Friday, April 29, 2011

Death and Decay

Yes, yes, I know: I usually take Friday's off. I'm making an exception today, because I have lots of stuff to do, including several posts that have been percolating in the back of my brain since yesterday's afternoon. And when I came across Scott Taylor's retrospective on the illustration of Orcus in D&D over the years at Black Gate, I had to bring it to everyone's attention -- and not just because he more or less echoes what I wrote on this topic nearly three years ago.

Here's a particularly amusing excerpt:
So in twenty years Orcus has gone from a fat goat with a simplistic wand to a rampaging minotaur wielding a gladiatorial-inspired mace. In some ways, that’s a reflection of our society, the subdued and dreamy 70s where we saw shiny epics like Star Wars as our inspiration giving way to the corporate glam of reality TV and video games that contain more sex and blood than Caligula’s court.


  1. I used to play WoW and really enjoyed it. Had to cancel while I try to survive on a smaller paycheck, but it's always fun to meet another gamer.

  2. This post made me curious to see a then-and-now of other notable demons. Found this, googling:

    I can't say I like the over-the-top transformations of Yeenoghu and Demogorgon.

  3. I think my favorite is the Lockwood illustration, by far.

  4. I will also agree that the Lockwood is the best.

    I should note that one must remember the 70s was the golden age of exploitation films, so it's not exactly like everything was rosey.

    Still, this over the top trend angers me to no end.

  5. This is the stuff I love reading about. It brings back memories. What I remember about the MM1 - and it may have been coincidence - is that the devils all seemed to bring to mind the illustrations one saw in old Medieval wood cuttings, or stained glass windows, or sculpture: horned, wings, pitchforks.

    The demons, on the other hand, seemed to come from the folklore of the demonic, with their bodies being various animal parts haphazardly tossed together. Orcus just fit with that. A crude, evil spirit thinking nothing of form or beauty, just a convenient shell to traipse about in. Again, it may have been accident. But given that early D&D seemed based so heavily on history, I wonder.

  6. I had a lot expirience from video games, but i try to play in a different way with pnp rpg games. If something is working in a CRPG it wouldn't ok for tabletop gaming. It is just an opinion.
    Designers try to boost their publisment's hype and the spectacular graphics is the most efficient tool in their hands for it.

  7. I like the idea of a fat Orcus, but I find it hard to get worked up about. Maybe it's because Sutherland's Orcus looks like something I might have drawn in the eight grade. Lockwood's looks a hell of a lot better, but I'm not a big fan of the grayscale. Although the grayscale arguably does fit the tone of Orcus better than colors.

  8. A big part of the difference is that the early hands creating D&D had a lot of familiarity with genuine Medieval material -- about half the original Monster Manual comes directly from TH White's translation of _The Book of Beasts_ -- so Orcus was drawn in a way that made sense in that context. Later authors, artists and players lacked that context, so for them the potbellied Orcus made no sense. (Going further back, I remember being delighted when I read a Catullus poem in Latin class that uses "Orcus" for the personification of death.)

  9. Best of Dragon Vol. 1- last page- Paul Jacquays. Don't know which issue the original pic is from, but it's my fave.

  10. Yes, much prefer the Lockwood Orcus over that frenetic Warhammer version.
    Video games seem to be the driving aesthetic these days and they aren't known for their subtlety.

  11. Thanks for showing me the link. I have seen Lockwood's Orcus pic before, but I thought it was someone's OSR pic. It did not figure to me that it was by TSR, as the time they got quality artists, their are became really neutered with content. It was truly something the company should have taken inspiration with, as it so perfectly conveyed mood though light and shadow, maintain the look and feel of Gustave Doré, and used pulp imagery with the whole naked captive and grotesque occult god! But the only thing that matted to the ones in charge, was to pander to the fickle bastards to dont even play, nor would they ever - to hell with them!

    That art of Wayne Reynolds (and others like him) makes me sick! It literally leaves a bad tease in the back of my throat! What his art lacks in style or substance, makes up for with visual loudness - on the level of the Spartans from 300. Most people are quite impressed with that flashy style of photoshop art, but to me its ugly as all hell, so to hell with them too!


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