Monday, March 31, 2014

Rare Dave Trampier Art Part 3

Uncredited art from B2 The Keep on the Borderlands

The Keep on the Borderlands seems like the last place to find a rare piece of TSR artwork. Gary Gygax himself wrote the module and included it as an introductory adventure in two different editions of the Basic Dungeons & Dragons boxed set (both the blue Holmes set and the magenta Moldvay set). TSR printed an estimated 1.5 million copies and it ranked the 7th greatest D&D adventure of all time in Dungeon magazine issue #116. Countless players and DMs cut their RPG teeth on this module (myself included). It can hardly be considered "rare."

In 1980, one odd illustration appeared only in the second printing of the module where intertwined, horned dragon-serpents devour each other at the bottom of page 5.

The mysterious serpents

Some of the 6th and 7th printings of the Holmes basic sets included this printing of B2 and a few more copies sold individually. Later in 1980, the illustration disappeared from the third and subsequent printings, just as D&D's popularity started its greatest ascent. This makes it safe to call the illustration "rare."

The striking image is reminiscent of Celtic knotwork designs and M. C. Escher but who illustrated it? The artists credited in the module are David S. LaForce (a.k.a. "Diesel"), Erol Otus and Jim Roslof. However, this looks nothing like any of their art styles.

Now compare the illustration to the works of fellow TSR artist Dave Trampier:

Boat masthead (D3 Vault of the Drow), Gorgon (Monster Manual) and Kobold-Hating Dragon (Dungeon Masters Guide) all by David A. Trampier
We see the same toothy snout and careful balance between light and dark in the boat masthead. The gorgon's cross-hatching style and line weight are almost identical; even the shading on the horns is the same. The dragon exhibits the same serpentine neck with similar scales and soft underbelly. I feel safe in saying all four images were created by the same hand.

There were small changes between the first and second printings of the module, including the addition of the intertwined serpents image and a dragon illustration by David S. LaForce (previously seen in The Strategic Review). An editor probably added them to fill some white space between paragraphs. It is highly likely Tramp's contribution was overlooked and TSR staff neglected to include him in the art credits. In fact, third and later printings are heavily revised and include illustrations by Jeff Dee and Bill Willingham, both equally uncredited.

As far as I know, the intertwined serpents image was never published again. I believe this is the first time Trampier is acknowledged as the creator of this image.

For more information about module B2 and the early days of Basic D&D I recommend Zenopus Archives. "Zenopus" maintains a terrific repository of information on the original, blue-book, basic rules set and its author, the late Dr. John Eric Holmes. Stay up to date with his blog where he is currently comparing an original manuscript for Holmes' Basic Set against the printed versions, noting where editor Gary Gygax was making subtle adjustments to the original D&D rules.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

David Trampier passed away March 24, 2014

This certainly isn't the next blog post about David Trampier that I had planned.

A man with David Trampier's name, matching David Trampier's age and last known location, passed away in Helia Healthcare in Carbondale, IL. I can hope for a case of mistaken identity but this looks like DAT himself. He would have turned 60 on April 22 this year.

Thanks to Charles Akins for reporting the news:

Dave, we hardly knew ye. I hoped that as a community of fans we might better understand you in this series of posts. Like so many great artists, we lost you too early.

All is quiet in Toad Town tonight.

[UPDATE] Castle Perilous game store of Carbondale has more information: 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Rare Dave Trampier Art Part 2

Adventure Gaming magazine vol. 1 no. 5 "hidden" interior art

UPDATED - see bottom of page

This piece took some work to "unearth" as it was left hidden behind a wall of text.

Tim Kask recalls hiring his friend, Dave Trampier, to work on issue 5 of Adventure Gaming magazine:

"After I started ADVENTURE GAMING Magazine, he did a couple pieces of art for me, and I did a cover story article on TITAN that he added and published some advanced rules in."
We discussed the first of the "couple pieces of art" in my last post, a vibrant, full-color painting of a scene from the world of Titan. As Titan co-creator, Trampier also wrote a two-page article titled, "Evolving Forces in TITAN." It provides an excellent analysis on how to compare creatures of slightly differing power levels and how to know when creatures become a liability instead of an asset.

The magazine also features two articles by Titan's other co-creator, Jason B. McAllister. "The History of TITAN" gives a thorough look at the development of the game, much more interesting than his "The Giver of the Law: TITAN Design Notes" article later published in Avalon Hill's The General magazine Vol. 20, No. 2. "The History" contains lots of details on game board design and simplification of unit stats that we game designers enjoy. "Waging TITAN: Tactics" serves as a good primer on both the tactics and strategies needed for this unusual game.

Note that none of the three articles contain any "advanced rules" that Kask mentions, above.

It is in McAllister's first article, "The History of TITAN," where we find Trampier's other piece of art, printed in light gray and hidden behind the text:
I could see what appeared to be a scene from the game with a titan, a minotaur and what appeared to be an angel hugging a dragon all on a volcanic landscape. Trampier's signature was clearly legible in the lower left, but not much else was. It might be a rough sketch for the cover image painting for this issue.

