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AICN Tabletop! An Interview With SHAINTAR Designer Sean Fannon! And All The Gaming News That's Fit To Print!

Hello gamers! What’s this? Ain’t It Cool Tabletop on-schedule? Shocking, I know! I’ve got some good news and some really cool Kickstarters for you, but first, I talked to Sean Patrick Fannon from Evil Beagle Games. For those who don’t remember, I spoke about Sean last week after he announced the Justice and Life shared event and I had a lot of questions about how it worked. Sean’s probably best known for his work on CHAMPIONS with Hero Games, on the original STAR WARS from West End Games, the book THE FANTASY ROLEPLAYING GAMER’S BIBLE, his work organizing Dragon*Con and Origins, and his stint as Marketing and Communications Manager for DriveThruRPG and RPGNow.

Abstruse: What exactly is SHAINTAR? What separates it from the other SAVAGE WORLDS campaign settings out there?

Sean Patrick Fannon: A dear friend of mine came up with the tag line we use on our T-Shirts - "It's like LORD OF THE RINGS meets DIE HARD." Having that on a shirt at a con is awesome; it always brings people running up, asking what it's about. SHAINTAR is at once "classic heroic fantasy" and something much, much deeper. You can dive in and play with many of the tropes you might expect, but as a world that's been in development for 37 years, it also has tremendous depth, hidden mysteries, and wonderful conspiracy-laden stories to discover.

As well, I hasten to point out that I DESPISE dungeons; there's no killing kobolds for copper pieces in SHAINTAR. This is what I call a "cinematic action adventure world." You are an action hero in a powerful, drama-filled setting that's also ripe for buddy action humor and all the rest. More Aragorn, less Bob the Fighter, the 12th.

Abstruse: You're doing a pretty big event for SHAINTAR, Justice and Life. As I read it, you're taking the concept of a living campaign to the next step. Does that sound about right?

Sean Patrick Fannon: That's exactly it. I love the concept of the "living campaigns," but I've always found the execution personally frustrating. When I decided to bring Shaintar out, I was determined to create a user experience that let GMs and players feel like they are really a part of things, and that their personal experiences matter. So I looked at the various iterations of the idea across the years - not just the Living campaigns, but LARPS, online gaming experiences, and more. I saw all kinds of ways to approach the idea, and then I set about launching what we are calling the "Change the Game Initiative." A one-to-one relationship with the canonical setting, where you can run and play scenarios and stories that officially affect and even alter the setting. The setting AS PUBLISHED.

Abstruse: I always saw Living Campaigns or "You decide the outcome!" events in RPGs tend to be a post card with check boxes over how the published adventure ended. "Okay, 67% of the fans decided Sir MacGuffin should be the new King while 33% backed Lord Huffelsmuff. So it's Sir MacGuffin in the next sourebook". But this is going way beyond are you managing all the information?

Sean Patrick Fannon: The interesting thing is just how many people ask me that. Truth is, I abandoned ever looking at the process as a data management project. What few elements of that I brought into the mix at the beginning were firmly trashed early on as the incredible team of fans and volunteers I brought together (called the Raven's Flock, in reference to the "Gandalf" figure of Shaintar, Saiderin AKA the Raven) helped me see past that way of thinking entirely.

It's not data management. It's facilitation of story, just like a GM does for their players. We just facilitate storytelling for all the GMs, to in turn facilitate for their players. We then give them FIRM guidelines for what will and won't fly as "canon changes." We also firmly establish at the get-go that we have the right to NOT accept certain things; to that effect, we encourage GMs who know they are "going big" with something to work with us ahead of time before they initiate it. If they are mostly just messing with their real estate (the place where they are basing their campaign, clearly established by the Obsidian Portal presence), they are pretty open to what they can do.

We then encourage the GMs (and the players, for that matter) to share as much information as they want about their games and their stories. Big events go on the Active Timeline, showing how each game directly impacts the setting in nearly real-time. "Let them play" is our motto. The more active GMs and players have the most impact on what happens next, but not on a percent of results basis. On a direct basis - that part of Shaintar got screwed because the heroes all died, so now we need to deal with that. And so on.

I guess it comes down to the fact that, as the sole stakeholder for SHAINTAR, I can let people screw with my world and not have to answer to anyone else. For 37 years, my players have directly affected it, so now I am willing to let everyone else's players do the same. This kind of personal connection creates a deeper sense of belonging and accomplishment.

Abstruse: So you're approaching it more like Wikipedia does their article editing. You can do whatever you want, but your changes aren't going to be accepted unless you follow our guidelines, general ideas of good practice, and a healthy dose of Wheaton's Law...

Sean Patrick Fannon: You have it exactly right. We are even using the wiki approach to the content creation and presentation elements. Obsidian Portal is where campaigns are set up and managed from an information expression and sharing perspective; the wiki techniques are employed on, where the Justice and Life GMs can post locations, events, important characters, and so on. The Flock team does go through and make sure stuff is kosher before it's added to the final official presentation.

This is, admittedly, where there's the potential for an information bottleneck. However, as I explained to Lisa Stevens at Paizo among others, I have no illusions that SHAINTAR is FORGOTTEN REALMS. I am starting small, which makes it all manageable. By the time we get significantly bigger (which I certainly hope for), I will have a strong cadre of fans and believers already trained and installed and invested. They will be the ones who teach the newcomers how things work and how to keep it all canonical and fair. It's kind of a beneficent pyramid scheme, really. Which, frankly, is how a lot of meta-connected LARPs work.

Abstruse: So this is currently running, right? How much has the game world changed so far from the actions of individual groups?

Sean Patrick Fannon: At least a couple-dozen new towns and villages have been added to the Shaintar map. The HQ of Grayson's Grey Rangers (the key PC aggregation organization that serves as the "get them all together for missions" mechanism) was nearly taken over by a corrupted shapeshifter, and the messaging system the Rangers used through the region they protect was severely compromised. This all came from a couple of GMs working out of Buffalo, NY (Tim Hannon and Mark Knapik) and sharing what they were doing. As a result, the Rangers now actively use Adepts (mind magic wielders) to scan recruits before they are allowed to take the Cloak.

That's just one example; there are plenty of others. The relationship between the Dwarven Clanhomes and the Rangers has changed - for the better - thanks to a couple of GMs and their groups. I could go on and on. All of this will be reflected in Guidebooks that I am writing.

Abstruse: So these aren't small changes. How long is this event going to run? And do you have plans to do more in the future?

Sean Patrick Fannon: My ultimate goal is to get it going in a way that it never ends; I would consider it a phenomenal accomplishment if the world of SHAINTAR as a shared experience outlived me by a long shot. As well, we have plans to expand outward via the mechanisms of the Suzerain Continuum, whereby a limitless number of settings might connect and interact.

Our first global meta-event, the Thundering Skies Saga, is underway and affecting every single campaign in the Shaintar: Justice and Life shared campaign. Moreover, we've got exclusive events happening at <a href=”“>ConCoction in Cleveland at the end of this month, and the finale events happening at Andocon in Atlanta in the middle of June. Everyone's been really supportive and excited about this, and it's a huge example of what's possible.

Abstruse: Before we wrap up, there's one other interesting thing you're doing. You've got a GoFundMe campaign to relocate your family. Where did that idea come from and how is that campaign going for you?

Sean Patrick Fannon: My Kickstarter for SHAINTAR really gave me an education in the power of crowdfunding, and I've done a great deal of supporting others via various avenues like that. So many people in my social networking circles have been encouraging me to move away from Alabama and to a place more life-affirming and supportive. This was especially true of all the fantastic folks I met when I was a Guest at Genghis Con in Denver, CO this year. Ross and I both walked away thinking how great it would be to live there, and when the locals got wind of it, they jumped on the idea. They asked what they could do to help us get there.

So... GoFundMe came to mind. Ross and I (and Carinn, for that matter) came up with things we could do for folks, like reward tiers in any crowdfunding campaign. We pulled it together, and it's been rather awesome so far. Admittedly, having a huge social networking circle and very loving and supportive fans made it possible in the first place.

Abstruse: There's some really cool stuff on there. Game books, exclusives, and games run by you and Ross.

Sean Patrick Fannon: Thanks! There's certainly no lack of creativity among the three of us involved there, as well as the fantastic folks who stepped up and offered their support.

According to tweets from a few Wizards of the Coast employees, there’s about to be some big announcements coming soon on the new edition of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. The speculation is that we’ll finally get official release dates for the core game and any sort of starter set (since that should be going to the printers soon and Mike Mearls confirmed that development on the edition is done), plus probably the covert art they showed off at GAMA. But until then, we’ve got ATTACK WING.

WizKids began solicitations for orders for the product, and it looks like the starter set will retail price for $49.99. You’ll get three dragon miniatures – Red, Blue, and Copper – plus all the things you need to play. Several expansions will come out as well, including the following: Green ($24.99), Sun Elf Wizard ($14.99), Frost Giant ($24.99), Sun Elf Guard Troop (six figures, $24.99), Hobgoblin Troop (six figures, $24.99), Dwarven Ballista ($14.99), and Wraith (two figures, $19.99). All of these will be available at launch on October 1st. Wave Two expansions for the game will have a Black Shadow Dragon ($24.99), Movanic Deva Angel ($14.99), and Aarakocra ($14.99) just in time for Christmas on December 3rd. This system uses a similar ruleset to the X-WING MINIATURES and STAR TREK ATTACK WING games, so expect more coverage of that as soon as I get my mitts on it!

Wizards of the Coast also launched the next stage in the Encounters season DREAMS OF THE RED WIZARD, called Dead in Thay. I’ve learned that, contrary to what I’d heard previously, these Encounters seasons do include the last D&D Next playtest packet, so it has everything you need to play except dice. This adventure runs from 6th to 8th level and is the follow-up to the previous season, Scourge of the Sword Coast.

GenCon released the first event schedule for the world’s largest gaming convention and...dear god when am I going to find time to sleep?!?! There’s a lot of awesome going on here and I’m going to be in the thick of it so if you’re going. If you’re attending as well, I’d recommend you start planning now so you can figure out what panels and games you absolutely have to be at and work your way from there. And remember, there’s many events and games that haven’t been finalized, so expect even more announcements soon.

