I remember reading the forum threads on this book when it first came out, and the excitement ended up nearly at a fever pitch. At the time I didn't really give it that much thought since I had fallen out of love with Exalted, but when my interest in the game rekindled, this was one of the first supplements I picked up. And I'm really glad I did, because it's fantastic. From the cover, you can tell what kind of book it'll be. The cover has a picture of the Scarlet Empress, but in multiple guises: as a martial artist, or a starfighter pilot, or a scientist, all of which get play in the setting material. The cover half-sold me on the book already, even without the enthusiasm I've seen for it elsewhere.
Shards of the Exalted Dream is divided into five major parts, which I'll deal with individually.
There's a quote I found on the internet from one of the authors that sums up this setting in a nutshell:
"Alright, so Battlestar Autochthonia is sorted."
"You know we can't actually call it that, right?"
The Exalted were created by the gods. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan.
...which failed, and so they all piled into Autochthon and fled into the void. Here, Creation is not a flat disc surrounded by an endless sea of chaos. It's a spiral of star systems, rising to the eternal palace of Theion the Universe Emperor at its height and descending to Black Non, where the Neverborn fitfully sleep and existence ends. It is there that the Exalted scheme to return, once their task of modifiying Autochthon into the perfect weapon--the Gunstar--is complete and their might is unassailable. Here the Solars rule, the Dragon-Blooded serve as voidfighter pilots with Sidereal coordination and oversight, and the Lunars hunt gremlins and Primordial infiltrators in the Reaches of Autochthon's body.
A lot of this setting would be more interesting to me if I had read Compass Autochthonia--I have no idea who the Viator of Nullspace is, for instance--but there's still plenty to love. It has a clear source of conflict, a clear game goal, a reason for the PCs to all work together, and plenty of interesting things to do. If they're Solars, perhaps they're working to find Gaia and Luna, who fled the Spiral by their own means when the war was lost. If they're Sidereals, maybe they're working with the Gunstar pilot Raanei, who thinks the war is suicide and just wants to find a place to settle down, far from the Primordials, where humanity can live in peace. If they're Lunars, maybe they accompany survey teams to worlds that Autochthon happens on and need to "pacify" the local population so the Gunstar can strip-mine the planet for raw materials.
I also like how it's space travel but with Exalted technology. Space combat takes place with voidfighters, but personal combat is still swords and bows. The authors took the magitech emphasis of Wonders of the Lost Age and found a way to make it fit perfectly. A Dragon-Blooded voidfighter chronicle would be a ton of fun, I think.
The chapter ends with Theion Charms, which are probably distinct from Malfeas Charms, but since I haven't read the Infernals book it doesn't mean anything to me.
And I have to admit, I like the idea that when She Who Lives in Her Name launched her counterattack against Creation at the end of the Primordial War, this is what it used to be like and why the end is such a tragedy. She was forced to destroy the very concept of Creation that was as perfect as she could wish it to be--a collection of spheres with fire at their hearts, endlessly revolving in the void.
This is Exalted space opera. The "Exalted" began as a supersoldier project and became something more transhumanist as humanity's understanding of technology increased, the Yozi are vast intelligences created through stellar engineering who rebelled against their creators, the Fair Folk are dark matter entities called the Shrieking Hordes who pile out of damaged parts of space-time to attack shipping.
This setting has cars and guns and is pretty much our world in the (far, far) future, with thousands of worlds and easy space travel, aliens, blasters, giant trading conglomerates, and all the other trappings of space opera. The Central Empire is ruled by Heaven's Son, a Lunar who killed his Solar mate centuries ago and has ruled unchallenged since then. Out beyond the empire is the Frontier, and the distinction functions a lot like the Core vs. Rim in Firefly, including the contrast of light repression but safety vs. freedom.
One neat thing that's part of the setting is the Grand Celestial Mountain, which is an extradimensional supercomputer network that all worlds that were part of the ancient empire are connected to. It's a physical place that you can go to, so "hacking" here involves finding a portal to the Grand Celestial Mountain, walking in, physically fighting off the guardian "spirits," picking up the data, and walking out. It handily avoids the decker problem and provides a way for any character type to interact with computer tasks, which is very important in any kind of future game.
On the other hand, the starship stats make no sense because the speeds are still in miles per hour and the weapon ranges are in yards. I'm pretty sure that Mount Mostath-class battlecruiser is going to be worthless because no other ship is going to get within the 100-yard range of its superweapon.
Before I bought the book this setting was the one that stuck out the most to me, but now that I've read through all of them it's actually the least interesting. I think that's because it doesn't do that much that's different or exciting with its premise. "Exalted + Space Opera" sums it up, and physical hacking isn't really enough to save it.
