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Community Interview: Shawn Stanleyfrom Threshold Magazine issue 2
Sidebar: The “Community Interviews” column aims at providing insight on the Mystara community, by interviewing authors and community members.
This issue, we take a moment to talk to Shawn Stanley, the founder and lorekeeper of the Vaults of Pandius website. In addition to archiving and maintaining the Vaults, Shawn has also authored a number of Mystara articles himself, including “Return to the Ice Wall” from issue 1 of Threshold magazine, as well as “Vaults of Pandius” in this very issue.
THRESHOLD Magazine: Can you tell us a little bit about how you first got into roleplaying in general, and the world of Mystara specifically?
Shawn Stanley: I first got into role-playing in 1984 after changing school and making a new group of friends. They were into gaming, including both Dungeons and Dragons and Advanced Dungeon and Dragons and we played in both. We didn't run campaigns as such, but just rolled up new sets of characters and ran them through various adventures. I remember in particular playing adventures like The Lost City, Horror on the Hill and Temple of Elemental Evil. I think that there were a lot of elements which made me prefer Dungeons and Dragons over its Advanced counterpart, but not least of which was the sense of setting which even an early adventure list The Lost City evoked. I got the Basic boxed set for Christmas that year and The Veiled Society shortly thereafter, although I think that it was when I got the Expert boxed set, and then Castle Amber, and then Quagmire! that I was fully hooked on the Known World.
You have been a member of the Mystara online community as far back as I can recall. How did you first become aware of the Mystara online community, and what degree of involvement did you have prior to the creation of the Vaults of Pandius?
I've been involved with the Mystara online community since the early days of the Mystara Mailing List. This was the time when I was first getting access to the Internet and so I naturally sought out sites related to couple of my greater interests: in particular the Known World and Doctor Who. I was a reader, and sometimes commenter at that stage on the Mystara Mailing List. But I felt like I didn't have as much to say as some of the other people putting out new stuff.
One of the things you are most well known in the community for, and one of the biggest things to happen to the community, is the establishment of the Vaults of Pandius, the compository of Mystara resources on the web. What prompted you to begin this massive project?
I wanted to do something on the Internet, but at that time there was already a lot of good Doctor Who websites, whereas there was only a few Mystara websites which were not doing exactly what I thought the Mystaran community needed. There were discussions going on in the Mailing List creating new and interesting stuff, but it wasn't being sifted through thoroughly - there were digests of discussions being archived, and there were, if I remember correctly, 3 websites where the extraction of some of the materials from the Mailing List was being conducted. It was apparent, however, that these websites weren't being as thorough as I thought that a repository of information needed to be. Also, it was apparent that there was some sort of AOL Message Boards in existence (only open to people with AOL accounts - which apparently you had to be American to have, back in the day, grumble grumble) and likewise these were, apart from being not accessible, were apparently creating stuff which wasn't going anywhere. So, seeing the need, I decided to try and doing something to fill it. My first website, which ultimately led to the Vaults today was provided by my friend who had access through his father to part of the public website where his dad worked. His dad worked at the Parliament House of Australia. The very first iteration of the website was little more than a set of links to other webpages.
What are some of the highlights and pitfalls you've encountered with the Vaults of Pandius since its creation? Some of your most favorite contributions by the community that you've added to it?
The highlights are the encouraging and helpful comments that are received and the usage that the Vaults gets. Even during the hiatus from 2010-2012, the access of the Vaults did not diminish, and oddly only seemed to grow. That continued growth of usage, and my own niggles with regard to what I was not doing were part of the impetus for renewed effort on the Vaults this year. Part of that, and one of the clear highlights, was the tenth anniversary, and the outpouring of support which happened at that time. One of the pitfalls of course is the amount of time which it takes to maintain the Vaults, let alone the frustrations with not being able to improve the Vaults. I have an idea of where it should be, but the path to that point is not as clear and easy as I would like.
One of my ideas with the creation of the Vaults was to not play favourites with anybody's work ... not even anything which I might happen to do. So I think I'll remain silent on this point, but yes clearly there are some very creative and talented people out there.
What role do you think the Vaults of Pandius play in the Mystara community, past, present, and future?
I hope that the Vaults is a repository of information and can be used as a source to assist peoples campaigns and imaginations. Of course, if at some future time, the fact of the Vaults, if not necessarily the Vaults themselves, could be used to re-launch the Known World then that would be ideal. Obviously through everybody’s work, and the fora in which we all do it, the Mystaran community is healthy and vibrant, whatever small part of that which the Vaults can be is all to the good.
In addition to creating the Vaults, you have also written and contributed to various Mystara articles and projects as well. Can you name some of your favorite personal works or particular memories associated with those projects?
