Dragon's Eye View: Covering the Past

In this week's Dragon's Eye View Jon talks about cover art and design of editions past and then asks for your opinions.

Discuss this article here. 

All around helpful simian

It's funny.

I never noticed before how different the 3ed cover was from the others. 1st, 2nd, and 4th all have characters from D&D on it, doing different D&Dish things: removing treasure from the dungeon, charging into battle, exploring a cave.

I still love the 3ed covers, but they are the odd men out. Even Pathfinder went with action scenes for its cover.   

"Ah, the age-old conundrum. Defenders of a game are too blind to see it's broken, and critics are too idiotic to see that it isn't." - Brian McCormick

At the risk of offending those that fell in love with the AD&D cover...

I honestly don't get the nostalgia that some people get over that AD&D cover. It's easily the worst of the bunch on almost every front. Some people might rate it high on narrative because it depicts what appears to be the middle of an actual adventure while the others do not, but I'd argue that even the 3.5 cover offers more narrative, because narrative is so much more than just looking like it's in the middle of a story.

For example, the reason that I would rate both 2E and 4E higher than AD&D in terms of narrative in the cover are is that the AD&D cover art depicts a scene where the characters aren't doing anything but are rather in between doing things.They're just reading a map and sitting around while some of their party tries to slowly chip away at whatever is holder that massive gem in the statue's eyes. This is a scene where the characters themselves are bored.
On the other hand, the covers for 2E and 4E depict characters in the middle of action; we may not have a great idea of what sort of action specifically because we don't see their enemy, but it's clear that the characters are acting or reacting in tense, exciting ways.
The 3.5 cover is the odd one out, as it depicts no characters or scenes at all, but even it, I feel delivers better narrative than the AD&D cover. The 3.5 cover doesn't depict characters, but the stylistic qualities making it look like an old, leather-bound tome still communicate tone. Specifically, the tone that it communicates to me is one of mystery.

The D&D Next cover does not have to depict character in the middle of an action scene like 2E or 4E, and it doesn't have to forgo depicting characters for an air of mystery like 3.5. There are any number of ways that narrative can be conveyed. What it cannot and should not to, though, is depict any scene where characters are sitting around doing nothing and looking bored.

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am the Unfailing Arbiter of All That Is Good Design (Even More So Than The Actual Developers) TM Speaking of things that were badly designed, please check out this thread for my Minotaur fix. What have the critics said, you ask? "If any of my players ask to play a Minotaur, I'm definitely offering this as an alternative to the official version." - EmpactWB "If I ever feel like playing a Minotaur I'll know where to look!" - Undrave "WoTC if you are reading this - please take this guy's advice." - Ferol_Debtor_of_Torm "Really full of win. A minotaur that is actually attractive for more than just melee classes." - Cpt_Micha Also, check out my recent GENASI variant! If you've ever wished that your Fire Genasi could actually set stuff on fire, your Water Genasi could actually swim, or your Wind Genasi could at least glide, then look no further. Finally, check out my OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE article, an effort to give unique support to the races that WotC keeps forgetting about. Includes new racial feature options for the Changeling, Deva, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, Kalashtar, Minotaur, Shadar-Kai, Thri-Kreen, Warforged and more!
It's funny.

I never noticed before how different the 3ed cover was from the others. 1st, 2nd, and 4th all have characters from D&D on it, doing different D&Dish things: removing treasure from the dungeon, charging into battle, exploring a cave.

I still love the 3ed covers, but they are the odd men out. Even Pathfinder went with action scenes for its cover.   



I like 3ed cover(and the smell). I mean I look at it and think,"That's a D&D book". 

A D&D book, that you would own IRL? Or a D&D book, that your character would own in-game?

"Ah, the age-old conundrum. Defenders of a game are too blind to see it's broken, and critics are too idiotic to see that it isn't." - Brian McCormick

I rated the 3rd book highly for marketing and low for narrative. 


Which is more important I leave up to those who are paid to design such things.



Carl   


For example, the reason that I would rate both 2E and 4E higher than AD&D in terms of narrative in the cover are is that the AD&D cover art depicts a scene where the characters aren't doing anything but are rather in between doing things.They're just reading a map and sitting around while some of their party tries to slowly chip away at whatever is holder that massive gem in the statue's eyes. This is a scene where the characters themselves are bored.
On the other hand, the covers for 2E and 4E depict characters in the middle of action; we may not have a great idea of what sort of action specifically because we don't see their enemy, but it's clear that the characters are acting or reacting in tense, exciting ways.





I disagree wholeheartedly.  The AD&D 1st tells a real story.  All of the characters are doing something - that something just isn't fighting.  Take a good look.   There is more 'action' going on in that image (which wraps around to the rear of the book) then there is in any other D&D book.  (It is, unfortunately, very dark and hard to see - especially in old and worn copies).  What isn't there is fighting (althought you have the clear aftermath of fighting) .  And thus it sends the message that the game is about something other than simple combat.  And I think that is an important part of D&D (and symbolic of a greater shift in the game over the last three decades).


