The Worst RPG Covers of All-Time (Part 2)

Last week my wife and I walked you through some of the most godawful terrible covers in the history of RPG artwork. How could we possible top such horrendous abominations as the sad goth beholder and Space Infanmry? Oh don't worry. We saved the best (worst?) for last.

Let's get down to business. We'll start with the worst RPG of all time which not coincidentally also has one of the worst covers:
This cover (much like the game inside) is just wrong on SO many levels. Was the chick having sex with the angel/demon-looking dude in a mine shaft when they were interrupted by smurfs? Why is said dude wearing a banana hammock? Wouldn't the inhuman guy be less modest? Why does he have such a homely head? Why do the smurfs have so much clothes on? Does clothes = bad guys in this game? To be fair, maybe the publisher is trying to do everyone a favour by driving them away from this terrible, terrible game with a terrible, terrible cover.

This next one requires a little context to understand why it's so bad:
At first glance it seems pretty benign and harmless. Neat-looking dagger with a shadow... oh wait, that's not a shadow, it's some sort of weird plant thing. I guess that must be significant to the game somehow? Let me read a little. Okay, so the "wraeththu" are werewolf/vampire creatures that create more of their kind through a blood-based ritual. They have super powers like telepathy, psychokinesis, etc. They are hermaphrodites, possessing both male and female sexual organs and appearing androgynous in general outward appearance. They have genitals that are simultaneously both male and female (described as 'colorful' and 'flower-like' and 'like a sea-anemone'), able to fold flat and open or retract inwards or protrude, and thus reproduce and ... wait a minute. That's its sexual organ depicted on the cover? Eeewwwwwwwwww. No fair. I thought F.A.T.A.L. would be the only game on this list where your character's genitalia was an important part of your character creation.

Now it's time for more cock...
...I mean, Moorcock, as in, Elric of Melniboné. I really wish I had the original book so I could use a magnifying glass to determine exactly what the fuck is going on with Elric's arms in this picture. No matter how much I zoom in on the JPEG, I cannot for the life of me figure out how his hands are attached to his body. They SEEM to be connected to the batwings on his helmet, but that's an element of the elfin people of Melniboné's physiology that Moorcock must have glazed over in his books.

Next up, major props to Steve Jackson Games for putting out a book called "Scarlet Pimpernel:"
However that's got to be the laziest and lamest cover I've ever seen. Simple is usually good, but this is... not. This was 90 seconds of searching through Microsoft Word's clip art library. I imagine the design conversation went something like this:
"We need something that says 'France' and 'Swashbuckling.'"
"Okay cool, let me call up an artist..."
"We're due to the printer in five minutes."
"Ah fuck it. No one's going to buy a game called 'Scarlet Pimpernel' anyway."

Speaking of terrible and lazy...
You just knew a Palladium book had to end up here somewhere. Question 1: What the hell is that thing on the cover? Question 2: Who thought it was an interesting enough... whatever-the-hell it is to put it on the cover and define the game? Question 3: WHY IS IT THERE FOUR TIMES?

In all fairness most Palladium covers aren't bad (and a few are very good). It's usually the parts inside the cover that's the problem.

Okay, anyone familiar with bad RPG cover art knew the Avalanche OGL books were coming. Hold on your hats (and one of your lower appendages) because this is going to get rough...

Oh yeah, that captures the style and grandeur of ancient medieval China perfectly. Of course we can all agree the only problem with his cover is that she's holding a holding an obviously Japanese sword.

Let's see how they tackle fierce viking berserkers...

I'm not sure if historians agree on what sort of clothes and armour the Norsemen wore (though there are some who suggest that the vikings were very concerned about their appearance - recent archaeological finds include tweezers, nail clippers, ear cleaners and so on), but for some reason I question the protective qualities provided by electrical tape.  Does it protect against the fierce cold of Scandinavian winter as well as it turns away the blades and arrows of your enemies? Could you even buy electrical tape in 1000 A.D.? Is that why they traveled to North America 500 years before Columbus? Were they looking for a Home Depot to pillage for supplies for their kinky sex costumes?

How about the Aztecs? All those bloody human sacrifice ceremonies should provide kick-ass, if gory material for a cover...

Or, you know. You could go another route and use Pocahontas' half-sister who was disowned for her questionable life style choices.

How about the Middle East?
No. Just no.

On the plus side, I bet J.J. Abrams would cream all over that bitchin' lens flare.

