Ending another era

February 23rd, 2010 — Wordman

Reaching the conclusion that I have no more use for my Exalted books, I am auctioning them in a large lot. The starting bid is $1 and there is no reserve. When you consider that the cover price for the bunch is over $500, that’s should turn out to be a pretty good deal.

As with my earlier auction, I am keeping a couple of things: the gilded Limited Edition and the Dreams of the First Age box set.

(Also, I’m selling a surplus microphone as well, if that interests you.)

Open letter to White Wolf

April 15th, 2008 — Wordman

To: White Wolf

The advantage of electronic books is that they are easier to store, searchable and, until now, cheaper.

As you know, electronic versions of your two recent releases (Yu-Shan and Scroll of Kings) are listed for $18, nearly $5 more than books with equivalent page counts released just months ago. That’s a price increase of almost 50% and marks the first time I can remember the electronic version of one of your books costs more than the print version. While retail for the print version is $25, Amazon sells it for $17. (They also continue to sell the “books with equivalent page counts” mentioned above for $17.)

As someone who has legally purchased electronic copies of nearly all of your First and Second Edition Exalted titles, I find this, of course, extremely irritating. But, more to the point, if this price change is here to stay (which I hope it doesn’t), then I will now be much more demanding of features in these electronic books that, until now, I’ve been giving you a pass on not providing. In particular, for the additional $5 for a bunch of electrons, I now expect and demand…

  • …reduced security. At the very least, I should be permitted to edit and save my own bookmarks and have the ability to add margin notes and save them. At best, eliminate it entirely. (Yes, I do know how to strip it off, but I’d prefer not to have to.)
  • …free updated versions of all affected files whenever you make corrections or errata to existing books. (Other companies, much smaller than you, do this already, by the way.)
  • …the person producing the PDF to spend time to make sure the file size is small and the page render times fast. Many of your books (particularly the White and Black Treatises) have exceedingly long draw times. (A good test here is to keep clicking on the “next page” button. If you do this quickly and the majority of the pages barely render before you click the next one, it’s to slow.)

Or, you could, you know, put your prices back down to a reasonable level.

I learned a while ago that I follow the following pattern when buying gaming books, even if I can’t explain exactly why: if the PDF costs around a third of the cost of the printed version, I buy both the printed version and the PDF. If the PDF costs around half the cost of the printed version, I buy the PDF only. If the PDF costs more than half of the printed version, I buy neither.

Update: I thought posted this a while ago, but it looks like I didn’t. In the interim, White Wolf released a new “fatsplat” book for the same price as other flatsplats when they were first offered. Older flatsplats are now $16, so it looks like White Wolf might be pricing at a premium when the book is initially released, then reducing prices later. I think this practice really, really sucks, and has made me take another big step toward abandoning Exalted entirely. In a much better move, they also, for the first time, reissued a title with corrections as a free upgrade. While I welcome this development, I must note that it is much less compelling when the bookmarks in the new version are much, much worse than those in the original. Given how easy it is to automatically generate bookmarks in programs like InDesign, this is disgusting.

Equilibrium

July 31st, 2006 — Wordman

The best computer games are those without a victory condition. There is no such thing as “winning” a game of SimCity. Just as good are games that have victory conditions, but enjoyment of the game isn’t particularly tied to fulfilling them. In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City wandering around and doing your own thing was much more fun than following the game’s plot. Some weird convergence of thoughts on this style of gaming, Exalted and the butterfly effect resulted in the following game concept:

The setting for this game is region (or, perhaps, world) populated by human beings, but ruled by a superior form of life, perhaps humans genetically modified to be perfect and not require sleep, magical creatures (e.g. elves), an artificial intelligence, or even aliens. Maybe it’s a fantasy genre continent or a sci-fi genre planet. Whatever it is, the entire thing is run by the ruling class. Humans live decently; these rulers are not despots. The world runs fairly efficiently, but it is not a utopia by any means. Much of the system is designed to keep those in power on top, not least of which is their superior abilities. Much of the elite’s authority, however, stems from the fact that their abilities keep a large invading force at bay. Maybe they can work magic that keeps out a horde of demons, or they control ships that deter an invading alien force. Whatever the reason, the human population has a vested interest in having these elites remain in control.

An important aspect of this setting is that it has existed this way for a long time, a millennia-long stalemate between the elites and the impending doom. The economy runs like clockwork. Naturally, there are fads and trends and boom and bust cycles, but in general, everything is in a steady equilibrium.

