I heard through my social grapevine (thanks, Paul!) that Sardarthion Press, a publisher of fantasy role playing games, was in need of an artist. After the publisher perused my online pieces, he decided to take a chance on me, and I decided, “never done anything as weird as this before…that’s a good enough reason!”. And so began my adventure of sticking my toes into this new and bizarre genre.
I was very nervous that I wouldn’t be able to recreate a feel similar-enough to artwork in previous publications, especially since the style and application was far removed from the majority of my experience. Plus, I had to create some humanoid-lizard-and-ant-creature type people characters. These things had biographies and personalities and that had to show in the images. Wait, what? What did I get myself into?
To help me get it right, my first questions were to help me acquire a good understanding of the game, the world it takes place in, the psyche of the dinosaur-man-monster, etc. The author, Thom Ryng, was kind enough to give me a crash course on his game creation, Cruenti Dei:
“…strategic fantasy game, where every player is a different country. Each turn represents five years. The various countries on the largest continent (Sahûl) are federated into an elective empire (sort of like the historical Holy Roman Empire). Each turn in the newsletter, a portrait of the current Emperor or Empress is printed. (That’s where I come in.)
“There’s magic. The gods are real and aid their worshipers. Technology is early Renaissance, so cannons AND magic. Yowza. (Yowza, indeed!)
“Imperial culture ranges from quasi European in the northeast to pseudo Chinese and Japanese in the west.
“More info here: http://www.sardarthion.com/?pa
“The empire has four major kindreds, and only one of those are Human – and they aren’t really considered “civilized” by most of the others.”
So I needed to do 2 official-type portraits of humanoid leader things in this otherworldly society – 1 lizardy thing and 1 ant-type thing. I was going to need some more information. There are rules about their appearance and they have personalities, and… oh wow. Luckily, there was still more info Thom helped me out with… For the badass insect lady creature:
“Insect-like sentients known as Malebolge dominate western Sahûl. (Yes, badasses, check.)
“…Malebolge are descended from ground-dwelling hive insects similar to ants. They generally have six limbs, although some males may only have four. Different castes vary in size from the graceful Queens, who may be taller than Wenemet, to some Workers, who are two-thirds the size of a Saurian. (Oh wow, that’s a lot of stuff.)
“…All positions of authority and power in Malebolge society are held by females. The males are considered mentally inferior and, in some places, held as chattel. (Tee-hee-hee.)
“…This particular Malebolge is Countess Cir’ik VIII of Kicitchat. She lost an eye during the duel that guaranteed her accession to the throne of Kicitchat. She has just been elected Empress of Sahûl.” (Woah, a one-eyed ant empress?? This will be fun.)
I started letting my hand get accustomed to drawing insect people and played around here:
Most of the picture would be made up of folds of fabric and patterns, so I decided I wasn’t too worried about her portrait. I was very worried about his, though.
The dude I refer to is the lizard man warlord Mr. Ryng describes here:
“Saurians are descended from a group of herbivorous, hollow-crested hadrosaurs similar to Parasaurolophus. (Oh, right, of course. Wait, what?)
“They believe strongly in tradition and any new innovation is likely to be justified using past precedent, no matter how obscure.
Saurian society is legalistic almost to the point of ossification… (K, crochety. Got it.)
“Their head crests are (in polite society) always hidden by a hood or hat, except when they are at prayer. A Saurian army is typically equipped with the heaviest armour and weaponry available…” (So dude is gonna need some sort of head dressing that I have to come up with and I gotta make some armor for him, too. Alrighty.)
In addition, there was a portrait of a real human person that Thom wanted the artist to draw inspiration from.
So, to recap, I needed to come up with a humanoid lizard creature with a big bump thing on his head, something covering the bump, armor…oh… and he will have to have a similar expression as a certain grumpy old man. I got this. Here were my first doodles:
I tried to not think about the resemblance to Madonna too much and resolved to simply make the final version not pop-star like at all.
It was exhilarating to think that I would shape the mental image of these characters for all the players of this game…shaping a virtual reality of sorts. What a challenge. What an honor!
The author gave me feedback and further direction on what he wanted and I set out to finish the pieces as quickly as possible. There was a tight deadline and since I’m away from home 12+ hours every day during the week, I had not a lot of time.
The dinosaur guy did prove to be as difficult as I anticipated, and I believe the author winced so hard he didn’t even want to tell me over my first two attempts. Finally, though, we arrived at versions for both that satisfied him.
More than anything, this exercise made me wish I already had the Surface Pro 3 I finally bought afterward to help me take my art digital. These originals were done in real, actual ink-type ink and I was not able to adjust the contrast with layer adjustments alone in Adobe Photoshop. Instead, there was a lot of time-consuming, painstaking pixel-by-pixel manipulation with a mouse on my somewhat ancient laptop. “Ohhh how I wish I had a digital pen for… dammit!….’undo’…ohh, I wish I had a digital pen.”
The final versions of these without the snazzy, gigantic watermarks can be seen here on the Turn 23 editions on page 28 (“132”) for the Malebolge here:
And on page 28 (“132”) for the Saurian here:
Do you want to play Cruenti Dei? Well you can! Here’s a link with more information: