Creative Colleagues: Marc Tassin

Marc Tassin

Marc Tassin

Each week, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

I first met Marc Tassin at a dinner celebrating the tenure of the previous organizer of the Writers’ Symposium, Jean Rabe, who hired me for my first editing job back in 1993. Jean was passing the baton to Marc, so that year he was her shadow. It was also the first year I’d been back to Gen Con almost a decade, so I was astonished at how much the Symposium had grown.

The next year, the transition appeared completely seamless. That in itself was impressive, but even more impressive was how often I saw Marc sit down to solicit ideas on how to improve the event. Over the next couple of years, I saw him implement those changes, expanding and improving on an already well-oiled machine until the little writing convention inside of Gen Con became rather a big convention in its own right. What really blew my mind was meeting people who were there primarily for the Symposium, with the backdrop of the world’s biggest game convention as a bonus.

Marc recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for his passion project, World of Aetaltis: The Temple of Modren. In addition to the already-completed adventure, for which he’s hired professional artists, designers, and developers, he has lined up fantasy writers from Ed Greenwood, Matt Forbeck,Mel Odom, Mike Stackpole, and of course Jean Rabe to contribute to a fiction anthology when the already-funded Kickstarter reaches a series of stretch goals.

1. In addition to game design and fiction writing, you’re a cat wrangler. That is, you coordinate the Writers’ Symposium at Gen Con. How has that experience made you more creative?

Each year the Symposium hosts a very diverse group of authors. Their writing styles, beliefs, interests, and values all vary, sometimes dramatically. I think that having positive, creative relationships with so many different types of creative people has really helped to enrich my writing and my creative process. When I sit down to write or to work on a game, I often reflect on what I learned from those other authors. It lets me say, “Is there a way to approach this creative challenge in a different way from the one I automatically gravitate toward?” I think this has really helped me to grow creatively.

2. Speaking of the Writers’ Symposium, can you describe how it differs from other writing-focused conventions?

Conventions often focus on either fan panels (“What’s next for Randland!”) or academic panels (“The impact of fantasy literature on late twentieth-century western society.”) I love panels like this, but when I first started writing I found it difficult to find panels like “How to write query letters to agents,” “Tricks for breaking into a new genre,” or “Writing amazing dialogue.”

That’s why these nuts-and-bolts style panels are the sort the Symposium specializes in. For new authors, they provide the education needed to achieve success. For seasoned authors, the panels serve to re-energize them, help them adapt to the changing market, and maybe answer some seemingly simple questions they might be too embarrassed to ask.

The other major difference is how little it costs to attend. More than 80% of our panels are free to anyone with a Gen Con badge. This is due in no small part to the generosity of the authors that take part in the program (so please be sure to thank them when you’re there!) For the price of a $75 Gen Con badge you can attend 30-40 hours of writing panels featuring some of the greatest SF, fantasy, and media tie-in authors alive today.

3. What sets Aeltaltis apart from the bajillion other fantasy RPG settings? In what ways do you play to the strengths of the familiar clichés, and how do you push against them?

I think the thing that sets Aetaltis apart from other fantasy worlds is that I happily embrace the tropes, stereotypes, and clichés that many other games and stories avoid. In fact, I think that’s part of what attracts people to the world. As soon as they get into it, they think, “Wow! I’m home!”

All those tropes, stereotypes, and clichés exist because people love them—but only if they’re handled the right way. Handle them wrong, and you get, “Oh, that old thing again.” Handle them right, and you get, “I love this stuff!” Based on the positive feedback we’ve received so far, it looks like we handled them right.

Art by Mitchel Malloy

Art by Mitchel Malloy

4. How do you see RPG design and fiction writing complementing and contrasting with each other?

RPGs work better when they’re supported by great tie-in fiction. Creating your own stories by playing an RPG is fun, but when you can imagine that your story is taking place alongside the events and characters of that awesome tie-in novel you just read, it takes the experience to another level.

Despite this synergy, writing great game material and writing amazing fiction require different skills. With fiction, you’re drawing the reader in and guiding them through the story you want to tell. With game material, you hand the reader a set of creative tools, but then you need to get out of the way. Apply the game writing method to fiction, and the reader feels lost. Apply the fiction writing techniques to games, and the players don’t feel like they’re in control.

5. The announcement of the Baen Fantasy Award has inflamed a political divide among fantasy authors and readers. As the organizer of the Symposium, which sometimes includes panels on (fantasy) politics and religion, how do you make the event inclusive for a diverse crowd?

