Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What Is Dungeons And Dragons Art?


How does one identify Dungeons and Dragons art?  Here are four illustrations by the amazing Keith Parkinson (may he rest in peace).  Which of these illustrations would you consider to be Dungeons and Dragons art, and why?






I had intended to use the art of Larry Elmore for the above exercize.  While Elmore is among the most beloved of all artists providing illustrations for Dungeons and Dragons products, I found it next to impossible to find any Elmore Dungeons and Dragons art. 

Therefore, as a bonus question, suggest one piece of Elmore art that you consider to be Dungeons and Dragons art, and tell me why.

12 comments:

Roger the GS said...

Wow, I could have mistaken the one of the female fighter with the tiny dragon pet for Elmore.

Anyway, as a superficial approach, any visual element clearly drawn from the D&D rulebooks qualifies, while things that come from outside the D&D rulebooks tend to disqualify. So for example #1 is borderline; the scenario of fighting mummies in a tomb could happen in a D&D game but other things are slightly off-canon, in particular the rather light armoring of the fighter-types. #2 is clearly D&D art, with the unique figure of Orcus and other inventive elements in line with that. #3, even if we allow some cheesecake margin for the figure's lack of thigh protection, goes off canon in that there's no way for a fighter to acquire a pseudo-dragon familiar (I guess she could be a particularly lucky half-elf fighter-magic user though.) #4 is also fairly generic and you'd really have to stretch to stat the scene out for D&D.

Bard said...

I agree with Roger the GS. Interestingly, I can easily see pictures 3 & 4 being Dragon Magazine cover material, but they also seem paradoxically less evocative of D&D to my mind than pictures 1 & 2.

If I had to add anything I'd say 1 & 2 are more (old-school) D&D-ish because they focus on a dark event, or a crisis moment (essentially a dungeon snapshot), whereas 3 & 4 focus on characters (in particular evoking their emotions or personality).

I think a lot of the old-school D&D esthetic follows along with the now oft-quoted concept: "We explore dungeons, not characters."

Kiltedyaksman said...

Check out Elmore's early art for the little novels (choose your own adventure?). Of course the red box cover. After that it's downhill

bt said...

"I found it next to impossible to find any Elmore Dungeons and Dragons art"

Here's Elmore's Red Box cover: http://muleabides.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/dragon.jpg

Here's a Dragon cover (which was later used as a module cover): http://www.fantasygallery.net/elmore/Avalyne_the_life_giver.jpg

And here's his Blue Box cover:
http://www.1zoom.net/big/94/8960-admin.jpg

Drance said...

Elmore not only did the BECMI box covers but a lot of the interior art as well. The images of the fighter and Aleena the cleric from the Red Box are pretty iconic. As for the Parkinson art above, it all feels like D&D to me! I know the first pic seems to be a "pyramid crawl" but it still works for me. Then there's the high level fighter woman, the evil ritual the PCs have to stop, and the lone adventurer on a wilderness journey.

A Mutant Biker of the Atomic Wastelands said...

My campaign doesn't include clones of ancient cultures, so #1 is out. The other 3 are right on the money.

& Roger, when you write #3... goes off canon in that there's no way for a fighter to acquire a pseudo-dragon familiar (I guess she could be a particularly lucky half-elf fighter-magic user though.) you are assuming that it is a ("special") familiar. However, the pseudo-dragon is one of the rare MM creatures that are described as sought after as adventuring companions. To wit, they are "highly sought after" for "if the pseudo-dragon elects to become a companion of a human (or humanoid), it can transmit what it sees and hears to its companion" as well as "transmit" its innate magic resistance.

That's elect and companion.

While gaining a pseudo-dragon companion likely calls for a dedicated adventure (or three), it is definitely not necessary for a suitably aligned character to cast Find Familiar until they roll a 15.

IlGialloMondadori said...

They're all evocative of Dungeons and Dragons art of a certain time, and to me, represent the essence of what I found intriguing about roleplaying and Dungeons and Dragons at the time, versus how I feel about 3rd and 4th Edition art. All these pieces display a high regard for setting and atmosphere, and a certain grimness and grittiness of reality wrapped into the fantasy, as well as attempting to evoke a feeling of awe or horror. The humanoids in the pictures do not possess gigantic, over-sized weapons, and seem small in relation to the settings and the monsters, which adds to the heroism of the images. 3rd and 4th edition art tend to miss this, going for the throat of Epic, and by doing so, making deeds and the world seem smaller.

Taketoshi said...

I think I understand what you're getting at--the first and second pictures depict the conflict and danger inherent in D&D of its various forms.

The third and the fourth seem totally outside the realm of D&D except as vanity portraits of beloved characters. They're not depictions of D&D really, they're just representations of a specific fantastical element, the same as a picture of a dragon on a hoard or of a gleaming magical sword lying on a table. Neither of those things is specifically "D&D", just generic fantasy.

Eric Wilde said...

All of them can invoke different aspects of the game.

I'm more in the "all fantasy art is D&D art" camp. Its more a matter for when and how the art is used than its content or the artist's intent.

Theodric the Obscure said...

Will you take, "I know it when I see it?" I'd say all of the above: Kim Parkinson may well be my favorite D&D artist of all time. At least part of the reason why is overall artistic excellence.

Dan C. said...

#1 for me all the way. As others alluded to, it's because of the action. Yeah, the characters are more Egyptian than your typical D&D PCs, but they are in the midst of "shit going down." In short, the image feels like D&D combat as I envision it.

Dan said...

http://sordnbord.blogspot.com/2010/02/this-picture-is-dungeons-and-dragons.html

There's my post on the definitive D&D art (for me). It's Elmore's Companion cover.