The Eyes of the Stone Thief, like the eponymous beast, is a monster. It’s on a par with the Ennie-Award winning Trial of Cthulhu campaign, Eternal Lies, and may well be the largest book we’ve ever published. I was intending for it to be monochrome, as Eternal Lies is, but then I saw the beautiful maps, and the idea of full colour grew on me. By this stage, the art, all monochrome, was pretty much in.
So I broached the subject, gingerly, with my colleagues.
I want colour, I said. Surely the artists could just colour the pictures in? You know, get the crayons out and stay within lines? My ten-year-old can do that.
Gareth Hanrahan was all flappy-handed about it on Skype, though full of “Can Do” as always. I interpreted the flappy hands as “No”. Cat Tobin fixed me with a steely glare and said “this book is ready to lay out.” She also pointed out that “colouring in” is not a technical term artists recognise and I should not mention my ten-year-old’s artistic endeavours in this context. Robin D Laws, in a spirit of compromise suggested we do colour plates. Rob Heinsoo laughed with pleasure at the sheer foolishness of it.
Gar approached each artist and asked them to colour one piece each. The colour art in 13th Age uses washes of colour, which mades colouration slightly less problematic. This is what we got.
This is working, I thought.
All the artists stepped up and promised to colourize their art for the difference in cost between colour and monochrome, and do it by the end of September. To keep us on schedule, Chris Huth is doing the layout in colour and using the monochrome pieces as placeholders, to drop in the colour when we have them. This plan was enough to gain acceptance.
I hope the scope, ambition and pure fun of this epic adventure is enough to interest our audience. I have no idea if, commercially, colour is the right choice – the book wil certainly be more expensive. In this case, I’m really doing this just because I want to and because I can, and because it made Rob Heinsoo laugh.
[SPOILER WARNING – contains minor spoilers for Shadows of Eldolan
With the launch of 13th Age, we required new artists – with The Eyes of the Stone Thief, the Free RPG Day release and Shadows Over Eldolan all ready as manuscripts, we had quite a backlog. Joshua Calloway, who I feature here, was one of the artists who emailed us a link to their portfolio.
We get about eight such emails a month, and about 20% meet the quality, genre and style criteria we are looking for. Of those who we then contact, about half jump through the hurdles of working for tabletop RPG rates and responding in a timely fashion. Then, another 50% of those who accept a first commission drop out, don’t deliver on time or in rare cases, don’t deliver work we can publish. If that is the case, they get a kill fee equal to 100% of the amount we promised. We do everything we reasonably can to work with inexperienced artists, build their confidence and improve their work. Joshua is experienced.
We’ve ended up with a stable of reliable artists, such as the brilliant Jérome Huguenin and the amazingly versatile Rich Longmore.
Rob Heinsoo worked with 13th Age editor Cal Moore to shape the adventure and the text, and he suggested the cover brief:
Female human or half-elf in a wizard’s cloak with a hood hangs an ornate wooden lantern on a high post with a long staff at night. The magical blue flame in the lantern is shaped like the Archmage’s symbol but it is guttering, sputtering, being blown sideways, and the woman’s face shows concern and worry…
She is not yet aware of the shadowy monstrous humanoid shape or shapes reaching for her from behind, hidden by the night’s shadows.
Rather than dictate the monster of the piece, I’m willing to let the artist use one of the following choices:
EITHER multiple half-armored skeleton warriors, possibly doing the classic rise-from-the-earth shtick
a giant misshapen flesh golem with one over-sized arm and one twisted undersized arm
Cat Tobin as the art director for the project assgned it to Joshau, then worked with him to create the cover. Joshua started with a selection of rough sketches.
These are really cool, thanks! I prefer [B], with a couple of minor changes/requests – her cloak should be full-length to her ankles and slightly baggier around the arms, more like this. Under the cloak, she should be wearing sensible (i.e. non-revealing, non-fitted) clothing, maybe something like this and leggings – it looks from the sketch like you got that already. It would be good to make the flame slightly more obvious as it will be quite a recognisable shape, and if you could keep a space somewhere in the image for the title, that would be great.
From his response, you can see that Joshua has clearly worked on covers before – some covers are a right pain to add title text and other furniture:
Here is the line art to review. I placed a box at the top where the title could potentially go. I can keep the upper area of the image mostly dark except the lantern of course so the values should be close enough for the title to be placed over the tree nicely. Otherwise I can take the tree out, but I thought the roots resembled the shadowy claws making the image that much more creepy.
