Friday, May 6, 2011

Open Friday: Gamebook Art

One of the contemporary trends of the hobby I must confess to not liking a great deal is the rather "art heavy" nature of a lot of gamebooks, particularly full color art. Now, I agree that it's good to have artwork in a game book, especially when it illustrates something bizarre or unusual, like a monster or alien race. But I think the presence of so much art has created an expectation that RPG products must have a lot of art in them. Such an expectation would probably judge Traveller's original little black books as lacking, when I still regard them as possessing one of the most elegant graphic designs in the history of the hobby.

So, here's the question: what are your feelings about the increase in the illustrations per page we see in a lot of contemporary gamebooks? Do you like it? Do you view it as essential? And, most importantly from my perspective, has this increase affected your feelings about games and game products that don't include as much artwork as you might see in, say, a WotC or Paizo offering?


  1. I like it. I've seen a lot of people look at graphics heavy books and kinda get more interested in the nerdy thing I'm doing.

  2. I also like it a lot. Basically humans are very visual beings so my guess would be that on the average it helps people getting "into" a game and "getting the game".

    And I really love how the much greater availability of good art has increased the level of professionalism in game design. Thinking of the Fantasy Flight Games offerings as an example I have to admit that the awesome presentation of their games and the incredible production levels surely are a way to catch gamers and introduce them to their games.

    Considering the fact that RPGs are heavly competing with computer games IMHO you need to consider the fact that hard core textual offerings also will probably only be useful to attract a very hard core type of fans. Given that we already are operating in a niche market I therefor believe that we will and should see even more art heavy games in the future.

    Going back to the D&D red box version with which I was introduced to RPGs I clearly remember till today how much Elmore influenced my perspective on gaming. I love his style, I love his way of presenting fantasy and I spent hours paging through the books, looking at his pictures and dreaming of worlds to be.

    I also noticed that me recent work on Gaia Gamma is very heavily influenced by the (IMHO) great pieces of art I so far purchased for the rules manual (see e.g. my thoughts in It seems to me that this is one of the places were Gaia Gamma differentiates itself from many other OSR games. I will make serious use of full color full page images to convey the mood and the background of the game. While doing so I noticed how much I miss this in most other OSR offerings, so to sum it up:

    - It's good to have a lot of relevant art.
    - It is necessary to have a lot of great art to compete with other contemporary offerings.
    - It easy the way for newcomers into our niche hobby a lot.

  3. I think full color interior art detracts from text while B&W art flows better. Leave the color art for the covers!

  4. In a sentence, I want a role-playing-game rulebook and not an illuminated manuscript. This is one of my pet peeves.

    You hit the nail on the head when you praise the Little Black Books. They set a high water mark in RPG graphic design that only three products ever approached: second edition Nobilis (Hogshead), first edition Kult (Metropolis?), and second edition Kult (Target Games?).

    Cover art, regardless of how elaborate or fancy, generally adds to a game. Erol Otus comes to mind here. I have bought materials just because he did illustrations. No doubt other players have other favorite artists. Likewise handouts, regardless of how elaborate or fancy, add to a game. Chaosium gets it right in this regard, and I think of "Beyond the Mountains of Madness" as the best of that breed.

    Interior art, if used sparingly, works well, but products published in the last five years tend to over use it with the result that the book becomes harder to use, the PDF bloated, and in the worst cases, the text actually gets harder to read. Margins do not need to have geometric decorations (White Wolf, et. al.). Headers do not need to have logos (everyone). Placing text over a desaturated pattern isn't an anti-piracy measure. It makes OCR harder because it makes reading harder (Wildfire). Finally, designers need not use every color Adobe software allows. Pick a simple palette! If you want a coloring book, go buy one and stop punishing your readers (Hero Games).

    All that said, none of that prevents me from making a purchase. Text trumps art. For example, Eclipse Phase has many of the problems I've mentioned, but none of them bother me in that special case. Their Creative Commons license allows me to fix every single one of them without legal consequences. While one can do that in principle with any game, only E.P. makes it worth my while. Guess what I spend my time playing, and my money buying?

  5. I still have the attitude toward art that many of us had in my area back in the '80s: art is neat, but if it detracts even a little from the rules, then it's a waste. The art is not the game, and too much of it will detract from the imaginative faculty that is so important to roleplaying games.

