Women in Tabletop Gaming Month #4: Chaosium interviews Shel Kahn
Serious ones first:
1. What is your background?
I'm an illustrator and self-publisher, and I've known that I would work as an artist since I was a kid. I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts at university and attended four years at career college studying concept art and illustration. In between those two educational adventures I worked in research and development in digital printing. Before I really got into tabletop games I was drawing a webcomic—By Crom!—running a college newspaper that turned into a website, and self-publishing art zines. I just really enjoy making things!
2. How long have you been gaming? What attracted you to it in the first place, and how were you introduced to it?
I started gaming in a moment of desperate boredom: I was riding a cross-country train from the West Coast to Chicago, and we were stopped in the middle of nowhere Montana for nine hours because of technical issues. I’d fled my seat because the boy scouts nearby were singing scout songs to stay busy, and wandered into the cafe car where there are little booths, and there I saw, like a beacon, a man wearing a Trogdor shirt, and he and three other men were setting up some sort of erasable grid tiles and pulling out character sheets. I approached and asked what they were playing, and they replied “D&D.” I asked if they would teach me, and that's how I was introduced to both gaming, D&D, Dark Sun 4th Ed., and the Dark Sun Gen Con team on their train trip to launch it at Gen Con.
3. How did you get into the gaming industry?
I had the very, very good luck to be invited to join my friend Chris Huth in Robin Laws’ playtest group. Robin gave me my first industry gigs, vouched for me at conventions, and really made sure to hold the door open, and I'm hugely grateful.
4. What was the first gaming product you worked on, and in what capacity?
My first gaming product were the Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow books for Pelgrane Press, illustrating the series pitches.
5. What was the last gaming product you worked on, and in what capacity?
Most recently I just wrapped up my own module, a small adventure-in-a-zine packed up with a fabric map and hexes, patch, and pencil in a custom pencil case, called The Corruption of Pelursk. It's a self-published effort, combining my experience in art and product design with my newest attempts at writing, and it was super fun.
6. What has been the most challenging gaming product you’ve worked on, and why? (Alternatively, this could be the gaming product you’ve learned the most from working on)
I recently wrapped up illustrations for the Paris book of the Yellow King RPG for Pelgrane Press. Robin and I talked about making the illustrations look like products of the setting and era—like post-impressionist and symbolist works of the 1890s. The research required for accurate location and fashion representation, combined with styling the art itself, was one of my biggest artistic challenges yet, and by far this job taught me the most about my own artistic process and how I can use process to direct my own results.
7. What has been the most enjoyable/rewarding gaming product you’ve worked on, and why?
See my previous answer!
And now for some more frivolous ones:
8. Just how large is your dice and/or stationary collection?
I'm an illustrator, so my stationary collection is a Legit Problem. I have multiple sets of watercolours and gouache, a three-tray-spectrum of coloured pencils, and currently four sketchbooks in active use. As a self-publisher, I also have an infinite array of padded envelopes taking over my home—it’s a problem. Mercifully, my dice collection has so far stayed small in comparison, with a dull looking and scuffed up demo set I keep at my studio, and two fancy sets kept in a leather box for gaming at home.
9. What is your favourite gaming snack?
Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and a can of ginger ale. Oreos are an acceptable substitute.
10. What’s the most unusual/exotic location you’ve gamed in? Or that one of your games has been played in?
Playing a game on a train was pretty fun! I've also taught kids in a museum by running Dungeon World—that was a very special experience!
Illustrated for 13th Age Glorantha, this woman combines ancient etruscan and greek clothing and accessories with the fantastic setting of Glorantha. To see more of Shel’s artwork, visit: www.portablecity.net