Happy February everyone! We are very excited because this month at the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival there is a D&D art documentary called Eye of the Beholder. It is not only a great title, but a great topic as well. Its question is: How has the art of Dungeons and Dragons inspired you? It is something we are going to discuss here, but we are going to broaden it a little. We are going to talk about the art of all game books and how it influences us as players and game masters. Once you enter through the door of D&D there are so many other games and systems to explore. We encourage you to do so and we are always happy to give you some recommendations. So we will be using Game Master and not Dungeon Master when we discuss this topic in this post.
The cover art of an unknown RPG is what draws me to it immediately. I remember one of the first times it happened and to this day it is a book I still use. I was browsing the aisle at a game store when a book from Pinnacle Entertainment Group caught my eye. It had pirates on it and in big pirate font Pirates of the Spanish Main. I picked it up and looked inside. It took me 30 seconds to realize that I not only needed this book in my life, I needed to run this game with a strong lady pirate captain at the helm. It used the Savage Worlds ruleset, which I was familiar with. I still love this book so much. It is one of the few books that I had to stop reading and grab a notebook to jot down ideas. I still haven’t run all of them, but maybe with the new edition, I will have another adventure in the works.
As a GM, anything can inspire a great game, but it is usually the art and design of the book that gets my brain racing with ideas. The newest addition to my RPG library and the game books I am currently loving to look at are my Star Trek Adventures books. They are laid out like a Starfleet Manual and the artwork is original and amazing. I have at least three games planned out for this system and I haven’t even finished reading the books. Plus, it comes with a pretty map. The cover is just the Enterprise and it evokes some of my favorite feelings. The other art shows away missions in dangerous caves and a large number of Red Shirts. The thing I love the most is that you can purchase pre-generated characters of your favorite crew, or mix and match for your game if you wanted. We have two “Try an RPG Day” dates this year, and I am pulling this game out for one of them. Although I am still determining which of the seven game ideas I will run. It is not a bad problem to have.
This inspiration is not just reserved for the games I run. It is also reserved for the games I am a player for. The best example I have of that is when we were starting a home Starfinder campaign. My GM had the book out and I was looking down and smiling back at me was the most awesome space goblin I had ever seen. I knew in that moment that was what I needed my character to be. My good-natured GM rolled with it and thus Dr. Spork T. Space Goblin was born. She is the smartest of the space goblins and that is why she is a doctor. Just seeing that artwork of a space goblin with a makeshift machete and a homemade laser gun, I had not only the character concept, but also her personality.
The thing I like most about art in RPG books is how it sets the tone for the game. There are games that are intense, some silly, some fantastic, some gritty. The art, not only on the cover, but throughout the book, really sets the tone for the game as a whole.
My first ever RPG, Rifts, is a complicated mess of convoluted rules, but it’s still dear to my heart. The art in the pages of the many (many, many, many) books sets you up for adventure of the crazy, gritty, post-Apocalyptic variety. The art on the cover of the Ultimate Edition corebook (colloquially known as the RUE) shows a vaguely steampunkish mystical being kneeling in front of a portal (or rift) with a giant eyeball and nasty mouth tendrils emerging from it (this is a particularly big nasty being known as the Splugorth; if you’ve played Rifts you KNOW the Splugorth). When you crack open the pages of it, each image really invokes that crazy adventure feel, from the illustration of the Rogue Scientist scaling a cliff, to the pictures of the Coalition Dogboys.
My favorite RPG in the entire universe, Numenera, also has the most gorgeous artwork. The way the artists portray the Ninth World gets you in the spirit of exploration. The colors are bold, pastels and bright colors combined, unlike the dark colors of Rifts, giving it a more inquisitive feel. And that’s true of the game; it’s all about uncovering the mysteries left behind by the previous worlds. The most used and iconic picture is on the Corebook and Starter Set. It’s a bright orange background, with the Amber Monolith in the center, surrounded by creatures and people. It gives the sense of the vastness of the world and the possibilities. All of the art in every book is full-color and just as gorgeously detailed and vast. My favorite picture in all of the Numenera books is from the pre-written adventure, The Devil’s Spine. The adventure itself is a ton of fun, and I’ll try not to give too many spoilers, but at one point, adventurers may encounter a swamp filled with giant statues of vaguely humanoid shape. The art is in muted tones of gray and yellow, highlighted with purple flowers. It certainly sets the tone of uneasiness meant to be felt in that area, and gives a slight vision of what is to come to those who venture into the swamp.
Honorable Mentions for books whose cover art sets the tone for the game (and either has minimal inside art, or not as thematic art): Ten Candles, a horror game by Calvary Games (I have yet to play this game, but the cover was what drew me to it, as well as the mechanic of using actual candles in the gameplay); Apocalypse World by D. Vincent Baker and Meguey Baker (this is one of my favorite games, and the first game I ever ran! The cover art really sets the tone for how post-apocalyptic and open-ended this game really is); and finally, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen by James Wallis (the version I own is stark white with black text and filigree; it really sets the tone for how lush and over the top the game is. This game is all about telling the most extravagant lie)!
We are grateful for all the work that it takes to put together games. It is so exciting that Eye of the Beholder is shedding light on one of them. We hope you will consider joining the directors at the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival on Friday, February 15, 2019 at 7:00 PM for a screening at the Somerville Theater. We both have plans to be there! (Note: Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival has not paid us to promote this event and we are paying for our tickets. This is just a topic that excites us and we have offered to promote it as something awesome to do with a Friday night.)
We also hope you join us for another fabulous ELS Day on March 10, 2019 from 12-6 at Comicazi. We are working on which woman created game we will be featuring, so we are going to make our game announcement via social media soon.
Until next time…. May all your hits be crits.