Tuesday, February 1, 2011



I used to love AD&D. But more than that, I really loved Monster Manuals. Almost every RPG has its collection of things to toss at players, but Dungeons & Dragons’ just seemed so expansive, a kitchen-sink of every neat (and occasionally not so neat) idea, a treasure trove of mythic creatures cobbled from countless mythos, including that of Dungeons & Dragons itself. The Zaratan pictured above claims to hail from Al-Qadim, one of many campaign settings of TSR’s heyday, but it has obvious inspiration from the mythic World Turtle. You may have come across a version of that story from the famous Steven Hawking anecdote “Turtles All the Way Down.”

But as fascinating as each volume of the monstrous menagerie was, the part that really captured my imagination was the art of Tony DiTerlizzi. Whereas much of the art of the 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual was functional, and at times barely serviceable, DiTerlizzi's art breathed on the page, the soft colors and wispy inks conveying each creature as more than a stat block. When I got my hands on the Monstrous Compendium Annual Vol. 1, I was ecstatic to find every denizen within the paperback tome was penned by his hand. It was more than great art. DiTerlizzi was a revelation and a lesson. RPGs could be beautiful.

DiTerlizzi continued work for the Monstrous Compendiums, and even defined the look of entire worlds as the face of Planescape, another AD&D campaign setting. But he’s long since moved on, his dabbling in RPG illustration likely a scarcely remembered stepping stone on the way to his true passion in children’s books. [1] But no matter how many of his new stories become a part of modern childhoods, I’ll always love him for the books that were a part of mine.

[1] Serendipity abounds. Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi actually met while she was interviewing him for, of all things, an RPG magazine.

1 comment:

  1. A turtle with the world on his back... AWESOME!