Category Archives: Art

“Jacques de Molay, thou art avenged!”

Earlier this week, I was decluttering the basement, a task made more challenging by the fact that my five-year-old daughter had chosen to spread Adorable Kid Artâ„¢ all over the floor. It was going just fine, and the world made perfect sense, until I came across this page, apparently torn out of the most demented children’s coloring book in the Known Universe:


What the… who the… where I have seen this before? Oh, right:


The similarities are pretty clear. I don’t know who Baphomet is calling on that telephone there, but you know it’s not going to end well for the free world.


So apparently my daughter is a Templar. Or maybe a Freemason. (Jack Chick has a really great1 tract about the Freemasons and Baphomet, but I can’t bring myself to link to his website.)


[1] crazy

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An Illustrated Compendium of Monsters (for Four-Year-Olds)

Like every father of a four-year-old daughter, I’m called upon nightly to tell her bedtime stories. My daughter Thessaly insists that each night’s story be something she hasn’t heard before, so for years now I’ve been scrambling to come up with interesting tales.

The 1st edition AD&D Monster Manual.

Fortunately for me, the stories she wants to hear follow the same general pattern: a villain or monster shows up, threatening somebody or sometimes stealing a piece of treasure; the rightful authorities (usually Mommy and Daddy) attempt to fight the bad guy but get in over their heads and have to call in backup, in the person of Thessaly the Hero. (Thessaly the Hero is my daughter plus magic powers, serving here as a rather blatant Mary Sue character.) Thessaly then tricks, subdues, or imprisons the villain using cleverness or occasionally a magic power.

I realized early on that it was the villain of each story that really enchanted Thessaly. Whenever a bad guy would appear in the story, she wanted to know all about it: what did it look like, where did it live, what powers did it have, why was it acting so villainous. And at some point I realized that I could tap my Dungeons & Dragons obsession to make these stories more fun. So for the last few months, I’ve been using creatures from the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual as the foes in these nightly stories.

It’s worked out well, because the Monster Manual is full of bizarre and imaginative beasts. Here are some that have appeared in the nightly stories, with notes on how my daughter reacted:

Tarrasque: One night Thessaly insisted that the story’s villain be the biggest, strongest, scariest monster available, and in D&D, there’s one monster that truly meets that description: the tarrasque, a gargantuan apocalyptic terror. Despite its fearsomeness, Thessaly the Hero regularly exploits its lack of dexterity to defeat it. For whatever reason, the tarrasque is one of her favorites, and I regularly have to invent ways to bring it back for repeat appearances.

Yes, it’s the owlbear.

Owlbear: I expected this one to be a huge hit, because it’s, you know, a bear with the head of an owl. That has “kids will love it” written all over it, right? But for whatever reason, the owlbear was a complete dud, and Thessaly’s never requested its return. Admittedly, it was difficult to come up with a compelling villainous motive for a giant owl-headed bear beyond general ornery-ness.

Gelatinous Cube: This mobile block of slime is an iconic D&D monster, and Thessaly loved it. She was so taken by the gelatinous cube, in fact, that she recruited it as a friend and it has made several guest appearances now as Thessaly the Hero’s sidekick.

Cockatrice: I don’t even remember what this one is, except that it’s, like, a rooster combined with some other type of creature. My lack of enthusiasm for this unfortunate beast was obvious and it hasn’t been missed since Thessaly the Hero jailed it a month or so ago.


Beholder: A floating mouth with a dozen eyestalks—what’s not to love? The beholder was popular for several stories due to the increasingly tricky methods Thessaly the Hero had to employ to evade its gaze.

Blackbeard: OK, Blackbeard’s not a D&D monster, but he should be. He’s a definite Thessaly favorite and has escaped from prison nearly as many times as the tarrasque has. Blackbeard’s appearance on the scene has allowed me to expand the scope of the nightly stories to include oceanic scenarios.

Leviathan: I’m not sure if there’s a leviathan in D&D lore, but I needed an aquatic monster to follow up on the popularity of Blackbeard, and so was born the leviathan, watery sibling of the tarrasque. Frequently teams up with the tarrasque to menace society.

Yes, I know Acererak is technically a demi-lich, not a lich. I’m trying to keep things simple for my daughter until the day she grows up and learns the differences between types of undead wizard.

Acererak the Lich: This was an attempt to introduce a wizardly villain into the stories. I described him as a “skeleton wizard,” which prompted twenty minutes of uncomfortable questions about how a skeleton could still be alive, what happens to people’s skin when they die, will deceased pets return as ambulatory skeletons, etc. Once I got through the existential grilling, I was able to establish Acererak (originally from Tomb of Horrors) as a scheming wizard who can usually be tricked into falling into his own traps.

Cribbing bad guys from the Monster Manual has made me realize anew just how creative and entertaining many of the Monster Manual entries are; watching my daughter smile at the mental picture of a beholder or an umber hulk reminds me of what it was like to first flip through the pages of the AD&D Monster Manual as a kid.

With the variety of creatures in the Monster Manual—and the sheer number of monster books published over the years—I’m hoping this will last me until Thessaly tires of the format. And at this rate, I can tell several years’ worth of stories before I have to resort to incorporating the flumph….

