Traveller: New Era “Path of Tears”

One of the last projects I did for Game Designers’ Workshop was the cover for the Traveller: New Era supplement Path of Tears…and like just about every work of art I’ve created there are stories involved in the making of the painting. For example, I’m sharing both the finished art (left image) and the preliminary comprehensive sketch (center image) that had to be approved before I started work – but I’m also sharing my first concept for the cover (right image) that was rejected as not having enough action.

…and then there are the figures themselves.

When the cover was published I took some good-natured ribbing from friends for hubris I was showing by using myself as a model for the central character…except this was painted in 1993 and by that time my sons were teen-agers and accomplished models, so it was my older son Conrad that served as the model for the central character. He just happened to have developed the Deitrick “look” by that time.

You may also notice that the group was a bit more diverse than was expected for a gaming supplement in 1993. GDW was always good about that sort of thing, especially it wasn’t an effort at political correctness on my part but rather my own inherent “there’s room for everyone” mindset that made the original Trek series a favorite when I was in my early teens.


Why I Write (Part Three)

“We’re not your classic heroes. We’re not the favorites.  We’re the other guys – the ones nobody bets on!”

The quote above is a line from the 1999 superhero comedy Mystery Men, a film which tells the story of the Shoveller, Mr. Furious and other lesser superheroes with unimpressive powers who are called on to save the day. It also happens to be one of my favorite films that I rank above other metahuman fare such as Tim Burton’s 1989 version of Batman and Paramount’s 2011 action flick Captain America: The First Avenger. I prefer Mystery Men because I can more readily relate to the everyday nature of the group, because it’s everyday people that I am interested in.

In my life I’ve seen a noticeable change in the quality of life and social mobility which has morphed our society into a very uncomfortable pyramid where the people at the top made a LOT more than the people at the bottom – or even the middle. I’ve heard countless debates over how that situation came about, but at the end of the day I’m pulling for the little guys; the people that do the actual work. It’s because of that preference that (in the words of my fellow paratrooper John Taylor) “I speak to the common man”. I’d much rather read about a lineman than a quarterback, a sergeant instead of a general and a paramedic over a surgeon.

I think there’s something special about stories from everyone’s life and that the “special” has as much to do with the way the story as the story itself. Midnight Son is basically a collection of vignettes from the life of a lonely boy coping with the vagaries of childhood set against changing locales and living conditions – it’s only through the addition of pacing, description, and a sense of both humor and drama that changes “What I Did at Summer Camp” to “Billy and the Bear”. It is my hope that as you read my stories you’ll think about your own experiences in the same way.

Mayday Cover Art


I produced this illustration in and around the kiddie Traveller box art, with both projects getting sent to press just prior to my deployment via C-130 for JRX BRIM FROST 1983. I was glad to have the work but more than a little stressed as I was responsible for both getting the battalion ready to go as well as the running the airfield control group for the entire exercise once we got to the area of operations.

I also wondered why GDW was opting for a second cover so soon after the first printing. Say what you want about style but the original cover art by Rodger MacGowan is definitely an iconic piece in the Traveller mythos.

I have no idea where the original art ended up but I do remember it as measuring about 18″X24″ and was rendered with airbrush, colored pencil, marker and marbilized enamel on cold-press illustration board.


2018-05-01 Vargyr

The  rich variety in alien races populating Marc Miller’s Traveller science fiction role-playing game is a major factor in its popularity for the last thirty years. I was lucky enough to illustrate a series of booklets detailing each one of the major alien races – the only down-side being that it happened early in my career so the quality was inconsistent. Unfortunately it was the Vargyr cover in that series that didn’t work out very well.

On the surface that makes no sense as I am very much a “dog” person so you’d assume I’d do an A-1  job envisioning a canine race, however  I was involved in some very intense training with the National Guard at the same time and something had to give.,,,but the cover  was so bad that I  wasn’t able to look my Samoyed,  Sasha in the eye when the printed version hit the stores.  Since that time I’ve made sure to come up with better-than-average renderings when  Vargyr are in the manuscript.

This image will be used in the slowly percolating Traveller “Man At Arms” project.

