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!

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