This really does match the brief. Some artists are over-eager to send us nearly finished pieces, which can cause extra work, but Joshua is taking a sensible step-wise approach. Cat said:
Regarding the shadowy figures in the background, they should be mostly shadow but could they be shadowy zombies instead of generic monsters, please? I should really have clarified that in the art direction, sorry about that.
Also, a bit more detail about her cloak – it’s great the way you’ve got it; it should be rust-coloured, and there should be a Lamplighter’s Guild patch (a lantern), embroidered in either gold or silver on the shoulder visible in the picture, and there should be lanterns embroidered on the cuffs and around the edges (in the place of the circle detail you’ve currently got). Also, if you could give her a brass-coloured chain around her neck with a lantern on it, that would be awesome (don’t worry about it if it would look too finicky, it’s more a nice-to-have).
After this rough, Cat said
This is looking lovely. It would be great if you could make the shadowy figure slightly darker, so it stands out more (we’ll need this in 300-pixel size for previews, so it would be great to have it visible even at that scale), and also if you could pick out the Archmage flame symbol a bit more; maybe by adding a blue-y colour to the heart of it like a gas fire, or some warmer oranges/reds to the heart and the outline so the shape is more distinctive. It would be good if it was slightly more of a sideways shape, too, like it’s being blown to the side in the wind – again, that’s something it would be good to do with the colouration.
This is an important point. Covers must look goood at 200px across for display on websites such as rpgnow.com, as well as at full size on the shelf.
Here is Joshua’s updated version:
After a bit of feedback from Rob (basically, darken the back arm) and final polish, here is the final. It’s an excellent piece of work which can stand proudly beside the 13th Age, 13 True Ways and the 13th Age Bestiary.
Rob Heinsoo burrowed his way out of the ground, startling the Pelgrane staff tremendously, and delivered this 13 True Ways update.
13th Age is almost here! Quick – reserve your copy today at the Pelgrane Shop or your local game store and download the finished PDF!
Matt Nelson entered the Monster Art +13 contest for 13 True Ways with the following proposal:
The older fantasy art that stands out to me depicts the moment right before a losing battle. It doesn’t show what happens in the fight – the threat of doom can be more captivating than the violence itself. Instead, it focuses on that moment when the heroes realize they’re outclassed – seeing the dragon’s eye looking in through the window or dozens of undead crawling out of the ground around them.
I suggest a piece depicting a party trekking through the Frost Range. A gigantic Remorhaz bursts out of the snowy ground behind them, and the fur-clad heroes turn to face the monster, drawing their weapons and realizing that their luck has run out.
Want something smaller? Lose the snow and make it an Ankheg. (Any monster with a silent “h” works.”)
The remorhraz is getting loving attention in the 13th Age Bestiary and I didn’t want to double-cover it in 13 True Ways. The ankheg waved a pincer signifying “I would love to ambush some halflings and gnomes.”
Hence this great thumbnail from Aaron McConnell. Maybe it’s called “I’m Your Silent H.”
I feel a little awful about this illustration. Not because of the panic on the faces of the fleeing halflings. No. I feel something awful because the brave halfling woman standing her ground is NOT a Shaman. Another title of this rough sketch could be “This is not a chaos shaman.” Doesn’t matter what Aaron wrote up on top of the illustration. This woman is a druid.
We’ll show you the chaos guys quasi-soonish.
Rob Heinsoo crawled miraculously unharmed out of the massive footprint left by a Koru Behemoth to give us this sneak peek at more 13 True Ways monster art…
The Monster Art +13 contest we ran after the 13 True Ways Kickstarter had one entry that I discarded immediately. It was from Christoper Tatro and it read like so:
Ever see a dog in a stand-off against three larger animals it doesn’t quite know what to make of, like turkeys or goats or something outside its realm of experience? How it crouches its front end down and growls, its back end still raised and ready to spring or run? And the other animals just look on unphased and unimpressed?That, but with a tarrasque facing down three Koru Behemoths, in a clearing with a nearby forest coming up only to about belly-level for scale.
I laughed. Christopher wanted his tarrasque and he wanted it with Koru Behemoths on top! He’d only forgotten the part that said that one of the Koru Behemoths was swinging an aircraft carrier as a baseball bat.
My first reaction was because I’d decided to avoid illustrating any Behemoths for awhile, to let people’s imagination carry them wherever they wished . . . a plan that pays off with great fan art like the piece done by Temporalpyradox on the Impossible Forge tumblr. Also, Ken Hite was already going to run the tarrasque in the 13th Age Bestiary, and I didn’t want to horn in on that action.