We have an unusually diverse group of people speaking on our panels, and that creates an environment that helps everyone to feel like they belong. What’s funny is that, while I’m really happy our program is like this, I didn’t do it on purpose. All I wanted to do was to gather together the best authors I could find, so we could teach people how to be better writers.

In the end, I think that’s why it works. Even when we host a panel like “Writing the other,” it isn’t about whether you should or shouldn’t write about “the other” or who “the other” is. It’s just a panel where fantastic authors teach you how to do it really, really well.


The World of Aetaltis: Temple of Modren Kickstarter has passed its initial goal, but many stretch goals lie ahead. Join in to help create the fiction anthology, maybe even with a cover by legendary artist Larry Elmore.

Gen Con 2014

After a brutal ordeal with the hotel reservation portal, I’d given up on attending Gen Con this year when a white knight charged in to the rescue. The only events I’m sure to attend are the Writers’ Symposium panels TBA. Take a minute to look at my featured speaker profile and make me seem like a big shot on the page counter. I will likely also put in a few hours signing, but I’d like to do more this year. Maybe run a game, maybe play a few, maybe submit some sort of Ask-Me-Anything event. Of course the parties.

If you’re going to Gen Con, what do you suggest I add to my schedule?

And what are your Gen Con plans?


Gen Con 2013 Overview

As has become my custom since my return to the show in 2010, I spent about half of my Gen Con scheduled time at the Writers’ Symposium, which is a surprisingly great convention-within-a-convention. Not only does it draw big names like Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson, it has become one of those events where you recognize almost all of the other participants from other conventions. It’s only a matter of time before it’s considered “part of the circuit” by writers with no connection to gaming.

Special thanks to Marc Tassin, for scheduling me to read beside Pat Rothfuss, and eternal gratitude to those Rothfuss fans who followed me down to buy not one but all four of my Pathfinder Tales novels. You made my weekend as much with your kind words as with the purchase.

A close second to my scheduled time was signing and hanging out at the Paizo booth. I’ve been blessed three out of the past four years with a book released at Gen Con, which makes a huge difference in the number of folks stopping by for an autograph, as you’d expect. This was the first year I felt the jealous eyes of my Pathfinder Tales colleagues burning stripes down the back of my neck, though. For that reason alone, it’s probably good that I don’t have a book scheduled for next August. Howard Andrew Jones probably wouldn’t hurt me, but Chris A. Jackson is a pirate.

I did a very brief signing at the Pelgrane booth for my tiny contribution to Hillfolk. Like most booths, they aren’t really set up for half a dozen writers to sign books, and I have that kind of agoraphobia that makes me itch if I’m caught in a small space by other humans. A couple of short visits to the Privateer booth where I signed cover flats with Larry Correia, Miles Holmes, and Howard Tayler could have ended up the same way, but  they had seats and a counter in front of us, so the close quarters never triggered my flight or fight response. Plus we had a great view of the demo area with its enormous warjack and a good Coleman Stryker cosplayer posing for photos.

The “real” action at Gen Con is always at the parties, where I spent most of my time enjoying the company of people I see only once or twice a year. My favorite function there is introducing people who ought to know each other, and I had plenty of opportunities for that. And I got to meet some folks I’d worked with but never encountered in fleshspace, notably the aforementioned Privateer writers and Scott Lynch, a fellow contributor to the Tales from the Far West fiction anthology.

Scott, Howard, Lou Anders, and Saladin Ahmed, whose work I’ve admired, playtested a new game with a scenario designed and run by Howard Andrew Jones. HAJ and I had already become friends over the past few Gen Cons, but the others were all new to me, at least in person. Playing an RPG is a great way to break the ice and get some inkling of someone’s personality, albeit through the veil of their character. And it was a special treat to play a game at Gen Con, which almost never happens to me anymore. HAJ’s Nordic-inspired scenario drew from familiar legend, letting us focus on the fairly simple game mechanics.

As has become my custom, I caught the con crud early. Fortunately, it put me out of the game only for Saturday night, although the cough persists. If I still have it when I return from Worldcon, it’s time to petition my new doctor for a course of antibiotics.

I went to the show intending to say “no” to all new offers of work, but I walked away with two maybes leaning yes and one yes because the setting is right in my wheelhouse and deadline is so far away. I guess the only way to stop this happening is to cease attending conventions until my desk is completely cleared sometime in mid-2014. I’m just a boy who can’t say no, and I’ve got to accept that and work around it.

While I have no events scheduled for Worldcon, please say hello if you spot me.

