It’s been a while since I’ve posted an interview with a White Wolf freelancer, and that’s been nothing but my own fault. Mr. Vance has been almost literally chomping at the bit, and I have led him on with false promises and procrastination, to my undying shame. Nevertheless, he has been very patient with me, and I have finally gotten off my duff and interviewed the most recent addition to the Ink Monkeys. Fortunately (as though I had planned it all along [I didn’t]), this interview should coincide nicely with the complete release of the .pdf version of the Compass of Celestial Directions: Autochthonia, available on DriveThruRPG. I apologize for the delay, and I present to you the long-awaited words of The Demented One.
Octopoid: Would you be kind enough to introduce yourself for our audience?
Robert Vance: My name is Robert Vance, better known to the forums as The Demented One. I’m an undergraduate student working towards a B.A. in English, with still-amorphous plans for grad school afterwards. I write poetry, cook, hike, and have a implausibly high number of cats and dogs.
I’ve played around with homebrew game design since I was about 12 years old. I got my start in Magic: the Gathering, then moved to D&D and Unknown Armies late in high school. I discovered Exalted about three years ago, and somehow ended up as a White Wolf freelancer, Errata Team Prime member, and Ink Monkey.
O: What contributions would YOU claim you have made to Exalted, both as a game and as a community? What contributions would others claim you have made, if different?
RV: My first official involvement in the came with The Broken-Winged Crane. I played a very small part in helping to balance the Kimbery Charmset, and proofread the .pdf before it was released. I also played an unofficial role in the recent Fair Folk errata, mostly giving Holden feedback and helping to polish his work.
Compass of Celestial Directions: Autochthonia is my first book as an author. I was assigned the NPC chapter, which most players skim through to in other Compass books; I’m certainly guilty of that. I’m hoping that my chapter will capture a little more interest than those that came before it; being jam-packed with more player-friendly crunch than
every other Compass put together can’t hurt.
As an Ink Monkey, I got off a grand total of one article before the website shift and subsequent hiatus. I’m hoping to show off a lot more once we come back: Charms of all varieties, hearthstones, thaumaturgy, and my latest project, Szoreny. On the errata side, I’ve been revising the God-Blooded chapter in Scroll of Heroes, and am helping Holden with the 2.5 errata.
I think I’ve also posted more homebrew Charms than maybe any other person ever, so that’s also a thing.
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?
RV: I’m still getting used to the whole freelancing thing, to be honest. I haven’t had very much direct contact with the people in charge at White Wolf; mostly, it’s been projects handed down by Holden, or another freelancer coming to me with cool ideas. A lot of what I’m doing now is really not very different than what I did as a fan, writing stuff up just because I think it’d be cool or for fun. It’s just that now, I can pass them off to Neph or Holden or Neall for criticism, and have to think about whether I want to keep things lined up for Ink Monkeys or save them for future books.
I think it’s no surprise that I’m a system guy. Charms are what I made my name with as a fan, and they make up the majority of what I’m putting out these days. Much as I love the setting, I’m more confident in my crunch skills than I am in my world-building. I’ve found a nice niche in collaborating with the setting guys, pairing together good crunch
with good fluff. Eric Minton’s been the guiding voice of high concept when it comes to my Szoreny project, and Neall and I have a number of cool projects that we’re working on.
O: When you’re working on material, from what sources do you tend to draw your inspiration?
RV: I draw on a wide and eclectic range of inspiration. For the Compass, my sources included a number of books on Soviet history, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, the music of Daft Punk and the Protomen, Neon Genesis Evangelion, the horror manga of Junji Ito, and Robocop. With Szoreny, I’ve found myself drawing on comic book supervillains like Doctor Doom and the Mirror Master, Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamorra, and academic papers on delusional disorders. I don’t take directly from these sources, but use them to set a sort of creative atmosphere in which to write, immersing myself in the narrative and aesthetic elements I’m trying to capture in my writing. I’m not a picky eater, intellectually, and I think it shows in my work.
There’s also a few works that influence everything I write for Exalted. I’ve read a fair deal of epic poetry: Gilgamesh, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Beowulf, Paradise Lost, and others (still need to get on the Mahabharata and Orlando Furioso). These have been a large influence on how I understand and portray heroism and heroes in Exalted. Every
Solar that I write has a little bit of Aeneas or Turnus in him; every Infernal has a touch of Lucifer. I’ve also made a decent head start on Exalted’s canon with Tanith Lee’s Night’s Master and Dunsany’s Gods of Pegana.
