Dungeons and Dragons: Art and Arcana

I knew that Ten Speed Press were working on an illustrated tribute to Dungeons and Dragons. But I must have been sleeping at the wheel, for I had totally forgotten that Dungeons and Dragons: Art and Arcana was about to be released. It's only when the package showed up in my mailbox that I remembered. And what a pleasant surprise that was!

I immediately began to peruse the book and throughout it has been an amazing trip down memory lane. As I mentioned in previous posts, this is a gorgeous oversized high quality production with lots of illustrations. A "must own" title for anyone who, like me, grew up with Dungeons and Dragons and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I was taken back to my first year of junior high, way back when I was first introduced to the game by other students. That first foray into role-playing games opened up a world of possibilities and led to my becoming a speculative fiction book reviewer down the line. Without Dungeons and Dragons when I was twelve years old, I'm not sure just how my life would have turned out to be.

Here's the blurb:

An illustrated guide to the history and evolution of the beloved role-playing game told through the paintings, sketches, illustrations, and visual ephemera behind its creation, growth, and continued popularity.

From one of the most iconic game brands in the world, this official DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS illustrated history provides an unprecedented look at the visual evolution of the brand, showing its continued influence on the worlds of pop culture and fantasy. Inside the book, you’ll find more than seven hundred pieces of artwork—from each edition of the core role-playing books, supplements, and adventures; as well as Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance novels; decades of Dragon and Dungeon magazines; and classic advertisements and merchandise; plus never-before-seen sketches, large-format canvases, rare photographs, one-of-a-kind drafts, and more from the now-famous designers and artists associated with DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS. The superstar author team gained unparalleled access to the archives of Wizards of the Coast and the personal collections of top collectors, as well as the designers and illustrators who created the distinctive characters, concepts, and visuals that have defined fantasy art and gameplay for generations. This is the most comprehensive collection of DandD imagery ever assembled, making this the ultimate collectible for the game’s millions of fans around the world.

Dungeons and Dragons: Art and Arcana is an illustrated history which provides an unprecedented look at the visual evolution of the game and its influence on the fantasy genre and pop culture. Within its 450 pages, the book looks back on over forty years of history and features over 700 pieces of artwork from all edition of the game's rulebooks, modules, and supplements, from Dragon and Dungeons magazines, as well as ads and licensed merchandise. You'll also find never-before-seen sketches and rare photos, making this book a visual archive that should be please all Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts!

Beyond being a visual history of the game, it's also the untold history of how Dungeons and Dragons was born and how it changed over the years. From the creation of TSR to its financial woes, ending with being bought by Wizards of the Coast, who were later acquired by Hasbro, and everything else in between. I particularly liked the trade ads and the in-house memos featured in the book. Like many people from my generation, I bought the now classic Dungeons and Dragons basic rules boxset, the infamous red box, back in 1986. Hence, I relished the opportunity to go back in time and relive the modest beginnings of Gary Gygax and his team and how TSR was born. This brought back so many memories, not all of them fond ones. I had forgotten that our high school forbade us to set up a club to play Dungeons and Dragons during our lunch breaks, all due to the rumors of satanism surrounding the game during the 80s. My classmates and I still played, but we were never able to recruit more people to join us. In no time we all "graduated" to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and proceeded to buy basically every core rulebooks graced with those beautiful Jeff Easley covers. The piece on the Temple of Elemental Evil module brought a chuckle out me. Our band of adventurers tried at least a dozen times to complete that module, but alas we all died in the attempt every single time. The World of Greyhawk campaign setting, and then came Dragonlance. Started playing that campaign in 8th grade and Sturm Brightblade was my character. Reading Weis and Hickman's Dragons of Autumn Twilight changed my life that year. And imagine my shock when I discovered that Sturm died in the second volume! But my DM said that I wouldn't necessarily die in the modules, which made it all right. I guess. Then came the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, with its myriad books that kept me awake past my bedtime for many a night. The Pool of Radiance computer game that we spent hours playing on my friend Martin's Commodore. The game evolving with the release of the 2nd edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and new settings like Spelljammer and Dark Sun. All told, the book covers the game's history all the way to the 5th edition and is a veritable encyclopedia.

But as interesting as all that information turned out to be, it's the illustrations that are the main draw. For me, it was mostly the pieces from my teenage years by such masters as Larry Elmore, Keith Parkinson, Jeff Easley, Clyde Caldwell, and Brom. Gorgeous high resolution images, some of them two-page spreads, are what makes this book worth every penny. Every era is covered, so there is definitely something for everyone, no matter when you fell in love with Dungeons and Dragons.

Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer did an amazing job compiling everything. Dungeons and Dragons: Art and Arcana is both a tribute and a love letter to the game cherished by millions of fans around the world. This visual history is a "must own" item that should be part of all Dungeons and Dragons aficionados' collection.

Dungeons and Dragons: Art and Arcana is everything you want it to be and then some!

The final verdict: 10/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

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