Without question though, here is hands-down the worst Avalanche cover, and ergo one of the worst RPG covers of all time:

I know I only took an introductory archery course, but even I could tell you that's really not the way to hold a bow. And what is that sword on her back attached to? Is it pierced through her spine? Is that why she looks so pissed off? Or is she angry because she was attacked right in the middle of taking a dump?

Yeah, I don't know who was working in Avalanche's design department, but he must have had a big stack of dirty magazines and a lot of tracing paper...

Here's a great cover from a super-heroes game:

Unfortunately, HeroQuest is not a super-heroes game. I guess no one told that to Ram Man and Fire Girl up there.

This one really pisses me off:
There are certainly some way uglier and/or offensive covers on this list, but this is a STEAMPUNK game for crying out loud. There is so, so, so much awesome steam punk artwork out there, there is no excuse to use something so bland and unimaginative on your friggin' cover. Seriously, go do a Google Image search for "Steampunk Art." I'll be waiting here when you get back in a day or two after you're done searching through thousands upon thousands of pages of beautiful, wonderful Steampunk. I'm sure they could have found hundreds of starving artists who would have worked dirt cheap (hell, or paid THEM) to do this cover. Instead we got the Cowardly Lion and one-legged goggle-lady standing on a pile of garbage.

Finally here it is, probably one of the worst RPG covers of all time:

I want to you look at that cover for a moment. I mean really look at it:
Figure 23a: Detail for your benefit.

Exalted is supposed to be a high fantasy RPG, but I could understand your confusion if you thought this was some sort of gynecological textbook. Now, this is not like TSR when they didn't know any better and were slapping naked chicks on its covers back in the day. This is not even a case of Avalanche using cheap porn art for its covers. White Wolf is an established, respected gaming company that really should have fucking known better than putting a snatch with a doily on it front and centre on their goddamn cover (not to mention those inhuman boobs above it). This is entirely an example of them using the most offensive art they could find in a desperate attempt to drum up interest around their book.

Please, White Wolf. Stick to vampires and werewolves. Make a True Blood licensed game or something.

What about you, oh loyal readers? What are your favourite terrible RPG covers? I'm sure we missed some goodies, and I'm also sure someone is itching to step forward to defend one of more of these monstrosities.

Come on, do it. I know you want to.


  1. I would like to know if the doily woman is a savant or a sorcerer?

    1. If she's a sorcerer, that means (s)he's really, really good at taping it back.

  2. I don't disagree that these are all terrible. But if I think back to the late 80's and early 90's when I was a tween / teen, most of these would have made me run out and buy them. I was too young to buy porn, but I was allowed to play D&D...

    1. And what happened if your mom found your D&D books under your bed? Satanic rituals AND naked ladies? Shameful.

      Actually that period was pretty tame, at least in D&D artwork/covers. Then stuff like Vampire: The Masquerade hit and games starting get more "mature" (ie, gory and specialized) again.

  3. I think that my favourite worst covers (three of them: rulebook, character creation booklet and sheets booklet) come from a Polish RPG called "Zły cień: kruki urojenia" ("Evil Shadow: the Ravens of Delusion"). The game was published in 1995. It was created by a guy who - as he admitted - didn't know much about RPGs but decided to create a game. The game is almost as bad as the covers (main rulebook, character creation booklet, sheets booklet). However, in 1995 here in Poland RPGs were not that much popular and we didn't know much about them but somehow that guy came up with point based character creation which I think was something still fairly uncommon, at least in fantasy games.

    The game itself is a fantasy setting set in a world based on Slavic mythology, with Slavic gods, monsters and so on. It's badly written and the illustrations are even worse. You could call it Polish F.A.T.A.L. - it's not offensive in any way but some of the writing and the whole design makes you pee your pants in joy (the author claims it was intentional). For example ants (yes, there are ants in the bestiary, not as a swarm but as a one single ant you can encounter!) are ambidextrous and the raven is described as "black and cosmopolitan".

    Anyway, the covers: (from the top: main rulebook, character creation booklet, sheets booklet).

    1. Ughhhh... those are awful. It really just looks like someone smeared water paint on a canvas in shapes that kinda vaguely looks like something fantastical. I love it. Thanks for sharing!

      The game itself, however, is intriguing. I kinda like terrible RPGs. F.A.T.A.L. fascinates me, and I would love, love, love to get a copy of The Spawn of Fashan.


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