Interview in Level Up Magazine

This issue came out back in the summer, but as far as I know it has only been sold in gaming stores, so I can imagine a lot of people missed it.

Scans of the original print format are below, and a text version is below them if they are too hard to read for you. (click on the small versions a couple of times until something comes up that is large enough to read)

D20 Questions: Doug Kovacs

D20 Questions is a recurring feature in Level Up where we interview people of interest to those of us who roll 20-sided dice. This could be writers, designers, game masters, artists, or all of the above.

In this issue, we speak with Doug Kovacs. Doug is a longtime fantasy artist and illustrator who has worked for Wizards of the Coast, AEG, Slugfest Games, and Troll Lord Games, among others. He has also done a mountain of work for Goodman Games, and is in many ways the artistic faces of our 4E adventures, supplements, and monster books.

Doug’s has worked on many recent Goodman Games 4E projects, and his art can be seen throughout products such as Hero’s Handbook: Dragonborn, Blackdirge’s Dungeon Denizens, In Search of Adventure, and nearly every Dungeon Crawl Classic module published for 4E.

Level Up: How did you get started working with Goodman Games?

Doug Kovacs:

I talked to Joe Goodman a few times at various Gen Cons to start. It was the fairly standard drill of going around to potential clients with some promotional material and letting them know who I was. I recall running into him in the security line in LAX after what I think was the first Gen Con in Anahiem. At that point I don’t think he had relocated to Chicago. Coincidentally the first time Joe contacted me specifically to do work on the “Complete Guide to Fey” we realized that he lived ridiculously close to me, in Chicago, about a block away. We have subsequently gamed together, many times.

LU: Which fantasy artists have inspired you? What about RPG illustrators?

DK: Frazetta, Arthur Rackham, and Alan Lee to name a few. I used to be transfixed by Jeff Easley paintings at Gen Con back when it was in Milwaukee. More recent inspirations are many. When you sit in an artist’s booth at Gen Con and look in virtually any direction if you aren’t completely intimidated, you are inspired.

LU: The work you did on Hero’s Handbook: Dragonborn was really great. What was it like working on that book?


There was a little back and forth about what the tiamat would look like. It was suggested that she be nontraditional, so I took that, and ran with it in the sketches. It was later decided however that I took too much of a surreal chaos god angle. The full-page illustration in the book of the dragonborn  paladin was loosely based on the paladin in hell illustration from the first edition DMG.

LU: I know you contributed to the 4E Monster Manual. What were your contributions to that book?

I worked on the Golems; Flesh and Stone, the Iron Cobra, the Edilion and the Clay Scout Homunculus. I also worked on some concepts for monsters prior to that. I just got my sample of the Ogre Pulverize and the Ogre Warhulk miniatures in the mail from WotC. They are pretty impressive for pieces of plastic.

LU: In every edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the art and illustration has been vital in setting the tone and theme of that edition. How then, in your opinion, does 4E art differ from 3E art?


To start, I would say there has been a lot of highly competent art in both additions, and it is difficult to generalize. Any general opinion of the overall art can likely be amended by comparing specific artists work, or even specific books. That said, 4E art seems to have bent in the high fantasy direction. It appeared 3E had already been heading that way even before 4E was launched. Various other online popular fantasy games, which it would be hard to have not heard of at this point, obviously pushed the overall fantasy art climate that way as well. I think it can also be said that 3E had a wider range of styles in its original form, particularly in the core books. Nods to process appear rarer in 4E.

LU: Having worked on some of the 4E core books, do you think that the artistic changes for 4E were inspired by the mechanical changes? In your experience, has it ever been the other way around?


I believe both the art and mechanics where developed simultaneously, though my small part in the process probably doesn’t make me an expert on the topic in anyway.  I personally was given no additional insight into the direction 4E would take mechanically while working on my bit. Though its probably not entirely necessary for an artist to play D&D to create the images, for me personally, I think I might have understood the direction the visuals were taking better if I would have understood the changes that had been made in the game. For instance, the focus on contest, or combat over other aspects of the game could explain something like the current incarnation of the Dryad.

