Kids RPG Journal – #50 Monster Progress: Skogsra

When coming up with a new monster for the game, I can start from any number of places, but after that, I seem to have an actual process.

skogsra process in Clip Studio Paint

Starting with the idea

The Skogsra has not been on my radar hardly at all. Just one of the many Teutonic themed monsters in my notes patiently waiting for my imagination to get a hold of them. I have a couple of forest adventures planned ahead for the party, but none of them really involved this type of creature. I had some thoughts of impish river spirits and a mini quest with a completely made up monster, the iron-toothed grubkin.

The skogsra came to my attention only when I arbitrarily chose a more fantastic description for Snarl Wort, a dangerous herb the party will need to collect:

This thorny root is a rare plant found only where a skogsra, a dangerous forest spirit, has made her bed. It has a sweet spicy flavor and is said to protect from fae curses. Beware the uncooked thorns, however, for their prick can cause one to fall into a deep slumber.

That was it. Just a throw-away line to make the origin of the plant more interesting. But that was more than enough to plant the seed.

Research the folklore

A few days later, I gathered a number of my books to see what I could find on the skogsra. She is a forest spirit with a fox tail and a back like a hollow rotten tree. She likes to play tricks on men, getting them lost in the woods, ruining their hunting, stealing their cattle, and sending them erotic dreams. She’ll also try to seduce men and keep their souls forever.

There are themes on her having a siren-like voice and crazy herbalism knowledge. One particularly interesting method for dealing with the skogsra is to slyly ask advice on how to get rid of a problem nearly identical to the one the hero has with her, but pretend it is about their cattle or another foe, and she will tell exactly what is needed to banish her or break her charms. Additionally, there is a very similar wight called the skogsfru, who generally has the same goals but can turn into an owl and likes to drink and dance around the fire.

There are some pretty typical cures for the skogsra also: turning clothes inside out, saying a prayer, throwing steel over them. Not sure how many of those I’ll use, but want to keep them in mind.

Pick a monster type

While there are a few ideas swirling around in my head about what I want to do, I need to figure out how the skogsra will fit in with my monster taxonomy. I pretty much have the type as a wyrm. They don’t fit in with the warg type, as they’re not violent or uncontrollably lusty. They do have some imp characteristics, but the tricks don’t seem to be an end-goal. Walkers, ghosts, and thralls don’t really fit at all. The wyrm type have a corrosive relationship with the living, often driven by jealousy.

Since the skogsra is beautiful from the front, and she can sing like a siren, I decided to make her into a lurker sub-type

Start drawing and doodling

skogsra, a fox-tailed and hollow-backed lurker waiting to dance your soul off

In an ideal situation, this would come last, after I gathered all the information about the monster and their moves and precautions, so I’d know what little details to add to make the illustration better, but I get so much more out of drawing at this stage. As a highly visual learner, I think more creatively when I have a visual to work with. I could try to find what other artists have done, yet I’m already kind of solidifying in my head what I want and it’s hard to nail down those specifics. So, I try to the best of my ability to get the monster down the way I’m currently feeling about it.

Add imagination stew

Now that I have read the actual legends, chosen a type and sub-type, and have a drawing of it, I let my imagination run for a day or two and think of cool, custom moves or precautions based on the general story I get from my readings. This is the fun part.

For the skogsra, I immediately wanted to remove the sexual nature from the game version. I decided to keep the flirting and some alluring powers, but got rid of sex as a goal. She wants the boys and their souls, but I decided she wants them for dancing. It’s a pretty typical folklore thing where fae make people dance forever, or at least until they die. She gets to feed off their life while dancing with them. She is jealous of the love that humans have for one another, and thinks this is the way to get it, for she cannot show her true nature where she is rotten inside and incapable of actual love.

skogsra hollow back details

Since wyrms are based off of unused creative potential and they despise those who actually use their creative talents, I figured that her beautiful singing voice was also a glamour. So, through galdr, she can make her voice sound beautiful and that compels her victims to dance, but if the spell is broken for any reason, the human hears only the terrible screeching of owls.

