Interview: Shane Hensley and Matthew Cutter

Another week, another interview – this time I had the opportunity to ask a couple of questions to Shane Hensley and Matthew Cutter from Pinnacle Entertainment Group.

Stargazer:  Thanks again for taking your time to answer a couple of questions about Savage Worlds in general and Space 1889: Red Sands and Deadlands: Reloaded in particular. Before we begin, can you introduce yourselves to our readers? Who are you and what’s your job at Pinnacle Entertainment Group? What was the first roleplaying game you ever played and how did you come to work in the industry?

Shane HesleyShane: I’m Shane Hensley, owner and founder of Pinnacle. My first RPG was the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set. My first professional work was a TORG module based on a Halloween adventure I had written for my friends.

Matthew CutterMatt: I’m Matthew Cutter, Deadlands Brand Manager for Pinnacle. The first role-playing game I ever played was Basic D&D—the “red box.” Since then I played a lot of different games, and devoted my school years to becoming a better writer and editor. I was introduced to Shane at Con on the Cob 2006. I‘d brought along a copy of an original Savage Setting to show the head honcho, and on that basis was offered the job of writing an adventure for Deadlands. That grew into the job of rewriting and editing “The Flood” for Deadlands, which in turn led to my current position as Deadlands Brand Manager. No place I’d rather be!

Stargazer: Could you please tell us about how Savage Worlds came to be? From what I understand it’s somewhat based on the system used in the original Deadlands game. How close is it to its predecessor and what did you change the most?

Matt: That’s a great point, and I feel it gets glossed over at times. In fact, Savage Worlds grew directly out of Deadlands Classic. It’s fair to say Savage Worlds is only the most recent iteration of that ruleset, and to my mind that makes it perfectly suited to Deadlands. I think we can do a few things to better emulate Classic Deadlands in the Reloaded rules, and this summer’s second printing goes a long way toward that goal.

Shane: The actual progression was Deadlands Classic to Great Rail Wars, which is very similar to Savage Worlds. We tried an adventure (Reign o’ Terror, to be exact) using GRW with a few tweaks and really enjoyed it. A few years later we tried it with a Weird Wars adventure, and it grew from there.

Stargazer: Most gamers think that Savage Worlds works best in settings which have some “pulp feel” in it, do you share this view? And if so, was this intentional or just an interesting side effect?

Shane: That tends to be my interest, but I’ve run several realistic and gritty campaigns with only a few simple setting rules. One example of this is the Crime City One Sheet “The Moscow Connection” you can find for free on our site.

Matt: “Pulp feel” can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but in the sense of “cinematic action,” I think it’s a fair assessment. Savage Worlds is far more concerned with the experience at the game table—during the game—than it is with providing a book that’s fun to read any time, or a detailed system for quantifying a character’s background, for example. If it isn’t important to the actual gameplay, it tends to be glossed over. To me, that’s a good thing. My time is pretty much limited to gaming (as opposed to prepping and research), so being able to put that time to good use is important to me.

Stargazer: Some players don’t like the fact that you need poker cards and poker chips when playing Savage Worlds. In my opinion it’s easy to go without poker chips, glass beads etc. if you don’t mind a little bit of book keeping. But what’s your best house rule for players who don’t want to use poker cards for initiative?

Matt: My house rule for that would be, “Give it a chance. It’s fun!” But for those who give it a chance and still dislike it, our very own Clint Black has suggested a simple and elegant system that makes use of a 20-sided die and a few modified Edges. It can be found on the Pinnacle forums and (I believe) on the Savage Wiki.

Shane: I’m with Matt. Give it a chance. Most people who say that try it and are completely sold afterwards. In fact, we get a lot of fan mail telling us they really miss it when they go to play other games.

Stargazer: Savage Worlds is known for its original settings (campaigns like Necessary Evil which presents an interesting twist to the superheroes genre, Rippers, etc.) and some licensed worlds (like the upcoming campaign based on Frank Chadwick’s Space 1889). Will we see more licensed settings in the future or do you try to balance between original and balanced campaigns?

Matt: Our focus is primarily on our own, original Savage Settings. We’ve got a lot of them in the queue! That doesn’t mean we’re opposed to picking up a license when an appealing one is available (e.g., Solomon Kane and Space: 1889), but for the most part we’re putting our efforts toward new material.

Shane: What Matt said. 🙂

Stargazer: In my opinion Savage Worlds would be a great fit for the Star Wars universe. Would you be interested in creating a Star Wars game, if you got the license from Lucasfilm?

Shane: Of course we’d love it, but it’s not very realistic given our size.

Stargazer: Let’s talk a bit more about the upcoming Red Sands campaign setting. Will it be a one-shot product only or do you plan a series of Space 1889 books?

Matt: For now, the license allows us to create a Plot Point book for Space: 1889. That might change at some point, but for now it’s just the one. Of course, “just the one” contains a lot of material, enough to propel a very long campaign.

Stargazer: How did you come up with the plan to license Space 1889 for Savage Worlds?

Shane: It was a shower moment. I have everything written for Space 1889 and was thinking of running a game for my friends. I thought “Why not call Frank?”, so I did. The rest…will be in your hands this summer.

Stargazer: I am currently running a Rippers campaign for my friends. The currently available Rippers books are still based on an earlier version of the Savage Words rules, do you plan to give Rippers an “Explorer’s Edition” overhaul like you did with Necessary Evil?

