The Cover Up: D&D Player’s Handbook Part 2


Last week we saw what image adorned the 1st Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook, and today we’ll be looking at what the 2nd edition of (Advanced) D&D has to offer.

Over the course of its run 2nd edition saw a wide range of books, box sets and memorable settings, from the Mad Max flavored fantasy of Dark Sun to classic Gothic Horror in Ravenloft. But what might be remembered most about it is the behind the scenes drama that plagued it. For those unaware, the men who owned TSR came to the conclusion that they were hobbyists, not businessmen, so handed over control so that the company could continue with capable hands running the business side of things. However this ended up with those in charge causing many problems, for example not allowing play testing on company time, as they saw it as the designers simply playing the game. This lead to many supplements being outright broken.

But let’s not linger too long on the background, and get the cover.


We open to a group of 3 men on horses riding through a narrow canyon. The back two are desaturated, putting the focus onto the leading rider. Front and centre rides a warrior, sword raised, eyes pointed at the viewer. In contrast to the first Players Handbook, this scene is one of action and motion. As the Horse leaps forward we have its rider turning to the side, and we know that a forward or downward strike is coming with the sword. These 3 motions help to make the otherwise static image feel quite dynamic, as we can see the warriors attack in our heads.

While we do see a group behind him, the man in front evidently takes the focus. One of the ways this is done is how he is positioned in relation to the visual centre. The visual centre of the image is not actually the centre of the page; it is slightly to the right and above it. SO it makes sense to place the focal point of the image there. Here we can see that is also roughly were the face of the main figure is.

VIsual centre

Combine this with the fact the figure is looking directly at us, and we are immediately connected to the image. The sense of ‘’He’s attacking me’’ from the union of motion, the visual centre and directly looking towards plants us firmly within the scene. This grabs your attention, drawing you in, connecting you with the product itself. The first impression a cover gives can mean the difference between the viewer buying the book or not even picking it up. But I think this one certainly captures the attention and the imagination.

Colour also holds importance in the image. The canyon, horse and back two riders all use natural, earthy tones. Meanwhile the front rider is decked out in deep blues and metallic armour. This use of blue unifies the figure with the title text (and the frequent use of blue within the book). The blue also contrasts well with the yellowish landscape, making the title and rider even more prominent.


While still suggesting the presence of a group, the image puts focus on one character. Of course this fits in with the content of the Handbook itself, as you will be creating one character (unless you know your GM likes his high PC body counts). It also clearly shows these people going on an adventure, and evidently a fantasy one going by the focal figure’s choice of helmet.

Overall this is one of my favorite rulebook covers. All the elements fit together incredibly well to present a dynamic image of Adventure.

Next week I’ll be looking at both the 3.5th and 4th editions of the Players Handbook, to see what direction cover design took under Wizards of the Coast.



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