by Kevin Kulp
My first mistake was in thinking Owl Hoot Trail was D&D with guns. I was just starting to develop and polish Clinton R. Nixon’s remarkable, streamlined game of old western fantasy, and I thought I was on well-trodden and familiar ground. I set up a sample encounter, one which I expected would make an easy and light-hearted introduction to the system. I took 15 minutes to stat up a party of four PCs and took the encounter for a test drive. If everything went as planned, this introductory romp would be the first gunfight that introduced people to Owl Hoot Trail. Piece of cake, right?
Ten minutes and three rounds of combat later, two of my PCs had been shot dead and another was twitching on the ground, gut-shot and unconscious. Three of the four bandits they’d just met were happily riding away up the trail, uninjured and whooping and waving their hats as they escaped. It was not, one might say, a romp for the good guys.
And really, that’s appropriate. “To ride the owl hoot trail” is an old western aphorism meaning “to take up the life of a bandit.” I quickly realized that the feel of this game wasn’t D&D with guns; this was a gritty Clint Eastwood western with fantasy and steampunk. Shee and half’ins and hill folk might exist in this world, but bullets hurt. It’s a lesson I carried with me through the development process.
I love the result. Owl Hoot Trail has five races: humans, shee, greenskins, hill folk, and half’ins. It uses iconic western archetypes for classes: gunslingers, marshals, ruffians, scoundrels, and scouts. There are four classes with special powers as well: gadgeteers, mentalists, preachers and shamans. We leaned heavily on the side of flavor and theme; a preacher can literally use her faith to rebuke a wrongdoer into stunned repentance, a gadgeteer can activate his crank-operated electroprod, ruffians get a bonus for smashing whisky bottles over their foes’ heads, and gunslingers are particularly good at facing down an opponent on a dusty street at high noon for a life-or-death duel.
PCs aren’t the only ones with local flavor. There are a lot of monsters out there on the lonesome prairie, and it’s a fair bet that you taste better than their normal fare. Dog-gobblers head after children after they clear out the local watch dogs. Harpies are vulture-like scavengers who choose to make their own carrion by corrupting fresh water, and then following travelers across the desert who then die of thirst. Ogres have been known to singlehandedly wield Gatling guns, and the haunting cry of the owlbear may sing you into the arms of death.
Owl Hoot Trail is half rules book, half adventure. Pages 65-128 showcase the adventure They Rode To Perdition, a multi-part mystery and starting campaign setting that’s centered on the little town of Perdition. The adventure is designed to be as non-linear as possible; antagonists and allies all have their own goals and time tables, and how (or if) the heroes upset those plans determines how the adventure goes. With as close to an epic storyline as you’ll find in a western setting, the PCs can change Perdition for good with their actions. Let’s just hope they like it when they’re done; ‘Ole One-Eye’s Saloon has particularly good drinks, and it’d just be a shame to burn it down by mistake.
Owl Hoot Trail, by Clinton R. Nixon and Kevin Kulp, is a 136-page, 6″x9″ book that sells for $19.95 US, now available in the store.
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.
“The Great Gold Wyrm is the world’s protector and the inspiration for holy orders of paladins and independent heroes. Although the Gold Wyrm’s physical form seals the gap that prevents the Abyss from erupting into the world, its dreams and the agents it employs still move through the world, helping those who will fight and even die for what’s right.” –From the 13th Age icon teaser description
The Great Gold Wyrm brought to life by Lee Moyer’s mastery of digital painting. This was another one that floored me when I first saw it. You’ll notice that the painting really goes beyond my pencil drawing (below). It’s not just thousands of scales for vanity’s sake, though. I’m sure in the modern world of dragons there are those who have their scales multiplied to fulfill some concept of beauty, but the reason the Gold Wyrm has this many scales is simply because he’s a dragon of gigantic proportions. A little gnome could probably strap a saddle on one of those scales for riding…or rather he could try.
*Here’s a bonus sketch for everyone who has been tolerating my corny commentary in these posts. Thank you for not breathing fire on me:P
“The Crusader is the armored fist of the Dark Gods. So long as followers of the gods of light stay the hell out of his way, the Crusader turns his wrath against the demons that would destroy the world his own gods want to rule. Follow the Crusader if you must win at any cost.” –From the 13th Age icon teaser description.
The Crusader digitally painted by Lee Moyer. I’m going to let the images do the talking this week because Lee and I are busting our humps* to finish the interior art for 13th Age, now available for Pre-Order.
