“Exalted 3: Has anything gone right?” Thread Summary

Here’s more developer quotes, this time from an RPG.net thread about Ex3’s development and release, particularly regarding how the leaked material impacted the process.

Rand Brittain:
Charles “Plague of Hats” Spaulding left the writing team.

To be clear, I left in a huff (over a legitimate problem), then acted like a goober for a year culminating in an embarrassing tantrum. In retrospect, I don’t think this was a great loss for the project, anyway.

Exalted 3 makes a great deal of sense if you view it as a huge project that always needed years of iteration; in that respect it’s gone fine to any reasonable standard for big projects that need iteration.

For various reasons lots of people have been running around without this understanding (including I assume the dev team because if software teaches us anything it’s underestimating the development of systems is perfectly normal). Much of the Internet drama can be explained by this mismatch.

This is basically how RPG design -should- work, but very rarely has ever had the opportunity to unless your name is Wizards of the Coast, because for most of the hobby’s history, you had to publish fast and publish constantly, or run out of money and die. When it doesn’t work this way, you get… well, you get the Lores in Demon: the Fallen (primary writer became terribly ill, had to be replaced at last possible moment), or the three-ring disaster that was Exalted: the Fair Folk or Exalted: the Lunars (similar issues), or any other book one would care to name which the creators knew damn well was not the book they wanted to create, but which had to go out the door now.

My biggest problem with the whole process (which I’ve gotten banned from the “Ask the developers” threads for) was that they stubbornly refused to acknowledge people’s problems with the original draft or even engage meaningfully with the people complaining right up until they decided to redo the whole thing.

I believe you’re thinking of some other game, because that does not reflect anything that actually happened.

Yeah, it did happen. There was a long stretch of time when you responded to every complaint with a variation of “we’re sure that people will like the finished product” which is the most aggravating PR nonsense ever, when people were begging for something specific, even if it was just “I hear you, but I am not allowed/don’t think it would be a good idea to talk about particulars of the game”.

How is that “rewriting the game after ignoring criticisms of the original draft?” The biggest time-eating major rewrites happened before any packets were sent out to playtesters. You are making that up.

There has never been a point where I had a public dialogue with non-playtesters about the specific contents of any written draft of the game. You are making that up.

mmmm. Personally, I think the long run-time on the game is probably a great idea and I have no complaints about that.

I just have two other complaints:

1) I wish we’d known, I cancelled a game several years early for apparently no reason because it wasn’t clear I’d be waiting until 2015… but split milk.
2) I wish they’d made a completely different game.

Because seriously, I just disagree with them about bedrock fundamentals. Like “are Ability Charms a good idea?” and “should Solars be THE heroes of the game line?”

Seriously, I have every reason to expect they’ll deliver a game designed with competency possibly unmatched in the history of roleplaying games. They have consistently portrayed a singular vision of what the game should be and not been afraid to say “you, fan? This thing you like? We are removing it because it makes the game worse.”

That is the attitude I want game designers to have. Game design by committee works about as well as anything else by committee.

I confess that with your second point, I don’t think you were ever going to be happy with Exalted Third Edition, just like the people who apparently were hoping they’d ditch this silly Storyteller system and go with FATE, or something.

That said, the other big difference between Exalted 3 and the other OPP kickstarters: stuff like Vampire/Werewolf/Mage20 are relatively simple jobs. By which I don’t intend to minimize the work they were – each received substantial mechanical and setting adjustment – but they weren’t the total engine-and-transmission overhauls that Exalted needed. I think the developers went in with the honest intent of writing “2.5, but smoother” and found out the whole works were rotten enough to need ripping out.

I’m also confident that Exalted 3 will be the Team Fortress 2 of RPGs in this sense; laughed at as vaporware right up until it releases and everyone forgets how long it took.

We never intended to do “2.5 but smoother.” Things like momentum-based combat, personality-and-goal-oriented social influence, and not having a separate mass combat system were design objectives from day one.

They were also things that nobody else had ever really done before, at least the way we had it in mind to do them, so we had to invent nearly every subsystem from scratch. It turns out, that takes a lot of time.

Furthermore this layout process has not yet crossed the line in what Holden at least considers an acceptable time frame (if I am parsing this comment correctly, I may not be and if so then I apologise and please correct me if so)


So we’ve still got six-seven months before it’s too long in layout. And based on the progress on the Monday notes it won’t take that long.

