It’s been a while coming, but I have the honor today of presenting an interview with another of White Wolf’s writers, one that has been very influential on Exalted in particular. He inspired the “I Read the ST Section” club solely because of his excellent work on the Manual of Exalted Power: Infernals, and his subsequent work has in no way let the readers down. Ladies and gentlemen, I present an interview with Neall Raemonn Price. (The title of today’s blog is at Mr. Price’s request, and was, in fact, a requirement for him to consent to an interview. That may tell you more about him than any interview ever would.)
Octopoid: Would you be kind enough to introduce yourself for our audience?
Neall Raemonn Price: My name is Neall Raemonn Price. Presently I live in Annapolis, working out of Washington D.C. I graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Maryland, with concentrations in history, government and politics and the Arabic language. Besides the day job, I enjoy reading, roleplaying, cooking and baking, and writing. I’ve supported myself as a freelance reporter and writer at different points during my life and I’m working on a novel.
I’ve been involved with the community more-or-less from the beginning, though I lurked until Sidereals 1e came out. My direct involvement with the line came after the release of Second Edition, when I became friendly with Michael A. Goodwin.
Since then, I’ve done uncredited work on Manual of Exalted Power: The Abyssals, Scroll of Kings, Dreams of the First Age, Thousand Correct Actions of the Upright Soldier, Scroll of Exalts and Return of the Scarlet Empress. My credited works include the Storytelling chapters of Manual of Exalted Power: The Infernals, Scroll of Heroes and Manual of Exalted Power: The Alchemicals and two upcoming books. I contributed additional materials to Glories of the Most High.
I am also occasionally a member of Errata Team Prime – I contributed errata to Dreams of the First Age, the revisions in Thousand Correct Actions and I wrote much of the text of the redemption article for the Abyssal Exalted.
O: Can you describe for us the specifics of being a freelancer for White Wolf? What does your job typically entail? Do you find yourself writing more mechanics, fluff, or something else entirely?
NRP: I actually can’t go into specifics due to the nature of the NDA we’re required to sign. But, essentially, I was assigned Storytelling because that’s what I’m good at. Mechanics were never my strong suit, though I’ve contributed to Charms and errata. I’m improving with practice. I respect my mechanical strengths enough to know that they’re not always on the level of what’s required for a writer on Exalted.
My job is usually twofold – I appoint myself as ombudsman during collaborations (sometimes to the annoyance of other writers) and I’m the go-to guy for Storytelling. I like to believe that I leave other projects in a better state than when I found them, and it’s been my universal experience that collaboration on limited projects leads to vast improvement in the project, even if that collaboration is limited to simple communication between authors.
O: When you’re working on material, from what sources do you tend to draw your inspiration?
NRP: It depends on what I’m writing about. I favor a sort of organic method of writing – I don’t outline, I just write and see what forms. For Storytelling Mortals, I read The Chronicles of the Black Company, by Glen Cook, which is the best source for mortals games I can imagine. Then I started writing, and I found that eventually you’re going to run into a ceiling on the events of the campaign unless you make it a more limited series, and furthermore: isn’t it kind of weird to be playing mortals in a game called Exalted? This is why there are three or four pages dedicated to why you should be played Exalts in a game called Exalted.
In terms of talking about fictional societies – about which, admittedly, I haven’t done much writing on Exalted – I look at what sort of themes I’d like communicate with that society and look at real world cultures that embody those themes and what I’d like to say about those themes. Then I steal from them and hang a lampshade on it.
I do this [Carmen] Sandiego-esque historical theft for three reasons. One, I’m a pretty lazy guy, but I’m not averse to working hard on thievery. Two, truth is stranger than fiction and there have been some very odd societies out there; copping off them for your work lends it an air of verisimilitude. Three, one of the best and most subtle ways to make a statement about something is to display the disparity of the opposite. You might regard this as a straw man argument, or reduction ad absurdum, but I contend that it’s more complex than that. My favorite example is the Realm – the Scarlet Empire is Grabowski’s very harsh critique of the process of legalism, espoused by ancient Chinese rulers, and why it’s essentially a stupid system designed to put a face over a naked and unfair power system.
Exalted makes a lot of statements about culture and the human condition by embodying the opposites of those statements in the setting and letting the readers make their own conclusion.
There are schools of thought that says we shouldn’t judge the past or other cultures; I don’t agree with that. There’s a degree of judgment that necessarily goes into learning from the past, otherwise we cannot determine the proper course of action in the future. I was a political journalist and there’s a lot of things going on in modern times that have occurred in history. Take the Know-Nothings – I’m not going to comment on them, but I’ll draw parallels between that movement and movements occurring today, and furthermore tell you I’m an Irish Catholic so you should keep that in mind when I talk about them.
Mario Vargas Llosa, this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature winner, said that literature should comment on politics but politics should never inform literature – meaning we shouldn’t have an axe to grind when we write, but that if the tree happens to fall, so be it. While that’s true, I think that there’s a degree of judgment that goes into writing itself. Authors have an enormous power to persuade and a capacity for judgment that journalists or chroniclers often ignore. Writers – and you, the players, as co-authors of your own Exalted chronicles – will find the best stories are told when you’re actually *saying something* rather than just talking about what you’re going to do.
It’s why my journalism degree is gathering dust in a warehouse in Maryland.
O: Who would you say are your favorite authors or writers in the gaming field? What about your favorite artists or designers?
