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.


  1. Nice work. I agree that it is a Trampier. I'll update my Artists of Holmes Basic page and link here. Thanks for the kind words about my website & blog.

  2. I have studied DAT's art for years. No doubt that this is his work. His white on black style, like he used with the giants in the Monster Manual, was his calling card. This is certainly his pen work.