O: Who would you say are your favorite authors or writers in the gaming field? What about your favorite artists or designers in the field?
RV: My RPG experience is middling at best compared to some of the other freelancers, but I’ve still picked up a few favorites. Greg Stolze’s games have always impressed me; I’ve had a lot of fun with Unknown Armies and REIGN. I loved what Keith Baker did with fantasy and pulp adventure in his Eberron setting for D&D. Jenna Moran has been a source of wonderment and a role model for me as a writer ever since I discovered Hitherby Dragons; the fact that I now occasionally talk with her blows me away. I’ve never had any personal experience with Geoff Grabowski, but what I’ve read of his in books and the odd outlines Holden digs up make me think I would’ve loved to work for him.
I really don’t know nearly enough about the people who put together RPG art. Melissa Uran’s great, and I love the odd piece that Adam Warren has done for Exalted, but I’m really shamefully ignorant here.
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?
RV: I was brought in because I was noticed by the writers: first Neph, then Holden and John. The fact that I’m writing for White Wolf today is solely because these guys went to bat for me, and were able to convince the company to take a risk on hiring me. Of course, this means I have no idea what the formal process of being hired as a freelancer is supposed to look like. Writing and posting a few hundred Charms certainly worked for me, but there’s gotta be a better way of getting into the game.
O: What is your favorite creature from Exalted? Your favorite Exalted type?
RV: My favorite creature remains unpublished, so not much I can say there. On the other hand, I can tell you who my all-time least favorite creature is: Proto Puma Prime. Sooo dumb.
Since I’m mostly focused on Charm design, I tend to favor whatever Exalt type I’m writing for at the moment. Doing Szoreny; go team Infernal. Coming up with some Shogunate-era battle Charms; I’m all about the Dragon-Blooded. Writing errata for Mountain Folk Patterns; Jadeborn are the best ever. It’s a very disjointed, ping-pong mentality that ensures I pay some attention to everyone.
As a player, I enjoy the stories of power and consequences that Solars are well-geared to tell, as well as the nigh-infinite range of character concepts that they can embody. The Sidereal Exalted are what made me first fall in love with this game and hold a special place in my heart, no matter how rough their 2e incarnation has been. Hold me down at
gunpoint, and I’d probably waffle between Solars, Infernals, and Sidereals.
O: What would you say is your favorite part of freelance writing? Your least favorite?
RV: I absolutely love that I’m able to talk to and collaborate with the whole freelancer team. They’ve all been far more friendly and supportive than I deserve, and working alongside them has dramatically improved the quality of what I’m putting out. Michael Goodwin has taught me more about system design than I ever would’ve gotten on my own. Neall frequently talks setting metaphysics and the history of the game with me over lunch. Hatewheel and I once had a lengthy argument over whether a hippo killed you with biting or goring. They’ve all been great friends. And, of course, I’d be lying if I said the groundswell of enthusiasm from fans every time something new hits doesn’t put a smile on my face.
The absolute worst part is the pressure of being printed. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to writing, and once one of my mistakes has gone off to the printers, it’s there forever. Lacking the freedom of the edit button is a scary, scary thing for me.
O: If you were going to commission a piece of character art for one of your characters, which character would it be, and who would you go to for the art?
RV: That’s a tricky question; I’ve been a Storyteller much more than a player. If I had to pick a favorite NPC, it would be O-Mochi, the Eastern God of Rice. I threw him for comic relief; he challenged the circle’s Twilight to an Iron Chef-style cooking duel. He ended up as a much-beloved recurring character, serving as the circle’s envoy to the spirit courts of the East and as the patron god of their city. Pretty cool guy. Melissa Uran could doubtlessly do him well, although I don’t think she does Exalted commissions any more.
O: What message would you want most to give to frequent readers or forumites, given your position as both freelancer and frequent forum-goer?
RV: Right now is a great time to be an Exalted fan. We’ve got awesome stuff coming down the pipeline, a great team of writers, and really cool plans for the future. I hope you guys have fun with it.