One of the more controversial sets of charms for Exalted 3rd is the “persona” tree in Socialize. For those who are unfamiliar, these charms let you create and switch into other personalities, who can even get their own XP and charms.
I’ve done a rules analysis for these charms, as I did in the past for Wyld-Shaping Technique and crafting heavy-duty artifacts. Some people are concerned that the persona charms could be overpowered. Personally, I wasn’t so sure, so I wanted to run the numbers. If you’re into persona charms for the “Thousand Masks” aspect, you probably love them already. If you just want to see whether they’re worth the XP investment, read on.
This is a much more difficult analysis than for Wyld-Shaping. I had to not only understand one charm and its descendants, but also several other entire trees, so that I could understand just how much benefit one gets from being able to pick up extra charms. With a fully-upgraded persona effectively getting an extra 66% XP, it seems obvious that having a persona will eventually give you a lot more charms. The question is when that “eventual” moment happens for different builds. Luckily for me, I seem to have chosen an XP value that’s close to that point, so I feel like I can give a pretty good overview of the whole “XP terrain,” as it were.
Here’s the spreadsheet.
There are six builds that I tried out. With this level of detail and complexity, it’s almost a certainty that I’ve screwed up a prerequisite in here somewhere. If you see something that doesn’t make sense please let me know.
Here are the characters:
- One character with no persona charms, who has Brawl Supernal. We’ll call her PunchGal.
- One character who has a single persona, with the goal of switching between social action and combat. This is SocialDude, and the brawler persona is PunchGal Jr. SocialDude has Socialize Supernal.
- One character who did the same thing, but later in the game. This is to try to take advantage of a strange rule in Draw the Curtain. We’ll refer to this persona as PunchGal Sr.
- A Social-supernal character who actually wants to be a brawler. Yes, yes, I know, a brawler should not have Socialize as their supernal Ability. Nevertheless, this is For Science, so I ran the numbers anyway. This is NotVerySocialDude, with a persona called WrastleVania
- A Brawl-supernal character who picks up persona charms for the express purpose of kicking more ass. This is PunchGalXTreme, with a persona called PunchPal.
- A Socialize-supernal character who wants to do everything. The central character is MostlySocial in name and skill. Three other personae are there to help out: PunchGal Jr., MicroCraftBot, and Lil’ Sherlock.
Each of the core personalities has 180 XP, which puts them at Essence 3. We’re ignoring Solar XP, and assuming that regular XP is spent only on solar charms. Since the whole point of Solar XP is that you can’t spend it on solar charms (who came up with that naming scheme??), that seemed like a good assumption to make.
The three most important charms for our purposes are Heart-Eclipsing Shroud, which creates the personae and gives them Intimacies, Legend Mask Methodology, which allows them to buy charms, and Draw the Curtain, which boosts their XP rate from 1/2 normal to 2/3 normal. The personae all have access to the original personality’s charms. They spend their own pesudo-XP to buy new charms, which the original personality does not have access to (there’s a charm that opens up temporary access, but I’m ignoring it for this). I’m assuming that you can just bank the XP you get from Heart-Eclipsing Shroud until you buy Legend Mask and then blow it all on charms. If that’s not true, this analysis will change substantially.
I tried to build all the characters toward similar goals, so they would be easier to compare. If they brawled, they wanted high-Essence Brawl charms, especially a counterattack and a scene-long boost. They also needed some brawn and mobility, for which I used Athletics. For the social characters, I generally took them all the way down the persona tree to Soul Reprisal, because having a self-resurrection charm is nice (even if it does require you to bank 20 Solar XP). I focused on Socialize for the social characters, with a little Presence to round them out. I gave them a little Brawl so they weren’t totally defenseless in a fight. I used Dodge for defense, and headed for Seven Shadow Evasion when possible. Everyone got a little Awareness as well, because who doesn’t love Surprise Anticipation Method?
Let’s take a look at how the characters turned out.
- PunchGal can really punch. Seriously. Do not get in a fight with this character. She’s going to slug you, you’re going to fly fifty feet, and then she’s going to already be there to punch you in the back. She’s going to build a ton of initiative and then use it to ignore any penalties you give her, and then once she unloads on you and resets to base initiative she’s going to pummel you repeatedly while ignoring your hardness. This is an excellent baseline from which to compare the other fighting personae.
- SocialDude is pretty good at being social. When it comes to persona stuff, he’s really great. He’s got a fair number of other tricks from Socialize and Presence, and having At Your Service is wonderful, but he’s not completely maxed out when it comes to social stuff because of the 64 XP spent on persona charms. However, when he turns into PunchGal Jr… she can fight about as well as a starting character with Brawl supernal. She can’t get to the higher-Essence charms (like Orichalcum Fists of Battle), but she does have more total Brawl charms than a starting character. However, PunchGal Jr. does have access to all of SocialDude’s social charms, so that’s nice. The only reason to turn back into SocialDude is to switch Intimacies, or because SocialDude probably has more points in Abilities available.
