Obsidian Studios: The Shards Project
An Interview with Sean Patrick Fannon
by Sandy Antunes
This reporter was fortunate to sit in on a GenCon lunch run by
Jared Nielson and Sean Patrick Fannon. The meat of the matter?
Obsidian's upcoming Shards of the Stone
multimedia roleplaying venture, set as one world with many pieces,
and launching in 2000. The basic premise is a
huge fantasy cosmology, in which industry writers will sculpt
their own pieces of the overall 'world'.
Shards will have specific worlds as
well as an over-arcing story, making it at once a large shared
project, and a collection of creator-driven single worlds.
With the general theme of "fantasy", a central tabletop RPG
core system, and a mix of tabletop and online interactions possible,
the project is ambitious.
We interviewed Sean,
Director of the project, to provide this inside scoop on what
Shards hopes to achieve.
1) Is Shards aiming to follow the 'collaborative world' approach to
writing (as many RPGs and some fiction projects do), or is it taking
more of a 'multiple lines' approach (similar to Image comics), or
is it something different from either of these?
2) Shards aims to set the 'designer as rock star', by providing both
incentives for writers to stay involved past publishing, as well as
featuring the writers. Do you feel there are writers in the industry
now that have 'star followings'?
- I think it's safe to say that Shards of the Stone will be something of a
hybrid between the two ideas, at least when things really get going. I don't
want to give away too many secrets (that will part of the grand story that
unifies the whole thing), but suffice it to say that individual visions will
be allowed to flourish for a time before we start the integration process.
Imagine if DC, Marvel, and Image were able to plan a full integration of
their unique and best properties from the very beginning, but they managed
to have a long time to develop those properties before the integration -
that's a pretty good idea of what we have planned.
3) You mention Greenwood, Gygax, Jackson,
Allston, Ward, Weis, Hickman. Are any of these signed, or is this just
'people you have approached' (and is there a big name who has committed
at this point?)
Well, I am proud to say we have some of those writers among our collection -
Ed Greenwood springs to mind, of course (the creator of Forgotten Realms).
Jim Ward (long-time TSR "Big Guy" and creator of Gamma World, among other
gems) is another. Steve Jackson, Gary Gygax, and Aaron Allston are also
pretty good examples of the "rock stars" of our industry, as are Margaret
Weis and Tracy Hickman.
4) Obsidian/Shards is being backed by Jared Nielson, who has a checkered
reputation in the RPG industry. How do you plan to handle this for getting
'buy in' for the initial launch of Shards?
I am not at liberty to disclose details, but you can rest assured that we
have some rather blockbuster names on the line (and it is way more than
"just talking"). As soon as we are prepared to announce specifics, you will
be among the first to know.
I just wanted to acknowledge some of the names that I feel carry a great
deal of prestige in our industry.
(Note from Jared: Although we have an open invitation to many people,
we are not in discussions with Hickman, Weis, Jackson, or Gygax. They
have very successful projects that they are working on and have
expressed no interest in working with us on this project.
This doesn't mean they aren't welcome.
Sean was indicating that they are "Rock Star" caliber authors however.)
5) "My own efforts in the industry speak pretty well for themselves"
Oh heck, for those who aren't into HERO and haven't heard of the FRPG
briefly give us a resume. Imagine it's an elevator pitch: you have 30
seconds to get across to someone why they should recruit you. Go!
To be frank, that's a loaded question that paints an erroneous picture of
reality. Jared Nielsen (who has risked much in his life to support the
gaming industry, which he loves) is one of the individuals who has sunk
capital resources into Obsidian, but I am the Director of the studio. The
success or failure of this endeavor will rest on -my- shoulders, if
anyone's. I have an excellent team of people behind me, and a fantastic
Who's Who of creators in our freelance pool for this project. My own efforts
in the industry speak pretty well for themselves, and I am proud to be
heading up this excellent project with the people I am working with.
6) You use a comic book analogy for doing pieces, then integrating.
That's a fairly sound model. Do you anticipate the integration being
more akin to, say, the uncorrelated crossovers? In that, things mix,
but the individual worlds aren't strongly altered. Or would it be
the more threaded ones, where the plot goes through different lines
in different ways before culminating?
