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.


  1. Neat find. I hadn't seen that cover before and don't know much about Titan so I found this interesting.

    There are two Tramp pieces in the 1st print Basic rulebook, which was available at least as early as Origins I in July 1977, so I think he must've started working for TSR at some point before then.

    1. Good point, though that could be the first time Kask met him. I'll have to look up and see if TSR Periodicals was separate from the rest of TSR at that time or if they shared offices.

  2. Ah, I miss the days before art got super stylized for ease of mass reproduction! It's so common nowadays, it's become a "style guide" because people haven't seen anything else for a long while. I suppose the modern eye would have picked the unicorn picture as superior because sadly, commercial production needs have driven sparseness and minimalism as the new aesthetic. It's more about catching the eye than telling a story. :/

    1. That may be the exact reason the unicorn picture was used back in 1982. Several of Nishiuye's other paintings for that company have a similar sparseness that informs little about the game inside. However, you can spot them from the other side of the store.