With the recent deaths of HR Giger and David Trampier, I've been looking closely at the artwork in games. Sadly, I've found that a lot of it is not very good.
Failed proportion? Check. Perplexingly mismatched arms? Check.
Defies dimensional physics? Check...
Exhibit A: The very first D&D cover:
That "Fighting Man" looks like some kind of badass hobbit. My wife thought it was Axl Rose. I suppose Axl Rose kind of looks like a hobbit. I guess they could be excused on the grounds that this was the first RPG book ever published so they didn't exactly have a lot of experience with this kind of thing. Surely their next attempt would be bet--
What the fuck is that thing? Is that a beholder? That is the most harmless and pathetic creature I have ever seen. Is it...is it wearing lipstick? Is it a goth? It's like the Robert Smith of beholders. Does it want to fight me or read me the poem it wrote about a dead bird that it found?
All that said, I think a Goth Beholder would be an awesome monster to add to the next version of D&D.
Other attempts at putting monsters on their covers did not fare much better...
I thought this was a pegasus, but the longer I look at it, the less sense it makes. It's like a M.C. Escher painting. Is it some kind of griffon? A hippogriff? Why does it's neck run directly into its beak? How does it see? Since it's shaped like a horse I assume it must walk on four legs, but how the hell does it walk on those weird arthritic chicken feet? Is it in pain? This is not something to be defeated. This is something to be euthanized by a vet for large animals.
Because their monsters turned out so shitty, the good folks at TSR decided to give up on scary creatures and instead see if they could just slap porn on their covers:
Were they planning to sell their books on the top shelf of magazine racks at gas stations? I know fantasy pulp fiction has a long history of gracing their covers with sexy ladies, but this doesn't even pretend to be anything but gratuitous nudity. There's no evil wizards, no dragons, no hero trying to rescue the damsel -- just a straight-up naked woman laying on a rock. I wouldn't be surprised if THIS is what agitated the bible-thumpers. Its hard to defend the relevance of this cover to role playing. Apart from the enduring relevance of boobies, obviously.
Let's jump ahead a few years to a different gaming company and a different genre. How did Fantasy Games Unlimited handle an epic sci-fi game?
Poorly.They handled it poorly. I don't know which of these covers came first and frankly I don't think it matters. Neither is an improvement on the other. The one on the left went for a Star Wars-kinda theme and failed miserably. That bug alien looks like a dog that got run over a truck, while the chick is obviously a little soft in the head. The buttons of her shirt just busted, but instead of trying to hide her boobs she's covering her crotch for some reason. Those spaceships look like the plastic doohicky I use to cook my eggs in the microwave. As for the black & white cover, dude in the centre's head is obviously exploding and the rest of the crew just shat their pants.
Here's another sci-fi gem:
Here's a fantasy game that I've never heard of:
Here's Barbarians of Lemuria, which has several different covers due to going through numerous PDF and print versions in the last few years. A couple of the covers are actually pretty good...
...this one, however, is not. It appears that a big blue demon is interrupting a lesbian orgy and... something is coming to their rescue? Maybe? I have no idea what that thing is with the sword. It may be the Ultimate Warrior, but I don't know why his calf muscle is bigger than his head. Fuck, I'm a big wrestling fan and I've seen a lot of muscleheads, but I've never seen anyone who puts so much work into pumping his calves up to the size of Cooper Minis while remaining satisfied that he has the arms of a little girl.
Finally, I'm going to stab a sacred cow...
Don't get me wrong, Ravenloft was an important and influential game. But have you ever really looked closely at that cover art?What is going on with that vampire dude? He doesn't look angry, or ecstatic, or even scary. He looks like he's wailing out the high note in a hair metal power ballad. Seriously, the dude was jamming to "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" and his fucking guitar turned into a passed out drunk chick.