Art of the Genre

It would be very hard to count all the words written about artist David Trampier, the bulk of which revolve around half a dozen pieces of artwork known to pretty much every old school gamer. You all know what I’m talking about, the 1E Player’s Handbook, the original DM’s Screen, the hunchback Hill Giant, Emirikol the Chaotic, Wormy, and arguably many more. Still, these are all spot illustrations or stand-alone covers as Tramp was ever sharing space with other contemporaries of his day.

I mean really, what would it have been like to have Tramp do ALL the art inside a TSR product? Well, what many folks and fans don’t realize is that Tramp actually DID have that happen, in the 1984 release of SFKH2 Mutiny on the Eleanor Moraes for the Star Frontiers setting.

Sure, Larry Elmore did the cover painting, but nonetheless every last bit of interior art, and there is a good deal of it, were handled by Trampier.

There are several interesting things about this, the first being that Tramp was contracted as late as 1984 to do illustration work for TSR gaming products. Certainly by this time he was solely working on Wormy for Dragon Magazine and the days of he, Darlene the Artist, David Sutherland III, and the ‘First Four’ pit artists [Otus, Dee, Willingham, and Roslof] were well into the sunset [as of 1982]. Couple this with the product being Star Frontiers, a fringe product at best as well as the module being for the even less popular Knight Hawks line, and it’s easy to see why folks miss it. [Note: I’d credit then Art Director Jim Roslof with getting Trampier to work on this product, but as both have now passed away we’ll never really know how it went down]

The second interesting thing is that Tramp turned 30 in 1984, and I’d say that put him directly in the prime and evolution of his skillset as an artist. What folks still drool over from 1979 was really work from Tramp in his infancy as an artist, at 25 years, and as good as it is, the work he showed us in SFKH2 speaks even greater volumes about what was ‘lost’ along the way with this incredible talent.

I would contend that only one other TSR product is lovelier than this module, that being the Mentzer Red Box, and even then it’s a damn close call. Trampier absolutely outdoes himself, and every image is masterpiece of design and ink work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve flipped these pages and marveled at the skill it took to render them.

That said, I’ll let you be the judge of just how well Trampier did on this product, but to me, it doesn’t get much better.

Artistic Rating: 6 [out of 5]

Written by Scott Taylor — May 15, 2014


Todd Lockwood:

Trampier was the first D&D artist who made me sit up and take notice. Definitely impacted my enjoyment of the game. and the rest, as they say…

May 15 2014 at 01:05 PM


Todd: Soon I will have to write ‘my version’ of the history of artists and gaming. I’m sure it will be interesting and of course you’ll be in it.

May 15 2014 at 04:05 PM

Steve Pickios:

Hi Todd, just wanted to say that I think the one with the alligator is a Stephen Fabian piece? In any case, I really enjoy the site and appreciate the focus on old school gaming art.

Thanks, Steve

May 16 2014 at 09:05 PM


Steve: If it is Fabian, he isn’t credited, and Fabian doesn’t do alligator noses like that, but you are correct that Fabian would do a great deal of very similar work starting in around 1988, especially on the Gazetteer and Ravenloft worlds.

May 17 2014 at 03:05 PM

Tony Rowe:

Scott: the flutterbyes/crocodilian piece is puzzling. Tramp is the only interior artist credited in the module (except for cartography by Steve Sullivan) but this piece doesn’t look like one of his.

Tramp’s images are nearly always signed with a DAT, DT or Trampier hidden somewhere (you cut off the “DT” on the dog-alien ambush image, above). I don’t see any signature here. Contrast the crocodilian alien to Tramp’s Crocodile illustration in the Monster Manual, especially the teeth. The “mouth” of the Thalian (cylindrical creature on left side of image) is poorly rendered. There are multiple specular highlights on the Jellybellys (gas bags on right side of image) but Tramp tends to use only one (see the human’s helmet in the last image, above).

I wouldn’t be surprised if TSR miscredited an artist; I showed that they printed a Trampier piece in B2: Keep on the Borderlands on my blog:

I also agree that it doesn’t quite look like a Fabian unless he was really rushed to create it. Maybe Timothy Truman?

June 09 2014 at 04:06 PM

Tom Verreault:

I’ve enjoyed crawling through all of your Star Frontiers posts. As part of the editorial team at the Frontier Explorer quarterly fan zine I would love to see this blog post republished in the magazine but one has to wonder if we could tempt you into writing a regular series on the Art of Star Frontiers?

February 11 2015 at 03:02 PM


This is an arctile that makes you think “never thought of that!”

March 09 2015 at 04:03 AM

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