Saturday, June 13, 2009

Every Now and Then ...

... we need a reminder of just how awesome Dave Trampier's artwork was.

In a hobby whose history is riddled with missed opportunities and short-sighted decisions, surely the loss of Dave Trampier must be judged one of its greatest tragedies. To this day, if someone utterly unfamiliar with D&D wanted me to point to a single piece of artwork that summed up the game, I'd point to Trampier's Players Handbook cover, which in my opinion has never been surpassed in its brilliance. But then he had so many superb pieces of artwork, almost any of them would suffice to illustrate the game's heart and soul, such as this favorite of mine (as it is of many gamers):

Tramp, you are missed.


  1. That is my favorite illustration from AD&D. Thanks for putting it up.

    it is not just the general chaos in the street but surrounding city. I guess one reason that attracted me to City-State was it's ability to evoke this scene.

  2. Tramp, you are missed.

    I'll second that!


  3. I always liked that one too, but the caption bothers me a bit. Emirikol the Evil works better for me, given that he appears to be riding through the streets killing bystanders.

    Not trying to restart the Alignment Wars. Just mentioning the one part I don't like.

  4. I'm uncertain what this says about me personally, but I've always identified myself with the guy in the window. Sensible, yet inquistive. Or maybe it's just the traditional New Yorker response to street violence.

  5. So the big question is: why did Trampier drop off the face of the earth?

  6. Thanks, James. This is one of the very best from D&D's history. I was just admiring it again two days ago. The black-and-white texturing Trampier uses to build up the picture is beautiful, as is his command of architecture and human and equine anatomy. He even got the horse's perspective right riding toward us.

    Michelle: I believe the "Chaotic" in the title dates back to the older conception of alignment previously written about in Grognardia and elsewhere. Gary Gygax, in D&D Module B2, for example described the primary struggle in the world as between law and chaos:

    "The Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted. Always the forces of Chaos press upon its borders, seeking to enslave its populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasures. If it were not for a stout few, many in the Realm would indeed fall prey to the evil which surrounds them."

    I assume that is how "Chaotic" is meant in this title, but as a child from an AD&D perspective I used to read it to mean any of the three chaotic alignments. He seems chaotic evil or neutral, but how do we know he isn't chaotic good? How do we know those are bystanders?

    One of the great thing about this picture is that we have no idea why any of this is happening, but we can tell we've been given a snapshot in the middle of whatever's happening. Maybe the town is lawful evil. We really don't know. The picture makes us think, makes us immerse ourselves within a larger world, rather than laying everything into our lap for us.

    To echo some of James's past sentiments in his blog, what makes this illustration great goes beyond technical excellence to his choice of subject. We are not given something obvious, like a great humanoid in the wilderness leering at two maidens. We are given something powerful but ambiguous, something that demands our attention and rewards it with an important puzzle we may never solve.

    This is art for adults.

  7. That has always been one of my favorite, non-Erol Otus "old school" pieces of art.

    Rick: Interesting, insightful comments. I can honestly say that it never occurred to me that Emirkol might be Chaotic Good. That possibility (remote as it seems) puts the picture in a completely different light. Fascinating.

  8. To say nothing of Wormy. Trampier was a genius.

  9. Agreed!

    This very picture is one of the pieces that made me want to run games.

    Thanks for posting it.

  10. Looking at the piece again, it suddenly strikes me that there are people out there who've never seen this picture before. That seems so odd to me, considering this icon image was common currency amongst gamers in my youth. The passage of time and the reminder of age makes their presence known at the least-expected times.

  11. This is one of my favourite D&D pictures of all time. Thanks for posting it! I used to spend hours thinking about this image as a young adolescent. Trampier, along with Otus, is one of the giants of the Golden Era.

    As for the fate of Trampier, apparently he felt that he was treated badly by TSR at one point (something to do with a Wormy book that never came out, I think), and subsequently quit the field altogether. He later became a cab driver in Carbondale IL, where is lives now, and refuses to talk about his D&D work (at least this is what I read about his fate a few years ago -- I'm not 100% certain).

    (Word verification: "bread"!)

  12. Trampier is clutch - all of full page pictures in PHB are totally iconic for me - but his style and presence and humor were particularly important. Don't tell me that you're foreshadowing an upcoming interview?
    Amityville: I have had a similar epiphany about people who did not listen to the Beatles growing up.

  13. And this picture appeared facing the BEST TABLE EVER FOR ANY GAME, PERIOD.

    I refer, of course, to the Wandering Harlot Table.


  14. This picture always makes me think "Who's the PC?"

    If you never saw a PC like ol' Emirikol there, you weren't really playing 1e AD&D... >:)

  15. Tramp was last reported by the SIU newspaper The Daily Egyptian as still living in Carbondale. I wish I had knew that at the time I was there, he was my favorite of the old-school artists.

  16. Tramp is the best of the 'old school' artists: easily the most versatile, while still creating all of his works in an inimitable style.

  17. A Trampier interview? Nah, my money's still on Blume. James can't work miracles, after all.

    (can he?)

  18. That is one of my favorite illustrations of all-time!

    It is unfortunate that TSR and he had a falling out. As Akrasia mentioned, and I believe I read somewhere as well, that it was over releasing the Wormy series as a book. Which would have sold quite well at the time, and probably today as well.

    What a misfortune!!

  19. Was I the only one who had a custom wandering monster table with Emirikol on it? Needed something to spice up B2's Keep, for when the characters were sitting around town scheming on how to rob the bank, instead of attacking the Caves of Chaos.

  20. So the big question is: why did Trampier drop off the face of the earth?

    No one really knows or, if they do, it's never been completely revealed. As best as I have been able to ascertain, Tramp felt under-appreciated and ill-used by TSR. Besides illustrating, he was interested in design work -- he created several games, including one, Titan, that Avalon Hill published -- and he seems to have hoped he could broaden his horizons at the company. When that didn't happen, along with some other disappointments, he just up and left, effectively disappearing until recently. There is almost certainly more to it than that, but that's what I have gleaned.

  21. A Trampier interview? Nah, my money's still on Blume. James can't work miracles, after all.

    A Brian Blume interview is still something I'm pursuing, but it may take some time to arrange for various reasons I can't really elaborate on right now. I still hope it will happen, though.

    I'd love to interview Tramp, but I respect his desire for privacy too much to seek him out.

    My reference to a "potentially astounding interview" wasn't to either of these but to a writer not in the game industry but with connections to it. I'm not at all certain the interview will happen, so we'll have to wait and see. Even if it doesn't, I have quite a few others lined up and you'll see some of those soon.