The Basic D&D Magenta Box: The last ride of the first TSR art 'pit crew'

Bill Willingham David LaForce Erol Otus Jeff Dee Jim Roslof TSR

In 1980, TSR once again released a new version of their Basic D&D Boxed Set.  This one featured new cover art by Erol Otus, and an eye-catching magenta box.  Its creation certainly didn’t revolutionize gaming, but it did show a steady evolution from small press niche publisher to mid-range gaming company.

Written by Tom Moldvay with revisions done from the original text by J. Eric Holmes, this particular rules book used the core group of the first TSR ‘pit’ for the final time.

Covered by Erol Otus, who got the call for both the Basic and Expert boxed sets from this particular series, we can see the purple, red, and green flavor that Erol was drawn to in his days at TSR.  It is a classic piece, perhaps not as known as his cover to Deities & Demigods, but still, a fine bit of work for an artist of his background and training.

Inside, we see various art by Jeff Dee, Jim Roslof, Bill Willingham, and even David ‘Diesel’ LaForce when he had just joined the TSR art staff after working his way out of the warehouse.  And I want to add this note about Diesel, of all these artists, he was the only one to refine his artwork over the next forty years, and for that I give him incredible marks.

All are is in comic-style and rendered in black and white, giving the game that fine old school nostalgia but showing full well that TSR had yet to make the ‘jump’ to more cross-genre fantasy productions.

It is little wonder to me, that as TSR finally made the decision to go for full world acceptance, that they removed these artists in favor of more classically trained oil painters, but still, that doesn’t mean D&D wasn’t birthed with these fine young and homegrown talents, and for that they will always hold a special place in my heart.

Artistic Rating: 3 [out of 5] 

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  • Scott on

    Really glad you are enjoying the art. To me, sometimes more than the game itself, memories of art can ground a player in a particular time of their life, and that is how I look at each of these articles.
    As for Erol, I always hated his work in my youth, but as I grew older, I grew fonder of the style because of what it represented in my mind, not necessarily his overall style.

  • Chris on

    I love all this old D&D art, it brings back a ton of happy memories. I always found Erol Otus’s art to be the weirdest and most recognizable. I was never sure if I even liked it or not. Then years later some of his art turned up as the album cover for a band I really like, and I was blown away. It was great to see something from him again.

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