Friday, December 2, 2011

Open Friday: Good Gaming Art

One of the truly frustrating aspects of discussing old school games, both the originals and those inspired by them, is the moving target of what constitutes "good" gaming art. For some, nothing less than homages to art from three decades ago can ever be good; for others, anything that demonstrates even the slightest connection to what has come before will never suffice. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by this diversity of opinions, since there's never been a consensus on such matters. I mean, even back in the early '80s there were people who didn't like Erol Otus (and still don't).

So, rather than trying to come to any conclusions regarding what makes good gaming art in any universal sense, what I want to know is: what piece of art, produced in the last five years, do you consider a particularly effective piece of gaming art and why? Just stick to that question and nothing else, least of all criticizing someone else's choice of what they consider good. The point of this question is simply to learn what my readership likes and why.

78 comments:

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  2. These days my favourite is Mullen. Some of the pieces on his site are great.

    Not so much a fan of his closed helm character but if I had to pick a fave piece it would be this one; http://mullenart.webs.com/pictures/back%20cover%20twelve%20toes%20sm.jpg

    It just gets the gaming juices flowing. I can just see my players in that situation, tense as hell about the murky water...

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  3. Anything by Brian Thomas. Hugely expressive characters who are doing adventure-y things in adventure-y equipment.

    For instance:

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_ryQYeYnqnGc/TA-SA7gBmCI/AAAAAAAAACo/Zccqt2zGaD0/s1600/owlbear+vs+dwarves.jpg

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  4. Do maps count as art?

    Sure, if you really think one of the best illustrations you've seen in a game product over the last 5 years is a map.

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  5. Since I first saw Martin McKenna's work in the Fighting Fantasy series, I've been a fan of his. His illustrations leap off the page and just beg to be stared at. That's the best way I can describe it.

    Twenty years later, he's still going strong. A sampling of his work can be found at the link below...

    http://www.martinmckenna.net/

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  6. DMAC. I love this guy! Darren Calvert. Pretty much anything he does is gold.

    http://d-mac.deviantart.com/

    Aside from that, I can't think of too much they really wowed me. I definitely can't think of any fantasy stuff. It all looks the same these days. There is some awesome, fun and charming stuff coming out of Japan but I rarely see a Pathfinder or D&D type illustration and thing, "Hey, that's cool. I've never seen that before."

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  7. I'm not good with names, but I definitely find the art in the latest Moon Design products very evocative. I also like the excerpts I've seen so far of the art for the upcoming Isle of the Unknown product by LotFP.

    Dario Corallo's unique style has also been a favourite of mine for years: http://scravagghiupilusu959.deviantart.com/gallery/23658309

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  8. Most of the illustrations in RPG products don't strike me as art. They're merely illustrations to me: graphic representations of characters or scenes from an imagined scenario. They're about as much "art" as clip art is.

    That being said, I'm awfully fond of illustrations that show different subjects, hint at mystery, feature dynamic characterization, evocative backgrounds, and some degree of artistic license with the look of the creatures.

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  9. From the last five years, it has to be Pete Mullen, especially the Ruins & Ronins and Whitebox covers. I like Jason Sholtis' stuff too reminds of comic artists like Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, and Pete Loveday, but in a fantasy style. I like Mark Allen's stuff too.

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  10. While it was criticized in comments here quite a bit, I really like the cover to Swords and Wizardry Complete: http://is.gd/zIhHzn

    I'm not an artist, so I can't speak to it as a composition, but, as a (semi-retired) gamer, it speaks to me of exploration, mystery, danger, strange settings outside the bounds of "normal," and even a bit of humor (the party member with the torch looking back and wondering "What happened to Fred?"). This piece of art hits the right notes for me.

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  11. For me, the best illustrations add to the test rather than distract from it. The Moldvay Basic alignment illustration is brilliant; the AD&D monster manual is a perfect example.

    Personally, I'm not much in to the "here's a pretty picture, cool, hu? Look how high a production value I have."

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  12. I thought Jim Holloway did a great job with Mr. Kuntz's Skeleton King and Tower of Blood modules!! Brian Thomas does a great job as well.

