Black Isle Studios Interview

Sean Reynolds has been involved with many role-playing games over the years, including the tabletop versions of Dungeons & Dragons and Marvel Super Heroes while at Wizards of the Coast, and now computer and console RPGs with Interplay/Black Isle.  Since the designer was involved with the development of both "Jefferson" and "Van Buren" (believed to be Baldur's Gate III and Fallout 3, respectively) and has quite a track record writing Dungeons & Dragons manuals, we felt he was the perfect candidate for an interview here on GameBanshee. Our questions and his answers to follow:

GB: For those visitors who are unfamiliar with your work, can you give us a brief history of what projects you have worked on over the years?

Sean: I guess I'm best known for my work on the pen & paper books for Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms, in particular the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, and Magic of Faerûn. I also did some work for core/generic D&D, such as Savage Species, and parts of the 3E Monster Manual. Since I left WotC I've been working for Malhavoc Press (Monte Cook's publishing company) working full-time in the CRPG field for Interplay.

GB: What lead to your decision to move from pen & paper RPGs to the computer game industry? Have you been happy with the move so far?

Sean: I was laid off from WotC in March 2002 under amiable circumstances ... my girlfriend and I were already planning to move to southern California (where I grew up), and around the time of the layoffs I got an email from JE Sawyer of Black Isle asking me if I'd be interested in working for Black Isle. The idea of having a job waiting for me when I arrived was nice, so I applied, interviewed, and got the job. It was really a series of nice coincidences (they were looking for someone who knew about 3E D&D and the Forgotten Realms, and I had worked on the core books for both).

Life has been strange at Interplay, with my first two projects canceled and several sets of layoffs, and I used to have a 2-hour commute by train. I've had the opportunity to work with some really great people and learn a lot about the computer game industry. Overall, I'm happy with the change.

GB: What is your opinion of the changes that have been made to the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset over the years, from the original D&D and AD&D to the D&D 3.5 rules? Are there any particular changes you felt were badly needed or weren't needed at all?

Sean: I think since the invention of D&D there's been a trend in expanding what you can do with your character and your campaign. 3E gives you the most options in terms of races (even letting you play monsters as a balanced option), classes (free multiclassing, any race playing any class), and magic (the invention of the no-memorize sorcerer class).

I'm completely happy with the changes between 2nd edition AD&D and 3rd edition D&D. I have no interest in ever playing AD&D again. I have a few lingering issues with some of the recent 3.5 changes, but I still think 3E is the best D&D we've had so far.

GB: With the many different cultures, characters, geographical locations, and vast history surrounding the Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms campaign settings, was it difficult to work on projects set in either location? Were you required to be knowledgeable of all source materials before starting any work?

Sean: Fortunately, both FR and the WoG have a large fan base, and I was able to draw on them to point me in the right direction when I needed to do research. This allowed me to focus on relevant books and work on the others later ... a real lifesaver when you consider that we're talking 25 years of products for Greyhawk and about a zillion sourcebooks and novels for the Realms.

GB: What were your responsibilities while working on the Marvel Super Heroes role-playing game? Did such a job require that you be very familiar with comic book heroes in general?

Sean: Wow, most people don't even know I was working on that game! I only worked on one book for WotC's Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game, but it was a really neat idea ... the Green Goblin's Guide to Crime. It was written entirely in-character, presumably by the Green Goblin himself, as a list of suggestions for would-be super-criminals (such as "Gold is heavy ... if you can't fly at supersonic speeds or teleport, don't try to rob Fort Knox because it's in the middle of nowhere and you'll get caught"). Unfortunately, the book was canceled when they canceled the whole game, and WotC has sat on the manuscript even though it would be easy to strip out the Marvel names and release it as a generic sourcebook or a web feature.

I used to read comics all the time when I was a teenager, so I was already familiar with the Marvel universe. I even played the old percentile-based Marvel Super Heroes game every week with my friend Jason. I'm guessing that's why they chose me for that book (there was no start-up time needed for me to get familiar with the universe and the characters).

GB: If you were creating a pen & paper RPG from scratch, what type of background and setting would you choose? How about a CRPG from scratch?

Sean: Tough questions; it really depends on my mood and what has influenced me in the previous few months. I've always had a thing for short-term themed campaigns, whether an angelic-themed In Nomine game, its demon-themed sequel, a Strikeforce Morituri superheroes game using Alternity's FX system, my current mythic-Greece New Argonauts campaign, or the Musketeers game I plan on running next. Same goes for a CRPG. I generally prefer fantasy over SF, and fantasy with a twist is even better.