Art of the Genre

You could make that argument that Easley, Parkinson, or Caldwell shaped the destiny of D&D and TSR in the early 1980s, but in reality that is like comparing the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, or the Eagles to The Beatles.  At the end of the day, any sane person knows there is no comparison.  So too with artist Larry Elmore and his impact on gaming.  Today I feature 10 of his pieces I think changed the landscape of the RPG industry, and I'd love to hear if you agree.

Mentzer 'Red Box'... right there the argument for anyone else is put rendered pointless.

'The Death of Sturm', so powerful I threw Dragons of a Winter Night across my 10th Grade English classroom!

Shadowrun, single-handedly brought the cyberpunk RPG genre to the masses

Larry broke upwards of a hundred thousand young men's hearts with the death of Aleena the Cleric

And many folks thought Clyde Caldwell defined vampires with Ravenloft... not so fast Clyde.

Star Frontiers... nuff said.

Innocence in the big fantasy city will ever be defined for me by this piece.

One of the finest examples of ink-wash you will ever see, Clarion the Cleric from D&D Basic.

D&D Expert, and the definition of character advancement in art

Dragons of Autumn Twilight launched TSR into a fiction publishing house and brought D&D to the masses.

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Written by Scott Taylor — September 08, 2015

Comments

Travis:

Okay, they’re great art… but how did they “change gaming?” What was done differently in gaming after these pieces than before? How are those changes linkable to the art, rather than to the games and books that the art was illustrating?

September 08 2015 at 11:09 AM

Scott:

Travis: Elmore’s art revolutionized the ability of gaming companies to be taken seriously by publishing vendors. Before him, the rpg industry was relegated to hobby shops and specialty vendors. After him, you could find D&D and other games from Kmart and Sear to Waldenbooks and B. Dalton. His artwork brought high caliber art validity to the hobby, and that stands to today in which I can pick up MtG cards at Target or get D&D 5E at Barnes & Noble.

September 08 2015 at 11:09 AM

Frank:

No love for the Paladin on horseback with the lance?

September 08 2015 at 11:09 AM

Rich:

Actually, I purchased my 1st ed. DMG at Fred Meyer in the Seattle area; basically equivalent to Kmart. What probably helped them get into retail giants more was getting ISBN numbers. Without them, it’s virtually impossible to be carried in major retailers today (and back then).

September 08 2015 at 12:09 PM

Larry Elmore:

Thank you so much….It was and still is an honor to be thought of in that way. Again, thank you.

September 08 2015 at 01:09 PM

Larry Elmore:

Thank you so much….It was and still is an honor to be thought of in that way. Again, thank you.

September 08 2015 at 01:09 PM

Jason:

Larry,I think I can speak for everyone when I say that you are a legend and will always hold a special place in the Pantheon of RPG heroes.

September 08 2015 at 02:09 PM

Jeremy:

I truly love Mr. Elmore’s work, and do find that it was incredibly influential, but PLEASE don’t sell Erol Otus’ work in the B/X edition short – it also redefined and influenced gaming for a generation.

September 08 2015 at 02:09 PM

Ellen:

This was the template for my wedding ring:

http://epubbud_uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/13496634/XN9H4CJ5/00037.jpg

September 08 2015 at 03:09 PM

Megera:

This pretty much defined D&D and what the characters should look like in people’s minds – and note, no chain mail bikinis. Art always yanks the attention of people who may never have looked at a product otherwise and Elmore has always been a standard in the industry.

September 08 2015 at 04:09 PM

Mike:

most of these i know..but sadly..i do not know Aleena the Cleric or her story

September 09 2015 at 12:09 AM

Patrick:

Mr. Elmore, it was an honor to meet you in Pittsburgh a,while back. Although I got tongue-tied then, I can tell you now it was the Shadowrun piece that pulled me into 0laying, and the Dragonlance covers that pulled me into reading them. I proudly own the Art of Larry Elmore book, and I believe most of these pieces are in that book. Thank you for bring an inspiration and drawing my attention to whatever your art graced.

September 09 2015 at 12:09 AM

Kevin:

D&D was carried in major bookstores before Elmore. I bought it from a Dalton’s before he was hired by TSR. So, no, he did not change gaming. Not on that count.

