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Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History


Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History

In just the past decade or so, tabletop role-playing games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons, have seen a popularity surge. It is no longer just the realm of geek boys hiding in dimly lit basements, rolling dice to vanquish demons instead of holding a girl's hand. The game has stepped full on into the bright lights of the mainstream, with a growing list of celebrities no longer afraid to admit that they are gamers, including Kevin Smith, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Stephen Colbert, Vin Diesel, Mike Myers, NBA All-Star Tim Duncan and Jon Favreau.

Wizards of the Coast, the current publishers of the D&D franchise, most recently have brought out the fifth edition of the game. It continues to morph and expand, finding growing popularity in a wider range of players, and seeing its use in schools to teach children about decision-making skills, coping mechanisms and teamwork. It also did not hurt that the old Expert Set was a bedrock foundation of the enormous smash series “Stranger Things.”

"ART & ARCANA is, hands down, an absolute gem of a book. From the the beautifully illustrated interior, each page is worthy of time, attention and inspection."

But Dungeons & Dragons had very humble beginnings, both in its player base and design, and in its artwork. And now, the history of the game has been compiled, from its early historical wargame roots to its now-expanding fifth edition, into ART & ARCANA: A Visual History.

More than just a prose who's who and cataloguing of dates and events, ART & ARCANA gives a particular focus to the one ingredient across all editions of the game that has fascinated and lured gamers of all ages: the tremendous artwork. Every page of this incredible book is bursting with the visual materials that set it apart from other games and helped propel it into a multi-million-dollar franchise. From the original set, with art by committee, including free work from a high school student, to the work of legendary masters like Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, Keith Parkinson and so many more, ART & ARCANA is a visual feast for the eyes.

Included in the story of the game, founded by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, is a rich history of art. The authors of ART & ARCANA delved deep, bringing out all the old classics and some of the overlooked art that brought specific creatures to life, or established dramatic scenes to inspire gameplay, or the beautiful work created to grace the covers of the gamebooks and eventually the varied novel lines.

Not just content to show the art, the art actually takes center stage, and the story of the game is woven around it. As the game grows and changes, so too does the quality of the art. And the artists here are definitely and rightfully given their due. In fact, they were part of the process, talking with the authors. And through the pages, you even get to see which piece of their work the authors chose as their best. In many cases, their choices might surprise you.

ART & ARCANA is, hands down, an absolute gem of a book. From the cover --- Larry Elmore's iconic red dragon facing off against the brave fighter that graced the Red Box Basic Rules in 1983 --- to the beautifully illustrated interior, each page is worthy of time, attention and inspection. The story of the game --- from its birth to its trials and tribulations, from its kingly perch to its bloated fall and rebirth --- is engaging and quite interesting, and is made all the more intriguing as the artistic design flows through the telling.

This is not just a book for Dungeons & Dragons gamers, though they are more likely to be the interested parties. It is, in truth, for anyone who loves a good biography, and especially for those who love fantasy art. It is a treasure chest of wonder.

Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on November 9, 2018

Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History
by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer

  • Publication Date: October 23, 2018
  • Genres: Art, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press
  • ISBN-10: 0399580948
  • ISBN-13: 9780399580949