There are a couple of spells that refer specifically to enemies in Exalted 3e. Death of the Obsidian Butterflies (P. 472) for instances states that "She rolls (Perception + Occult) as an undodgeable decisive attack applied in a line against enemies out to medium range. This line is wide enough to strike all opponents within the width of a single range band and reaches high enough to strike aerial enemies who are at short range to the ground..."

Cantata of Empty Voices (P. 476) similarly references enemies saying "...This is an environmental hazard against all enemies within short range, with a resistance difficulty equal to the sorcerer’s Intelligence (use [Stamina + Resistance]) and Damage 2L. ..."

Do these spells eliminate the risk of friendly fire against your allies? Do they avoid damaging innocent bystanders?

Read literally, it seems the answer to both of those would be yes. But it seems a little odd given the rest of the description of Death of Obsidian Butterflies that it could be selective at all. It makes some narrative sense that Cantata of Empty Voices as a more mystical spell might be somewhat selective, but later in the description it references affecting "hapless bystanders" which suggests either it is not selective or it is selective only to the extent of avoiding chosen allies rather than limiting itself to literal enemies.

(My prior question about distortions is semi-related.)


3 Answers 3


Enemies are Opponents and vice versa

The sentences in question are using enemies and opponents interchangeably, and in general, the book treats the two words like this.

She rolls (Perception + Occult) as an undodgeable decisive attack applied in a line against enemies out to medium range. This line is wide enough to strike all opponents within the width of a single range band and reaches high enough to strike aerial enemies who are at short range to the ground (medium range enemies in the air can still be targeted by directing the butterflies to fly along an upward path, rather than a horizontal one). Battle groups are especially vulnerable to being cut down by this spell, taking a -2 penalty to Defense against it.1

Neither Enemies nor Opponents are ever explicitly defined in the rules, though the box Noncombatants and Trivial Opponents distinguishes those two types from any other opponent or enemy.2 Most notably, keep in mind this one sentence from the box:

Generally, though, [attacking bystanders] shouldn’t be necessary — bystanders are mostly there to provide stunt opportunities for the players’ characters and their opponents.2

In general, the book seems to contain two styles for paragraphs or rules snippets, depending on the preference of the writer of a mechanic for either enemies or opponents. In total, the core book use 687 times Enemy or its plural (370 + 314), and 387 times Opponent and its plural.

In the absence of a specific definition in the book, opponent and enemy have their ordinary, trivial meanings as you would find them in a dictionary. As such, it seems best to treat the two words to both mean the same.

Ignoring bystanders?

Here things get a tiny bit tricky: on the literal reading, the abilities in question do not target non-enemies or non-opponents. On the other hand, they don't actively disclaim collateral damage.

But in Exalted, this is a chance for you to actively describe such as part of a stunt! In fact, the box I called out above actively encourages you to stunt using the bystanders to make your action more awesome. Let's take two approaches to use Death of the Obsidian Butterflies on some enemy pursuing down a road with people.

Example One: spare bystanders

Player: Blooming Red Shadow concentrates hard, stretches out the arm, and materializes their essence in a cone of black volcanic glass shards. The literal Death of the Obsidian Butterflies is sent down the road, into the group of monks that try to apprehend the solar. But in their glorious benevolence, they nudge those slivers forming between the palms with the fingers in just the right way that the bystanders are narrowly avoided and only the monks pay a bloody toll for assaulting.

GM: Ok, I think that qualifies as a 2-point stunt. Roll for it.

Example Two: No One Spared

Player: Red Clouds Rising laughs as they stop in the middle of the road, facing the crowd that the Dragon-Blood is forcing themselves through. Opening their right palm towards the brass-clad hulk, a purple-black wisps condense into a black hole that seems to open into the void beyond space. Behind, the furnace of creation roars, fire turns to earth and a couple of sparks escape through the hole ripped into Creation. Condensing into sharp, jagged things, slivers of Obsidian, shaped like malformed butterflies, flow down the road in a deadly swirl, cutting the commoners in the way of the Imperial Dragon-Blood just as much as him and creating the literal red mist for which they were named...

GM: Ok. One point stunt and the road turns into difficult terrain for movement, but no longer cover. You just mow down his cover after all.

1 - Exalted 3, p.472.
2 - Exalted 3, p.208.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Great explanation. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 9, 2023 at 16:01

There would be two ways to read these effects. The first one would be as "unintended phrasing" where the inherent expectation that one will typically use damaging spells against hostile creatures muddy the clarity over using a neutral word like "creatures", especially with AoE effects. In that case all creatures, hostile or not, would be affected inside the area of your spell. E.g. you typically throw a fireball at an enemy, but your paladin still won't appreciate being caught inside the blast zone.

The other would be "measured intent". In that case it would be similar to how invisibility ends when you attack another creature, but you can still take other actions, including ones that could be used as an attack. Throwing a rock to distract a guard is fine, throwing it at the same guard becomes an attack and would consequently end the effect. In this case the spell effect would be limited to any creatures the caster believes to be her "opponents" at that moment. When something is considered an "enemy" for the purpose of your spells would be at the DM's discretion then.

Since the literal text of the rules is somewhat ambigous here, it would ultimately come down to player and DM concensus. Given DoOB uses perception for its roll and its unique attack method, I think there is a reasonable argument that it can discriminate targets based on the caster's will and her ability to see the creature(s), but potentially becomes more indiscriminate once the targets become obscured or otherwise difficult to identify.


Reading the full text of DoOB the sorcerer does have some form of control over the obsidian butterflies. Although they do destroy fragile materials, I imagine they cause superficial damage to allies and bystanders.

On the other hand CoEV does appear to affect bystanders. While the sorcerer would have spent some time during the learning of the spell of how to modulate it specifically to not damage her friends, such benefits do not extend to the unwashed masses.


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