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  13. If we limit ourselves to art from gaming products, I like Peter Mullen. His pictures really inspire my imagination... much like Erol Otus and/or Trampier.
    I get a bit bored with the kind of art that Pathfinder and WOTC has on their sites although it looks more "fancy." But if you are asking in order to find out what will sell, don't ask me.
    One of my favorite RPG pictures ever is Trampier's cover of the PHB with the demon idol.

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  14. For interior black and white illustrations I like the art in the Dungeon Crawl Classics preview. One artist in particular, I don't recall his name, draws in a way that reminds me of first edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

    For color artwork, Wayne Reynolds is one of my favorites. The cover to Pathfinder is a good example.
    The reason I like it, besides Reynolds style, is it seems to be an homage to the cover to the Basic D&D cover by Erol Otus.
    You have a fighter and a magic user encountering a red dragon in it's lair. All the elements are there, just a different composition.

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  15. Maybe its my age, but I think my three favorites are people who are entwined with specific game worlds and really brought the 'feel' of that game world to life with their art. Those three are Brom, Tim Bradstreet, and Tony DiTerlizzi. Dark Sun, Vampire; The Masquerade, and Planescape, I think without them, those settings would have faded to the background or been over looked (like Birthright).

    In my mind, the art should reflect the mood of the game. Most games miss the boat on this. Very few work it to their advantage.

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  17. Best art? Mine, of course! :-)

    Seriously, any art that evokes the setting is good to me. I am particularly fond of pen and ink illustrations, particularly Paul Jaquays and (especially) Jim Holloway's work. Jaquays can do anything in my book: serious, funny, dramatic, he's that versitle. And Holloway, I love the humor he injects in his art. Even the serious pieces have a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor.

    -SJ

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  18. Favorite piece: Pete Mullen's Swords & Wizardry cover. Adventurers in a weird place, doing what adventurers do. Make that Old School Adventurers.

    Favorite art from the viewpoint of one single product as a whole: Steve Zeiser's illustrations for Labyrinth Lord. Visually, the most old school of OSR products. Mr. Zeiser's work really helped bring that together and meshed very well with Dan's layout.

    Favorite OSR artist overall? Mark Allen. D&D to a T, something I'll never grow tired of.

    Honorable mention to the illo of the young pilgrim girl Flame Princess, from the Grindhouse edition rulebook cover and the illo accompanying the Fighter entry, from the same set and book.

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  19. I adore Pete Mullen's work. His covers for S&W, Ruins & Ronin, and the LotFP magic book are all, to me, perfect depictions of the fantasy worlds I envision.

    Sean Aaberg's illustrations of the various Demon Princes in the AEC are awesome. His primitive, almost anti-aesthetic captures the DIY, underground nature that I so love about the OSR.

    And I find the cover of Isle of the Unknown extremely evocative and unlike anything I've seen. We need more Laser Harps in game books.

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  20. Of recently produced art, I have liked Peter Mullen a lot: obviously inspired by Otus, but more than a homage; he paints adventurers very well - and "Snow Summons", for the LotFP Grindhouse Edition http://mullenart.webs.com/pictures/lotfp%20sm.jpg ), is horrific while remaining cartoonish and silly. Or there is "Tower of the Stargazer", with its shades of blackness, hinting at terrain through specularity.

    As another Otus-inspired artist, I can mention Stefan Poag. He is more grotesque, maybe most apparent in Exquisite Corpses ( http://stefanpoag.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/exquisite-corpses-update-2222010/ ) but also noticeable everywhere - e.g. http://www.lamarcadeleste.com/2008/07/pod-caverns-of-sinister-shroom.html

    Laura Jalo, who has done illustrations and covers mainly for LotFP, has a slightly surreal style I also like. See, for example, the art she did for Death Frost Doom: http://lotfp.blogspot.com/2009/04/death-frost-doom-artwork-and-more.html Obviously very far from photorealism, and very far from TSR classics.