Carl
What impresses me about the 3.5 cover is how timeless it is. All of the others look very of-their-era. The AD&D cover looks cheesy and eighties and betrays the fact that the game didn't have a huge art budget or anything. The 2e cover is better in terms of not looking quite as much like it's clearly from a specific point in time (even though I don't like the composition; it's weird to me that a team-oriented game would only have one clearly foregrounded figure on the cover), but it's still clearly not a recent product. The 4e cover clearly belongs to a modern product, but it's not obvious to me that the nuances of that style will stay modern-looking forever. (And given fantasy art's history, that's not really what we'd expect.) The 3.5 cover on the other hand, feels like it's something that will still look crisp even as the other styles shout the publication date right at you.

I like the 3.5 design for other reasons (I think it's classier than the others), but I suspect that in ten years when the first two continue to look dated and the 4e one is starting to, the 3.5 PHB will still look nice.
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What impresses me about the 3.5 cover is how timeless it is. All of the others look very of-their-era. The AD&D cover looks cheesy and eighties and betrays the fact that the game didn't have a huge art budget or anything. The 2e cover is better in terms of not looking quite as much like it's clearly from a specific point in time (even though I don't like the composition; it's weird to me that a team-oriented game would only have one clearly foregrounded figure on the cover), but it's still clearly not a recent product. The 4e cover clearly belongs to a modern product, but it's not obvious to me that the nuances of that style will stay modern-looking forever. (And given fantasy art's history, that's not really what we'd expect.) The 3.5 cover on the other hand, feels like it's something that will still look crisp even as the other styles shout the publication date right at you.

I like the 3.5 design for other reasons (I think it's classier than the others), but I suspect that in ten years when the first two continue to look dated and the 4e one is starting to, the 3.5 PHB will still look nice.



Interesting perspective.  I agree.  I suspect it has to do with art styles and changing tastes.  Each (with the exception of the 3.5 book) directly reflects the art style of that edition - and thus from the perspective of later editions they look dated.  The 3.5 book - being a totally different type of illustration - is more timeless and thus escapes this fate.


They didn't ask this (although I think they should have):  


How would you rate the reprinted AD&D 1st PHB cover art?


I think it nicely straddles the divide between the 3.x cover (more 'book-like' and less 'adventure art') and the other editions (the image in the center shows a glimpse of action rather than a character in an "I'm awesome" pose).

Thoughts?


Carl
The AD&D 1st tells a real story.  All of the characters are doing something - that something just isn't fighting.  Take a good look.   There is more 'action' going on in that image then there is in any other D&D book.  What isn't there is fighting..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true">.  And thus it sends the message that the game is about something other than simple combat.  And I think that is an important part of D&D

If you think that my objection to the AD&D cover is that it doesn't depict combat, then you are quite mistaken. I object to the AD&D cover because it doesn't depict combat or anything else exciting. Seriously, look at the expressions on the characters' faces; they all look bored. The sense is that they're waiting to do interesting things and possibly planning to do interesting things, and that's great for a piece of artwork in general, but not for the cover of the book.

As further evidence that my objection to it has nothing to do with the lack of combat, please note that I went on to describe that even 3E's book was more evocative because it sets a tone of mystery. I could easily envision a cover where the characters do not appear to be in combat and so not appear to be in any danger but that still evokes more feeling. For example, what about a scene of characters marveling in wonder at the fantasy landscape they've found themselves in?

Here's a quick example of the sort of thing that I mean. It's not perfect, of course, because I found it after a couple of seconds on a Google image search, but it gets the point across. The characters here are not in combat, and there's even no sense of immediate danger, but it still works because the character seem like they're actively exploring, like they actually have personalities, like they're reacting to their surroundings with senses of caution, curiosity, and wonder as opposed to just going about their routine. This sets a tone of mystery, exploration, discovery, and possible danger rather than a tone of routineness, exhaustion, and tedium like we find in the AD&D cover.

So, yeah, I agree that the AD&D cover tells a story. I just don't see how it's a story worth telling. D&D isn't about the mundane, trivial routines that a party motions through between the scenes. It's about the excitement, mystery, and wonder, and that's what the cover should reflect. The 2E and 4E covers aren't perfect by any means, but they're still miles ahead of the AD&D cover.

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am the Unfailing Arbiter of All That Is Good Design (Even More So Than The Actual Developers) TM Speaking of things that were badly designed, please check out this thread for my Minotaur fix. What have the critics said, you ask? "If any of my players ask to play a Minotaur, I'm definitely offering this as an alternative to the official version." - EmpactWB "If I ever feel like playing a Minotaur I'll know where to look!" - Undrave "WoTC if you are reading this - please take this guy's advice." - Ferol_Debtor_of_Torm "Really full of win. A minotaur that is actually attractive for more than just melee classes." - Cpt_Micha Also, check out my recent GENASI variant! If you've ever wished that your Fire Genasi could actually set stuff on fire, your Water Genasi could actually swim, or your Wind Genasi could at least glide, then look no further. Finally, check out my OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE article, an effort to give unique support to the races that WotC keeps forgetting about. Includes new racial feature options for the Changeling, Deva, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, Kalashtar, Minotaur, Shadar-Kai, Thri-Kreen, Warforged and more!
I miss the cover of a PHB i liked most.
the 3.5 special edition black leather with silver inscription.
The AD&D 1st tells a real story.  All of the characters are doing something - that something just isn't fighting.  Take a good look.   There is more 'action' going on in that image then there is in any other D&D book.  What isn't there is fighting..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true">.  And thus it sends the message that the game is about something other than simple combat.  And I think that is an important part of D&D

If you think that my objection to the AD&D cover is that it doesn't depict combat, then you are quite mistaken. I object to the AD&D cover because it doesn't depict combat or anything else exciting. Seriously, look at the expressions on the characters' faces; they all look bored. The sense is that they're waiting to do interesting things and possibly planning to do interesting things, and that's great for a piece of artwork in general, but not for the cover of the book.

