The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Why I Hate Good Art

One thing that has remained a constant over the years that I have played D&D is that every new edition brings with it a new standard for artwork.

The covers were great in AD&D.

In AD&D nothing other than the covers were in color, and some of the pictures were quite literally doodles. Second edition brought with it the occasional full color picture inside of books, and all the artwork looked professional. Third edition came with good quality on almost every page. Fourth edition raised the bar even higher, having artwork that is absolutely incredible everywhere.

I have heard some gamers say that the artwork is very important to them, and they would be very upset if the quality ever went down. But for me, as much as I enjoy the pictures I can’t help but wonder what we have lost.

Inside the 2E PHB.

Artwork costs money. The more of it and the better the quality, the more money it costs. This isn’t such a big deal when you are talking about core rulebooks, because it is a given they will have a high circulation, thus spreading the cost of the pictures out over the many buyers. But what about the books with a smaller circulation?

If you compare the products that TSR was making in the 80s (when they were making money hand over fist) to those they made in the 90s (when they were losing money even faster) the types of books being produced weren’t really that much different. The greateset difference between them is the production value.

Ho hum, just another average picture on an average page.

If you put high production value into a product with a low circulation you either have to charge a lot more for it, or you have to lose money on it. TSR went the route of losing money, and so Wizards decided to go the route of charging more. But when you are charging a good chunk of change for a type of book, the number of buyers dimishes even further.

What I would really like to see Wizards do is back down on the production values for books outside of core rulebooks. Pass the savings on to the buyers, and they could even make it all back by selling us other products instead (minis, modules, or even *gasp* some books with fluff in them)

When I started playing D&D modules came out faster than anyone could hope to play them. Even when I had no desire to run them I often picked them up to see if they could give me ideas (this was possible because they were cheap).

I like to have a little game in my art books.

Now, even though I don’t have all the modules that Wizards has made for 4E, I know what they all are. New ones come out at a snail’s pace. Wizards tells me that I could fill these gaps with the content at DDI, and I can and have. But modules from DDI don’t quite fill the same role as hardcopy modules do.

When I have an idea for something I want to do in a game session, but am having trouble filling in the details, I can in minutes flip through my library of old modules and try to get some inspiration. I can’t really do the same by going online and looking through their library.

I know I’m more likely to roll 5 straight crits than see Wizards reduce the (art) quality and increase the quantity of modules and other books. But I still really wish they would; to me the order of priorities the maker of D&D should have for its products are game quality, price, quantity, and way at the end would be visual appeal.


November 3, 2010 - Posted by | 4E, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , ,


  1. I’m with you here. I haven’t seen so much of the 4E art, but 3E had a ton of color art that while visually appealing, didn’t really enhance my appreciation of the game any.

    Marketing folk seem to believe the kids these days will discard anything that’s got b&w art though. I’d love to see WotC try it out and see what happens.

    Comment by Lord Gwydion | November 3, 2010 | Reply

  2. “Dynamic” color art’s a huge part of the “brand identity.” Maybe more so than the actual rules – they’ve proven they can make wholesale rules changes and embark on any number of baffling boondoggles without losing too much ground.

    Comment by Scott | November 3, 2010 | Reply

    • Part of the reason I am willing to excuse the high quality of artwork in the core rulebooks is that I get pretty pictures can lure in new players. But the kind of books I am talking about – modules, and fluff books – are bought almost entirely by the existing base. And what existing player would not rather have gaming content over pretty pictures?

      Comment by The Red DM | November 4, 2010 | Reply

  3. I am working on three games right now. All of which I will be (or already have) released for free. As a result of being free, I can get high-quality full-color art donations from a variety of artists just by asking. If I charged a penny, I would have to pay for art through the nose.

    I feel like the small monetary gains that independent producers are making is just not worth the cost of having to buy all the art and jump through all the hoops, only to have low circulation.

    Being free is liberating in that way. A lot more people look at my games, a lot more people will play my games, and I am just leaving a few hundred bucks (if even that much) on the table as a price.

    A fair gamble, in my view. I do this as entertainment and for myself, not for the money.

    Comment by Greg Christopher | November 3, 2010 | Reply

    • That’s an interesting aspect of it I hadn’t considered.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      Comment by The Red DM | November 4, 2010 | Reply

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