With a little bit of Photoshop wizardry, I removed all the text and worked to restore the image as best I could. I painted in some of the missing lines with my Wacom tablet. What I discovered surprised me:
There are a lot of creatures in this scene! On the left, two rangers and a warbear surround a lone minotaur, who knocks one of ranger off his pegasus (in Titan, every ranger gets a pegasus. It's one of the perks of the job). A titan stands behind the volcano, avoiding combat (as often happens in the game. Two trolls with their iconic hammers are near the center of the image. On the right, an archangel is clearly not hugging that dragon so much as he is jabbing his greatsword through its head. I thought their relationship might be a lot friendlier. Ah well...
The scene is richly detailed and sometimes hard to read (those trolls tend to blend into the rock face). Above is a guide to the creatures in the image. There may be another creature as I think I see something between the two rangers. If you spot any more details, please let me know!

As far as I know, this drawing was never published anywhere else. Can anybody with the Gorgonstar publications of Titan and Battlelands of Titan confirm that it was not published in those games?

UPDATE - Reader Teacher, Trooper, Gamer, Dad (that is a long name!) helped me out by recognizing one more creature in this melee: a lion helping the minotaur strike down that poor ranger on the left.
Updated recovery of Tramp's image.
That now puts the total at TEN Titan creatures, until now only probably only seen by a few people involved in the production of Titan and Adventure Gaming magazine.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Rare Dave Trampier Art Part 1

Adventure Gaming magazine vol. 1 no. 5 cover art

Dec. 2020 UPDATE to the UPDATE: See my new blog post with more revelations about this artwork.  Note that the Castle Perilous photo gallery link in the next paragraph is now dead.

UPDATE: The original painting is now at Castle Perilous Games and Books in Carbondale, IL. See it and more in this photo gallery.

The painting in situ at Castle Perilous

Tim Kask, head of TSR Periodicals and founding editor of Dragon magazine, met Dave Trampier sometime in 1977 (possibly at Gen Con X in August, though probably before*). Tim and Dave soon became fast friends and gamer buddies, as Kask recalls:**
"He spent many an hour with me in my basement playing games. playing miniatures on my sand-table (mostly WWII micro-armor, which we both LOVED, fooling with TITAN, partying together and racing slotless HO racecars for hours on end. My wife really liked Dave and thought he was one of the more "normal" seeming of all my gaming and industry friends."
Kask hired Trampier as staff artist for TSR Periodicals' Dragon (then titled The Dragon) and their wargaming magazine, Little Wars. Kask also published Trampier's comic strip parody of fantasy wargamers, the Pogo-influenced Wormy. Kask continues:
"I loved Wormy from the very first time I saw it; giving Dave a place to publish Wormy I rank as one of the finest things I did with the magazine."
Kask resigned from his position at TSR in 1980. He then founded Adventure Gaming, a high-quality, independent magazine for role-players, miniature gamers and boardgamers alike. He kept in touch with his good friend and hired him for work on issue #5 (November, 1981):
"After I started ADVENTURE GAMING Magazine, he did a couple pieces of art*** for me, and I did a cover story article on TITAN that he added and published some advanced rules in."

The first piece is a striking painting of Titan creatures on a bleak landscape. A dragon perches atop the volcanic mountain, effectively under-lit by the molten lava. At the base of the mountain, a lion is ready to pounce. The minotaur stands at the ready, wielding a shield and ball-and-chain weapon like the minotaur counters in the game. A titular titan, with cape, sword and shield, watches from behind the protection of his strange legion.

Adventure Gaming vol. I no. 5 cover art
The image stands out as more elaborate than most covers of Adventure Gaming from that era. At the same time, it has an unfinished quality: I can see pencil marks on the lion's face. Could this be a first pass at a planned box cover for the 2nd printing of Titan?

To recap the Titan history from my last post, Trampier co-created the game with Jason B. McAllister and self-published it in 1980. This first printing featured a simple, two-color box cover. They expanded the game with Battlelands of Titan in 1981, the same year this painting was created and the magazine issue was published. Avalon Hill finally combined Titan with Battlelands and published the 2nd edition of the game sometime around autumn of 1982.

Kenneth Nishiuye's Titan box lid
Avalon Hill chose to use staff artist Kenneth Nishiuye's functional but stiff "angry titan" painting on the front of the game box. The image has an iconic look and stands out on the store shelf but the prancing unicorn and the rampant dragon don't do much to fire up the imagination. It is in striking contrast to Trampier's skilled, yet fun and cartoony art style.

Notably, Trampier's art does not appear in any Titan articles published by AH's house magazine, The General. I don't know if this points a disagreement between AH and Trampier or if it was simply AH's policy to purchase the rights to a game and use their own in-house people to support it.

My speculative interpretation of a Trampier Titan box lid
Imagine if AH used this Trampier painting for the cover. Admittedly, there isn't any action (the creatures appear to be waiting for enemies to "spawn in" on the other side of the battle board) and the image is hard to read from a distance but at least it informs the viewer about the product. This looks like a scene from the game, unlike the Nishiuye cover, above.

