Hello and welcome to The Cover Up! In this column I will be taking a look at probably the first thing you see picking up a new board game or RPG; The Cover. It has to grab the attention, as well as showing what the game inside entails. This is no easy task; as such things can make or break a purchase, and as such gain or lose a lifelong fan. So let’s get stuck in, and judge a book by its cover!
Today is the first outing of this, so I’ve decided to take a look at a giant in the RPG world, Dungeons and Dragons. This legendary series has been in print for over 40 years, with hundreds of products published. The series started off in simple, all-inclusive box sets (which we may look at someday), then split into Basic and Advanced versions. Basic remained in box sets, while Advanced consisted of 3 separate rulebooks (Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual).The two were joined into just ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ come 3rd edition.
But to keep things simple, for the first month of the column I will begin by looking at the various Players Handbooks released over the decades D&D has dominated the table top landscape. So let’s go all the way back to 1978 to see the very first of the lot.
Without any hyperbole, this is an incredibly iconic image. Chances are if you’re into RPG’s you’d have seen this, and it certainly makes an impression. The image presents the aftermath of what we can only assume by the dramatic set dressing was the end of an important encounter. Some lizard men lie slain, the party plan their next move, and most noticeably, two of their number are currently attempting to remove the statues gemstone eyes. Clearly, the artist knew what players, even to this day, prioritize.
The scene presented suggests going on a fantasy adventure with a group (of your friends, obviously). This is the core of the D&D product, so it makes sense for the cover of the book to show it off.
But what makes the image really stand out is its use of colour.
The adventures are all dressed in muted colours, standing in the darkness of the room. But a bright fire fiercely illuminates the central statue in a vibrant orange. This isn’t just for drama either, there’s colour theory at work. Orange is a warm, advancing colour. This means that it naturally pops out at the viewer. The effect is furthered by the darkness around it. The direct result is that the statue leaps out at the viewer, it commands your attention.
Its central position is also incredibly important. As well as providing a focus for the image, it allows enough space so that the adventurers can fit into the scene. These figures, representing the player characters, really spice up the image. If it was just a statue in a room, the cover wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. Without this group we would get a much less clear idea of what the game inside was about.
This group of 6 also displays some of the characters the players might create. Closest to the viewer we have who we can only assume is the leader of the party, deciding where they should go next while most of the others can’t be arsed with logistics, and in the background we see an old wizard, fitting with the Gandalf archetype.
But the most memorable of the bunch are the two mentioned beforehand, relieving the statue of its gemstone eyes. They show the treasure element of the game, and the many, many player characters in it for the money.
Add the two fighters and the group is complete, displaying the kind of party one might expect when playing the game.
In conclusion, this is one good cover. While I would say the white text gets in the way, it is easily ignored. It very clearly presents a scene from a typical game, but with enough left unexplained for the viewer to imagine up the rest of the campaign.
This train of thought naturally leads to wanting to take part in such an adventure, and this is what D&D offers. This promise of fantasy adventure is what made Dungeons and Dragons so big in the first place, and this image would have very nicely helped that success along. Even after all these years after seeing it as a little lad wondering what these ‘RPG’ things were, the image is still clear in my head.
Next week, when we will take a look at what the 2nd edition of the game has to offer.