The Lethality Problem

Things to consider when crafting a lethality fix:

  • Scalability of attack pool size versus DV
  • Damage pool sizes versus soak and number of health levels
  • Piercing tag
  • Overwhelming tag
  • Flurries
  • Attacks that reduce DV to zero (clinches, coordinated attacks, surprise attacks)

This post is cribbed from the White Wolf forums. It was posted by a user named Shyft, and it’s the most clear and concise summary of the “lethality” problem in Exalted that I’ve seen.

“Shyft says:”


Lethality arises from a LOT of different places, but I’ve more or less figured it out to be this:

The range of results for consistent non-lethal ‘hits’ is very very small.

let’s assume for the moment that potential lethality, how deadly a character’s attacks can be, can be plotted on a 1 to 10 scale. 1 for kitten-pawing and 10 for “Ludicrous Gibs.”

Ideally, the scale should be 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10, with characters progressing in power/capability as they go up the scale. After a certain point (around 7-10, or so), your practical death-dealing potential can’t really get any higher. This is where we start getting into Godspear, Daystar and Ess 7+ charms. In an idea world, that is.

In Exalted, the scale is something more like 1-2-7-7-7-7-7-7-10-11. I personally don’t think anyone minds Malfeas or any Yozi/primordial being a 10 on the lethality scale. A deathlord is a 9 or 10, definitely, etc.

The problem is that basically, Everyone, from heroic mortal to Solar, jumps from a lethality of 2 to a lethality of 7, and there’s no wiggle room between.

In actual Exalted crunch terms, a character’s lethality scales in reference to Lots of Damage adders, Lots of Equipment Bonuses, and Lots of Modifiers that basically let you reach the high 7+ level of lethality, when you’re actual ‘level’ so to speak is in the 2s.

Now, this is originally a selling point of Exalted: Don’t worry about being a wimpy DnD character who stabs rats for a few copper pieces. You’re a heroic demigod! Be Awesome! Change the World!

Extrapolating further, basically it’s too easy to get highly lethal levels of post-soak damage, and not enough competitive ways to keep up with it. It all runs into the face that PDs are the measuring stick we use to define how efficient a defensive strategy is, because PDs are the cheapest, anything that isn’t a PD must somehow be more efficient than a PD without being a PD. Too efficient means it becomes a no-effort defense, and the game proceeds into Whiff/Whiff territory, instead of Whiff/Splat.

Soak isn’t a viable defensive strategy due to the oversaturation of Piercing on high-damage weapons. Soak further isn’t a viable strategy due to Ping/Minimum Damage, which in the hands of a dedicated flurry character, nets out to 12-15 to 25+ dice every attack, guaranteed. (Ess 3 to 5 assuming 5 attacks that all hit.)

HLs aren’t a viable defensive strategy or even any sort of viable ‘stopgap’ between ‘Alive’ and ‘Not Dead’, because on average, as a matter of probability, an attacker who successfully gets to Step 8 of Combat has a decent chance of inflicting 1-2 HLs on you. That’s 1/4th of your ‘health’ right then. Never mind how 5 attacks can lead to 6-10 HLs of damage inflicted.

Basically, if you want to fix lethality, you need to do the following:

Figure out an acceptable ‘average’ amount of post-soak damage, assuming a reasonable use of theoretical damage adding/equipment bonuses. This number is going to be “Baring outliers, someone who rolls X dice after soak is going to inflict an acceptable number of HLs against the target.” Acceptable in this case is “Enough to hurt but not enough to kill, baring outliers.”

From here you have a few options.

A.) Assuming you leave the ‘Standard 7’ HL scheme alone. Rebalance every Weapon, Combat Charm and Defensive (soak) charm around the idea of trying to hit that Acceptable Average. Note you’d have to keep in mind all sorts of variables like how to balance low speed weapons over high speed weapons, big damage over small damage, soak values, hardness values, etc.

B.) Modify how one of the base systems/functions (most obvious contenders include how soak works and health levels.) This is the more ambitious angle and the one that includes even MORE work, because you’re probably having to make an entirely new subsystem whole cloth and shove it into the existing Exalted 2e framework.

C.) Create an entirely new system, or restart with the Storyteller System from scratch, new attributes/abilities, new approaches to how dicepools work, new evreything. Basically Exalted 3e.

One thing about that ‘average damage’ goal. I’m being overly simplistic, as there’s another variable that needs to be accounted for: Frequency. How hard you get hit and how often you get hit. In theory, Short Daiklaves are going to hurt less per hit than a Grand Goremaul. You’re going to flurry many attacks with shortklaves, but not many with a GGM. This is further compounded by Shortklaves having a lower speed than a GGM.

Basically, i say ‘Average’, but I don’t mean homogenized. It’d be very boring if every possible combination of offensive/defensive effects resulted in 5 damage dice.

Later, Friv Yeti said:


This is pretty much what you need in order to fix lethality:

  1. - A sharp cap on how much damage can be dealt without Charms. From what I’ve seen, capping weapon damage significantly lower and capping how many extra successes can add to damage are the big things that’ll help this point.
  1. - A sharp cap on how many attacks can be made against a person in a single flurry, and a restriction on how many people can shoot a guy in a single coordinated attack.
  1. - An extremely sharp cap on how much damage Charms can add to the equation, with Charm-boosted damage costing a lot more.
  1. - An extremely sharp cap on how instant-kill effects work against Exalts. Ramping up the Exalt-mortal distinction on poisons and disease, removing effects that just force people Inactive or otherwise render them completely useless, and the like. Making it so that status-effect Charms actually make someone easier to kill, rather than being either instant death or useless.

Once all of those are accomplished, you can move on to #5, which involves increasing the cost of perfect defenses to be used against expensive super-attacks.

The Lethality Problem

Sundering the Brass Prison lphillips lphillips