Zhodani Soldier

2018-04-02 Zhodani Soldier

This is actually a rejected drawing for Marc Miller’s  project that I mentioned in my last post – the pose is a little too loose to be cut & copied into a large unit of soldiers. However, I liked the pose and initial sketch enough to take it into a polished pen & ink in an 11″X17″ format that could be included in a later project.

It’s always a challenge to envision the future because it’s coming at us so quickly.  It’s  easy to be quickly overcome by progress – if you look at episodes of the 1995 SF series “Space: Above & Beyond” you can see how  close the ground combat uniforms resemble current infantry equipment. It’s also difficult to come up with something for an alien race like Traveller’s psionic Zhodani without resorting to the wildly organic motif and goo so popular in entertainment today.

…then there’s the requirement  to  conform to pre-existing designs which limits me to minor detail changes. Since I am a firm believer in the dictum “form follows function”  I rarely end up with the excessively detailed baroque exteriors that also seem to be the style.

One more thing – some of the elements in this suit’s design I borrowed from Bryan Gibson, a friend and incredibly talented artist who passed away a couple of years ago. I miss him so I included those features as a mini-memorial.

Off-World Dragoon

2018-04-01 MillerDragoonNo, that isn’t a typo – I meant to “dragoon” instead of “dragon”.

Dragoon is a dated term for a mounted infantryman – a soldier who rides to battle but dismounts to fight. During the 19th century  the term was slowly changed to refer to any kind of horse-bound solider, a trend that was spurred* on by economy. Per man true cavalrymen cost the Crown more so by calling them dragoons the Horse Guards could get away with paying a lower rate to regimental commanders.

All of which comes perilously close to the wilderness of Non Sequitur…

One of my on-going projects is a group of generic troop figures  Marc Miller is going to be using in an up-coming project – and by definition they are not too terribly exciting so I render them on 8 1/2″ X 11″ paper. Every now and then I luck into something that a) is a little more interesting and b) usable for a book project of my own. I produce those images  in a larger (11″X17″) more detail-friendly format.  That was the case with this drawing.

Drawn with Pigma Micron felt-tip pens of varying weights. I usually come back in with Prismacolor markers but it’s nice sometime to see just the line work  for the same reason I like dimensional work in one color: it lets me soak in the detail.

  • yes, I know. Terrible, terrible pun.

1970: Who’s Watching Who?

Kenai Central High School had a long tradition of supplying a pep bus for major athletic events when I was a student there years ago. The bus trips were rarely if ever overnight excursions – when I was a freshman stories were still floating around about the totally out-of-control sex and alcohol that had caused such extended trips to be banned. We were a much quieter bunch than our predecessors – a competition to amass the largest chewing gum wad was the limit to our debauchery but nevertheless all our jaunts to Anchorage were Cinderella affairs and we were always back home by midnight.

The stated mission of each pep bus was to supply supportive voices to cheer on our teams, but the fact that we also got to miss a day of school with the district’s blessing helped to build student participation as well.  I personally was glad any time I got to Anchorage, if nothing else but to see how the city had changed since we moved away in 1964. On this occasion our mission was to cheer for our wrestlers competing in the state tournament –  and while we hoped to provide as much moral support as possible I was much more interested in the young lady sitting next to me on the bus than I was cheering for someone in red leotards getting his face rubbed off out on the mat.

She was a freshman named Cindy, and besides being very pretty she stood two very shapely  inches taller than I did. To this day I still cannot remember how we first became friends, but I do remember that we laughed a lot, which helped to compensate a bit for the platonic flavor our relationship had taken on, and which I hoped would change on this bus trip. We sat snuggled up on the miniscule seat, sometimes with my arm around her, other times with her head on my shoulder as she slept – but always under the watchful eye of Mr. Lombard.

Mr. Lombard taught classes at both the high school and at church …and just happened to be good friends with my parents. He was one of the chaperones on this pep bus and took notice of my presence and proximity to Cindy from the moment the trip started.  That might not seem much of a problem, but you must remember the medieval rules for dating that my mom had imposed on all her children –  I had no doubt that any untoward activity with Cindy would have been promptly ratted out to my parents when we got home.

