[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.

Rough Cover

Cat said:

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.

Line Art Version


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).

Rough ColourAfter 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:

Colour Cover Near Final

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.

Final Cover

13th Age Escalation Edition v6Our 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!


Enraged TreantRob 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,
Rob Heinsoo

13th Age Leviathan and Sorcerer 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!

Diabolist_Sketch_72dpiElfQueen_Sketch_72dpi High Druid_Sketch_72dpiDwarfKing_Sketch_72dpi LichKing_Sketch_72dpiCrusader_Sketch_72dpi

Lee_MoyerObskures.de recently interviewed three-fourths of the creative team behind 13th Age. (Aaron McConnell was on deadline and chained to his drawing table that week.) In this installment, artist Lee Moyer weighs in.

obskures.de: Let’s start with your personal history. How did you get involved with gaming?

Lee Moyer: I began gaming in 1979 with the original Dungeons & Dragons Basic Boxed Set, the Arduin Grimoire books, and Boot Hill.

I ran a lot of D&D before I briefly gave up on gaming in 1982. I was persuaded to play a friend’s Call of Cthulhu game. What a revelation that game was – so different from the culture that had grown up around D&D where I was in the Washington DC suburbs. This wasn’t about minmaxing geekery, it was about character!

I started up a collaborative story-telling game I called Lawyers, Guns and Money. A wild mix of everything I loved, I ran it for 10 years and with 3 overlapping groups of remarkable players. I also began playing LARPs, delighting in their improvisational aspects. I met my dear friend Keith Baker and countless other collaborators in LARPs – even teaming up with Deities and Demigods editor Lawrence Schick (Jeeves to my Bertram Wooster). Eventually I went to work with Keith and Lawrence (and designers Ken Ralston, Andy Looney, Zeb Cook, et al.) at an unlamented company called Magnet Interactive, where I did concept work, illustration, storyboards, and UI design. I also played Runequest, Shadowrun and Over the Edge.

That led into a start-up called Digital Addiction and a game called Sanctum. I learned so much during my start-up years – eventually becoming Producer and Executive Producer in addition to my art, art direction and game design duties. When that company’s sale to a German start-up failed at the last minute when the Euro tanked in 1999, I took half my team to Electronic Arts. When the bottom fell out in 2000, I was glad to have kept my freelance skills sharp. I did artwork for HeroQuest, Game of Thrones, Nobilis, Axis & Allies, and a host of other fine games. Keith Baker and I wrote, designed, and illustrated half of the Over the Edge sourcebook At Your Service. Later, I added a few pieces to Gloom and was lucky to help him with Eberron (though it took years before I was allowed to make the maps). I was one of the 2 artists brought in-house to design 4th Edition D&D. It should have been a dream job. It wasn’t.

I also recently concluded a long game of Exalted run by Daniel Garrison, and need to talk to White Wolf about publishing some of the art I made for that game.I’ve been working on branding for roleplaying convention Ambercon NW for the better part of a decade and it’s a weekend I look forward to all year.

My Kickstarter campaign for The Doom That Came to Atlantic City was a great success, and I look forward to holding the final game in my hands.

13th Age and another amazing (but still secret) game from Fire Opal Media are the games I’m most excited about at present!

obskures.de: What was the first role playing book you owned?

Lee Moyer: The Dungeons & Dragons Basic boxed set. But the first Deities and Demigods book was the first book I really loved in toto. The Erol Otus Lovecraft illustrations, those wild Jeff Dee Elric (and Egypt, and…) drawings, and the Jim Roslov Finns really inspired me. And the Dave Trampier illustrations in the first Monster Manual – pure gold in black and white!

obskures.de: What does a typical working day look like? What do you do, when you are not working on 13th Age?

Lee Moyer: I’ve just finished Check These Out, a 2013 literary pin-up calendar showing my take on the work of Ray Bradbury, George R. R. Martin, Charlaine Harris and Neil Gaiman for the charity Worldbuilders.

I’ve illustrated book covers for Michael Swanwick, Philip Jose Farmer, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Michael Bishop, Kim Newman and Mark Hodder.

Film industry work I’ve done includes HP Lovecraft; Fear of the Unknown, the poster for Call of Cthulhu and the covers for two boxed sets of Laurel & Hardy films from 20th Century Fox.