  6. Depends on the art really. I also tend to prefer well rendered black and white pen and ink type work over glossy color stuff. But the ones that are going to stick with me are the one I find evocative.
    The primary thing I'm drawn to though is the rules, and good rules will trump slick art any day. My current favorite "new" game is Mongoose's Runequest 2, without opening the book I couldn't describe any one piece to you right now, other than to say most of it was fair to middling or worse.

  7. I think no art is kind of a turn-off, for the same reason a long news story with no art or pull-quotes is called "grey" in the industry. Being something of an artist myself, I'm interested in top-notch art, by old favorites or new talent. Fred Fields, in particular, piqued my interest when 2nd Edition was on the shelves.

    That being said, I'm also a fan of appropriate art, maybe with an ironic twist or more than a hint of action. There's some art that just so spare on the details I'm not sure why it's there, and there's other artists that make me jealous.

    I have some gaming books with color art inside that's simply gorgeous, such as the Dragon Age RPG and CthulhuTech, to cite two notable examples.

    Art is fun to for me to pick apart: how did the artist choose to render this scene? Look at the detail on the hems of the robes! That's an interesting color scheme...

  8. Todays post on Gaia Gamma by coincidence also is concerned with the use of art as it talks about a cryptic alliance I invented just because an image I purchased for the game that totally struck a chord (see

    While I absolutely agree with the notion that graphical design should not detract from the text itself (and definitely should not hinder the reader) I strongly believe that the appropriate use of art - especially full color art - adds immensely to games.

    Personally I also find nothing really inspiring about the Little Black Books. From a layout perspective I think that the text runs a bit too wide although I will leave measuring to professionals ;-) Also I find the way the skill descriptions (just as another example) are ordered rather confusing.

    In general I would admit that the LBB have a very efficient layout approach, but definitely not an inspiring one. To me they are (layout wise) about as inspiring as a tax manual or my VCR manual. But I always have been very art oriented when it comes to books. And I'm prone to be lured into buying such a product if the design is exciting ;-) Which sometimes leads to disappointment with the content when doing impulse shopping.

  9. Basically agree with James. I don't see it as essential. On the indie gaming side, I think it mostly serves as a barrier to entry (compared to the major publisher).

  10. I've heard that televisions have a "store mode" [1] where the brightness and contrast is turned up much higher than is optimal for picture quality.

    The rationale for this is that your average consumer does not have the technical background to compare televisions based on features, they will unwittingly compare based on an irrelevant feature that they can understand e.g. brightness.

    "That TV is brighter than the other one therefore it is better."


  11. I approve of any trend which allows me to draw more cool stuff for games. :)

    Illo blog with daily posts:

  12. p.s. I want to go on record as saying that I do not believe that gamebook art is irrelevant. Far from it!

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. Artwork has always played an important part in RPGs. Tomb of Horrors would not be half so memorable without the artwork or half so useful a module to plunder for my own campaign. Decent artwork and maps can make up for a good number of flaws in adventure design.

    For the module itself it helps if the artwork is relevant without being overly revealing of adventure elements.

    For myself, I have no artistic skills and salvaging artwork from any source I can come across is helpful. Artwork from fantasy RPGs tends to be doubly so. I'm also not a modern era gamer so sometimes the artwork is the most useful component of a modern gamebook for me

  15. Good art with personality is always welcome as far as I am concerned. However, I would rather have no art than sterile commercial art. As an example, I infinitely prefer the art (both good and bad) of AD&D 1st edition and Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert D&D to anything later in that line. I also appreciate the look of the Classic Traveller little black books for the same reasons you mentioned.

    To answer your questions, though, I think the increase in illustrations is unnecessary. Beautiful, colorful covers and monochrome interior illustrations are desirable (provided their inclusion is not at the expense of essential text), but full color interior illustrations increase the cost and usually contribute nothing. I agree with Jay Dugger that certain kinds of interior art, when they interfere with readability, are absolutely out.

    So, I like art when it aids rather than dominates a rulebook, I do not consider it essential, and less art does not dissuade me from purchasing a product, although large amounts of color interior art that drive up the price for the sake of driving up the price will dissuade me from purchasing a product. In the end, it really depends on the quality of the art itself. I'd rather have a rulebook with great cover art and no interior illustrations at all, than a rulebook overflowing with mediocre full color plates.