He did some nice stuff, and at the time to gamers he was a huge improvement of what TSR had been doing, but no, he did not change gaming.

But hey, your blog. Keep up the writing!

September 09 2015 at 12:09 AM

Joe:

I would argue that the cross-genre nature of his work is what makes him so influential. Now certainly there are many fantasy artists that did work for D&D, FASA, WEG, later white wolf, but Elmore’s work was of consistently top tier that consumers of these products knew him and so it lowered the bar for entry into that system, so to speak. One item in particular comes to mind, and that is the cover of 1st edition Shadowrun. I remember as a teenager looking at the cover and thinking “that looks like Elmore.” That influenced my decision to buy, even though my simple mind at the time couldn’t conceive of a game without character classes. I also would state that the red box set was hugely important to TSR, and putting such a fine work on the cover definitely helped its initial success. Looking at the portfolio chosen, you have some landmark titles- two Dragonlance Chronicles cover art and two box set cover art- that is influence in 1980’s fantasy art, and I do not think it was at al a coincidence he was chosen to do Star Frontiers or Shadowrun.

September 09 2015 at 01:09 AM

Wulfraven:

One of my favourite fantasy artists, and a true master of the genre.

I’m happy to see the cover of the first edition Shadowrun core book listed here. It is my one true rpg love, and ever has been. And I found it when I did — literally — because of the cover. The image of Dodger grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I /had/ to know who this Elven man was, and what it was he was doing.

I picked the game up that very day, and I’ve never put it down. I personally know /many/ Shadowrun gamers who dove into the system entirely because /your/ covers caught their eye.

Thank you, Mr. Elmore. You’ve given us an amazing gift of worlds without end seen through your eyes.

September 09 2015 at 01:09 AM

Scott:

I love your art. Are you still doing any for gaming? The new D&D art is frankly, crappy and yours was very good. I loved the Dragonlance art. I liked the original heros. The new ones are not fleshed out well at all and I’ve seen no art for them either. The artwork of Raistlin are some of the best. Especially when he’s evil.

September 09 2015 at 03:09 AM

David Banuelos:

Larry Elmore is one of my all time favorite fantasy artists. Here are two more pieces that really influenced my concept of a “party of adventurers.”
http://ftp.sunet.se/pub/pictures/fantasy/Advanced_Dungeons_and_Dragons/Dragonlance/heroes.jpg
http://www.tucoo.com/fantasy/f_larry_elmore/images/larry_elmore004.jpg

September 09 2015 at 04:09 AM

Robert Hoopes:

Some friends and I were talking Shadowrun just this past weekend. Larry’s cover shows a very 1980’s view of a cyberpunk future and one of my friends stated he loved that 80’s view with the mohawks and leathers. That atmosphere that was so well depicted is not quite so present in the later editions.

Thank you, Mr. Elmore for all of your work.

September 09 2015 at 06:09 AM

Scott Bier:

Larry, Thanks for bringing to life what I could have only imagined all of these years. For me it was Advanced Rules Dungeons and Dragons: One Knight on a hill against a Green Dragon. http://www.paperspencils.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/GREEN_DR.jpg

Thanks much Sir,

(I still remember your story you told me about Ft Knox)

Scott

September 09 2015 at 07:09 AM

Jeff Duke:

Hey Larry,

Thanks for a great childhood/teenage years. These pics really take me back!

September 09 2015 at 11:09 AM

Aviad l:

Best artist ever.

September 09 2015 at 12:09 PM

Scot:

One of the easiest recognizable fantasy artists out there. Akin to Boris Vallejo, you see that art and the maker is instantly recognizable. Not only that, the art has content, it makes you feel, and put yourself in that image. These images take me back a score of years. I haven’t thought about Star Frontiers in ages, but I didn’t even need to read the caption to recognize it.

September 09 2015 at 01:09 PM

Andy D:

heya Scott, I love Mr. Elmore’s work too! I think we all did. I saw your comment about how publishing vendors didn’t take gaming books seriously to stock on their shelves before books and sets with Mr. Elmore’s art were featured on the cover.

