Hello! I’m Aaron Shanks, Paizo’s Marketing and Media Manager, and I’d like to thank Know Direction for inviting me to share who I am, what I do, and how you can support me.
Who am I? I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with my siblings, cousins, and friends around the age of 10 or 12. We played in the back bedroom at Gamma’s house, between games of Blind Man’s Bluff. My first character was Allanon, a druid named after the character in the The Sword of Shannara, the epic fantasy novel by Terry Brooks, even though I had ridiculous hay-fever allergies. We played through the years into high school, with late-night battles Against the Giants and spent weekends trying to survive our Descent Into the Depths of the Earth.
When I was about 20, I started playing in a homebrew campaign, Nexus, with my boyfriend and first love as the Game Master. My GM was a geek, a jock, and a stripper… but that’s a tale for another time. The romance was brief, but the friendship and game have lasted for 30 years and counting. Through the decades we played first, second, third, and fourth editions of D&D, in the same ever-growing multiverse. Every class, race and setting was integrated into our adventures. (Ravenloft’s mists and our own variations on the Domains of Dread still play a prominent role there.) We just “added their biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.”
Our crowd ebbed and flowed over the years, but never lacked for players. We made a family of chosen friends, along with my sister who everyone likes best… but that’s another story. We drank together, played softball together, celebrated and mourned together.
Our first characters surpassed 20th level, but there was always another layer of mystery to uncover and always a bigger threat to be confronted. That’s still true today.
Eventually, dissatisfied with 4e, we created our own 3.75 hybrid of rules until one fateful day a friend brought a Pathfinder Core Rulebook to the table. (I coveted those bard rules!) When 5e came out we gave it a try but found it unequal to the task of containing our complex narrative. We needed characters that were diverse and held the potential to be over-the-top heroic, so we stuck with Pathfinder.
Then a few years ago, Jim Butler, and old gaming friend, moved back to the Pacific Northwest to become the VP of Marketing and Licensing at Paizo. We welcomed him home, but he had little time to rejoin our group.
Meanwhile, I spent my career as a dual-classed professional performing artist in the Seattle musical theatre scene and a marketing Jack-of-all-trades helping economic development and arts nonprofits amplify their communications. I started my own consulting company to try to maintain that balance. My personal mission was to, “Tell Meaningful Stories.” It still is.
Well, one day about a year later, when the performing gigs were in a dry spell—I was dressing up as various superheroes for kids’ birthday parties and LOVED it… but that’s another story—I received an invitation from Jim to interview for a part-time PR Manager position with Paizo. I went in, interviewed, met Dan Thorpe, and Erik Mona. Bluntly, I did not have any industry experience, but I was in the right place, at the right time, experienced, available, and I was an RPG geek. In short order I was commuting to Redmond. The following year, I liked the work so much that I chose to set my performing half career on hold—but not before my swansong simultaneously singing and ASL signing the Saint Aphrodisius solo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame to wide acclaim… but that’s another story—and accepted the full-time role I have today.
(Now, the live performing arts industry has collapsed due to the pandemic… but that is a sad tale for another time.)
Ironically, I’m now the one slowly introducing my longtime gaming friends to Pathfinder Second Edition and Starfinder. I get to be the GM, teaching my old dogs some new tricks. Some rules we love, while others feel a bit constraining for our unabashedly bloated setting, so we homebrew and house-rule. Sound familiar?
What do I do? I manage, at least in part, news, reviews, interviews, email campaigns, blogs, website updates, social media posts, and prints ads. By my back-of-the-napkin tally, Paizo will publish well over 150 products next year. We have over 30 licensed partners whose shows and products also need amplification. My work is sometimes exciting and sometimes a pain the assimar. But at the end of the day I get the privilege of telling meaning stories.
I know how much roleplaying games have meant to me and the people I love. I know how much they mean to you. Jim and I both believe RPGs are all about lifelong friendships, not only through market research, but through lived experience.
I could spend the remaining word count of this article recapping Paizo’s recently released major products or reminding you of the exciting products ahead (squee!), but because of the superb reporting of Know Direction I know I don’t need to.
How you can you support me? Buy my books! But seriously, you already know the direction; you have already found the path. You be the hero and I’ll do my best to be your guide to everything Paizo.
This article is not about a particular area of RPG expertise; I don’t have that to give. I’m still that Jack-of-all-trades real-life bard who takes joy learning from all of you every day. I thrill at using my keys to the Paizo marketing Ferrari, er… Vespa, and relationships with the media to shine the spotlight on the works of my gifted coworkers and the indispensable freelancer community. I hope you’ll hear my voice and add your own, so we can all make the Paizo community and the RPG industry grow into a saga lifelong friendship… because there is always another story.