Saturday, April 24, 2010

Interview with Shane Hensley, Creator of Savage Worlds

When I began writing for The Dice of Life, I wanted to make the blog a source of ideas and inspiration for the time-crunched gamer.  The idea struck me that interviews with some of my gaming heroes would fill this requirement nicely.

I have to admit I was nervous reaching out to Shane.  You just never know who's on the other end of the email.  As it turns out, Shane is one of the nicest and most helpful guys in the gaming industry.  He's also an undead, giant fish. (well, he can dream, can't he?)

Shane Lacy Hensley is the President of Pinnacle Entertainment Group which produces Savage Worlds. His gaming credits are deep and wide, having written for every major gaming company, including TSR, White Wolf, and West End Games, among many others.

In 1994, Hensley started Pinnacle Entertainment Group which later created the best-selling, award-winning Deadlands RPG. Pinnacle Entertainment Group changed to Great White Games and published Savage Worlds in 2003. In 2005, the company reverted its "doing business as" name back to Pinnacle Entertainment Group and published Savage Worlds: Explorer's Edition, a smaller, more condensed, more affordable, and slightly revised version of the game. Hensely has also written dozens of books and several novels and has designed a range of gaming products including card games, miniature games, and computer games.

Shane, his wife Michelle, and their two sons, Caden and Ronan, reside in Gilbert Arizona. Shane has a bachelor of arts in both History and Political Science as well as a master of arts in Special Operations & Low Intensity Conflicts.

Q: You're an author, businessman and game designer. What other titles apply?

Counselor: I do a lot of advice and consulting for those in both industries I work in -- pen and paper games and computer/video games.

Father: One of my main goals in life is to raise my two sons to be good men who contribute to society and live happy, healthy lives.
Entrepreneur: I really enjoy starting new endeavors and finding the right people to do them with.

Manager: Not a word I really like, but for lack of a better one, I think I do a pretty good job in coordinating the efforts of those I work with.

 Q: Did your love of writing and stories lead to gaming or did gaming lead to writing?

Gaming led to writing. I started with D&D like most of us in high school and began writing my own adventures. The first one I wrote was "The Quest for the Holy Grail," which I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit, included "kowe." Yup. That's "ewok" spelled backward. Return of the Jedi had just come out and...well... I was young. ;)

Q: Who's work in the industry do you admire the most?

Greg Gorden was certainly my mentor from the start. TORG is still one of the most brilliant systems in gaming. It was the first I ever saw that let you be a "face" man and still be effective in combat. The cards seamlessly tied a game system to story-telling and really helped the group create incredible memories.

Q: In your interview with The Game's the Thing, you described Savage Worlds as a system for 'mature' gamers and caught a bit of flack for that. Would you tell us what you meant by the term 'mature'?

Sure! It came off as meaning "more intelligent," but what I really meant was guys and gals (typically over 30) who had busy jobs, kids, and not a lot of time. Savage Worlds was designed to be easy to run both on the table and in terms of preparation as well -- and our Plot Point Campaigns™ are an extension of that.

Q: What inspired you personally to design such a system?

I ran the original Deadlands a gazillion times, of course, especially at conventions where people are given a very short amount of time to grasp the system. It worked well for its original intent, I think, which was to simulate bullet-by-bullet action like you might see in "The Outlaw Josey Wales." But as the other classes grew, and particularly when Hell on Earth debuted with full-auto weapons, grenades, and other modern firearms, it started to bog down.

The Great Rail Wars had been a huge success for us and we tried the adventure that would become "Rain o' Terror" with GRW as an RPG system. It was a blast, and we knew we had something really special there.

Q: What's your favorite Savage Worlds setting and why?

Geez. What a tough question. Evernight has a soft spot in my heart because of its origin and the play test campaign we ran. (In brief, the origin came at the end of running the Illithid trilogy in D&D 3.5. Our group killed the hive mind that sent them to stop the invasion of the world and mistakenly plunged the world into darkness. Looks of "Oops" were quickly replaced by "Cool!" as I described the enslavement of the races by the evil mind flayers, and my friends envisioned the resistance that would rise to oppose it.)

50 Fathoms would be next. It's the best we've done with the Plot Point Campaigns, I think, and was really just an absolute blast to run. It also channels both Pirates of the Caribbean and Pirates of Dark Water, two properties I love, and yet creates its own unique feel, and I'm quite proud of that.

Of course the big grand daddy of our company is Deadlands, and it's been very good to me over the years. I like running the Weird West best--but I like playing Hell on Earth best.

Q: Outside of Savage Worlds, what's your favorite game system?

Hands down TORG, but I've also played a ton of GURPS. I love trying new systems, but often find myself drawn back to our own since it obviously encompasses the features we like best.

Q: You've created many games and games systems. Do you still game as a hobby or is that sort of like taking your work home with you?

I absolutely do. I just finished a five-session D&D 4th [edition] campaign with some of the guys from the video game job.

Q: Do you find that D&D 4e lives up to its promises in being a faster and easier game to prep, run and play? What are some ideas in D&D 4e that you think are "Fast, Fun and Furious!" in their own ways, if any?

I think D&D 4th [edition] would have been stronger had the actions (which are represented by cards) been more special and less something you do every single turn. In our game, it became "what card do you play this turn?" I could never find any reason to do a standard attack because your powers are always better, and in our group at least, it really discouraged trying anything really creative since again the cards were better. The thing I love most about RPGs is the subjective ability to handle actions outside the box. Both D&D 3.x and [4e] have been really big on detailing every single miniscule thing you can do, which in my experience means that if something isn't detailed the GM either gets flustered, spends forever trying to find it in a supplement, or just says you can't do it.

Sometimes, less is more. If your rules govern general actions instead of specific actions, I think it leaves the GM and players a bit more freedom to handle corner cases more quickly and easily.

Q: What's 'coming soon' from Great White Games dba Pinnacle Entertainment?

Three new books for our awesome Solomon Kane line, the next Plot Point for Deadlands, and at GenCon, Weird War Two, a deluxe Deadlands screen and adventure, gorgeous new Fate Chips/Bennies for our various lines, and Rob Lusk's Sticks & Stones card game which is an absolute blast. :)

Q: How do you balance a business, creative projects and family?

I'm a zombie and don't sleep.
No, really.

Q: Why the fascination with sharks and (in tribute to Barbara Walters) if you were a shark, what sort would you like to be?

Sharks are sleek and elegant machines that do three things: eat, swim, and mate. Sounds pretty good to me.
A zombie megalodon.

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