If I were to put this into custom moves, I’d say Galdr Song, Exhausting Dance, Forest Prank, Owl Form, and Spout Herbal Knowledge. Precautions would be tricking her into giving the solution, somehow breaking the illusion (like getting a glimpse of her backside), wax earplugs, offering her iron or steel, etc.

This is the stage I’m on now, and over the next couple of days, I’ll be coming up with descriptors and trying to figure out what makes the most of her story and how the party would be able to deal with her.

Kids RPG Journal – #49 Monster Color Process

I haven’t had much opportunity to work on making new art for the kids game recently, but I wanted to get some monsters onto the Harrowlands site, so I decided to finally color in some of last year’s Inktober beasties. I didn’t get real far with Inktober because the day job started melting down and I was working way too many hours to participate.

Not all was bad, however, because the work burnout made me stumble upon the specifics of doing the Kids RPG Journal and slowly making the Harrowlands game for the boys. I likely wouldn’t have gone down this particular path if I had more time and was not dissatisfied back then.

I’ve taken to paying just a little more attention to how I’m coloring in my monsters and other game resources recently, as some of the previous items were coming out a bit muddy. I think it was a combination of the muted palette and the Drippy Deek brushes which are a little bit darker and less chromatic than some other brushes.

One thing I had not been doing, but started up again, was putting a background color under my artwork. Working on top of white is fine, particularly in the watercolor painter mindset, which is how I approach my work on the game, but painting over a base color gives it some much needed pop without going back to the more outlandish color palettes I was using before.

hungry dead monsters from Inktober, colored in with an older brighter palette

I found I had already colored in a couple of them with the previous palette and was working on a third, but I just was not feeling it. I went back and started over again and can say I’m pretty happy with the results.

monster ghoul with just the base color

For the ghoul, I started with a lighter yellow background color which tied the colors in nicely and I felt I could do a little bit more with the wash brushes.

Final colored version of the ghoul

The end result came up much better than what I was going with on the first try.

vampyr with just base color

For the vampyr, I chose a muted blue green to accentuate the undead nature. It gives a nice base, particularly under the skin tones that makes the “otherness” really come through.

vampyr in full color

All in all, I’ll probably go back and color in all of the previous Inktober pieces. For now,

Kids RPG Journal – #45 Depression and Delays

Typically, I wouldn’t talk about a highly personal subject like depression, but since it is something I’ve been dealing with and has affected the work I’m doing on the game, it seemed appropriate to put into the journal. I want to include the problems along with the successes here as I make my way through the creative process.

For those who suffer from depression, the symptoms and effects can vary wildly. It took me the longest time to understand that I dealt with depression and not simply being lazy when I could not bring myself to do work, or even get out of bed. Even doing little things was overwhelming. Blaming myself would drive me into a deeper spiral that seemed impossible to get out of.

Since recognizing the symptoms as depression, I can remain somewhat functional when I am down. The last few years, I have found a number of ways to minimize the effects when depression hits and the bouts are fewer and farther between. 

Recently, I fell into a depression that I could not seem to shake off. Doing anything creative was a huge struggle and all I wanted to do was sit around and watch Netflix. Being there for the kids was never an issue, but all of my remaining energy went to surviving the day job and getting the bare minimum done, meaning that there wasn’t anything left to work on the Harrowlands game and the kids RPG journal. I did a couple of drawings, but couldn’t get anything more than that out. Illness and constant rain didn’t help much.

Two methods I typically use to “snap” out of my overwhelm – music therapy (curated playlists that make me feel things other than helplessness) and deep-dives into folklore research (inspires me and gets me excited to create again) – did little to help me this time.

I tried to find anything that would help me get some wins even though I wasn’t able to focus creatively. Everything I wanted to do involved too much work. My process for making the monster and character sheets was difficult to layout and would require modifications every single time I wanted to make something. So I switched gears and instead of trying to make content for the Harrowlands game, I focused on more technical methods I could make my processes easier.

