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The Art of RPGs

Artwork is an integral part of any roleplaying game, and over the years — especially the last 10-20 years — we've gotten used to very high levels of art quality within our RPGs, even those that come from small publishing companies (like Beyond the Horizon).

To show you what I mean, we'll look at a few examples, starting with the front cover for the very first D&D book.

This is the core book for D&D back in the day. A (more or less) black-and-white solution for your games. Sure there's a bit of color on here, but it's not much.

Now compare that to the modern Dungeon Master's Guide:

That's, of course, a period spanning from 1974 until 2014 when the DMG was released, and 30 years of development shows. However, Wizards of the Coast also has a much bigger available wad of cash to work with than TSR did back in the day.

So, let's look at a system done by a smaller publishing company, one that doesn't come with names attached from Paizo or Wizards of the Coast. And looking at DrivethruRPG, we come across a bunch of names, like Cubicle 7, Chaosium, White Wolf, and a bunch of others. But let's look for a genuine small indie developer released in 2014 if we can find one.

Well, one that springs up is Atomic Robo, from Evil Hat Productions. I don't think most of us could argue that Evil Hat isn't a small publisher compared to the names already mentioned, so I think that's a good baseline. But take a look at the quality of their artwork for Atomic Robo. It's much higher quality than the original D&D one, and has a different style to the current D&D one as well. It's a choice of style that makes the game their own. But the quality - for even a small company, is much higher than anything seen back in the original days.

But what about the OSR games? Are they still black and white? No, not really. Even a big one like Castles & Crusades from Troll Lord games has gone the way of color print, even back in 2014 when they released Codex Nordica. And while it can't match the DMG, it can certainly match TSRs old style.

That's not to say that certain styles aren't out - like our own Cloudsea, where we went with an art deco style for our cover (and that style might well be something we revisit again, as it's very distinctive).

But what all of this is to say really is to gauge what you might like? We all have our favorite styles, whether that's black and white, art deco, modern "realistic paintings" or anime - perhaps something entirely different? But what is YOUR preferred style? And what would you like to see more of? :)

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