Friday, September 17, 2010

Images of D&D

Mr. Maliszweski has posed a fun question over at Grognardia: what cover art "encapsulates... 'D&D' in a single image"?

Having really gotten into D&D in the Silver Age, Elmore, of course, springs first to mind, and I think I'd have to go with this one. It's from the cover not of a rule book, but one of the early Endless Quest books TSR put out way back when. In this one, Return to Brookmere, you're an elf returning to your family's ancestral home after it's been overrun by monsters. The story is fun, and mostly consists of you sneaking about, trying to find your way out after a bad cave-in nearly crushes you.

There's a lot to like in this picture. The humanoids with their horned helmets, banners and skull-topped standards, the sinister wererat on his throne, the subterranean locale, and the bar of gold caught in the decorative border.

But most of all, I really like the hero. He (She? It's appropriately androgynous for a first-person choose-your-own-adventure style protagonist) has stolen a humanoid helmet and cloak to hide the finer garb of an elf warrior, including bright mail and soft boots. As decorative as his crenelated cuffs and purple tabard might be, his notched shield and long blade certainly look all business.

But if I'm willing to follow the lead of my fellow bloggers and not limit myself to simply covers, I'll have to go with this image. Yep, that's Elmore again, and I think it was originally released as a promotional poster at Sears (buy a certain amount of TSR stuff at Sears and get this cool poster type thing). I love the stories this one tells. Does the dragon know she's down there? Is he only distracting the dragon to give her a chance to get away, or to set up a back-stab? Clearly, an attempt to steal some gold without attracting the dragon's notice has gone awry. Do our heroes have any other tricks up their sleeves?

And I love the little details: the mountainous background, the clearly functional but not historical armour, the expressive faces of everyone in the painting, including the horse. This is a great painting, and has, for quite some time, been the picture that epitomizes D&D to me, and the you-are-there feeling I've always tried to evoke in my games.

But if we're not going to limit ourselves to just D&D and the clones, I'd probably have to say that this (NSFW!) painting by Keith Parkinson comes closest to encapsulating my gaming these days.


Erin Palette said...

The only thing which bothers me about that Elmore painting is that the dragon's arms look far too human. I can clearly see biceps, triceps, and elbow structure... it just looks too bipedal. I rather prefer my dragons to be quadrupeds.

PEG said...

The Elmore poster you referred to was also the cover to one of the DragonLance modules, IIRC, though I'm not sure which one at the moment.

Jayson said...

I recall reading an interview somewhere that Elmore drew his dragons that way as he figured they needed arms to cast their spells. However, it does seem more obvious in some painting than others.

I've always liked Elmore's work as well. I also got into the game just as Dragonlance was getting released and he'd really put his stamp on it. Though I came to think of the implied culture in his figures' details as the world that came to be known as Mystara rather than Krynn, thanks to BECMI.

That said, my first encounter with D&D was Erol Otus' cover for Moldvay Basic and that was still the ur-image for me.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that it's "anything by Elmore". Original Red Box cover especially but really anything.

Anonymous said...

Elmore's work in the Red - Green boxed sets, both covers and interiors, formed my core vision of D&D, but then Jeff Easley, Clyde Caldwell and Keith Parkinson all fill that realm with me as well. With Caldwell it was his Gazetteer covers for the Known World, plus his contributions to Dragon Lance. Easley's covers for the AD&D books are all AWESOME and strike home with me more than Elmore because they leave more to the imagination and they are truly fantastic.

But Parkinson's work for me has an earthly, gritty feel that I love. When I think back to my old days of D&D adventuring, it is invariably one of his paintings that leaves a pang of nostalgia my heart. So, I'd have to go with his "Horseman Near Lake" on the cover of the Forgotten Realms boxed set. A close second would be his cover for the 1st edition AD&D character record sheets. I always played in small groups, so for me this painting was the epitome of the player character party. As with all of Parkinson's work, there is a story being told, but we're left wondering, or imagining, what is happening off canvas. Plus, anything with Autumn (and here Parkinson does the fall foliage superbly) gets an extra draw of nostalgia out of me.