Wednesday, May 16, 2012

At the Sign of the Happy Harpy

We had an amazing family vacation for two weeks just as I was turning over the 2nd playtest draft of 13th Age. We spent two weeks in Turkey, starting with four days in the carved rock of Cappadocia, where I typed the new echo spell notes for the wizard listening to the night call of the muezzin bouncing off a fortress rock named the Castle of Uchisar. Then we drove south and west along the coast, hiking in ruins and swimming in the Mediterranean before catching aflight to Istanbul for a final four days of museums and bazaars.
In Kalkan, we stayed in a sweet hotel that we thought was named the Harpy Hotel. But half its logos and signs said the Happy Hotel. Which was it? Well it started as the Harpy Hotel. As witnessed by the Harpy Stele at the nearby ruins of Xanthos, the local harpies were conceived as benevolent spirits, winged women who took the souls of dead children to heaven. Huh. Dead children, well, I guess that’s the human condition. Heaven is good, at least.
But every week a hotel guest mentioned that as far as they knew, harpies were monsters. Eventually the hotel acknowledged its PR error. The owner’s name includes a Turkish word for happy, so the new name is a double-entendre that most guests won’t realize.  
As we were checking out I decided to take one last look at email since it seemed likely we wouldn’t have access that night. I had a surprise present, the first 13th Age monster tile I’d seen from the Diabolist, sent over by Lee Moyer who’d finished the tile from Aaron McConnell’s rough pencils. And yeah, the moment we were checking out from the Happy/Harpy Hotel, Lee sent over the harpy.

I had my laptop in hand as we checked out and showed the art to the concierge, saying “You know all those people who turned the harpy into a monster and made you change the name of your hotel? I make games. I’m part of your problem.”
For those of you reading this entry for information on 13th Age instead of keeping up with my synchronicity highway vacations, here’s the scoop on our monster tiles. Preparing the art order, I mulled over the fact that our monster selection for the 13th Age book deliberately sticks close to d20 norms. Therefore most of our monsters have been extremely well-illustrated multiple times. And recently. What were we going to add? Did our audience really need another monster-format illustration of a gnoll? An otyugh, even? There had to be a more interesting approach. So I turned to the strengths of our setting: what if the monsters could be represented by control glyphs created by the Archmage? That way the monster illustrations would be different and say something useful about the world. Maybe I’d put together a card game using the glyphs. Maybe the game would correspond to a game played by wizards. 
I talked the idea over with Lee Moyer. Mr. Value-Added, I call him. Once Lee began experimenting with the glyphs, he suggested that we rank the monsters with icons they might be associated with instead of giving the Archmage all the credit. Of course! Each monster or monster type appears on a form of tile, stone, gem or plaque associated with one of the icons. The Diabolist’s tiles are all shaped like the harpy tile, a shape you'll recognize from the icon's illustration. On the Diabolist’s other tiles, instead of a harpy you’ll get a hezrou or dretch or balor. But the Elf Queen’s tiles look nothing like the Diabolist’s tiles, ditto for the High Druid and each of the other icons associated with a few of the monsters.
Lee nailed this project. We’ll share more monster tiles soon!

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