Art is as ingrained in the RPG world as the writing. Art brings to life the visions of writers and authors and shows us worlds that only exist in the shared vision of those that write and play in them. Art makes citadels fly, it lets the dead rise and it lets the gods walk the earth with impunity.
Trying to pick a single illustration from the thousands that I’ve seen over the years is a very hard task. Even narrowing it down to a genre is pretty hard and the only thing I can definitely say with certainty is that I tend to prefer the art in classic products more than the more recent ones. That isn’t to say that the newer books don’t contain excellent art, Numenera (yeah, I know, I won’t shut up about it) has some absolutely stunning pieces of art, but generally I prefer the classic hard drawn style over modern computer generation imagery.
It goes without saying that any of the images i show here are copyrighted, either by the artist or by Wizards of the Coast.
Some of my favourite art comes from Tony DiTerlizzi who illustrated a huge amount of the Planescape products. His style is very raw and made up of sharp line drawings. To me his art exemplifies Planescape in general and Sigil especially, with it’s sharp edged buildings and grimy feel. His Pit Fiend in particular seems to really capture his artistic style-
Another fantasy favourite is Larry Elmore, one of the great mainstays of fantasy artwork. It could easily be argued that Elmore illustrated my childhood, with the iconic images from the covers of the Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends all being his work, in addition to the dozens of D&D products he illustrated over the years. His use of vivid colours to capture the horror and majesty of a fantasy world is unrivalled in my opinion.
In a slight change from the generic fantasy theme, I also like a great amount of the early Shadowrun artwork, especially the cover of books like Sprawl Sites. My favourite of all though is probably the cover of the original core rules, which features the iconic characters of Ghost who Walks Inside, Dodger and Sally Tsung. This piece is also by Larry Elmore-
Along those same lines is Jeff Easley, who also illustrated a great many of the early Dragonlance and D&D products. To me his Raistlin in the Tower of High Sorcery is the definitive image of the great mage and graced my desktop many a time. I like the fact that this shows Raistlin in his natural habitat, with all of the trappings of a powerful archmage and looking strong and powerful. It make you remember his humanity but gives you glimpses of the lengths he is willing to go to in his quest for power.
I think my favourite illustration though, is by Keith Parkinson. Before I get to that I’d like to mention another great picture of his, the oil painting ‘The Last Spell of Fistandantilus’, which depicts Raistlin battling his master, the archmage Fistandantilus in the Tower of High Sorcery in Istar, which was originally in the 1987 Dragonlance Calendar and later graced the cover of Time of the Twins. This is a magnificent image and it really captures by mages well and proves Parkinson’s skill at capturing the personality the evil characters. I also particularly like the fact that if you look closely enough you can see a tiny Tardis sat on a shelf in the back of the room.
In the end though, my very favourite image is Lord Soth’s Charge. This is another from the 1987 Dragonlance Calendar and later graced the cover of Test of the Twins, the book in which the charge actually takes place, at the siege of Palanthas. This is a spectacular oil and acrylic painting that fully captures the sheer terror of seeing the Death Knight and his company charging towards you. Soth is an enduring character epitomises the tragedy of great story telling. Lord Soth’s charge is an enduring image for me, one I have framed on the wall of my games room because it always reminds me of the conclusion to one of the greatest series of books I’ve ever read. In the end, that’s what art is for, to evoke memories and emotion, to take you back to something momentous, being is elating or tragic and this painting, more than any other, does it for me.