The Art of The Game

Yesterday’s post by James over at Grognardia on art in game materials got me thinking about the relationship of art to RPG gaming materials. James begins by stating that he does not like some of the ‘art heavy’ trends he sees in many of the RPG books being produced today… and I have to confess that I wonder if I know what books he is looking at — the last “Art Heavy” rpg book I bought was a copy of the 3.5e players guide several years ago So I perhaps am not buying enough (or the right books) to see what James is talking about. Given thr profusion of full color illustrations that intrude on the text, colored backgrounds and neat-o graphic borders and what-not, I think the 3.5e PHB might fit James’ definition of “art heavy” (and I think it is “overdone”) but the 3.5e PHB was also annoying to me in that WOTC re-used most of the art from the 3e version. My other recent purchases included a copy of Lesserton & Mor from Faster Monkey Games, which I thought was a little too light on the interior illustrations (although I love Peter Mullen’s work on the cover)) .

James writes: …what are your feelings about the increase in the illustrations per page we see in a lot of contemporary gamebooks? Do you like it? Do you view it as essential? And, most importantly from my perspective, has this increase affected your feelings about games and game products that don’t include as much artwork as you might see in, say, a WotC or Paizo offering?

I have mixed feelings on these questions. On the one hand, I draw pictures and hope to earn coin by drawing them, so self interest makes me want to say, “More illustrations, especially by me, please!” On the other hand, I’m getting more and more turned off by the slickness and ‘total marketing package’ represented by books like the WOTC 3.5e books (which , although they are out of print, are pretty much my most “modern” RPG purchase ). Everything from the ‘iconic characters’ like Redgar the Fighter and Lidda the Halfling to the faux parchment backgrounds, spiky armor, piercings and corsets, etc., just reminds me how fucking old and out of touch I am. And, try as I might, I just can’t do the kind of art that Wizards and the other big players seem to be buying. So maybe there are some sour grapes on my part because I am a talentless hack compared to Todd Lockwood and I don’t own a graphic tablet or a copy of Painter software and wouldn’t know what to do with it if I did.

The work being produced by members of the OSR (like the Peter Mullen cover mentioned above, Tony Dowler’s “Year of the Dungeon” blog, work by Three Headed Trolls and other stuff) never fails to bring a smile to my face. And I get a lot out of looking at pictures and ephemera snatched up from the archives of humanity and ‘repurposed’ by Trey over at his blog, “From the Sorcerer’s Skull.”

I don’t know if I think the OSR is going to diverge from ‘mainstream’ RPGs like the current edition of D&D and become a kind of ‘alternative’ aesthetic counterpoint like the weird and perverse underground comics once provided for the more wholesome mainstream comics from Marvel, Dell, Gold Key and DC. But I think that would be a viable alternative vision of what these publications can be for individual members of the OSR to pursue if they choose.

(The picture above right is “Unicorn Dreams” by Pietro Ramirez)

4 Comments on “The Art of The Game”

  1. I tend to prefer art in my RPG products. I dunno if that is because I'm an artist and a heavily visual guy. Like you, I don't care so much for the 3e era and later aesthetic. I prefer more verisimilitude in my artwork.

  2. Matt Finch says:

    Stefan, I promise to quit building on your posts in my blog, but I did it again. If you'd quit posing such interesting questions, it would make this easier.

  3. Hehehe, that Unicorn Dreams picture is AWESOME!

  4. baronzemo says:

    To me,the artwork in 3e and on is more cartoon-ish. The artwork from 1st edtion to 2nd edtion is different as well. I think,that as i'm getting older i'm becoming that old guy “Change Scares Me!”

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