D&D General One Piece of Art III (Magic Items)- What D&D Art Inspired You to Love a Magic Item

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Welcome to part three in the art appreciation series- One Piece of Art! Prior columns can be found here:
Part I (Classes)
Part II (Monsters)

Today's topic-

What D&D Art inspired you to love a magic item?

However, for this column, we are going to start with something ... unusual. One particular piece of art MUST BE RETIRED. That's right- there is one piece of art that I am just putting in the Hall of Fame of Magic Item art. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. No one can select the following piece because ... well, to channel 80s great Yaakov Smirnoff, In Soviet Russia, Magic Item Chooses You!

1.jpg


Artist: Bill Willingham
Source: White Plume Mountain (Jeff Dee cover re-release, 1981)
Magic Item: Blackrazor

Arguably, one of the most iconic magic items in all of D&D, and why? I'd say it's because of this illustration. Back in the day, modules had separate covers with the maps printed on the inside, so the outside covers often served as additional "DM Screens." And this image, here? This was the back cover of S2- White Plume Mountain. So imagine you were playing D&D in the 80s, and you were adventuring in White Plume Mountain. And the entire time you looked at the DM ... you saw this. That's right, you saw NOT Elric wielding NOT Stormbringer in front of some alien landscape that included White Plume Mountain. And you .... totally .... wanted ... that SWORD.

Now, was getting a Blackrazor a good idea? OF COURSE NOT! Did that matter? OF COURSE NOT! But while it was entirely possible that not-Stormbringer would disappear from the collective D&D consciousness, never to be heard from again ... I would say that Willingham's inspired illustration has ensured that Blackrazor will live on forever in D&D lore.

Hall. Of. Fame.


Now, with that out of the way ...

For purposes of this thread, please note the following rules-

1. ONE piece of art. You shall count to one. If you do two, you've gone two ... um, too far.

2. It has to have inspired you to "love" a particular magic item. Now, love in in this context is totally up to you. Maybe the art inspired you to love D&D in general. Maybe it inspired you to want that magic item. Maybe that piece of art always shaped how you view that magic item. Maybe that art comes alive at night and steals the food in the refrigerator. Whatever, man, I'm not going to define your love! Feel free to explain why this particular piece of art (depicting a MAGIC ITEM) is so meaningful to you.

3. Explain the art source (incl. artist if known), the magic item, and why you chose it. Please!

As I started the thread, I will go first. This one is going to be a little idiosyncratic ....

tumblr_p8sb2hXjTz1ro2bqto1_1280.jpg

Artist: Darlene
Source: THE Dungeon Master's Guide (suck it, Ohio State) 1979
Magic Item: Sphere of Annihilation

Look at those pool lil' fellers .... I'm guessing they didn't think that their little ambush would be rudely ended by an encounter with a RIFT IN THE FABRIC OF SPACE AND TIME! Muahahahahahahaha! So, the thing most people forget about THE DMG is that it didn't actually have a lot of illustrations ... it relied on, um, Gygaxian word-pictures and/or tables. SO. MANY. TABLES. In fact, in the entirety of the DMG, amongst all of those pages upon pages of magic items, there are the following illustrations:
1. A "joke" illustration of a backscratcher. Okay, it is funny, but not inspirational.
2. Staff of the Serpent.
3. A dagger in a scabbard with a snake around it.
4. A book, possibly of exalted deeds.
5. A lute, possible the doss lute (weirdly ... that only inspired intense antipathy).
6. A little illustration of two people fighting some mutant cross between a purple worm and Audrey II from little shop of horrors, possibly meant to illustrate the types of things vorpal swords cannot decapitate.
7. The mighty morphin' trident/military fork +3.
8. The SPHERE!

Once put in that context, you can see how this picture from Darlene attracted so much interest from me. Every single time I would leaf through the magic items in the DMG, I would pause on this illustration. Was it false advertising? Perhaps! The sphere was an item that was good in theory, but fatal in fact. But man .... just imagine the shocked look on some random kobold's face when he tapped your magic user on the shoulder thinking he was going to intimidate you for your lunch money, and you're all like, SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!

Also? If this blast from the past made you smile, please feel free to help Darlene out!
 

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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
and/or tables. SO. MANY. TABLES. In fact, in the entirety of the DMG, amongst all of those pages upon pages of magic items, there are the following illustrations:
Trivia note: Apart from the illustrations of the dungeon and party from the random dungeon generation section you left out, there are also a few more "full" illustrations in early printings of the DMG.

I understand that in the 6th (revised) printing in December of '79 and after they removed a Todd Oleck piece on page 40, and I think at least one Sutherland though I can't look up where. Someone pointed this out to me recently and it was really cool to look at an older printing and see those less-familiar pieces.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Trivia note: Apart from the illustrations of the dungeon and party from the random dungeon generation section you left out, there are also a few more "full" illustrations in early printings of the DMG.

I understand that in the 6th (revised) printing in December of '79 and after they removed a Todd Oleck piece on page 40, and I think at least one Sutherland though I can't look up where. Someone pointed this out to me recently and it was really cool to look at an older printing and see those less-familiar pieces.