As further evidence that my objection to it has nothing to do with the lack of combat, please note that I went on to describe that even 3E's book was more evocative because it sets a tone of mystery. I could easily envision a cover where the characters do not appear to be in combat and so not appear to be in any danger but that still evokes more feeling. For example, what about a scene of characters marveling in wonder at the fantasy landscape they've found themselves in?

Here's a quick example of the sort of thing that I mean. It's not perfect, of course, because I found it after a couple of seconds on a Google image search, but it gets the point across. The characters here are not in combat, and there's even no sense of immediate danger, but it still works because the character seem like they're actively exploring, like they actually have personalities, like they're reacting to their surroundings with senses of caution, curiosity, and wonder as opposed to just going about their routine. This sets a tone of mystery, exploration, discovery, and possible danger rather than a tone of routineness, exhaustion, and tedium like we find in the AD&D cover.

So, yeah, I agree that the AD&D cover tells a story. I just don't see how it's a story worth telling. D&D isn't about the mundane, trivial routines that a party motions through between the scenes. It's about the excitement, mystery, and wonder, and that's what the cover should reflect. The 2E and 4E covers aren't perfect by any means, but they're still miles ahead of the AD&D cover.

Yes, they are bored...

If they are bored in that location, they must have really exciting adventures!  How can anyone be bored with with aftermath of ritual sacrifice and giant gem stealing!?

BTW, I don't actually agree that they look bored at all.  But the nestalgia comes from the accompaning module I believe where you played that dungeon. 
A D&D book, that you would own IRL? Or a D&D book, that your character would own in-game?

Yes!

(Which is why it's the best Cover IMO) 
Looking back at it, what I noticed about the 2nd edition cover is that nothing about it says "Fantasy Game".  There are two humans riding on horses.  Sure, it conveys a nice sense of action, but not fantasy.  There is no sense at all that "Here there be dragons."

I think my favorite would be taking the concept of 1st edition and upgrading the art to make it more modern, and increase the level of action depicted.  I like that it has the greatest narrative that really speaks to the essence of D&D.
If they are bored in that location, they must have really exciting adventures!

Cool, so then let's see those instead!

Looking back at it, what I noticed about the 2nd edition cover is that nothing about it says "Fantasy Game".  There are two humans riding on horses.  Sure, it conveys a nice sense of action, but not fantasy.  There is no sense at all that "Here there be dragons."

Wow, I can't believe that I didn't notice that before, but you're totally right. That is definitely a big problem.

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am the Unfailing Arbiter of All That Is Good Design (Even More So Than The Actual Developers) TM Speaking of things that were badly designed, please check out this thread for my Minotaur fix. What have the critics said, you ask? "If any of my players ask to play a Minotaur, I'm definitely offering this as an alternative to the official version." - EmpactWB "If I ever feel like playing a Minotaur I'll know where to look!" - Undrave "WoTC if you are reading this - please take this guy's advice." - Ferol_Debtor_of_Torm "Really full of win. A minotaur that is actually attractive for more than just melee classes." - Cpt_Micha Also, check out my recent GENASI variant! If you've ever wished that your Fire Genasi could actually set stuff on fire, your Water Genasi could actually swim, or your Wind Genasi could at least glide, then look no further. Finally, check out my OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE article, an effort to give unique support to the races that WotC keeps forgetting about. Includes new racial feature options for the Changeling, Deva, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, Kalashtar, Minotaur, Shadar-Kai, Thri-Kreen, Warforged and more!
The AD&D 1st tells a real story.  All of the characters are doing something - that something just isn't fighting.  Take a good look.   There is more 'action' going on in that image then there is in any other D&D book.  What isn't there is fighting..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true">.  And thus it sends the message that the game is about something other than simple combat.  And I think that is an important part of D&D

If you think that my objection to the AD&D cover is that it doesn't depict combat, then you are quite mistaken. I object to the AD&D cover because it doesn't depict combat or anything else exciting. Seriously, look at the expressions on the characters' faces; they all look bored. The sense is that they're waiting to do interesting things and possibly planning to do interesting things, and that's great for a piece of artwork in general, but not for the cover of the book.

As further evidence that my objection to it has nothing to do with the lack of combat, please note that I went on to describe that even 3E's book was more evocative because it sets a tone of mystery. I could easily envision a cover where the characters do not appear to be in combat and so not appear to be in any danger but that still evokes more feeling. For example, what about a scene of characters marveling in wonder at the fantasy landscape they've found themselves in?