    Among modern artists, I like Wayne Reynolds for his Pathfinder work. A good use of colours (or shadows when he is doing B&W) and an excellent eye for fine detail. See http://www.d20pfsrd.com/classes/core-classes/cleric or http://www.d20pfsrd.com/classes/core-classes/wizard for two examples. He is anime-inspired in a good way.

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  21. I'd put my favorite as the art team of Legend of the Five Rings, especially in their 4th edition. With the exception of Genzoman, the art team has done an amazing job, and every book is a joy to look at. Almost makes you forget about their terrible editing, or make the books worth buying regardless.

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  22. @Booberry: "And I find the cover of Isle of the Unknown extremely evocative and unlike anything I've seen. We need more Laser Harps in game books."

    Ha! I called it the "Crystal Dragon WTF" style, but Laser Harp is very apt! :D Seriously though, it is enchanting. So colourful that it goes into kitsch, and keeps on going until it is cool and awesome again.

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  23. I'm going to not give examples but my general rules.

    1) The more fantastic the setting the more realistic and detailed the art needs to be. It can be very difficult to convey the scary power of wizard with words, but a lightning bolt to a frost giant's face works wonders on show how powerful they are.

    2) For judging a books art as a whole three things need to be in balance: example characters; the setting; interaction of these previous two items with each other and themselves. So I need to have wonderful sample character art (90s White Wolf was stellar with this), beautiful landscapes (2E art did well with this), and characters interacting with setting (this is where the old school art shines).

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  24. I don't have a favorite piece of art from the last five years, but I will say that "less is more" when it comes to rulebook art. I loved the old DMG, especially its "art-lite" approach.

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  25. My favorite recent pieces of game artwork are the illustrations of Cheyenne Wright that grace the covers and much of the interiors of the Savage Worlds rulebooks. His work just screams to me "this is what your characters can be like!" I think the appeal of most of the Savage Worlds artwork is the focus on the characters, and how well the appearances of the characters really communicates the possibilities of the various settings.

    Though I have to say I like Peter Mullen's stuff too, for the same reasons already given above.

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  26. Pete Mullen, for all of the reasons people have given above. I especially love the cover of the LOTFP Referee book and the Ruins & Ronin cover.

    I love Jerome Huegenin's work for the Trail of Cthluhu books. I think he's the best Lovecraftian gaming book artist out there right now, up there with Paul Carrick's signature Call of Cthulhu artwork.

    Oh, but I can't forget the Spanish artist Santiago Caruso, whose cover of More Adventures in Arkham Country is probably my single favorite cover of the last few years: it shows an investigator about to enter the Esoteric Lodge of Dagon, and everything about the mood and atmosphere is perfect for a horror adventure.

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  27. Illustration doesn't really do it for me. Music always does though. My current pre-game favorite is Demons and Wizards, specifically "Beneath These Waves"

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  28. I'll give you three covers of products that make me say to myself, "I want to be a part of that campaign!":

    1) Swords & Sorcery Complete
    2) Ruins & Ronins
    3) OpenQuest

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  29. The Lewis Chess Men have inspired at least five sessions in the last year for one of my campaigns.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_chessmen

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  30. I'm pretty partial to Bryan DeClerq's cover art for the B/X Companion...it references the original EO pieces of the B/X game while putting a new spin on it (which for me, conveys much of what I wanted to convey with the book).

    My other favorite piece of art is the box cover to Raggi's LotFP...but just because I think it's awesome and inspiring. Since I don't own the game, I'm not sure how well it translates.

    [which for me, IS a thing...Elmore's cover art to the Mentzer Basic set, for example, is ridiculous...none of the characters created in the Basic set are going to be charging a dragon on foot. At least the EO cover looks like the adventurers have kind of "stepped in it" and they're looking to put up a bit of resistance before the inevitable death sequence]

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  31. H'mmm. Thus far I'd give the honours to Martin McKenna. I'd also put in a word for Kelvin Green because he cares about anatomy. I'm not an adherent of the school of thought that doesn't mind poor technique if the mood's right; KG's work may not be photorealistic but the characters have real body shapes, real 'skeletons' and, now I come to think of it, great mood too.

