In a perfect world, I’d work up to revealing the final cover for Book of the Underworld, telling the step-by-step story of how it came to be and finally whipping the sheet off the easel.

But that’s now how the internet works. So here’s the cover as painted by Lee Moyer using some original pencil sketches by Rich Longmore.

How It Came to Be

Like Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s earlier Book of Ages, Book of Demons, and Eyes of the Stone Thief, the upcoming Book of the Underworld is a pinwheel of unforgettable ideas that are great for gaming. One of the high-class problems of working with material this good is that I feel responsible for finding ways of creating covers that live up to Gareth’s writing.

Last year, we handled this responsibility for Book of Ages by using a team-up. It was the same team-up we’d used previously on the core book and the 13th Age GM screen. Aaron McConnell created wonderful pencils (reprinted inside in the section featuring the Grandmaster of Flowers, page 91) and Lee Moyer handled the paints.

That team-up wasn’t available for Book of the Underworld, and at first it didn’t look like I had a way of getting Lee in on the project. Gareth, developer J-M DeFoggi, and I had some fairly standard art suggestion ideas for what we might do for the cover. But when I say “fairly standard” I also mean that I didn’t think our ideas were particularly good or entirely practical.

So eventually I called Lee, intending to tell him our problem and see if he had a suggestion for a better path. Lee listened and then suggested a better path that he was willing to carve himself.

Lee sent over a layout of an obsidian shard, hung in webs, the sketch just below. Lee asked whether Rich Longmore could provide pencils for a few characters that Lee would use to populate the obsidian mirrors. Lee had enjoyed painting over Rich’s pencils on the Timewatch GM Screen so this was another team-up that had worked before.

I sent Rich notes that went something like this:

The plan is to have a magical blade of obsidian (or something!) held up by spider webs. The obsidian will reflect several faces and scenes related to the underworld.

You will create four pencil sketches that will get slices taken out of them as shown in the blue shards cut out of the obsidian in Lee’s comp. The sketches don’t have to complete, but they need to be somewhat bigger than the spaces so Lee can move ’em a bit. They don’t have to be inked. They also aren’t part of something happening right in front of the shard, it’s more like a magic mirror effect, Lee will take what you draw and distort it in the slab.

Rich was into it and we agreed on the characters/creatures to be sketched: drow warrior; dwarf warrior; giant spider; and soul flenser.

Here are Rich’s sketches. I wasn’t entirely clear on how these were going into the painting, so I couldn’t have approved them without confirming that they were what Lee was hoping for. Yep, as usual Rich hit it on the first try.

And then came the blessed period when Lee goes away, spends three or four times as many hours as he said he would spend on the project, and comes back with something finished and wonderful. For a change, Lee handled the fonts and text for the cover, I think that may actually have taken him as much work as the painting. We’ll put the Pelgrane logo in the bottom right corner and we’re done with another cover that lives up to its book. 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. 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! 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! 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!). 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. 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. 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. 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.