Guild Artisan

Recently, I spent a little time talking about my illustration for Magic Missile, which was used in the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set. I wondered if it would also appear in the then-pending Player's Handbook, as it was originally commissioned for that.

Well, the Player's Handbook is out, and yep, there is

Magic Missile

. It's still got some design-y edge cropping but more of it shows than in the Starter Set.

Painted at the same time, however was this other little character piece, illustrating the Guild Artisan sample character background archetype. He was assigned as an update to the classic character, "Regis," but as they didn't identify him that way, I suppose I won't go around calling him that. Unless they mention it elsewhere. The last couple of editions have had slight reworkings of various races, and getting keyed into them sometimes takes a little work. For Halflings, there are sub-races within them, for instance. This meant a couple of back-and-forths on the character design:

Sketch variations for "Guild Artisan"

Sketch variations for "Guild Artisan"

My original pencil sketch, which is shown at left, had a lot worth keeping but required tweaks. For starters, the character needed to be a good bit rounder. Jollier, I suppose. I did some digital tweaking on the original, overdrawing on vellum, changing the hand (which I wasn't happy with) and the outfit a bit. You'll note some proportional changes as well: the feet got smaller. The head got bigger and more kid-like...except for the mutton-chops. A kid with mutton-chops. They wanted his outfit to feel a bit more piecemeal, like he had traveled some, so I modeled his shirt and vest off of some middle-eastern outfits. And then there were two heads, giving them two options. They picked option B.

"Guild Artisan" 11x14" oil on watercolor paper Sold

"Guild Artisan" 11x14" oil on watercolor paper

The grim-faced character is a bit of an overdone fantasy thing. Every once in awhile it can be nice to do something a bit more fun, but you really have to go for it. If you half-ass a big expression, it doesn't read. So they can be tricky. It's like acting, I guess. You have to commit.

So yeah, he's got this cat on his pouch.

So yeah, he's got this cat on his pouch.

It's hard to say if I hit the right note--I haven't spent a lot of time doing jolly characters. I let my wife be the judge of it, and she quite enjoyed it. The character made her happy, so I considered my job done.

These sorts of spot illustrations usually get lifted and put over textured backgrounds or whatever, so I figured a vague background would be best here. An indication of stone, some color.

There are a couple of animal details he has on his equipment, because I guess he digs animals. Which is part of why he's so happy, because animals do that to you.

Magic Missile

"Magic Missile!" How many times have I said or heard said those two words, as a pack of gnolls or bugbears descended upon a party of adventurers deep within some abandoned temple, ambushed in a dark forest, or in any other number of places. Perhaps it was as a way to take out a Gelatinous Cube without the risk of losing your hard-earned weapon. Magic Missile is one of the spells everyone who comes within orbit of a Dungeons & Dragons game learns about.

D&D is now on its 5th edition. Back when I played, it was the Basic rules sets (boxed sets) for the group I ran, and AD&D with the group I was in at my high school (just pre-2nd edition). 2nd edition appeared just as I was getting out of the game. I picked up the Player's Handbook but my regular D&D playing days were essentially over. The game has come into competition with so many other avenues of entertainment, including its younger cousin Magic: the Gathering, that it's struggled in recent years. I know, all things being equal, I have preferred just diving into a video game to kill evil monsters, gain experience points and level up. Millions played World of Warcraft as a visual and virtual substitute for D&D (whether they intended to or not). The problem has mostly been committing time among multiple people to play. Most of my gaming is done late at night, at unpredictable hours typically, after a long day of work usually. But for those who can make the effort to get together to play, I still highly recommend it.

But the game chugs on, and seeks to establish itself anew. Having recently re-released the classic "Red Box," which is what I started out with, perhaps they were inspired by the visually understandable aspect of such a set to a beginner, because they just launched the "Starter Set" of the new edition--a box set featuring quick and basic rules, dice, character sheets, and an adventure to get going. A very low investment, and the rules of which they've even made a free download via PDF to help get the word out to the curious--certainly these are good starts. I wish the game well--I'd love to see it continue on for many years.

In the Starter Set appears my painting for, "Magic Missile." This may get printed in the Player's Handbook, too, which I thought it was for, but I'm happy to have it here as well. It's got a creative crop around the top of the fallen trunk and figure, but here's the full painting:

"Magic Missile," 16x20" Oils and acrylic on masonite Sold

"Magic Missile," 16x20" Oils and acrylic on masonite

I was really happy with the print quality of this book. This was not the case with 4E, where I always found my art printed without punch--colors dulled and just muddy, unfortunately.

Visualizing Magic Missile ended up being a very interesting exercise. I mean, if you've played D&D, how have you imagined this spell? The magic "darts" can be split up to target different creatures, and though the darts never get more powerful, eventually you can cast a slew of them at once. My early thumbnails and concepts included missiles that fired off in arcs and loops. I don't know if I ever really visualized them this way before, but having to sit and think about it, that was my impression. I also saw them as very bright and maybe warm colored, trailing to maybe a cooler color, but essentially hot white.

After a number of back-and-forths with R&D via my art director, it ends up that they had a pretty specific idea for the magic missile, and that was straight, and more dart-tipped. Check. I opted not to show what the elf wizard is firing at, to keep this more about the spell explicitly. In any case, there it is--may it color your depiction of this spell as you toss the 4-sided dice.


Thanks to Gypsy_Cowboy on Reddit, I was made aware of this discussion regarding earlier portrayals of Magic Missile.