A Word in Edgewise… with Shane Hensley of Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Shane Hensley of Pinnacle Entertainment Group
By Cape Rust

There are people in the RPG world who demand respect and there are people in the world that command respect. Shane Hensley falls into the latter category. When you meet Shane (if you get the chance I highly encourage it) you would never know that he has made such RPG legends as Deadlands and Savage Worlds. Shane has been making RPGs for a long time for the biggest names in the business. Shane is more interested in how much you enjoyed his games than how interested you are in him. One top of his numerous and epic accomplishments in the RPG world: Shane is married to the lovely Michelle Hensley and has two sons. I had the honor of meeting Shane and getting to hang out with him for a few minutes at KantCon and I have to say that not only is he a class act but his humility and genuine passion for RPGs are nothing short of inspirational.

RPC: Shane, five words that best describe you.
SH: Hungry. Gamer. Active. Entrepeneur.

RPC: What is your all time favorite RPG game system that you didn’t design?

RPC: Could you talk about your early experiences as a developer in the RPG industry?
SH: I wrote games for West End, TSR (now Hasbro), White Wolf, and FASA while I was in graduate school at Virginia Tech. I was very blessed to work with a bunch of great people who helped me greatly in my career.

RPC: Have you ever looked at an RPG system and said I wish I had thought of that?
SH: TORG in days past. In more recent times, I’m pretty happy with our rules but am often very envious of great art and presentation.

RPC: Let’s talk Deadlands, what inspired you to create a supernatural western game?
SH: Brom did a painting of a vampire confederate soldier / gunslinger that I saw at a GenCon many years ago (probably ’94). On my long drive back from GenCon I kept wondering what so important that this guy came back from the grave for? That slowly developed into more of a spaghetti Western vibe, and Deadlands was born.

RPC: Did you ever play TSR’s Boot Hill?
SH: Nope, though I had certainly heard of it.

RPC: What do you love most about Deadlands?
SH: Hucksters and Harrowed most, the great natural setting it makes for horror (isolation and the unknown), and all the amazing stuff that has grown from the roots we planted so many years ago.

RPC: Can you give our readers an idea of what the future holds for Deadlands?
SH: The next couple of Plot Point Campaigns that deal with Deadlands four servitors, expansions into Deadlands Noir, Hell on Earth, and Lost Colony. For the Weird West itself we also have a new book of monsters and creepy Savage Tales to go with them, and an experimental expansion I can’t talk about just yet!

RPC: OK you developed a supernatural western game, at what point did you say “sure, we’ll do a dystopian superhero style game called Brave New World”?
SH: That was all Matt Forbeck’s baby, so you’d have to ask him.

RPC: Strangely. Weird Wars seems more inline with Deadlands, how much different is it developing products for Weird Wars vs. Deadlands?
SH: They’re very similar, no doubt. Weird Wars has a little less backstory than Deadlands (though each of the various settings does have a common background), so it’s a little easier to tell tales outside the frame of the Reckoning or some other very directed event.

RPC: Now for the questions I’m sure most people have been waiting for. What can you tell us about a little rules system called Savage Worlds?
SH: It’s Fast, Furious, Fun! It’s designed to be easy for the Game Master to setup and run so he can concentrate on the action, the story, and his characters. At the same time, players have tons of options to customize their heroes but aren’t bogged down by them. This allows not just combat to move fast, but the whole game so that you can accomplish so much more per session in Savage Worlds than you can most other games. Given how busy everyone is these days and how many different entertainment mediums compete for our time, I think that’s a great thing, and we owe it all to great feedback through the years from our fans and friends.

RPC: Did you realize the impact that Savage Worlds would have on the RPG industry?
SH: Not a clue, but I’m certainly honored! I’ve been told about some of the things even the biggest players in our industry have taken from us, and imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. ;)

RPC: What has surprised you most about player’s reactions to the Savage Worlds rule set?
SH: How many different things they’ve done with it—from Star Wars to My Little Pony to grim and gritty settings like Jason Blair’s Streets of Bedlam to minis-based games like Savage Justified.

RPC: I am a huge fan of the Explorers handbook (small size, loaded with info and cheap). Can you discuss how you and your team decided on that format and that price point?
SH: The biggest challenge all the smaller gorillas in the zoo face is just getting people to try your game. Having a full-color, full-featured, nothing-left-out rulebook for $10 allowed a lot of people to give us a chance that never would have done so otherwise.

RPC: I played Space 1889 many moons ago and was surprised to see it re-worked for Savage Worlds. Are there any systems that have been converted to Savage Worlds that have surprised or disappointed you?
SH: Nothing we’ve done, for sure, and I don’t know of any licensee who has converted an existing setting.

RPC: Can you describe your recent experience as the guest of honor at KantCon in Kansas City?
SH: KantCon was a blast! I got to run several games for people who really seemed to enjoy it and I even got to play in an all-day old-school Tomb of Horrors game. I like all conventions, but it was a little refreshing that KantCon was just about games rather than sci-fi / fantasy in general. That meant most everyone there had fairly similar interests.

RPC: If you were not making RPGs what would your dream job be?
SH: CIA. That’s what I trained for in college before gaming kinda swept me away. ;)

RPC: What advice can you give to people who want to create RPGs or write for RPG companies?
SH: Yeesh. Don’t quit the day job. Unless you’re lucky enough to capture a niche it’s a very small field. But if you must…put your game out as a PDF first. Let your fans help you make the game better before you invest in printed copies. There are few things more depressing than land-filling your own games. ;)

RPC: Of all of the amazing RPG products that you have had a hand in, which are you most proud of?
SH: I’ll answer outside of Pinnacle products since I dearly love all of those, and would have to say City by the Silt Sea for TSR’s Dark Sun. Loved the world and loved working with the creators. Of course I also adored TORG, as I mentioned before, and most all my work for West End.

RPC: This last question is a free for all; say whatever you’d like and please pimp yourself or at least your company, we love links and stuff like that. I know you are a modest guy and this will be hard for you, but for god’s sake, do it for the children!
SH: I am modest. Your first question about killed me. ;) I guess what I’d like people to know most is how much I enjoy hearing about their experiences with our games. It’s so rewarding to me to hear how they encountered Stone in Deadlands, or took down the Sea Hags in 50 Fathoms, or went completely off the beaten path and did their own thing with Rippers. My dream job is creating worlds, tales, and adventures for people to experience and play in. And guess what? I have my dream job! I know exactly how lucky I am for that, and appreciate the people who allow me to do it every day. When my family and I are out for dinner or buying some fun new gadget, I frequently tell them we’re able to pay for it because a particular person—the last name I remember from a mail order or conversation—spent their own hard-earned money on some of our games. That’s a constant reminder of who the real bosses are and how lucky we are they keep me employed.

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