Favorite RPG Illustrator — #RPGaDay2015, Day 12
I hadn’t given it much consideration before now, but Days 10~12 are something of a dry spell for this exercise. If we’re going to talk about RPG’s in any substantive manner, the favored publisher, writer and illustration are pretty weak entries to cover. For one thing, they’re easy to cover in a matter of a couple of words, maybe a few sentences at the outside. For another, they’re awfully meta when you’re looking at the genre in a broad sense.
A publisher might put out a half dozen disparate game lines that have little to do with each other, or in the case of White Wolf at the height of the D20 madness, simply gather together a number of unrelated studios that generate the necessary content, like Necromancer and Sword & Sorcery. And for most, the particular writer of a given gaming supplement is less important than what new rules or mechanics are brought forth in the text. In some cases, it’s a higher mark for a game book to not distinguish itself from an otherwise solidly built game line, as this indicates the quality of the editor that’s overseeing the products.
I’m actually quite glad that there isn’t a category for Favorite RPG Editor.
Illustrations range into a similar space for me. The best ones are the ones that don’t particularly stand out from the rest of the game line. If a particular artist has managed to define how a product looks, any effort that shifts that perception is distracting. There are specific artists that sum up specific products for me, and when I see work that violates that standard, it’s jarring and off-putting to my delicate, flower-like sensibilities.
Favorite RPG Illustrator
Much like the topic of publisher, this seems to shift as time goes on. A lot of it depends on the game I’m invested in at the particular moment, but that’s sort of a given. Probably the best way to approach this with any measure of sanity is to list out who stood out for different games and epochs of my life, I suppose.
AD&D (1st Edition) had a weird range of artwork, which isn’t really saying much, since it was the early days of the hobby, when there wasn’t any real money, and no one really knew what sort of appearance they wanted to give things. I have both the Jeff Easley editions of those books and the ones with the earlier, gnarlier cover illustrations. Easley wasn’t bad, overall, but most of his covers were pretty generic. It served the hobby at the time, but it’s small wonder he sort of faded after 2nd Edition.
For me, the weird fiction basis of the game really showed through with the variety of Dave Trampier‘s artwork. I clearly remember marveling at his rapidograph lizardman illustration and loving the fluid simplicity of his displacer beast.
D&D (Basic) went a tad further with the weirdness, celebrating Erol Otus as a staple of the game. He also did the Lovecraft Mythos section in the Dieties & Demigods book, which brought home the alienness of the genre. I can’t say that I liked his artwork at the time, since it was a little hard to look at, but it’s the style that I remember best and associate most with this edition. The later editions featured Clyde Caldwell, mainly for the Mystara setting, which changed the tenor a bit.
Dragonlance and Dragon Magazine drew heavily on Larry Elmore‘s particular art style. I remember loving the clean, sharp colors and subjects, rendered in his specific acrylics, and thinking that this was the sort of world that my games should aspire to. Hells, his cover was the main reason I invested early in Shadowrun, believing as I did that any game with Elmore on the cover could hardly go wrong. (I sort of wish my optimism had carried through with that one, but that was never a great fit, gamewise.)
Dark Sun had cover art by Brom, whose tattered and skeletal figures with bone white skin immediately defined the world in a few brushstrokes. My favorite module box, City by the Silt Sea, was one of the defining moments, depicting a looming dracolich, a ruined city and a band of adventurers fleeing their inevitable doom. What description could fill in the inevitability of the adventure better than that?
It’s also worth noting that a Brom illustration was the inspiration for the Deadlands game as a whole, with Shane Hensley running an undead Western game after seeing what would become the cover to the original Deadlands main book.
West End Games’ Torg and Star Wars heavily featured Allen Nunis, with his sharp contrast pen and ink drawings that defined the black and white struggles the individual game lines required of the player characters.
Vampire: The Masquerade had Tim Bradstreet, Werewolf: The Apocalypse had Ron Spencer, and Exalted had Melissa Uran and Udon. The different styles of the different lines went a long way in molding the perception of the game line. Bradstreet’s artwork had an almost photo-real aspect to his iconic characters, portraying the inhuman beauty and cruelty of the protagonists. For Werewolf, Spencer offered up the grotesquery of the garou and their wyrm-tainted opposition. And well, Exalted looked like a anime fantasy epic, which is what sold it to a lot of people, I suppose.
Pathfinder was built on the back of Wayne Reynolds‘ artwork, from the original cover of the Rise of the Runelords cover through all of the hardcovers. Where the D&D of the Elmore era promised clean, bright possibility, Reynolds’ iconic characters seem a little more world-weary and grubby. Where Caramon and Raistlin looked like they had just stepped out of the shower to head out to adventure, Valeros, Kyra, Merisiel and Seoni seem like they’ve spent some time in the trenches and have emerged a little worse for the wear.
I can’t say specifically that each game’s particular artwork delineated my perception of a game’s function or feel, but it is interesting to note which of these artists came to represent aspects of the individual games to me, years later.