Conan, what is best about Shem - Gateway to the South?
Conan, what is best in life? How many times have we as gamers both heard and repeated that tag line? Too many, I’d imagine, but somehow it just never gets old. For me, the journey to the works of Robert E. Howard took longer than I would have liked, but once there I was ever swept away in the adventures that followed Conan.
Thus, having missed purchasing the TSR version of Conan in the early 1980s, I was eager to own Mongoose Publishing’s D20 editions when they hit the market during the great D20 boom of the early 2000s.
Today, I’m going to do a review of the art from one of those supplements, Shem – Gateway to the South.
Written by Vincent Darlage back in 2006, this book was ‘production directed’ by Alexander Fennel who I’ll give credit for its art direction.
Set in the same theme as all the Conan books in this line, it takes on the uniform feel of the universe set by the Conan Core Book. To say that I love this style is putting it mildly, and although others have complained that the page framing for these books can be intrusive to the reader, I’m captivated by it. To me, this frame keeps me grounded on each and every page, makes me understand that although I may be reading a rules set, I’m still in Conan’s world, that of murderers, skulls, demons, and of course half-clothed women.
With a cover by artist Chris Quilliams, the book holds fast to Swords & Sorcery traditions, with the kneeling and desperate slave girl, the threatening brute, and of course Conan, always preparing to deliver the deathblow. Quilliams take is solid, but having to go against the likes of Frazetta, is always going to fall a bit flat just by association with perhaps the greatest fantasy artist of the 20th century.
Interior art is done by a bevy of artists, none of which ring a bell with me. Names like Jesus Barony, Iordanis Lazaridis, Danilo Morerri, Phil Renne, Chad Sergesketter & Pascal Quidault speak volumes at the European production end of this book. I’ve dealt first hand with the growing digital artist market from Europe, and although talented, I’m concerned that pay scale is too heavily drawn into the decision to employ there. Still, Mongoose Publishing is British, so they have more than the right to go across the channel and grab up and coming talent.
Also, like most products in this line, it includes a rather stellar map that I’ve placed below just so you can see how cool each of these is and that they are well worth the investment if you are ever thinking of running a Conan campaign.
Artistic Rating: 3 [out of 5]