Old Dungeons and Dragons modules are a great source for interesting art. And while I haven’t been exposed to a lot of them, the cover of The Endless Stair by Ed Greenwood is easily my favorite. The art is by a fellow named Jack Fred, who I’d not heard of before, and who I can’t find any information about. If you know something, let me know so proper credit can be given!
I’ll be the first to admit that the ladies depicted here are stupidly sexualized. If it was just the magic user I could maybe give it a pass, but the thief on the left is simply preposterous. Normally I would pass on a piece of art that has this level of ‘cheesecake’ bullshit in it. But I just fucking love everything else about it.
First, the piece has that great “every-adventurer” thing going on. These characters are nobody you know, and yet they’re every character you’ve ever played. You can put yourself into their shoes instantly. Second, the two men are beautifully equipped. Their gear is mundane and worn. More brightly colored art with cleaner lines is never able to look quite so real as this. Plus you have to love the 1970s style hair.
I also love the poses. Even the women have pretty great poses here, but my favorite is the dark haired man in the center. He’s drawn midway through pulling his axe from his belt, and that’s something you so rarely see in fantasy art. It doesn’t look ‘cool,’ or ‘badass,’ and because of that it seems more real, and thus draws me into the scene all the more.
And on top of all that, there’s the environment. I’m a native of the pacific northwest of the U.S., and this is exactly what this area looks like. The trees and the mountains and the sky and the grass all evoke memories of camping trips I’ve taken. It’s glorious.
I do apologize for the quality of the image. The only ones I could find online were very low resolution, so I opted to scan my own copy of the module instead. Unfortunately it has some minor damage which obscures some of the art.