Monday, May 19, 2014

Cover A5t

Oh.

Um.

Oh dear?

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.

The cover for Hoard of the Dragon Queen is fun: shiny dragon, cool (ha-ha) attack, neat use of color to highlight the action. My favorite of the bunch.

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.

The rest have this odd, overly sharp 3d feel to them, as if they started as poser art and then were hit with oil-painting filters in Photoshop. The teeth of the green dragon, the hands of the giant, all have this oddly sharp feel to them even though, as you look closely, you can see the brush strokes and other artifacts of painted work. It's very odd.

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?

One thing that does jump out is the central place of the monsters. The heroes barely fit in the frame, clearly playing second-fiddle to the monsters, each of which commands center stage. I'm curious to see how far we've moved away from the character-centered art of late 3.x and nearly all of 4.x. In none of these pics do I recognize a hero who's doing something really cool. Maybe the Viking sorceress on the cover the PHB, but it's hard to make out any details on her. Dress her in something other than her furs and I'm not sure I'd recognize her. Ditto for the elven-warrior-of-indeterminate-gender who's with her  All-in-all, the giant on the PHB, with his awesome white-dragon-pelt hat is the coolest character in the bunch.

(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?)

The covers for 3e were daring, unique, and put you in the world of D&D; you, the player, were holding artifact tomes from magical realms of lore and adventure. The 4e covers were clearly attempting to ride the zeitgeist with their comic-esque, uber-cool figures.

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.

11 comments:

Scott Anderson said...

You nailed it. Case closed. Thank you.

Now when people ask what I mean when I say I don't like the art, I will just link this post.

Seriously, thank you.

Nicholas Bergquist said...

Always interesting to see a contrasting opinion. I really like this art, and I actually find it to look better and more evocative than the counter-examples you provide (though in Wayne Reynold's defense his only problem is he's been so overused for so many years that his style feels ordinary now, despite being so good). These covers evoke "D&D" for me and I think they will stand out quite nicely against the competition (such as it is). I mean....where would I ever see LotFP on a store shelf, for example? But that's beside the point....the examples you contrast with are also good, but D&D's covers need to depict D&D, and I think they do a fantastic job of that.

Anonymous said...

Umm...never judge a book by its cover? Well actually it wouldn't matter if WOTC bound them in covers made from pure gold free of charge, since they still would contain the same bleh rules either way.

refereeingandreflection said...

"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. "

Counterpoint: for those who know fantasy RPGs, all they really need to know is that this is D&D. Most everyone who's played/owns multiple fantasy RPGs has already made their mind up about what they want from D&D, if anything, and will make their judgement as to whether to buy 5E based on what they hear about the rules.

For those who don't know fantasy RPGs, "generic" is perfect, partly because those people won't notice how generic the covers look because they don't have other RPGs for comparison, partly because the whole thrust of this edition is the archetypal, iconic D&D experience.

trollsmyth said...

Scott Anderson: My pleasure!

Nicholas Bergquist: Different strokes for different folks. I still enjoy losing myself in the depth and detail of a Reynold's piece and, while I don't like everything he does, I still enjoy seeing what he's come out with lately.

As for the store shelves thing, I know I'm blessed living in Austin, where LotFP products regularly appear on bookshelves. Down here, Pathfinder is given as much pride in display and shelf-space as D&D. And those shelves will be right next to or above the GURPS, Numenera, FATE, and Savage Worlds stuff.

As for depicting D&D... really? I don't see it. For me, D&D is the team of specialists fighting monsters, stealing treasures from the depths of dangerous dungeons, and exploring the wild spaces not found on any map.

In the 5e covers, we get at most two maybe-heroes (the dwarf on the MM and the sorceress on the PHB are the only ones that clearly qualify). The monsters are front-and-center. If D&D means monsters to you, then yeah, I could see how this would speak to you. But I've played and run sessions that had no monsters in them at all.

(Which makes me wonder if we'll see iconics this time around. So far, doesn't look like it, but certain sorts of fans seem to really enjoy them. I'd rather have a wider range of characters displayed, but that's just me.)

refereeingandreflection: And how do you know these books are D&D? Oh, yeah, by the teeny-tiny little D&D logo at the top of the books and the small red streak at the bottom.

Granted, I think this is a plus rather than a minus; I'm much more interested in the art than the logos, but it's an odd choice. If the art stood on its own more, I'd hail it as a great choice, but...

And 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, 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).

Mark Craddock said...

The art reminds me of the latter versions of 1st Edition. But art, like music, is so personal.

DnD Dad said...

Strangely, I both agree and disagree with the post here.

I had the same odd feeling that the artwork was "off" for some of the reasons posted -- the disconnect between foreground and backgrounds, some of the odd elements, washed out colors...

But, at the same time they did communicate a feeling of "Epic". I look at the covers and think "big action". So, from the standpoint of branding and communicating to the intended audience (i.e. new, young gamers), I think it does portray a feeling of excitement and danger. I'm not crazy about the style, but that's personal taste. I can be ambivalent about the art while still understanding the goal of the art direction -- communicate to the audience that epic danger and adventure is contained within. I think it actually hits that mark fairly well even if the art itself isn't as inspiring to me personally.

When I first saw all the Wayne Reynolds art in Pathfinder, I actually did not particularly like it... but it has grown on me since. I'm not sure if this art will grow on me... but it's way better at its message than the 3rd edition covers (which I thought were horribly bland and did not communicate at all to the target audience what was contained therein).

Cas said...

Tastes differ. The only alternative cover among those you selected that I like better is the Pathfinder one, and that's because it suggests a more interesting story and has more contrasting colors and forms. (And that's not true across their line, because I'm trying and failing to remember what's on the cover of the main Pathfinder book that I use all the time and I can't.)

I really like the adventure cover and the Monster Manual cover. The PHB and DMG fit stylistically but do feel a bit bland. But still better than most of the competition. I didn't like the 4th edition covers, and could take or leave those of 3.x. I do think first and second edition AD&D had better covers with a feeling that only the Pathfinder book among your examples comes close to emulating.

Scott Anderson said...

I don't want wuxia. I want middle earth. Maybe it's my problem rather than the art.

Dithering Fool said...

Well said!

Marty Walser said...

I was able to congeal my own mixed feelings on the new art in my blog post if anyone cares.

http://ragingowlbear.blogspot.com/2014/05/d-fifth-edition-artwork.html