*Picture drawn by Michelle Ramos
Shannon Campbell (they/them) is a writer, editor, and game developer from Vancouver, BC.
You have been editor for two books of D&D 5e supplemental material, Faerie Fire and Witch + Craft. When did you begin playing D&D? Do you play or GM (or both)? What do you love most about the game?
I was a big fan of Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2 when I was a kid, but I didn’t play my first table game until 4th edition, when I played a halfling chicken farmer-turned-rogue. I’m a very, very lazy GM with a very, very short attention span, so I love improvising one-shots but tend to get too much executive dysfunction to GM a longer campaign. So just by a metric of hours spent, I’m definitely a player first and a GM second.
What gaps (in the system / in the D&D culture) are you trying to fill when you create supplemental material?
I think it’s hard to say any of Astrolago’s projects start with trying to fulfill a need–first and foremost, the impetus for each project is what we would find fun to work on. I tend to get my inspiration from a mood or setting–with Witch+Craft, for example, I was watching Kiki’s Delivery Service and wondering, “Could we play this as a campaign if we wanted to? What would be missing?” and from that an entire crafting system sprung up. The adventure I wrote for that book attempts to tap into that, too: it’s slower-paced, with recurring familiar faces, and it’s possible to play through the entire adventure (which should take several sessions IRL) without engaging in combat even once, if that’s your jam (though obviously there’s no shame, and plenty of opportunities for roughhousing, if it is). All the designers involved have full-time jobs (most of us in video games) and while I always have the bottom line bookmarked for budget considerations, mostly we just make what we want to make and don’t even worry about whether anyone will actually want the content. Fortunately, that’s worked out pretty well so far!
How do you choose contributors for something like Faerie Fire?
Because of the way the books are made, I like to have as much of the written content done as possible before we bring artists in, but the first step once a theme has been decided is to generate a long list of artists whose style and sensibilities match the aesthetic we’re going for, and then I invite the book’s design team to pick their favourites. When available, I also make note of any self-identifiers the artist might use–queer, BIPOC, disabled, neurodivergent, etc–because I find that the best book gets made when the artists are all coming from different perspectives. The artists get a lot of free rein on what they draw (we often provide loose guidelines and try to make sure that we don’t get too much doubling-up if multiple artists have the same idea for a subject) and the best part of getting the art back is seeing something I never expected to get in the book.
You also contributed to the magazine Rolled & Told. Can you tell us a little about the project? Do you think the magazine format offers a unique platform for roleplaying material?
Rolled & Told was such a great magazine. As far as I know it’s currently on hiatus–I wrote an adventure for one issue that never got out into the world–but I really hope it comes back. There was a lot of love and enthusiasm in its pages that I think made it really accessible to a wide range of players. It managed to straddle that line of being both inviting enough to welcome in new players, but with enough depth to give even seasoned GMs something new to play with.
Are there any other projects you are working on or have worked on that you would like to plug?
If you’d asked me this question in early 2020 I would’ve had a list of books that we planned to publish over the next year, but the pandemic has really derailed a lot of creative steam. There are currently three books that are still in pre-production, but until I know my designers are feeling good and ready to tackle something without pushing themselves too hard, we’re effectively also on hiatus. But I will say hearing more and more people get into our books, and share their experiences with the content, the easier it is to get excited about what we’ll do next–spoons allowing, of course. But I suppose, unrelated to D&D, the video game I’ve been writing for the past few years finally came out during the summer! It’s called Griftlands AND, if you think you see queer subtext in it, I can confirm that yes, you do. My personal ships are Sal/Oolo and Sal/Kalandra, Smith/Moreef, and Rook/his lost leg.
As a queer person, have roleplaying games helped you explore or express your queer identity?
YES. It was a combination of D&D (and VR, actually) that helped me realize I was nonbinary. Roleplay is a perfect opportunity for you to stretch out your skin and flex different aspects of your personality you didn’t necessarily realize were there. My heart honestly breaks when I consider players who might be having these quiet realizations about themselves at an unsafe or bigoted table. Not to get too hokey, but we forget that so much of the function of play of any kind–no matter our age, no matter the game–is about trying on different hats and seeing what clicks. Kids look for slots they can fit themselves into, but we all keep changing and developing as we get older, and tabletop RPGs are just another avenue through which we can get that benefit. Sometimes I’ll meet someone who says they could “never play X” as that would exceed the limits of their imagination–where “X” is a different body type or a different gender or sexuality than their own–but they’ll be playing an Aasimar paladin as if they weren’t IRL a pretty normal human. I think you’ll very, very much surprise yourself with what you can play, and what you learn about yourself when you do.
Other than D&D or comics, what nerdy interests are you most excited about right now?
I’ve actually gone back to school part-time recently! I have a master’s degree in writing so I’m no stranger to academia, but during the pandemic I started learning about carbon sequestering agriculture, and that was a real emotional balm for me. So I decided to reward myself with a bachelor’s degree in sustainable agriculture, and I remembered that school… is very fun. It’s like a video game except instead of stalking the vaguely historical illuminati pope, you’re doing homework, and instead of achievements, you get grades. And that is extremely satisfying to my reward-motivated brain. Oh also I spent the past four months hyperfixating on Ace Attorney, Good Omens, and Hades so come at me with your 120k-word slowburn friends-to-lovers fanfic recs.
Do you have any recommendations of queer nerdy content that you would like people to know about?
Because my brain is moving at a snail’s pace lately, I feel like the stuff I absorbed at the start of 2020 is still the stuff that’s at the front of my mind, so these might be old recs but I stand by them: This is How you Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is a gorgeous, hilarious, magical queer romance and The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez was the best sci-fi I read all of last year, and is also a queer love story at its heart.