MAGIC: THE GATHERING CORE SET 2015 comes out this July and Wizards of the Coast made the first announcements this week. The set will have 269 total cards and be sold in the usual boosters, intro packs, and fat packs; but now they’re adding something new: Clash Packs. These packs include two 60 card pre-constructed decks with six foil cards with alternate art, a single deck box, and a strategy guide to introduce newer players in customizing decks for more competitive play. These will replace Event Decks on an alternating basis (next set will have Event Decks, the one after that will have Clash Packs, then back to Event Decks, and so on), and retail for $29.99. Pre-release events happen on July 12-13, while the full launch will be July 18-20.

OUTBREAK: DEEP SPACE is the stand-alone sci-fi zombie game from Chris de la Rosa, Robert Watts, and Ivan Van Norman and is the follow-up to OUTBREAK: UNDEAD. The setting is a high-tech space opera sci-fi setting with zombies and other monsters coming both from within and without. This is a stand-alone game, or it can be used with OUTBREAK: UNDEAD as a supplemental sourcebook with more weapons, monsters, and other options. The adventure is already available on PDF at Drive Thru RPG and has been for a while, but it’s just a supplement for the OUTBREAK: UNDEAD system. The Kickstarter is for a full-color print edition available for a $45 pledge, while the PDF will be updated with the new rules (though still require OUTBREAK: UNDEAD or OUTBREAK: DEEP SPACE to play). This Kickstarter is very close to funding and runs until June 1st.

The HERO system is well known to be one of the most thorough and also one of the most complicated gaming systems ever written. The core rulebook takes up two massive 500 page volumes! Thankfully, HERO Games came out with the CHAMPIONS COMPLETE rules which greatly streamlined the system, but focused almost exclusively on superheroes. Now Michael Surbrook brings that same treatment to their classic FANTASY HERO COMPLETE. This 247 page rulebook contains everything you need to create characters and run the game. The best thing about this are the price points. A $10 pledge gets you the full PDF version of the game, while $30 gets you the print copy and PDF. For an additional $10, you get the data packs for every character and monster in the books in a format compatible with the Hero Designer software! This project is 2/3 to its funding goal and runs until June 2nd.

GOOD COP, BAD COP is the latest entry in the party bluffing game genre where you’re paired off as either a good, honest cop or a bad, corrupt cop. Each side has a leader, the Agent and the Kingpin respectively, and your goal is to eliminate the opposing leader. The catch, like all the WEREWOLFesque games, is that you don’t know who is who. There are a few unique mechanics in this one that sets it apart on top of the theme, and the price is really good. These games make amazing convention games or games when too many people show up for other board games (or if drinking has been involved). $14 gets you a copy of the game when it’s released and a print-and-play copy now, and the other pledge levels get you more copies of the game for your store, gaming café, or other location. This project is fully funded and runs until May 19th.

TRANSYLVANIA: CURSES AND TRAITORS is an adventure collection game where you play adventurers seeking to gain knowledge of the night to win the game. The board changes with every game as it’s made up of modular tiles, and while you’ll collect items that help you, you may also be cursed - possible to become a creature of the night yourself. This game looks like a great addition to somewhat similar games like HOUSE ON THE HILL with the outright JOY of finally getting one that isn’t Lovecraftian themed (nothing against Mythos stuff, but there’s SO many games about it I’m just burned out). Of not, this game features six unique character cards that are double-sided, with male and female versions of the same character on either side. This makes TRANSYLVANIA: CURSES AND TRAITORS one of a few games out there giving complete gender neutrality to the game. A $45 pledge gets you a copy of the game, while $55 also gets you a print-and-play version to get started right away. This project is fully funded and runs until May 31st.

Finally, we have THE QUEEN’S CAVALIERS, a clockwork swashbuckling RPG set in the baroque period. For those who aren’t nitpicky about historical fiction, yeah, close enough to Victorian to be the same. For those who are, this game’s definitely for you as there’s an attention to historical detail when adding the more fantastical elements to the setting. You can get the PDF for $15 and a print and PDF combo for $35, but even a $1 donation gets you access to the playtest. This Kickstarter is fully funded and runs until June 6th.

That’s it for this week! As always, you can find me over at my website Gamer’s Tavern, where we’ve got two weekly podcasts, a discussion of tabletop gaming as well as an actual play of SHADOWRUN 4th Edition. You can also follow me on Twitter as I bug Wizards of the Coast employees for any little tease I can of information, and you can email me your tabletop gaming news at I’ll also be at Comicpalooza in downtown Houston from May 23-26 covering all the gaming going on. The host of Gamer’s Tavern, Ross Watson, will also be there as well as Nordling and a few of our other former guests from the podcast, so I can guarantee you we’ll be recording something while we’re there (preferably in front of fans if we can work out the logistics!) I’ll also be at Animation Celebration Galveston in Galveston, TX, from July 4-6 and of course, at GenCon in Indianapolis, IN, from August 14-17!

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