Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Breaking Down Doors (Again)

Like the last two covers of the Dungeon Masters Guide, the fourth one -- for the revised 2e books, sometimes called 2.5e -- was painted by Jeff Easley.

I can only assume that the art director of this revision gave explicit instructions to Mr Easley to go with a "breaking down doors" theme. It's the only explanation I can come up with as to why both this cover and the cover of the revised Players Handbook both illustrate a group of characters busting down a door in a dungeon.

I'll give this cover points for including a dungeon, but that's about the only good thing I can say about it. Easley is not one of my favorite D&D artists by a long shot; he's not even my favorite 2e era artist. Even so, some of his earlier work is good, if not necessarily old school. His later art, though, strikes me as ... cartoonish. Perhaps that's not the word I'm looking for. In any case, the three creatures bursting through the dungeon door here -- Ogres? Hill giants? -- simply don't look real to me. They have an almost stylized character to them that's made worse by the shading and coloration of the piece. They look, as I said, like cartoon characters rather than like something appropriate for a D&D illustration.

More to the point, what exactly do these ogres have to do with the Dungeon Masters Guide? Had this been the cover of, say, the Monster Manual, it might be a bit more appropriate, but the DMG? The illustration reveals nothing about the content of the book on whose cover it rests. It's just a generic piece, devoid of both context and meaning. I understand that some people don't mind covers that don't really "connect" to the content, particularly when dealing with things like referee's manuals; I'm not one of them. For me, referee-oriented books already have enough strikes against them as it is. There's no point in making them even more unattractive to buyers by giving them covers that are so uninspired and unrelated to their purpose.

All in all, I think I can safely say, with even looking at the 2.5e Monster Manual, that this iteration of Dungeons & Dragons has by far and away the worst cover art of them all. I simply have no idea what TSR was thinking when they commissioned these pieces, but then it's quite likely, given subsequent events, that neither did TSR.

11 comments:

  1. I always assumed that they were bursting down the door on the opposite side of the chamber to the one the Barbarian and co are breaking down. There's something in the chamber that both sides want. In that sense, this depiction is very adversarial. The players control the heroes, the game master the monsters.

    That said, I don't like this revised DMG cover any more than the revised PHB cover, largely because of the 'false Frazetta' stylisation. I remember I made the decision as a teenager not to buy the revised books largely based on the cover art...

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  2. This cover was created deep into what I call Easley's "evil clown" period. Lots of bulbous faces and bodies that seem to shimmer with a sheen of feverish sweat, leering disturbingly. It's the stuff of unpleasant dreams, and I have to wonder what Mr. Easley was going through when he painted these.

    - Brian

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  3. I'm with the adversarial reading: on PHB the PCs burst into the archetypal dungeon space: the room of encounter. Here the monsters do so, under the invisible hand of the DM, thereby acting outside the passive stereotype of "monsters waiting in the room for the PCs to burst in" which was such a hot topic of discussion in about 1986. I think this cover might even have been intended to say something 'progressive.'

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  4. James, I wondering how you feel about cover art containing things that are not described in the game.

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  5. I always found the revised trade dress to be off-putting, with the black borders, the Dungeons & Dragons logo bigger than the book name, etc. etc. Something about it all just looked too slick, without actually feeling professional. Hard to explain, but it was a big turn off for me.

    That 'slickness' is my problem with the cover art, as well. It just seems too polished, without actually being good.

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  6. "False Frazetta" is a great turn of phrase. I may borrow it in the future.

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  7. This cover was created deep into what I call Easley's "evil clown" period. Lots of bulbous faces and bodies that seem to shimmer with a sheen of feverish sweat, leering disturbingly. It's the stuff of unpleasant dreams, and I have to wonder what Mr. Easley was going through when he painted these.

    Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I find a lot of late Easley work to be quite disconcerting.

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  8. James, I wondering how you feel about cover art containing things that are not described in the game.

    I dislike it very strongly. My feeling is that the cover of a game should show you not just what a game is about but also what it contains.

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  9. You didn't comment on the singular use of "Dungeon Master" in the title...

    Dungeon Master Guide

    Not, Dungeon Master's Guide (possessive) or Dungeon Masters Guide (plural, a guide for DMs).

    The title has seemingly gone through grammatical changes at the whims of editors or publishers with a grammatical leaning, or efforts to describe, in precise grammar, who the book is for.

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  10. I'll chime in late to the scene, the revised DMG could be the adversarial here are the monsters busting in, or it could be how the monsters view what is happening on the PhB cover instead of these champions coming, they see brutes about to wreck homes and take loot.

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  11. The title has seemingly gone through grammatical changes at the whims of editors or publishers with a grammatical leaning, or efforts to describe, in precise grammar, who the book is for.

    You know, I hadn't even noticed the change in title on 2.5e cover. I never owned them myself and they look so underwhelming that I guess it just slipped right past my eyes. You're right, though, that the title change is an interesting phenomenon and one possibly deserving of discussion at some point.

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