevant. The Yozis have overshadowed all other characters.

Now that the game is re-focused at that level, everything else has to be deformed to fit around it. The focus crept up and up, increasingly toward high-Essence Charms and high-Essence play (something our core engine was most emphatically NOT designed to do— it got increasingly unstable the more weight got piled up into the E6+ range).

Worst of all, this material was executed pretty well— about as well as it could be given the circumstances. So it was engaging and creative and to some degree even worked decently mechanically. Or rather, it was executed MUCH better than preceding material— of course everyone wants to play an Infernal, when the other options are botched Sidereals or bland Lunars or 1e copypasted Dragon-Blooded or binary-concept Abyssals. The Infernal Charms were actually flavorful and functional.

Within the axioms on which they were built. That's where another problem came in— once we started repairing the core engine, the Infernals broke. Their massively distributed competence throughout the set suddenly became 1e Lunar-style Charm cloud once you couldn't just lean on a perfect defense to do everything for you. It turns out you can't actually build a Charmset the way they're put together, not in a healthy system. It doesn't work.

It took a long, long time for these facts to become apparent to all of us— I was one of the main people pushing forward into high-Essence exploration. I wanted to climb those mountains nobody ever had the guts to climb before, I wanted to stat what they said couldn't or shouldn't be statted. And we did. And looking back, I don't think it improved the game. It was still pretty tricky to use, and it directed attention away from most of the subjects Exalted is fundamentally supposed to be about. I looked up one day and the game was all about E10 superbeings and Yozis and Solars hip-tossing people across the universe and characters hijacking the sun and flying it into the Ebon Dragon's face and it was like— this is not the game I fell in love with back at Scavenger Sons, what happened here? Where's the Realm? Where's Jubei fighting the Eight Devils of Kimon? Where's the Brotherhood of the Peach Orchard swearing to reform a corrupt and crumbling empire? Where's Conan carving his legend into the kingdoms of men in fire and blood? Where's Azhrarn, Prince of Demons, falling in love with a mortal man and taking vengeance when his heart is broken? When did everything become so noisy and gonzo and clumsy?

People are currently freaking out, of course, because we're changing course out into unknown waters, and not willing to tell you what exciting things wait out over the horizon. Just know this: Infernals are changing because we love Infernals, and want better from them and want better for them, and they are going to get it. Same goes for the Yozis— we love the Yozis. They need to be better-utilized this time out, for their own sake as well as that of the game.

[1] White Wolf already publishes a game about the titans breaking loose from their prison, it's called Scion. It's getting a second edition some time soon.

To follow up on the mechanics:

Another huge problem of the Infernal Charms is that you get to make very few choices.

I don't mean that philosophically or whatever, I mean in a literal mathematical sense. You only get to make one decision, really: you pick your one Favored Yozi. (Your Caste Yozi is already pre-selected for you.)

If we look at the entire game's history, we can see that the fewer choices available to the player, the more difficult it is to create good characters (unless the number of choices is reduced clear down to 0, at which point it becomes easy again).

Solars and Abyssals have historically been really easy to generate good characters with (except for the Dawn/Dusk Problem). You have your five pre-selected areas of competence, and then you get to pick five more to define yourself, and that is generally good enough for everyone. DBs get to make three decisions out of an equally broad field, but tend to come across okay because their default Aspect ability spread is pretty diverse to start with. Sids make four choices out of a field of the same size, and they too come off fine; their competencies are spread around in a weird but very manageable way.

Then we get to Lunars, and the problems start to crop up. This has always been a big problem with Attribute Exalts— the window for decision making has always been much smaller— a 3x3 grid of nine total options, three pre-selected, followed by extremely limited ability to customize by picking a Favored Attribute. Youch! If you're not a Full Moon, that 'decision' almost always had to go right into Dexterity, too.

Alchemicals look like they should have a similar problem but don't, because their selections in this capacity are largely illusory. They get to select most of their grid (six of nine, with three predefined), the favored/nonfavored disparity is less extreme than any other Exalt type, and their Charms tend toward short cross-jumping trees — largely they just pick whatever they want out of a big toybox and use it.

Then you get to Infernals. Five potential decision options. Each of them is a jumbled melange of different aptitudes arranged in long, nonintuitive trees. One is selected for you; you get to select one other. The options do NOT translate into selecting areas of competence because of the way they're structured. As an artistic arrangement, this is very cool. In terms of getting shit done, it's very crippling— one reason why the Heretical line is so useful, it lets you bypass the restrictions of the structure while keeping its more pleasant aesthetic elements.

The Infernal Charm set's basic and fundamental mechanical problem it is really five Charm sets masquerading as one. The demands of "the Infernal Exalted" as a major splat type is that they have the kind of comprehensive competence that every other Exalt enjoys, so they need a Charmset that functions in that regard; however, the dictates of the five mini-sets run contrary to this, because none of them are the size of a full comprehensive set. This is partially alleviated by letting them pick two sets to roam around in (so that each is effectively two Exalts in one), with the ability to climb into the rest of the sets as well at greater, unpleasant cost.

Credit where credit is due: This is a crazy way to build an Exalt type, and it is amazing that Neph managed to get it as close to working properly as he did. It's also telling, though, that when he was writing the platonic, ideal version of the Infernals, the end-result produced a Charmset that was quickly climbing toward 100,000 words. (which I had to cut down to 45,000, still leaving it the single biggest Charmset in a 2e hardback by a 5,000 word margin). The Charmset you bought in MoEP: Infernals was not that size because that was the true vision for the splat; it was that size because that was what fit in the book. There's a reason Ink Monkeys was so glutted with Infernals content, and there's a reason they got an entire crunch-book expansion to themselves— the Infernals structure is a gluttonous design and it really needed a lot of that extra material to work right.

If we were going to preserve that exact design heading into 3e, really, the sensible thing to do would be to just give them five full-sized and partially interoperable Charmsets— meaning either multiple Infernal Exalted books, or a single Infernals book clocking in at around (breaks out calculator, does math) 420 pages.

(This is ignoring the whole "Exalts using actual Yozi Charms is bad for both Exalts and Yozis" thing.)

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