26th Oct2018

‘Dungeons and Dragons: Art & Arcana’ Book Review

by Phil Wheat

Written by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Sam Witwer | Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.


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 & 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 & 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 D&D imagery ever assembled, making this the ultimate collectible for the game’s millions of fans around the world.

As a kid growing up in the 80s you couldn’t really be unaware of Dungeons & Dragons – even if you didn’t know anything about roleplaying and/or board games. D&D was ingrained in 80s nerd-culture: between the “satanic panic” around the game itself, or the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons toy line, or – as many children of the 80s will remember – the classic cartoon featuring Hank, Eric, Diana, Presto, Sheila and Bobby and the evil Venger, you couldn’t NOT be aware of Dungeons & Dragons. And it’s the latter two, the toy line and TV show, that made the biggest impression on me growing up.

You couldn’t buy figures of the cartoon characters back in the early 80s, however LJN did release a series of toys based on Dungeons & Dragons and despite my mothers insistence that I couldn’t collect multiple toy lines (we were too poor for me to have every 80s toy I wanted), I still managed to add figures like Warduke, Strongheart the Paladin, and the evil Wizard Kelek to my collection – I even, god forbid, traded He-Man figures with a friend for his D&D figs! Thankfully my memories of Dungeons & Dragons – outside of the realm of the RPG – are served just as well by Art & Arcana as the game itself. This is a [hefty] tome that covers EVERY aspect of the phenomena that is Dungeons & Dragons – from the early days, through the 80s and to today: where geek culture is so mainstream (something that couldn’t be said back when D&D first debuted) that celebrities like Stephen Colbert and Joe Manganiello talk openly about their love for D&D on live US television).

But Dungeons & Dragons was much more than just a game, a toy line or a cartoon – it was also an inspiration for a myriad of other games, fantasy art and all-round storytelling. An inspiration that continues to this day… You only have to look at the art in Dungeons and Dragons: Art & Arcana – A Visual History to see how games like World of Warcraft took the look and feel of D&D and turned them into a video game phenomenon; or a card game like Magic The Gathering, which obvioudly has D&D at its heart, in both the look of the cards and the way in which the game plays – and that too has become something of a phenomenon. Clearly Dungeons & Dragons, besides being a legend in its own right, has spawned other aspects of pop culture that have too become legendary. It’s a credit to those like co-creator Gary Gygax and the myriad of artists, designers and fans that have worked in and around the D&D franchise that such a success could spawn further success – after all, there has to be something special about the game in the first place that captures the imagination, creates a spark, generates an idea, and influences entires generations.

And it’s that special-ness which Dungeons and Dragons: Art & Arcana presents within its 448 pages of art – more than 700 pieces of art to be precise: from the original first editions of Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks, to the current books and all the modules and supplements; D& magazines; adverts and merch; character sketches; fantasy art and much more. And given that this book was produced in association with Wizards of the Coast it means that this is THE most comprehensive look at the art and the history of Dungeons & Dragons ever. Plus, if you’re a hardcore D&D fan, there’s also a boxed special edition of the book too – which includes even MORE epherma: including framable art and a reprint of the Tombs of Horror module. Think of something similar to the “Vault” line of books that were so popular a few years back and you’ll be somewhere close.

***** 5/5

A TOTAL must-buy for both casual and hardcore D&D fans, Dungeons and Dragons: Art & Arcana – A Visual History is out now from Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Buy your copy on Amazon now.

Artwork reprinted with permission from Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History, by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson and Sam Witwer, copyright (c) 2018. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.  Images copyright © by Wizards of the Coast LLC

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