If I had to quickly art direct for AH, I'd add one creature to battle the lion in the foreground, add another advancing on the right to clash with the minotaur, then lighten the color of the sky and darken the background figures to make them "pop" more. The dragon in the volcano would remain the central focus.

Stay tuned for more!

* Trampier started as staff artist for The Dragon's September, 1977 issue. That isn't much lead time to produce a magazine if he only met Kask the month before.
** Kask's thinking he met Trampier at "at GenCon at Parkside" must be incorrect.  GenCon did not move to University of Wisconsin-Parkside until August, 1978.
*** I will take a look at the other "hidden" piece of Trampier art in the next blog post.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Rare Dave Trampier Art Introduction

Recently, Jason Zavoda used his Hall of the Mountain King blog to start an in-depth look at the characters in Dave Trampier's comic strip, Wormy. Since Tramp is a subject of study for me, I've revived my oft-abandoned blog to discuss some of his lesser-known art pieces.

A Brief Trampier Biography

TSR Games

In 1977, sometime around his 23nd birthday, David A. Trampier became one of the early artists working for TSR illustrating Dungeons & Dragons and other games. He created some of the most iconic illustrations in D&D. His influence is still felt in countless homages across the role playing industry.

Trampier's grizzled, bearded face and 6' 3" frame often appears in his own illustrations, such as the above piece of three successful adventurers from AD&D's Players Handbook. Even Trampier's monstrous manticore face feels like a self-portrait.

Around 1981 or so, Trampier's work disappeared from TSR games but his Wormy comic continued to appear in TSR Periodicals' Dragon magazine.


With co-designer Jason B. McAllister, Trampier self-published the fantasy "Monster Slugathon" board game Titan under the name Gorgonstar Publications in 1980. Tramp created all the artwork for the game box, board, components, rulebook and advertising. 1981's expansion Battlelands of Titan added new features to be incorporated into all future printings of the base game. The game eventually became a hit, one of the seminal fantasy board games of the 1980s.

Supposedly, TSR was given first crack at publishing the game but refused. In 1982, Avalon Hill published the game as part of their Bookcase Game series. Strangely, the box cover featured art by Avalon Hill's Kenneth Nishiuye. Nishiuye's purple painting of a titan, unicorn and dragon was functional and iconic but ran counter to Trampier's distinctive style seen on the game components. I'll discuss more about a possible Trampier Titan cover in the next post.
Titan remains a classic and was republished in numerous forms. Avalon Hill licensed the game to Hobby Japan who released a computer game version as Beast Lord in 1991 followed by a sequel in 1992.  In 2008, Valley Games, Inc. created a high-quality reprint with an iPad edtion appearing three years later. A German edtion appeared in 2012. It is unknown if Trampier continues to profit from these reprints.


Tramp started worked for TSR Periodicals in 1977, illustrating Dragon and Little Wars magazines. Dragon started publishing his Wormy comic strip about a cigar-chomping, snooker-hustling, wargaming dragon and the strange being that inhabit his world. Much like Cerebus the Aardvark years later, Wormy began as something of a "funny animal" comic, a parody of gamers just as Cerebus parodied the Sword & Sorcery genre. Wormy's story matured over the years as Trampier's skills as artist and storyteller improved significantly, much like Dave Sim with Cerebus. Unlike Cerebus,* Wormy continued to be funny. It remained a parody of the very gamers flipping to the back of each new Dragon magazine to read the latest installment.


Sadly, Wormy's second storyline was abruptly truncated in 1988. A cryptic announcement informed us that Wormy would no longer appear in Dragon. Trampier's brother-in-law, game designer Tom Wham, had no contact with him since 1982. Trampier seemingly fell off the face of the Earth, leaving fans to wonder what happened to the artist who was an influence on so many.
In 2002, amid rumors of his death, it turned out he was working as a cab driver in Illinois. The Daily Egyptian, a Southern Illinois University newspaper, posted a short piece about the life of a cab driver in Carbondale named David Trampier. There was that grizzled, bearded face last seen peering out from behind a shield on the AD&D Dungeon Masters Screen. TSR insiders confirmed that this was the very same David Trampier.

For whatever reason, he wanted to be left alone and get away from art and the gaming industry. Attempts to contact him about his art were politely declined.

Rare Trampier Art

Over the next several posts, I will examine some of the lesser-known Trampier works. The illustrations from the Monster Manual and Deities & Demigods are all well-known. Jason Zavoda is doing an admiral job at exploring the art from Dragon magazine. I will share the rarer, published pieces I've discovered along with any pertinent information I know about them.

* I am quite a fan of Cerebus and read each and every issue (yes, even the prose with almost no illustrations, even when it seemed like he'd never get out of that bar). I admire Dave Sim's ability to self-publish and do what he wants with his creator's rights. Lord Julius remains one of the best interpretations of Groucho Marx I've ever seen (take that, M*A*S*H-era Alan Alda). I just wish Wormy had a chance to see a 6000 page storyline published, like Cerebus did. Who knows, It could've degenerated into a misogynistic diatribe with Wormy worshipping an amalgam of the Abrahamic religions at the end.