Art of the Genre

When Technical becomes Beautiful

Back in 1986 FASA produced the an incredibly cool supplement for its new Battletech line featuring nothing but advanced statistics and images for their mechs, aerospace fighters, vehicles, and dropships.  Thus, the line of Battletech Technical Readouts was born.

I well remember purchasing this book and pouring over the pages as finally, in lovely tech drawing detail, I could see exactly what comprised the big machines I’d had so much fun playing on the tabletop. 

Artist/Art Director Dana Knutson actually did a very impressive painting of my personal favorite mech, the Marauder, on the front cover.  I can honestly say this is the only piece of Dana’s that I can recall offhand, although I’m sure many more pieces exist in the FASA archives.

Interior art was provided by only two artists, and with 200 pages in the supplement, that means 100 pieces of unique art!  The bulk of the work was done by Duane Loose, who got the call to create all battlemechs as well as the vehicle section of the book.  His drafting style is absolutely perfect for this exercise, right down to the grid lines he uses beneath the feet of all his works, and the shadows that give them a solid feel of reality even in full sketch mode.  You truly get a schematic feel with every piece, and I have to applaud FASA for taking this approach when they simply could have shown standard shorts of all their mechs and been done with it.

The second artist, David Deitrick, had already made a name for himself by designing all the various uniforms for the Houses in the universe, and here he was given the task of both the aerotech fighter designs as well as the dropships.  In both cases he crisply knocks the proverbial ball right out of the park.  Deitrick takes a softer line in his work, giving just the right amount of greyscale that smooths out the hard feeling of heavy ink Loose provided in his work to perfectly balance the book.

All-in-all this is a stellar piece of work from an up and coming gaming company in the 1980s.  I was incredibly pleased with it in 1987, and am still just as taken with its production over twenty years later.

Artistic Rating: 4.5 [our of 5]    

Written by Scott Taylor — May 17, 2013

Going mohawk hunting in Warhammer Fantasy

Sometime in 1987 I purchased the hardcover copy of Games Workshop’s new RPG, Warhammer Fantasy.  Sure, it was anything but D&D, but for a change it worked well to spell a few months of the summer as my friend Mark and I played a single campaign set in the new world.

However, it wasn’t the change in D&D system that drew me to Warhammer Fantasy, instead it was the intriguing piece of artwork on the cover.  This piece somehow resonated with all things NOT American at the time.  In essence, it had that same otherworldly feel of the AD&D Fiend Folio, and little did my teenage mind understand that what that really meant was it was English. 

Ah, jolly old England did have a very unique style of art in the 1980s, and Warhammer Fantasy resonated with the Russ Nicholson feel I’d been enjoying in Fiend Folio for years.  The cover to this new book was done by John Sibbick, and as funny as this may seem today, all other artwork in the book was credited to ‘individual artists’.  If that doesn’t roll back the years, nothing will!

So, I really have no idea who did the interior work for over 360 pages of gaming text, but there are certainly multiple artists, many of which did a fine job of bringing the world of Warhammer to life for role-players.

I was also impressed with the GW’s commitment to art, as the book is filled, and I mean filled, with hundreds of images, from characters, equipment, monsters, and even several impressive maps that lend well to the setting. 

In all, I found the book to be both useful and inspiring, and a part of me wishes I could go back and play another round in The Empire as I try to make my way through dozens of professions seeking the perfect combination to make the ultimate badass character.

However, the sheer volume of images can’t make up for the fact that the bulk seem less then upper level pro quality, and I often found myself wondering about the artists understanding of perspective and movement, something that also comes into play on the Sibbick cover. 

That said, I still find this huge volume [and probably the closest thing to a true ‘tome’ I have in my gaming library] a worthy addition to any gamers collection, and if you love mohawks, this is definitely the game for you!   

Artistic Rating: 3 [out of 5]

Exploring the Art of Star Frontiers

There is no question that I hold a special place in my heart for Star Frontiers, so it is with great pleasure that I can talk about a randomly chosen module from that old TSR classic; SF4 Mission to Alcazzar.

The first thing that strikes you about SF4 is the inspired Larry Elmore cover.   Now certainly in 1984, what wasn’t inspired about Larry’s work?  He was truly in the beginning of his prime and this piece is no exception.  I well remember seeing it for the first time and dreaming, literally dreaming, about having my characters own/posses/drive one of the ATVs that appear under siege in this piece. 

