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Beyond here lie dragons

David A. Trampier dies

Jerry Stratton, March 28, 2014

The wyvern howls, and the dragon sits forlornly at the window of a deserted house. David A. Trampier died Monday in Carbondale. He’d recently had a stroke, and possibly some form of cancer.

Trampier was by far the most evocative of the AD&D era of artists. Look at the full-page spider on page 91 of the Monster Manual, for example, and everyone always brings up his Emirikol the Chaotic from the Dungeon Masters Guide.

For me, however, the two images that influenced my adventures most were the Pseudo-Dragon and the Wyvern. They weren’t full page (though I’d love to see the originals). But the image of that tiny dragon, sitting at a window, autumn leaves inside and out, turning back from gazing outside (to talk to someone in the house?) meant that there was always some sense of longing when I went to fill out an adventure.

And that wyvern, howling against the oversized moon, a broken forest against the pulsing sky! You end up feeling more sorry for the wyvern than for its prey. It always came to mind when there were night creatures on mountains (for some reason, I always saw that as atop a mountain, even though the wyvern is flying), such as in the “how to create an adventure” section of The Adventure Guide’s Handbook.

For me, “how to create an adventure” has always had an element of Trampier’s influence from those early images. It’s also the image I always think of when running the wyvern in the hidden cavern of The Vale of the Azure Sun. Even without any mountain tops, I still had to get that feeling in the adventure.

Trampier’s artwork appears in all of the original AD&D books as well as much of Dragon Magazine and other games. It stands out wherever it appears. Every player had the Players Handbook, and the very first two images they saw were his incredibly iconic cover with its adventurers looting a glowing orange demon idol while recovering from a battle with lizard-men and planning their next move—any film that really wants to be a D&D movie ought to include that scene, probably even use it as the nut of the script—and the happy magic-user smoking in a lush forest and sitting on a die (which had rolled a six before letting the foliage grow around it!).

I wonder if thieves weren’t so popular just because you couldn’t get more thief-like than that mugger in the thief section! And magic mouths would have been a lot sillier if it weren’t for his full-page illustration of Dwarves encountering one deep underground.

From the greedy adventurers at the end of the Monster Manual digging in to their lost treasure amidst the bones of those who failed before them, to the Demon Idol on the cover of the Players Handbook, to Emirikol the Chaotic in the Dungeon Masters Guide, his full-page illustrations set up a background tone for gaming in that era and old-school gaming today while his smaller pieces inspired us to run with the weird in our souls. One or two artists came close on occasion, but he really had no peers.

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