  16. "large amounts of color interior art that drive up the price for the sake of driving up the price will dissuade me from purchasing a product"

    Yeah, I can think of at least one game offhand (Nobilis) that I have never owned, and probably never will, despite good reviews from friends simply because the art made the resulting product too expensive.

  17. Artwork is important for evoking the feel and tone of a game, but overall I would prefer content over pretty pictures. I much prefer black and white illustrations to glassy colour, not least because it keeps the cost of a book down. I liked it when Monte Cook put out his books with just black and white art. There's a character to good black and white art that you just can't match with colour.

  18. Mixed feelings: like some people here, I really liked the Elmore illustrations in my Basic/Expert/Companion booklets and the blue illos in my 2nd edition books. On the contrary, I really dislike the style of the 3.5 edition corebooks, wich impairs the readability.
    Besides, I had the feeling that all these full color illos were a pretext for selling overpriced books.

  19. As a professional illustrator, working in the RPG field, it would be obvious to say I prefer image (and colour-) heavy books. But it depends very much on the art itself, in all terms including style, atmosphere, content, etc. If the art and artists are well chosen, it's extremely beneficial; if poorly chosen, it's bad. Sometimes a game with an 'interpretable' or 'hinted' setting can do with less art, and one with a very strong setting or feel can happily do with more.

  20. I like lots of good quality, detailed, full color arts. For multiple reasons :
    - get a good "feel" about the setting and mood the authors had intended for their game.
    - as a GM or a player, understand what does the gear, monsters/foes, technology, fauna, flora etc. look like. I hate it when a bestiary does not have at least one image per monster
    - good and evocative art makes me imagine lots and "gets me" in the game
    - as a GM, I rather show a picture than spend 10 minutes describing something that will bore my players and that they will forget 5 minutes later
    - a good looking book can be showed as an art book, flipped through just for the joy of looking at the pictures and daydream about it

  21. I gotta say that I'm attracted to strong visual stylings and good art is something I actively look for in a gaming product. If a game book is mostly text without visual representation, I'll generally find it bland. While one that has good art and good layout really hooks me. I think Eclipse Phase is awesome just for this reason. The art is of good quality, the layout does not detract from the readabilty, and the overall presentation is gorgeous. Similarly, the Old School products that I loved most as a kid were the ones that were heavily illustration laden. All three of the original AD&D 1e core books had tons of illustrations that in my opinion really added to the book. If you had taken those away, I'm sure my enjoyment would have been much less.

  22. I like game art to have a purpose, whether it's to convey some part of the setting — Eberron was very good at this — or even to simply break up reams of intimidating text — hello, Pathfinder — but on the whole, I like my gaming books to be practical and easy to use, so if the art gets in the way of that, or ends up padding the book past its natural length, then that annoys me as much as walls of dry text. I know this will get me kicked out of the League of Gaming Artists, but so it goes.

    All that said, with the release of Zak's Vornheim, and the way he's tried to change the traditional format of the gaming book, I am hoping that he'll inspire more experimentation, and as part of that I'd like to see game art become part of the game itself in some way.

  23. Having said all that, I own a pile of monster books for a number of games I don't play, purely because of the pictures.

  24. it's kind of like an illustrated guide to the kama sutra-- there's a point where you have to admit it's not really about learning how to do something with others, but just about giving you something to look at by yourself.

  25. I like the art in that it really paints the aesthetic and "feel" of a game for me and it is easy to pass-on to my players without them having to read as much as I did. This same feel can certainly be given via the written word, but a picture is, of course, worth a thousand words. And there have been a few times where a not-very-well detailed setting still is able to come to life thanks to its art.

    I do agree that it is lamentable that high-quality art is an expectation of the hobby now, though. Some of the most evocative art I've seen in the hobby is not even full-colored; old D&D, Rolemaster and Shaintar all have black-and-white drawings and I find them to be some of the best in the hobby.

  26. While I do like to look at the pretty pictures, I think it can be overdone. As a publisher, I often feel like I'm under pressure to provide a minimal amount of art or the piece I'm working on won't be "professional" looking. I prefer to include simply a few evocative or descriptive pictures and nice cover, leaving the rest of the space for text, tables, and maps, etc. but there definitely seems to be an expectation for a certain amount of graphics.

