Friday, 6 April 2012

The Art of Russ Nicholson Dicing With Dragons Part 1

There's a celebration going on here and thereabouts, because it's 30 years since the first of the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks were published.

*Simultaneous cheer and groan of wincing self-reflective age recognition*

The interior art of that first book, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, was by Russ Nicholson, whose inked line art also graced the pages of Fiend Folio, The Fabled Lands and many other fundamental UK RPG-related titles in the 1980's.  A gritty savage beauty burst from the pages of Firetop Mountain and Citadel of Chaos.  It was refreshingly different from the Heavy Metal magazine -Conan and Gor influenced- clichéd covers of the time.

Considerably rarer than the many reprints of those early gamebooks is the rather infamous Dicing with Dragons - An Introduction to Role-Playing Games, authored by Ian Livingstone (1982, Routledge & Kegan Paul).   I find Mr Nicholson's freehand illustrations in Dicing With Dragons, with all of their details, especially inspiring when thinking about the hobby.  What is interesting in the frontispiece is that we see an armed traveller, a wayfarer -an "adventurer"(!) even - with a quarterstaff and patchwork leather armour - possibly similar to the invisible hero of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks (those which were set in the fantasy genre).

Generally, in the early Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, the hero, who lives by their wits, is leather armour-clad and is commonly on foot - about as far from the heroic knight in shining armour on horseback, or the half-naked helmeted barbarian, as you can get. Since "YOU" (yes, you, in capitals) "...are the hero", I understand that most of the scenes in those books are depicted from the "point of the view" of the reader, so that you rarely see how your fantasy persona is dressed.  Ian Livingstone's introductory solo adventure in Dicing With Dragons is thematically and dice-mechanically very close to the Fighting Fantasy books.  This solo adventure was recently rewritten and published as a new FF title in it's own right, Eye of the Dragon.  So naturally, I assumed long ago that this lone figure (and the one depicted in the chapter header of the Solo Adventure) is pretty much as close as I could get to what a Fighting Fantasy hero, with his customised trappings, might look like.

In this post is art from the chapter headers for Dicing With Dragons - in Part Two - I will be including illustrations from the solo adventure.

Incidentally, Russ is still producing fine works of fantasy art.  I am very grateful for his permission to reproduce the art from Dicing With Dragons here.  You can follow his exploits on his blog: The Gallery: Russ Nicholson

Please indulge me whilst I fill this entry with black and white line-art goodness. (Clickable thumbnails)

1 comment:

  1. I loved Russ's work since I first saw it in WoFM as a kid (yes, I am that old too). Both he and John Blanche's work in the Sorcery! series pretty much epitomize gaming for me back then. Magical stuff!