But the more I thought about the image the more it appealed to me. And I remembered our guiding principle that showing off one flavor of Behemoth meant nothing about all the other flavors. So I asked Aaron McConnell what he thought of the illustration, implying that I thought it was crazy. And of course Aaron said, “Oh, I don’t know. It sounds kind of challenging. I could get into that.”
So here you are. I’m showing the rough draft of this two page spread though the final may be somewhat different. There are going to be more elements that show scale, there are going to be more features and carapaces and such on the behemoths, maybe small changes to the tarrasque. I think of this look for the Behemoth as moving forests, probably more connected to the High Druid than others.
And yes, the tarrasque will appear first in the Bestiary, with a great writeup from Ken. Jonathan and I will find some other Way of the Tarrasque in 13 True Ways.
- The 13 True Ways cover above is our first rough draft. Aaron and Lee still have lots of work they plan to do on it. That’s a wind-and-lightning powered druid fighting a dragon who has yet to be revealed. It gives us game designers something to strive towards.
- Lee calls the piece Over Drakkenhall. I love the name, partly because it reminds me of the WWI airplane battles that were my entry into gaming playing Fight in the Skies/Dawn Patrol. I guess I can confess that my slang for the cover-dragon is ‘the Bloody Red Golden,’but don’t worry, the story behind this has everything to do with Lee’s/Aaron’s art mixed with the sorcery of the Blue and nothing further to do with WWI ace jokes.
- On other 13 True Ways work, Lee and Aaron continue to roll through the art, Robin Laws has turned over great work on devils, Drakkenhall, and Axis, and Jonathan is carving his own twisty multi-icon passages through the ruins of Drakkenhall.
- While Jonathan, Aaron, and Lee press forward on 13 True Ways, I’m using my designer-head for a few weeks to help with the 13th Age Bestiary that Ken Hite has organized for Pelgrane. It’s mainly designed by people including ASH Law, Ken, Kevin Kulp, Rob Wieland, Ryven Cedrylle, and Steven Townshend, with editing by Cal Moore. There are innumerable dangerous and quirky touches that deserve to be touched on in later posts. For now I’m developing monsters, improving mechanics and suggesting ways that the monsters’ stories can dare more in individual campaigns.
- And in regard to the book you’ve all been waiting for…. Once upon a time my page count estimates suggested we wouldn’t have room to print the last chapter of 13th Age, the mini-adventure called Blood & Lightning. We said we would put the adventure on line since we couldn’t fit it into the book. Well the good news is that I was wrong and the adventure does fit into the book. Last week, with the 304 page layout finished except for page xx’s, Simon and I decided to add the revised Blood & Lightning adventure back into the mix. We’ve got a 320 page book now with no need for an adventure download and it looks like the decision is only going to cost us three days. So we’ll have more good news soon, I think.
Rob Heinsoo recently emerged from the depths of the Queen’s Wood with disturbing tales of the little folk — and a piece of art from 13 True Ways.
David Kaehler was one of the winners of the Monster Art +13 contest for the 13 True Ways Kickstarter.
David asked for a somewhat straightforward illustration of pixies in a mushroom circle firing sleep arrows at surprised adventurers.
I decided that Aaron McConnell’s amazing talents meant I didn’t have to settle for a somewhat standard image. I rolled the picture forward a few minutes. What happens to adventurers brought low in a pixie circle? Aaron’s first draft is below.
It’s dark, it’s a ritual, and that’s one pumped-up pixie.
Haven’t done the mechanics yet, but they’re going to be fun.
The final illustration will bring out what’s going on at the bottom of the illustration with a bit more clarity while still maintaining the frayed boundaries of good taste.
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, murder pixies.
– Rob Heinsoo
Our Seattle-area 13th Age GMs will run demos at Emerald City ComicCon this weekend. We haven’t heard exactly where yet, but here’s the gaming area map — you’ll find us somewhere in there. Or just wander around yelling, “I DECLARE FOR THE LICH KING!” and we’ll yell back.
Come by and join a game of 13th Age:
- Friday, March 1 4pm – 8pm
- Saturday, March 2 10am – 7pm
- Sunday, March 3 10am – 5pm
Also, head over to Artist’s Alley to meet artist Aaron McConnell, see art from the upcoming game, and commission a sketch of your character or one of the icons.
My own shift is on Sunday. I hope to see you there!
Rob Heinsoo recently emerged from the woods near our Seattle offices to deliver this update on 13 True Ways before returning to the wild in the company of a pack of wolves that seemed to obey his telepathic commands.
