Inside the Art of the New Dungeons & Dragons


With the recent announcement of the new Dungeons & Dragons product line, along with the reveal of much of its art, the tone has been set for the new D&D. While we’ve seen isolated pieces come out of conventions over the last few months, the overall tone of the game has begun to emerge. Art dictates the feel of roleplay. It dictates how players imagine the aesthetics of the world their character inhabits. It’s the sole visual cue provided by the game designers, and grows entire cultures around iconic looks, like the roleplaying Old School Renaissance‘s preoccupation with the fantasy art of the 70s and 80s. To that end, we had a chat with Daniel Gelon, Senior Art Director, and Shauna Wolf Narciso, Creative Director, at Wizards of the Coast to talk about their work on the new D&D. They had a lot to say, talking about the consistent feel they’re going for in the new art. They wanted a “classic timelessness” to the art, drawing from a variety of periods and not dating itself. Dungeons & Dragons fans, they said, have a more sophisticated visual palette than one might expect. Here’s what they had to say.

The Escapist: What triggered the change in direction from the Fourth edition art, which was all about brighter colors and cleaner lines, to the darker and more detailed pieces we’ve seen so far?

Daniel & Shauna: In Fourth edition there were three tiers of characters–heroic, paragon and epic.Visually we wanted them to be distinct, using bright colors and elaborate costuming to help differentiate. This time around we wanted adventurers to look like real travelers seeking fortunes, a little ragged and road weary.

The Escapist: What was your collective vision for the art of the new edition?

Daniel & Shauna: During R&D’s playtests of the new edition, the art team took the opportunity to ask our fans exactly what they envisioned as the essence of Dungeons and Dragons art. It came down to immersion; an illustration had to tell a grand story and had to be relatable to the viewer. A player needed to be able to place himself into what we were showing them and WANT to be there and experience it. The art needed enough mundane elements for a player to feel grounded, yet enough of the fantastical to make it enticing. We wanted our illustrators to create a sense of adventure and camaraderie in every piece, to stay away from a predictable three-quarter view of a character fighting a three-quarter view of a monster, with an ill-defined background. We wanted to bring the adventurers to life in a rich, relatable fantasy world.

As for style, our first priority was to have artists working in traditional media with a classical, realistic, and narrative style or digital artists whose work still had that “handcrafted” quality to it. Our philosophy of handcrafting didn’t stop with illustration. The graphic design of the books, with each page getting special attention, is intended to immerse players with its seamless integration of art and story.

Dungeon Master's Guide Full Spread

The Escapist: The game’s covers are large scale shots with lots of detail, like comic covers or movie posters, why?

Daniel & Shauna: Surprisingly, it was the redesign of the Dungeons and Dragons logo that opened the door to re-envisioning the covers. Stripped of extraneous decoration, the covers allowed us to distill the very essence of D&D. We chose artists who were able to focus on fantasy entertainment at its most contemporary. The covers are cinematic in scope; they each capture an epic moment. We also wanted to showcase some of the most iconic monsters that have made Dungeons and Dragons the best roleplaying game of all time.

The Escapist: What decades of fantasy art do you think most inspired art choices for the new edition?

Daniel & Shauna: We were more concerned with individual artist’s styles than keying all the art to a specific time period. You’ll find pieces that harken back to the grandeur of the Orientalist and New Romantic movements, all the way to the imagination and craft of the Golden Age of Illustration at the turn of the twentieth century. We have pieces that feel more like Remington’s western art and landscapes that harken back to the epic sets of the silver screen’s sword and sandal films. Overall the art has a rich realism that is associated with fine art rather than any period of fantasy art.

Player's Handbook Full Spread

The Escapist: Can you give me an example of a place where iconic monster art was reworked, such as the new Ogre or Carrion Crawler?

Daniel & Shauna: We reworked many of our iconic monsters. In anticipation of the new edition we looked at every monster and followed their visual development from first edition to fourth. Some remained surprisingly consistent and we left them that way. Some we reverted to older versions, some we kept with their fourth edition appearance, and some we started over from scratch. Goblins are a great example: they appear in almost every fantasy property and most are green-skinned, pointy-eared, pointy-nosed creatures. In creating something unique to D&D, we chose to look at gobliniods as a family–goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears. We gave them all the same distinctive nose shape. We added long pointed ears out the side. With these seemingly small changes we had a new goblin, not matching any of our previous goblins, but reminiscent of past goblins. Plus, for the first time, all our gobliniods felt like a family.

The Escapist: There has been a lot of concern in the gaming community recently about diversity of representation in game art, what steps have you taken to address that?

Daniel & Shauna: We know that we have a very diverse audience and every player wants to feel that he or she is being represented in the game art. Again, it goes back to that sense of immersion. In the new core books, we made every effort to represent a myriad of diverse cultures, costumes, and skin tones found in the Forgotten Realms. Our artist jumped at the chance to portray characters of all ethnicities and sexes. In sections where we felt there was an imbalance we specifically added more races and more genders.

Interested in more about the new D&D? Check out our piece exploring the design of the launch adventures.

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