Fans of my blog will know of my hand-made board game Tower. I've posted on it a few times, once about the game in general
, and another where I looked back at the portrait art and the characters they portrayed.
Today's post is about me revisiting those 15 characters and original art pieces, but this time with updated artwork for each character. This is an exercise I'd like to do more of for the blog: go back and revisit my old characters and concepts and while there take a stab at their redesign, as-if I were working on the project now. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here are the character portraits I painted about 15 years ago, and new pieces painted in the last few weeks:
Annice is a Human Bard. In the game, she cab try to distract monsters with music, ultimately giving her better odds at killing the beast. Her original look was supposed to be inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow, but I didn't achieve that lofty goal back then. The red, white, and blue wardrobe was inspired by the bright colorful costume of the Bard class in the 1995 D&D player's Handbook. For the update, I didn't do much in terms of design changes, but focused more on improved artwork. I still have an unsteady time drawing humans, and females especially. I wanted Annice to be pretty, but not come across as sexy or sultry in any way. The updated version keeps the hint of a smile and has an improved sense of texture for both her dress and turban-wrap headpiece.
Dalton is a Dwarven Armorer. In the game, he can take one more wound than every other player because of his superior armor. Dalton's original look was based on a co-worker at Starbucks...who was not a dwarf nor an armorer. So, my old painting was mostly a caricature-portrait head with rather ugly armor as a pedestal for it. For my update, I no longer knew what that co-worker looked like (beyond blurred memory) so I could only base the new portrait on the old. I felt Dalton's hair and beard needed to be less neat to be a proper dwarf, and I added the bags under his eyes to show the exhaustion from lugging around the heavy full plate armor. For his new armor, I gave it a pattern to imply that it was a unique piece of work, and though scaled down, the neck still has the old rivet detail.
Demtremi is a Drow Assassin. In the game, instead of just ambushing players to steal treasure like the other characters, he can kill their characters and take it all, making the other player start over from scratch. Demtremi's old portrait is based on my college roomate Nick Kowalcyk. Demtremis was one of Nick's old D&D characters who I think in turn was inspired by the R.A. Salvatore character Drizzt Do'Urden. For his update, I tried to give the assassin a more menacing look, while not making him outright evil. The armor was added to both add visual interest while also look foreign and otherworldly compared to the rest of the characters' clothes and arms.
Fike the Mox:
Fike is a Human Barbarian. In the game, Fike served as a baseline character with no extra-special abilities or any handicaps (though later we gave him a special bag that allows him to hide 3 treasure cards to they can not be stolen). Fike's original portrait came from me trying to draw a box-headed barbarian build with my friend Mike Davis' hair and beard of the time (the scar was just to show how tough Fike was). Mike tended to name all his RPG characters Mike Fox, and somewhere along the line, we started mocking him calling all his characters Fike Mox. I added a 'the' to imply that Mox was some sort of tribe or region. For the update I just tried my best to make Fike look less goofy and more imposing as a physical specimen.
Fisher is a Dwarven Berzerker. In the game, he has multiple attacks per turn. Fisher is based on my friend Seyth Mirsma's old D&D character (Seyth helped co-create the rules for Tower). I don't think my original version of Fisher looks anything like Seyth's idea of him, but I used this older portrait as my only starting point for the new one (so he still doesn't look like Seyth's idea of Fisher). I pushed for a more expressive face and some texture details for the fur cloak (a garment I think implies toughness, wealth, and determination). The way his front tuft of hair falls down into his face is something my Father's hair does when he gets worked up.
Jhan is an Elven Mage. In the game, he has the widest range of magical spells to choose from. The original portrait of Jhan was based on Seyth's college roommate John. The name Silverthatch was a joke on John's desire to dye his hair silver. For this updated portrait, I did debate giving him premature silver locks, but opted to retain the original design and started coming up with options for where the Silverthatch surname came from...is it a place? a guild? do elves in this bloodline tend to go silver before their time and Jhan hasn't yet? I focused on shifting the facial features away from bing a bad caricature and into looking more like a believable elf.
Lucas is an Elven Thief. In the game he can move quickly and pick what he steals from other players instead of choosing randomly. Lucas was my long-time D&D character. I don't think I played with any one incarnation of him more than twice, but I kept re-making him for new adventures. The original version was meant to look like me in my college days, but for the update, I tried to blend that young David Petersen visage with something that looked like a proper elf from a fantasy realm. The floppy hat was scaled back to feel more manageable for a thief to wear and still go un-noticed. The hat band being of a more reddish color and tying into a knot like that is an homage to my Mouse Guard alter-ego Saxon.
Luthor is a Halfling Battle Mage. In the game he has only offensive spells like Fireball and Lightning as well as a few chances to cast two spells in the same turn.
The original Luthor art probably owes something to anime I was watching at the time. For the update I tried to keep the old hair, but give it more of a curly Halfling texture, though he still looks more Dwarven than Halfling in every other respect. I gave the stole a more elaborate design that somehow felt cultural rather than just a pattern for-the-sake-of pattern
Madalyne is a Human Paladin. In the game, she has the ability to heal herself more quickly than other players, as well as being a good fighter. Tower was an attempt by Seyth and I to fix our gameplay & design issues with TSR's Dungeon board game. Madalyne the Paladin was a character card from Dungeon we decided to bring over to Tower. The original art was just an elaboration on the Dungeon art, and in that same way, the update is mostly an elaboration on the original. The flourishes added to the armor include designs I found in historic and ren-faire fantasy armor, etched sun-motif patterns, and a peacock feather for her heraldic plume. Madalyne also got an updated name with the addition of the surname Chevalier.
Packus is a Dwarven Cleric. In the Game Packus has some cleric spells at his disposal as well as a special 1 use spell that redistributes all the discovered treasure cards equally amongst the players. For his updated portrait, I gave him a bit more of a beard while still keeping it short. His overall facial structure became more traditional Dwarf, and I gave the armor a touch of believeability to the construction. His front tuft of hair as well as his mole stayed for this incarnation.
Pax is a Halfling Priest. In the game Pax has the widest range of clerical spells and a special spectral sword she can summon twice to help her attacks. The original portrait of Pax was an instance of me looking at a photo of someone to base the drawing on because of my inexperience & comfort drawing women well. For her update, I wanted to make her look more like a Halfling, so I broadened her face and gave her hair a bit more texture. While struggling to draw her features this time around I tried to think of Tony DiTerlizzi
drawings I liked. The costume dress was one I always liked from the original version, so I didn't do anything really to update it.
Quiver is a Gnomish Acrobat. In the game, he can tumble while defending against monsters to lower his chances of being killed by that beast. Quiver is another D&D character of Seyth's. The original portrait was a bit of a caricature (the sideburns mostly) of Seyth, but I don't know why I added the Mike Nesmith-esque wool hat. For the update, I decided to make the hat shaped a bit more like a traditional gnome hat, I kept the diamond pattern tunic because it felt like something a performer-adventurer might wear. The facial structure for Quiver was the biggest change. I wanted him to look less human and more fey-like. I enlarged the nose, sunk the jawline and compacted the eyes/nose/mouth relationship. But I kept the sideburns.
Rien Draak (originally un-named) is a Gnomish Ninja. In the game he has a few spells to help him attack quickly. He also has a hooked rope which allows him to quickly escape rooms with monsters with no penalty. The original character and portrait was Seyth & I scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas. For the update, because there was nothing Gnomish about my original art, I did the biggest re-design of this series. I approached it with what ninja apparel would look like if it came from Gnomish culture. The folded hood is meant to echo a folded Gnome hat. Since he was un-named in the original, I thought he deserved better. The Rien comes from Rien Poortvliet the Dutch illustrator of the Gnomes Book. Draak is the Dutch word for dragon...to evoke the culture associated with ninjitsu.
Solae is an Elven Ranger. In the game she has an animal companion that allows her a second attack on a monster at a reduced efficacy. The art for Solae was always meant to show a confident, capeable, and dangerous woman. I didn't want to loose those qualities, but had to figure out how to apply them to a less stylized facial structure. I remembered that when I drew the original I'd looked at photos of Julianne Moore, so I did that again this time, but made sure I was only trying to capture her personality qualities and not her actual facial features. I added a small flourish to the collar of her tunic and had a lot of fun drawing in the texture and drape of her hair.
Tyne is a Halfling Druid. In the game she has a small mix of magic spells, but also some special seed pods that grow rapidly and ensnare monsters. Tyne was the last character I painted for the original game. I think Seyth and I re-designed her a number of times and I couldn't do the art for her until we had something nailed down. I meant for her not to be a representation of my friend Ann Glenn, but more of a character I could see her play in D&D. For the re-design I widened the face to feel more like a Halfling's, and I added texture and detail to the costume as it stood.
Luke Crane, game designer who wrote the Mouse Guard RPG, visited me last week, he and I discussed what game mechanics were broken with Tower. We made a mental list of what worked and what was broken. He and I hammered out a few ideas on where I could take the game (in design terms) to get it to a place I could release this game (which fans have asked about since the first I shared it.) I don't know when I'll get to that point, but I have a direction, and 15 new character portraits to go with it.