I wanted to create a knowledge-base website for the game, but wasn’t planning on doing it until I had a sizable amount of content. For over a decade, I’ve worked in web development and system architecture. Doing the planning for this didn’t seem scary for me, so I started dabbing my toe into designing the structure.

First came the database and all the tables I’d want to make. Then I got all the server work done on Google Cloud. My momentum started to pick up and instead of mindlessly consuming media, I found myself opting to work a little more on the site.

Changing directions worked.

I built character pages online and started doing a little bit of writing to populate them. I am creating once more. I still have a ways to go before I’m back into a regular flow, but I’m getting there and the game is moving forward.

Remember to go easy on yourself and keep doing your best, even if your best at the time seems to be incredibly small.

Kids RPG Journal – #44 Exploring Publisher

For a number of reasons, I haven’t been able to work on the Harrowlands game much over the last week or so and I feel like I’m falling behind a bit. We have a game scheduled for this Saturday and I won’t have a whole lot of extra prep done. One thing I have been working on is designing the sheets for the NPCs (non-player characters). These are primarily focused on how to role-play and not on combat, but I’ll go over that in a later post.

While I would normally have made the NPC sheets using Clip Studio Paint, I wanted to make them so I could more easily swap out text and assets. Instead, I took the time to wrap my head around the Affinity Publisher beta, which I hope will take the place of InDesign for any publishing needs.

I’ve been using InDesign since the PageMaker days, and it is the last Adobe product I still use on my personal computer.

Last night, I was toying around with how to get text to wrap around an image in Publisher. I wanted to be able to place a small image next to a quote the NPC would give about it, but wanted it to wrap fairly tightly around to be mindful of page space.

First, I created a block of text with the Frame Text Tool. To have an image the size I wanted, I used the Image Frame Tool to get the size and then populated it with the Place Image Tool. It took me a little toying around to figure out how to adjust the image size and placement within the frame. The method I ended up preferring was to select the image within the frame from the Layers panel and then using the Move tool to adjust it.

Affinity Publisher: selecting the image in the Layers panel.

I had my image on top of the text, but it was falling behind the image in the frame. I tried adjusting the frame shape on the text, but that wasn’t giving me the results I wanted, so then I switched over to the image and found the Show Text Wrap Settings at the top of the screen.

Affinity Publisher: text falling behind the image

I set the Wrap Style to tight and adjusted the Distance From Text boxes until I had the look I wanted.

Affinity Publisher: text wrap settings panel

Now the text wraps nicely automatically and when I swap out the image or text for other NPCs, I won’t have to do any additional adjustments.

Affinity Publisher: text now wrapping around the images

Kids RPG Journal – #39 Episode 2 Image

Last Saturday, we ran an hour-long session and completed our first quest, “Flight from the Bumblebees”. It was lots of fun and pretty wild, with lots of flailing of arms and sound-effects. I think there were a lot of learnings I took away from this one, which is pretty cool.

After 30 years of DMing, I am still learning with practically every session.

I have a lot of work to get the audio ready for consumption, as there are a lot of instances of us saying the kids’ names that I want to trim out. I’m also tempted to splice some audio in because there were a number of points where I couldn’t remember basic words like “reigns” and “wick”, so I simply flap my arms and call them “thing”.

Anyways, the audio is coming sometime this week, but I wanted to get a session recap illustration in. This one was a lot of fun and I knew what I wanted to draw right away. Each of the characters had at least one moment where they failed miserably at their task, and these were the moments everyone at the table loved the most.

second session overview initial noodle sketches.

First, I did a couple of really scribbly sketches to see how I wanted to lay it out. I don’t really thumbnail my artwork, instead I like draw noodles all over the page until one of them starts to look like something I think I can be happy with. Here, I didn’t do enough sketches of Thule accidentally throwing the bells out into the field and had to rework it a number of times on the tablet.

second session overview sketch with rough horses

Since I don’t really know what horses look like, I just put blob-like shapes with legs and then googled some illustrated horses while I was doing the “red pencil” sketching. I use the red pencil in Clip Studio just as I use red leaded pencils in my sketchbook: where I try to transition from scribbles to cleaner lines.

second session overview inks

Next comes the inking stage. Once I’m done inking I like to lay down some white flat colors behind the foreground shapes, and use that layer like a mask for coloring the illustration.

second session overview final image.

