Exalted Cliches – “Mortals Never Win!”

Chefs cooking with a wok in China. Preparing f...

The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn!

“Hey Mortal! I’ll give you ten coins to make a one-coin bet with me to prove a point!”

“Er, Ok…”

“I bet that I will singlehandedly, unarmed, and without using any unusual abilities, permanently destroy all of the Lords of Death within the next three minutes!

“Er… I bet you won’t?”

“Cool! Since Mortals Never Win, you kids can start the countdown! I want to see how I pull this one off!”

Simple slogans are usually nonsense when you look at them closely. This particular bit of nonsense is most prevalent in White Wolf’s Exalted these days – at least since d6 Star Wars threw out the rule stating that “the bad guys NEVER win” (it made it so hard to explain how they’d taken over the galaxy) – but you still see variants popping up here and there in discussions of games which feature extremely high powered characters with a background of fairly normal folks.

In Exalted of course, those normal folks all get thrown into the “Mortals” category while the player-characters are normally “Exalts” – basically grandiose superheroes.

The proper wording of this particular slogan isn’t actually “Mortals Never Win”. It’s “An individual normal person competing against a superhuman in an area that the superhuman can apply his or her superhuman advantages to and has put some effort into is not going to win barring the superhuman allowing it, exceptionally unlikely advantages, or even more unlikely die rolls”.

On the other hand, if the competition is in an area that the Exalt / superhuman hasn’t put any effort into, the results may be quite different.

Thus if Mountain-Smashing Mantaris, Solar Exalt of the Warrior Caste of the Dawn, happens to have no cooking skills at all, no relevant charms, artifacts, equipment, hearthstones, supplies, or help to call on (and so has a “cooking” die pool of three dice), and decides to infiltrate the local rulers court by challenging Bob the Master Baker (with 4d attribute, 5d skill, 3d speciality, 2d perfect tools, 3d for well-trained assistants, and a 3d blessing from the local kitchen gods, for a total of 20d) to an immediate cake-baking contest with the position of chief-pastry chef for the court as a prize, his +3 die description (a “Stunt”) of how he’s doing the cooking – “I’m channeling my magical power into my goremaul (his mighty magical foe-smashing hammer) until it bursts into supernatural solar flames which explode into the oven and bake the cake!” probably isn’t going to pull out a win – and it doesn’t really matter whether Bob is a mortal, a slumming god, a demon who likes to cook, or another Exalt with a hobby. This is a storyteller system game, and a total of 6d versus 20d is bad news barring some really unlikely die rolls.

If Mantaris, Exalted or not, wants to win this contest he is just going to have to either learn to cook, come up with a big pile of bonuses for cooking, find someone else to do the cooking, find a way to sabotage Bob without disqualifying himself, or (and perhaps preferably) come up with a plan that isn’t quite so stupid.

Now, if Mantaris plays to his strengths and challenges the local armsmaster, that contest is likely to work out a lot better for him – unless he accidently kills the fellow, and thus blows any chance of infiltrating.

Vast superhuman power isn’t an automatic “I Win!” button. Many a player character and epic villain with vast cosmic power has been defeated by the weak and apparently-helpless, or tricked, or outdone by someone with far less power but far more luck or cleverness.

In Exalted, an Exalt is simply a mortal with a very powerful artifact attached to their soul, just as a “Herald of Galactus” in Marvel Superheroes is just a mortal with a vast infusion of “The Power Cosmic”. That may have very profound effects on them, and it may grant them potentially vast power in any field they care to explore – but potential is not the same thing as “I have it all now!”.