Original D&D art from 1974: our craptastic nerd origins

Something Awful's Steve and Zack have an excruciating look at the artwork and rules from the original, 1974 version of Dungeons and Dragons, which appears to have been drawn by a hyperactive 12-year-old during an extremely boring math class. I remember seeing these not long after getting my first set of the AD&D hardcovers and thinking that they looked intriguing, if a little thin. I also produced an enormous amount of artwork that looked like this for the dungeons I created.

The Original Dungeons & Dragons


  1. I totally love the “WTF D&D!?” articles. Awesome ancient NerdArt plus surrealist commentary.
    Critical hit indeed.

  2. The role-playing kids of today are so spoilt for artwork. I try to tell them what bad artwork was out there when I started and they just don’t understand.

  3. The original Dungeons and Dragons books look self-published. The art style looks like the art from young adult novels from the era.

    This is still better than that Dungeons and Dragons movie.

  4. Flashbacks to 1981! Card table on the porch on summer nights with flashlights, pimples! coveted dice, sheets of graph paper and reams of notes, the blessed DM Guide and yes, we all had intricately drawn character sheets with this exact artwork to guide us.

    Thanks Boing-Boing!

  5. That art is awesome, much more mysterious and primal than any computer-coloured orc or space marine jock.

  6. The blasé attitude of these two I think was very inspirational.

    “Oh, the sword? It’s kind of for show. Yeah, I’ll eat life energy, but right now I’m just trying to score some Black Sabbath tickets.”

    “Tch. You’re acting like you’ve never seen living fire before. I’ll bet you don’t own a color TV yet either.”

  7. What is more amazing is that these original D&D rulebooks can fetch hundreds of dollars on ebay. I mowed many a lawn to be able to afford them and I still can’t bear to part with them even though I don’t play D&D these days!

  8. well… there goes my morning.

    BTW it’s interesting that most of these terrible monster ideas were used in a lot of Japanese RPGs. I guess a suicidal armadillo sounds stupid in a D&D book but still good enough to be a main summon in half the final fantasy games.

  9. Enough with the “extremely boring math class” meme already. I remember being deathly bored in literature, history and philosophy classes too. Sometimes more so than math class.

  10. Yes, the drawing are crude. But, just like _reading_a_book_, they leave more to the imagination. Really, has the gameplay of FPS games gotten much better since Quake? No, it’s just prettier. Same thing here.

  11. Article would have been ten times funnier if it were just showing how bad the artwork was, omitting the “look how hip we are on the ‘Net in 2010!” inanity. It did make one excellent point, though:

    “Gygax didn’t have 50 writers and 100 artists and color printing. He just went out there and said, hey, here’s how you subdue a dragon and sell it as a slave. Here’s what a robot is doing in a fantasy game. Deal with it. I made it up, deal with it.”

    Lord, how they’ve changed your game, Gary. All the artists on contract can’t change that the game has lost a chunk of its soul.

  12. I do play D&D, if not that particular version (usually known as OD&D or 0E) and the crappy amateurish art is part of the charm. It frees the imagination to allow (require) you to invent for youself how the monsters look. It sort of goes along with the minimalist rules. Anyhow, keep in mind that it was self-published more or less. Two or three guys putting together sets in Gary Gygax’s basement and mailing them out or shipping them to game stores.

  13. That basilisk looks like it could be a Mike Mignola sketch.

    Also, when did autism become the new internet whipping boy? The go-to insult was ADHD for a while there, but I guess ASD has gotten big enough in the public eye to knock it down to #2.

  14. Hey Cory, what’s up with this “War On Math” of yours?

    This is not the first time you use math class as the most boring thing you could think of.

    Math is not boring. You might have had boring math teachers in school, but that’s a different issue. I’ve had wonderful math teachers that really showed the students how interesting math is.

  15. I think I played D&D maybe 3 or four times, though I spent high school hanging out mostly with the nerd crowd… I do remember owning the monster manual though, and copying different heads, torsos, and legs and mashing them all together. Thanks for the memories!

  16. Ah, memories!

    When I first got into RPG, actual legit D&D books were incredibly hard to obtain. The “brown box” edition had sold out. Xeroxed copies were prevalent.

    I remember reading through one of these pirate editions at the “Battlegrounds” store in eastern Greenwich Village, and being fascinated by the sample dungeon.

    I got my hands on a set of Tunnels & Trolls books for myself; Liz Danforth’s art was much better but didn’t show a lot of actual monsters. It was a very DIY system in any case.

    I got a “white box” set the next year. Same crude artwork, but to my great surprise the sample dungeon had changed! Several rooms had been blacked out and the descriptions removed.

    The first supplements, Blackmoor and Greyhawk, continued the peculiar / crude art. Remember “Bugbear and Friends,” (or was it “fiends?”) which showed the bugbear having a Jack O’Lantern for a head?

    The illos in the old Space Gamer zine, by guys like Erol Otus, were particularly fun and/or evocative of the early RPG days.

    For what it’s worth, I really prefer black and white line art monsters rather than the splashy slick color painting in the recent monster manuals. It’s a Home Medium / Cold Medium thing. Latter day artists seem addicted to the grotesque. For example, the prevalence of spikes on monsters. (C’mon, why does a Dire Wolf need spikes?)

  17. When you’re up at 4am after 15 hours and 6 rockstar energy drinks trying to level up your Orc shaman to 70 in World of Warcraft, don’t stop and think “hey I wonder how all this got started?”, just keep playing.

  18. I am so fucking old.

    When someone says “original D&D art” I think “I wonder where my silver spiral bound copy of chainmail is?”

    So anyway, I just googled it, and that book is worth over a hundred bucks now! I got it for $5 cover price in 1975… damn. Kudos to the late great Dave Arneson!

  19. Draw, nothing. We *played* D&D in the back of math class (quietly) after whipping through the homework. Fun times.

  20. I love these D+D articles and I love the absolute dedication to self-effacing nerd humor these guys have. The content providers on Something Awful are strange people indeed – not to mention their Photoshop Phriday contributors.

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