Here's a quick example of the sort of thing that I mean. It's not perfect, of course, because I found it after a couple of seconds on a Google image search, but it gets the point across. The characters here are not in combat, and there's even no sense of immediate danger, but it still works because the character seem like they're actively exploring, like they actually have personalities, like they're reacting to their surroundings with senses of caution, curiosity, and wonder as opposed to just going about their routine. This sets a tone of mystery, exploration, discovery, and possible danger rather than a tone of routineness, exhaustion, and tedium like we find in the AD&D cover.

So, yeah, I agree that the AD&D cover tells a story. I just don't see how it's a story worth telling. D&D isn't about the mundane, trivial routines that a party motions through between the scenes. It's about the excitement, mystery, and wonder, and that's what the cover should reflect. The 2E and 4E covers aren't perfect by any means, but they're still miles ahead of the AD&D cover.



Something like your illustration also shows a story.


What I detest is covers such as that in the 4E book - art which doesn't tell a story, it just shows one or a few characters standing in a pose designed to tell us - not that they are part of some story - but rather just how awesome they are.


What sets the AD&D 1st cover apart from the others for me is the setting.  It isn't just about the characters - it is about the other cool stuff they are interacting with.  Too many covers (too much of the recent art in general) has seemingly lost that focus.  I wouldn't mind if the characters in the AD&D1st were a bit more 'active' - but at least the cover attempts to show that there is actually a world (and thus a story). 

It is the fact they are, in fact, interacting with the environment that sets it apart and screams there is a story here.  Posing with sword and staff doesn't do that for me.


Carl      
If you think that my objection to the AD&D cover is that it doesn't depict combat, then you are quite mistaken. I object to the AD&D cover because it doesn't depict combat or anything else exciting. Seriously, look at the expressions on the characters' faces; they all look bored. The sense is that they're waiting to do interesting things and possibly planning to do interesting things, and that's great for a piece of artwork in general, but not for the cover of the book.

I can see where you are coming from, but there is a lot of personal reaction in that. My reaction to the 4e cover is that they are posing for publicity shot, not getting ready to actually fight.

I can actually see advantages and flaws in each of the covers. The AD&D cover actually depicts an adventuring party in the middle of an adventure, but it depicts them cleaning up from a fight nor in a fight or preparing for a fight. The 2e cover looks like somebody charging into a fight, but lacks an actual fantasy element and is rather dusty. The 3e cover is rather nifty for people who already play the game, adding a lot of perceived value and some of that mysterious tome feel, but has no narrative or marketing value for new customers. The 4e book looks too much like a publicity shot and a bit too cartoonist.

Overall, as a fan of D&D I like the 3e cover on the books I own. However, I can see that isn't a good choice for actually selling the books. In that regards 4e is probably the best, but it isn't artwork I would every display for the artwork value.

I'm really not that picky about the cover art...as long as it isn't the craft-day-at-summer-camp covers of 3.5. I truy hated those. To me, they look far less like any kind of magical tome (which is what they were going for), and far more like a kid was given a bag of costume jewely and glue, and told to make it look like a book. I was embarrassed to even be seen walking around with those.

The 1E cover tells a story, even if the art is not stellar. The party just killed what looks like a small dragon, and now some of them are debating their next moves while others are busy looting...pretty much exactly what D&D parties do.

The 2E cover also tells a story (albeit a very brief one). Two people on horseback charging into whatever it is people on horseback charge into. Personally, I preferred the revised 2E cover, with the barbarian-looking fellow bashing in a door with his companions behind him, weapons at the ready.

The 4E cover....meh....the "i'm sexy and I know it" poses are fine if you've got the artistic talent to pull them off. Otherwise, and for me that's the case with 90% of 4E's art, it comes off cartoonish and a little silly. The premise of the picture is fine. The follow-through...not so much. I'll still take it over the 3.5 cover-art, though.

"The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind." - H.P. Lovecraft
Looking back at it, what I noticed about the 2nd edition cover is that nothing about it says "Fantasy Game".  There are two humans riding on horses.  Sure, it conveys a nice sense of action, but not fantasy.  There is no sense at all that "Here there be dragons."

Wow, I can't believe that I didn't notice that before, but you're totally right. That is definitely a big problem.

Yeah, I'm not sure why it never occured to me until now...it was the book that first got me into D&D.

Did the design have something to do with the social attitude toward D&D at the time?  I know that 2nd edition steered away from Devils and Demons (calling them Tanari and Baatzu instead...not sure if I spelled those right).  So it makes sense that the cover of the PHB would be tame to say to parents, "See, nothing bad in here.  Just medieval knights on horses."

What sets the AD&D 1st cover apart from the others for me is the setting.  It isn't just about the characters - it is about the other cool stuff they are interacting with.


Agreed.  Roger Ebert called this "an abundance of reality" and was one of the things he claimed set the Star Wars univers apart from other sci fi universes.  You got the idea that you were in a vibrant world with things happening around the main characters.

