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Interviews: Sean Reynolds

Interview by Joe G. Kushner

You may know him as one of the masterminds behind the D&D3e's incredible Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book, or as the master of Bonds of Magic. In any case, fans of D20 can't help but come across Sean's work again and again. Learn the innermost secrets and upcoming projects of one of Third Edition's giants, Sean K. Reynolds.

How did you first get sucked into the gaming hobby?

I think my parents got me the red D&D Basic Set. I was hooked from then on, mainly on D&D, but drifting sometimes into Star Frontiers, Marvel Super Heroes, Traveler, and Tunnels & Trolls.

When did you first start working for Wizards of the Coast?

July 10th, 1995, as TSR Online Coordinator.

What did being Online Coordinator entail?

In theory, building TSR's website and maintaining TSR's AOL site. In practice, putting out a lot of flamewars in the newsgroups caused by TSR's then-draconian online policy. With a lot of patience and an obvious history in gaming, I was able to win people over and get them to listen, and eventually Jim Butler and I got the policy relaxed (and even more so once WotC was in charge).

How did the jump from Online Coordinator to RPG design guy come about?

My best friend was the editor for the Ravenloft setting, and she got me to write part of a compilation project (Children of the Night: Ghosts) that would be used to fund the TSR designer's party at GenCon. Then I wrote quite a few RPGA Adventurer's Guild adventures (short adventures made to tie in with various current TSR releases). After the WotC buyout, I saw that my work was done and my job as TSR webmaster was no longer necessary, and there was a position in RPG R&D opening up, so I applied, got the job as the new Greyhawk designer, and the rest is history. :)

Did you ever think that you'd make a profession out of RPGs?

Never! I thought I was going to be a chemistry teacher.

How will Gen Con moving effect you personally?

Even when I was living in Wisconsin I didn't spend much time in Milwaukee, so there's not much for me to miss there other than the Safe House. I'm looking forward to seeing Gen Con in Indianapolis, as my friend JD Wiker used to work for the convention center there and tells me that they have a great setup. And if they have a Gen Con in southern California, that would be even better. :)

What parts of the WoTC rules are you waiting to hit the SRD?

Basically anything I wrote for the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting and Magic of Faerûn. There's a lot of good material there, and the designers tried to fill a lot of holes left by the three core books.

What's the difference between working for the big boy, WoTC, compared to working with some of the other companies?

Well, WotC has medical and 401(k) plans. :) But I've found that in freelancing for smaller companies there's a lot more flexbility in what I can do and I'm given a lot more leeway in where I want the project to go.

What's a typical writing day like?

I tend to work in short spurts, interspersed with checking my mail, reading my message boards, and browsing my favorite sites. Or maybe it's just that I'm easily distracted by a high-speed internet connection. :)

What are good idea resources for people interested in getting just the right flavor or touch to their campaign?

I think it's a handy tool to find one big theme for the world and develop based on that. Then you can build a campaign around exploration of or upsets to that goal. Terry Goodkind's world's theme is "there are always two sides to magic," and set up his characters exploring the different aspects of their power. Larry Niven's "The Magic Goes Away" is about a world where magic is fading, yet someone claims to have found an unlimited power source with which he's going to rule. Robert Jordan's is "women control the magic because men with magic go insane" and then gives a protagonist male with magic who may not be insane. Greyhawk's theme is "seeking the balance between good and evil," and often the push was to hold back excessive good as much as excessive evil (a theme found later in Dragonlance). Once you have your major theme, it's easier to find smaller themes that don't clash with that; those themes help fill in the blanks, establish color, and make the world more believable -- and thus a campaign in that world more believable and enjoyable.

Does 3rd ed encourages min-maxing? I know I've got a few players in my campaign that take over an hour to make a simple fighter as they puruse each book in search of the perfect feat and the perfect Prestige Class to go into.

3E is actually built to accomodate minmaxing without letting it take over the game; you actually have to balance something assuming a minmaxing player in order to make sure that the minmaxer can't get extremely powerful combos. This is far different from 2E, which often was balanced for a regular character and minmaxing wasn't really considered (or was considered in a "if someone wants to minmax, fine, that's not the average player" sort of way).

(Not that every d20 author out there sticks to the philosophy of designing with the minmaxer in mind, or has the time to check a significant number of references when considering a design's power level. There have been powerful combos just using WotC material because of the amount of cross-checking that needs to be done; when you include the dozens of other d20 products the task is even more formidable.)

What work are you most proud of at this time?

The Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting was quite a task, but I'm still really impressed with how it turned out. We broke new ground with the concept of regional feats and filled a lot of holes in the game with the feats and prestige classes defined there. Still a close second in my mind was The Scarlet Brotherhood (for 2E Greyhawk), which was my first book of a significant size, and it was all mine to explore and define. And if we count books that aren't yet published, Ghostwalk is near the top, too, just because it was something that Monte and I were able to create from scratch and take anywhere we want.

What can we expect to see from you in the near and not so near future?

There's another volume of the Bonds of Magic out later this month from Malhavoc Press, and it's all divine spellcasters with some really neat stuff. The print edition combining volumes I and II is out in December. There's Path of the Magi from Citizen Games, my as-yet unnamed elf book from Reaper Miniatures, and Races of Faerûn and the monsters-as-PCs book Savage Species (with Red Redman and Dave Eckelberry) from WotC in the Spring. I'm doing part of a monster book with Green Ronin, and I have a book on angels (and other stuff) from Malhavoc Press that hasn't officially been announced or titled yet which is out sometime next year. And you may see Ghostwalk next year, too. Then there's the CRPG I'm working on at Black Isle Studios, but I don't think there's a release date for that yet and it's name and nature haven't been announced yet either. No wonder I'm tired all the time. :)

Come on, you can tell OgreCave. The Ogre got the shaft in 3rd edition didn't it? :-)

Oh, I dunno ... Str 21, +5 natural armor, and a 10 ft. reach are really good....

What book would you like to do but haven't done yet due to time constraints?

I want to write a d20 super heroes game. I've been too busy to do it in my spare time and (in this increasingly saturated d20 superheroes market) haven't found anyone willing to pay me to do it yet, so it remains on the back burner. :P

Any chance of seeing you form your own branch of products like Monte, Chris, and others have done?

I have considered it. It actually was my primary option when the March layoffs were approaching. But then Black Isle started recruiting me and right after the layoffs Monte said he'd love to have me write whatever I want for Malhavoc, so starting my own imprint wasn't a priority (and "Sean K Reynolds Games," the name I use to publish my charity projects through RPG Now, doesn't really count as an imprint or a company). Right now I'm so busy freelancing from other companies and getting used to working at Black Isle Studios that starting yet another project just hasn't been feasible. Maybe in a year or so I'll take a look at what I'm doing and see if I want to try something new.

Do you think that the miniature use in 3rd edition is a good or bad thing? I'm a little torn as I love the way they look on the field and the ease in which they help combat move along but the GM always gets the shaft because they're never enough monsters, the big monsters are expensive (Heaven forbid you've got a party about to fight six trolls), and they take a long time to paint. Your opinion?

I wasn't really in to miniatures until WotC starting making them, and now I love them. Yes, it's expensive, and yes, it's a time consuming hobby (and with my long commute I don't have as much time to paint as I used to), but it really helps make combat in 3E run so much faster and with fewer arguments. If you're not artistically inclined, can't afford to buy minis, or don't have the time to paint them, the monster tokens are a great substitute. Even numbered pieces of paper or dice work in a pinch, since they're just placeholders for the characters. 3E was designed with miniatures in mind, but that doesn't mean you have to use actual miniatures.

There's been a lot of talk about the d20 glut and the downfall of the RPG market any day now. I don't see it. What's a professional's take on it all?

The d20 license is probably the greatest thing to ever happen for RPGs since their creation, since it allows people to write for a common system instead of having to create their own almost-D&D (and fragment the market in doing so). The glut of products is just a side effect of everyone writing for d20 instead of dividing their effort among games A, B, C, D, and so on.

I'm with Monte: the system is self-correcting; people will learn which companies make good products and which ones don't, and the ones that don't will fade away. People aren't going to stop playing D&D just because there are too many d20 products out there, and the release of 3E brought a ton of people back into the playing and purchasing arena, and it will take a long time for that swell to fade. No need to play Chicken Little.

Do you manage to play much these days?

For a while I was in three games a week, but I cut back to once a week so I could spend more time with my girlfriend and other hobbies (including painting miniatures). I haven't gamed since I left Washington at the end of August, but now that I've finally found a permanent apartment in San Diego, I'm hoping I can fit it into my schedule very soon. After all, my old gaming group is here, as is my sister (a 3E playtester and veteran of Monte's pre-Ptolus campaign) and her boss, plus several other long-time email friends who have volunteered to put up with me once a week.

Give us one of the more gruesome death stories from one of your sessions (whether you were playing or GMing).

Hmm, either I haven't had any death stories that were particularly gruesome, or I've blocked them out to preserve my sanity. There is the story of the ranger who ignored an imminent disintegration in order to take time to aim....

Any last words of wisdom for the Ogre?

Have fun, and know the game before you try to fix it. :)

Visit Sean Reynolds' site

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