I’m not a layout person, art director, etc, I know nothing about the process or how it works. I have no opinion on what constitutes “too long.” I know that doing layout on an EX2 book at the end of EX2 took about a month, but that was using a pre-existing template, fonts, etc, and really miniscule art budget. (I think we had two illustrations per chapter in Masters of Jade? EX3 is probably closer to one illustration every third page.) EX3 is designing a new layout template from scratch and there are sections of the book that will use significant deviations from whatever that template ends up being. That’s a process totally outside my experience.

Now I’m not saying that they should put up the rough draft they sent to Maria for us to read. But, fucksake…give us one Charm a week. Give us an overview of Intimacies or the combat system or an excerpt from setting chapter. What I’m getting at is that there’s a happy medium between dead silence and putting the entire book up for people to look at.

We did every single thing you just mentioned, many of them multiple times. Charm previews, social stuff, combat system concept sketch, Charm trees, Evocation diagrams, antagonists, fiction, Merits, many setting material excerpts. A bunch of text has been previewed. It would be nice if people would stop saying there have been no previews on that front.

You’re getting art and etc updates now because that’s what’s being processed and frankly because I haven’t been on the corebook for months now. Dev-side, we’ve got our hands full with Arms, Dragon-Blooded, the Realm, and mapping out plans for Towers of the Mighty and the books that come right after it. The corebook is in production’s hands right now.

I remember one of the first things about the attempts at Charm previews was folks bitching that Taboo-Inflicting Diatribe was too weak because all it inflicted was had been Major Intimacies. This is becuase folks went at it like it was 2e, and assumed Intamcies were toothless and that the Charm as a result was a useless hyper-nerf. My perception might be skewed, mind.

I mostly remember people complaining that the preview of that early version of 3e’s Taboo-Inflicting diatribe wasn’t a diatribe and didn’t inflict a taboo.

Kremlin KOA:
Include some art pieces. Maybe one of the chapter fiction bits. Hell if they want to hapmmer home the ‘this is much better than the leak version’ publish a changed charm or 5.
Those things could lead to the hype being at a nice simmer, or even a boil, when the book releases.

Hey those are great ideas.

We’ve already been doing every single one of them.

3. The Ex3 team appears to lack confidence in their own product. To borrow a mantra from the days of Nixon, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” If you have a product you believe is very good, and someone distributes information about it, you should have no reason to fear.

In this instance, you are mistaking murderous rage for trepidation.

Umm well that explains a lot. Also not a response I was expecting to see at all.

Having some asshole attempt to hijack control of a project you’ve poured three years of your life into leaves a man a wee bit salty, what can I say.

I don’t entirely blame you for your trepidation, seeing a few people latch onto a few tiny details and spawn thousands of posts screaming about them one way or another, to the utter exclusion of about 99.9% of the material. There are downsides, ones that I would like to do away with, but these are downsides I can live with at least.

Actually, I think Holden meant that his linked post was full of murderous rage, not trepidation. I think you got his meaning reversed.

My general silence on the subject and unwillingness to embrace the theft of my work, not that post in particular.

The leak was unquestionably and unambiguously to the game’s detriment. Like, not even a close call.

The big question is how does Onyx Path Publishing deal with the existence of the leak. Other companies have dealt with unintentional leaks before where they’ve turned the leak into an asset for promoting their product. It’s a question of whether to attempt damage control and to see if the leak can be spun to better the company instead of hurting the company.

Exalted will benefit the most if everyone involved is spending their time improving the game, not trying to wring some positive spin out of a leak.

I get why you’re angry.

But the leak turned out to be to the game’s benefit, so you should probably at least try to desalinate yourself. Ultimately it seems that they did you a favour by betraying your trust.

So, I understand that you’re trying to be helpful. But, with respect, your particular phrasing is the kind that gets people into fistfights at conventions so you might want to consider that in future.

The thing is, if you read the leak and liked it? Great. It was going to be that good when it came out anyway, and positive word-of-mouth could have began at that point. I understand that your concern is that it relieved the tension of “is the game going to be good or not?” but that’s your concern. As developer, that’s a galaxy away from being my only concern, or even my primary concern. I have a big picture to worry about and the corebook is Step One.

Of course it’s good. I’ve known we were sitting on a great game for years. That has never been a real fear, except sometimes at 4AM when I can’t sleep and all the demons are crawling out of my brain and they’ve chosen “artistic insecurity” rather than “fear of the inevitability of death” or “my mother has survived cancer twice, it’s sure to come back for a third try and how long can an old woman’s luck hold out” or something else as their theme for the evening. But yeah– it’s good. It was always going to be good, and it didn’t matter if you knew it a year ago– you were going to find out when the game dropped and the buzz started.