The 2e and 4e covers look like models posing.  They may be posing in active adrenalized positions, but it's a pose.  It tells no story.  It's a generic canyon (2e) or cave (4e).  The 1e cover has at least three stories being told.  In the background you have two thieves stealign a gem. In the midground, you see a fighter cleaning his sword and talking with a wizard after a battle, presumably with the dead lizardfolk nthe center of the picture. In the foreground, two adventurers examine a map.  They don't look bored to me.  The scene has a blend of tension, danger, violence, and casual conversation, all elements of a great night of D&D.  It has a ton of activity and invites you to study it and figure out what is happening.

The 4e cover got a lot of flak when it came out specifically because the characters look so posed.  Turtle McSquinchyface and Bodice Boobsalot (as the foreground characters were nicknamed) look like models for a LARPing store, not characters on an adventure.  Bodice, in particular is in that ridiculous spine-wrenching pose that let's her stick out her cleavage and buttocks to the audience simultaneously. 

The 2e cover also got flak because the colors are so washed out.  Everything is tan, brown, and grey.  The only color is the fighter's blue cloak.  Again, there's no story.  It's one guy in a canyon charging on a horse with weapon drawn  (Like the 4e cover, there's the vaguest ghost of companions in the background.)

The 3e cover is unique and I appreciate the bold choice of making it seem like a tome.  In the end, I prefer a little color on my D&D book covers.  But my wife loves the 3e covers most of all because when she came to the table, she felt the books also served as props.  They felt like books that might exist in a fantasy world, as well as about the fantasy world we were about to play in.

So, while I agree that the art quality on the 1e cover is probably the poorest of the four, I feel that the 1e cover is the best of the covers based on content and conveying the feel of the game it advertises.  From best to worst, I would rank it 1e, 3e, 4e, and then 2e.

Of course, that's just the PHB. 

Let's look at the DMGs:


In this case, I find the 1e cover the worst. The art is atrocious, the scantily clad efreeti and hostage-girl is almost ebarrasing, the combat scene is strangely limp.  And I don't have any idea what it has to do with being a DM.  Again, the 3e book is as much prop as ad and that works nicely.  The 2e DMG has an oddly appropriate feel.  Is the DM the dragon confronting the PC wizard, or is the DM the wizard controlling and commanding dragons?  I think the cover works on both levels.  it also has the best color pallette of the covers.  The 4e has a nice visual play with the dragon (clearly the DM's proxy) watching the cover of the PHB unfold.  That gives some nice story.

In the end, I don't think any of these covers quite captures what the DMG cover should convey -- which is the majesty and power of a bona fide storyteller/strategist/world builder that a DM is.  That said, I would rank the covers from best to worst as: 4th - 2d - 3d - 1st.
I really liked the Essentials DM book.  I don't care what the picture is actually of, it's clearly how DMs think of themselves.

 
Agreed.  That may be the best of the DM-centric covers.
I totally agree with Wrecan on the PH covers and the mentioned DM covers.


Agreed.  That may be the best of the DM-centric covers.



I disagree here (although the essentials cover is good), in my opionion the best DM guide cover is:



The DM as the one opening the floodgate of monstrousities
The DM as the one opening the floodgate of monstrousities


Oooh.  I forgot about that one.  It is good.  But, like the 2e PHB, the color scheme is boring.  All brown and tan and black with a splash of green on the central figure's cloak.  Get me a better color scheme and that could be perfect.
And a bit less muddiness on the ravaging horde behind him, too.  Give me identifiable orcs, elementals, a Gelatinous Cube, and a majestic dragon, that sort of thing.  A good variety, too, not just one type.
D&D Next = D&D: Quantum Edition

They missed the second printing of the 2e players handbook

(note, this is a bad image)

 



As awful as that picture is, muddied coloration, obvious posing, and little story, it has the unintentional benefit of being one of those few pieces of art where a man is forced to twist his spine to show off his pecs and his butt.  Also, he's clearly got his arms in the air like he just don't care.
As awful as that picture is, muddied coloration, obvious posing, and little story, it has the unintentional benefit of being one of those few pieces of art where a man is forced to twist his spine to show off his pecs and his butt.  Also, he's clearly got his arms in the air like he just don't care.

He had to make room for his pecs to bash down the door...I mean why use that silly big axe when your pectorals are the obvious better choice.

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As awful as that picture is, muddied coloration, obvious posing, and little story, it has the unintentional benefit of being one of those few pieces of art where a man is forced to twist his spine to show off his pecs and his butt.  Also, he's clearly got his arms in the air like he just don't care.

He had to make room for his pecs to bash down the door...I mean why use that silly big axe when your pectorals are the obvious better choice.





it looks like he shoulder rushed the door and as he broke through he put his arms up to maintiain balance and send the broken pieces flying into the room. 


As awful as that picture is, muddied coloration, obvious posing, and little story, it has the unintentional benefit of being one of those few pieces of art where a man is forced to twist his spine to show off his pecs and his butt.  Also, he's clearly got his arms in the air like he just don't care.

He had to make room for his pecs to bash down the door...I mean why use that silly big axe when your pectorals are the obvious better choice.





it looks like he shoulder rushed the door and as he broke through he put his arms up to maintiain balance and send the broken pieces flying into the room. 



