The First Age passed away long ago. The power of the Realm is failing. The barbarians on the borders of Creation grow bolder by the day. The power of the Fair Folk is rising. The gods of the Celestial Bureaucracy fall deeper into their decadence. The armies of the Deathlords swell. The inhabitants of Malfeas plot their revenge.
While the light of the world fades, the ancient champions of the gods pursue their own goals. The reborn Solars seek to restore the world to an ancient age of wonder where they ruled as god-kings. The Dragon-Blooded quietly squabble over control of the Realm while the glorious and prosperous centuries of the Scarlet Empress's reign rapidly dwindle into nostalgic memory. The Lunars face their reincarnated spouses on the battlefield more often than in the palace. The Sidereals' plans to preserve humanity are rapidly spinning out of their control.
The prophecy of the Sidereal near the end of the First Age has come true. The world is lessened, but it continues. The influence of the Exalted - the chosen of the gods - is gradually fading, or so it seems to all but the most idealistic, sheltered, or deluded among mortals. While the Exalted fight each other or pursue their personal interests, mortals are usually left to fend for themselves against Wyld barbarians, Fair Folk, hostile spirits, and all the other daily terrors of the world. In this faded remnant of the past, hope emerges from the most unexpected quarter.
Into this Age of Sorrows are thrust the players' characters. They are not Exalted. The blood of gods does not flow through their veins. They are not the servants of the Celestial Bureaucracy. They are the soldiers and the scholars of the Second Age. They are the men and women who cling stubbornly to the present and fight desperately to lead humanity into the future. They are mortal heroes, and never has the world had such great need for them.
How will these little heroes walk among the giants that are the Exalted without being stepped on? How can they hope to be victorious over enemies whose individual strength greatly outstrips their own? Will they limit themselves to defending a small corner of the world, or will they seek greater influence and risk the wrath of powerful enemies? Will they ally themselves with the powerful as servants or retain their independence? Will they fight for the dignity of the common man or become despots over them? Will they stir up rebellions or establish centers of learning?
Mortal heroes have nothing to guide their actions but necessity, a craving for adventure, or a desire to make a difference in the world around them. They are not born great or proclaimed great by a god. They must forge their own destinies from the blood, sweat, and tears shed in the pursuit of their ideals. They must have courage enough to stand and fight when they have hope of victory and humility enough to retreat when they do not. They must learn how to even the odds against superior opponents like the Fair Folk, Exalted, and Spirits. They must walk the narrow line of being successful without seeming a threat to those of greater power. They must learn to work together with those who share their ideals, for it is all but impossible for a mortal hero to change the world alone. For those who refuse to keep their heads down and till the soil, the road is littered with thorns, but even a mortal hero may earn a place in the songs and tales of his people. What legends will they tell of your deeds?
This guide contains everything you need to run a game focusing on mortal heroes or to include very detailed mortals in another Exalted game. In structure, it is similar to the main Exalted rulebook, except there are no Setting or Systems chapters. The contents are as follows:
Most of the terminology in this guide was introduced in the Exalted book, Dragon-Blooded, or one of the other hardcover guides dealing with a broad category of the Exalted. The following are either altered from those lexicons to reflect the mortal point of view or specialized vocabulary relevant to mortal heroes.
While many of the resources listed in other Exalted books are still useful to mortal hero games, stories involving the little heroes are low-key compared to those focusing on the Chosen. This is not to say they are boring, pathetic, or worthless, only that the psychology behind playing mortal heroes is decidedly different from that of running Exalted. The following works capture the challenges faced and the victories achieved by heroes who are often dwarfed in power by those around them.
Discworld. Terry Pratchett. Harper Collins.
There are a lot of Discworld books out there, and all of them are fun to read - kind of like Douglas Adams gone fantasy. Once you stop laughing at every other paragraph, though, you'll notice that the inhabitants of this intriguing world are surprisingly human. I can't explain in a few sentences how books that can make you laugh out loud can also be profound and deeply serious at the same time, but Pratchett pulls it off marvelously in book after book. Samuel Vimes is a good watchman, but Sherlock Holmes he is not. Granny Weatherwax isn't your fairy tale witch. She's more of a stubborn, rustic old woman who often finds herself (or makes herself) the only thing between disaster and a happy ending. In general, the characters don't have magnificent powers, but each does a few things very, very well, and that sets them apart.
The Eye of the World. Robert Jordan. Tor Books.
The Great Hunt. Robert Jordan. Tor Books.
Later in this series, the characters grow more powerful than many Solars can boast, but in these early books, the young men and women from the Two Rivers reflect the wonder at and fear of the larger world into which they are thrust that most mortal heroes will experience. The characters are often called upon to rely on their resourcefulness, courage, and luck to survive the trials they face. That they are also forced to depend upon the magic of those they do not trust but dare not anger reflects, in some ways, the delicate relationship mortal heroes often have with the Exalted.
Hunter: the Reckoning. White Wolf Games.
A game set in the World of Darkness that, once you get past the pictures of people shooting zombies, focuses heavily on the human qualities of the characters more than any other game I've heard about. The Imbued have lives beyond their adventures and characteristics beyond their supernatural powers. Moreover, they exist in a world in which they are the prey more often than the predator, whatever they might think.
The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien. Bantam.
The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien. Bantam.
An excellent series for showing the difference between epic heroes (Strider, Gandalf, Legalos, etc...) and mortal heroes (the hobbits). The most fascinating aspect of these books is that the little heroes accomplish deeds as great or greater than those of their epic companions, proving that great deeds make the epic hero, not kewl powerz. Perhaps one of the only fantasy series in which the little heroes don't wind up as demigods by the end of the epic.
Mystery Men. Universal Pictures.
A silly film in which the superhero deliberately releases an enemy who destroys him, leaving the misfit heroes to save the day. Good material for a storyteller who wants to portray Exalted in a farcical light as well-meaning egoists who think they have everything under control when, in fact, they've outlived their usefulness.