This isn't really an alternate setting at all. It's more like the old Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game, with an Exalted gloss on a setting designed for martial artists to beat each other up using ancient techniques learned from contemplating the wild or from secret masters. It rips out almost all of the Exalted system, replacing it with a simplified version of attributes and with Techniques, where each combatant picks a technique and they are all revealed simultaneously, some Techniques hard-counter others, then damage is rolled. The techniques are mostly what you'd expect, and include Shōryūken ("Burning Corona Strike") and Hadōken ("Heavenly Storm"), plus a bunch of other fighting game standards.
Noncombat functions are all abstracted away and handled by Backgrounds. If someone wants to overawe someone else with their reputation, roll Fame. If they want to acquire a new weapon, roll Resources. I did like the comment in the Fame Background that it could refer to "the special forces soldier who saved the President from terrorists." The Exalted definitely are bad enough dudes.
This seems like a cool idea, but it's not really Exalted except in the "coat of paint" sense, and I'm not sure why it's in here.
This is basically the World of Darkness crossed with Exalted. It takes place in Creation, but one where technology has progressed to the point of cars and computers and aircraft, with the military having day-after-tomorrow level tech like vehicle-mounted railguns and a moon colony in progress. The Dragon-Blooded are elemental supersoldiers created to fight the threat of spirits that still exist on the edges of Creation and at the Pole of Earth, and the three world powers of Meruvia, Union of Eastern States, and An-Teng fight proxy wars among their spheres of influence. Most people think of spirits as inimical to humanity, and follow the teachings of the Immaculate Church and its founder, St. Cecilia. Magic works, but is mostly not used. Why have a thaumaturge chant for hours to send a message 50 miles when you can just text them on your cell phone, and why pay a weather-witch to predict tomorrow's weather when meteorologists do it every day?
But it's all a lie! The world is actually ruled by the Infernal Exalted, traitor Solars who went over to the Yozi when they attacked the gods. Spirits have been a constant danger to humanity because they're the resistance against Infernal rule, and the Dragon-Blooded are actually made by infusing people with part of the Essence of the imprisoned Elemental Dragons. "St. Cecilia" is actually Cecelyne, the Endless Desert. Magic is weak because the Infernals sealed off most other worlds in order to cement their dominion, but now that the Abyssals they set to pacify the Underworld have broken the seal and the Sidereals have released the Solar shards they were guarding as part of a strategy to free the world of its masters, it's coming back.
This was my favorite setting. I think mostly because I love hidden truths and secret masters, but also just that modern technology in a fantasy world is so rarely done that it sticks out a lot, in the same way that Gunstar Autochthonia's starfighters + swords does. I can easily see starting with a team of Dragon-Blooded special forces and fighting spirits before learning that they're basically working for the Illuminati and having to decide what to do with it. Or even playing mortals--this is the only setting in Shards of the Exalted Dream that makes that appealing. Definitely the high point of the book.
This is where all the new Charms and firearms and systems go. They're mostly pretty good, and about what you'd expect. Standouts include the Solar Charm that makes gunshots so loud that enemies run away, or the Lunar Charm that lets them touch a vehicle and imprint another vehicle with its traits, so they can ram their bicycle into a wall and the wall acts like a semi hit it. The Sidereals don't have to worry about carrying weapons because they can just point their finger at someone and yell "BANG!" and they have a Charm that lets them pull up next to someone, yell "There's no time to explain! Get in!" and then have the person comply. Sidereals always get the most interesting Charms.
The chase rules are pretty interesting, being as they are based on abstract "legs" rather than having to compare speeds on a tick-by-tick basis. Then on top of that, drivers have to avoid accumulating Hazard so they don't crash into objects, blow out tires, or otherwise suffer mishaps. It does look like a lot of rolling, but it's pretty good for anything involving an extended roll, and comparing drivers to each other means it doesn't suffer the "roll until something interesting happens" problem that crafting often suffers from.
There's also alternate systems for Sidereal astrology and Abyssal Resonance, but I'm not qualified to judge them.
This book is amazing. Ideas fair leaped off the page at every turn, and it opens up Exalted in a way that no other book in 2e that I know of really has. People have been hacking Exalted into other settings since it first came out--I still have a space opera version in a Word doc from 2002 I found in the internet somewhere--and I'm glad to see that when an official book finally came out, it's of this quality. I'd recommend this to anyone who's starting to fall out of love with Exalted or who wants to try something different. There's a wide enough variety that you'll almost certainly find something you can use.