And I think he broke his wrist in the process...
it looks like he shoulder rushed the door and as he broke through he put his arms up to maintiain balance and send the broken pieces flying into the room. 

It looks more like he rotted the door with epic armpit stink.

it looks like he shoulder rushed the door and as he broke through he put his arms up to maintiain balance and send the broken pieces flying into the room. 

It looks more like he rotted the door with epic armpit stink.

Quite possibly. The pose is just completely wrong had he been shoulder-bashing.

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The 1st and 2nd edition art is the best by far. My favorite ny far is the "winged helm" phb art. I didn't like the 3rd edition style pseudo-tome look, and the 4th edition art, while a good idea, ended up looking too sharp and jagged. The same artist did the PF art and while it's marginally better in terms of character style, it's still not what I'd like to see.

I think for Next, they should get Kerem Beyit to do the covers and character concept art.
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Thank_Dog wrote:

2Chlorobutanal wrote:
I think that if you have to argue to convince others about the clarity of something, it's probably not as objectively clear as you think.

No, what it means is that some people just like to be obtuse.

Interesting to read this thread, because I usually find myself agreeing with the majority.  Apparently in this case though what "grabs" you isn't what grabs me.

I think the AD&D cover is horrible, for many of the reasons CC mentioned.  The art is bad (but then, all art was bad at that point), and the scene doesn't look exciting to me.  There's nothing in the scene that says "ooo I want to make believe do that!!"  It's why all decent movies end shortly after the final battle - the clean up isn't any fun.  And that's what this scene is to me - the clean up.  After a giant battle at the feet of a ginormous ruby-eyed statue, I want to know "what happens next".  Even if the answer is "you stand around for the rest of day putting on band-aids and cleaning your sword", just say that and move on.  The picture tells me the story of people standing around, not the story of people doing fun/heroic stuff (yes, they apparently just had a big fight - but again, show me the action, not the cleanup).  Even if re-drawn by a more modern artist, there's no way I would pick up that book.

For me, the 2e cover has motion, it has action, the color pallet is bland granted (the barbarian busting down the door version is even worse), but the narrative grabs me.  Who is this winged helmet dude, why's he in such a rush, who's he obviously headed off to fight, and can I have grand adventures like that too?  I don't find the scene boring at all.  I wouldn't stare at it for hours either, but it gets my attention, which is all you need in order for a customer to then pick up the book and look inside.

The 3e covers are a fantastic idea, but for me, fell a little flat afer awhile.  Fun and novel, but suffering from the same blandness of pallet and lack of excitement.  Definitely covered the "new look for a new edition" idea though.  I would probably pick it up as a "oh, that's different, neat idea, I wonder what it is...".  In retrospect, it feels kinda gimmicky though.

The 4e cover is a bit of a mixed bag.  Yes, I understand the Boobsalot thing.  But to me, I dunno, the picture isn't bad.  To me it evokes kinetic action, it evokes mystery, it evokes a sense of "wow, these guys are something different, and clearly up to something, I wonder what it is?  Who the heck is that dragoney guy?  Why isn't that girl wearing modest clothes? Probably because it looks like she can fry the brain of anyone who makes snarky comments about it."  Subjective opinion of the art style aside, this image speaks of fantasy, magic, and adventure.  These clearly aren't your average people out for a stroll in the park.  On a personal note, I do tend to like Reynolds' art, maybe a little less so now that it's so prevalent, but it is quite culturally relevant to the younger neo-gamer crowd.  (I'm certainly not younger, but I probably do count as a neo-gamer).  But overall I thought the 4e books did a decent job of being visually exciting while presenting a unified, branded shelf image, so props there.

All my own opinion of course, YMMV.
At the risk of double poasting (sorry...), I wanted to add to my tl;dr above.  I have no problem with the idea of kinetic action - the feeling that something is about to take place.  It doesn't have to be an actual fight scene to show action.  For instance, the only piece of fine art I have in my home is a poster of Caspar David Friedrich's upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1..." title="upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1...">"The Wanderer".  Used as the inspiration for countless movie posters, the whole point of this piece is the feeling of immenent adventure, although the scene itself is of a dude standing on a rock looking at a sea of fog.  Who is this guy?  Where's he going?  What mysteries await him in the foggy landscape he is about to descend into?  Can I have mysteries and adventures too?

I say this to clarify my comments above on the AD&D and 4e covers.  Both of them are of people standing around, sure, but the difference is that the latter says "we're badass people about to do badass stuff, wanna come along?" while the former says "you just missed out on something cool, but hey, you can watch us stand around and polish our swords if you want..."

Again, IMO, and subjective opinion on art-style aside.
1st: Old art, to be certain.  Not quite a Rembrandt, but I think a small company can be forgiven for that.  Storywise, it's showing something very particular to the age: the goal of the game wasn't the fight, it was the accumulation of the treasure.  Every person had a part to play in it, although the parts were often very disparate.  (And FWIW, I've always had the mental notion the gem in the statue's eye was cursed!)

2nd: The first 'real' cover.  This depiction shows 'battle', but no enemies.  I think the perspective lends itself to imagining that the man on the cover isn't the -hero-, he's the -enemy- and YOU are the heroine.  They're charging you!  At least...that's how I interpret it.

