Friday, April 13, 2012

The Purpose Of Dungeons And Dragons Art

Yesterday, I posted three illustrations, asking which of those illustrations was the most representative of Dungeons and Dragons.

Before doing so, I stated that the PURPOSE of DnD Art is to reflect, elaborate or highlight the fantasy elements UNIQUE to Dungeons and Dragons. That purpose is superimposed on a larger purpose of fantasy art: to explore the imaginary, fantastic, and taboo.

The question remains, what changes came about in fantasy art, as a result of the publication of Dungeons and Dragons, that reveals the unique elements of DnD specifically, and fantasy role-playing generally?

Let's consider the elements that appeared in all three previously-posted illustrations.

1. Dragons: all three illustrations feature a Dragon. Dragons are not a unique feature to DnD, although the range of colors of Dragons is perhaps a unique feature, which is why I suggested you ignore the differences in colors. Dragon illustrations were produced long before DnD was published. Therefore, the inclusion of Dragons does not, in and of itself, indicate that the art is DnD Art.

2. Dungeons: all three illustrations feature dungeons or ruins. Ruins and dungeons are not a unique feature of Dungeons and Dragons. Arabian Nights, a collection of middle eastern and indian adventure tales, includes such stories as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, featuring hidden caves filled with treasures. Many of the Swords and Sorcery tales of the early 20th Century featured dungeons and ruins. All of those were published prior to DnD. DnD reflects those tales, not the reverse, and therefore they are not elements unique to DnD, instead, deriving inspiration from them.

3. Treasure: all three Dragons sit on piles of treasure. Again, Dragon-troves and treasure-seeking pre-dates Dungeons and Dragons, and is thus not an element unique to role-playing games.

4. Magic: all three illustrations contain magical elements. In two cases, protagonists are using magical weapons. In the other, a magical spell is being cast. But the ideas of magical swords (excalibur for example) and magical spells (myriad folktales with witches and curses) are pre-DnD concepts.

Given that all of those elements are not uniquely Dungeons and Dragons, what is the only element remaining?

In my prefacing instructions yesterday, I asked which of the three illustrations was MORE REPRESENTATIVE of Dungeons and Dragons than the others. What is the only significant remaining difference between the three illustrations?

The number of adventurers facing off against the Dragon.

One of the unique features of Dungeons and Dragons is the idea of the ADVENTURING PARTY, made up of various classes of adventurers, combating Dragons, exploring dungeons and ruins, seeking treasure, and employing magic. So, the illustration that most effectively reflects, elaborates and highlights the uniqueness of Dungeons and Dragons is the last illustration, featuring three adventurers.

The illustration with only two adventurers is less reflective, and the Elmore illustration is the least reflective, as it features a single combatant.

I will finish off this post by saying that the adventuring party is not the only unique element of Dungeons and Dragons. I'm not saying that an illustration must include several adventurers to be "DnD". However, I think you can gauge how well a DnD illustrator understands the game by how effectively they communicate this, and any other unique, elements of DnD.


Roger G-S said...

The D&D party is the Moria expedition acting like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.

Any prizes for those of us who got it right?

Aaron E. Steele said...

What, my respect and admiration for those who got it right is not enough?


Sure, Monty Hall's got an extra copy of TFT's In the Labyrinth, copies of Flashing Swords #1 and #2, or you can trade them for whatever is behind door #3.

I was actually pretty impressed with several of the other suggestions as well, as some had not occurred to me.

Justin S. Davis said...

With the Elmore piece, I always assumed the rest of the adventuring party got slaughtered. The fighter is the last man standing.

Aaron E. Steele said...

That's what I love about art. You can bring your own interpretations to it.

The artist brings her purpose to the piece, but once she releases the finished illustration to the world, others can re-interpret it and bring new meaning and perspective to the art.