You know what the leak did? Well, first, it shrunk the pool of people we knew we could trust dramatically and it ensured the game got less playtesting than we’d planned on. So there’s a quality hit. Second, it meant we had to do a lot of work ourselves that we’d had people assisting with, so it made everything take longer, because again– tiny circle of trust. The second leak dropped that circle to “Myself, John, Rich, Maria.” This slowed down work even more.

But that’s my personal sob story, what about the game? (“The Game,” note, not “the corebook.”) Well, what the leak did for the game is it got some positive word-of-mouth going (aside from some loon on Sufficient Velocity telling everyone who’d listen that the game is full of rape Charms, which is, uh, no, those don’t exist). That’s good, right? Positive word-of-mouth is great! People getting excited is an unalloyed positive, right?

Well, not quite. Because excitement has a limited half-life and you have to keep feeding it. I knew I had a big excitement-bomb to set off with the book’s release, and it was up to us to determine when to detonate the fucker, and you know what? Some asshole decided to pull a two-stage detonation a year and then six months ahead of the point where people, all jazzed and energized by the fresh buzz, could actually give Onyx Path money in response to their excitement.

People are now hearing the book is good? They would have heard that on release day, and at that point they could have purchased a copy if they weren’t already backers. Now they’ll have had months for “EX3 is supposedly great, I should pick it up” to fall to the back of their priority stack. For a significant chunk of my audience, the game’s first supplement will not come roaring out hot on the heels of a big release, but rather at a point when the game’s already over a year old for them. The leak robbed me of the ability to control the pacing of my supplement cycle, and the momentum of my release schedule.*

We ran the Kickstarter on faith in the product rather than putting all cards on the table because we’ve got a bigger concern in mind than just the performance of the corebook– we have every book that comes after it to worry about, and all the leak did was make our job harder for the next year, because we have to build momentum from a cold start rather than using the release-cycle acceleration as we designed it to work all this time. So the leak is maybe good for you, today, but it made production harder for the last year and it will continue to make it harder for the year to come, and what that ultimately translates to is worse products which take a longer amount of time to make.

*To be clear, I don’t get paid royalties, I’m a contract worker. I make a flat, non-time-adjusted fee for developing and writing these books: one check, based on wordcount, regardless of how long the job takes. The person most badly hurt by a “take it slow, do it right” approach is me. If the book sells ten copies or ten million copies, I get paid the same. Given the three-year production cycle and the other jobs I’ve turned down to focus on EX3, I am almost certainly going to lose money on the corebook, not make any. I am concerned with strong sales because it gives us a future budget to do more books, bigger books, and to have more art and Kickstarter doodads and gorgeous maps and whatnot.

So yeah, nobody did me any favors by stealing the team’s unfinished work. It might look like they’ve done you a favor (assuming those rules you’ve been spending months internalizing are the same as the rules in the actual corebook– some of them are not), but your short-term benefit is to the long-term detriment of the game line.

I have the first-round layout files now, and holy shit, now I understand why designing and implementing layout took several months. You will too, when you see it. Rich and Maria outdid themselves, beyond my wildest and most fevered ambitions and imaginings. This is a) gorgeous and b) easily the most elaborately-designed book to ever bear the White Wolf imprint.

Going to drop everything else this week to get corrections back so you guys can get this as soon as possible. Holy shit.

1. Yay!

2. What White Wolf/Onyx Path books are the runners up for most elaborately designed?

Hard to say, this is a very different animal than how other gorgeous/brilliant WW books have been put together. If you really want a list I can do one (Requiem 1 would definitely be on it, Scion as well, and certainly M20), but it’d mislead your expectations.

If this new layout is so absolutely amazingly fantastic, why not release a preview pdf of half a dozen pages that really show it off? Right now, the leak is the only substantive ‘content update’ that we’ve had in an age – why not take the momentum back from the leak, and get direction of the communications strategy again?

I would be very surprised if that’s not the next backer update.

(I don’t actually do the backer updates, you understand.)

Kremlin KOA:
Also i am curious as to why Stephen LS is a leak suspect.

Same reason I am. The second leak was so late in the development process that very, very few people should have had access to that document. Given the circumstances, retracting the, I dunno what to call it, “trust circle” is a reasonable measure to take.

Open development is a very different process to more traditional development processes and it does take considerable resources. Note The Demented One’s comments about spending time spinning the leak as opposed to developing the game and The Red Baron’s comments about time, resources and vetting. The shift to “the leak” (as in the publication of unfinished work for the purposes of feedback and promotion) being development of the game is not inconsequential.