3rd: Well, for something called (in hindsight) 'Caster Edition', making it look like a slender spellbook was certainly a warning.  The cover is neat...at first.  But it doesn't stand well after a while, when the gimmick has worn off.

4th: Even I like Wayne Reynolds, and my personal feeling of Dragonborn aside...it's good character depiction.  However, I have a definite distaste for the passive pose (there's an actual name for it, and it may be passive pose, but if not I can't remember what it is right now).  It's great for interior art - this could have been just inside the cover.  But not AS a cover.

Opinions and all that.

"Lightning...it flashes bright, then fades away.  It can't protect, it can only destroy."

For instance, the only piece of fine art I have in my home is a poster of Caspar David Friedrich's "The Wanderer".

There's a 4th edition (I think) shot of Regdar, lidda, and some of the other old iconics in the same style. A couple of pages later they're camping. Great pieces.

I'd love to see a fantasy piece of art in the same vien as "A song of spring" by Maximilian Lenz.
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Thank_Dog wrote:

2Chlorobutanal wrote:
I think that if you have to argue to convince others about the clarity of something, it's probably not as objectively clear as you think.

No, what it means is that some people just like to be obtuse.

The 1e cover has at least three stories being told.  In the background you have two thieves stealign a gem. In the midground, you see a fighter cleaning his sword and talking with a wizard after a battle, presumably with the dead lizardfolk nthe center of the picture. In the foreground, two adventurers examine a map.  They don't look bored to me.  The scene has a blend of tension, danger, violence, and casual conversation, all elements of a great night of D&D.  It has a ton of activity and invites you to study it and figure out what is happening.

Do I have to post close-ups of the characters' face? Because I totally will if I have to.

the clean up isn't any fun.  And that's what this scene is to me - the clean up.  After a giant battle at the feet of a ginormous ruby-eyed statue, I want to know "what happens next".  Even if the answer is "you stand around for the rest of day putting on band-aids and cleaning your sword", just say that and move on.  The picture tells me the story of people standing around, not the story of people doing fun/heroic stuff (yes, they apparently just had a big fight - but again, show me the action, not the cleanup).  Even if re-drawn by a more modern artist, there's no way I would pick up that book.

Actually, I don't think that's what the problem is. There's plenty of way to depict clean-up and still make it expressive. The key to this is, though, that the characters still have to show some sort of emotion, give some hint that they have actual personalities. Here are two examples I posted in the comments:

A scene like this could make for a good cover if improved massively. Imagine the worried Cleric desperately tending to the painful wounds of the wincing Fighter as the Warlord visibly struggles to make sense of the map while avoiding stepping on the fresh corpses still lying about; behind them, the Rogue's greed has gotten the better of him, and with mesmerized eyes he reaches for the wondrous jewels, the Wizard pulling him back just in time as he comes to the horrifying realization that the artifact is cursed.

Alternatively, let's try a more lighthearted scene. The Fighter stands proudly, one leg stepping on body of the last reptilian corpse. She holds up three fingers, indicating her kill count, and triumphantly boasts to the Cleric, who leans back against the wall, arms crossed, maybe amusedly chuckling at the Fighter's antics or maybe rolling his eyes, ready to dispute whose blow it was that knocked out the reptile to their left. The Rogue and Wizard examine the horde; the Rogue practically has dollar signs in his eyes as he shovels gold coins and jewels into a bag of holding, but the Wizard's visible curiosity is focused on a small, unassuming, copper idol, which she examines closely with a hand lens. The veteran Warlord, satisfied with her party's grand success, examines her map, eyes lighting up with excitement when she sees what's coming up next.

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am the Unfailing Arbiter of All That Is Good Design (Even More So Than The Actual Developers) TM Speaking of things that were badly designed, please check out this thread for my Minotaur fix. What have the critics said, you ask? "If any of my players ask to play a Minotaur, I'm definitely offering this as an alternative to the official version." - EmpactWB "If I ever feel like playing a Minotaur I'll know where to look!" - Undrave "WoTC if you are reading this - please take this guy's advice." - Ferol_Debtor_of_Torm "Really full of win. A minotaur that is actually attractive for more than just melee classes." - Cpt_Micha Also, check out my recent GENASI variant! If you've ever wished that your Fire Genasi could actually set stuff on fire, your Water Genasi could actually swim, or your Wind Genasi could at least glide, then look no further. Finally, check out my OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE article, an effort to give unique support to the races that WotC keeps forgetting about. Includes new racial feature options for the Changeling, Deva, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, Kalashtar, Minotaur, Shadar-Kai, Thri-Kreen, Warforged and more!
The 1e cover has at least three stories being told.  In the background you have two thieves stealign a gem. In the midground, you see a fighter cleaning his sword and talking with a wizard after a battle, presumably with the dead lizardfolk nthe center of the picture. In the foreground, two adventurers examine a map.  They don't look bored to me.  The scene has a blend of tension, danger, violence, and casual conversation, all elements of a great night of D&D.  It has a ton of activity and invites you to study it and figure out what is happening.

