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This article was written on 08 Dec 2011, and is filled under Uncategorized.

Terrible Art is Terrible Art

Terrible art is terrible art. It’s not “Classic”. It’s terrible.

I see a lot of RPG books come out with art that looks like old, classic D&D:


Now, when D&D first came out, they certainly couldn’t afford to hire the best artists for their art, so they made do. There wasn’t a lot of artists out there doing fantasy art, so they made do. Art (frankly) wasn’t that great at the time, so they made do.

Above is the result; something I could have drawn (and I’m not an artist).

So how is it you explain RPG books coming out nowadays with art of the same quality… or worse?

Now, I fully understand when someone is coming out with a small supplement, something that’s not meant to be a full-fledged print product. But how do you explain it when a small-press company comes out with a print core rulebook with art that looks like this piece of 1st edition art:

Again: What.

There is no excuse. There are plenty of fantastic artists waiting to be hired for your next RPG book: Brian Patterson, James Stowe, and a ton more. You want to make a clone of old-school D&D? Fine. Why can’t your book look like this?

Do I understand that not everyone can hire Tony DiTerlizzi? Absolutely. But why can’t you find an artist that’s at least somewhat comparable? You’ll never get new players into the game with art like the examples above. It looks like something someone drew in Junior High.

You want line art? Fine! Take a look at this:

That looks great! And it doesn’t look like the terrible art of Old D&D.

You’ve got to spend money to make money. If you want to make a retroclone, do it with style, and make some good-looking art for it.



  1. Snarls-at-Fleas
    December 8, 2011

    Absolutely agree.
    Snarls-at-Fleas´s last blog post ..Эхо Пламени – Император Азшад (зарисовка 2)

  2. Jerry "Dread Gazebo" LeNeave
    December 8, 2011

    I’ve said this exact same thing before and got a ton of shit for it. While artistry has evolved a bit as far as tools go, and this also seems to be the argument point for most folks. The mona lisa was painted before any of this shit and it looks lifelike. Half assed artwork is exactly that, half assed. Great post.

  3. burnedfx
    December 8, 2011

    Robertson’s game is not a good example, since he also happens to be the talented artist behind the art. He didn’t have to hire anyone.

    You give 1st a edition a free ticket, why not the small press companies?

    I am not above the influence of a well designed book layout or art presented on a product. Art definitely enhances the feel and atmosphere of an RPG. It can provide the vibe that the game is trying convey without using any words.

    However, I don’t think that should stop small press companies from producing what might become your favorite game, just because they can’t afford a good artist at the time.

    If their game is awesome, they’ll make the money to hire more artists.

  4. Mark
    December 8, 2011

    I give 1e a free ticket, because, as I said, “There wasn’t a lot of artists out there doing fantasy art, so they made do. Art (frankly) wasn’t that great at the time, so they made do.” Nowadays, there are so many sources of good art, and so many good fantasy artists, so much great stock art, and a lot of it is very inexpensive. Back in the days of 1e, there wasn’t an easy way to find good artists (the internet.)

  5. burnedfx
    December 8, 2011

    Just off the top of my head, Weird Tales, a magazine that started in the 20s, had plenty of fantasy art.

    Granted, not having the internet as resource may seemed to distort our view; you and I can’t conceive of a world without it. However,, the likes of Boris Vallejo, Frank Frezetta and not to mention all the artists from the “Golden Age” of comics and forward is making it hard for me to accept that “Art (frankly) wasn’t that great at the time.”

    Art is subjective. I think it would be better to say that you don’t consider the art back than great.

    I do agree with your point about using your resources. We don’t live in a world without the internet, so you’re right, there is no excuse in not emailing a good artist. I can get behind that.

  6. Dead Horse
    December 8, 2011

    The D&D art you posted is 0E not 1st ed.
    While agree alot of the early art was rough, It is also iconic.

    Have you looked at the “art” WoTC puts on its books?
    If you want art buy art. If you want a game buy a game.

    I agree the character sheet has decent art. I dont think that Weird West thing is what i would call good.
    Dead Horse´s last blog post ..Dark elves are mean.

  7. Mark
    December 8, 2011

    I have seen the quote-unquote art WotC puts in its books. It’s certainly not stuff you’d find doodled in the back of a middle schooler’s notebook like most of the old art.

    As I said, terrible art is terrible art, “iconic” or not.

  8. burnedfx
    December 8, 2011

    My problem with your statement is that the value of art is in the eye of the beholder. This is not nostalgic favoritism. There are people who love the “iconic” art that Dead Horse refers to and there are those that love the 4e covers. Erol Otus is one of my favorite D&D artists, but he’s not for everyone.

    What you consider terrible art is terrible art to you.

