Artwork has been an integral part of D&D ever since its inception, helping to draw in multiple generations of curious gamers. While I missed the first three editions (3.5 was at its peak when I started gaming) I’ve watched the art shift through 3.5th, 4th and into its current 5th incarnation. The story of D&D can be told through its artwork, which is exactly what Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History sets out to do.
Drawing upon the treasure trove of material available in the Wizards of the Coast archives the authors have created a comprehensive history of the game, told through imagery and accompanied by commentary from the designers and illustrators that helped redefine the game over and over again. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of the book as a Christmas gift and I think my review can be summed up in a single word: gorgeous.
While each chapter spans a distinct era additional features peppered across the book connect the past to the present. Evilution pages take classic monsters and chronicles their progression from the original edition through to their current manifestations, while Deadliest Dungeons dives into some of the iconic dungeons from over the years. The book is peppered with pages such as these and their addition adds a depth that goes beyond a simple chronological history of the game.
I could go on at length about how much I love this book, but I’d rather let this small selection of photos talk for themselves. Having never been a big history buff I’ve gained a lot of insight about the early years of D&D, but ultimately, as a coffee table book it lives and dies by the quality of the artwork. In that category, it’s a Natural 20 and I cannot recommend it enough to anybody invested in the hobby. It’s a book that I suspect is going to be a prominent part of my collection and one that I will go back to time after time, whether it be for inspiration or just to unwind in the evening.
All reviews are rated out of 10, with Natural 20s reserved for products that go above and beyond my expectations. Unless otherwise stated all review products have been purchased through normal retail channels.
If you’ve been following my Demon Hunters or Project Cassandra posts then one thing you might have noticed is a consistent art style for the characters. That’s because the vast majority of the artwork I’ve used to date has come from a single source, James Shields (JEShields). He primarily releases his work on Patreon and drivethruRPG but every so often runs a Kickstarter for larger projects.
His latest is focused on Sci-fi stock art, what makes it unique though is that the final images will be released as a series of mix and match components. Want an alien cantina but with a giant arachnid in place of the bounty hunter? Switch them out and create the new scene. The possible number of combinations is massive, especially if you go all in and pick up each of the five packs (weapons, ships, portraits, characters and scenes) on offer.
If the art itself wasn’t enough then how about bonus backer rewards of games and supplements donated by a range of indie publishers? I won’t go over the full list but suffice to say they really boost the value of the Kickstarter.
The Kickstarter can be found at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jeshields/choose-your-own-sci-fi-stock-art and runs until the early morning of the 15th June (UK time).
One of the areas of Project Cassandra I’ve always been unhappy with is the layout and presentation of the game. While I’ve always liked the typewriter style font I’ve been using the document as a whole has always looked like something thrown together in word, for the obvious reason that it was. Over the last few weeks I’ve been slowly learning how to use Scribus, a desktop publishing program that is available for free. I made the mistake of assuming it would be similar enough to word and dove right into it, trying the layout the entire game all at once. Suffice to say that didn’t really work so my focus of the last few days has been on laying out the character sheets, the initial result of which you can see below.
The new sheet, on the right, is a vast improvement on the old one. It makes much better use of the space, with the individual sections more clearly defined than before. Most of all it feels (to me) like it is closer to something you’d find in a published RPG. There are, obviously, still aspects that need work with spacing being the main one. That’s something I’ll properly address once I have the character art in place, as I want be sure of the final dimensions of those images.
Speaking of art…
Something that drastically improved the look of the character sheet was the inclusion of some proper artwork. The piece included in the new sheet is stock art created by JEShields (who also has an RPG art Patreon here) and can be purchased from on drivethruRPG. Eventually this will be moved to within the main rules and replaced with artwork commissioned specifically for Project Cassandra, again drawn by JEShields. The first piece, of intrepid reporter Samantha Dawes, is already underway with the rest to follow once funds allow.
Sometimes I just come across a set of work that jumps out at me as inspiration for a game or a campaign (and gave rise to the inspirational artwork series). The surreal gifs created by artist Kevin Weir are a prime example of this. Working primarily from archival Library of Congress photos he’s turned them into something otherworldly by animating them, often just in subtle ways. Perhaps my favourite of them is the one below just because ideas immediately jump out at me for a War of the Worlds or post World War 1 (or 2) game battling Cthulhu-esk eldritch horrors beyond mortal comprehension.
You can find more of his work on his tumblr, Flux Machine
One of the things I often find myself doing when working on a game concept is to look for inspirational artwork that captures the genre I’m aiming for. I came across this article today which details an 80’s inspired look into the future as envisioned by Simon Stålenhag. The work brings together the boxy aesthetics of the 80’s that actually happened with smoother, curved robotics and technological developments without making either feel out of place. Many of the future developments are reminiscent of the future tech of the original Star Wars dropped into the Swedish countryside, or for a more recent feel that of Looper, which mixes technological advances with a downbeat, almost depression era setting.
Now I just need to work out a game that could be dropped into such a setting.
I came across the above piece of art a while ago but only recently found the source, zazb on DeviantArt. To me this work, “The Big Adventure”, not only encompasses the spirit and fun of tabletop gaming but the power of the imagination. I think in future if I ever need to explain what I do as a hobby I’ll just point them to this image and see what sort of response I get.