Categorized | Artists, Game Designers, Interviews

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Interview with Rich Thomas, White Wolf’s Creative Director

Posted on August 1, 2007 by Flames

How did you get your start in the RPG industry?

I answered an ad in Dragon Magazine for an illustrator for a new, little-known periodical called White Wolf Magazine. In a few issues time I was illustrating the covers and art directing the magazine. From that start other publishers like Steve Sechi for his Talislanta game and the gang at Lion Rampant for Ars Magica contacted me after seeing my work in the magazine.

What can you tell us about your work on the World of Darkness games?

Big picture: I’ve been responsible for the look of every World of Darkness product (and every other White Wolf product) since mid-way through the first year of Vampire: the Masquerade. I work with both the in-house crew of art directors and designers and our freelancers to make sure every piece of art, all the graphic design and book layouts are the coolest and most appropriate visuals we can create and put together. I art directed most of the first edition WoD books myself (and a whole lot of third edition VtM) and I’ll still do that on major releases or books that are particularly interesting to me. Small picture: I designed and created just about every symbol used in the WoD, both versions, including the Garou pictograms and the new Mage “Atlantean” alphabet.

Do you have a favorite World of Darkness RPG?

Werewolf: the Apocalypse was my favorite of the old games to work on- on a visual level there’s so much freaky stuff to illustrate- and along the same lines I dug the Dark Ages books. I really enjoy the new core World of Darkness and have had some great fun playing Vampire: the Requiem – but that might have been mostly because Will Hindmarch was running it and he’s a phenomenal GM.

Can you tell us a little about the character you have been playing in Will Hindmarch’s Vampire: the Requiem game?

This is going to sound so cliched, but bear with me for there are reasons. A Daeva of the Invictus modeled on Captain Jack Sparrow. A seemingly drunken, wispy schemer who uses his odd behavior to keep his opponents guessing and to provide a staggering and reeling center for the other PCs to play off of. The reason I went that route- and Will mocked me for it heartily, let me tell you- was that we were playing with some of the top guys from CCP- our new partners- who had little to no experience playing RPGs. And every one of our WW players wound up playing growly, brooding, tough guys. So I wanted to provide a little range to the types of characters and actions that can be played in our games as well as play a character that could mock the other PCs in character. Because they were just so seriously grim. It was a lot of fun!

What has been your most challenging project in the RPG industry?

Each time we did a new game or a new edition, it seemed the most challenging thing at the time. When we did Vampire: the Masquerade 2nd and we had to run shifts of designers (including myself) so it would go out on time, when we decided to do the Rage card game and had never done one before, when we put together the Creature Collection and got all those monsters written and illustrated and got the book to stores before the Monster Manual- those were all tough. Exalted was a challenge because we had to create the visuals for an entire fantasy world- it was the first time we really did serious concept art to that extent. So lots and lots of challenges. Currently, my biggest challenge has been becoming Creative Director for White Wolf (a position that encompasses both my previous art responsibilities and adds in working with the writers and developers as well) and keeping us moving forward during this difficult time for the RPG industry.

What challenges do you face as an artist vs. those you face as an art director?

As an artist, I’m trying to convince my hands to depict the imagery I can see so clearly in my head. A lot of times that’s a real battle, with imagination and ego and will all tied up into it. The technique and medium are all a part of that as well. As an art director, I try to do something quite different, and that’s to hire artists whose style I think will work for the subject matter and then encourage them to depict the imagery I want to see. But I really try not to over-direct, not to pretend that the artist is my hands, and to give them the freedom to create something I’d never think of. That’s the fun part of art directing for me, the collaboration and surprise. And over the years, I’ve gotten the impression that the artists appreciate that.

Can you tell us a little about the creation process you go through when putting together art for a new book?

Depends on the type of book- if it’s a core book or a new setting like Scion, then we have a much more involved process where we have many meetings of the Art Directors and myself (and often just about any interested party at WW) where we hash out things like the overall mood and tone we want to set with the art, as well as design elements like the logo and the cover and the interior elements. Suggestions will be made for artists who can match the mood and the Art Director of the project will start putting together a list of artists to contact. After that the process is pretty much the same for the core and the regular books; the Art Director and the Developer create the art notes and hire the artists- again with an eye to matching the tone of the product and the game line.

When creating art for a horror project where do you get your inspiration?

The men’s room at WW after the dreaded Shinty visits. That’s too horrible for most normal people to even comprehend. Seriously, from visuals all around us- pretty much the list of inspirations we often print in our books comes from what we’ve looked at for art as well as writing.

As the Creative Director for White Wolf, how do you select artists for the various upcoming projects?

As I indicated above, my biggest involvement is going to be suggesting artists to match the mood of the project or vetoing artists on the Art Director’s list that don’t fit into the project as I’ve envisioned it. But that’s pretty rare- we have a very experienced team of Art Directors and we’ve worked together for over a decade in some cases, and they really know how to pick the artists. I tend to be more involved in picking the artists for the covers of major releases. For example, in looking for an artist to illustrate the cover for Monte Cook’s World of Darkness, I wanted an artist who was known for his work in both the WoD and the d20 arenas and who had the ability to do fine work that bridged the sorts of visuals established for both “lines”. There are only a few artists who can do that, and Bill O’Connor was the artist I thought could capture best the look I was going for. It didn’t hurt that we hadn’t worked on a project together for a while and we always have a blast when we do.

Where do you see art in the RPG industry headed? Why?

That’s a pretty strange question really. In terms of technique and subject matter, I don’t see it changing really- maybe a tad more video-game influenced art, but I think that influence extends both ways. Maybe more manga/anime inspired art styles as more and more young artists grow up with exposure to those styles. I do think we’re going to see a lot of the more experienced artists move into other industries as opportunities open up for them.

What’s next for you?

Right now, I’m working on symbols for the new Changeling: the Lost, arranging for new Storytelling Adventure System (SAS) pdf adventures, discussing our new WoD game for 2008, getting ideas together for another Exalted board game after War for the Throne (which is available early summer I think), managing a variety of EVE projects including the RPG, and hiring concept artists for the WoDMMO. I’m hoping to do a fair bit more of that, as it’s a wonderful opportunity brought about by our merger with the Icelandic madmen of CCP. And I’m putting together a plan for a new publishing venture for WW. So just a few things on my plate in the near future really.

Visit White-Wolf.com for the latest news and updates on World of Darkness, Scion, Exalted and other projects Rich Thomas is working on…

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