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  32. Oh - and an individual style. You can spot a Kelvin Green image a mile off - there are all too many artists in the field who just open the box marked "mighty-thewed barbarian type IV" and produce something genre-perfect and utterly anonymous.

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  33. Black Gate's cover art - every single issue, but especially the wraparounds.

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  34. Steve Zeiser's Labyrinth Lord covers. Absolutely love them...

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  35. The first two items that come to mind aren't individual illustrations so much as complete works: Mark Smylie's Artesia: Adventures in the Known World RPG and Zak S.'s Vornheim. I can't really separate any one illustration out though, as what makes the books work is the totality of design that went into them. Great case studies for unified gaming aesthetics though . . .

    I liked the few pieces present in Stars Without Number - they captured a distinct feel without being overpowering while suggesting a broader setting, and for fantasy I can't really recommend both the Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure (4th printing, I think?) and Runequest II's Monstrous Coliseum highly enough. I'm hesitant to suggest cover examples as I feel that cover art really is its own beast, though Eclipse Phase (the main book and also, Sunward) is a stellar example in my book.

    Oddly I find it gets easier to pick out specific works the further back I go - stepping away from the five year timeline I can still conjure Lilith, Dahlia and the Fatmias from Tribe 8 in my minds eye, and the old illustrations of the Nethermancer or the Abyssal Swamps from FASA's Earthdawn still strike a chord. I can even describe, down to the burning brazier and the half lit lamp, the scene of the fallen warrioress in burial respose that used to grace the page opposite the bard's spell table in my 2nd edition D&D PhB. I'm not sure why that is.

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  36. Why the last five years? Why not ten? There hasn't been a lot of adventurous experiments in RPG art in the last decade.

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  37. Why the last five years? Why not ten? There hasn't been a lot of adventurous experiments in RPG art in the last decade.

    The question's not about adventurous experiments in RPG art; it's about what recent gaming art you like and why.

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  38. I was very pleased to see Jim Roslof's illustrations in Dungeon Alphabet. That doesn't really qualify as a recent artist who captures the old-school look, but it still made me happy, because I've always liked Jim's work.

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  39. Oh, I can't believe I forgot Poag. I love that guy's work. So grotesque. I'd love to see him illustrate one of Jesse Bullington's novels.

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  40. I can't understand the love for Pete Mullen. His stick figures just look childish to me. Not a fan of Erol Otus either, but at least he could draw. My favourites are probably Peter Andrew Jones and Russ Nicholson.

    One thing I will say for Mullen though, at least his pictures are more interesting than the formulaic, safe, and uninspiring ad-agency style art churned out by Fantasy Flight and Paizo.

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  41. In the 4th Edition Adventurers' Vault 2, there is an illustration for somethign called Gorgon's Blood Mortar:

    It is a full blown landscape painting of a gnarled, anthropomorphic tree looming and spreading over a melancholic pastoral scene wherein a few robed figures move to and from an isolated marble shrine.

    The picture stimulates the imagination with this rich and mysterious atmosphere. I can imagine several different legendary stories for a campaign.

    The picture is still posted at Wizards' site: http://www.wizards.com/DnD/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4ex/20090803

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  42. I like Mullen, but I prefer his black and white illustrations to his colour work. That's just me, though. I almost always prefer line work to colour paintings.

    David Lee Ingersoll has a highly distinctive style. Some of his pictures in the big BRP book are very unusual and inspiring. I'm fond of the WW2 valkyrie warrior, and the African-style adventuring party in the valley of bones on pages 44 and 45.

    Nothing says old school like Stefan Poag's visceral and funny art, though. I don't think it's been published except on his blog, but Poag's gug (like something out of Dr Seuss's worst acid-induced nightmare) is probably my single favourite recent piece of game-related art.
    http://stefanpoag.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/gug_attack_sbpoag.jpg

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  43. Steve Zieser’s cover for the X-plorers box set evokes everything I like about raygun & bubble helmet scifi. I'm also a sucker for crisp black and white, so I guess that has to be my choice.