Into this equilibrium, you, the player, is injected. You are stronger than even an elite individual, but not as strong as a group of them. You move through the world as the humans do, walking through a 3D rendered landscape and interacting directly with those around you. For some reason, you have incredible powers. Through play, you can acquire more abilities, allowing you to hold off larger and larger groups of elites. Your abilities are not only physical, but also mental and social, able to manipulate people and groups in increasingly effective ways.

Fairly early in the game’s progression, your powers make you largely immune to law enforcement, but you are never free of consequence. Your actions, even your mere presence, disturb the world’s equilibrium, you see, like The Mule. Even your smallest actions can have radical consequences down the line. Some players would seek to replace the old equilibrium with one closer to their liking. Others would foster complete chaos.

There would be several paths to playing this game. Those who focus on physical might start beating and killing people to achieve their goals, or perhaps destroy key shipments or installations. More social players would mentally dominate key figures, altering the policies of the organizations and assets they control.

In principle, the player could do anything. Want to use your powers of metal suggestion to overthrow a government? No problem. How about to sleep with a stripper you see in a club? Check. How about make yourself hideously wealthy? Have at it.

In response, the world would be simulating as much as possible. Will your seduction of a stripper effect the price of gold tomorrow? Probably not, but overthrowing the government certainly will. The idea is to have player actions generate consequences that are logical but difficult to predict. This feeds back into the player, causing even more action. Perhaps a religion springs up worshiping the player, or dedicated to his destruction.

Some of the more drastic consequences would be a concerted effort by the elites to destroy the player or the weakening of the elites to the point that the waiting invaders invade or both (perhaps at the same time). Perhaps the player can organize armies to the point that he can stave off these threats himself. Perhaps he allies with one force to destroy another. Maybe the forces ally to destroy him.

In essence, the game would be a god game, but without the controls of a god game. You can’t just hit a button to throw rocks from the heavens, mobilize armies or summon tornadoes. You have no “god view” with which to select people and change their mood; you actually have to find, get to and interact with them. There is no progress graph that shows you perfect information of the economy, attitudes or anything else. Your knowledge of the world is partial, only as good as the conduit by which it is delivered to you. While you may gain abilities that improve this, even getting information “supernaturally”, your information is never perfect.

Given the free form nature of this game, I think it would be a hit. Then, once everyone is addicted, you come out with a multi-player version, where dozens, even hundreds or thousands of Mules are let loose into the world.

Anathema

June 8th, 2006 — Wordman

Those who know me realize that I’m into role-playing games. My game of the moment is Exalted. Like most games, software exists to manage characters and so on. The best of the breed for Exalted right now is Anathema, a java-based system for which I have kind of defaulted to be the “Mac release guy”. Basically, I’m responsible for turning releases into double-clickable Mac applications.

Doing this with Java applications is easier than I expected, though presently Anathema is fairly non-Mac looking. I’m looking to change that, if possible. Having never done much Java development specific to the Mac, I’ve been logging my experiences from initial check out of code on in an Exalted-based forum. I don’t have a lot of time to tinker, especially since my laptop drive died (again), but I’ll continue posting there as long as I can stand it.

And, if you are a Mac-using player of Exalted, please download the Mac package and let me know if it has any problems.

Charm tree update

June 12th, 2005 — Wordman

About two days after last updating my Exalted charm trees, some new books were released, so I’ve updated them yet again. Thanks go out to Thomas Balls-Thies, a reader who spotted a number of problems (the fixes for which uncovered about a dozen more). Changes in this version are:

  • Added charms from The Autochthonians
  • Added charms from the Cult of the Illuminated
  • Changed “Dragon-Blooded” pages to “Terrestrial”
  • Changed celestial martial arts trees to start with a generic “Celestial initiation” requirement.
  • Fixed a slew of errors, including a handful of missing charms

You can grab the update in the tools section of my Exalted page.

Complete Exalted charm trees

May 11th, 2005 — Wordman

I’ve been experimenting with using XSLT and XSL-FO for generating PDF character sheets for the characters in my Exalted campaign. As a side effect (and for some other reasons), I have created detailed XML representations of the charms from the game. Upon discovering graphviz, I realized that it would be trivial to turn this XML into a PDF with tree displays of all the charms.

The initial version of this document was released a while ago, but I just updated it to include Aspect Book: Water, The Fair Folk and the Book of Bone and Ebony. I also corrected a few mistakes. You can download this 170+ page beast from my Exalted page.