Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I Like Things Black & White

It is ironic, really, that under normal circumstances “life” would be intruding upon my “RPG time” but now that my circumstances are anything but normal, “RPG time” seems to want to intrude upon “life.” That I am writing this at all is an indication that my less than normal circumstances are less dire, but I certainly do not have the time to make this a habit, yet.

There are several things that have wormed their way into my attention: Dwimmermount, Basic 5e, various controversies and a survey by Frog God games asking me for my opinion on whether or not they should go full color or not. All of these have made me feel nostalgic and I have occasionally pursued the blogverse. Therefore, I found a nice little piece at Hack & Slash On the Visual History of Illithid that allows me to, somewhat, easily address the last of these issues.

You will find an interesting comparison of Githyanki art by Russ Nicholson:

and Wayne Reynolds:

Whereas one can lose yourself in the Nicholson piece, the Reynolds piece is a bit, well, boring. This, despite all its cool color, detail and action.

Given Frog God Games’ interest in going Full Color, I got to thinking. I found myself wondering why I find that the static pose and details are better in Reynolds than in Nicholson, but I want to look at the Nicholson art, not Reynolds. So I decided to see if it was the color that got in the way (BTW, for a more philosophic take on my opinion about F/C vs BW art look here). So I did a little Photoshop on Reynolds and found this:

Yes, the color did get in the way. Suddenly, here is an illustration that seems to move. It draws me in and I am trying to fill in details of why, where, what and how. I am sold.

Black & White is what dreams and fantasy are made of.


  1. Great observation. I can think of a couple possible reasons the B&W "draws you in" more than the color (and, yes, I agree with your take):

    - with B&W, your eye is forced to focus on the detail of the drawing in order to distinguish its individual bits (because it's all the same "color"), thus drawing you in.
    - without color, your imagination is engaged as you have to substitute "mental color." Or, to put it a different way, a color illustration makes your mind lazy.

    I will say that, dynamic as Reynolds's piece is, I think the Nicholson piece has more "going on" (the element of HUMANS and their reaction to the action should not be underestimated), making it more interesting.

  2. Really remarkable what a difference that makes! I think JB makes some good points about engaging the mind more, but I also wonder if there isn't perhaps a problem with the sort of colouring that is used. In an effort to be clear, bright and 'illustrative' it fundamentally cuts it self off from an genuine action 'scene' like Nicholson, with scenery and shadows, etc. The B&W Reynolds piece, although still devoid context, looks like it might be cut from a 'real' scene, rather than the studio photography vibe of the F/C.

    PS. Glad to have you back posting! I've missed my saints of the week!

  3. "Yes, the color did get in the way. Suddenly, here is an illustration that seems to move. It draws me in and I am trying to fill in details of why, where, what and how. I am sold.

    Black & White is what dreams and fantasy are made of."

    The same can be said of a fantasy game itself. Fantastical imagining is hemmed in by rules, classes, races, &c. at least as much as it's opened up by them. That's why straight-up old-school loose-ruled Sword & Sorcery *can* be anything one wants it to be. Dark Sun can only be Dark Sun. Dragonlance can only be Dragonlance. But Holmes blue book can be virtually anything.

  4. I agree on a lot of levels. While I find the Wayne Reynolds art beautiful, there is something weirdly kinetic about it when it's black and white. I remember looking through all of the old World of Darkness books in the 90s, which were full of very dramatic B&W art. Every scene was full of atmosphere and raised questions about the characters and situations within. I got a lot of NPCs and story ideas just from looking at those pictures. I think a lot of modern RPG products waste their money with full color art, when they could have a much more dramatic/punk rock vibe with B&W.

  5. This is great! I've never been fond of Reynolds' work, but not only do I like that b/w version, I love it! It's interesting, though, Wayne Reynolds has done b/w work before and I didn't care for it (the piece I'm thinking of is from the section in the 3e DMG on "Invasion in the D&D Game"

  6. I agree. Black and White has an otherworldly quality to it that puts some distance between the viewer and the subject, as if looking through a glass, darkly. I think this also holds true in film, where B&W seems better suited to suspense, mystery, and horror than color does.

    Welcome back, btw, Dave, even if you're only passing through. This is still my favorite gaming blog on the web, and I look forward to the day when you and your family's troubles pass and you can resume writing on a daily basis. :)