The mutual blasting image on page 40?

I was only listing the illustrations that were in the magic items section (pp. 116-169), but I didn't know that they had different illustrations in different printings! Dang it, Mannahnin, now I have to go down another rabbit hole!
 




Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
More recent: the Ring of Warmth in Rime of the Frostmaiden.

With one glance it began the Magic Items page in my note-file for a Frozen North pseudo-Viking campaign. It just looks warm and comfy to have on.
 



J.Quondam

CR 1/8
It's weird. Not sure why this question is so hard, but it is. Except for the one image that is burned into my brain, practically nothing concrete springs to mind when I hear "magic item."
But as for "the one image that is burned into my brain", it's not even strictly D&D, but merely D&D-adjacent:

Screenshot 2022-08-10 13.37.04.png


Artist: Unknown (maybe Jim Rosloff, who did the box art for this particular release, I think?)
Source: Dungeon! board game (One of the early 1980s editions, not sure exactly which one I had.)
Item: Medallion of ESP
Rationale: This thingamajig does all the right things and ticks all the right boxes: It keeps you out of danger in dangerous dungeons. It looks vaguely like what it does, without being too obvious. It forces you to look at the rules. It stares back if you stare at it. It clashes with everything in your wardrobe, while simultaneously matching everything in your wardrobe. And it's worth a decent chunk of gold. Truly it is a miraculous object!



* The second pic that pops into my head after a lot of grunting is:
tumblr_ohzet5dwZC1ro2bqto1_500.jpg

Artist: Larry Elmore
Source: cover of BECMI Companion Set
Item: a M**F**ING MAGIC SWORD!!
Rationale: One more time for the slowpokes: it's a M**F**ING MAGIC SWORD!! This is a great archetypal scene featuring a great archetypal magic sword meant for superheroic characters who have leveled up to shiny spandex full plate and flowing cape.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
It's weird. Not sure why this question is so hard, but it is. Except for the one image that is burned into my brain, practically nothing concrete springs to mind when I hear "magic item."

This was actually a theory I had when I was posting this-

For various reasons, there is a lot of great and inspirational art when it comes to Classes and Monsters and other stuff in D&D ... but not magic items.

Heck, if I was to think of the most iconic magic item image in Fantasy, for me ... it's probably this ...

A_glaive.jpg


Not joking, either. There was a WHOLE GENERATION of D&D players confused when they looked at Appendix T in Unearthed Arcana.

Why is this? Why the lack of great magic item art? I'm not sure, but perhaps a 20,000 word essay might shed some light on the subject.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Why is this? Why the lack of great magic item art? I'm not sure, but perhaps a 20,000 word essay might shed some light on the subject.
I wonder if its because memorable art tends to be "people doing stuff," at least in the context of an action-oriented game book? The items in those images are rarely the focus.
Because it's not how magical your thingamajig is, it's what you do with it.
 

The more I think about it, the more I'm inclined to accept Snarf's stealth hypothesis about a lack of inspiring magic item art. There's some nice-looking pieces, but nothing that made me consider an item I wouldn't have considered anyways, at least in DnD books.

Another potential theory: DnD magic items are kinda boring. They don't often come with cool backstories or exotic powers or do anything to stand out as something more than "a thing, but better." A +2 magic sword is still just a sword.

In other words, we need more Blackrazors.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
This was actually a theory I had when I was posting this-

For various reasons, there is a lot of great and inspirational art when it comes to Classes and Monsters and other stuff in D&D ... but not magic items.

Heck, if I was to think of the most iconic magic item image in Fantasy, for me ... it's probably this ...

A_glaive.jpg


Not joking, either. There was a WHOLE GENERATION of D&D players confused when they looked at Appendix T in Unearthed Arcana.

Why is this? Why the lack of great magic item art? I'm not sure, but perhaps a 20,000 word essay might shed some light on the subject.
Heck, if we're reaching outside of D&D, the most iconic magic items that really stuck in my imagination and got me lost in adventure, it's these

1660254198163.png

Especially when it started glowing. To my 8-year-old mind, it was the most awesome and magic item ever.

1660254267246.png

Every single one of these, but especially the sword. I'd pay big money for an exact replica. IIRC someone actually made one at some point.
 



James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
This was actually a theory I had when I was posting this-

For various reasons, there is a lot of great and inspirational art when it comes to Classes and Monsters and other stuff in D&D ... but not magic items.

Heck, if I was to think of the most iconic magic item image in Fantasy, for me ... it's probably this ...

A_glaive.jpg


Not joking, either. There was a WHOLE GENERATION of D&D players confused when they looked at Appendix T in Unearthed Arcana.

Why is this? Why the lack of great magic item art? I'm not sure, but perhaps a 20,000 word essay might shed some light on the subject.
Yeah, while there are some memorable D&D items, like the Rod of Lordly Might or Daern's Instant Fortress, you rarely get the same kind of epic feel as you get from Glamdring, Excalibur, The Glaive, The Golden Lance, or The Sword of Omens. Hell, most people would be happy with Hank's Bow!
 

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