Archive for the 'Erol Otus' Category

Erol Otus Illustration for the Advanced D&D Dungeon Masters Adventure Log (TSR, 1980)

D&D Adventure 1980

D&D Adventure 1980 Detail

The product is absolute nonsense, a flagrant money-grab; the illustration, however, is a definitive representation of the dungeon crawl. The main figures prepare to battle in three dimensions, while the bordering monsters, pitched in darkness, await the survivors in two (torches first, heroes; you can’t fight if you can’t see). Otus distills, in a single monochrome image, the suspense, danger, and otherworldliness of the fantasy RPG. See more early illustrations of role-playing here.

The Adventure Log is billed as the second “playing aid” produced by TSR for AD&D. The first was the AD&D Rogues Gallery (below), also from 1980, also illustrated by Otus.

D&D RG 1980

D&D RG 1980-4


Last Push for the Complete Reprint of AD&D Fanzine The Oracle (1982 – 1983)


Since my last post about The Oracle reprint, Tim Hutchings has sent me a review copy of the reprint, and it does not disappoint. When Tim says that the zine was “almost single-handedly” created and published by teenager Christopher Bigelow, it’s not an exaggeration. Bigelow, who wrote a comprehensive introduction to the reprint, put the zine together with a word processor on loan from his dad’s secretary, served as the entire editorial staff, contracted all the contributing talent, and wrote many of the articles (under pseudonyms)—while still in high school!

The Kickstarter has 8 days to go and was fully funded many moons ago. However, there’s an incredible new stretch goal promising to recreate the sixth issue of The Oracle promised—but never delivered—at the end of 1983’s issue #5. Who will contribute the articles mentioned in that more than 30-year-old teaser? Here’s Tim:

The Dungeon of Kroom Level III, Sarah Richardson of the Ennie award winning Contessa blog.

The Medieval Town in Literature, Timothy Connelly, frequent contributor Gygax Magazine among others.

New AD&D Character Class…  This is the one which makes me so invested in a sixth issue.  A sadly departed gamer who wrote up a proposal for an Oracle article on the Empath character class will have his article finished by his son.

Expanded Crossbreed System, Erol Otus.  Yes, THE Erol Otus.  The man whose artwork defined D&D for me and maybe most of a generation.  I grow giddy at the prospect.  The Erol contribution will be based on his crossbreed rules for the Island Town game scenario.

Right. And all we need is “$100 of monthly contributions lined up” to keep the PlaGMaDA archive going. It’s a good cause, and you can go here to back and donate. A PDF copy of the reprint is only 5 bucks!

If you’re on the fence, here’s one more interesting note. As I was perusing my review copy, I ran across the below ad (phone number edited out) in the last two Oracle issues.

Laird 1983

Laird is also credited with the cover of issue #5 (first image above), published in Autumn 1983. The name struck a chord, and I realized that Peter A. Laird is the co-creator (writer and artist) of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The original black & white comic was published in May 1984, less than a year after his Oracle work. As if the project weren’t historical enough already…

The Cthulhu Mythos in TSR’s Deities & Demigods (1980)







Compare the entries and stats here to the “Lovecraftian Mythos” article in The Dragon. Despite J. Eric Holmes blowing off a reader’s suggestion to raise the hit points of the Great Old Ones, that’s exactly what’s happened—and a number of other criticisms have been addressed as well. My favorite part of the Azathoth entry—about the universe collapsing and all life being destroyed in the event of the creator’s death—has been removed, and instead of being “the creator of the universe,” Azathoth is now “the center of the universe.” The idea is to make the gods appropriately awesome and intimidating while also making them approachable from a role-playing perspective.

The illustrations are by Erol Otus, who, in my opinion, is the definitive early D&D artist and one of the greatest fantasy artists of all time. Lovecraft’s vibe suited him perfectly, and I wish he’d done—or would do—a portfolio or an illustrated edition. His smug Cthulhu is what I see when the name is invoked, and all the arcane denizens and their haunts shimmer with high strangeness and psychedelic mania.

To admire more Otus art from Deities & Demigods, visit The Erol Otus Shrine.

(Images via Dr. Theda’s Crypt)

Early Erol Otus Art from The Dragon (1976 – 1977)

Otus Dragon #2 1976

Otus Dragon #5 1976

Otus Dragon #7 1977

Otus Dragon #7 1977-2

Otus Dragon #8 1977

Otus’ “Featured Creatures” from issues #2, #5, #7, and #8, respectively. He’s experimenting with different mediums here, trying to find his style.

More on my persistent admiration of Otus here.

1981 TSR ‘Gateway to Adventure’ Catalog

TSR Catalog 1981

TSR Catalog 1981-2

TSR Catalog 1981-3

TSR Catalog 1981-4

TSR Catalog 1981-5

You can thumb through a PDF of the whole catalog at Recycled Thoughts from a Retro Gamer. You can also see the complete catalog at Mikey Walters’ Flickr. The images above are from eBay, where you can usually find a copy for $5 – $10.

The shirts are very cool, but apparently not very well-made. Here they are, courtesy of Grognardia.

D&D Shirts 1981

The D&D Basic Set advertised in the catalog is the just released 1981 edition, written by Tom Moldvay with cover art by Erol Otus. The images on the t-shirts on the top left are from Sutherland’s cover to the original Basic Set—written by M.D. and fantasy writer-promoter John Eric Holmesfrom 1977.

I found the Grognardia post via the Original D&D Discussion forums. Zenopus, who writes a terrific blog “exploring the underworld of Holmes Basic,” posted a number of different photos showing the famous Sutherland red dragon, including this beauty:

It’s from the magazine Games Merchandising (a retailer magazine), and shows the TSR booth at the Hobby Industry of America (HIA) 1981 trade show. Dig the red Face logo chairs!