Here’s the second rough sketch by Aaron McConnell showing off one of the winners from the Monster Art +13 contest. The treant was suggested by Martin Dickson. I liked the spirit of Martin’s entry, though I advised Aaron to focus on the central details, avoiding complications like animated trees, a second treant and the kin of Squirrel Nutkin. But don’t worry: I’ll work enraged squirrels into the monster’s Nastier Specials.
A treant follower of the High Druid, accompanied by its animated trees, attacks and destroys a New Road work camp in the Wild Wood. Tree-stumps can be seen outside the camp. The attackers smash the camp palisade, makeshift huts, and supply wagons and scatter human laborers and lumberjacks. Imperial guards fight back valiantly but are being overwhelmed and trampled, or in one instance thrown. In the background a second treant is tearing up a newly finished section of road, its roots tumbling the embankment and cracking the paving stones. Assisting in the attack, largely ineffectually and mostly for comic effect, are small woodland creatures; as the civilian workers flee to escape the treants’ wrath they are being furiously “savaged” by the kith and kin of Bambi, Thumper, and Squirrel Nutkin.
If you enjoy Aaron’s sketches and you’re going to be at Emerald City ComicCon in Seattle, check out this link and commission something personal for the show.
High on druids,
Emerald City Comic Con is coming up the end of this month, and the 13th Age crew will be there — Rob Heinsoo and our volunteer GMs will run demos, and I’ll be in the Artist Alley.
I’ve had to turn commission requests down within the past year due to my work schedule, but I’m making the time in the weeks leading up to the convention to do some!
If you’re interested in getting an original drawing of your favorite 13th Age Icon or character, please email me at aranmcconnell(at)hotmail(dot)com with “COMMISSION” in the subject line, to pre-order yours now.
Here’s what I’m offering:
- A black and white single character sketch, full figure or head (like the icons below), 9″x12″ for $50.
Anything beyond that, such as a character along with an icon, is going to cost at least $75 and will depend on the complexity of the image. I think we’ll both be happiest with a straightforward concept that is boiled down to the elegant essence at the core of a character. The sketches at the bottom of the post were done with that sentiment in mind.
So, if you’re planning to be at ECCC please consider signing up for a demo of 13th Age and pre-ordering a sketch! Pre-ordering is the best way to ensure that you’ll be able to get a sketch.
The last time I attended a convention was PAX in Seattle last year and it was a good time. At one point, Lee Moyer and I were both at the table drawing collaborative sketches based on suggestions from fans of 13th Age. The two examples shown at the top of this post are The Leviathan, described to have a “lobster-esque body with the torso and head of a woman, braided beard and eyes without pupils,” and an “11 year old sorcerer boy with ties to the Elf King.”
We were able to work on suggestions like these at PAX because the “commission craze” hasn’t really caught on there like it has at ECCC. At the Comic Con word is out that artists are willing to do sketches for money…surprise, surprise. The pre-order concept has been a popular solution for the artists who want to do more commissions than they can accomplish in a single weekend.
Thank you, and I hope to see you in Seattle!
Devil of the Fangs: “When the Blessed Emperor pacified the Midland Sea, most of the terrible giants of the deeps swam out into the Iron Sea. But some of the great krakens moved onto land. They converted their deep magic into river magic and became the river devils, armored squid-like monstrosities capable of heaving themselves from one river to the next, always avoiding their ancient home. The very worst of the river devils made deals with the Diabolist to become devils in truth. The most terrifying river devil of this age is the Devil of the Fangs. The Devil torpedoes through the river networks that give it its name in a squid-like form before heaving itself onto land with tentacles shape-changed into taloned arms.”
General Ironicus, one of the backers of 13 True Ways, was able to generously offer his support at the Diabolist Pledge Level. The illustration above is the preliminary sketch of his monster that has been seamlessly integrated into the 13th Age universe. These are the final days for the successfully funded 13 True Ways kickstarter and therefore the final opportunity to be directly involved in the creative side of the book. Imagine the street cred you’ll get when all the kids are playing the hot new game 13th Age, and you can brush your knuckles against your sports jacket and say you personally contributed to the 13th Age universe. Kickstarter…where dreams become reality. Wait a minute, I’m proselytizing 13th Age not Kickstarter, but in this case the degrees of separation are minor. Many thanks to those who helped fund the book, and thanks for your consideration as we attempt to meet our stretch goals.
Here’s the pencil sketch of the Devil of Fangs before I started working on it in Photoshop:
If you want to read more about the conception of this monstrosity go here: Kickstarter Update #12.