As it was there was very little observing going on once we got to Anchorage as all the adults left the area as soon as the bus was unloaded.  As the only former Anchorage resident in the group I became very popular with other students who wanted to visit malls, stores and landmarks that they’d only seen on the television, so I immediately left for a series of short trips to the Mall at Sears, J.C. Penny’s downtown on Fifth Avenue and the Bun Drive-in further east on Northern Lights Boulevard. It was fun – and kind of an ego-boost but after my third such side trip I was tuckered out and went back to the tournament for a rest, which turned out to be very brief. After cheering through exactly three matches Mr.  Lombard bellowed “Everyone back on board!” and  the chaperones started herding us back to the bus for the long trip home.

…which was a little different than the trip up. When Cindy and I continued our slightly snuggly but platonic arrangement during that return trip I noticed something different about Mr. Lombard – his stern disapproving glare was replaced by a dark, confused almost vulnerable expression and he would quickly break eye contact whenever I happened to glance back. That unexpected change in demeanor did wonders for scaling down my own anxiety level, so Cindy and I were able to curl up comfortably on the seat together and sleep away all but the last half-hour of the trip home. I was still trying to figure out how I was going to avoid any sort of parent/Lombard drama upon arrival back at the school, but fortunately I was dropped off on the highway, my home less than a quarter-mile down Scout Lake Loop. I put on my best disappointed-look for Cindy and grumbled about leaving early but getting dropped off  “on the way” guaranteed there would be no chance for interaction between Lombard and my folks.

Other than a few odd looks during church I got through the weekend in good shape, though given the high-strung nature of my family it took real effort to refrain from suspecting the worst.  No indiscretion was too petty to escape retribution and for  to be a week following the trip I’d jump every time my mom so much as cleared her throat… but as far as I know the real story of Snugglegate was never leaked to my parents.

It wasn’t until a rather dramatic revelation at church months later that I learned the real reason for Lombard’s furtive looks.  He had been carrying on an affair with the school’s choir director and the wrestling tournament pep bus had given them a perfect cover for some “afternoon delight”. The dark looks directed at me weren’t because of my behavior – he was worried that I would be ratting him out instead.


The book closed on the Cindy-story a few weeks later as well. I had decided to ask her to the junior prom but was interrupted by my friend Larry who was facing a particularly nerve-wracking task.  He decided he needed me for moral support – what they now call a “wing-man” but  it was only when we got to his personal ground-zero that I realized fate had dealt me another loaded hand:

I was there to back him up as he asked Cindy to the prom.




Reworked Traveller Character

Nothing sells better than nostalgia and I do a brisk trade doing renderings of RPG characters from my “Elvis years” of the 1980s. Most of the time people are looking for reworked BattleTech or  Star Trek figures, but Ged Trias threw me a curve ball and asked for  a marker rendering of Merchant Captain Alexander Jamison who appeared in  1982’s   Traveller Book.

It was an interesting project. On one hand I wanted to stay close to the design philosophy/motif I’d established all those years ago – but at the same time I wanted to reflect my improved thinking and skills. I hold fast to Michelangelo Buonoratti’s  model of professional development ( his last words were ‘I have so much to learn”)

2017-11-01 Jamison Character Design

Digital Drive-by

Does the illustration look familiar? It was one of a half-dozen illustrations I did as covers for the Aliens sourcebooks from Marc Miller’s epic science fiction role-playing game published by Game Designers’ Workshop. I also did covers for the Aslan, K’Kree, Solomani, Droyne and Vargyr volumes, all of which seem to be reproduced in this line of T-shirts.

These totally unlicensed T-shirts I might add.

We’ve moved a half-dozen times in the thirty years since I did this work so I don’t have access to who-agreed-to-what but so far no one of the principals involved in the creation of the work have been contacted/consulted/PAID from Marc Miller on down. I wish I could say that this shocks and surprises me…but it doesn’t. After teaching college  – also for thirty years – I have no illusions about business ethics in some of my students entering the work force.