Friday, September 5, 2014
OSR Art Friday: The Magic Mouth
This is the first of a series that will appear every Friday.
By "OSR Art" I mean artwork of the original or classic games--including of course Dungeons & Dragons--as well as that featured in more contemporary efforts such as Swords & Wizardry, Lamentations of the Flame Princess and others.
These games are or were better partly because of their art. A game is not merely defined by the abstract mechanic of the rules. For an entire game to aspire to be art in the more general sense (which, in my view, every game should, even in the smallest or most humble of ways) the physical product must also be attractive. And the art inside the game should be inspiring, evocative, thought-provoking and memorable.
Yes, it should try to more than being a tacky rip-off of a video game screenshot.
As Dungeons & Dragons devolved, beginning with 2e and picking up steam downhill with 3e, 4e and now 5e, the quality of the art devolved with it. I actually think the cause and effect works both ways. If you know that on every other page your text is going to be paired with blaring CGI-like color images of "Tieflings" or "Dragonborn" your design ideas and prose may very well sink to match that.
The illustration above is for me the most iconic interior drawing of any of the classic books. If it doesn't encapsulate the wonder and mystery of the dungeon, what could? Note that like most of the best classic pieces, it's not about combat, and it features relatively "normal" looking figures (if Hobbits and/or Dwarves can be considered normal)--not pumped-up Rambo types.
I like the way the light sources--the torches and magic sword--are emphasized, and the fact that it takes place on a stairway--going down.
The drawing appears on page 108 of the original 1978 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook and is by David Trampier, one of the leading artists of the first years of TSR.
For those of you who haven't seen it (probably not very many), enjoy! For those of you who have seen it, here's a bittersweet reminder of what once was.