Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Player's Handbook Cover to Cover...

With 40+ years of D&D, we've been through quite a few Player's Handbook covers.  Some good.  Others, not so much.  But my personal favorite will always be the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons book from 79'.  This is definitely, to my mind, a case of getting it right the first time around!  So let's talk about this...

Right off the bat, we see some awesome Dave Trampier artwork, complete with the old-school flourishes that made Wormy such a great read.  But more importantly, we're treated to a classic party of adventurers, complete with henchmen, not during the battle, but in the AFTERMATH of the fight.  People are disposing of bodies and some are busy prying a massive gem from an idol!

This is important because LOOT is the PRIMARY OCCUPATION of adventurers everywhere, and it's damned hard to imagine anything so quintessential to the player characters than THIS activity...

It's not about the monsters, or even
that awesome altar.  No, it's all about the
party looting the chamber...

I mean, these guys are literally checking their maps, piling up slaughtered corpses, and cleaning weapons.  Sure, victorious enemies probably do all of this.  But no one sees it!

I'd go as far as to say that treasure is virtually an EXCLUSIVE preoccupation for the players and something that couldn't be taken for anything else.  Now we've had many editions since then, all adequate in their own right.  But none of them proclaim "THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT THE PLAYER CHARACTER" like the original!

Take the second edition cover.  Here's a warrior charging into battle on horseback.  It's plenty adventurous, and actually pretty awesome.  But is it a player character or an NPC villain?

Ditto for fifth edition.  Just look at the size of that giant; it's enormous!  Especially next to that TINY character...

Nothing bad here, but either of
these could be the cover of the Dungeon Master's
Guide or even the Monster Manual!

The fact is, these covers could just as easily be the Dungeon Master's Guide or even the Monster Manual (especially in the case of the fifth edition book).  There's nothing here that speaks to the EXCLUSIVE interests of the player character.  And no, not even pictures of pitched battles are EXCLUSIVELY in the player's realm, because monsters are MONSTERS and have their own manual!

And the dungeon master?  Honestly, the DM oversees pretty much EVERYTHING, including combat.  And while the player characters are surely involved in battle, it's hardly exclusive.  But employing henchmen, managing resources, and cataloging treasure falls SQUARELY into the player's domain.  It's TRUTH in advertising. 

Of course, we really shouldn't be judging any book by its cover, especially when there's so much excellent stuff in the pages of just about any edition.  Preferences happen, and as much as we enjoy gaming, we realize that tastes vary.  But the best art is always the stuff that utterly NAILS its subject matter, and Trampier's cover, more than anyone's, offers a snapshot of characters at work...

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