August is RPGaDay month. Yep, a month solid of RPG-related posts, answering these questions:
Today’s question is this:
Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?
I’m not sure my response is particularly useful or interesting, though I find it interesting to think about what I came up with. Here’s a shot at answering it.
Is there really a single answer? I’m afraid if I were to wade into examples, I’d probably never run out of them—and I’d be mentioning many of the games you’ve already seen me mention here anyway.
But you know what cover made me remember a game for twenty years, and then go out and buy a boxed set of the game knowing the mechanics are famously awful, for the quality of the art and worldbuilding?
Yes, I’m talking about Skyrealms of Jorune. Say what you want about the mechanics, but the art that Miles Teves produced is simply incredible.
The second edition cover, also by Teves, is just as evocative of the setting, though I still prefer the 2nd edition cover somehow.
This, of course, is a very common answer to any question about “best” cover art, and on some level, I’d also argue that Jorune is a half-broken game: the worldbuilding’s wonderful, but the rules are—at least for anyone who privileges speed and fluidity of play—simply unusable. (Some people reportedly do fine with them, but I definitely would not.) I suppose on some level, rules also are part of the “spirit” of a game, so maybe there’s a better answer.
I think the cover art for the Paranoia games—first, second, and XP editions especially, all of which I believe were done by Jim Holloway—are also very evocative of the setting and game alike:
I think the three earliest editions of Gamma World also have great, evocative art:
Actually, I’d argue that the cover art for the 7th edition also is very evocative of the game—though that’s not endorsement of the game itself: I just mean the art reflects the way the game was modified in 7E to be much, much more “gonzo.”
That said, I think the bar has risen so high in recent years that it’s hard to think of a game for which the cover art doesn’t reflect the spirit of the game: pretty much all the Gumshoe books have killer art. So do the 5th edition D&D books (though 1st edition AD&D’s covers have a special, nostalgia-glopped place in my heart). All those Apocalypse-powered games, Stars Without Number, LotFP… they’re all doing great cover art that reflects what’s inside the books.
The work I’m seeing is so evocative and excellent I think we’re at a high point in terms of game-related art. And that’s a great thing. Maybe I’m just easy, but that’s how I see things. Maybe it’s inevitable, then, that we have folks out there praising Erol Otus, or Jeff Easley, or Jim Holloway: after all, the art that adorned the games we started with tends to be what strikes a chord with us years or decades later. I imagine there are people for which the cover of Vampire: The Masquerade or Werewolf: The Apocalypse do the same thing.
While I try not to be too nostalgic—it can be a real poison—I think when it comes to the hobbies of our youth, it’s probably inevitable that certain things get locked into a special place inside us.
But to be fair, here’s some evocative cover art from the last few years that I really dig—most of it from games I’ve never played, but which the art gets me interested in looking into:
Like I say, I think we’re maybe in the Golden Age of RPG book cover art (and interior art, too). Here’s hoping it lasts a long time.