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RPG cover art through the ages

When you buy as many secondhand* roleplaying game supplements as I do, you start to notice trends. One trend in particular is difficult to ignore: in the old days, D&D artwork was crap.

The very first D&D set had pretty basic art, but managed to come away looking quite classy:

Where things start to go wrong is when colour artwork starts to come in on the front covers of modules. How about the classic 'White Plume Mountain'?

Or the famous 'Tomb of Horrors'?

The 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks weren't that much better...

(Incidentally, andrewducker, you maybe interested to know - if you didn't already - that the monster in that picture was created by someone on your LJ friends list.)

But then, as the game became more and more popular, someone at TSR realised that better quality artwork would help to shift stock from the shelves of all those games shops suddenly springing up all over the place. So first, they reissued most of the rulebooks (not sadly the Fiend Folio). Compare the artwork for 'Deities & Demigods'...

with that of its replacement 'Legends & Lore'**:

What had happened is that TSR managed to secure the services (as staff) of some genuinely decent fantasy artists. Artists like Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, Clyde Caldwell and Keith Parkinson.

These artists' work featured heavily in the supplements produced for TSR's two major fantasy settings at this time - Dragonlance and the Forgotten Realms.

I always liked the cover of the original Forgotten Realms Campaign Set:

This era (and we're now into the 1990s and 2nd Edition AD&D) pretty much featured high quality art on every product. Here are some more good ones...

The Savage Frontier

Lords of Darkness

When 3rd Edition came around, Wizards of the Coast (who had by then bought out TSR) decided to do something interesting with the main rulebooks and make them look like ancient books:

4th edition went back to character images, and in my opinion, less talented artists:

* It would be a stretch to call some of them 'classic'.
** TSR needed to reissue 'Deities & Demigods' for two reasons. First, they were trying to placate the christians who were already complaining about the existence of devils in the game, and it was thought that changing the name would make it clear that these weren't 'real' deities. Second, Chaosium had acquired the rights to make roleplaying games based on the works of H.P.Lovecraft and Michael Moorcock and Deities & Demigods (in its earliest printings) featured the likes of Cthulhu and Elric.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 11th, 2011 12:26 am (UTC)
Of course original Traveller featured almost no artwork.
Sep. 11th, 2011 12:27 am (UTC)
Although by the end of the Classic Traveller period, GDW, like TSR had got hold of some decent artists. See this userpic, from the cover of Alien Module 7: Hivers.
Sep. 11th, 2011 12:32 am (UTC)
MegaTraveller art was somewhat inconsistent. Traveller: The New Era generally had reasonable cover art and very good interior art.

T4 had terrible interior art, and fancy colour covers by none other than Chris Foss, perhaps the most famous illustrator of 70s SF paperbacks and sex manuals. Unfortunately, these didn't really capture the gritty, practical feel of Traveller spaceships.

It's interesting that the latest edition of Traveller, Mongoose Traveller, has gone mostly gone back to the iconic black books with a coloured line. Good move.
Sep. 11th, 2011 07:23 am (UTC)
Mongoose Traveller? This name pleases me. :-D
Sep. 11th, 2011 11:34 am (UTC)
Mongoose is the name of the firm which now holds the main license to produce Traveller. It's based in Swindon.
Sep. 11th, 2011 10:44 am (UTC)
I liked the DGP artwork and found their material to be very good overall.

Edited at 2011-09-11 10:47 am (UTC)
Sep. 11th, 2011 11:37 am (UTC)
Yes definitely. DGP produced better stuff for MegaTraveller than GDW itself.

Nice Arrival Vengeance userpic by the way. Can't beat dem Azhanti High Lightning class frontier cruisers. One of my more recent Traveller campaigns was a T:TNE 1248 setting featuring two of the things. One brought out of mothballs post-Virus and the other barely functioning.
Sep. 11th, 2011 12:10 pm (UTC)
It's a shame that they were blocked from writing more materials when TNE came along. I never much liked TNE, although some of the 1248 material seems quite interesting, and I particularly like what happened to the Darrians and Sword Worlds in 1248.

The AHL cruiser is indeed excellent, but this userpic shows my favourite Traveller ship of all time. Although I am forced to be a collector rather than a gamer, on those few occasions I have run a campaign my players always get to see it if they're in the Marches.
Sep. 11th, 2011 03:25 pm (UTC)
Annic Nova!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )