By Christopher Helton
The first thing that stuck me in reading Realms: The Roleplaying Game Art of Tony DiTerlizzi was just how phenomenal his art is. The second thing that I noticed was that his art was a factor that raised the sophistication of the presentation of roleplaying games to a level where it could be on par with fantasy artists like Brian Froud or graphic storytellers like Moebius or Philippe Druillet.
Art in roleplaying games has been, for the most part, a necessary evil. Often simple and amateurish, it was often done for the lowest price that publishers could pay. Between the works of artists like Timothy Bradstreet and Guy Davis on White Wolf books and DiTerlizzi's art on AD&D 2e works like Planescape and the Monstrous Manuals, the bar was permanently raised for high quality RPG productions. You can still see the echoes of DiTerlizzi's art in the editions of D&D from third up, and in games like Pathfinder as well.
Before this time in the 90s, art didn't feel like it played as much of a part in creating the tone and feel of a roleplaying game as it does now. It isn't coincidental that this period of time is when tabletop gaming had its own collector's boom and speculator frenzy. While this period of speculation and collecting didn't have the negative impact upon tabletop gaming in the same way that it did on comics, there was still of lot of material driven more by look than gaming content. This isn't the fault of the artists, however, but publishers, really.
If you are a fan of incredible fantasy art, whether you are a fan of tabletop gaming or not, you really should check out Realms from Dark Horse Books and Kitchen Sink Books. In addition to new, higher quality scans of DiTerlizzi's art from various TSR/Wizards of the Coast books, and some of his work for White Wolf's Changeling game, you also get to see preliminary sketches and reference photos used tp develop the process of his art. You get to see the process of how DeTerlizzi created the art that drove so many roleplaying campaigns over the years.
I hope that there will be a Realms 2 in the works, because I really loved this look at DeTerlizzi's art. As I have said a few times, I wasn't playing AD&D/D&D during the 2nd edition era, so all of this wonderful art was new to me. I was able to experience the art with fresh eyes and have myself get drawn into the realms of DeTerlizzi's imagination. Those are some mighty spectacular worlds. I highly recommend traveling through them, if you haven't already had the chance.
Christopher Helton is a blogger, podcaster and tabletop RPG publisher who talks about games and other forms of geekery at the long-running Dorkland! blog. He is also the co-publisher at the ENnie Award winning Battlefield Press, Inc. You can find him on Twitter at @dorkland and on G+ at https://plus.google.com/+ChristopherHelton/ where he will talk your ear off about gaming and comics. He also has a crowdfunding page to help offset costs of this summer's Gen Con coverage.