- This character is built just like #2, but waited until later to buy Draw the Curtain. Why? Because this charm sets your persona XP at 75% of your current XP, and then 66% of your future XP. Delaying the purchase gets you more XP. This was not a great trade-off. The benefit: one single extra charm. The drawback: PunchGal Sr. is a weaker persona for 100+ XP of gameplay. The lesson: buy Draw the Curtain as soon as you’re ready for it. Don’t bother waiting just to get a slight increase in XP.
- WrastleVania has not just a lot of punching charms (thanks to NotVerySocialDude buying them with regular XP), but also a bunch of wrestling charms that were bought using persona XP. On the down side, all those persona charms are expensive and this character doesn’t have Brawl supernal. WrastleVania doesn’t have quite the punching power that PunchGal does.
- PunchGalXTreme hits just as hard as PunchGal herself. How can she spend all her XP on just Brawl charms? Because she waited to take all the rest of her charms until she could put them into the PunchPal persona. Why does she have to do that? Because PunchPal actually can’t benefit from the fact that her primary persona has Supernal Brawl. Her charms need to be lower-Essence than the main persona is capable of handling, and since the main persona can’t even use them as prerequisites, it’s best not to take any Brawl charms for PunchPal. This strategy pays off, but it takes a long time, and for that time PunchGalXTreme is really mono-focused. One could also go the WrastleVania route (character 5 above) and pick up a whole different sub-tree of Brawl with the new persona.
- MostlySocial is a dabbler. Some sorcery, some dodge, a fair number of social charms. Not quite as good at social stuff as SocialDude, but that’s why the word Mostly is there. The other personae are… about as good as a starting character. By the time you have 180 XP, you can be a decent social character, and a starting craftsman, and a starting investigator, and a starting brawler, but it’s going to take you at least four hours to change your mind. It’s like playing an entire party of starting exalts… one at a time… with a single point of failure.
Overall, at 180XP, these characters are actually pretty well-balanced, with some pulling ahead. I picked the value just because it was late in the game and easy to multiply by 2/3, but I seem to have found something near the ideal balance point.
This may seem strange to those of you who are numerically inclined. In terms of pure XP, the breakpoint is a measly 77 XP. If you spend your first 64 XP on buying persona charms, including Draw the Curtain, your persona’s addition to your XP total will be effectively make back the XP you spent by the time your base XP total reaches 77. (If you don’t buy Draw the Curtain, the breakpoint is 112 XP.) However, you won’t be able to take complete advantage of that super-low breakpoint, because either a: You have Socialize as your supernal and can’t buy higher-level charms from your second area of specialty, or b: You have another attribute Supernal and thus can’t even buy Heart-Eclipsing Shroud until your XP total is 125. Access to high-Essence charms is a big deal.
The purely numerical analysis treats all of the persona charms as nothing but sunk costs. That’s not entirely accurate, as several of the early charms have non-persona effects, but it’s a reasonable “first-order” estimate. If you value the early charms more, then buying a persona pays off a little faster.
My conclusion is that before about 150 XP, personae don’t pay off well if you’re just using them as charm accumulators. You’re better off being focused in one area. After 150 XP, you can actually accomplish more in your existing area of specialty by picking up a persona. Just be prepared to have a hard time for about 56 XP of game time.
If you’re min-maxing for a longer game, don’t take Socialize Supernal if you want to accumulate extra charms in your personae. Pick something else supernal. Then, buy into the persona charms, get a single persona, and live in it. Leave your old personality behind and become the person you want to be. Don’t switch back unless your Storyteller says you need to in order to train. Use your new persona to pick up random other charms, and pick up your Supernal-area charms with your primary persona. You now have a second Limit Break condition; deal with it.
If you want to be able to do everything, well, you’ll be the spork of the Exalted world. You’ll end up being able to do everything at sort of a mediocre level. You might be able to help when your party doesn’t have a particular character type and really needs it.
Long story short: if you want to grab piles and piles of random charms, and it fits your character concept, persona charms are the way to go in long-running games. In shorter games, you won’t see the payoff.
Side note: After looking through so many charm trees, I can say with some authority that the third edition really does succeed with one of the developers’ stated goals: to have every charm set be worthy of individual focus. If you want Dodge to be your thing, you will really, really out-dodge everyone. Just taking five or six Dodge charms will definitely help you stay alive, but it won’t be defining the way that having Dodge Supernal and pouring fifteen charms into it will.