Exalted has a reputation for being able to deliver fantastic locations and civilisations, but none can hold a candle to Autochthonia. This enormous Realm cast in brass and shadow is nothing less than the clockwork body of a god with an expanse large enough for eight nations. The description throughout the whole book lends itself to a dangerous, over-industrialised semi-lit place of constant noise, smoke, steam and claustrophobia.
It is easy to imagine how this place will stand a firm place in a gamers’ memory. Added to this is the descriptive of the highly ordered, structured and caste-based civilisation which is a commonality to all of the eight kingdoms (with some differences, as I’ll discuss later). The reader is given a great sense of how organised and efficient their society is, and this structure is the lens through which all threats to the already dying Realm must be viewed. On the surface the Voidbringers, as the greatest threat are named, seem to be innocuous – until you realise the enormity of their heresy. The book does challenge our ingrained individualistic mindset and invites us to wear another psyche and skin for a while – which is exactly what I want to do in an RPG. From this point of view the book is a massive success in my mind.
The interesting point about the societal baseline which is established in the opening chapters is that subsequent descriptions found in the eight kingdoms show how each locale takes the baseline and applies it in a slightly different manner. In this way, the reader is shown true diversity, but one grounded in a single cultural experience. My hat is off to the writers who managed to achieve such a clever feat. I came out feeling that it is not just the geography and architecture which differs in each kingdom (check out Ixut for the best example by far), but the differences in belief, social interaction, work, values and law. This made it a pleasure to read, and entices me to set my next Exalted game here.
The penultimate chapter gives the Storyteller yet more tools to set this apart from the rest of Creation in terms of environmental hazards which make the journey through Autochthonia a memorable (albeit potentially lethal) experience. The last chapter acts as a default monster manual and again there is rich flavour to be had here (and I was glad to Ixut given some special consideration here too).
I haven’t read the Autochthonians sourcebook before this, but I am hoping that it will be a fine companion volume. Even without this knowledge though, I found no concept in the book difficult to grasp. Admittedly, setting a chronicle here would require the character creation and Charm rules in the aforementioned book – but the thematic and descriptive elements of this book will make the storytelling much easier. Also, I am glad to see this released as a single title – I originally read it in tis’ serialised version and it did not have the same impact as the full book did. In any case, this should be a ‘must-have’ on the shelf (virtual or otherwise) for all Exalted Storytellers.
[5 of 5 Stars!]