    Despite my disagreement with your statement, I believe our tastes are similar. The art you show as terrible, I think is terrible. I also really like that character sheet you posted and, of course, enjoy Robertson’s work.
    burnedfx´s last blog post ..Honeymoon Adventure

  9. David Margowsky
    December 9, 2011

    I would agree with your opinion that terrible art is terrible art. I would even go so far as to say if you can’t hire a capable artist, leave it out.

    burnedfx commented that “art is subjective.” I disagree with this. There is a hierarchy of art from “good” to “bad.” In fact, there are multiple hierarchies. The problem is that they are not clearly defined.

    Most people don’t have a vocabulary for discussing art and it falls back to “Well, I don’t like it.” This leads people to the conclusion that art is subjective since most people will value their own opinion over an exploration or conversation that contradicts that opinion.

  10. Swordgleam
    December 9, 2011

    Hey now. Any drawing including a Flumph is automatically Good Art ™. Some things are not merely a matter of taste; they are a matter of Universal Law.

  11. burnedfx
    December 10, 2011


    Although, I would agree that art can be placed into different categories or styles, I would not use the word “hierarchy,” since that implies one type of art can be placed above another (e.g. oil paintings are superior to chalk drawings!).

    Depending on the message or purpose of a particular piece of art, it can not be avoided that subjectivity plays a role in determining if you, as an individual, place a particular style of art into “good” or “bad” categories on your radar of awesome.

    In the context of this article, if the purpose of the “terrible art” is to convey that “1st edition feel” than it would have achieved its goal. Although my opinion is that it is “terrible”, if it did not fail in its purpose, it would be good art.

    The focus of art is not always to be aesthetically pleasing. It’s not that I value my opinion over another or confusing my opinion with good art. One can not help to decide, based on opinion, if something is beautiful to look at or hideous and should be mocked.

    If goal of the art is clear and it serves the purpose the artist intended, than it has succeeded as good art.

    So, if needed, instead of saying “art is subjective” I would put forth that the aesthetics of art are subjective. In the context of this article, I thought that would have been clear.

  12. David Margowsky
    December 10, 2011


    Your intent was indeed quite clear. However, it is my assertion that your point is invalid. Hierarchy is exactly the word intended. However, as with all comparisons these hierarchies can overlap. I like to think of it as a continuum.

    Using your example, The “best” oil painting is most likely better than the “best” chalk drawing. However, the “worst” oil painting is certainly less worthwhile than the “best” chalk drawing. I use the parentheses here to deliver a pause since good and bad are a poor hierarchical tool. Better words would be use of color, line, form, balance (ie. the elements of art and design). Aesthetics would be one of these parameters but I agree with you, not the only one or necessarily the most important.

    When comparing across mediums the assignment of order becomes even more difficult. However, my comment wasn’t meant to say that I was the final arbiter of what the correct order is but merely to indicate that there IS an order and that a dialog can be had as to how to determine it.

    I should also say that I don’t think all 1st edition art was or is terrible – just the examples we were shown here.

    To sum up instead of saying the aesthetics of art are subjective, one could say the parameters people use to judge art are subjective and if they were more standardized and talked about we might be able to improve the quality of game art.

    @Swordgleam – some parameters immediately jump to the top – Flumphishness is definitely one of them.

  13. David Margowsky
    December 10, 2011

    Just read my previous message. I should correct myself – your point is valid but I don’t believe your conclusion is. Not trying to bait you :)

  14. burnedfx
    December 11, 2011

    I do not disagree with any of your points. And, my word choice a few times, upon re-reading, I can see did not effectively convey my intended meaning. That a dialogue is needed to determine how to classify and judge art is proven by our discussion here.

    I think what we are talking about are two different things. To stick with oil paintings as our example, Frank Frezzata and Boris Valejo are of equal hierarchy. Which one is “better” is up to an individuals opinion and is subjective.
    burnedfx´s last blog post ..Honeymoon Adventure

  15. David Margowsky
    December 11, 2011

    Not wanting to beat a dead horse, I can concede the choice of parameter is subjective but not the ranking.

    If our parameter was realism than Valejo would be the higher ranked artist, Boris’ attention to anatomy is amazing. However, if the parameter is mood, color or emotion Frazetta is clearly ahead.

    Now, looking at how easy it was for me to pick parameters that Frazetta’s work ranks higher in, I would go so far as to say that Frazetta’s work is superior and my support for the argument would be the parameters I brought to the table. And the discussion would continue from there.

    Thanks for engaging burned.

  16. Dave Matney
    December 12, 2011

    The book that upsets me the ABSOLUTE MOST is the Mage: the Awakening’s core book (I haven’t picked up anything from that line.)

    White Wolf’s books are jam packed with stunning art, and M:tA gives us this crap: http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/MageAwakening.jpeg

    It’s like they stopped half way, and it’s in every part of the book. There isn’t a colored, or decently shaded, picture within the 400 pages — unless you count the fake inner binding that’s on every page.

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