According to the Core book (p.122) if you take Brawl as a Favoured ability Martial Arts also becomes Favoured. All Favoured abilities must start with at least 1 dot.

However, Martial Arts has a special rule (p.154) that you need to take the Martial Artist Merit to purchase dots in it.

So, what happens if I want to make a brawler character without martial arts training at character creation? Then what happens if during play the character picks up the merit?


2 Answers 2


I asked this question on the Onyx Path Forum and got a response from Robert Vance, one of the Developers on Exalted.

"If you don't take the Merit, Martial Arts would be an exception to the rule that you have to put a dot in it at character creation." source


The dev reply is ambiguous and could be interpreted multiple ways. Does it mean that, in this case, the exception is allowed because a PC doesn't have to take the Merit or that it is not allowed because the Merit is required?

It would really help to have a more clear ruling on this issue.

For example - possibilities might be:

  1. As per the OP, if you take Brawl as a favored ability, you must take the Merit and put a dot in Martial Arts at creation. If Brawl is a caste ability, you must still take the Merit, but do not have to put a dot in Marital Arts, since it is a caste ability. In this case, the "exception" is not allowed.


  1. As an allowed exception, it is OK to take Brawl as a caste or favored ability without taking the Merit or putting a dot in Martial Arts (if favored). You still gain Martial Arts as a favored/caste ability and if/when you put a dot in it, you must also take the Merit (later).

#1 is a strict reading of the cascade of 3E rules relating to character creation, where brawl invokes martial arts, favored invokes the ability dot at creation and the dot invokes the Merit. #2 eliminates the initial merit tax for a granted bonus/hybrid ability when all the player really wants is Brawl.

So...1 or 2...or is there a #3?

Another reasonable Storyteller approach might be to completely separate Brawl and Martial Arts and remove the bonus Martial Arts granted when choosing Brawl.

In my game, I have already ruled that #2 makes the most sense for us, since forced merit taxes and the combined Brawl/Martial Arts rules don't make sense. Also, Brawl is an ability in its own right and doesn't logically or mechanically require any Martial Arts skill. So, re: favored/caste bonus ability - yes - and pay on the layaway plan later, if ever.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This seems a reasonably solid answer, though much of it is a bit “discussion-y.” It might be helpful to assignment the “answer” portion with a bit of your experience with that ruling. How has that turned out? Is it working as you hoped? \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 5:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ The extra discussion is in line with the inherent rules complexity/cascade. The simple answer is: The dev reply is ambiguous. What, exactly, does "well that would be an exception" mean? It's easy to be more clear. So, 1. Disallow the exception; 2. Allow it or 3. Be a Storyteller & do what makes sense for your campaign. #2 works great for me, respects the spirit of the rules, and players who want Brawl don't want to be forced to take Martial Arts and pay the Merit tax. Beating an enemy with a chair is not Kung Fu. Maybe it's Chair Fu, I guess, but still just Brawl. They shouldn't be connected. \$\endgroup\$
    – HoloGnome
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 10:32

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