Well, I'd have to say that I am off the market for now, but just for grins -
I started out doing CHAMPIONS product back in 1989; my first book was HIGH
TECH ENEMIES. I did a good bit more for them, and I even managed the
Continuity of the Champions Universe for a time. I also did some work for
West End, and I even managed a Dragon Magazine article (although only one).
I spent some time in the computer game industry (Interplay, Infogrames
Multimedia, 8th Wonder Games) before getting back to the "paper" industry
again. I was tapped to write The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible for Prima
Publishing, and we are doing the 2nd Edition of that here at Obsidian (which
is slated for Christmas this year, by the way).
7) Is Internet access required to really enjoy Shards-- and if so, how
much? (1 visit/week? downloads of occasional updates? broadband
with streaming video?) Not a marketing answer please-- a gamer one.
Already there is debate on GM 'drift' from evolving worlds in paper
products, and a rapidly evolving online setting may run into the same
Put simply, how much time online will GMs and Players need to spend to
get the bulk of 'the Shards experience'?
Your latter assertion is ultimately where we are headed. By the time we are
done, the old "and the universe will never be the same" drama line will be
appropriate. We want to foment change and growth. More importantly, thanks
to the online aspect of what we are building, we expect much of this change
to come from the combined efforts of the creators and the players who "live"
in these realms.
8) Just what is the 'Shards experience', as in, how would you describe it
to a die-hard pen&paper gamer?
Shards of the Stone will stand quite nicely as a great multi-faceted
campaign world for FUZION Fantasy gaming, and no amount of Internet access
is required to enjoy that aspect of the project. Truth be told, each Realm
of the project will stand alone as its own world, with support material to
I mean, we are talking about campaign settings for gaming. Simple as that.
Internet access opens the doorway for a great deal of "enhancement" to the
experience, because you can use what you know from the paper products to
play online, run games online, and interact with other fans. Furthermore,
there will be additional campaign support material via the online venues -
stuff that may well come out in a book eventually (we are planning "Best
Of..." compilations as part of our release strategy), but the online folks
will get first crack at it.
The Internet folks will also have a great opportunity to contribute material
to the effort, and the best of the writers and artists among them may well
discover new opportunities to "go pro."
9) Say I think EverQuest is the epitome of an RPG. Why should I play
Imagine many of the best designers and writers in the industry getting
together to create a multi-faceted world, where each Realm has its own
distinct flavor and style. A world that promises to step quite a few rungs
up the ladder on anything TSR has put out. This is SHARDS OF THE STONE.
The "Shards Experience" will have the classic hallmarks of a great campaign
setting, but it has the added advantage of being a place players and GMs can
visit and do more with via the Internet - everything from adding to the vast
amount of great material that will make this world live and breath to
actually playing and running games based on one (or all) of the Realms.
Ultimately, there will be a full online game component, but one where the
best GMs out there are the ones running it, and everyone has a chance to
make something of the world for themselves.
The best of what comes out of all this will be published in books that the
dice & paper gamers will be able to acquire and use - so it all feeds back
into the "loop" between the table the the PC.
10) One general fear with multimedia projects (which Shards, with its
focus on computers and table top, would seem to qualify) is that too
often the hobby end can be discarded because it is less profitable than
a lower-denominator mainstream end (say, multiplayer worlds or fiction
or such). Outside of admitted love for the industry, how do you feel
Shards' focus will deal with market forces that push towards profitability
If "fire & forget" gaming is your style, perhaps you won't have as much fun
with what we plan for SHARDS as someone who wants a more directed,
facilitated experience. If story, character development, and a chance to
participate in the world outside of killing everything that lives in it is
your idea of a great time, then I promise that where we are taking SHARDS is
a place you want to go.
Thank you for your time, Sean!
- Well, I won't pretend that we aren't out to make money, but we believe that
extraordinary quality is part of what will make for a stand-out product.
We also feel there is a very effective way to bridge the "paper" side
of the hobby with the Internet; the books will support the online games,
and the online games will drive interest in the tabletop efforts. We
can only make more money by supplying product to both communities, and
we really feel there can be a lot of crossover.
Of course, as you say - we have a real love for the old-fashioned,
dice-hurling tabletop gaming, and I don't see us ever giving up on that part
of the gaming community. If anything, we hope to enhance their experience to
an incredible degree. At the same time, these are the people we are most
interested serving with our online efforts - people who will bring
roleplaying and storytelling into an online RPG community that is sadly in
need of just those elements.
- You're welcome!