Come play a new RPG!

Some friends came home from a con in Pennsylvania, raving about this new RPG from Shard Studios and the beautiful artwork that went with it.

"Go to this site and check it out," one of my friends said.

So I did. But it wasn't just beautiful; it was awesome. The anthropomorphic drawings and the world were so realistic and vivid--full of color and imagination and wonder. My first thought was that I wanted to read some novels about this world. I wanted the chance to live in it and experience it, to submerse myself in it.

Anyway, we quickly pulled our gaming friends together to plan a campaign. I'm going to play a tiger or lioness, though I was a bit tempted by the elephant as well. I love elephants. And my friend Kat is going to GM.

After looking at all the art and the books and the website, I was impressed. And envious. Shard Studios had managed to do what I have dreamed. Oh not, the RPG thing. But rather, they are successful at making their dreams come true. In great awe, I contacted them for an interview. I just had to know how this all got started.

So I hope you enjoy this as much as I did:

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Rita: What inspired you to build this world and the game to go with it?

Aaron: The world of Dárdünah came about as a result of two things: 1) a college project for a Classics class called Parageography at the University of Texas (where the goal was to build a fantasy world from the ground up), and 2) a desire to experience a fantasy setting that was quite different from the standard medieval European setting that dominated fantasy gaming in the early 90s. The result was the core setting and basis for what ended up becoming the SHARD RPG.The decision to publish the setting as a roleplaying game was driven by Scott Jones, who embraced the setting from the moment he was introduced to it. His passion and commitment helped shape the product that is currently on the market. He playtested the initial rules extensively and added a great deal of content and art to the setting. Once I decided to jump onboard, we formed Shard Studios and began a year long process of designing, writing, editing, and laying out the final product. We're very proud of that collaboration.

Scott: My introduction to the world of Dárdünah came just after I befriended Aaron, and not long before I began working in the computer-gaming industry. In those days, having left many members of my older roleplaying game group behind when moving to my current home town, I was hungry for something new, and really wanted to get back into RPGs, which were a big source of inspiration for me artistically.

Like Aaron mentioned, I was really quick to embrace the world he had created because it was so fresh and unique compared to most of the content to be found in the RPGs of the time. Now, don't get me wrong, I grew up on a constant diet of D&D and Call of Cthulhu, and had fallen in love with everything most paper RPGs had to offer. But here was something I had never experienced before! Ancient India represented a culture that no other paper RPG had yet explored. Add to that the alien elements of enchanted crystals, ritual magic, flying ships, and animal warriors,...and I was instantly hooked!

Even before I talked with Aaron about continuing to create the game for official publishing in the years that followed, the concepts that would eventually become the SHARD RPG had already begun to dominate my artistic creativity. The game system that evolved from it was a sampling of all the things that pleased us the most about paper RPGs in general, mixed with all the specific elements necessary to evoke the unique "look and feel" of the world of Dárdünah.

Rita: How did the Shard Studio team first come together?

Scott: Well, like I mentioned earlier, Aaron and I became friends after I moved to central Texas. Both of us enjoyed playing paper RPGs, so it was only natural that our communal interests would find us working together on creative projects of this kind. Not only did we game together with various different groups of our friends, we eventually worked together in the computer-gaming industry for a number of years and in several different companies.

Those years were tough on our personal time, since the computer-gaming industry in general can be pretty demanding when it comes to overtime hours (which they lovingly call "crunch-mode"). It was really hard for me to find the extra time to work on side projects like the SHARD RPG. It was only in the recent few years, after both Aaron and I left the computer-gaming industry, that we actually had the chance to collaborate and form Shard Studios. It was pretty economically tough for the both of us, but absolutely the way to go since we wanted to promote the fruits of our creative labors, and get our game into the hands of other folks who might appreciate it.

Aaron: Scott and I met at a costume party sometime in the late 80s. He had made these amazing masks that he and his roommate were wearing. I walked up, complimented him on his work, and a big group of us ended up going and having a late night dinner at Denny's and talking about all of our interests (many of which overlapped). That was, as Rick would say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Scott joined our regular gaming group shortly thereafter and started playing in this quirky new fantasy RPG I had come up with called Dárdünah, World of the False Dawn. We've been friends ever since.

We didn't actually form Shard Studios, however, until the Winter of 2008. Scott had already been working on publishing the SHARD RPG and had done an enormous amount of work on the books, including all of the art in the Basic Compendium and an amazing amount of content. I'm afraid I came in and slowed the entire process down. I decided to rewrite, edit, and clarify the Basic Compendium as best I could in an effort to make it as "user-friendly" as possible. Scott and I are both incredibly pleased with the results, and (in retrospect) are very happy we took that year to get the book ready for publication.

Rita: How much fighting did it take for your team to put this RPG game together?

