The First Divergence: D&D 3.0
Now certainly RPG art had been changing and metamorphosising since its inception, first from the likes Dee, Willingham, Otus, Roslof and other local talent in Wisconsin, then to the hiring of oil painters into the 1980s ‘pit’ with Easley, Elmore, Caldwell, and Parkinson, and finally to the addition of outside the box talents such as Baxa, Brom, and freelancers such as DiTerlizzi, but it wasn’t until the advent of the WotC D&D 3.0 that a full scale change began to take place market wide.
Although D&D 3.0 might not be WoW for the tabletop, as it existed four years prior to that fantasy juggernaut, it was still the infancy of a new breed of fantasy that would dominate RPGs for the next decade and beyond.
However, it also featured innovation that was outside the norm and didn’t become commonplace, the largest of these being the non-painted cover. I for one was never a fan of this concept as the cover art for RPGs was the reason I started playing in the first place, and nothing about the D&D 3.0 covers held that attraction for me. However, I do give artist Henry Higgenbotham much credit for doing the work justice, and even if not my taste, it is still a wonderful piece of art.
Conceptually directed by Jon Schindehette and art directed by Dawn Murin, the genius of D&D 3.0 is evident from the very first page and runs through its entirety. This is truly a work for the ages, and although many OSR fervent fans might hate the artistic direction as much as the mechanical content, I would attest that their grievance is misplaced here because this is a fantastic transitional time-capsule between old school and new school that will never been seen again.
D&D 3.0 had not yet made it to the ‘manga-stage’ and although it might have set the ball rolling, the art inside is both innovative and fully realized in a fantastic way. Schindehette and Murin still had the old TSR pit to work with, and after unleashing artists Sam Wood and Todd Lockwood on the concept of this new generation, they incorporated the incredible talents of other traditional masters like Arnie Swekel’s sublime pencils, John Foster’s ‘Brom-esque’ dark shine, David Martin’s more traditional Kirby comic take, as well as the emerging talents of Lars Grant-West and Scott Fisher.
You also get to see another comic-era throwback as several characters in the pages have shared art credit, pencils and colors rendered by combinations like Wood/Lockwood and Martin/Lockwood.
In all, the book also flows well because the art is evident but not overly obtrusive, sometimes going for pages at a time without any art at all. There is also a nice mix of black and white illustration and pencil sketch alongside the more polished color. Sepia is also used to resonate within our minds-eye as a more venerable volume, and when all is said and done the book absolutely sings with creativity of design.
In all, I can only knock the cover and that is for personal tastes alone, so I applaud everyone who had a hand in this masterful creation.
Artistic Rating: 5 [out of 5]