*Oh, you didn’t know I have a hunchback? It’s common among illustrators. And that structure behind the Crusader…that’s my studio.
My pencil drawing:
My thumbnail sketch:
“The Three were among the first dragons to walk the world. The Red is a living engine of destruction. The Blue is a sorceress, perhaps even the original mother of all sorcery. The Black is queen of shadows and assassins. Unlike the Great Gold Wyrm, who must fight alone, the Three have learned to join forces.” –From the 13th Age icon teaser description.
Behold The Three digitally painted by Lee Moyer. Not only are these mamas ancient, they are also enormous. Look for the Where’s Waldo Priests for a sense of…”scale” (sorry). This behind-the-illustration post gives you a much closer view of those guys, but they are ultimately inconsequential in comparison to the awesome majesty of The Three!
My pencil drawing (after receiving Lee’s request for plenty of “crunchy pencil detail.”) You’ll notice that my choice of color for the dragons was different than the final. Decisions, decisions – all part of the process!
And here’s the promised closeup of our dark priests, Larry, Curly and Moe:
As an extra bonus here’s an early thumbnail where I happened to accidentally not draw most of the dragons’ anatomy. Hmm…you’d think I was hesitant to draw thousands of scales or something. I haven’t confirmed this with Lee, but looking at this image and the final, it’s my guess that he may have appropriated this version of the Blue sorceress dragon in the final. Ah, Process, you are the Black dragon cloaked in vague shadows until you strike as quickly and decisively as a deadly assassin!
“The Diabolist controls fiends and tampers with forces even the Archmage avoids. She likes her victims screaming and her chaos pure while claiming that the demons she summons would otherwise overwhelm the Great Gold Wyrm who seals the Abyss. There are two differences between her and her demons: First, she likes keeping destruction personal rather than universal. Second, she’s capable of kindness, so long as it comes as a great surprise.” –From the 13th Age icon teaser description.
Lee Moyer’s deliciously diabolical digital painting of The Diabolist (in a sense 3D;)
My pencil drawing:
Early thumbnails included demons in the shadows of the Diabolist before we decided on a graphic background suitable for a most notorious Icon.
“The Emperor rules the world’s greatest human kingdom, known as the Dragon Empire for the mounts of its mightiest warriors. All the signs suggest that the age is turning, but will the Empire fall or shift to a new balance?” –From the 13th Age icon teaser description.
The final illustration of the Emperor digitally painted by Lee Moyer:
My pencil drawing:
An earlier sketch that had the key ingredients, but didn’t have the necessary amount of refinement that the Emperor demands:
Earlier thumbnails included the Emperor with a tamed dragon. Think Ernst Stavro Blofeld (of James Bond fame) and his cat. That approach was too ripe for parody. We’re not going for Dr. Evil here. Whether the Emperor is a corrupt ruler or not has yet to be determined.
“The Priestess hears all the Gods of Light and speaks for those who please her. She is part oracle, part mystic, and part metaphysical engineer, since she created the Cathedral, an ever-expanding temple with rooms or entire wings for each of the faiths she favors.” –From the 13th Age icon teaser description.
Lee Moyer really made this piece his own with the digital paints. I sometimes have a guess about how the light and color will work when I turn the pencils over to him, but this was one of the cases where the final result was a total surprise. I just gazed in awe for a few minutes when he sent it to me. We had discussed the architectural design of Hugh Ferriss as an influence for the Priestess’ cathedral, so evidently I was expecting the background to be mostly monochromatic. I have come to understand that the tastes of the Priestess are much more diverse and spectacular.
Below an extremely crude thumbnail. (I’m lucky that Lee and Rob can look at something like this and determine whether it’s a direction I should pursue, or not.)
“The Dwarf King is lord of Forge, the dwarves’ new homeland beneath the mountains. He’d love to reclaim the dwarven Underhome lost to war against the dark elves and the creatures of the deeps. But now that the Empire is stumbling, the dwarves find themselves manning the mountain walls that shield the Empire from the orcs and monsters of the north.” –From the 13th Age icon teaser description.
Without further ado…The Dwarf King! Digitally painted by Lee Moyer. Below you will find my pencil drawing as well as an earlier sketch with revision notes provided by Lee.
**Somewhere between Lee’s revision sketch and my pencil rendering there was mention of Brian Blessed’s teeth.