What Sorcery Should and Shouldn’t Be

Look, I understand where you are coming from. Wanting to reduce combinatorial hell is why I came up with my Martial Arts = Innate Artifacts idea.

But for me, Sorcery is not meant to be a combat power. It was never meant to be a combat power. You don’t get to play a ‘combat mage’ in Exalted. No, neither a D&D Wizard nor Nanoha Takamaichi are valid character concepts for the game. Sorry, Exalted does not have to be all things to all people and some character concepts just are not going to be supported.

If you want to be a guy who fights, you use Charms, and you fight in a way that resonates with your origin (Solars fight like Solars, Dragonblooded fight like Dragonblooded, and so on). If you don’t want to fight like a Solar, don’t play a Solar. It’s as simple as that. And no, you don’t get a magic way of exceeding your limits like some version of Samuel Haight. Queen K’tula was a wretched failure who twisted and deformed herself and accomplished nothing more than making herself miserable. Solars are allowed to have limits and to be massive fuck ups.

Sorcery exists in my setting to allow you to accomplish large scale things that are non-thematic (but not exclusive to the themes of another splat) for your splat and can’t be codified into Charms. Charms should be snappy, singular effects that express simple concepts. If your Charm has more than three paragraphs of text, its probably not a good Charm. Generally when you engage Sorcery you are engaging entire new subsystems based around the spell to do stuff that is thematic to the genre of Exalted but not necessarily to the thematics of any individual origin. Summoning Demons, for example, is very thematic but no one splat should have exclusive access to it. The same is true for animating corpses, conjuring elementals, forging golems and so on. Yeah, certain splats may be better at it than others (and thus have Charms keyed to it) but just because you play a Solar doesn’t mean you can’t get an army of zombies; you’re just not going to have the ability to command them like an Abyssal will.

Similar effects that should be available to all PC origins include stuff like summoning equipment (yes, I think Glorious Solar Saber should be a Sorcery, not a Charm), traveling in general and especially travel between realms, Wyld-shaping, geomantic manipulation, communing with spirits, scrying/divination/counter-divination and so on.

You can certainly have combat spells, but they should be a bitch to use, incredibly situational and notably less potent than what your baseline PC origin would do in the situation. A Solar who wants to destroy a city should have his army sack it and salt the fields, not gesture and nuke it with emerald fire or acid rain. An Infernal who wants to destroy a city should either unleash a horde of demons or transform into a kaiju. A Sidereal should curse the leadership with bad luck and internal strife and so on.

So I reject the idea that spells should be ‘balanced for combat’ at all. Spells are for doing stuff that isn’t thematic in a half-assed manner or having the few good effects that work well with your splat powers. Spells are for the general toolkit of High Fantasy Magic that every PC origin should have access to and not be exclusive to one type. They should be weaker than Charms, more inconvenient, and encourage PCs to act in strange and disquieting ways.