  27. I like art. More art is fine by me.
    However, I hate it how the popular thing now is to make the entire page a piece of art, including the text underlay. All this does in the long run is increase eyestrain. Please all rpg companies return to printing the books with text over a solid color, preferably white.

  28. Myself, I like how Castles and Crusades does it...the occasional black and white illustration, only a fraction of a column every few pages or so. It doesn't detract from the text, and there's no scribbly watermarked background to obscure important parts of the text.

    But the thing I really can't stand, color or not, is the trend in modern RPGs to illustrate the same damn characters over and over again. I don't need "iconic" representations of classes. The lack of variety is boring, these aren't my characters, and their recurrence seems to reinforce the idea that modern RPGs are places where PCs run no risk of dying.

  29. Illustrations used well can help set the tone and explain concepts - but many RPG books let the artwork and design get out of hand. Sometimes less is more.

  30. I think modern games have too much interior art. It makes the books overly long, and most of the time isn't worth it. I prefer a rulebook to have only a minimum amount of artwork, though setting books can certainly stand more to help depict the world.

  31. I don't think it's a matter of B/W vs. color art. I think it comes down to taste (which is totally subjective) in both selection of pieces and in overall presentation (layout).

    You know good quality when you see it. You also know overuse when you see it. If a book has good pieces that leave you wanting more, then the publisher has done their job. In the desire to see more you're minds eye will make up the difference and that's when imagination takes flight.

  32. Personally, I don't think full colour art is a bad thing in gamebooks, per se. I do think however, the art directors these days have absolutely no concept of an attractive layout or proper schooling in design. I think less is more in this regard. Having a bunch of mediocre crap plastered throughout a book that is full colour does less for a product than just having a smaller amount of drawings that are of a high calibre.

    My preference is to have b/w art showcased predominantly in a book, that are high quality in terms of draughtsmanship. I would then have a select few full page pieces in full colour (preferably paintings done in oil, of at least equal quality if not better than the b/w artwork).

  33. I like art, but no art is better than bad art.

    Mongoose, are you reading this? Mongoose Traveller art was OK (I liked the original printing's grittier art better than later printing's, but both are good to me), but MRQII art, for the most part, makes me cry.

  34. I like good design in any book. This is often a combination of artwork and layout. A number of game books satisfy this criteria in my mind, such as the second edition of Nobilis (GWB), and John Wick's Blood and Honor. They are works of art, in and of themselves, and a tribute to their publisher. But that is as a book, an artefact in its own right, not as a set of rules.

    One of the advantages of having good art in a book is that it shows that more care has been taken with the book, or at least the publisher is expecting people to buy more of it (or knows an artist that will work very cheap). Cheap cover art can put me off buying a book, especially since it's often all I have to go on with regard to the book.

    This continues to the actual body of rules as well. Bad layout and cheap artwork is worse than no artwork. Take a look at Avalon Hill's later Runequest products. Half the complaints were about the artwork. It was a focal point for much of the fan unhappiness, more so than the crappiness of the product itself. It shows the publisher didn't care enough and is just attempting to fill whitespace.

    Ideally the inner artwork should be the 1000 words it is replacing in giving me a feel of the game universe. I probably won't use it myself, but it often gives me an idea what the author was thinking (if he gave good art direction [which could be more than the 1000 words the artwork represents]).

    Artwork for the sake of filling whitespace is a waste of my time and irritates me. Mongoose is frequently a target of this irritation (but it was a company that gained market position by using cheap student artwork).

    Although that being said, the smart use of decorative borders can brighten an otherwise boring layout. Again it shows that some care is taken in publishing the work.

    The artwork that you do include in a game book will heavily influence whether someone will purchase the book. We are visually orientated creatures. But it is not necessary for actually playing the game.

  35. I like it quite a bit. Good art can help convey what the creators have in mind for their game, as well as inspiring the reader. The lack of art is one of the "old ways" I'm glad has changed.

  36. Well, I'm a little torn on this one. As someone who still moonlights as a graphic artist, I'm up for anything that increases the potential for work in the field in general, especially when it comes to the weird and/or fantastic.

    That being said (and maybe its the nostalgia talking), the recent gaming artwork and graphic heavy layouts have never resonated with me the way that the occasional stark black and white and randomly scattered pieces did in the old school stuff like the Holmes red book, the 1st Print of the PHB and DMG, etc.