I’ve illustrated theater posters for Stephen Sondheim, Tori Amos, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen King, and Andre 3000.

I also read (currently Stephen King’s On Writing), travel and play different kinds of games (such as Anagrams or Scrabble).And occasionally I get win something splendid (like last year’s Chesley award!).

obskures.de: Who are some of your favorite game artists?

Lee Moyer: There are so so many brilliant game artists working at every level and in every category of this strange business. Where does one even start? Rick Berry, Michael Kaluta, Echo Chernik, Howard Lyon, Daniel Dociu, Justin Sweet, Vance Kovacs, Kieran Yanner, Adam Rex, Brom, Therese Nielsen, Brian Despain…. It’s just an amazing time to be an artist and gamer.

obskures.de: Role playing is …?

Lee Moyer: …essential. I feel sorry for people who stop playing in their lives. Telling collaborative stories can be amazingly powerful, and it has been incredibly valuable and therapeutic for me more than once.

obskures.de: Your favorite game product you worked on (aside from 13th Age)?

Lee Moyer: While I poured half a decade into Sanctum and its successor for SOE Star Chamber, I’ve spent more than 20 years tinkering with The Doom That Came to Atlantic City.

obskures.de: What’s coming up next for you and 13th Age?

Lee Moyer: 13 True Ways! The Kickstarter was successful, and I begin my illustration, design and mapmaking work this very week. I can’t wait to see the reactions of our players.

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.

Diabolist BannerThe 13th Age crew will be out in force at PAX Prime! If you’re attending, we invite you to…

Stop by our table: We’ll be on 3rd floor of the  Washington State Convention Center, right in front of rooms 305 and 306. We’ll be easy to find: look for the big Archmage and Diabolist banners.The table will be open 10 AM – 10 PM Friday & Saturday / 10 AM – 5 PM on Sunday.

You can see a preview of the book’s layout and get a first look the 13th Age: Forge of Heroes Facebook game.

Play 13th Age: GMs including Rob Heinsoo and developer Rob Watkins will be running two-hour 13th Age demo games at Indie RPGs on Demand (WSCC rooms 305 and 306)

  • Friday & Saturday 10 AM- midnight
  • Sunday 10 AM – 4 PM

Get a 13th Age art print signed by artists Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell, and maybe a quick sketch. Prints are for sale at the Gamma Ray Games booth. Here’s when Aaron and Lee will be at the table:

  • Aaron: Friday 2-4
  • Lee and Aaron: Saturday 2-4
  • Lee: Sunday 10-11 Unfortunately, Lee had to leave PAX early and won’t be signing today

Their illustrations for 13th Age are in display in The Art of Roleplaying Games exhibition at Krab Jab studios. RSVP at the link for the Artist Mixer on August 30th.

Attend our panels at the  at the Red Lion Hotel Tabletop Theater (San Juan Room):

  • “13th Age, Dungeon World and More: Old School RPGs With Modern Design.”
    Friday 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
    Rob Heinsoo, Logan Bonner, Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel will talk about how dungeon crawling RPGs can benefit from advances in rules and storytelling tech. That’s a lot of awesome designers in one room. You probably don’t want to miss it.
  •  “I am Startup and So Can You, America: Designing and Publishing on a Ramen Budget”
    Sunday 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM

    Game pros Luke Crane (Mouse Guard, Burning Wheel), Wolfgang Baur (Kobold Quarterly, Midgard Campaign Setting), Chad Dylan Long (13th Age for Facebook) and Jay Schneider (Fire Opal Media) will hose their audience down with numbers, facts and funny anecdotes about self-publishing that will ensure you never want to make or publish anything ever.

You can pre-order 13th Age today and download a fully playable copy of the game-in-progress. Also, check out 13 True Ways, the Kickstarter for its first expansion book.

The Prince of Shadows is part thief, part trickster, and part assassin. To some he is a hero; to others a villain. He has squandered the riches of the dwarves, murdered the hopes of a dragon, and plundered the dreams of a god. His exploits have changed the world, but none can tell you his ultimate goals or motives.   –From the 13th Age icon teaser description.

