Part Two: My visual journey through the looking glass of TSR's Red Box

Easley Elmore Jeff Easley Larry Elmore Red Box TSR

So we now hit Part Two of my continuing series on the art of the TSR Mentzer Edition Basic Red Box.

Previously, I talked about my introduction to the source material, my journey through art and not the writing, and how that first adventure made me both exuberant and hollow.

Once Easley and Elmore wrap up with the death of Aleena, your intrepid fighter semi-character goes back to town. Ah, is there anything better in all of D&D than ‘going back to town’? I doubt it, and here’s a primary reason why, because young gamers lack control in their lives and D&D inherently provides a means of living inside a fully controlled environment. Sure there is risk, but about as much risk as Bruce Willis dying in a movie, which is too very few and far between [and when he does he’s still cool, no spoilers but ‘I see dead people’].

A primary means of control is money. Do we ever have enough money? Short answer, no, at least not in the circles I’ve run during my life, and so adventure, and therefore gold pieces, are a huge motivating factor in the game. Gaining gold means you can SPEND GOLD, and ‘going back to town’ is what that is all about.

So when Easley takes us there on Page 11, I’m already sold! I want a pick axe, a 50’ foot length of rope, a lantern, some dry goods, a waterskin, and what’s that, a hook, yeah give me one of those as well! Seriously, who doesn’t like to spend loads of gold on frivolous shit when you are struggling to find cash for the newest problem with your car or the unforeseen doctor’s visit, or more importantly for those in their youth, when your parents don’t give you cash? I mean really, it is MUCH more fun to slay a dragon and take it’s treasure then mow the lawn.

By page thirteen we’ve left the adventurer’s supply store for my favorite fantasy establishment, THE BLACKSMITH! Now many of you might know I’m not a ‘wizard guy’. Sure, I’ve played dozens, but at heart I’m a fighter, and as a fighter I love me some armor! Just seeing this fighter shaking hands with the old smith gives me gooseflesh! I well remember the first thing I wanted in D&D was a suit of platemail, and I absolutely couldn’t wait to get it.

Ok, so what do you do afterward, well you go right back out there to the dungeon of course, I mean this IS Dungeons & Dragons after all. The initial solo adventure is much less obvious than the intro scenario, but you can still get a good feel with Easley’s rust monster and the goblin chase. I recently ran my son through both of these encounters with his very first D&D character, an elf, and it was as much a blast actually playing them as it was just looking at these drawings as I did back in 1983-4.

After the adventure wraps up, and hopefully you’ve survived, we get a nice image of your equipment and then move on to Character Generation! Now is when we really start talking D&D, and Easley is at his best doing ‘circle illustrations’ of character class examples by Page 23. I love his little head shots, but it isn’t until Page 24 that we get to one of my all-time favorite D&D images, the Cleric.

Elmore is absolutely out of his mind with this illustration, and it just never, ever gets old to me. I could stare at it all day, and would if I could lay hands on the damn thing, but of course it has been lost to antiquity. Whatever, the case, this is where today’s journey ends, but join me next week as I continue to move us through this incredible gaming supplement.

Artistic Rating: 6 [out of 5]

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  • John on

    Some of the best D&D artwork of all time, in the basic boxed set.

  • Scott on

    Brian: LOL! I didn’t realize I didn’t include it until a couple of days later! Agh! Anyway, I’ll include it in Part Three and hopefully you’ll see it!

  • Brian on

    Wait, you wax lyrical about how awesome Elmore’s cleric is but don’t include it?!? Do you mean this one:

    - Brian

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