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Conjuring illustrations for Death of Rapacus

I commissioned Claudia Cangini to create illustrations for Death of Rapacus, my upcoming game about duelling wizards. I like her style with clear lines and rich colours. Claudia has completed four of eight characters by now and I want to share previews and reflections on the process. It’s a fun activity but also sometimes frustrating. How to describe a picture that is not there with words such that someone else can draw it?

Creating a picture with words

I’ve worked with Claudia on Mars to Stay and Montsegur 1244, so we know each other and the process well by now.

The most difficult part is to give feedback when the first draft does not hit the target. How to be specific about what works and what to change? What to say to help Claudia nail it with the next iteration? Once something has been created, it can be hard to uncreate it. Like the phrase “Don’t think about an elephant”. Once it’s out there, it is hard to see what’s behind it when it is not supposed to be there.

While I have created the character concepts and story concepts, I don’t have the concepts crystallised out in detail. In fact, descriptions are often deliberative short and vague for players to fill in the missing details during play. So the art direction sometimes takes me back to the original design decisions to find the answers that Claudia needs.

Here are three sample characters:

Mirabella. Beautiful and Terror-inducing Valkyrie. First draft, pencilled.
Mirabella. Beautiful and Terror-inducing Valkyrie. Inked. I wanted a belt buckle that wasn't a fantasy orc but inspired by historical designs.
Mirabella. Beautiful and Terror-inducing Valkyrie. Coloured.
Pestilentia. Friend of Creatures of the Night. I was very pleased with what Claudia came up with for Pestilentia.
Fortius. Brute Force Specialist. Fortius was one of the first illustrations so we spend some time on getting the style and tone right.

The origin of Death of Rapacus

I created Death of Rapacus back in 2016. It is a GM-less game where players co-create a story about eccentric wizards duelling for power in a fictive covenant in Medieval Europe. Think Last Man Standing with wizards. Compared to my previous published game, Death of Rapacus is much less serious in tone. 

I wanted to create an Ars Magica one-shot that is easy to get to the table. Especially that it does not require the entire group to have extensive knowledge about the setting and the rules. So I zoomed in on one part of the play experience you can have with Ars Magica and created a game focused on delivering that: Scheming and plotting wizards in selfish pursuit for power that take it out on each other at the end.

I playtested Death of Rapacus both on Grand Tribunal in Cheltenham and on Viking Con in Copenhagen. It was a fun project to do and I got good feedback from playtesters. However, I never got around to publish it for two reasons: Firstly, I wanted to tighten the game to make it simpler to play and to steer the players more strongly towards inevitable chaos and mayhem. Secondly — and this was the main reason — the game used Ars Magica terms heavily so I needed to clarify with Atlas Games who owns the IP how to proceed. I briefly explored if Atlas Games would publish the game but this didn’t happen.

Stay tuned

I took the project out of the drawer this spring during my hiatus and fixed both issues: I removed the terms specific to Ars Magica which makes the game even simpler to pick up and play. I also tightened up the rules and the story arcs for the core conflicts to stand out clearer. Death of Rapacus can still be used as a gateway game to Mythic Europe and the Ars Magica universe. By having a session where player versus player conflicts are dialled to 11, players should be ready for a little bit more co-operative group of wizards. Which is a play style more suited for campaign play.

With a brand new set of illustrations, I’m happy to publish Death of Rapacus for more people to enjoy! Stay tuned for a release announcement!

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