Monday, May 19, 2014
Ok, it's not that bad. But it does like rather generic. I mean, these look like, hey, look, another fantasy RPG. Nothing exciting here.
Granted, part of that is how front-and-center the art is, with the titles very minimized. They're almost not there. I want to click or swipe to make them woosh off the screen. That's not a bad thing.
It would be a better thing if the art was knock-my-socks off.
Anyone have any idea who made these? I'm about to horribly insult them, whoever they are.
First off, the good: they all clearly belong to the same product line. No confusion there. I'm not entirely certain they are all the work of the same person (the lighting and textures for the MM and DMG are very different, and there's a subtly muted, almost simplified feel to the colors and textures of the starter set). If that's the case, the art direction is all the more impressive for it.
But I'm seeing nothing here I'd want to put on my wall, and absolutely nothing that makes these leap off the shelves.
The MM has the most painterly look to it. It reminds me a bit of WAR's work, but with much less character. In fact, it almost looks like it was fashioned from cut-and-pasted elements. Haven't we seen that exact pose of a beholder before? Is that a dwarf from an interior 4e illustration? What's up with the screaming, turbaned person of indeterminate gender? Are they in the same picture? Do they know there's a beholder behind them? And why is that statue spitting lightning bolts? Or is it getting hit in the face with lightining bolts? And why is there a staircase to nowhere in the background? Seriously, it's a jumble of elements which aren't really interacting with each other.
And the DMG, I'm sorry to say, has the look of poser art from a distance: the electric glow that washes out all other colors, the plastic-looking skin, the shadows. A second, closer look reveals the painterly techniques, but...
And what, exactly, is going on in this picture? Is he animating a corpse? Killing a dude? And is it just me, or does the liche's amulet (clearly a shout-out to the Green Devil-face) look like it was added in later?
(So is the difficulty of assigning gender to the figures part of WotC's way of foiling the folks who count and comment on that sort of thing? Or an artifact of conscious effort to make the heroes cyphers upon which the viewer can project their preferences, rather like the art in the old Choose Your Own Adventure Books?)
These 5e covers do not look like the flagship products of an industry or a hobby. These look plain, almost timid. They look like the work of, well, hobbyists throwing things together in their spare time, with only a modicum of design knowledge gleaned from Google-found top-five lists. Seriously, how are these very meh covers supposed to share shelf space with the likes of these:
It's official: so far as production values go, WotC is getting their behind handed to them by a guy in Finland working out of his living room (NSFW!).
Addendum: I haven't been as clear as I should be when I describe the art as "generic." What I mean is, this doesn't look special or noteworthy or of greater renown or quality. That's what I mean by "generic" here. Not so much that this is a game based on standard tropes of fantasy gaming, but rather that these are nothing to get excited about. These do not look like the flagship products of fantasy RPGing. They look like just more in a sea of interchangeable products. Nothing here says, "This is D-and-motherfucking-D, the 500 lbs gorilla of RPGs, the game that started it all, the standard by which all others should be judged." Walking into my local gaming stores with no real knowledge of the hobby, I'd be just as likely to pick up Dragon Age or DCCC as these, just based on the covers, and far more likely to grab Pathfinder, ACKS, or RuneQuest (all of which I can find at local gaming shops in town).
Addendum the Second: via Walser's Raging Owlbear, a mock up by Stuart Robertson that is, if nothing else, a lot more fun than the ones WotC chose to go with. I'm not entirely sure I prefer the heavier trade dress he uses to the minimalist choices of WotC, but I can see why folks both prefer and expect that sort of thing. And, as Robertson points out, WotC already has access to (and has been using to promote 5e) art that is more fun and more powerful than the choices they decided to go with.