There is blood in the streets!
Wealth flows into the city of Baldur's Gate like water. As the rich luxuriate in their mansions atop the bluff and artisans ply their trades on the steep streets, masses of poor laborers swell the slums. Money and power beget political scandal, religious fervor, crime . . . and murder. No one feels safe on the rain-darkened streets. Strange, foreign gods are beseeched in secret shrines. The city is rife with corruption. And through it all, the body count keeps rising.
hat's the introduction you'll read on the Dungeons & Dragons website when you check out the product information page for the new adventure, Murder in Baldur's Gate. Sounds interesting, doesn't it?
The adventure itself is an incredible experience in tabletop roleplay gaming, but to me, it's the art side of the house that really sounds interesting. I spent a little time chatting with Mari Kolkowsky, one of the intrepid D&D art directors, about some of the work that went into the visual elements for this product. This adventure is somewhat of a transition product. We are trying out a few visual ideas that we might take into D&D Next, so it's not just business as usual this time around.
Essentially, Mari picked up this project in midstream. Kate Irwin had already started the ball rolling by getting the cover art created by Tyler Jacobson, and some of the cover design concepts had already been worked out. In other words, Mari played with the interior design elements.
In case you aren't familiar with Mari's name, here's a quick overview of her. She has been working on D&D for quite a while, and she is all about finding an approach that respects the setting of the experience and the fans. The fans are probably one of her most important inspirations and driving factors, and she wants to honor their memories of the game while creating new experiences and visual presentations.
When Mari started working on the design and began commissioning the interior art, she had one purpose in mind: She wanted a great design reflecting how cool the iconic city of Baldur's Gate is, and she hoped to create a presentation that would invite new fans into the world. She really wanted the design to reflect the setting for the adventure, so she teamed up with Emi Tanji, our D&D concept designer, and started creating a number of design elements. Together, they came up with custom interior pages so that they could give the product some visual interest and more flavor. Mari chose to showcase the Bhaal symbol to harken back to the video game franchise and pique the interest of both new and established fans.
The outer cover wrap presents Tyler Jacobson's cover art, which shows off the five main nonplayer characters with the symbol of Bhaal top and center. As I said, this is a transition product, so the DM screen found inside is a new approach for D&D since it provides a map of the entire city, harbor, and outlying areas of the Baldur's Gate region. Usually D&D DM screens depict a scene with monsters you might encounter. The Murder in Baldur's Gate DM screen focuses on the setting for the adventure, and Mike Schley did a wonderful job on the maps. The result is really quite elegant as DM screens go—it has a great painterly look with clear location guides. If you take a look, you might realize that the final presentation is a lovely keepsake for any D&D player.
Inside the wrap, you'll find the two books that really draw you into the adventure. Mari took the first 64 pages of the campaign guide to play with some ideas that we might use as inspiration for D&D Next. She approached this book more as a travel book than a rules guide. She wanted to depict the city and what you can see when you are visiting.
The adventure book also has a number of spreads that break the mold of 4th Edition and give us a few more visual ideas to play with. Emi and Mari created some cool layouts using elements created from the cover art we had. We used the city setting rooftops to create negative outline to break up the blockiness of the page, and it produced some very cool movement/breaks. You'll see it used as a running visual theme throughout the book (see pages 4–5).
There are so many fun visual passages in the product, but it remains very readable and functional. Mari's favorite spread in the book is "Wyrm's Crossing" (see pages 26–27 or the image below). I'm still trying to figure out what my favorite spread is, or I'd share it here. What I'd really like to know, though, is how you like it. Are there any experiments that we tried in this project that make you excited about the possibilities of D&D Next? Is there anything that got in the way of your access to the information or made readability difficult? Please do share your thoughts with us!
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.