The Art of the Role Playing Game


This week I am continuing on with my series about the places that fantasy art can be found. The internet is obviously one of those places and I will eventually get to writing about places where fantasy art can be found on the internet, but this week I want to talk about that great fantasy fan passtime, RPG’s, or Role Playing Games.

21329When Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created the fantasy role playing game Dungeons and Dragons back in 1974 they may not have been aware that they were creating an entire industry. The early editions of the game were heavy on text and charts but fantasy art was an integral part of the whole package right from the beginning.

Today that industry is flourishing. There are many companies producing role playing games of all types and in all genres. There are science fiction, space opera, steampunk and Mythos based games as well as movie and television tie-ins. The need for quality art for these games is greater than ever.

It’s not just art for the front of the box, either. Most RPG’s come with rulebooks and these are lavishly and fantastically illustrated on the covers and throughout. There are expansion packs and supplemental books. Some RPGs have cards and some have little metal figurines. All of these require imaginative artistry like never before.

Immersturm Raymond SwanlandSome of the gaming companies are expanding into publishing fiction. Games Workshop Group is a British based game production company best known as developer and publisher of the tabletop wargames Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000 and The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game. BL Publishing is the fiction, board game and roleplaying game publishing arm of Games Workshop. One of their imprints, The Black Library, publishes fiction based on the company’s gaming products. It not only keeps writers such as Joshua M. Reynolds and David Guymer busy but they also make use of a large number of artists. These are some of the few books that actively recruit and employ fantasy artists for their cover artists. But the books are only a small part of it. The game products themselves are lavishly festooned with fantasy art as well as advertising materials and other sundry products.

PZO1110_500Paizo Inc. is a leading publisher of fantasy roleplaying games, accessories, board games, and novels. Based in Redmond, Washington, Paizo specializes in game aids and adventures for “the world’s oldest fantasy roleplaying game” (Dungeons & Dragons) and its flagship spin-off game and setting, Pathfinder. Paizo also runs an online retail store selling role-playing games, gaming aids, board games, comic books, toys, clothing and other products, and has an Internet forum community. All of these elements require, to some extent, artwork. Paizo has a constant need for good fantasy and science fiction artists and designers.

Wizards of the Coast is a gaming company based in Renton, Washington. Wizards of the Coast publishes role-playing games, board games, and collectible card games. The company popularized the collectible card game genre with Magic: The Gathering in the mid-1990s, acquired the popular Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game by purchasing Gary Gygax’s company TSR. As with the other gaming companies Wizards of the Coast regularly puts out books in support of the games, expansion adventures, cards and a plethora of other supplemental and advertising material, all of which require high quality fantasy and science fiction art.


The artists themselves are extremely talented and come from all over the world. Jesper Esjing is a fantasy artists from Denmark who was inspired by the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons. Today he is one of the most sought after illustrators for that game franchise as well as other Wizards of the Coast games. His work is colorful and dynamic and steeped in the visual language of fantasy illustration.

Magic the Gathering Michael Komarck

Other illustrators, such as Raymond Swanland, Tyler Jacobson, Michael Komarck and Terese Nielson continue to produce fantastic artwork. The work you find associated with gaming has a specific tone and feel but that tone and feel is firmly rooted in the same fantasy and science fiction art tradition as the science fiction and fantasy paperback and pulp magazine artists of days gone by. This is the real stuff!






Vanity Raymond Swanland

There is another place where science fiction and fantasy artists ply their trade and, although it’s is not a new industry, the developments in technology in recent years have transformed it greatly. I’m talking about Hollywood, and next week I will take a star-struck look at some of the surprising places where fantasy and science fiction artists have carved their niche in recent years.

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