    When I think of my favorite hobby, those are the images that come to mind and fire up the gray matter.

    I still vividly recall the ultravision piece in the 1st print DMG and the skeleton slowly emerging from the water behind the warrior who was trapped behind the door. The very fact that those images stick with me through all the years says something about their ability to grab an imagination and run wild.

    The later stuff and the most recent color illustrations in the various gaming books haven't done that for me.

    I loved the fact that the pieces were scattered about and weren't a page after page of color illustration. I get an odd feeling that the later stuff is trying to do my imagining for me.

    Maybe it was the rarity of the old stuff between the pages that made them more special and for me at least, more enduring.

  37. Like it or no, the modern books have to compete with a video game/Ipad/Big Screen TV with Blu-ray world. AD&D and before had to compete with 13" screens, 13 channels, and Pong. The rest of the visuals were complements of my imagination. As I tell my boys, the 1st Ed. MM was super, duper cool because of the illustrations if nothing else. The 1st Ed DMG had tons of pictures by comparison to the day! 'Do you know', I ask them, 'what you had to do to find that many graphic depictions of that many monsters in 1981?' And what do you have to do today to find that? Start with Google, get an XBox, or get a DVD and you've got more visuals in a day than we had in the 70s over a five year period. So I imagine the art is going to keep on the way it is just to be relevant. Plus, of course, it takes up space and makes necessary the divvying up of the rules books into multiple volumes.

  38. I'm with Kelvin: whatever art is included should have a PURPOSE. And being an old-schooler, I have a distinct preference for b/w line art for interiors, with color art saved for covers. That said, if it is purposeful and not too overwhelming, I am okay with interior art. But I also feel that, for example, the 4e books have WAY too much interior art. Art is most important for conveying what new or unusual monsters look like, or for showing some glimpse of the game world (like the magic mouth pic near the end of the 1e PH).

  39. As long as the art is directly related to the text I have no problem with it. More and more however I do see artwork that is almost completely detached contextually, quite annoying.

    In general, less art doesn't bother me while more art doesn't thrill me. I would have no problem with art free versions of game rule books (not adventures) if companies offered them as alternatives.

    amp108 said...
    "But the thing I really can't stand, color or not, is the trend in modern RPGs to illustrate the same damn characters over and over again. I don't need "iconic" representations of classes. The lack of variety is boring, these aren't my characters, and their recurrence seems to reinforce the idea that modern RPGs are places where PCs run no risk of dying."

    I couldn't agree more. Enough with these "iconic" pictures. I think this kind of art and "story boarding" is more for people that buy game books with no intention or opportunity to ever play the game. Just put these characters into novels, where they are safe from death, and keep them out of my game thanks.

  40. I like beautiful books.

    Mouse Guard is a beautiful book, every page full-color and filled with David Petersen's gorgeous illustrations.

    Burning Wheel is a beautiful book, all black-and-white on lightly yellowed paper, with a simple, elegant layout and a handful of evocative line art.

    The question of art/no-art, color/B&W seems irrelevant to me. You can make gorgeous full-color books, and you can make horrible, eye-bleeding full-color books (hello, Mongoose). What matters is that the layout effectively communicates the content and sets a mood for the product. If your book is unappealing or hard to read, your readers are going to be put off.

    It behooves any game publisher to make their books as appealing and evocative as possible, within their budget. Rule books aren't just book that get read once; they are tools that are interacted with constantly during play and prep. Skimping on presentation will only harm your game. If I hate using your book, I'm not going to want to play your RPG.

  41. Being an illustrator over the last few years of this whole renaissance gaming movement, of course I'm compelled to be "pro art" when it comes to gaming products, but I do understand some of the negative vibe associated with some of it, as well.

    I was playing D&D during its golden era in the early 80's and I'd be lying if I didn't say that the artwork in many of the reference books and modules weren't a driving force for my initial interest in the game. When I'd see a piece done by Jim Holloway, it was an "instant buy" for me and my friends as I felt he captured the feel and "fun" that I wanted out of the game the most in his art (and still does, IMHO.) A lot of the TSR era artists fueled my imagination of what D&D was all about that sometimes words couldn't capture. Speaking of Jim Holloway, he was also a driving influence on my own art that I draw today, still trying to capture that "old school" feel. I bring up the old school feel because I think that's what a lot of today's art doesn't have and is probably the biggest problem I have overall with it. All the characters are so over-the-top in their depictions, whether it be unrealistic costumes with armor that no mere mortal could ever hope move in, much less do battle in or cloaks so long that you'd trip at every step. Nevermind the weapons that are plastered all over their highly pocketed leathers that holds 250 throwing daggers or alchemist depicted with a veritable laboratory's worth of flask and chemicals on their backs. In many of today's gaming art, it's all more "superhero" than it is traditional clothing/weapons/armor depictions for characters and it peeves me to no end...but hey, that's just me. I'm old and set in my ways.

    Speaking of old...don't even get me started on the modern use of Photoshop and Corel Painter to produce art. I like my art traditional...either pen & ink or arcylics and oils when it comes to color pieces. There's something about a tangible piece of artwork out their depicting a great battle scene or monster from a beloved game that can be purchased or traded and hung up or collected rather than a piece of digital art being somewhere in a virtual limbo world that just doesn't suit my more traditional taste.

    When art is used to convey ideas or help out the less fortunate in the imaginative department, then I think it's a great thing. How many of us have looked at a great piece of art that depicts a scene and as soon as you see it, it gets your creative juices flowing (if you're say, a DM) or gets you pumped to play (if you're a PC?) On the other hand, when it's placed in a particular gaming suppliment to basically take up space and holds no relevance to the item it's in, then I see it as just that...filler. And I can do without that sort of art.

  42. I've stated many times in many places that the worst trend started by 3rd edition was the use of decorative borders. What a complete and utter waste of f@#$ing space!

  43. Actually, I think the worst trend was making adventurers look like punked-out Renaisance Fair goers, especially leather outfits that looked like a mass collection of belts and straps -- what was with that?

  44. I do agree with a lot that has been said above.

    Art is very much a way to bring in newcomers. And it is probably also a way to sell more hardcopies. If the print is well done. But too much art, especially if it makes the rules unreadable, is worse than no art at all. I'm not sure if it makes rulebooks bloated though. I think it's usually a big part of the rules themselves that is too much.

    Personally I'm a fan of the old Traveller rules, with their jet black covers. I always see them as military style manuals, terse, sparse and with few frills. Works very well for me.

  45. I'm with all of those who enjoy a good illustration but despise the blinding overdesign of so many modern games. I don't want a rulebook that looks like a skateboarding magazine. It's a reference tool, not a billboard. To that end, I gravitate toward

    * simple, clean, uncluttered layout
    * pages that are mostly white
    * illos with one consistent style

    Illos serve two important functions. Everyone gets that they help to set the tone (is this game dark, or funny?). What's often overlooked is that they are also visual landmarks. People navigate through a rulebook by thinking, "the rules on drowning were just a little bit after that picture of the guy who looked like a Viking." If there are no illos, then you don't have that visual landmark to help you find what you're looking for. Just as importantly, if there are too many illos, or if the page design is too cluttered, then you still don't have that visual landmark. It's like trying to spot one small store on a tightly-packed street lined with endlessly flashing, strobing neon signs, and using the book becomes an exercise in frustration.

    Desktop publishing software is a great tool in the hands of someone with design sense. In an industry of mostly amateurs, it tends to become an inadvertent weapon for assaulting customers' retinas.


  46. If it wasn't for the fact that the AD&D Monstrous Manual was illustrated in colour, I wouldn't give a damn about this hobby.

    Or, no, wait–the first game I actually bought was the Babylon 5 RPG. So, yeah, visual information is essential, otherwise I'm completely uninterested.

    In a game, especially, these kinds of things are important, since I'd go so far as to say no writer in the hobby is a Lovecraft or a Hodgson, so actually evoking, emotionally, tactilely, the thing you're trying to describe would be futile.

  47. For gaming books, the art style of AD&D is perfect for me. I prefer the black and white sketch to full color paintings, and am thoroughly uninterested in renderings. As far as overall look and feel, I much prefer the OD&D art and layout style over most modern designs.

  48. If the layout and design is sound (i.e., the person actually has some training in graphic and print design and uses that training) the art and text become aspects of a greater whole.. and whether color or b&w it is very effective.

