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Having spent some time reading, and occasionally posting on, the official Exalted forum, I've come across a number of people talking about "paranoia combat" What does this mean? They also generally seem to view it as bad, why is this?

Another term used in relation to this whose definition would help is "2/7 filter".

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3 Answers 3

"Paranoia Combat" is largely the brainchild of Jon Chung, a poster on rpg.net. You can see some of the basic implementations (and rationales) at this link. These solutions were established in response to the notion that Second Edition Exalted, as written, is too lethal — that is, there are enough things that will kill a non-maximized Solar in one action that the only reasonable combat tactic is to use Perfect Defenses to turtle up, using motes as a kind of video-game lifebar.

The key piece is the paranoia combo: Excellency + Shadow over Water [or Seven Shadow Evasion] + Reflex Sidestep Technique + Leaping Dodge Method. This combo costs 10 XP to purchase, is friendly with Infinite Mastery, allows the character to perfectly defend against any attack, allows the nullification of unexpected attacks and allows the character to break most flurries. Invoke this combo for every single action in combat, using a 2-die stunt to restore the expended Willpower.

It's considered "bad" because it turns the Exalted combat system into a sort of solved problem. In the face of an intricate mechanic with literally hundreds of charms to choose from, there is one correct solution, and it's one that renders all the action and strategy mostly irrelevant. That's disappointing, and points to flaws in the game that make Tactician players unhappy.

The term "2-7 Filter" is a way of referring to these combos more specifically, in regard to the phases of combat where they are applied:

Step 2 perfect defense + step 7 perfect soak. Seven Shadows Evasion, Heavenly Guardian Defense, Iron Skin Concentration (may not be viable post-errata), Adamant Skin Technique, etc. Most efficient defense in the game.

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Perfect Soak is great since it avoids the need to be aware of the attack which negates needing some charms in the combo, but it's so far down the charm tree.... –  Cthos Oct 26 '11 at 15:04
@Cthos it's not so good against charms like 1 weapon two blows –  sebsmith Oct 26 '11 at 16:16
@Jadasc What's currently keeping me from accepting your answer is that you haven't unpacked it for people new to exalted; instead, people need to go to your links and read through them. If you could put the information in the answer itself and use the links merely as references, I'd go for this in a heartbeat. –  sebsmith Oct 27 '11 at 17:51
@sebsmith Let me see what I can do. –  Jadasc Oct 28 '11 at 0:36
@sebsmith Is this good enough for you? –  Pureferret Mar 9 '12 at 23:46

Been musing about an answer to this, and @Jadasc has given a good answer, I'll give some of my own thoughts on both the mechanics of paranoia combat, the culture it comes from, and its extended impact on the game.

Essentially, as has been answered above, Paranoia Combat is the idea that all characters, regardless of their niche or chosen role, should never leave character creation without a suite of defensive charms. @Jadasc has given them for the Solar Exalted, but the same general principle applies for other types - you should have at least one perfect defense, a flurry-breaker and a surprise negation charm. What this does is ensure that no single attack can ever flat-out kill your character. This combo is invoked every single round of combat - with an added 2-die stunt to regenerate the willpower cost.

This has a couple of effects:

  1. It turns Exalted combat into wars of attrition, where both sides essential sit scowling behind massively layered defenses, growling at each other until someone runs out of essence. Essentially, He Whose Combo Collapses First loses. Which means essence regeneration charms are double-plus good.
  2. It represents a huge investment for non-Combat PCs, which puts them at a little bit of a disadvantage. The revisions the "Ink Monkeys" development team has put into character generation makes this sting a little less, but only because they've upped the power of a starting Solar-type Exalt. It's still essentially asking all characters, regardless of concept, to devote resources to a combat combo.
  3. It also disincentivizes offensive combos and charms. If everyone is hunkered down behind their perfect combo in the midst of Essence mote trench warfare, spending motes on flashy offensive charms that are going to get defended anyway is a bad idea.

How did paranoia combat come about? In full disclosure, I rather dislike it, so some of this may be biased.

Paranoia Combat became a particular concept for Exalted combat because of a fusion of some dubiously written rules, and in my mind outright actual paranoia. The problem is, in the 2nd Edition of Exalted, combat as written is too lethal. There are very clear "good" weapons, and even a single bad hit from them can kill a character - once their defensive charms drop, Exalts are rather fragile.

As such, Creation is a rather dangerous place.

There are however several assumptions built into this particular view of Exalted combat:

  1. "White Room" combat. Most of the analysis for Paranoia Combat assumes a setting similar to the "loading room" from the Matrix. A featureless expanse, rather devoid of context or flavor.
  2. An antagonistic GM. Most of the Paranoia Combat builds assumes the GM is absolutely, unequivocally, trying to kill the PCs. All NPCs are loaded for bear, having made optimal decisions. Choices are entirely made based on mechanics - the best weapon numerically is carried by everyone. Massively powerful Elder Exalts wait to pounce at every turn, and will unleash fully formed offensive combos on anyone hapless enough not to be hiding behind a perfect defense combo.
  3. The constant 2-dice stunts are possible. This one is the biggest assumption for me - you've assumed a particularly robust narrative ability within a numeric "solution" to Exalted combat. A 2-dice stunt requires a fairly compelling description of your action (beyond "I hit him with my sword!") using scenery, set pieces etc. for every. single. round. That's a very big if. Incidentally, this also makes whether your GM decides NPCs can stunt to be arguably the single most important game balance decision they can make.

Edit: As has been noted in the comments, 1 & 3 somewhat contradict each other. There are two possible explanations for this: (1) The "white room" has just enough furniture to last for a few rounds of combat. Or more to the point, the "white room" is actually shorthand for analysis that strips combat of any greater context beyond "Two Exalts enter, one Exalt leaves!" or (2) That the answer for rapidly diminishing Willpower being 2-dice stunts every round was added without much actual consideration of what that means for game play, and is something of a glaring weakness of Paranoia Combat both from a practical standpoint, and as a "solved" solution to Exalted combat.

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I find this particularly insightful but can't help question your list of assumptions. Don't 1 & 3 contradict each other ? I mean, if constant 2-dice stunt are possible, the combatants can't possibly be in a setting they can't exploit somehow, can they ? –  Nigralbus Mar 8 '12 at 9:35
Good analysis, especially about the assumption that a player can pull off a stunt every round (and doing that with an antagonistic GM who is the sole arbitrator on when to give such bonuses). –  mirv120 Mar 8 '12 at 14:02
@Nigralbus An excellent observation. I've edited the answer slightly to address this. –  Fomite Mar 8 '12 at 18:37

See here

Briefly (I quote directly from the thread): "Paranoia Combat - where Celestial-level characters absolutely must have a perfect defense available every turn, and thus have to use a Combo when using offensive charms"

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Good start, but wouldn't the overdrive mechanic introduced in the Dawn Solution make that not that case? I read that it sometimes actually made it worse. –  sebsmith Oct 26 '11 at 8:17
I am not an expert on Exalted mechanics, sorry... :( –  p.marino Oct 26 '11 at 10:27

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