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The walls of this 10×10 chamber are adorned with…

When my wife and I finally made the choice to became real Americans (i.e. go tens of thousands of dollars into debt to buy a house), one of my requirements was that said house have some sort of subterranean chamber which I could convert into a basement game room. One year later, my game lair is finally ready.

Of course, no game room is complete without cheesy posters adorning the walls. No longer being 13, I can’t get away with supermodel pinups or Megadeth posters. But this is a perfect excuse to dig out those vintage game posters I’ve been hauling with me around the country for the last two decades. After a few trips to Hobby Lobby to pick up some cheap poster frames, here’s what’s hanging on the walls of my game room. (I apologize for the flash glare in some of these… if my game room had adequate lighting, it would not be authentic.)

First up is a pair of (unfortunately fairly weathered) Battletech Mech schematics, bought way back in the early days of FASA:


The 85-ton BLG-1G Battlemaster. Awww yeah.


The infamous Warhammer, complete with two PPCs and a cheesecake illustration of Natasha 'Black Widow' Kerensky in the bottom right (for scale purposes, of course).

On the opposite wall, découpaged to an oh-so-classy piece of wood, is the map that came with one of my favorite Infocom games, Beyond Zork:

Quendor map

I love this map, although I could do without the dozen compass roses pasted across it.

And now back to Battletech. The only Commodore 64 game I played as much as Wasteland was Battletech: The Crescent Hawk’s Inception. It was my introduction to Battletech, and ever since, the poster that came with it remains the iconic Battletech image in my mind:

Crescent Hawk

A tiny Locust mech faces off against... what is that, a Marauder? That's not very fair, but it looks awesome.

Moving along, we have (surprise) another Infocom poster, this one of one of their least-known games: Quarterstaff: The Tomb of Setmoth. It was a quirky RPG/text-adventure hybrid (and only available on the Mac, strangely); but I really enjoyed it back in high school.


Am I the only person who played and enjoyed this game?

No game collection in the late 80s/early 90s was complete without at least one SSI Gold Box AD&D game. Here was mine:

Champions of Krynn

Champions of Krynn, one of many SSI Gold Box classics.

The next item is a change of pace: a poster that came with one of my favorite NES games, Dragon Warrior. This game was surpassed not long after its release by Final Fantasy I, but was a great deal of fun. And it has one of the most annoying/awesome catchy soundtracks of any NES-era game.

Dragon Warrior

One of the first great JRPGs on the NES.

And last but not least, I devoted most of an entire wall to one of the most iconic locations in D&D: Undermountain, the megadungeon. I framed three of the four maps that came in the 2e Undermountain boxed set:

Undermountain maps

There are a LOT of places to die in Undermountain.

So that’s what’s hanging on the walls of my basement game lair. I like to think of it as inspirational artwork. And believe it or not, there’s a stack of maps and posters that I’ll have to put back in storage because there wasn’t room to frame them too….

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The best and worst game box cover art

PCWorld has a list (with pictures), compiled by Chris Jager, of the best and worst video game box art. It’s worth perusing. There are some familiar images there, as well as a few I’ve managed to forget over the years. I like the inclusion of Psygnosis’ Roger Dean cover art; those were some gorgeous and evocative box covers (although as the list notes, they didn’t always seem terribly relevant to the game).

Kudos also to Jager for noting the stark but classy cover of Dune II.

I’ve rambled about game box art a bit here in the past; you may recall my professed admiration for Ultima 7‘s box art. Trying to think of additional game boxes that I’d nominate for the PCWorld list, I can’t help but think of Wasteland, whose cover art very nicely evokes the game’s feel:

Perfectly captures the game's mood, does it not?

Perfectly captures the game's mood, does it not?

But then, I’m biased, as Wasteland is probably my favorite computer game of all time. Unfortunately, my other favorite computer game, alas, falls into the “worst game box covers” category:



I’ll try to give Interplay the benefit of the doubt: given the character-centric nature of Torment‘s storyline, they probably wanted to grab gamers’ attention with a jarring view of the protagonist’s face. But instead of screaming “This is a beautifully-written story about sin, guilt, redemption, love, and judgment set in a bizarre and dreamlike astral city,” this box cover just yells “Hey, it’s a game about an ugly dreadlocked Frankenstein monster! Or possibly Rob Zombie!”

What other noteworthily good or bad game box covers can you think of?

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RIP, Angus McBride

I learned this week from the Ex-Teenage Rebel blog that Angus McBride, well known for his marvelous fantasy illustrations, passed away just a few days ago. He did a lot of different illustrations throughout his life, but I’m most familiar with his work for Iron Crown’s Middle-Earth Roleplaying Game, the RPG on which I cut my gaming teeth. His depictions of the people and places of Middle-Earth were enormously influential on the way I perceived Middle-Earth during my formative teenage Tolkien phase. To this day, his artistic style (much more than, say, Peter Jackson’s film trilogy) is the main filter through which I visualize the colors and style of Middle-Earth.

Here are my two favorite McBride Middle-Earth illustrations; the first is the cover of the Riders of Rohan module, and the second is from Gates of Mordor:

The gaming world is much richer for McBride’s contributions. Rest in peace.

(Both of the above images I found here, where you can browse many of his other excellent Tolkien illustrations.)

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