Monday, February 15, 2021

Bazaar Closed

I've written before about Milton Bradley's 1981 electronic-assisted boardgame, Dark Tower, whose appearance coincided almost perfectly with my initiation into the hobby of roleplaying. Consequently, I played the heck out of this game, particularly with a close friend from elementary school who shared my burgeoning interest in RPGs. Though the game itself is nothing amazing, its artwork is. Milton Bradley tapped Bob Pepper for both Dark Tower and the 1982 card game, Dragonmaster and it's primarily because of their illustrations that I still remember both games. 

Pepper's artwork, which evinces roots in Art Deco and Art Nouveau, graced the covers of numerous album covers in the 1960s and '70s. He also provided covers for entries in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. I don't think it's a coincidence that Milton Bradley turned to Pepper. In my opinion, their employment of him is a recognition of the continuity between fantasy games and fantasy literature that still existed at the time.

Whether one agrees with this thesis or not, there's no question that Pepper's artwork is incredibly evocative. Take, for example, this image, which had a profound effect on me as a young person:

Even though the Monster Manual included an entry for brigands as a Chaotic Evil sub-type of bandit, I had somehow not noticed it. That's why, for years afterward, whenever I heard the word "brigand," I thought of this illustration. I have no idea what these creatures are, but their appearance is both distinctive and subtly unnerving (the repetition of the image probably contributes to that as well).
This is another image that I can easily recall from memory. With his ram's horns headdress, he reminds me a bit of Tim the Enchanter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, albeit of a more serious demeanor. There's also a hint of psychedelia in the image, with the colored smoke streaming from the wizard's face – something that was very common in fantasy artwork from the period.
The dragon is another memorable image, probably because its appearance in the game was a dire portent. If you're interested in seeing more of Pepper's artwork from the game, take a look at this site, which is dedicated to Dark Tower and its gameplay. 


  1. The Aquarian Tarot by Palladini share the same 70s vibe as Pepper's art.

  2. The Aquarian Tarot

    1. Only wish they used a bit more color. That's one of the great things about Pepper's work: it's so thick and rich.

    2. Still have my copy of that deck from decades ago. Had to resort to hiding it from the parents when I first got it, "tarot = satan" was stuck in their skulls for some reason.

  3. Pepper may rival Frazetta for my favorite fantasy artist of all time. I have collected his work whenever I could find it...I've purchased both Dark Tower and Dragonmaster off the eBay over the years, for example. I only wish he'd been more prolific, as there is something about his blend of style and subject to be incredibly appealing.

    I actually looked Peppe up a couple years back to see if I could commission some artwork from him for a project I was working. Sadly, he had just died (January 2019). That didn't stop me from writing up a whole campaign setting based on his Dragonmaster illustrations.

    To this day, my kids and I still love breaking out the Dark Tower and playing it. Might do that today even.
    : )

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  5. I singlehandedly kept Eveready and Ray-O Vac in business during the early 1980s because of this game.


  6. Also, I used to work for the company that published that Tarot deck (US Games Systems- absolutely horrific workplace)