    Layout is more important to me than the style of art used.

  49. Hardcover, paperback, boxed, or PDF; art that is full colour, b&w, or entirely absent; licensed properties vs. whole cloth creations vs. system only efforts; hundreds of systems across a dozen genres. How wonderful it is to have the burden of these great choices in this relatively minor hobby.

    The expanded choices we have today are what matters to me.

    A few people have mentioned price.

    The Traveller boxed set was $12.00 in 1978*. In 2010 dollars that's $40. In the same dollars Holmes Basic would be almost $33**.

    The multi-award winning 2nd edition of Nobilis from Hogshead Publishing was 42.95 in 2003.

    The Pathfinder 576 page hardcover is $49.99. In 1978 that would have been $15!

    Is colour art driving up the price of RPG books... or inflation?

    It seems like today you get a lot more bang for your buck as many of our phenomenally beautiful products may actually cost much less than their b&w, staple-bound ancestors ever did.

    * Dragon #18
    ** Dragon #9

  50. @Vincent:

    US$10 in 1974 is equivalent to US$43.71 in 2010. The 4th Edition Player's Handbook is currently selling for a minimum of $16.74 new on Amazon, the DMs Guide from $22.99, and the Monster Manual from $10.49. The total is $50.22 not counting shipping: more, but not much more.

  51. Somebody's buying all those Lamentations of the Flame Princess sets, so presumably old-school players are into artwork as well.

  52. Wow... 51 comments already. Without reading all of them, I'll just throw in my 2 copper/credits.

    One of the reasons I love Traveller's LBB's is because there is no art.

    Hell, look at OD&D's minimal comic-book-copied art. Perfect!

    The "art" is in my mind and the minds of the other players. IMO, over-the-top colorful game art only poisons one's expectations.

  53. I totally agree about Traveller... still one of my favorite bits of RPG graphic design.

    Illustration and art are nice... but I think they can truncate imagination as much as aid it... and may create unreasonable expectations for an activity that takes place almost entirely in the mind's eye.

  54. Art is like using spices in cooking. Sprinkling it in improves the flavor but using to much overpowers the actual dish. Also like spices, good art tends to be expensive so using a lot can really jack up the price.

  55. I felt I needed to expand on my comment so I made a whole post out of it here at my blog.

  56. I have to say: It depends.

    I love classic Traveller, and I find its style compelling even today.

    On the other hand, I can imagine a product where the full color art from edge-to-edge of every page would be appropriate. I can imagine it, but honestly, I look at my shelf and I don’t see a product that qualifies.

    No, I do. Pendragon and Dying Earth I could see being like that. It’s just that those books aren’t like that, and the ones that are probably shouldn’t be. I can even put up with background behind the text if it really feels appropriate and makes a setting come alive.

    And then I have Prince Valiant, the Storytelling Game and Buck Rogers High Adventure Cliffhangers, in which art is important, but needs to keep consistent with the comic strips that inspire them.

    Also, there are books that call for careful art direction and those that don’t. I think early D&D and AD&D really benefitted from the artists following their own muses. It gave it the wide-open, make-it-your-own vibe that fit perfectly.

    Oh, and for my kids, over-the-top art isn’t required to get them away from the Wii, iPad, DS, etc. Simple jacks and marbles, for example, still manage to compete.

  57. OD&D White Box: 44 illustrations, 116 half pages = 0.37 illustrations per page

    AD&D1 PHB: 35 illustrations, 128 pages = 0.27 illustrations page page

    AD&D2 PHB: 95 illustrations, 256 pages = 0.37 illustrations per page

    D&D3.5 PHB: 68 illustrations, 317 pages = 0.21 illustrations per page

    D&D4 Player's Handbook: 67 illustrations, 317 pages = 0.21 illustrations per page

    Exact counts may vary. (For example, I didn't count the 23 illustrations on pg. 21 of Volume 3 of the White Box depicting various types of construction as separate illustrations. I just counted the whole page once.)

    But the conclusion is self-evident: The game has NOT seen an increase in the number of illustrations per page. If anything, the number has been decreasing. (Particularly when you realize that those are half pages for OD&D. If you adjust for page size, OD&D has a whopping 0.75 illustrations per letter-size page.)