NRP: Hoo boy. For writers, a short list would be Lucien Soulban, Jenna Moran, Michael Goodwin, Greg Stolze, John Wick. Artists and designers…I get a lot of inspiration from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, because Kiedis has never subscribed to the saying that you should murder your darlings in writing – no matter how odd his lyrics are, he makes them work, non sequitur be damned.
That kind of all-inclusive behavior, I greatly admire. But he’s not a game designer, and that’s what you meant.
O: Can you tell us a bit about how you first got into freelancing? What advice would you offer to others who might be looking to follow in your footsteps?
NRP: Something I see a lot, for good or for ill, is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease – but the squeaks actually have to mean something. I got into freelancing because I badmouthed Infernal Exalted on the Exalted forums back in the day and Michael Goodwin IM’d me to argue with me. It turned out we have a lot in common, and I count him among my closest friends, but that’s neither here nor there.
He singled me out because he believed I had things to say about Exalted – and I did. I started helping out with development and writing, and I eventually got a shot at submitting something to John Chambers. He liked it enough that I was given the ST chapter of Infernals, and believe me, the irony isn’t lost.
My advice would be this: do good work, turn that good work in on time and don’t burn bridges. If having a temper about this has taught me anything, it’s that burning bridges never helps anyone, and you might need that bridge later. There’s no need for hero worship in this business, or any other, really – go to the people who you want to work with and ask them how you get to where they are. In this business, that means asking developers for positions or if they’ll accept solicitations. It can be tough, but if you build up even a small portfolio, it will build up quickly.
O: What is your favorite creature from Exalted?
NRP: My favorite Exalted creature is the Kukla, though not for the importance and interest the Kukla generates. It doesn’t really generate any, it’s a big stupid plot-dragon. My fondness for the Kukla stems from respect of the design history behind it and what it says about the writers on Exalted.
In 1e, the Kukla’s stat block infamously declared that Exalted who face the apocalypse dragon should have their character sheets handed to the ST and then torn up in front of them. The purpose to this was to prove a point – that truly excessive amounts of force were incapable of solving every problem that arises in a game Exalted. And it’s a good point. The problem with that is that Exalts were touted as having beaten the creators of the universe, so you’re confronted with them being beaten out-of-hand by something that, however mighty, is decidedly less than a Primordial.
2e’s change was to give the Kukla stats and powers. High ones, powerful yes, but capable of being overcome. There’s a difference in design philosophy evident here, one shown now that we’ve statted an honest-to-goodness Yozi and the Incarnae – you should be able to take on anything in the setting and win.
I’m not certain I entirely agree with that – I enjoy the block of being unable to solve things with violence, but…
There’s an old fable about a man walking down the road with a dragon on a leather leash. A traveler asks him why he used a leather leash, and not an iron one? Surely that would hold the dragon more firmly. The man shook his head and said the dragon was far stronger than he – if he couldn’t hold the dragon with a leather leash, how could he ever hope to control him with an iron one?
My advice to Storytellers, the lesson of the Kukla put more subtly, is to give the players a long leash. Make their actions have consequences. If they want to solve all of their problems with violence, by all means, let them be glorious suns blasting the desert with their heat and light.
O: Your favorite Exalted type?
NRP: If you’d asked me this question a few years back, my answer would have been Lunars, but now my favorite type of Exalted, on the same topic as above, is the Dragon-Blooded. From the first, they interested me. A weaker but more numerous type of Exalted! Still powerful, but with their own unique culture and viewpoint, the last bastion of civilization and peace in a Time of Tumult.
A lot has changed since those lines in the First Edition core, where a Solar must fear that the Terrestrial across the bar is the one who ends their incarnation. Can anyone feel the same way about Terrestrials now? But still, the Terrestrials are capable of incredible heroic deeds but less than world-changing.
I like the Terrestrials because their power is just shy of warping the world around them rather than shaping it. A Solar Exalt can reshape a nation and people almost entirely to serve him in a matter of months. Terrestrials, by contrast, must interact with setting and culture on a more personal level – and they must deal with their own culture on top of that. The Celestials have their own cultures, true, but not quite as interesting as the Realm or Lookshy…
If a Solar doesn’t like Chaya, they can blaze away nanomachines with their might and go punch out the gods of the region. If a Terrestrial doesn’t like Chaya, there’s much less they can do about it, and more to struggle with should they choose to change it.
O: What would you say is your favorite part of freelance writing? Your least favorite?
NRP: My favorite part is the way the fans react to what you’re doing – or interacting with fans, as it were. It’s great to see fans giddy about new rules or a new piece of the setting, or even to look at an older part in a new light.
My least favorite…well. I’ve been known to pop into threads about “How do I storytell Infernals” or, “Can Infernals be sympathetic,” and say something like, “Maybe you should read my chapter before you ask.”
A close second to that would be fighting with other authors behind the scenes. Some writers – I won’t say whom, but some – build this very intricate model of the universe and cosmology inside their minds, and if you include a detail that violates that model, despite the surface of the setting not changing it a whit, it’s fighting words.
The key to solving this, as the key to the above annoyance, is just to talk it out. Find out why they dislike that change to the model – and often it’s something unbelievably minor – and work out a compromise. Talk to the fans who didn’t feel you adequately answered their question, and answer it as best you can in a longer form. Communication heals.
O: What message would you want most to give to frequent readers or forumites, given your position as both freelancer and frequent forum-goer?
NRP: If you’re happy about how things are going, tell us! We love it. If you’re dissatisfied, sit back. Think about things. Then reason out why you don’t like it and tell us. We like that.
And stay tuned – Exalted’s about to change in a few big ways, and in more than a few it’s going back to basics.