Tuesday, February 22, 2011

AD&D - that Look!

For the most part, I can let the pictures here do the talking. Out of all the editions or variations of the game, AD&D seems, in my opinion at least, to have the most iconic art and feel of them all. When I think of D&D in terms of visuals, nothing comes to mind as quickly as the art of these books and modules, as well as the layout, font, and other elements. As much as an artist like Alan Lee can be said to have captured the essence of the Lord of the Rings, so too did Trampier, Sutherland, and Otus capture the essence of D&D. Environments are dark and forbidding. The characters depicted are thin, dirty, and leering, a far cry from the more commercial "heroic" depictions of later editions. No giant swords and spiky armor here, the weapons depicted are realistic, and all the more dangerous looking for it. Dragons are snaky and clever-looking, a far cry from the winged brontosauruses of later editions.

I may be making a completely wrong assumption here, but the art of 1E feels like it was created by artists who actually played the game and presented those experiences and atmosphere in paint and pencil, as opposed to artists who received strict "art direction" motivated by marketing and commercialized ideas of what fantasy is supposedly all about. Every so often, new product comes out that deliberately emulates that original style of art and layout, and there will inevitably be a few voices criticizing them as derivative and unoriginal. But to me, this is what "D&D looks like". I don't want my D&D to look like Warhammer, or Cyberpunk, or the Belgariad, or so on. My D&D is gritty, dark, greedy, weird, and scabrous. The oldest 1E pieces present that in artistic form better than anything else. Matter of fact, I think that very first image up there, the Trampier piece with the treasure chest, pretty much sums everything up nicely.


  1. Tramp's bugbear pic is the essence of old school.

    "What is this plot immunity you speak of puny human?"
    *axe in the face*

  2. Yes, you picked some wonderful images here -- my favorites being the Tramp lizardman and the Magic Mouth pic, especially that dwarf waaaay over on the right side.

  3. Like what John Blanche is for Warhammer, this is really all about the Tramp. The others are mere cartoonists in comparison. Though I like Otus, Tramp is the master.

  4. Great pictures! I agree completely with the overall sentiment of your post. For me, 1e AD&D just is Trampier and Otus.

    (As for Tolkien, since I'm an old MERP fan, I'm more partial to the work of Angus McBride, but Alan Lee is great as well.

  5. I really like Otus and Trampier, but I am especially fond of Dave Sutherland. While far from the best technically, he really conveyed the feel of how I thought of the game.

  6. The rare Trampier old module and Dragon pieces (like Trampier's take on Orcus in Dragon #20) are special delights to stumble upon from time to time. I am a big fan of Trampier myself, with Erol Otus a close second and Dave Sutherland right behind them. And Roslof pulling up the rear.

  7. Tramp, Otus, Roslof and Jeff Easley were always my favorites. Sutherlands work never really clicked for me, but I did enjoy Willingham's work and seems to get overlooked or under-appreciated at times. Seriously though Easley and Roslof are just ridiculously skilled pen and ink artists.

  8. Couldn't agree more. As a kid whose first D&D possession was the Mentzer red box (merry christmas!), I'll never forget meeting a fellow D&D player that moved to the neighbourhood who owned all of those AD&D hardbacks. One of the decisive factors in turning my group onto AD&D, apart from wanting to be more sophisticated by using 'Advanced' rules ;) was the artwork. Suddenly D&D had a serious, dark edge which I know really appealed to us teens back then. The pics in the Mentzer boxes looked positively juvenile and contrived in comparison.

    Interesting point about artists that played the game. Perhaps this point to some extent refutes critiques of contemporary old-school illustration as being too derivative, or trying too hard. I think its interesting that many of these contemporary old school artists are avid players, and that to them the old school feel is just the way their imagination has always processed D&D imagery due to their own influences back in the day as gamers. Thoughts anyone?

  9. I love the ribcage, sword and skull, and assorted detritus in the foreground of the first Trampier piece.

    That says it all to me. D&D is a game about tomb-robbers. Nothing heroic or noble here. D&D characters are unsavory and amoral.

    If they end up become famous and beloved, it is purely by accident.

  10. I've been really digging Willingham and (in my opinion an under-appreciated) Jeff Dee in the B/X books lately as well.

    I think there were some posts a few months ago where folks were trying to establish that Otus wasn't (or was, I don't recall which) a solid player of the game back in the day. I seem to recall one version was that he wasn't an avid player, and the point was his vision shaped the D&D aesthetic from the margins, rather than being as a manifestation of it from within. But you'd do best by checking up on those sources.



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