I am enjoying the refined color palette quite a bit and I don’t feel it’s too restrictive at all. We’ll see what I choose to do when I have something like magical effects, and see if I can be creative with the colors then.

I had a great time drawing Iona, Bursten, and Thule in their finest moments from the weekend. Even an unconscious Plunk, a bag full of bees, and two horse-ish creatures were lots of fun to quickly bust out, before I have to move on to the next upcoming session.

Kids RPG Journal – #26 Installing Fonts

In an effort to improve my workflow for the kids’ RPG project, I needed to add some fonts to my iPad so I could access them in Clip Studio Paint, instead of having to overlay text off of my desktop after exporting jpegs. Since I couldn’t remember exactly how I’d done this in the past, I decided to track my steps here in the journal.

For this, I need two programs: Dropbox (both on the desktop and laptop to sync files), and All Fonts on the iPad.

Copy font files to Dropbox

First, you will need to sync up a folder on Dropbox between your desktop and iPad. This is incredibly useful for nearly everything and is the only way to make file management halfway usable on iOS (but that is for another blog post).

I have the fonts already installed on my Mac, so I opened Font Book and right-clicked on the font I wanted and selected Show in Finder.

select Show in Finder within Font Book


This shows me the folder the font is stored and makes it easy for me to copy and paste into my Dropbox sync folder.

folder location of fonts for copying to Dropbox


Once the files are copied over, they are automagically synced on your devices, so I switched over to the iPad.

Transfer fonts to iPad using All Fonts

All Fonts application for iPad


All Fonts makes the transferring of fonts super easy once they are in your Dropbox.

All Fonts transfer fonts view


Open the app and click on the little cloud download icon in the upper right corner and select Browse.

All Fonts transfer view - select browse


Make your way to the Dropbox sync folder and find the font you want to transfer.

go to Dropbox sync folder to locate fonts


Click on it and it will give you a popup saying it is imported. After a minute or so, the font should show up in your Transferred Fonts view.

All Fonts: transferred fonts view

Install transferred fonts

Once you see it on the screen, click on the font and it will show you a font preview.

All Fonts: font preview


Click the Install Font button at the bottom. Follow the instructions on the dialogs. If the profile is not signed, you may need to confirm you want to install the font a few times before it shows up. Repeat the process for all fonts you want to add.

Check font is in Clip Studio Paint

If I already have Clip Studio Paint open, I find that I have to restart my iPad in order to get the new fonts to show up in the text tool.

Clip Studio Paint on iPad - text tool property to locate your new fonts


After that, you can organize your fonts by creating custom lists and they will be available for all applications.

Kids RPG Journal – #17 Character Portrait Colors

I spent the weekend with the boys and had to switch gears from the Lore and Notes cards to work on something that they could watch me work on, so instead of spoilery adventure bits, I decided to color their character portraits: Thule Bonecrusher and Bursten Claw-jaw

Once again, I used Clip Studio Paint for my artwork. I wanted a pretty loose watercolor style, so I did not do any sort of color flats, but instead filled things in by hand, not worrying too much about the getting the color consistently up against the line art.

Bursten Claw-jaw color detail in Clip Studio Paint

I used the Drippy Deek brush from the Frenden brush pack, which has a great watery texture and a cool edge to the stroke that has extra pigment, or whatever the digital equivalent is. I typical do 2 to 3 passes to get the effect I want. I work on multiple layers so I can be overlap the linework and then go back with the transparency brush with a sharper Frenden brush to erase any errant edges.

Clip Studio Paint transparancy brush

And here are the boys’ characters:

Thule Bonecrusher, the Thunder Priest class raised by barbarians in the frozen Northlands.

Thule Bonecrusher character portrait colors

Bursten Claw-jaw, the Wolf Feral who discovered a mystical wolf pelt in the Dark Woods and has been imbued with the spirit of a wolf ever since.

Bursten Claw-jaw character portrait colors