Inside the cover [and who doesn’t miss removable covers!?] Stephen D. Sullivan has created both a world map and a great topographical map to help the adventure along, and all other artwork is done in classic black and white by artist Jeff Easley.  Unfortunately, many of Easley’s pieces looked rushed [go figure with the TSR deadlines in those days] but there are still a couple very solid pieces that contribute to the space/adventure genre.

The module itself is a 32 page romp around the world of Alcazzar and is well-written and conceived by one of my favorite TSR adventure writers, Douglas Niles.  Still, it doesn’t hold the precision and solid mission parameters you see in some modules of the time, using instead a more open feel while allowing the gamemaster to expand or contract things as the group calls for. 

Whatever the case, having both Easley and Elmore work on anything between 1982 and 1990 will automatically get you 3 stars, so everything else this book brings is icing on the cake. 

Artistic Rating: 3.5 [out of 5]

Remembering the art of FASA's Shadowrun

In 1990 author Stephan Wieck was charged by FASA to create a Shadowrun adventure featuring something completely new and horrible to the setting.  His answer to the call; Queen Euphoria.

I once asked artist Jeff Laubenstein, who worked in many roles at FASA, how they got Dave Dorman to do the cover, but I think a better question would be why did the company screw up the artistic credits on the inside so badly?

FASA, and senior editor Donna Ippolito, credits the cover to artist John Zeleznik.  This, however, was not the case, as Dave Dorman was artist for this incredible cover featuring capture footage of Marlene Dietrich.  The thing about this I find so amazing is that Dorman did this well before the advent of digital art, when computers were not found in the workplace, and certainly not the freelance studio.  When I met Dave at the SDCC in 2011 I had to ask him about the creation, and he explained he’d painted the full image, and then used a razor to cut out the monitor screens before dropping in photo copies of the Dietrich footage.  Impressive, and the result is both haunting and stunning in the same breath.

Inside the module the runners are introduced to the mystery of Euphoria, an up and coming simsense star who has been kidnapped.  Little do the runners know that what has grabbed her is actually an insect shaman who is building an ant hive and wants Euphoria as the hive queen.  I well remember being a player in this adventure and the sheer terror these bug spirits caused everyone at the table.

Inside, the gritty cow quill work of artist Tim Bradstreet takes charge with incredible NPC renderings that feel like you’ve walked onto the set of Bladerunner, and artist Joel Biske adds in the newly released ant spirits that up the horror factor of what this module has to offer.  Another fun feature, and something found often in Shadowrun work, is the graffiti, and Tim spares no space on one of his pieces where he calls out several notable names, including ‘For a good time call J. Nelson (312) 697-3…’ and I have to wonder how close to Jim’s real number that is.

In all, this is a stunning piece of art direction by Dana Knutson, with graphics done by Jeff Laubenstein and some added highlights by artist Rick Harris.  

Artistic Rating: 4 Stars [out of 5]

A love of the Art of MERP

I'll be the first to admit I have a very strong nostalgia for Iron Crown Enterprises Middle-Earth Role Playing.  My collection of this now venerable game is extensive, and although I've not actually played it since the mid-80s, I still take random supplements down monthly just to peruse the pages and marvel at the artwork.  In this continuing series for the AotG blog, I'm going to post up a supplement and talk a bit about the art from it.  Today's choice, Dagorlad and the Dead Marches.    With a stunning cover by artist Gail B McIntosh, this 36 page adventure module takes a cast of characters through the dark lands of Dagorlad just north of Udun and the Mordor gates of Cirith Gorgor.  Interior art is all black and white and done by artist Rick DeMarco, my favorite piece coming on page 28 with his rendition of the Black Numenorean mistress of the fortress of Thuringwathost, Miruimor.

Speaking of the Fortress of Thuringwarthost, the map of this place is very well done, and features two nice levels for adventuring, and all maps in this module were done by Pete “Czar’ Fenlon who can really put a castle together. 

In all, this is a rich work, filled with interesting enemies on the outskirts of lands more commonly known to the readers of Tolkien’s world.  I've been there once, enjoyed it, and would love to go back again some day! 

Artistic Rating: 3.5 [out of 5]

Written by Scott Taylor — May 13, 2013

Opening Season

 Well, we've finally got the goods in house.  It took a while, but I think it was well worth it because the site looks great and the art we're putting in play is some really wonderful stuff.

Building Day

The first day of building this shared site is now complete!  All we have to do is start loading it with awesome stuff for fans and then all the fun begins as the community grows.  Thanks for coming in, and I certainly hope you'll come back often.