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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Top 5 Player's Handbook Covers for Dungeons & Dragons

I am going to utilize some Gygaxian flavor text to sum up my feelings on current events: Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition draws me to it as surely as a lodestone draws iron.

This blog entry is going to explore it just a little. I love D&D art, so I thought it would be fun to rank the covers of the Player's Handbook by edition.

But first I want to jump on a few things I've been reading online. Specifically, the comment sections on sites that run articles on the new edition. I am not an "edition war" guy. I love 4th edition, but I certainly understand why people wouldn't like it. I really don't like the rules for 3/3.5, but I don't feel the need to dive in on discussions and scream about how much I hate feat trees and how long it takes to make NPC stats.

Here's some of the general comments I've been reading:

You can't play it until November when the DMG comes out

First of all, we have the playtest packets right now. We can fill in the blanks until those books come out. Second, I would guess this will be like the 3.0 release, where important DMG/MM information is printed in a back section of the book. Or, most probable of all, you'll have that information already in the starter set.

Comments like this boggle my mind. You're a DM. Make it up. You're not stupid, you can work it out for a few months.

D&D Next is just as "video gamey" as 4e
THIS is video game-y
No, it's not. That's just crazy talk. Yes, 4e was "D&D Tactics". 5th edition, from what I've played so far (and I've played a lot) is like a stripped-down 3rd edition. The focus is on simplicity in character creation, adventure design and in the game. In 4e, it took at least 45 minutes to get through one combat. In 5th, you can plow through a good portion of an adventure in that time.

The price is too high

I guess this is somewhat subjective. It depends on how much you are going to actually use the stuff. Most people are players. All they need is the PH, which is $50 ($40 on amazon). You will use that book for years. People buy video games for $50 every month. I guess if you don't play much, then maybe it's not worth it. If you're on the fence about the whole thing, you could grab the starter set for $20. That will take you to level 5, from what I understand.

How many years until 6th edition?

That is a great question. They blew through 4e alarmingly fast. I would guess that it depends on how this edition does. There seems to be an awful lot of mistrust and contempt for the newer editions. People really swear by their preferred edition and seem to kind of fear the new stuff. I refuse to be tied to rules. I like to stay current and in touch with what is going on now, while integrating the cool stuff from old products into my game.

Releasing an adventure before the MM or DMG is "idiotic"

You can't go in here til November!!
Again, to me this demonstrates a slavish need for rules. You are a DM. This is not hard. the module will have everything you need. If you can't fill in the blanks then I can't imagine how you are running a game in the first place.

This also is an out-of-touch sentiment. Wizards has released a bunch of adventures without the official rules, like the incredibly great Dead in Thay. The monster stats are in the back. 

Wizards will have a hard time "stealing" Pathfinder players

What a bold statement! 5th edition rules are like Pathfinder/3.5, but without all of the annoying BS. It runs much faster and doesn't get bogged down with constant breaks for rules references. At least, not in my experience. I converted the Pathfinder Skull & Shackles path to D&D Next. It was a piece of cake and worked great.

There is room for two companies. Competition sometimes breeds better products. Marvel has Spider-man, DC has Batman. That works out great for all of us. When one sucks, maybe the other won't. They drive each other to be better. Does anyone really want D&D to die? That would be terrible.

OK, enough of that. The cover art for the new edition player's handbook is out! Let us rank the covers of each edition once and for all. To the winner goes all of the yellow starbursts I refused to eat Friday night.

This is obviously completely subjective. And I am not including basic D&D. In the case of editions with .5's, I just picked the one I thought was best. Which means you won't see the AD&D 2.5 books with their hideous black borders. I hated those books. The interior art was god awful, too.

5. 2nd Edition Player's Handbook

I loved 2nd edition. It was what we played when I first started. I like Jeff Easley and I like this cover. It is definitely eye-catching. A fighter on a horse in what at first glance looks like a wall of flames, but upon closer examination is a dusty canyon or something. Kind of boring. The wings on his helmet look stupid. The little banners on the horses bridle thing bother me too - it reminds me of TSR's penchant for going overboard with actual historical weapons, dress and armor. Heck, they put out complete sourcebooks for vikings, celts, etc. For me, that stuff is dull. I prefer it when they build their own lore using the real life myths as inspiration.

4. 3rd Edition Player's Handbook
I think this one is the 3.5 cover, which was a more elaborate version of the 3.0 book. I think the idea is a cool one - make the book look like a magic tome you might find in a real fantasy world. How cool would it have been if they were actaully able to make the book with the actual clasps, gems and metal? The whole illusion is ruined for me, though, with the words "Core Rulebook" complete with a little photoshop stroke to make the words pop. It doesn't fit with the rest of the "real" look.

Also, books with paintings of heroes are more fun to look at. They fire up your imagination. This thing is kind of dull.

3. 5th Edition Player's Handbook

I don't even know if this is the final version of the cover art. This is a cool piece of art, but to me it is not up to the standard of Wayne Reynolds or Wiliam O'Connor. The fire giant looks fantastic. It's the heroes that I don't like. That woman looks blurry and drab. What is she doing? What is she wearing? Is she covered in furs? She does not inspire me at all. The other hero in the bottom right isn't any better, either. Too vague, dull and undefined.

I love... LOVE... that they used King Snurre. It reasurres me that they are not throwing their old designs and concepts in the garbage.

I also really don't like that red line on the bottom left with the Dungeons & Dragons text on it. I think they wanted it there because the "D&D" at the top might confuse newer people. This begs the question: Why not just write out "Dungeons and Dragons" at the top? The red blurch down there cuts right into the art and is distracting. I'd have gone with a full "Dungeons & Dragons" at the top, and the "D&D" at the bottom center, underneath the little blurb.

2. 4th Edition Player's Handbook
I love this cover. The cover text is clear and simple. And the art depicts two heroes with tons of detail. It features the dragonborn race, which is extremely popular and really helped set the edition apart from the others. But the best part to me is the caster (who also appeared on the cover of the DMG 2). She looks so cool. She has a magic staff, she's got a revealing but somewhat functional outfit, and Wayne Reynolds loaded her up with buckles and gear for a bored guy like me to stare at. When I look at this, I see two cool characters with personality and it makes me want to make my own.

1. 1st Edition Player's Handbook

I decided to post just the art so you can get a better look at it. 1st edition was before my time. I thought the art was crude and often amateurish/lousy. This cover isn't perfect. I think the heroes look really dull. Lizard men are boring. And the statue has a weird face. But the idea is awesome. This thing makes you wonder - what is going to happen when they remove that eye? You definitely get the sense it could be bad.

To me, this is the best cover because it fires up your imagination. In this game, you can do whatever you want - but you need to decide carefully. Should those guys be taking those gems? Should their allies be so non-chalant about it? And which way should they go on the map from here?

On top of that, the statue is so ominous and memorable. It burns right into your brain. It's so weird, colorful and evil. You've never seen anything like it. It becomes associated with this weird thing you do that other people may not understand.

Tomorrow I'll rank the DMG covers, and tell you how it went when I ran level one of the parody Castle Greyhawk on Friday. Jet-propelled stalagmites were launched, and uni-ducks stood tall, noble and true.

1 comment:

Bill Easlick said...

No love for the 1983 1st Edition "Orange Spine" Wizard that Jeff Easley drew? Top 3 for sure!