Thursday, July 15, 2021

Addendum To "The Art Of Peril"

Something I completely failed to mention in yesterday's post on the subject of D&D artwork:

Despite what one might assume from the generally "down" tone of my last post, I quite like A LOT of the artwork in both 2E and 3E (or, as I call it, DND3). This may well come as a surprise to some. However, much of the art quality from both 2nd and 3rd edition D&D towers over the stuff in the 1st edition AD&D books. While many of the original 1E pieces are (rightly) considered iconic, the skill and artistry with which later illustrators execute their craft is, more often than not, simply better.

Everyone got that? I like many of the pieces in these later editions. Some are extraordinarily good. The color plates in the 2E PHB and DMG are some of my favorites in any fantasy RPG I own (check p.7, p.72, and p.110 of the 2E PHB and p.8 and p.116 of the 2E DMG). And many of the less manga-y, MtG-type art in 3rd edition is stuff I find incredibly evocative...and inspirational (as in: it fires up my juices and makes me want to play the game). 

I don't get that from classic pix like "A Paladin in Hell" or the single-panel cartoon jokes in the original DMG. Sorry, no.

But as far as communicating what the game is far as providing building blocks for the imagination (not just vignettes for one's daydreams), the first edition of AD&D does the best job of any of these three editions of the game. Yes, there are excellent, evocative pieces of art in the 1E books (I said later works were better "more often than not," not always) but MORE than just "good art" or "bad art" or "mediocre art" there is EFFECTIVE art. Art that is effective at communicating what game play is about. Game play is NOT about a lone monk taking out an umberhulk with a spear single-handedly (much as I like John Foster's illo on p.168 of the 3E DMG). just isn't.

[apologies...couldn't find an image]

And ALSO, just by the way: before 3rd edition I don't think much of this art had any real intentionality of "communicating game play" (or its perils) aside from 'let's put a party fighting orcs in this space, and let's have an illo of a cleric turning undead over here.' 3E's art seems to be placed in appropriate locations (in relation to text) and...outside the generally captioned to show its pertinence to the instruction at hand.  1E and 2E just throws "cool fantasy stuff" willy-nilly all over the place. I think the main difference, though, is that many of the artists in 1E doing pictures of peril in the core books were long-time D&D players themselves and...consciously or not...brought a lot of insight for the game to their works. I believe this is a large part of why there are so many humorous illos in the first edition books.

I have one more post to write in this series, but I just wanted to add this quick note. 


  1. "Everyone got that?" I got that. Loud and clear. :-)

    1. It’s just that sometime I get this paranoid idea that folks feel I’ll use any excuse to crap on their favorite, non-1st edition version of D&D…just because I’m a jerk.

      I *am* a jerk (sometimes), but I ALSO have an actual, non-crap reason for some of this analysis.

      This time anyway.
      ; )

    2. Yea, I get that. This hobby is certainly filled with people that have strong attachments and preferences (I include myself in such a statement). I wonder at times as to why I started a blog myself in such an arena. Actually, I know. I love this stuff. Anyway, sometimes it seems that instead of first listening for the possible merits and validity of an argument (or simply listening to another's position/view/"non-crap reason"), it's easier to get defensive. I find that it helps having thick skin, a supportive family, and a supply of good local beer. Peace.

  2. I imagine part of the change in art direction was driven by the same thing that took awY devils, assasians, and such out of 2e.

    Maybe you should subtract a Peril Point every time 1e has a joke illustration and breaks the mood. The "you will die but its funny" is the Paranoia shtick. The banana peels, mouse ears, and +1 back scratches take the game in that direction.

    1. Levity IS a part of the game (or tends to be anyway). While I’m not a fan of the cartoons, they do reflect part of the attitude one finds at most tables, and reminds us that D&D is, indeed, a game being played.