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The Look of d20 Modern
An Interview with Art Director Robert Raper
Mat Smith

I caught up with Robert while he was busy working at his computer, making minor adjustments to a few dozen images for one of the pile of projects filling the job folders at the side of his desk. As I took my seat and pulled out my paper, he said "I've got to finish these, so let's just start talking and I'll keep working." Between the stuff he had on his screen and the artwork lining the walls around him, I could've just sat, looked, and watched for quite a while. But I wasn't there to gawk. I had a mission -- to interview the art director for d20 Modern. I wasn't entirely sure where to start. Once I realized that, I figured I had a great first question (and then would let him do most of the talking).

How'd you get started?

Well, d20 Modern is totally different from everything else. It's not fantasy (well, really it is), it's contemporary. I kinda look at it as if it's D&D, The X-Files,The Matrix, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and modern horror all rolled into one. Oh, and let's not forget all the telepathic spies. You know -- the thought police. (I don't know if they made any thought police, but they should.)

I wanted to make it more interesting. More fresh.

The cover was the starting point. I wanted something that worked with the "book" theme our other roleplaying games have. (Like we've been doing for D&D, Forgotten Realms, and Call of Cthulhu.) But I also I wanted something utilitarian, very Bauhausian. I went with a brushed titanium look for the cover. I also worked with the red, black, and white color scheme of the d20 System logo -- I wanted d20 Modern to be consistent with that brand.

For the cover illustration, I got Dave Johnson, who does the covers for DC/Vertigo's 100 Bullets comic. I'm a huge 100 Bullets fan, and Dave's got a really good sense of design, which is what I wanted for d20 Modern. He's a really nice guy to work with too -- he went out of his way to make sure the art worked. Way out of his way.

Next came the interior?

Yeah. The cover led the way for the interior. With that as a guide (and several pieces of sample art to use as FPO), the designers got started coming up with ideas. There were three designers working on d20 Modern: Robert Campbell, Dee Barnett, and Cynthia Fliege. They all took off in different directions and came up with great stuff. (In the end, we went with Cynthia's design.)

The interior, like the cover, has a very modern look -- clean, pristine, white pages. And artwork that's more graphic than illustrative. I think that fantasy artwork should look like it could've been created in the world it's representing. So, for d20 Modern, I wanted to use people who used digital art, because of the clean sharpness you get by using the computer as a tool. Though, there's a lot of traditional artwork in there as well, because of all the different genres the book covers. But all of the art has a strong graphic design sensibility. You'll see smooth, hard edges on the visual elements, but you'll also notice there are no solid blocks -- no piece of artwork is contained within a rectangle. The art breaks out of the frame, bleeds off the page and so on.

What's your favorite piece of art so far?

I don't really have a favorite yet. I'm still mostly looking at sketches.

I am really excited about Dean Ornstrom's stuff, though. He's done art for Sandman and Vertigo's Lucifer comic -- he's really good with the nasty creatures, so he's doing a lot of the occult and horror stuff. I really like the displacer beast he has gnawing on the dead flesh of a guy he's got in a back alley. Ryan Sook is doing all kinds of stuff throughout the book as well. He's got a great sense of graphic design, a perfect example of what I wanted for this project. He uses lots of positive and negative space. And Phil Noto is doing about half the iconics -- it's really great getting to call up all these comic book artists to ask them to work for me.

When can we get a look at some of the finished art?

We should be getting finished stuff in by the end of June. So, sometime after that.

Robert Raper

Robert is also art director for the Forgotten Realms brand, working on everything from the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting to the Forgotten Realms Dungeon Master's Screen. (His latest Forgotten Realms endeavor, Silver Marches, comes out in July.)

He also worked on The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game and its companion superadventure, Prophesies of the Dragon, which he says was a lot of fun. He adds, "The One Power is an excellent alternate magic system, go out and buy that book."

In addition to the upcoming d20 Modern Toleplaying Game, you will also see Robert's influence on future releases for the Star Wars roleplaying game.

Are you pleased with how the book's tuning out? Are people liking it?


Of course everyone involved on a project like this has an idea of what it should look like. R&D has an idea. Design has an idea. Brand has an idea. And it's up to me to make sure everyone's happy with the visual side of things. So, it's quite difficult sometimes. I know I pulled it off with the interior art and the iconics.

But really, I don't care if I make everybody happy. I just have to make sure the visuals are the best they can be, because the people who are going to buy the book are the ones I want to make happy. You can't please everybody out there, but you sure can try. And as a fan, and someone who plays the game, I always try to make a book something I'd want to buy.

It's going to be cool. I mean, it already is cool, but it's going to be even more cool when it's done.

Is there anything I've missed, or anything you want to add?

There's motorcycle jousting.

And guns. Lots of guns.

About the Author

Mat Smith is a copywriter who's been here for about a year and a half now. He's been playing roleplaying games for a disturbing length of time, and now gets to spend an astonishing amount of time thinking about clever ways to get more people to do the same.

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