TSR Booth 1981

D&D Cover Art: Lost Tamoachan (1979) and The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (1980, 1981)

Tamoachan 1979

Tamoachan 1979-2

Hidden Shrine FC 1980

Hidden Shrine BC 1980

Tamoachan 1981

Tamoachan 1981-2

You can see how much the D&D image/brand changed in the space of only two years. Lost Tamoachan: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan was the bagged (unbound) tournament module used at Origins International Game Expo (known simply as ‘Origins’) in 1979. You’ll find the complete publication history at The Acaeum. (Copies are incredibly rare.) The cover art is by David C. Sutherland III, who did the original, and best, Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979) cover.

The module was renamed upon wide release in 1980, with front and back covers by Erol Otus. Without access to color, he relied on textures—the chiseled walls, the bolt of fire, the demon’s hair, the warrior’s armor. (On the back cover, it’s the combination of trees, ancient stone, translucent scales.) The Aztec art looks damn convincing, and the shadow of the wings on the walls is the kind of detail that separates Otus from other artists.

Otus did the front cover of the 1981 edition as well. Despite the gorgeous coloring and the thicker, more abstract figures that would become his trademark style, I think I prefer the earlier, more three-dimensional work. The back cover is by Jeff Dee. He uses Otus’s template for the scene, but gives it a Marvel Comics flavor. The innocence—some would argue the purity—of early D&D art, represented by the first and second editions of Tamoachan, would never be seen again.

Read some background on the module’s development at Wizards of the Coast.

(Images via Tome of Treasures and eBay)

D&D Cover Art: Scourge of the Slave Lords (1980 – 1981)

Slave Pits of the Undercity FC 1980

Slave Pits of the Undercity BC 1980

Secret of the Slavers Stockade FC 1981

Secret of the Slavers Stockade BC 1981

Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords FC 1981

Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords BC 1981

In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords FC 1981

In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords BC 1981

Scourge of the Slave Lords FC 1986

Scourge of the Slave Lords BC 1986

Slave Pits of the Undercity (1980): Both covers are by Jeff Dee. On the front, the wizard’s light spell saves the viewer and the party from utter darkness. (His non-casting hand is awkwardly placed, no?) Somehow, I don’t think the giant ant man’s two wooden shields are going to hold up against that hammer, but we have no idea how many of his friends are skittering to his aid, and that builds suspense.

I suspect the back cover was a rush job. The figures are finished (I like the bandaged arm of the bad guy), but the background is a blank.

Secret of the Slavers Stockade (1981): Jim Roslof did the front cover. The torch light and ensuing shadows set the mood, but the scene doesn’t sell the threat: the slaver and his Gollum-like pet are no match for the waiting heroes. The back cover is Erol Otus. The man is in absolute command of color and light, and his figures are the stuff of myth, something you might see on the vases and holy artifacts of an ancient civilization.

Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords (1981): Front cover is Jeff Dee again—substandard work, in my opinion: no motion, no life. The back cover, another Otus, is exactly the opposite: I can feel the pillars shaking, hear the cries of the warriors, the swooshing of the torch.

In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords (1981): This cover, one of Otus’s best, is a phantasmagoric, fantasy-art-meets-German-Expressionism masterpiece. It belongs in a museum. Bill Willingham goes for the throat on the lurid and bawdy back cover, a nice homage to Hammer Horror.

All of the modules (A1 – A4) were collected as Scourge of the Slave Lords in 1986. The cover painting here, a decent Frazetta emulation, is by Jeff Easley. (Is that Thundarr bursting his bonds in the background?)

Unfortunately, the series is not yet available on

TSR’s Escape from New York: The Game (1981)

EFNY Cover


EFNY Board






EFNY Instr

Toshiba Digital Camera



Really? I must have seen this movie a hundred times when it first came out on video (it’s still one of my all-time faves), but I had no idea there was a game. The cool illustration on the instructions title page is by Bill Willingham. You can see his signature on the plane. The second drawing—the “crazies” coming out of the sewer—might be an Erol Otus. Isn’t that an “EO” in the top right corner?

I would love to play this baby.

(Images via Board Game Geek and eBay)

D&D Cover Art: The Secret of Bone Hill (1981)

The front cover painting is by Bill Willingham, and it’s one of my favorites. The action rides the lightning, so to speak. The spell cast by our beautiful, crimson-clad sorcerer ties her, the hero, to the undead villain.  The book and the broken staff, framed in the flash, tell us that our magic user was hurriedly memorizing her spell when attacked by the skeleton. That’s my interpretation, anyway.

The castle is parallel to the book and the staff, menaced by lightning of a more natural kind—or maybe not, as the bolts seem weirdly focused on the mysterious edifice. At the same time, the purple clouds on the horizon contrast the town with the bright blue of Bone Hill.

Back cover art is by Erol Otus, a master of atmosphere. The colors here are subterranean, dank. As the dragon drags out of the cave its colors shift from green to an unhealthy pallid blue.

You’ll find Grognardia’s positive review of the module here.

D&D Cover Art: Dwellers of the Forbidden City (1981)

Dwellers of the Forbidden City 1981

Dwellers of the Forbidden City 1981-2

Front cover by Erol Otus, another legend of early D&D. Otus did the definitive covers of the revised 1981 Basic and Expert Sets, seen here and here via Tome of Treasures. I’ll be posting more of his distinctive module covers as well.

The back cover is unsigned, but it has to be Jim Roslof. (Frustratingly, the front and back covers are often uncredited in the early modules. Only the art team is listed.) Compare the style with The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

The module is available at Grognardia reviews it here.




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