Matt: Of course! Rippers is actually out-of-print right now, but we know how popular it is with the fans. Rippers is the next Plot Point campaign due for the Explorer’s Edition treatment. That is, it’ll be printed in the smaller size the fans have come to know and love, along with some minor revisions. In fact, one revision I can tell you about is that we’ll be replacing the Status system in Rippers with the new version found in Space: 1889. We feel it’s a better model of what Status was in Victorian society, and what function it served. We’ve also attempted to streamline the “decimal Pounds sterling” money system a bit, so those changes will also appear in Rippers and Space: 1889. All this should work to increase the compatibility between the two settings for any GMs who’d like to mix them together.

Stargazer: I recently read about the upcoming rerelease of Deadlands: Reloaded. What will be different from the books that are currently available and why should anyone, who already owns the old books, get the updated version?

Matt: A subject near and dear to my heart. There won’t be all that much that’s different, per se, in this second printing of Deadlands Reloaded. For the most part, my goal was to clean up the typos and inconsistencies of the first printing. But secondary to that was the idea that a few of the character types in Reloaded could be tweaked to be more in line with the original intent of Classic. So Shamans get an update (which is currently available on as a preview) to make them more playable, and the Old Ways Oath is no longer required. Not requiring the Old Ways makes the setting’s political situation more interesting as well—to wit, how do the Old Ways and New Ways tribes get along, given that they both seem to be right about “what the spirits want”? Mad Scientists regain the ability to create Infernal Devices, and Legendary scientists will be able to turn their powers into permanent devices that run on ghost rock instead of Power Points. The dynamite rules have also been expanded to make them clearer and more fun.

Our plan to make it easy for anyone who already owns the rules—a free PDF download will detail all the major additions, so they can print and play. However, the new Player’s Guide (in addition to being an actual hardcover instead of a PDF printout) includes a folded, 17” x 22”, brand-new map of the Weird West (which is flat-out gorgeous). Additionally, we found ourselves with some extra pages to fill, and decided to showcase a great deal of full-page Classic art that hasn’t seen the light of day in a long time. (I’m thinking particularly of the cover of Boomtowns!, which looks amazing as a full-page, glossy print.) These are the definitive Deadlands rules, and they’re a compendium of Classic art as well. So as I said, we didn’t want to require anyone to buy the new rules, but our hope is that they’re just too purty to pass up.

Stargazer: What are your future plans for the different campaign settings? What campaigns do you currently focus on?

Matt: My focus is on Deadlands, and to a smaller extent the overlaps between Deadlands and Hell on Earth. Our plan for Deadlands remains much the same: to release the four planned Plot Point books. “The Last Sons” (which focuses on War, Raven, and the Disputed Territories) is just about to go into layout, for release later this year or early next. Then we’ll give you “Stone and a Hard Place” (focusing on Death, Stone, and the Wild Southwest), and finally the as-yet-untitled final Plot Point book, which will focus on Dr. Hellstromme, Pestilence, and the Nation of Deseret (expect a large section on the City o’ Gloom). Additionally, we’ve got Trail Guides, adventures, and a few other surprises in the pipeline as well. I’ve been working on an original project for Deadlands that will, I hope, provide a whole new way for posses to interact with the weirdness of the West—the same game, with a whole new focus. Needless to say, I get excited every time I sit down to work on Deadlands. If only I could convince the manitou to keep working while I’m asleep, we’d really be getting somewhere.

Stargazer: Recently there was much talk about how the roleplaying game hobby has to change in order to survive. Some companies have experimented with borrowing concepts from MMOs or board games. What’s your stance on that subject?

Matt: I think Savage Worlds borrows quite a bit from board games, to its benefit. Between miniatures, bennies, playing cards, and the tokens used to note status in lieu of book-keeping, a game of Savage Worlds can be far more tactile than some other RPGs. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it’s just another way that Savage Worlds places more focus on the act of playing the game than it does on planning the game, or creating characters for the game. It’s all about what happens at the table, like a board game is, similar to the way an MMO is about what happens when everyone is gathered online. Role-playing games are a collaborative social activity, and Savage Worlds really plays up that aspect by promoting gameplay above all else.

Stargazer: Some people claim devices like Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad can be used at the gaming table. Have you ever considered releasing one of you products for one of these devices (aside from PDF ebooks). Do you think an official Savage Worlds iPad/iPhone/iPod app may be something to think about?

Shane: Absolutely! Look for Space 1889: Red Sands, to be available for the iPad this summer.

Stargazer: From my perspective Savage Worlds has been gaining a lot of steam recently. So, where do you see Savage Worlds in five years?

Matt: Savage Worlds in 2015? My Magic 8-Ball says “Ask again later.” That’s a cop out, I know. All I can say is that I’m grateful to be able to contribute to a game system I enjoy playing and truly believe in, and hope the current trend continues. We’ve always been more focused on doing right by our fans than achieving some hypothetical level of growth—and if we’re lucky, our “Do What’s Cool” attitude will continue to result in games that our fans want to play, and continue to draw new fans to the “Fast! Furious! Fun!” philosophy that we design by.

Shane: Hopefully we’ll keep creating original settings, supporting our existing worlds, and just enjoying being the agile, very profitable studio we’ve become.

Stargazer: Thanks again for taking your time to answer a few questions for us!