    In general, I'm still missing the active, cool and competent women. They're sorely absent in basically all gaming art (and in comics, movies, etc.).

    I was really thrilled to see Mark Allen’s piece for Dwimmermount with the old, completely dressed, and competent-looking woman and the knight that James showed off in October. Something completely different than the token half-dressed elf.

    The October piece:
    http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2011/10/some-more-dwimmermount-art.html

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  44. I can't believe no-one has mentioned Thomas Denmark. I love the illustration he did for Petty Gods. Stefan Poag is another favorite of mine.

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  45. My favorite current cover artist, Raymond Swanland (example: http://www.raymondswanland.com/Images/Illustration%20Gallery/BlackCompany.jpg). His covers for the latest Glen Cook books (the Instrumentalities of the Night -and- Black Company compilations) are particularly striking.

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  46. My favorite piece of recent gaming art is THE Lamentations of the Flame Princess picture -- because it conveys such a vivid sense of the sort of play that game is designed to encourage that it acts as a sort of litmus test. If you like that picture, then you'll probably like that game. If you don't like that picture, then you probably won't like that game.

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  47. It's this piece:

    http://www.wizards.com/dnd/images/ph2_gallery/97180.jpg

    It's from the Player's Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition. And it pretty much instantly conveys exploration and adventure while inviting you to open your own imagination.

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  48. As far as recent stuff, I think almost all of the Pathfinder art is really well executed...it is all done by very competent artists who can make realistic looking, action-packed scenes, but refrain from going overboard with the mega-swords and pointy armor a la D&D 4e. I think the cover of "Cult of the Ebon Destroyers" is quite vibey and nice; I love the Hindu/Vedic-inspired creature they're fighting!

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  49. I agree with many of the commentators so far -- except for this "Wordmonger" fellow, who is clearly some kind of dangerous lunatic -- as Mullen, Allen and Poag are brilliant artists. That said, I wouldn't be able to pick out one piece of art from any of them that made me sit up and go "wow!"

    One piece that did was Rich Longmore's shoggoth from Carcosa. That's a stunning piece of work, and I'd almost have bought Carcosa for it alone.

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  50. Ahhh, yes. Rich Longmore. My second favorite piece of recent gaming art is Rich Longmore's "Space Alien Technology" from the forthcoming LotFP edition of Carcosa. It helped me understand that Carcosa is as much about sci-fi action adventure as it is about swords & sorcery and Lovecraftian horror.

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  51. Erol Otus was never the artist for the version of D&D I started with. Elmore was a dominant feature in the Red box (Basic D&D boxed set). He defined who Aleena and Bargle the Wizard (who didnt last all that long - the fellow in the adventure in the Red Box was different from Bargle the Infamous in Gazeteer 1-Grand Duchy of Karameikos - maybe the old geezer was young Bargle's daddy) were.

    Elmore's art was the Known World/Mystaran setting.

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  52. First no question Tramp's cover of the PHB: the greatest piece of D&D art ever.

    SecondI would say is both Erol's covers for Basic and Expert: they just evoke that "weird" adventure atmosphere.


    Third is Brad “Morno” Schenk's cover of Welcome To Skull Tower: it captures the beginning of a group of "less-then-heroic" adventures of to do some serious dungeon delving.

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  53. David A. Trampier - nuff said.

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  54. Well the brief was for the last 5 years, so that is why Tramps doesn't get a gig & sadly IMO Otus these days is a shadow of his former self.

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  55. I guess it's revealing that so many Old Schoolers couldn't stay on topic (within the last five years) and strayed into nostalgia for art produced 30+ years ago.

    The technical quality of gaming art is clearly higher now than it was in the Golden Age. (We fondly remember Tramp & Erol Otus, but prefer to forget David S. LaForce, Jean Wells, and the fact that most of Sutherland's pieces were so poor that TSR ultimately relegated him to cartography.)

    Unfortunately, as many here have mentioned, a uniformity of theme has emerged, in stultifying concert with the homogenization of the fantasy genre and RPGs generally.

