Friday, 17 September 2010

Dark Images

So, what image stands iconically for D&D? 

Okay, the straight answer for me is the Trampier dungeon master screen. But I didn't use that screen. I made my own out of heavy cardboard, with a strange collage of punk rock art, stuff from Readers Digest and Boys Life, ads for D&D and Time Magazine natural disasters. Half Winston Smith (the punk collage artist), half Max Ernst. And the charts pencilled in on the inside.

Unfortunately that screen was lost to the dust of ages and is no longer available for viewing.

But there's another set of images that I associate with teenage years and the promise of mystery I sought in D&D, though they never appeared in anything by TSR. The illustrations of Sidney Sime.

There was something about those dark, detail-clotted vistas, with tiny human figures skulking and avoiding inky perils - most of the time, without much success. The Lord Dunsany stories they illustrated, when not wonder-tales of imagined orientalist gods, were seedbeds for the larcenous imaginations of Vance and Leiber. The tiny figures were men, good, bad or indifferent, who sought treasure from that which was far beyond them.

At the time, like many teens, I sought mystery, but also its illumination and rationalization - with matrices of encounter tables and saving throws. We have met the Beast and its Hit Dice are 6+6. In a way, to have Sime's illustrations in the D&D books would be to offer a promise the rules could not fulfill - a world more fit for medievalist treasure-seeking using Call of Cthulhu rules, or a set even more deadly and opaque. The clear scenarios of Sutherland and Trampier, horrors front and center, were as Apollonian a monster combat as you could hope for, and even Erol Otus' weird visions made sure to delineate every eyeball and tentacle. A Dunsany terror in D&D rules would be something like "Save each turn vs. death ray or die, otherwise lose 1 level. No stats, can't hit it, can't hurt it."

An out-of-level encounter. A Green Devil Face. No raise, no save, no hope. "It is better not."

See George P. Landow's scans here, in particular the tales of Thangobrind, Nuth and the Gibbelins.


  1. Sime is awesome. I hadn't heard of him before this month. I've been sitting on his "Mung and the Beast of Mung," for a while trying to come up with something deserving to post it with.

  2. Love Sime. I used a lot of Dunsany in my Thool setting, including the Gods of Pegana as the main pantheon.

  3. Yep, wish I'd been in blogland for the unfolding of Thool.

    Mung for me is the epitome of the Lawful and inexorable death-god, as opposed to the Chaotic corpse-god who spooks with dancing skeletons and gibbering ghouls. Mung stands for the silence, sanctity, and inevitability of the demise that comes to all things.