What is going on here? Unfortunately that’s completely false! My man, where in hell did you get this info? Was this your high school thesis? What city did you grow up in where you would have come to that conclusion? You gotta do more research before blogging. Sorry to be harsh but it seems really like a total rookie mistake!

You’re telling the internet/world that Sears wouldn’t dare carry TSR’s games before Mr. Elmore’s cover work because they disapproved of the cover art or thought it looked cheap or “hobby-ish”? Here’s a Sears catalog Wishbook from August 1982 where the earlier basic and expert sets with non-Elmore cover art were sold. come on man!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/wishbook/sets/72157594229749541/
here is page 7 on flickr
https://www.flickr.com/photos/wishbook/albums/72157594229749541/page7

Scroll down—it’s the page to the left of “THESE EXCITING ELECTRIC GAMES”, number 633. I guarantee you other merchandise department stores sold these before Aug that year when that the Wish book was delivered to US residents. Not sure how much publishing experience you have under your belt, but it took Sears at that time many months before to create that catalog earlier in 1982 so that it could be delivered in August.

Certainly the 1e AD&D books were carried by major bookstore chains like the person said above—long before Mr. Elmore’s work. They were also carried in “membership department” stores that were across the US. That was in 1980 and 1981! This included the basic and expert sets by Tom Moldvay and David Cook when they were released in 1981 and before Sears started carrying them in those photos above. Sears was late to the game just so you know.

We all love Mr. Elmore’s work! But somewhere along the way, history got revised in your mind. thousands upon thousands upon thousands of kids were playing a popular game that major retailers and bookstores wanted to sell to those kids as early as 1980. And the cover art didn’t keep them from stocking those products. All I can say is research, research, research!

September 10 2015 at 04:09 PM

Scott:

Andy D: I got 11.5K people to look at this article in which I believe, on my personal blog, that Jim Roslof’s vision for D&D, and bringing in Elmore, along with Easley & Holloway, and to a lesser extent Parkinson and Caldwell, changed what was acceptable from up and coming gaming companies forever. Elmore was the star, Elmore gets the credit, like a front man for a band, and garage shop art for RPGs was gone forever once he began working at TSR. If you believe that or not, I don’t care, but feel free to post your thoughts on your own blog and I promise not to come and debate you about it.

September 11 2015 at 12:09 AM

Andy D:

Scott, everyone thinks Mr. Elmore’s a star! There is no issue on that.He is a wonderful artist.But your contention that the TSR game company couldnt get books and sets sold to the national retail distribution channels without his art on the cover is flat out wrong and very silly. I guess you were unaware of that? I’m sorry that you feel embarrassed but this info is easily searchable on the web wthout even getting to the point of interviewing employees and looking at sales data. That photo from the Sears catalog carrying the earlier Dungeons and Dragons product is not debatable unless you think someone went through the trouble of photoshopping it.

Listen, everyone makes mistakes. Mr. Elmore is fantastic but making him out to be a savior who brought unimaginable change to the gaming world is very strange. Im sure he’d agree! There’s no reason to butter him up any further unless there’s something else going on here that youre not telling us.

You love his art, and that’s cool. You love his art to the point of making him someone he’s not to create a fiction about how retail distribution was changed, and that’s not cool!

you have a lot of hits on the website for your blog and doing well, I am sure with your enthusiasm you have a bright future ahead! Just saying that a little more research will go a long way.

September 11 2015 at 10:09 AM

Travis:

Scott: Andy is correct. TSR made its publishing deal with Random House before they ever published a single piece of Elmore’s artwork, which put D&D in major bookstores. They began distributing through Sears before then as well.

I bought my first D&D products at B. Dalton books, Sears, and AAFES (the Army-Air Force-Exchange stores), years before Elmore even started working for TSR. It was also being sold in mall toy stores, and I remember seeing the Basic and Expert sets with the Erol Otus box covers in Toys ’R Us.

Larry’s art is wonderful – but to say that he ‘changed gaming’ is overstating things.

September 17 2015 at 11:09 AM

Shawn:

Well, you know what they say about opinions.

For myself, Mr. Elmore’s body of work is unsurpassed.

April 23 2017 at 04:04 PM

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