    Disturbing recent trends: the influence of imagery from the World of Warcraft, and of comic book art. The latter has influenced gaming art from the beginning, but Jeff Dee and Bill Willingham's characters looked like quasi-medieval people drawn in a comic book style. More recent artists tend to draw D&D characters who look more like X-Men than plausible members of a medieval fantasy world. The stupid oversized weapons (see the cover of 4e's PH2) are simply embarrassing, laughable to anyone who has any idea how much metal really weighs.

    Where those influences are resisted, you can find good art, like on the cover of 4e's DMG2.

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  56. Last five years? Then I would probably choose the Pathfinder Core Rules cover by Wayne Reynolds. His Red Dragon is pretty frightening despite it obviously being a pretty young specimen.
    The details on his character designs are also neat. Some might call it too much, but I can imagine most PCs carrying around that much stuff XD

    If you allow me to look a few years back (say 9 years), I'd pick this cover for the German roleplaying game "Das Schwarze Auge" (The Dark Eye) by Zoltán Boros and Gábor Szikszai:

    http://www.boros-szikszai.com/pictures/7/180_pic.jpg

    This is how every fight against skeletons should be.

    Since I'm just as tired about ridiculous shoulder pads and oversized weapons as most of you, it's good to know I'm still living in a country were fellow roleplayers prefer their characters to look plausible:

    http://www.boros-szikszai.com/galleries/24/

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  57. My single favorite piece of RPG art of the last five years is Cynthia Sheppard's cover for my Isle of the Unknown. I like it for its other-worldly beauty, its evocative use of color and shadow, the sensual beauty of the statue, and the enchantment of her rainbow harp. When I look at that art, I want to explore the land pictured therein.

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  58. I always loved Elmore. The colors were always warm and his paintings invited me to start imagining the story behind them. They made me want to play or write an adventure.

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  59. A number of Jon Hodgson's pieces are amazing. They are sorta ethereal pics. http://www.jonhodgson.com/Jon_Hodgson_Illustration/Artwork.html

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  60. The Lamentations of the Flame Princess cover for me... and that new Carcosa art is fantabulous.

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  61. @Brian MacKenzie:
    Completely agree re the influence of Warcraft. Almost as bad in my opinion is comic book art, but this has always been a strong influence on gaming art in the US - including all editions of D&D. Hence I generally prefer old school art from the UK. I don't really like pictures of superheroes. Worst of all is teen manga-style superheroes, such as Mongoose (a UK company as it happens) have recently inflicted on their new Legend rpg: http://www.mongoosepublishing.com/rpgs/legend/legend/legend-alternative-cover.html.

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  62. I gotta stretch the time constraints, sorry.

    1) The Risus art is perfectly matched to its game, though there's no one piece worth mentioning, of course.

    2) Whereas the Trail of Cthulhu art is wonderful on its own terms: http://www.pelgranepress.com/trail/files/wallpaperinvestigator_TOC.jpg and http://www.pelgranepress.com/trail/files/wallpaperscreen_TOC.jpg are representative samples. I think Jérome Huguenin's Trail work is my favourite new gaming art, and it works for me partly because it's juuuuuuuuust on the far side of plausible: Investigators very much of their time, well-outfitted and slightly cartoonish, set against settings that seem reasonable except for, say, the perfect roundness of the thing in the middle of the second link...

    3) If we can go back a decade(?), Christopher Shy's work on GURPS Horror and Cabal really rings my bell, for much the same reason: its offness is well-judged; it's creepy without being gory; it sets a definite mood of horror without saying 'This is the thing you're going to be horrified of.' Quite the contrary: it pricks you into feeling something that makes the next feeling a bit more complicated.

    4) Almost no D&D-themed art strikes me as particularly inspiring, but that's probably a function of overexposure. So, so, so much cliché.

    5) My Life With Master has great art - just the right almost-funny melancholy, well matched to the game.

    6) Then there's Todd Shearer's work on Wild Talents - particularly on Progenitor and the marquee alt-history chapter in the WT corebook. Shearer's got a great touch for 'historical'-looking art - he manages to make his work look 'period' without explicitly dating it. He nicely avoids the temptations of cartoonish art and photorealism.