The Prince of Shadows, our final icon.  Who doesn’t love an international man of mystery?  I do, and I certainly love how Lee Moyer painted this piece.  I’m hesitant to post my pencils, because it makes me look like a slacker, but there’s a lot to be said for the less-is-more philosophy when it comes to evocative illustration.  As I see it, RPG art is meant to stimulate the imaginations of those playing the game, and shadows can be useful in that endeavor.  Speaking of RPG art, I’m delighted to announce that select pieces of interior art from 13th Age will be included in a show at Krab Jab Studio in Seattle.  I plan to attend the reception on August 30th as it coincides with the weekend of PAX, but the show goes up August 11th.  Here are the details.  And here’s the promotional flyer:

Here are my comparatively uneventful pencils for the Prince of Shadows.  (I’m glad Lee used his imagination!)

Here are some early thumbnails before we decided the Prince should go play outside.

And now a little teaser of things to come!  Amidst this sea of thumbnails for the interior art of 13th Age (reduced to maddeningly illegible sizes) you’ll find the thumbnail for an illustration that relates to the Prince of Shadows.  Check back for more excitement in the coming weeks as we rev up for the official release of 13th Age.

“The Elf Queen rules the Court of Stars, the one place where wood elves, dark elves, and high elves come together as peers and allies instead of as rivals or enemies. Honed by centuries of experience, the Queen’s innate magic at least equals the Archmage’s spells.”–From the 13th Age icon teaser description.

I am left with the final two Icons for my behind-the-illustration posts, and evidently I’ve been reluctant to finish them off (astute readers may have noticed that postings were delayed for two weeks).  But there are so many 13th Age illustrations yet to be revealed that I need not hesitate.  The show is just beginning, in fact!

The Elf Queen is Lee Moyer’s favorite icon, and I think that passion is easily recognized in his digital painting.  She’s a wonder to behold, and if Lee hadn’t already claimed her she would probably be my favorite illustration — but I’m going to be a tease and say that next week’s icon is my favorite.

The Elf Queen was another icon that took some “ratcheting up” on my end.  The progression of thumbnail to final pencils ends up looking  like a narrative of the elf queen from adolescence to queen.  Lee and I had a chuckle over the thumbnail of the “schoolgirl” elf queen that I knew wasn’t going to work, but submitted because she was just so darn cute!  Take a look at the thumbnail and try to tell me she’s not about to burst into song.  She’s the Snow White of elfdom in that stage, but as you can see her true form is much closer to The Queen, minus several degrees of vanity, one would hope.

[ Ed: Steven Sander‘s has produced this distinctive image for Will Hindmarch’s GUMSHOE game Razed.]

My approach to detailing the alien threats and adversaries of Razed was inspired by Ken Hite’s multifaceted approach to the Mythos in Trail of Cthulhu. Each style of enemy is not a single vision of alien menace but a category of force containing a variety of different interpretations of a core idea. Some of those categories are broader than others.

On the page, each enemy force exists as evocative words and myriad options. In the art for Razed, I wanted to put the central ideas behind each force into the hands of a few artists and let them do concept art that built on and expanded those ideas visually, adding dimension to them and increasing the number of options available for Razed GMs and players to use when rendering these monsters in their minds. Part of Razed involves investigating the source and cause of the apocalypse so that you can survive—or fight it.

If we had one single truth to what this or that enemy force wanted or was like inside its armor, you could just read the book and have those answers spoiled for you. Instead, I wanted each instance, each campaign of the game to involve different answers to core questions, so that players knew sort of where they were headed but not what awaited them when they got there.

It’s like how, in some fantasy campaigns, you know there might be orcs and dragons and trolls, but you don’t know quite what they’re like in this campaign. Razed facilitates that by offering immediate and tangible solutions that GMs can use directly, sow as rumors, or use as inspiration for their campaign’s and mystery’s own truths.

What you have here an artist’s vision of the alien force called the Crusaders, as brought to scary, wonderful life by Steven Sanders. What is this thing? Is it biomechanoid or somehow undead? Does it want to kill us or convert us? Is this particular model here to communicate, study, or destroy? Do you hear the buzz and the tiny pops as its hover drive carries it through the smoke and humidity in the air or does it blink in and out of sight as it glides silently through the ruins of your hometown? Whose blood is that on its sturdy shell?

With Sanders’ artwork in my mind, I go back to the text for the Crusaders to add in options and dimensions for them that didn’t occur to me in prose alone. The text influences the art influences the text… and it all leads back to you, the players, who take our concepts and render them in your minds’ eyes through play.

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