Many artists have contributed to D&D over the years, but only the greatest left a lasting impression on the game and its fans. In The Art of D&D (Part 1)we looked at five of the greatest artists ever associated with D&D: Caldwell, Elmore, Easley, Fields and Parkinson. These five set the bar for style and quality in the art of D&D throughout the 1980s. As D&D expanded in the years and decades to come, new artists stepped in to fill the giant shoes left behind by these masters. Today we look at three of them.
One of the smartest decisions Wizards of the Coast (TSR at the time) ever did was to make the artwork of one artist exclusive to a particular campaign line. It was marketing genius. The art was so distinct and so good that you immediately knew, just by looking at the advertisement or book cover, which campaign setting it was for. There was a direct correlation between the popularity and success of these product lines with the brand recognition the artists created.
Brom (Dark Sun)
In 1991 we travelled to Athas for the very first time. A world ravaged and scarred by reckless magic use, now a desert wasteland. The inhabitants struggled for survival in one of the harshest D&D settings ever created. The masses were repressed under the rule of the tyrannical Dragon Kings. The heroes were gritty, stern and tough. And nothing emphasized this like Brom’s art.
Brom’s work was used on the covers of all of the early Dark Sun releases. The original campaign box set, the supplementary materials, even the novels featured his work. The yellows, browns and reds gave Dark Sun a look unlike any other setting that came before it. Because of Brom, you knew what it was like for characters adventuring in Athas, even if you hadn’t read the materials. His covers left not doubt the Dark Sun was a campaign setting filled with danger.
Tony DiTerlizzi (Planescape)
In 1994, three years after Dark Sun launched, the outer planes became more than a few supplementary pages in the back of the DMG. The Planescape setting was a hub of adventure where the most powerful and dangerous creatures ever put into a Monster Manual would meet and converse. The city of Sigil, run by the powerful and mysterious Lady of Pain, gave really high level characters a new place to adventure.
One of the things I liked most about Planescape was its unique look. Tony DiTerlizzi’s art was unlike anything I’d previously seen in D&D. It was very “sketchy” and nothing like the realistic paintings I was used to from artists like Elmore, Easley and even Brom. But it was more than that. Other artist has painted in a realistic style, but DiTerlizzi’s sketches looked both real and beautiful – even the fantastic and dangerous ones.
As with Dark Sun, Planescape materials were immediately recognizable as soon as you saw DiTerlizzi work. It was impossibly to see one and not think of the other. After Planescape ran its course and took a back seat to other D&D projects, DiTerlizzi was tapped to provide numerous illustrations for the AD&D 2e Monstrous Manual. I still reference some of his work as the definitive way a monster should look.
Wayne Reynolds (Eberron)
In 2004, after a highly publicized campaign creation contest, Wizards of the Coast announced that Keith Baker’s world of Eberron was the winner. The covers of all the Eberron books were provided by Wayne Reynolds. At the time, most D&D hardcover sourcebooks didn’t have pictures on their covers. The focus was on the brand name and the content within… until Eberron.
Reynolds produced lavishly detailed murals that graced the covers of every Eberron book. The work stood out which made Eberron books stand out. In much the same way that Brom showed us what Dark Sun looked like, Reynolds showed us the world of Eberron. His covers were like snapshots of the action-pact, war-ravaged setting of Eberron. He showcased the things that were new to us as players, but accepted as normal to the inhabitants of Eberron. His work was for many of us an introduction to things like Warforged soldiers, Dragonmarked Heirs, flying airships and the lightning rail.
He managed to capture excitement and adventure in his work. The subjects clearly weren’t “posing” as they often seemed to be for other artists (Brom, we’re looking at you). He managed to capture the lightning in a bottle that was the world of Eberron.
When D&D 4e was launched in 2008, Wizards of the Coast decided (thankfully) to return to books with pictures on the covers. Reynolds provided the art for the covers of the PHB, DMG, MM, Dungeon Delve and numerous others. He’s the one artist of the three profiled here who eventually branched out from his original brand. His work may not immediately make you think of Eberron any more, but you certainly think D&D.
As I mentioned at the end of The Art of D&D (Part 1) there’s never a right or wrong answer when you’re talking about art. I’ve included some of my favourite works by the artist featured above, but it’s totally subjective. I encourage you to share your thoughts and comments on which D&D artists you like best and which works really stand out for you. Are there any other artists that you feel should be added to the list of masters? Let the debate begin.