Saturday 24 February 2024

17 Times the Incidental Illustrations in the 2nd Edition DMG Rocked

Nostalgia can do powerful things. I must have bought the 2nd edition AD&D DMG at the age of about 12 or 13, at a shop in Tel Aviv on a road lined with palm trees; it was early evening and the sky was a beautiful shade of golden pink. One must be careful when under such a sky. It can lead to love. And so it did with me and the strangely evocative incidental illos (particularly the pseudo-linotype ones) in that much-loathed and misunderstood book. Here are my seventeen favourites:

1. She is beautiful, she is mysterious, she is distant and untouchable. These were the days before the internet, when even an innocent picture like this could arouse Strange and Powerful Feelings within of a teenage boy. Setting that to one side, I actually think it is a beautifully executed miniature portrait with just the right amount of late-80s cheese.

2. I am a wizard and I am simultaneously concerned, sad, shocked, and imbued with eldritch energy. FEAR ME.

3. I am a wizard and I have a staff that shoots lightning as I wield it before me, and yet also somehow simultaneously radiates light behind me. For such as I, the laws of physics contain no import! Again, look at his face. Such emotion - a man of great sensitivity and depth, who even as he blasts his enemy with lightning is moved by vast pity.

4. Squint, but squint well. Has he been disturbed in the middle of practicing his wizardly break-dancing routine? Or does he always theatrically fling open the lid of his chest, just for effect? Or is he a thief who has been disturbed? No idea. I am a sucker for wizard's study pictures, though.

5. Again, this one must be squinted at, but I find it deeply evocative. This is what a dungeon looks like when nobody is around. It waits with endless patience for adventure to begin.

6. Even halflings can have excellent hair. 

7. The elegant simplicity of this piece I think deserves more widespread recognition. Look at the stark beauty of the empty landscape; the care with which that withered shrub is depicted and the way it conjures in the mind an image of aridity and desolation; the contrast between it and the blazing glory of the dawn (or dusk); the desperation of the silhouetted figures who traverse that bleak landscape; the sense of coiled energy in the sweep of the monster's tail. A work of evocative power. 

8. This picture is not perfectly executed - the hand almost seems to be gently caressing her in a 'there, there' sort of fashion, and there is something going on with her left arm; it just looks wrong. And yet you can't tell me it lacks 'B' movie charm.

9. I probably hated this piece when I was an adolescent, because I would have seen it as childish. Now I'm old, and can appreciate its daft good humour. 2nd edition's vices - a desire to court less controversy, to be more family friendly, to be self-consciously less 'dark' - are well known, but people often overlook that these can in the right light also be virtues. Must we be so very serious?

10. This, on the other hand, is a great fantasy RPG rulebook illo. It makes you want to play the game. Actually, it makes you want to be within the scene itself, experiencing the delicious hair-raising thrill of seeing that thing come out of its sarcophagus. 

11. Yes, the monster (stone giant?) looks rather like it has just risen from the sofa, hands aloft, and a six-pack of Carling to the good, to celebrate the final whistle in the second leg of the Barcelona-Chelsea Champions League semi-final of 2010. But look at those dwarves with their spears, ready for the fight; again, this makes you want to play the game

12. I am a wizard and I could be about to bless or smite thee; the suspense will be over..... NOW!

13. A great wizard's study study. 

14. This is another light-hearted piece which, to my old and jaded eye, remains on the right side of whimsy. Look harder. There are more of them than you think,

15. Another piece which I think, for obvious reasons, struck me as being deeply fascinating and worthy of careful study when I first saw it. 

16. This looks like it belongs in a very different game to what would I suppose be understood to be the OSR's default tonal palette - redolent of something much more bucolic and fairy-tale inspired: Lyonesse rather than Conan. Is this so very wrong?

17. I just think this is a very well composed and executed picture. No showiness, no special effects, no slo-mo, no CGI. Just two guys who are about to try and fuck each other up. My money's on the swordsman. Those are the stone cold eyes of a killer.


  1. While all these are entertaining and evocative pieces in their own right, number 9, the eyes afloat conjures my fondest memories regarding this set of illustrations. The eyes inspired a room encounter I ran for friends playing Runequest. The eyes for me were painted on essentially an upturned basket afloat in an underground pool. I recall greatly enjoying the reaction it elicited from players used to man-eating frogs and other aquatic nasties.
    Good memories!

  2. I genuinely can't tell if you're serious or if these descriptions are meant to be ironically mocking the terrible art, and English is my first language.

    I still like Elmore's pieces, though. His pen and ink art was superior to his painted work IMO.

    1. I like ambivalence.

      I am a qualified Elmore fan. He did some beautiful work, but also some absolute dross.

    2. A lot of Elmore left me cold as "generic fantasy" or try hard epic. Vs say Otus who carried feeling or Fraxetta . The margin stuff was.. marginalia. Yeah ok but compare to the trolls with string in 1e- not even close bro, not even a conversation

    3. There is some great Elmore stuff out there. If you search my blog you'll find a lengthy piece on this from some years ago.

  3. I don't think I ever owned this book. I do recognize some of these illustrations, however. I'm pretty certain the wizard going through the trunk was from an adventure, and I want to say the "wizard" is an illusion disguising a thief?

    The blue chosen really felt new and brilliant to my eyes at the time. A welcome relief from the dull, monotone spreads of 1e.

  4. 5,8 13,14,16 and 17 are great pieces.

  5. RE The final piece: I think the swordsman's shield will be the difference in the fight.

    RE The halfling pix: they're all wearing shoes!

    In general: I agree that there is good, evocative art in 2E. Even having NOT played it (well, maybe 1 or 2 random sessions), I found many facets of it that excited my imagination. In some ways, it still does.

    1. Yeah, there is something very evocative about the art, although it might just be nostalgia. I'm working on a post about this.

  6. #2: Noel Edmonds takes on the cares of the world.

  7. #8: I wouldn't change the hand. A giant bog-hand blindly, gently fumbling for you is way creepier than an aggressively snatching one.

  8. Some of these look like they would rock on chinese porcelain tea cups or plates