    If we were to throw monster books into this comparison, later editions -- generally seeking to illustrate each monster -- would creep up, of course. But, honestly, that has such clear utility I'd be surprised if anyone argued to eliminate illustrations from a bestiary.

    (It would also tend to still leave OD&D atop the heap with its .75 rating per full page. The 3.5 MM, for example, only has .63 illustrations per page.)

    So if we want to talk about full color vs. B&W, sure. Go at it. If you want to talk about illustrations per page increasing over the history of RPGs? Check your facts.

  58. Ah, but you are discounting other forms of illustration. For instance the fancy borders for the newer books on every page. I am not saying that they should count as pictures themselves but they are a part of the art.

  59. Slight correction. My gut instinct on MMs was dead wrong in guessing the 3.5 MM had the most illustrations:

    AD&D1 MM: 246 illustrations, 112 pages = 2.19 illustrations per page

    AD&D2 MM: 326 illustrations, 384 pages = .84 illustrations per page

    D&D3.5 MM: 203 illustrations, 320 pages = .63 illustrations per page

    D&D4 MM: 208 illustrations, 288 pages = .72 illustrations per page

    On the backs of those numbers, I'm guessing AD&D1 takes the crown away from OD&D for being the art-heaviest edition of the game.

    I'm debating whether I'm bored enough to go count illustration in all the DMGs now.

  60. I don't have the 3.5 PHB, but I do have the 3E PHB, and I count 100 illustrations (not including borders or map-like diagrams). In some cases, I grouped a number of individual illustrations (such as weapons) into a single illustration, though I did count each separate page of those as a separate illustration, and once or twice I took an illustration that crossed two pages and counted it as a single illustration. So, unless they dramatically reduced the illustrations in 3.5, I'm not sure that I trust your numbers.

  61. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH ART! Of course that would be my opinion.

  62. I haven't checked the numbers, but regardless, I am betting the illustrations in 1E are smaller in terms of how much per page they eat up, and I'm guessing there is more text per page in those 1E books, too.

    With the 1E MM, you cite the high number of pictures per page, but I'm guessing there are more monsters per page, too. Many of the monsters in the 1E MM aren't even illustrated.

  63. I counted the illustrations in the 4E PHB as 78, yielding a ratio of .25 per page. There were a number of other things that might also be considered illustrations, depending on how you interpret it, which would raise that by a good bit more.

    In any case, the illustrations in the 4E PHB are HUGE compared to the ones in the 1E PHB, and there is far more text on a page of the 1E PHB than the 4E PHB. So there is no question, the 4E PHB is by far heavier on the art than the 1E PHB.

  64. I would like to point out to you who are arguing about how many pictures are in each book. This is not Just about pictures here. Its about the art as a whole. Anything that is not text can be considered a part of the art "style" right down to those brown semi lines in the 3.5 PHB that underline the text and even if you discount that the borders for every page in the book would. Technically I could include that as a picture thus adding to your numbers almost the entire page count over again.

  65. "the illustrations in the 4E PHB are HUGE compared to the ones in the 1E PHB"

    That's another important point.

    Whatever, though, I still say that art is fine, up until it interferes with the textual content. As others have noted, game books are reference manuals, not art objects. If they can incorporate the latter without impeding the former, then they're good. In some cases, an illustration is better than text (pictures of monsters and other creatures, unusual weapons, or whatever), or if it is functional in itself (Vornheim), but those are exceptional cases. Art included just because it is "cool" or pretty or whatever is an imposition on the primary function of a game book, and possibly even destructive, as I've said, to the imaginative function that is critical to gaming.

  66. I love good art but I definatly prefer the black and white art (pencil sketches, wood cuts, ect.) inside a book and a colour cover.

  67. I think artwork is essential to RPG books. Without it, they're about as exciting as stereo instructions.

  68. I think what this discussion proves is that some people just can't bear to be wrong.

    "Oh, there actually aren't fewer illustrations per page in older editions? Well, then, I guess I was talking about the size of illustrations. Or maybe the ratio of illustrations-to-monsters?"

    Fight on, proud edition warriors. And freshen up the super-glue on your rose-colored glasses. We wouldn't want them to accidentally fall off.

  69. I love drawings and line art. Big plusses for funky distinctive styles. No need for full-color art inside the book, IMO. Definitely no need for color backgrounds and borders, and glossy pages are a big negative.