    7) Zak's work on Vornheim is evocative and unique - I like that it gives Vornheim a definite flavour without actually defining the visual style of the city as such - i.e. the illustrations are very stylistically consistent, but the city itself isn't. That's a great idea for a sandbox-like tool.

    8) Finally, the new edition of Nobilis features art that will, I imagine, appeal to exactly no one reading this comment thread - it's all anime-inspired weird-cute - but it's well-chosen by designer Jenna Moran, perfectly paralleling the absurdly wide range of tones that the text strikes, sometimes in a single paragraph. She's a highly distinctive writer and the art of Nobilis, while inconsistently 'good,' manages to mirror Moran's writerly approach.

    --------

    If there's a point to these disconnected shout-outs, it's probably this: the RPG art that really speaks to me, beyond its 'value as art,' is the stuff that nails the tone of the game, not by offering specific content but by capturing the mood that the writers may or may not be able to impart on their own. (For example!! The mood of, say, the earliest OD&D and AD&D is pretty much childlike wonder. The illos look like something out of Napoleon Dynamite. I hate most of the art in those books, but it does seem to get what Gygax was peddling.)

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  63. Or in summary:

    Great gaming art helps me imagine what playing the game will feel like. That's useful while reading the book, and stays useful at the table.

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  64. I really dig some of the art in 4e PHB. Blasphemous of me, I know, but there it is. There is an especially cool piece where a party is fighting a group of trolls whilst standing on a natural bridge of stone over a raging river.
    Other than that, the map in the 4e edition of Dark Sun really captures my imagination.
    I also really groove on Poag and Mullen.

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  65. My only feedback is: don't let a single artistic "voice" or style take over. Though I had my favorites back in the day, and wondered why space was wasted on others, I now look back and see the worth. No single voice, no single "take". When you go looking for ideas or inspiration, you never know what style might spark an imagination.

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  66. I also really groove on Poag and Mullen.

    Without getting into any specific criticisms of these artists, I'd like to suggest that much - or more diplomatically, some - of the appeal of their work comes from prior knowledge, i.e. their work gets some of its purported shine not from on the specific texts it's found in, but from the overall atmosphere of fond recollection which their deliberately 'retro-feel' art comes out of.

    Consider the LotFP art - compare the evocative 'redheaded child with a sword avenges her family' cover with Mullen's piece for the referee book. Leaving aside matters of technique and execution (not my purview), there's a key difference: one of those pieces decisively (and accurately) places its text within a specific feel, a time and place, a narrative genre even. One of them looks like old D&D art. That's its job. That's the world it illustrates: a world that already existed in RPGs 30 years ago.

    Its 'effectiveness,' in other words, derives in no small part from how readers felt about 'old-school' RPGs before they even opened up the books in question. That's much less true of, say, the cover of The Isle of the Unknown, which really does seem to come out of nowhere. It functions as an invitation, not a reminder.

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  67. My only feedback is: don't let a single artistic "voice" or style take over. Though I had my favorites back in the day, and wondered why space was wasted on others, I now look back and see the worth. No single voice, no single "take". When you go looking for ideas or inspiration, you never know what style might spark an imagination.

    I'm not sure this sensible advice holds, though, for more tightly-focused games meant to produce more specific world- or story- or play-structures. Mouse Guard has incredible art, all of a piece (as expected, given its origin) - and that book's meant to prompt/guide players to one specific take on 'talking mice with swords.' Luke Crane's text also works to reinforce that specific take, not 100% successfully but whatever. The atmosphere of Mouse Guard, its austere noble pastoral vibe, is a delicate thing. A more catholic approach to art (to interpretation) would threaten that vibe.

    Not a big deal for a big tent game like OD&D, though.

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  68. Without getting into any specific criticisms of these artists, I'd like to suggest that much - or more diplomatically, some - of the appeal of their work comes from prior knowledge, i.e. their work gets some of its purported shine not from on the specific texts it's found in, but from the overall atmosphere of fond recollection which their deliberately 'retro-feel' art comes out of.

