For other meanings of the term Exalted, see Exalted (disambiguation).
Stepping away from the moody and goth-punk-gritty World of Darkness, the world of Exalted (called Creation) is a setting that was created for mythic adventure, and to allow for drastic change on behalf of the characters--often the Exalted of the title, chosen of the gods. The world of Creation is flat, with five "poles": the desert of fire to the south, the forest of wood to the east, the great western ocean to the west, the arctic pole of air to the north, and the titanic mountain of Earth in the center of it all. While often cited as anime-style, the setting could perhaps be more plainly described as "high-energy," opting for the big and dramatic over the small characters, who often could be expected to have elders and betters to listen to for all time, in such games as Vampire.
Characters and rules
The core rulebook details rules for the Solar Exalted, mightiest among the Exalted, and gifted in the area of general excellence. Later books would detail other Exalted: the Dragon-Blooded (also called the Terrestrial Exalted, weakest but most numerous), the Lunar Exalted (shapeshifters and counterparts to the Solars, who in the present day have become social engineers), Abyssal Exalted (Solar reincarnations who have been tainted by the darkness of the Underworld), and Sidereal Exalted (least numerous, but potent seers who alone among the Exalts work even today in the Bureaucracy of Heaven), and further beyond that open up other player types. The Players Guide detailed rules for the God-Blooded offspring of mighty beings such as gods, ghosts, and Exalts, as well as mortal magicians (Thaumaturges) and the Dragon Kings, who were the dominant race of Creation before humans. As the First Edition came to a close, hardcover books made the soul-stealing Fair Folk available for play, as well as the Alchemical Exalted, heroes of a world that is composed of the dying body of one of the surviving and free Primordials.
The Infernal Exalted (those Exalted who have been reshaped by the imprisoned Primordials) were spotlighted in a hardcover for Second Edition, as were each of the types of Exalts noted above, as well as the Fair Folk.
As per most of White Wolf's games (to a greater or lesser degree: Quiet in Mage, Vampire and Werewolf's Frenzies, Changeling's Bedlam, etc.), the Exalted can be thrown into temporary bouts of madness, invoked upon them by the Primordial forces who shaped Creation and the gods, who in turn crafted their champions (the Exalted) to strike them down. This is used to simulate the epic flaws of epic characters: Exalted can be overcome by rage, pride, self-righteousness, cowardice, or any number of bitter things that, when the character comes to his or her senses, can leave devastating consequences.
This proclivity only increases with the raw power of the Exalts. After the overthrow of the Primordials, the gods stationed the Exalted on Earth to rule in their stead, but over the centuries, the Solars were overthrown by their curse, and then by a secret alliance of the Sidereal and Terrestrial Exalted, the latter of whom took over stewardship of the world. While the spark of power that granted the Sidereal, Solar, and Lunar Exalted (collectively called the Celestial Exalted) their abilities was not inheritable, Terrestrials instead could increase their numbers. Children of Dragon-blooded could manifest Exaltation on their own, or failing that pass it to their offspring.
Eventually, a single Dragon-blooded military hero ascended to dominance, taking the title of the Scarlet Empress, and imposed order, taking many lovers from which to spawn a dynasty of Dragon-blooded children.
To add a sense of urgency, though, many things have recently changed the setting: the Solar Exalted have begun to return to the world in mass numbers, the Scarlet Empress has disappeared, and angry ghosts have begun to tear down the walls between the land of the living and the land of the dead.
The game is popular--running second only to Vampire in sales, and most hardcovers sum up what players like about it on the back: after a summary of the situation of the world as a whole from the relevant character type's standpoint and a brief overview of the Exalt type, it asks the players "What legends will they tell of your deeds?"
Exalted and the World of Darkness
Initial promotional material tied Exalted strongly to the World of Darkness setting, while the actual course of the game was less so. Early in the game's development process, it was meant to serve as a prequel to the World of Darkness; one of the common taglines, which appeared in the ads announcing the game as well as on the back cover of the first edition rulebook, was "before the World of Darkness". However, this relationship was dropped fairly soon after the game was published; with the second edition of Exalted, the only connections to the World of Darkness came in the form of parallels and oblique references, like the Infernals' castes, the introduction of Malfeas' Black Spiral in Return of the Scarlet Empress, and the introduction of the Promethean-like Liminal Exalted in the third edition.