Arizona landscape inspires designer

By THOMAS F. JOHNSON

Arizona video game designer Shane Lacey Hensley has created games ranging from the Weird War series to the Savage Worlds universal system.

Hensley has also worked on “City of Heroes” and “City of Villains,” the massive multiplayer online role playing games, and on “Dungeons and Dragons.”

However, many gamers would say his most notable achievement is “Deadlands,” a tabletop RPG that blends the Wild West with a Faustian brand of fantasy. It throws in a bit of steampunk for good measure.

It’s the flagship game of his company, Pinnacle Games. The original game was the basis for his Savage Worlds system

Hensley said in an email interview that his biggest design influence, along with “Dungeons and Dragons,” was a relatively obscure game called “TORG.”

“It really showed how non-combat characters could be effective in combat and opened up the door to players having a little more control over their fate,” he said.

Before “Deadlands,” Hensley did some early work on “Dungeons and Dragons.” What is he most proud of from those days? “Probably ‘City by the Silt Sea,’ for Dark Sun. It was my first complete boxed set.”

Hensley said the difference between designing for video games and for tabletop RPGs is providing what the audience wants.

“In ‘City of Villains,’ it was about trying to find ways for your character to be proactive in his acts of villainy,” he said.

“In RPGs, you’re tailoring more toward personal progression and trying to find ways to provide memorable moments,” he added.

“I can think of a number of personal and convention adventures where someone got lucky, rolled a huge number and took down a big bad guy in the nick of time.”

Hensley said there is a possibility that “Deadlands” will spin off into other media. A “Deadlands” comic is currently for sale, and there was a now-cancelled “Deadlands” MMORPG in the works.

“We’ve had options for ‘Deadlands’ movies and TV shows practically since it started in 1996, but so far no studio has green-lighted any of the scripts or presentations we or our various agents have made,” he said.

Hensley proudly mentioned that Pinnacle recently released “The Last Sons,” a Plot Point campaign for Deadlands in which a player’s posse gets involved in the Deadwood/Sioux war.

“We also have John Goff’s great ‘Blood Drive’ trilogy on the way soon,” Hensley said. “There are a number of other books that are really close to being discussed and released but as we haven’t yet, I’ll need to keep the lid on them just a bit longer.”

Of all his video game work, Hansley said he is most proud of working on the “Deadlands” Massive Multiplayer Online RPG.

“[It] had a lot of great ideas behind it, thanks to a very creative team,” he said. “The final demo we did was a shooter-style battle in Kansas in the middle of a tornado.”

Regrets include designing a version of “Deadlands” for the “Dungeons and Dragons” rule set. Even though his company was dual-statting, writing rules for both systems at the same time, fans thought Pinnacle was abandoning its system.

“It wasn’t a good fit for us,” Hensley said. “I wasn’t savvy enough to really transform it into our own thing.”

His favorite non-Deadlands Savage Worlds games are “50 Fathoms” and “Evernight,” though Hensley said he liked every setting designed for the system. “If I didn’t, we wouldn’t have published them.”

Hensley said his favorite game not produced by Pinnacle is “Warhammer,” a popular fantasy war game. He owns a large army of Dark Elves.

The designer moved to Arizona about six years ago, and said the state’s history and landscape influence his work.

“The desert is very inspiring to me,” he said. “You can’t go down to Tombstone or Bisbee or Jerome without getting dozens of ideas for new adventures.”

Game designer Shane Lacey Hensley visits the famed Tombstone cemetery. Photo courtesy of Shane Lacey Hensley.

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