    As one of the artists in question, with respect, I'd like to point out that 'the way I draw' is the way I draw. I can try to ape the style of artists I admire (I think that is the way one learns to draw --- you start by copying and observing and studying and then figure out what works from that) but after several decades of drawing, my pictures always come out looking like I drew it. It's like handwriting.
    Some artists are able to switch up styles much more easily; I can't.
    I drew like this before 'retro D&D art' came into fashion and suspect I will continue to draw like this after the retro D&D art has had its brief 15 minutes in the sun and shuffles back into obscurity along with pogs, friendship bracelets and chia pets.

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  69. As one of the artists in question, with respect, I'd like to point out that 'the way I draw' is the way I draw.

    Of course - my comment is a response to the hosannas in this thread, not a general comment about your work. As for 'retro-feel,' I assume that's as much a matter of subject matter and the nature of commissions as anything else; that said, if you feel I've misrepresented your body of work or its motivation, I accept that, and sincerely apologise.

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  70. No need for apologies; I don't feel I have been insulted... I was just following the conversation. I accept that some of the appeal of my work may be 'retro.' As an artist, if or why someone else likes what I drew is sort of out of my hands (I've learned you cannot convince someone to like something they don't like but it is possible to poison someone's enjoyment of something they do like --- another example of human perversity). I try to learn by practice and looking at how other people draw things --- so my sources are a big influence. I think that's the case with most artists.

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  71. There is a good although demanding way to determine if a specific artist's work is merely nostalgic, or has value on its own: show it to people who don't play RPGs, but have a good taste in art and aren't biased against fantasy.

    Otherwise, any single piece of artwork can be denounced as "nostalgic" - criticism hardly if ever levelled against illustrations from the 20s or the 19th century.

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  72. I guess I don't know what people mean by 'nostalgic.' Isn't 'nostalgia' something that occurs within the viewer's experience? Couldn't just about anything inspire feelings of 'nostalgia' within the viewer? If I look at a picture of a toy and looking at it reminds me of all of the great times I had as a boy playing with that toy, wouldn't that mean that the quality of evoking nostalgia resides within me?
    That said, I think a lot of current RPG art work that might be lumped within the "osr" certainly references what came before and includes references to stuff published by TSR back in the day. Does that make it nostalgic (and is being nostalgic a good or bad thing?) I don't know. But I suspect 'nostalgia' is something the viewer feels, not something that can be 'put into' an image. Or maybe I just don't understand the term correctly.

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  74. I'll go down on record as never having liked Erol Otus's artwork, and being a fan of Wayne Reynolds's work.

    I want illustrations that inspire me to run the game. That may sound generic, but I'm disappointed by the number of game illustrations I've seen which seem only to be filling otherwise empty spaces, like clip-art. What I most appreciate in a game illustration is one that tells a story; a scene which suggests some specific action is going on (rather than just characters looking off-camera as they pose heroically), and which encourages me to think of stuff that could happen when running the game.

    The best examples of what I'm talking about are, to my mind, Angus McBride's illustrations for the Osprey Military History books. While they're meant to serve merely as illustrations of what different warriors in history wore and looked like, McBride almost always draws a scene that looks as though we're catching the warriors in the middle of something - joking with each other about something off-page, getting into an argument as a building burns, being begged for aid by a frantic peasant, etc.

    If I may go back to Wayne Reynolds for a moment, I enjoy the kinetic energy and dynamism of his illustrations. There's never any doubt that what he's illustrating is about **ADVENTURE!**

    I'll also echo admiration for John Hodgson. His work has such a moody atmosphere to it; I find it immediately evocative of Dark Ages mystery and adventure (probably influenced by his Dragon Warriors cover art, though that's not my favorite of his).

    Also, the cover to Lamentation of the Flame Princess is pretty great, but that illustration where she's had her leg and part of her hand taken off by the slime freaks me the hell out. Excellent example of a story in a picture - and it's a horrific story.

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