Art of the Genre

Back in the mid-1980s my DM, Mark, and I had a kind of gaming arms race going on.  Unfortunately for me, our remote location in rural northern Indiana didn’t give me access to a gaming store that wasn’t more than an hour away, and his older brother Greg, already in college, always managed to get him info and product well before I could lay hands on it.  This was the case with most everything pertaining to AD&D until at last, in 1986, I managed to get my first hardcover TSR book before him.   That book, Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide.

Unfortunately for me, this book very quickly became a hollow victory as it was rarely employed other than added weight to my backpack on trips to and from his house.  That isn’t to say, however, that it is a bad gaming supplement, it just didn’t have a place in the minds of 15 year old boys who were gaming on the fly or utilizing fully-formed modules.

Today, as I sit here nearly three decades have passed since this book found its way into my collection, and I have to say that I’d give some good coin to utilize its contents in a delving campaign. 

Written by Douglas Niles, this book contains a plethora of information on the Underdark, and everything a good spelunker needs to survive in a subterranean adventure.  Truly, it is an inspired work, and I’m saddened I never got to employ it to its full extent.

But enough of the nostalgia, let’s get into the meat of the artwork from this venerable volume.

Covered, as in ALL cases with AD&D hardcovers from 1982-1992, by artist Jeff Easley, the image is inspiring.  I’ve often sat and wondered about this image, exactly what the little creatures were on the attack, and what the little man with a dagger on the fighter’s leg was as well [he’s too small for a Halfling, right?].  When I finally had Jeff cornered in his home back in 2010, I asked him about the cover and his response was very Easley.  “I have no idea, and I think I painted that cover before I was hired at TSR and they bought it from me to use on this book.”

Well folks, there you have it.  Mystery solved.  The underground adventure portrayed on Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide is non-other than an Easley fantasy spelunk into his own imaginings, and as he didn’t play D&D, then there is no true link between it and the game mechanic.

Like all TSR books of this era, the interiors are done in black and white, and this particular book hits in the Jim Roslof art director era which I personally love.  Roslof also adds his own art to the interiors with several inspired pieces, and even Easley makes an appearance with one of my all-time favorite gratuitous T&A images ever placed in an AD&D product. 

You also have a few less inspired images by Doug Chaffee, and Greg Harper, but they don’t detract too much from what Roslof and Easley are putting together, and in essence this is one of the few products that TSR ever put out that mixes artist generations between the 1970s team [Dee, Willingham, Otus, and Roslof] with the 1980s team [Easley, Holloway, Elmore, Parkinson, and Caldwell].  Having Easley next to Roslof here warms my heart, and the practice gives both the older old school player and the newer old school player a common ground of enjoyment.

Maps and 3D cartography also make a huge appearance in this book, and they are all handled incredibly by Dave Sutherland.  His work here is simply an inspiration, and I’ve spent many an hour trying to figure out just how his mind worked to make them.

On the whole, Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide is a gem among many old school classics.

Artistic Rating: 4.5 [out of 5]

Written by Scott Taylor — June 13, 2013

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