Role Playing Games

Oh, yes.  Games about playing a role.  I've been doing that since I was 2 years old.  Seriously... What kid hasn't?  Ah, but what about these Pen & Paper games as they have come to be known?  For me, it started with basic Dungeons and Dragons back in 1976.

My brothers had this cool game about exploring dungeons and making maps and fighting weird monsters and skeletons.  I wanted to play too.  I joined a group and got to bash many a skeleton.  Skeletons were the scariest monster in the game to a 6-year-old.  There were other things, like green slime, but I didn't really understand it.  But skeletons... they were creepy cool.  D&D was like an imaginary Halloween, but instead of getting candy, you beat up the other costumed kids.

Oh, but playing the game of pretending to be a knight beating up skeletons was just the beginning.  I wanted to be the DUNGEON MASTER.  That means that I get to draw the map and decide where all the skeletons would be.  Drawing maps and skeletons was even more fun than rolling dice and marking numbers on a character sheet.  I drew little cracks in the walls of the dungeons.  Little cracks from whence sprang vast armies of skeletons.

I don't think my brothers appreciated the lengths I went to in order to kill their characters.  Isn't that what a DUNGEON MASTER was supposed to do?  Paul decided to show me how to do it right with a dungeon he called "The Neil Killer."  I took a party of five 1st level adventurers into this maze of intricate traps and ferocious monsters.  I think he had planned on either the water trap or the vampire killing off all my characters, but instead I used the water trap to kill the vampire.  But it didn't kill the vampire, because Paul didn't want me to win.  No, my clever role-playing was rewarded with a swift and horrible execution of my entire party.  At least, that's the way I saw it.

My Favorite RPGs:
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - the original classic (I like 3rd edition too, just don't play as much as I used to).
Marvel Superheroes - TSR introduced the universal table, and I found an RPG where combat was simple and fast.
Paranoia & Toon - games where "fun" is more important than "winning."  What can I say?  Greg Costikyan is a genius.

Steve Jackson Games

In the fall of 1998, I created illustrations for 3 RPG resource books.  I had met Steve Jackson at Conduit (Salt Lake City's sci-fi and fantasy media convention) in 1997, and subsequently inquired about illustration work.  He looked at my samples and was sufficiently impressed to refer me to the Art Director, Alain Dawson.  We established communication by email, finalized legal documentation, and I was given an illustration assignment.


The first assignment was for the GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System) resource book on Egypt.  I was given a dozen small interior spaces to fill, and the deadline was only 3 weeks away.  Newton Ewell, another Salt Lake City illustrator and my former coworker, also had several assignments for this book.  I visited with him so we could see how each other's pieces were shaping up, and give critique and encouragement.  Staying inspired and productive was essential, as I also had a full-time job creating video game art.

I used the reference material that was sent, along with some research from various internet sites, in composing the roughs for the illustrations.  I started at about 10pm each night, and drew until I had finished at least 2 pictures each night.  After 5 days I scanned in the roughs and emailed them to the art director for review and approval.  I had accidentally done one extra piece (which had been assign to a different artist), but was given approval to do a final version of it.  The others were also given the go ahead for inking and digital shading, with a few modifications specified.

I created the inked pictures on a new piece of paper by using a light table.  When the inked pictures were finished, I scanned them in to Photoshop.  I had been using Photoshop for a couple of years, and I knew some great techniques for creating art for video games.  Some of these "tricks", like creating glow effects, transferred well, but I was somewhat inexperienced in pictures that were meant for print.  I tried printing the first image, but was not sure if the contrast levels would be like those of the final print process.  I sent the image to Alain, and she directed me to use less values between 50% and 100% black.

In the end, some pictures turned out rather well, like the mummy.  I even created a recurring character in the tomb robber that appeared in 3 of my illustrations.  But, I was not entirely happy with all of these art pieces.  A few I would have liked to start over, but time was short, and sleep was lacking.  I pushed for a week of late nights (3-4am) and finished all the pieces.  While the roughs had been small files that I could zip into a single compressed file, the finals were attached individually.  The AOL account that I had at the time did not allow for more than a single attachment of no more than 1mb.  Uploading all these images by 56k modem took a while.

The Final Trumpet

My next assignment came less than a month later.  It was for the 5th book in an In Nomine adventure series.  In Nomine is a game with the players in the roles of angels and devils battling in modern-day Earth.  I was to depict specific characters in the illustrations, including: the players (some room for interpretation), Khalid (an established character in the storyline), Muzzafar (my design for a minor character), a rioting demon throwing a grenade at Ahmad Qavam (another minor character).

I experimented a little with different layouts and techniques, and was generally happy with the results.  I had fewer pictures this time around, so I felt a bit less rushed even though I only had 2 weeks.  One piece was of a demon looking upward to the sky, yearning to go to heaven.  I was not satisfied with my first layout, as I did not feel it captured the mood well enough.  I regret that I went with my second attempt, because I now feel it was not as strong a piece. 

After I finished, I got the payment for Egypt.  I wasn't expecting a lot from this supplemental job, as my main goal was experience and exposure.  However, because I felt like time pressures prevented me from doing my best work, and because the actual dollars per hour was so inefficient compared to my day job, I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue.


When I was contacted about contributing to another GURPS resource manual, I thought I would try some thing different.  I explained my thoughts on the projects thus far, and requested that I do fewer, but larger illustrations.  The larger illustrations would pay a bit better, and may not take as much time as the many smaller pieces.  This course of action was agreed to, and I was given the task of creating art for the frontispiece, some chapter splash pages, and a few tricky cross-page images.

Also, I was given a lot more freedom as to subject matter on this project.  The direction did not require very specific scenes as the previous 2 books had, and it gave me a chance to explore some different ideas and images.  Some of my best work came out of this, while some other pieces were not so great.  Freedom and experimentation can be like that - inconsistent results.  By this point, I felt like I was starting to get the hang of doing these illustrations for print, but I was also feeling a little burned out from all the late night work from these projects.

When I finished, each of the final illustrations was larger than the 1 meg attachment limit, even as compressed files.  This problem did not become apparent until the night before all the illustrations were due.  Alain gave me access so I could transfer the files by direct FTP.  The AOL dial-up connection I was using was long distance, as I had recently moved to Tooele (a town in the desert west of Salt Lake), and AOL had no local connection number.  It took about 6 hours to transfer all the files, due to sporadic disconnects.  I had been up all night, was extremely late for work, and the pay for the job barely covered the phone bill.

It was a great experience, but one that I was in no hurry to repeat, given the current situation.  I politely declined the next few invitations to contribute, and based on my apparent lack of interest, the invitations soon stopped.  Now that better internet connections have been established, and my computer art skills are even stronger, I think I might like to take on a few freelance illustration assignments again.