Thursday, July 7, 2016

Do You Like It Rough?

Virgil Finlay
Virgil Finlay
Recently, I was browsing some rulebooks at a local shop and I picked up a copy of the 5E Players Handbook. Much like many newer editions of D&D, it was a slick product with high-quality art, printed on high-quality paper. Everything about it was glossy and polished. The cover art was excellent, the interior art was excellent, with colors galore throughout the book. Even the page layouts were detailed and colorful. But I wondered: was it too much?

How much production value can be put into something before a line is crossed into it being over done? As nice and as shiny as the newer books are, I can't help but feel that I prefer my old first edition volumes. Just pick any example from one of the books and compare the old presentation to the new. The art in my old books was rough and sketchy and it was obvious that a living creature would look much different than the illustrations found therein. The new art, in contrast, shows vibrant depictions of all manner of monsters you can meet in the game. But the old sketchy pictures left something for me to fill in on my own. I painted my own mental picture. I don't really get to do that with the new material.

Imagination has always been one of the staples of this hobby. Not just to imagine that you are someone else, but to imagine what things, places, and people look like. Hearing the descriptions from the DM, and forming your own images has, for me, always been one of the things I enjoyed most. And conversely, as a DM, to see the lights go on in the eyes of my players when they have done the same from my own monologues.

Also, there is no small amount of nostalgia to be experienced by gamers of a certain age, cough, cough, continuing to use not only the older material but much of the new OSR material created in the spirit of the olden days of gaming. So it raises a question for me: are there others out there that prefer the OSR aesthetic? Are you like me? Do you like it rough?

This is, surely, a wondrous time to be a gamer of any sort. The RPG industry has grown into something that can be overwhelming at times. The amount of content out there has never been more bountiful. Books, dice, and miniatures are easy to come by and you don't even have to assemble and paint all of the miniatures anymore. Computer games and RPG computer tools can immerse you in masterfully rendered fictional worlds on levels we never dreamed of before.

But we were still dreaming in those days.


  1. Yesss!!! You nailed it. I complained back when Dragon and Dungeon magazines went over to that glossy paper. they make these way over the top products and then try to tell us that the high price tags are a necessity. As bad as Palladium is for it's rules, at least it still makes great looking books at a good value. Black ink on actual paper. Of course I run it all using Fate now-a-days. But for D&D, It's classic modules and Old School Revival for me.

  2. I share your view that a lot of the "new and improved, in living full color" art and layouts are just not cutting it. I remember looking at the AD&D Fiend Folio as a 12-year old kid as if it were some forgotten tome of lore. The black and white artwork, while generally dismissed - and even groused about - by gamers addicted to full color everything, was evocative in that "forgotten lore" way. The same goes for the first AD&D monster manual. The second AD&D Monster Manual, ehhh... Not as good. Still, it's affected my own preferences when it comes to production values in my own publications. I can't see myself in reality (or even in my wildest fantasies of the industry) burning the cash for full-color artwork and layout. Give me black and white/grayscale art and I'm happy.

    1. Yes, that is a good way to put it. Tomes of forgotten lore. The art was like something an eye witness would sketch out to illustrate a first hand story.

  3. When it looks like the artist has chewed up Skittles and puked them back on the page I draw the line. I guess there is at least one exception though in the form of Towers Two. Most of the time I like plain old black & white, or B&W with some color accents.