Do I have to post close-ups of the characters' face? Because I totally will if I have to.


Crimson, what is your issue with always insisting that people can't have different subjective interpretations of things and why must you be so utterly obnoxious about it?

You think they look boring and I don't.  Why is it necessary for you to pull out the internet bravado?   Do you really think I'm going to respond to this with "Oh, no.  Crimson might post a picture of the very same picture that's in the article we're discussing!  I better concede his point before he threatens to do something that's even more pointless."
Crimson, what is your issue with always insisting that people can't have different subjective interpretations of things and why must you be so utterly obnoxious about it?
You think they look boring and I don't.  Why is it necessary for you to pull out the internet bravado?   Do you really think I'm going to respond to this with "Oh, no.  Crimson might post a picture of the very same picture that's in the article we're discussing!  I better concede his point before he threatens to do something that's even more pointless."

I actually didn't intend for that to come off as obnoxiously as it did, but I can see that now reading back on it. That would be my bad.

As for why I want to discuss it, well, this is a forum for discussion, and this is a topic for discussion. The cover appears to be popular and, as subjective as that may be, there are reasons behind even subjective opinions, and discussing those reasons is still useful and productive, especially when nostalgia appears to be a big factor that needs to be broken down.

So, getting into more detail, what is it about the scene that conveys senses of tension or danger to you? What is it that you are picking up here that expresses that tone? Because the reason that I'm not picking it up is that I'm focusing on the characters' expressions and body language, which don't convey to me much of anything at all except for possible exhaustion and tedium. Yes, there are dead monsters and the setting appears to be within an ancient dungeon, but the character's don't seem particularly interested in where they are or what they're doing, not even the ones trying to pry the giant gems out of the idol's eyes, because there's no visible expression of desire, wonder, or urgency on their part. If the battle was dangerous, then why do all of the characters seem perfectly fine? I want to get the sense that the battle was an important one, one where they either barely escaped with their lives on one where they were gloriously triumphant, rather than just something that's part of their routine.

This is why I think that the 2E and 4E covers have the AD&D one beat, despite their also having their own flaws. There may not be as much going on, but at least the characters have some sort of visible expression, body language, and emotion that suggests that have personalities and motivation. Depicting characters rather than figures is very high on my list of priorities for a book whose major purpose is describing how to create characters.

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am the Unfailing Arbiter of All That Is Good Design (Even More So Than The Actual Developers) TM Speaking of things that were badly designed, please check out this thread for my Minotaur fix. What have the critics said, you ask? "If any of my players ask to play a Minotaur, I'm definitely offering this as an alternative to the official version." - EmpactWB "If I ever feel like playing a Minotaur I'll know where to look!" - Undrave "WoTC if you are reading this - please take this guy's advice." - Ferol_Debtor_of_Torm "Really full of win. A minotaur that is actually attractive for more than just melee classes." - Cpt_Micha Also, check out my recent GENASI variant! If you've ever wished that your Fire Genasi could actually set stuff on fire, your Water Genasi could actually swim, or your Wind Genasi could at least glide, then look no further. Finally, check out my OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE article, an effort to give unique support to the races that WotC keeps forgetting about. Includes new racial feature options for the Changeling, Deva, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, Kalashtar, Minotaur, Shadar-Kai, Thri-Kreen, Warforged and more!
So, getting into more detail, what is it about the scene that conveys senses of tension or danger to you? What is it that you are picking up here that expresses that tone? Because the reason that I'm not picking it up is that I'm focusing on the characters' expressions and body language


I'm not focusing on that.  I'm focusing on the thieves precariously perched on a statue by their fingertips.  I'm focused on the dead bleeding reptilian bodies lying in the center of the screen.  I'm focusing on the pitch black darkness all about them illuminated by faint and small lanterns.  I'm focusing on the sense of being lost as represented by the two perusing their hastily prepared map.

To me, the situation scremas danger and tension, even though there's no immediate danger.  That's why it's suspenseful.  Something could happen.  It just isn't happening in the moment.

But if you're focusing on expressions, I don't see the 2e or 4e covers as an improvement.  In 2e, we can see exactly one face and it's got kind of a sneer on it.  And sense of tension or danger comes because his sword is raised.  Thats' it.

In the 4e cover, the dragonborn's face has no expression, not one I can recognize anyway, being unfamilar with dragonborn facial expressions.  Bodice's expression is, well, blank, is about the only way I can describe it.  There's no frowning, no gaping in surprise, no gritty determination.  She's just looking forward.  Any tension comes from, again, the dragonborn raising his sword and Bodice holding a fireball in her hand.  That all seems pretty tame, though because there's no context.  They are in a virtually featureless cave.  At least in the 1e cover I can imagine they are treasure-seekers.  I have no idea why these guys are in the cave.  I have no idea why the horse-rider in the 2e cover is charging through the canyon.  Is he a raider?  Is he a hero?  Is there even a story here?

You may require facial expression to get engaged int he art.  Personally, I need a story.  Story is absolutely crucial to me to get engaged and I don't see any story in the 2e or 4e art.  It's a staged portrait.  The 4e one almost seems like a fashion shoot.  But I don't see any story.