As now you, as editor of this issue, and Giampaolo, as editor of the first issue of Threshold, can probably attest, it's my lateness in submitting stuff is probably the first memory which comes to mind. More significantly, being part of larger projects, such as the Almanacs, was great because you had the chance to be a part of the formulation of ideas - to feel that you can comment on work at an early stage of its formulation, instead of just being a reader at the final stage. The large projects which have happened show what we can achieve together as a community.
On to some more personal questions- you are originally from Australia, but moved to the United States several years ago for work. Has that been a difficult transition? Are there aspects of American society that puzzle you? Amuse you? Any surprising things that are very similar to back home?
There are many things about American society which amuse and confuse me. You might think that Australian and American culture are generally-speaking quite similar, what with them both having British roots ... and yes, there are similarities, but there are countless differences too. There's a lot of little things of course: the lack of switches on wall sockets, calling the main course the entree, and the entree the appetizer; the lack of sound on intersection crossings so that the visually impaired can know when it's safe to cross; but there's also bigger things: like the lack of international travel which Americans in my peer group do. I am still constantly shocked that in a country which has land borders that people are less internationally travelled than in Australia where you have to hop on a boat or plane to get to another country. And let's not even get onto hot topics like gun control or health care... Surprising similarities are a little harder to come by as it's the differences which are much more apparent, it's the similarities between Australia and the UK, or Australia and Canada which have been much more surprising in that regard.
You currently work for the United Nations. Can you tell us all a little bit more about what you do there? Do your experiences with the diverse and multi-cultural Mystara community bear any similarity to the work you do for the multi-cultural U.N.?
I saw something that Neil Gaiman once said: if you can't explain what you do to a 10 year old, you might not know yourself. Basically I make maps, although that being said a real cartographer would say that I've never actually made a map. The office I work in deals with everything legal to do with the oceans, my work in that regard mostly covers boundaries and maritime zones, in particular the continental shelf. So, the job is primarily helping the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf examine and give recommendations on the continental shelf, through creating maps, 3D models, et cetera; helping States build capacity to work out their maritime boundaries; and providing advice to other bodies with regard to maritime boundaries.
With regard to multiculturalism, I would say that it goes even further back than that. Australia is an ethnically diverse country, I myself am half Maltese, half Australian, and on that side, it's only a couple of generations going back before you get to England. Growing up however, I had friends and neighbours from around the world, and this was mirrored in the society at large around me, and then when I went to university and started working it was continued. Being involved in an online community only mirrors what I am already used to, and then working at the UN continues that. If anything, working at the UN, I was almost a little disappointed at how it was not an order of magnitude more diverse than my previous work environment. Yes, the mixture of ethnicities is different here, but it doesn't feel like it is considerably more diverse than anything else I've been used to. But in all of these environments is proves the point that a multi-cultural community, or workplace, can produce a better, more enduring product than a less diverse one.
You have done quite a bit of traveling in your life. Any particular favorite places that you've visited? Fond memories? Harrowing experiences?
I have always enjoyed travelling and the idea of travelling. I did it first through looking through atlases and reading about countries. And then I did it through the Known World. And soon as I became able I did it for real. I enjoy going to new places, but there are some places which I've been back to a couple of times because of making friends there, or just enjoying the place. That's the difficult thing however, although I have some places which I would enjoy going to again, I also enjoy discovering new places too. Now, working in the US the need, and desire, to go back home every so often is also quite strong and it makes the decision of where to go to difficult. Thankfully my current job has also involved an element of travel, including to places where I might not have otherwise gone. Some of the favourite places, so far, include Germany, in particular Berlin and Dresden; the UK, in particular Edinburgh and London; Turkey, in particular Cappadocia and Istanbul; and the deserts of Namibia; too many to mention. One of the most harrowing experiences: freezing my arse off in Gallipoli waiting for the dawn service because I was under-dressed for sitting around in late-April for a couple-of-hour stretch, but then having a New Zealander next to me share her doona to help keep me warm makes that a fond memory. Or going the other way: a fond memory of my first afternoon of my first time overseas by myself, and entering the backpacker hostel in Paris but then instantly making a connection with a fellow tourist from England who had also just arrived. We went out for dinner together and had an enjoyable evening, except for my just picking something at random of the menu and getting steak tartare ... not what I was hoping for, so that became a bit harrowing. But if those are the most harrowing experiences then life is not too bad. I can only implore other people, if able, to travel - travelling through our imagination in a role-playing game is great, but the real thing is also pretty special.
The Threshold Editorial team extends its thanks to Shawn for taking the time to answer the questions and indulge us with this interview, as well as for taking care of the Vaults for us all!