This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
There was a time, towards the tail-end of the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons product line and for most of the 2nd edition era, when Larry Elmore was the artist – not just the guy that TSR came to to illustrate the front covers of major Dungeons & Dragons releases, but the guy all their other artists tried to imitate. His realistic style, eschewing the mixture of the bizarre and the amateurish that characterised earlier artwork in Dungeons & Dragons products, was important in raising the production values of the line, and on top of that became inextricably linked in many people’s minds with the style of fantasy that TSR was pushing at the time with the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance product lines. Less inclined towards massive rippling thews and nudity as a default than the likes of Boris Vallejo, Elmore’s art reflected a shift away from Howard-influenced sword and sorcery and more towards the sort of high fantasy written by the likes of Terry Brooks, Ray Feist, and Weis and Hickman – a subgenre that was itself influenced by the authors’ own experiences of Dungeons & Dragons, either officially or unofficially.
For those nostalgic for “old school” Dungeons & Dragons – or for fantasy fiction as it stood before the late 1970s – this shift represented the beginning of the end, the time when D&D stopped being about the fantasy genre and started becoming the fantasy genre, but for those who, like me, came to D&D in the early 1990s Elmore’s style is, itself, a thing to be nostalgic for – pieces like this looked like our adventurers had come to life and dragged their kills along to Elmore’s studio to get a portrait done, and were an endless source of inspiration.