Aaron: Haha! I really should have let Scott answer this first. Scott and I are both intensely passionate about our work and equally convinced that our way is the only way to do it "right." At first, there was a good deal of arguing and tempers did indeed flare, but we soon learned to tame those passions and communicate in a very effective way. We delineated very clear responsibilities for each of us, focusing on our strengths as artists and allowing those strengths to benefit the final product. Scott had the final say on anything having to do with art, layout, color palettes, and visual design. I had the final say on writing, editing, and world content (history, cosmology, characters, geography, etc.). We both, however, collaborated very closely on the game mechanics, each of us championing what we felt was best about various mechanics. I focused more on the basic rules and character creation, while Scott focused on the combat and magic rules since he had playtested them rather extensively. But the final game design was a complete collaboration.

And for the record, it is my firm belief that a quality creative product is not possible, especially a collaborative one, without a good deal of fighting and struggling. If it's not uncomfortable and messy and even painful when you're in the midst of creating it, you're either perfect (in which case everyone will hate you) or you're not doing it right.

Scott: Aaron is totally spot-on about all of this! Heh! And honestly, most of the fighting was right at the beginning during the most stressful parts (where Aaron described initially coming in and "slowing down" the process). You see, I had been going "full-steam ahead" for a number of years on my own before Aaron had the chance to come back in and get involved in the process once again. By that point, I was really wanting to be done with the whole initial production thing and wanted to see the game out and finally published. Essentially, I loved the baby dearly, but I really wanted to go ahead and give birth to it. Aaron, finally having the chance to read what I had done more carefully, convinced me to go through some last minute editing. What we both initially believed would be a quick edit and polishing session of a few months became a year-long editing process that, as painful as it was, really needed to happen. Just as Aaron described, my strengths lay in the art, layout, and general visual design. And although we are both pretty darn creative when it comes to content, my own way of writing tends to be pretty wordy. Aaron's strengths with creative writing and editing were really necessary to insure that what we were putting out wasn't merely good, it was something we would both be quite proud of.

Like I said, however, this part of the process was really stressful, and when two creative types like us butt heads over stuff we're so very passionate about, thunder rolls and lightning flashes. We'd argue over the littlest things till we finally learned how to temper our communications so that we weren't just raking each other over the coals of our own emotions all the time. And of course, as Aaron mentioned, dividing up the tasks so that we were more trusting of each other's strengths was the key. One thing we could always come back to, and totally agree upon, was that we both want what's best for the game, our company, and the intellectual property that we'd like to see expand and become something great. We started this company because we both have so much respect for each other, and what we've brought to the table. That alone is something that helps us get through the crazy times.

Rita: What should we expect next from Shard Studios?

Scott: We have several irons in the fire at this point, includingadditional free downloadable content on our website, such as mini-adventures and a few new Animal Templates for character creation.

Earlier on, we had considered putting out two other hardcover books at the same time we released the Basic Compendium (an expanded book of Magic and Martial Arts and a World Guide) but we had to rethink that due to time constraints. Although we have a lot of content for those books, they still require quite a bit of editing before they are ready for publication, and we're considering expanding them with additional sections containing more templates for our animal races, and an expanded bestiary (which is always cool).

We're also hoping we'll be able to take the time to develop some Traveler's Guides, which will essentially be little booklets that highlight each of the countries of the world individually, and in much greater detail than even a World Guide might be able to do. That kind of thing becomes a great resource for GMs wanting to expand the cultural flavor of their campaigns.

Aaron: We're also talking to a variety of other game-related companies, such as T.O.G. Entertainment and Iron Wind Metals, about the possibility of creating SHARD tie-in products, such as a card game focusing on duels in the Spiral Arena and in the Dream Realm, and a series of limited edition SHARD miniatures. In addition, we've begun to work with an artist and a sculptor to create a series of SHARD maquettes featuring characters from a SHARD comic book we hope to publish. And finally, we're in the process of developing some SHARD novels. Since fans will likely want to know more about the world of Dárdünah (and we happen to know many incredibly talented writers), tie-in novels will likely be in Shard Studios' future.

I suppose you could say we have our work cut out for us.

Rita: I was really excited about doing this interview, and after reading all of Scott's and Aaron's responses, I am grinning from ear to ear. I loved the stories about the fighting and their honesty and their frankness in sharing what was a very tough road. Check out their website here.


  1. I was so glad to see this article!

    Scott and Aaron are friends of mine, and the game store I work at (Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy) is one of the first to get the Shard RPG materials!

    This game is awesome; having had the opportunity to play it a bit and have Scott and Aaron walk us through the character creation process, I'm very excited to see it out on the shelves!

  2. Thx for the comment, Jayiin.

    We're playing Shard tomorrow with friends. I'm excited. My character is a panther named Katya; she's a dancer/acrobat and a thief. I designed her after a Wheel of Time campaign that died.

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