Thursday, July 16, 2009

Remembering Exalted Deeds

Now that I've been at the whole game design thing for a few years (I think I'm up to nine years of doing this professionally), one of the things I'm allowed to do is look back at past projects and post my thoughts. And what better project to talk about than the Book of Exalted Deeds? I mean let's face it, aside from the core rules, this is one of the 3.5 books that could be considered a hit. Actually, I have no idea how it did in sales; I never asked, but the one thing I do know is that any time I meet D&D players and mention that I have cover credit on the book, there is always familiarity and there are always stories.

It could be said that getting credit on this book was my second lucky break. What was my first? Accidentally not getting credit for some design work I did that ended up in Dragon magazine (it was purely accidental and led to my first paid gig as a designer). So prior to landing this job, I had been working as a temp at WotC, and I had finally worked up the courage to shoot an email to the R&D department about doing a bit of work for them. I was referred to T'Ed Stark, who I sat down and had a good long conversation with about writing and D&D in general. Prior to this I had met Christopher Perkins a couple times, and that was it for the people I knew.

So after I mentioned that I had done some design work on my own and I pointed out the articles with my name on them (and the one that didn't), T'Ed decided to give me a shot on what he pitched as the sequel to the Book of Vile Darkness. Of course, being a huge fanboy at the time, I knew everything about the BoVD. I knew it was a bold new step in a direction that TSR had been afraid to go, and I knew that it had been written by Monte Cook, a guy I still have never met in person, but who had been an inspiration for years, and I knew that it was going to be a tough act to follow. But hey, I was up to the task.

While the Book of Exalted Deeds may have helped put me on the map, the fact is that my co-authors did most of the work. This was really James Wyatt's book. He was the lead designer and he's the guy who came up with the truly original ideas that appeared, such as the Vow of Poverty, the whole of at least the first couple of chapters, and quite a bit of the mechanical stuff that was found throughout. Christopher Perkins had worked on the 2nd edition book called Warriors of Heaven, so his inclusion on this book was a bit of a no-brainer.

So there I was, first real writing job and I got to work with two of the most talented writers/designers in the industry (and I believe that this remains true today) following up the most well known designer in all of gaming, working on the the sequel to one of the most controversial but ultimately well received books in the edition thus far. Oh yeah, no pressure there. None at all!

In all honesty, the work wasn't as long or as hard as I thought it would be. I brainstormed the rules I wanted to work on, I met with T'Ed and Chris a few times, and I figured out how to make things go from ideas to rules. Along the way (and with the permission from the guys), I snagged a few spells from Warriors of Heaven and updated them to work with the current edition. This project went comparatively quickly and then after I made my turnover, Chris and I met to talk about some ideas that worked and some that didn't. I ended up rewriting a few things, but overall it went pretty well.

So what parts of the book did I actually work on? It's been a while and I may not even remember every little thing, but some of the highlights include the owl archon (incidentally, Chris asked me where this came from and I said I made it up. In fact the idea had come to me while I had been in a drunken stupor one night - I used to drink back then. I rarely do anymore, but I didn't go into that), the leskylor (which I think may have been adapted from somewhere else, I don't recall anymore), the sanctified creature, the sanctify the wicked spell, the anointed knight, the beloved of Valarian the sentinel of Bharrai (I think), the skylord, the vassal of Bahamut, and numerous spells.

As I said before, this was really James' book and he did an outstanding job on it. I'm just lucky that they decided to take me along for the ride. Of all the books I've worked on for WotC, there are really two that people remember: the Book of Exalted Deeds and D20 Apocalypse.

After the release of the book, it slowly became apparent to me that this one was popular. First there was the controversy about the Adult Content sticker on the front, which didn't seem to apply to this one as much as it did the BoVD, then there was the constant internet discussions about the Vow of Poverty, and then there was the WotC online convention, in which Chris and I fielded questions about the book. It was a good time and that book opened a lot of doors for me as a freelancer that probably would not have opened had I not been at the right place and at the right time to get assigned the right project.

Obviously these days I'm not with WotC anymore. I'm working on my own RPG brand - Reign of Discordia, and I've been doing some work for the awesomely cool and nice people at Paizo. Everyone who knows me is aware that I'm not down with 4E, but I do owe and want to acknowledge a serious debt of gratitude to T'Ed, Chris, and James. From the bottom of my heart, and I mean this literally, thank you for my career. Cheers and best of luck!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Thank You Mr. Obama For Giving Us Something To Work Towards

Why were the late '90s so awesome? Technology! For a period of about three years I was on the technology bandwagon back in the '90s. I jumped aboard the great technology innovation train about midway in '96, and I rode it for a while. Granted, I wasn't a programmer or developer. Actually I was in sales, but I could also build, repair, and upgrade them. Regardless of my vantage point, nobody is arguing that the speed at which the PC is evolving has slowed way down in the past decade. Well, maybe the last 2/3 of the decade. At any rate, tech isn't what it used to be.

What was cool about the computer revolution was that it was moving fast and it allowed us to do all kinds of things we had never done before. Do you know how many scanners I sold to people because I happened to mention that they could start digitizing the family album? Or photo printers that I sold because I pointed out that once they had digitized the family album, they could then reproduce those treasured old photos themselves? I also sold a crapload of PCs just based on the fact that they could play the latest games. These days the former example is a given since computers are capable of doing everything, and the games have moved to consoles.

I always refer to this decade as the zeroes. I mean aside from quaking in our boots that we were going to get hit by terrorists again, what have we been working towards? Sure, a lot of people jumped aboard the housing bubble before it popped. A lot of people jumped aboard the finance bubble before it popped, but none of that was blazing new ground. OK, we built houses. People bought houses. People loaned money, took a cut, insured the houses and the loans, etc. But were we actually focusing society towards building anything new? I would argue that we haven't and as a result of this and some of the most lousy leadership this country has seen in a long, long time, we were really just drifting forward on the momentum built up over the previous decade. Obviously we have run out of momentum so it's time to start building something new. has an article about how companies are turning their sights towards green technology. In addition to that, they're in the process of passing a new energy bill that will make traditional energy consumption more expensive for the average American. Translation: become more efficient or pay through the nose.

So what will this mean in terms of finding something new for us to set our collective sights on? You guessed it. The next wave of cars will be hybrids, or possibly fully electric. Our next washers and dryers will be designed to use power more efficiently. The same is true for all of our appliances. And what about other things we can do to get each household further self-sufficient? If they keep making solar panels more efficient, people will start installing those instead of traditional roofing. This in-turn, will eventually drive the prices of solar panels into the traditional roofing price range. I don't know about everyone else, but I'd personally love it if I could start producing my own energy instead of continuing to pay the local electric monopoly their monthly extortion.

I also predict that in addition to this being a cost-cutting measure, it will eventually become a matter of prestige. Just like it was once cool to get the upper end Pentium machines so that you could play the latest video games, it will become cool to make the household as energy efficient as possible. Imagine getting together with the neighbors and having bragging rights because you only had to fork over fifty dollars to the power company!

This desire to make things more environmental has been around for decades, but the difference is that now, thanks to a presidential mandate and a new law that's going to sucker punch everyone in the wallet, there's an actual reason to develop this technology. Of course this will create a whole host of new jobs all the way from research and development all the way down to sales. I think this has the potential to turn a recession into a boom, and it might just be the type of boom that becomes so essential that it's the next great American industry.

I'm not exactly known for my optimism, but this is something that I'm actually looking forward to. Save money, make money, and do so in a way that's good for the planet! When was the last time the three of these things aligned in that manner?