Gen Con Sunday

Here at last, it’s the day you finally go around to buy all those wonderful games and books you said you’d come back to buy. Fortunately, there’s still a chance to have some of them signed.

09:00-10:00 WS VIP Panel: Plot Mastery (Room 243)

  • This one is limited to eight people who’ll get a lot of attention from me and my mystery co-panelists about matters of plot. I might do my outlining rant. It’s hilarious if I’ve had enough cappuccino.

10:00-11:00 WS VIP Panel: Selling Your Novel (Room 243)

  • Same as above, only it’s about selling a novel.

11:00-12:00 Signing @ Paizo (Booth 203)

  • By this time, I expect most who’ve come to buy books have already done so. Come hang out! Ask me anything about Radovan and the count. I’ll give you an answer.

13:00-15:00 Signing @ Paizo (Booth 203)

  • Seriously, it gets lonely at the booth around this time. Won’t someone bring me a tasty beverage?

15:00-16:00 Pathfinder Tales Panel (TBA)

  • All the Pathfinder Tales people who’ve survived the weekend will be here. I’m sure that’ll include editor James Sutter and probably two or three of the other authors. 

 Where’s Dave? I have a gift for the first person to wave and say, “Be seeing you.”

Gen Con Saturday

The big day! In addition to several cool panels, I hope everyone can spare at least a few minutes to visit me at both the Privateer Press and Paizo Publishing booths. It’s a short walk between them.

08:00-09:00 WS: Sharing Worlds (M) (Room 245)

  • Larry Correia, Richard Lee Byers, Ari Marmell, and Dave Gross. Three of these men have written in the Forgotten Realms setting. Three of them have written in the Iron Kingdoms. Three of them have written for the Pathfinder setting. Only I have written for all three. It’s like I have the one ring. Wait, no. That makes me Gollum, doesn’t it? Never mind, then. We’re going to talk shared worlds, and we’ve some experience in that arena.

10:00-12:00 Signing @ Privateer Press (Booth 609)

  • Just like the same event on Friday, only better because now it’s Saturday.

12:00-13:00 WS: Reading (Room 243)

  • I get to read alongside a promising up-and-comer named Pat Rothfuss. I think tickets are already sold out. Do you think the audience will let me read for more than 10 minutes? Somebody start a pool. I want $10 on 3 minutes.

13:00-15:00 Signing @ Paizo (Booth 203)

Here’s where the 200 people who showed up to my reading with Pat Rothfuss come down to buy all four and a half of my Pathfinder Tales novels. Right?

Where’s Dave? The first person to find me in the convention center and call me “Boss” wins a prize.


Gen Con Friday

10:00-12:00 Signing @ Privateer Press (Booth 609)

  • I’ll join fellow Skull Islanders Larry Correia, Miles Holmes, and Howard Tayler for a meet & greet with all you fantastic readers and readers-to-be. I’ll be signing  the Devil Dogs novella The Devil’s Buy and the Cygnar vs. Convergence novel, Dark Convergence. How does one sign an electronic book? Privateer has that covered. Even if you’ve already bought the books, it’ll be worth visiting to learn the secret.

11:00-12:00 WS: Magic and Mysticism (Room 244)

  • Lou Anders, Brandon Sanderson, Elizabeth Vaughn, and yours truly will discuss how magic works in a fantasy setting, because it sure as heck doesn’t work in an SF setting. 

12:00-13:00 WS: Government & the Rule of Law (Room 244)

  • Whether you’re a reader, writer, or gamer, here’s a subject that’ll help you understand or flesh-out your fantasy theocracies, oligarchies, plutocracies, or whatever. Richard Lee Byers, Jim C. Hines, and Howard Andrew Jones will wax eloquent on the subject, while I interject about watery tarts and the violence inherent in the system.

14:00-15:00 WS: Pitches, Proposals, and Promises (Room 245)

  • Jennifer Brozek, Jaym Gates, Monica Valentinelli, and my token Y chromosome will share our experiences as editors and writers in how best to pitch stories and novels, and why it’s important to deliver what you promise.

16:00-17:00 Signing @ Paizo (Booth 203)

  • The signings today and tomorrow will include some or all of this lot: Richard Lee Byers, Ed Greenwood, Howard Andrew Jones, Chris A. Jackson, James Sutter, Jim Zub, and Yours Truly. Don’t tell any of us that you like our books best while the others are sitting right there! Unless it’s me. The others have thick skins. They’ll be all right.


 Where’s Dave Friday? The first person to shoot me the tines at the convention center today receives a gift.