LU: You’ve been a fantasy illustrator for a long time now, and you have a large list of credits. What were some of your favorite assignment, and why?


One of the first serious jobs I had was work for the original Middle Earth CCG back before the films when ICE had the license. I was so ecstatic to be working on images of Moria, Golem, Minas Morgol and the like I somehow made myself sick for a couple of days before I could start. More recently, the concept work I did on the late Dreamblade miniatures game was really cool. I really enjoyed the bizarre surreal element.  Each art order was a nice surprise; they could include anything from a Victorian woman with the head of a fly, to a demonic steamroller, or an anthropmorphic windmill.

LU: What subjects do you enjoy illustrating the most? Are you a monster guy, or a hot elven chick in leather armor guy?


I really can’t deny I’m one of the many male artists that loves to draw women. Anatomy, male or female, is infinitely interesting because there is always something new to learn. At the moment I’ve got a bunch of pieces featuring my personal version of faeries in progress, which are essential a surreal combination of women and plants.  Monsters are fun probably because it is much easier to draw something that is “ugly”.  Oddly, some of the things that require a more workmen like mindset, I’m thinking particularly of architecture at the moment, please me more when the images are complete than the actual process of working on them.  I’m not sure what kind of a guy that makes me…. a façade and portico guy or a tiny lady with tail made out of vines and a gourd for a head guy?

LU: What gets the creative juices flowing for you? Do you listen to music while you draw or paint?


Believe it or not, I currently have a music schedule I generated randomly. Sunday: country Mon: alternative Tues: Metal Wed: Classic Rock Thurs: Classical, Friday Blues, and Sat: Punk. I don’t really take it all that seriously though.

LU: Having talked to you at length at DDXP, I know you’ve been playing D&D a long time, and I know that you’ve been the DM for some pretty crazy groups in Chicago. Care to give the readers a taste of some of the infamous Kovacs D&D groups? You can change the names to protect the innocent, if you like.

DK: Haha. Your referring to the 2nd Edition Greyhawk campaign I ran through my late teens and early twenties. Looking back, its obvious that our gaming group wasn’t of the typical variety of immature, but at the time it didn’t occur to me. You had to be comfortable with a certain level of substance abuse during the game, a lot of profanity and a lot of ball busting.  My players would have been more appropriately labeled miscreants, punks, and metal heads, than nerds. Some real lives were a bit Fafhrd and Mouser, and occasionally some of that intruded on the game. Though most of the time we all got along, I recall one time being threatened with physical force to reverse a call I had made that a player’s hand had been severed by a trap. The rest of the players we forced to rally to my support the DM’s authority.

LU: Do you ever produce art specifically for your D&D game? You know, character portraits, that kind of thing.

DK: When I do find time to play these days, it’s almost inevitable.  I’ve drawn POV landscapes on the dry erase board, provided sketches of alien archana, and numerous NPC portraits. I think most good DMs have a visual mind, but I might take it a step further.

LU: What are you working on now?  DCC # 64 “codex of the Damned”, sci-fi- horror hybrid expansion for the Battlestations game by Gorilla Games, and a couple of others RPG books on the Illustration front.  I’ve got a number of new faerie/greenmen works progressing on the personal art front.


LU: Where can our readers see more art by Doug Kovacs?

DK: You can visit, and I’ll be at Gen Con 09 with originals.

About dk

Doug Kovacs is an Artist and Illustrator who lives in Chicago
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Interview in Level Up Magazine

  1. pha says:

    I heard that there was some legend about a critical fumble die in your group and you once got your head bashed in by a refrigerator trying to gain control of it. Is that true?

  2. facade says:

    errrr…. maybe

  3. dk says:

    I’m thinking about posting a link to the demonbabies blog (my current D&D game) but it might reveal to the public that Doug Kovacs Artist/Illustrator might be the same guy who has been beat up by his brother and most of his friends. Mind you Doug Kovacs Artist/Illustrator is a little crappy guy, so going to battle with giant fucking toglodyate bullies is commendable and very brave.

  4. pha says:

    And we don’t just beat him up physically either. We emotionally abuse him every chance we get.

Leave a Reply