Today, I’m going to talk about a book that’s a bit different from my usual fare. I had considered not talking about it, considering that it is an art book. But there is enough actual substance to the text that I feel it’s worthy of analysis.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I really like Dungeons and Dragons! I’ve dedicated an entire day of the week to D&D, after all! This game is my jam!
So naturally, when I discovered that Art and Arcana: A Visual History existed, I just had to pick it up! I mean, come on! A complete visual history of D&D, showcasing how the evolution of the game’s incredible artwork? How could I possibly resist?
But this book doesn’t just provide nice artwork! It tells the highly detailed, complete story of how D&D came to be, how each edition of the game improved upon the last, and even how the worldwide perception of the game evolved over time! It even brings up Critical Role and the original animated series! If you want to become a D&D know-it-all, this is the book for you!
In case you weren’t already after reading all the core rulebooks. Ya fuckin nerd.
Plot: From War to Adventure
Do you want to know literally every piece of D&D’s history? Then I have a book for you!
This book could have taken the easy route. “A bunch of nerds had an idea and that’s how D&D started.” It wouldn’t have been super interesting, but it would have done the job. But rather than that, they decided to go above and beyond! This is a history lesson so complete that you could fill an entire school semester with it!
Before there was D&D, there were War Games. This was a hobby that many people undertook in, wherein you would gather miniature soldiers and reconstruct various battles from real-world historical wars. Eventually, it evolved into a game of sorts where people would construct their own battles. Soon after that, it took a fantasy twist. Thus, the seed of Dungeons and Dragons was planted. A few years later, and the first edition of the legendary tabletop RPG was born!
From there, the book continues on with a more detailed history of D&D’s lifespan. From the days where you’d have to send a letter to get the rulebooks all the way to today, where D&D is a pop culture powerhouse, and all the steps in-between! It’s an incredibly interesting, highly detailed history! One that any hardcore D&D fan should read!
And that’s before we talk about the artwork!
Art: From Art Student to Art Master
The history of D&D artwork is an interesting and fun one. In its infancy, D&D artwork was nice but clearly amateur. It looked like the kind of thing I could draw (or at least if I wasn’t out of practice), which I don’t mean as an insult. It has a relaxing charm to it, one that makes me feel at ease.
But then you watch it evolve. And it becomes truly incredible! While the early drawings are like something I’d praise a friend for drawing, the later ones are something that I’d frame and put on my wall! Those drawings are amazing!
There are also a large number of before and afters. There are plenty of drawings where you see the outline on one half of the page and the finished product on the other. It’s a lovely touch that really helps you appreciate the incredible process behind crafting these wonderful pieces!
But my favorite bit is the ‘Many Faces of…’ pages. These pages will take the iconic monsters and characters of D&D, such as the Beholder, the Demogorgon, Lolth (she’s a spider chick, in case you don’t know). These will show you what the monster’s design looked like from the first edition prototype all the way to the current fifth edition. There aren’t many of these in the book, but they’re all incredibly charming!
It’s not just artwork either! This book is also filled with old commercials for D&D, pages from D&D comics, the aforementioned animated series, and more! This book doesn’t skimp out on anything! Not a single bit of this game’s amazing history is skipped out on, and it’s both endearing and fascinating!
And weird. Old adds are fucking weird.
When I first bought this book, I thought it would just be something to oggle at. A book filled with nice art that I could look at, go “Damn, that’s cool!”, and then move on with my life. I thought I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t think I’d think much of it. It just seemed like a neat thing to own.
What I didn’t expect was a detailed history of every bit of D&D! But you know what? I can’t say I’m upset! I’m always happy to learn, especially when the subject interests me! And no subject interests me half as much as D&D!
If you love Dungeons and Dragons, then I’d highly recommend reading ‘Art and Arcana: A Visual History’! If you aren’t all that into D&D but you want to know more about a niche bit of history, then this book has you covered! If you aren’t into D&D or history, then you may want to pass on this one. It is a very specific subject matter for a very specific group of people.
But god damn does it do good for that group!