Spinning an unintended leak on a project that wasn’t set up to handle it is even more work, because it disrupts schedules and plans that have knock-on effects. Salinating with anger is not the best mindset for anyone to be doing damage control in and you don’t necessarily have the proper people to do a good job of it on hand, either.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of open development, but it isn’t trivially done and even less trivial to do well.

Err… They’ve already had a few open development projects. Most of them are already completed, too.
Most of the V20 line was done in open development, as was DA20. (Can’t say about W20, haven’t kept up with that.)

Ah, my bad. I mistook the scope of Onyx Path’s takeover of White Wolf. Consider my comments confined to the Exalted team.

Takeover of releases, yes. Takeover in the corporate sense, no. Onyx Path currently publishes everything with the White Wolf logo on it that isn’t Mind’s Eye Theatre (which is done by By Night Studios), and has done for over three years now.

Just doing a quick rundown and looking at books (so excluding screens, posters, brochures, T-shirts, cards, etc., but including novels, anthologies, and comics), since our first Onyx Path-branded release in 2012 we’ve released:

VTM: 7
WTA: 11
MTAs: 6
DA: 1
Exalted: 2
WOD: 4
VTR: 5
WTF: 2
MTAw: 2
PTC: 1
CTL: 1
HTV: 1
GTS: 1
MTC: 7
DTD: 8

Numbers may vary depending on who’s counting and what they’re including and what they aren’t (Mummy’s core rulebook was sold as-is, but also split up and sold as three or four individual items, but I only counted it once), but as I tabulated that’s a total of 59 releases.

I figure somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of them were done using some degree of open development. It’s something we started doing from the outset: the White Wolf team had just released V20, the first project using open development, in late 2011 just before Black Wednesday, hit which led to the creation of Onyx Path.

It’s never been something we’ve required of any of our developers, though. It’s up to personal taste and how much time has been budgeted to finish a given project.

To be clear, the direction taken by you guys after the leaks was your choice. You could have continued as is, or opened it up more putting out alpha/beta drafts (a la D&D 5E) of the whole thing or just pieces. You choose to close it down, so the slowness is on you guys for that choice. There were options.

Consider that one of the many reasons we didn’t run an open playtest is that running an open playtest is a GIGANTIC time-suck and the project was already eating ~12 hours out of our days. That would have slowed things down even more.

Open development, not open playtest. I understand why you wouldn’t run an open playtest. Open development is obviously within your means as other OPP projects have done so and with less cash than Exalted.

The fact that you appear to think the KS money became some kind of operating budget reveals that you have absolutely no idea how this operation works, mate.

I’m well aware that the kickstarter was for the deluxe version – another weird OPP thing, but there it is. But a $600k+ Kickstarter almost certainly has an impact on the actual budget of a project. Both explicitly (more color art, a 15% bonus to the creators, +50% more words to the Sorcery section), and implicitly via the “hey, this thing is big” effect where you naturally spend more money on a project to help make sure it meets the goals of the very excited fans as proven by the heavily successful kickstarter.

As I gather, things are put to things they say it would be put to. WHich is art, the special deluxe editions, the bookmarks and so on. Authors for OPP and many RPGs aren’t paid a dime until the book ships in some fashion as far as I can tell. There’s no “operational budget” besides what they’re contractually menat to write, develp and what might be left after things since as I gather, delivering the books is sitll the priority of the KS first. Any operational budget is to the things the budget says it’s oprating to. And shipping and printing these fancy books in themselves is likely going tp eat a huge chunk of things.

This is also barring things like KS charging to host things and as I remember CCP getting a cut upfront since this is technically a licensing deal.


Isator Levie:
I’m still closer to the mark then the assertion that all of the lower-level pledges get to form some kind of budget that could somehow got towards an open development.

Yeah. That would assume that we get paid for time invested in project management which ho ho ho ha ha ha ha no we do not.

When a goodly number of OPP projects have used Open Dev in one way or another, the KS saying weekly/fortnightly/whatever updates AND getting Charm spoilers AND getting Abyssal and Infernal spoilers early on AND Holden/John being fairly active on the WW forums prior to the KS I don’t think it’s an unfair assumption that people who backed the KS could expect a continuation of what they were already getting, just extended for the duration of the KS delivery time.

That was never a realistic option. There was zero movement on the corebook during the month the KS ran, because we spent all our time managing and promoting the thing.


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