I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City is a little discussed artistic time capsule
Do you ever have one of those moments when you have to make a choice and it is nearly impossible to do so? You know, like when someone asks your favorite movie and you can’t possibly answer, then you counter with ‘how about action movies, or horror movies, etc.’ and then when faced with that it is still almost impossible to answer? Yeah, well sometimes choosing pieces of artwork from classic AD&D modules is just like that for me.
It was no different for TSR’s I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City.
Produced in 1981, the module is an interesting study of the time period involved in ‘the great TSR artistic transition’. I’m going to say this was produced right in the timeline when Jeff Dee and Bill Willingham quit together in protest of other TSR art department firings, but Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley had yet to be added to the stable. Thus, we still see the use of Erol Otus and Jim Roslof along with the newcomer Jim Holloway who had been brought in as a stopgap b&w illustrator but would ‘stick’ because of his talent and speed of production.
Written by David Cook, this 28 page [can you believe it is so thin!?] module follows a group of adventures into steaming jungles in search of a lost city, and certainly high adventure and lots of treasure abounds.
With an outstanding cover by Erol Otus, although somewhat spoiled by his inclusion of a rather odd caster [gnome?] with curved and striped hat, the module sets the tone for the action and danger involved in this particular quest.
Interior artwork is handled by Jim Holloway, Jim Roslof, Erol Otus, another newcomer in Harry Quinn. I’m also inclined to credit Stephen D. Sullivan with the plethora of maps involved in this particular module, as they are all outstanding.
First, let’s start with Holloway. His work here is standard, and although not particularly inspired, it is quality stuff but has yet to take on the Holloway humor we’ll find in his later TSR work [although is Xorn piece might be hinting at something funny].
The real hero of the module would have to be Jim Roslof. For all you scoring at home, Roslof always seems to fall well behind Dee, Willingham, and Otus in the minds of appreciative fans of this era of art, but I’ll be damned if he’s not arguably the most talented of the four. His work on Dwellers is both inspired and rich, and it shows what he could do if given the time and amount of work required to get a feel for a module. Seriously, I’m astounded by his contributions to this module and hope others will respect what he could do as well.
Otus adds a couple of non-impressive pieces, especially a lackluster and far too sketchy interior cover piece, and Harry Quinn shows us what he’ll be doing a year or two later with so many of the monsters we’ll grow to love from the upcoming Monster Manual II.
In all, Dwellers of the Forbidden City is a win, and we should all be happy for its existence.
Artistic Rating: 4 [out of 5]