02
Apr
12

D&D’s Original Iconic Characters

Doesn’t this look like an adventuring party you’d like to be part of?

Illustrations by David C. Sutherland for the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide

Stat one of these characters up using the Adventurer Conqueror King System and you can play ’em in a session I’ll run via G+ hangout! Plus, if the Kickstarter for Paul Hughes’ Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map poster succeeds in raising more funding than Autarch’s Player’s Companion did, the backers of that worthy project will get to admire your character-making handiwork as part of a bonus goal I offered Paul in the foolhardy belief that it’d never happen. (It is now less than $300 short).

Here’s the backstory. The designers of 3rd Edition D&D went to remarkable lengths to reference 1st Edition AD&D. This is something I’ve been saying for a long time, but the more I learn about 1E the more examples I discover.

One of the defining aspects of 3E’s art direction was the use of iconic characters whose illustrations were featured in the section introducing their class and were then re-used in other books, the D&D miniatures line, etc. For example, here we see the rogue Lidda, the wizard Mialee, and the fighters Regdar and Tordek planning a dungeon-heist:

At Gary Con, we were talking about things we liked and didn’t like about 3E. Iconic characters made it onto both lists.

  • Plus: The way that the same heroes would turn up in different contexts created the sense of the books being a window into another world, the way that elements of the Cthulu Mythos like the Necronomicon showing up in different stories made it seem real (and a precursor of roleplaying games and transmedia).
  • Minus: We weren’t convinced that the 3E iconic characters emerged from actual play; their inception had the whiff of a clever memo from WotC’s marketing department.

Until reading this post at Blog of Holding, from which the top picture was taken, I didn’t realize that the idea of a party of characters recurring from one illustration to the next had its roots in David C. Sutherland’s drawings for the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. I don’t know whether they represented a real party of player characters, but certainly the DMG illustrations show them doing the kinds of things adventurers do in actual games of D&D. (The planning illustration above is an exception to the normal kind of thing the 3E iconic characters were depicted doing: standing around on their own, looking iconic.)

Given that I care about things like illustrations reflecting actual play, let’s make sure that the ACKS writeup of the AD&D iconics reflects characters that a player created (albeit to match a pre-existing visual image) and played in a game! Reply in the comments to claim which of these five adventurers you’d like to stat up and play, I’ll email you to work out the details and schedule the G+ hangout.


14 Responses to “D&D’s Original Iconic Characters”


  1. 1 John
    April 2, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    I like how the magic-user is constantly wiggling her fingers in the air in every illustration.

  2. April 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    2 humans, 1 elf, 1 halfling and 1 dwarf. I cite this as yet another example of the human-centric party/game being a myth!

  3. 3 Charlatan
    April 2, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    The Halfling is tricky: It doesn’t exist as a PC race in core ACKS, if it did it wouldn’t be able to wear plate, and even if it could it wouldn’t be able to wield a longsword in one hand. I’ve got a house-ruled Hobbit, but it’s still a stretch. You could give him a variant of Martial Training as a proficiency to handle the sword- call it “Big Mitts”.

    Alternately, say that it’s not a Halfling at all. His clothes look pretty puffy (especially in the scene with the Trolls), so you could say it’s a short, male Bladedancer. Crazy for taking on the giant like that- must have high DEX and Swashbuckling.

  4. 4 Greg
    April 2, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    If each illustration represented a level of the dungeon in order, it looks like it gets easier the deeper you go. Stone Giants on Level 1, Salamanders on 2, Trolls on 3 and Kobolds on 4. I like the Dwarf for some reason, but he looks like he’s getting cocky and letting his guard down as that Troll is sneaking up on him.

  5. 5 John
    April 2, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    @Greg They’re reversed from the order they appear in the book.

  6. 6 kelvingreen
    April 2, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    As I recall, the D&D3 iconic characters were killed off in D&D4; the fighter at least turns up dead in one of the chapter opening splash images.

  7. 7 cr0m
    April 3, 2012 at 12:42 am

    Man, this brings back so many memories! I spent hours and hours poring over the random dungeon tables, playing solo and imagining the hell out of the adventure those guys were having. I used to copy each picture over and over, and IIRC made up a dungeon with rooms like the ones in the pics, plus rolled up the characters and made my little sister play through.

    The only other set of images that captivated me as much were the ones from the D&D coloring book that made the rounds on the OSR blogs a few months back. For years none of my characters wore shoes because of that one.

    Good times.

  8. 8 cr0m
    April 3, 2012 at 12:44 am

    I also really liked the 3e iconics! Especially the picture in the PHB in the “hazards” section where the fighter is hacking away at a dragon or something while the monster tries to close his jaws on him.

  9. 9 Brock Cusick
    April 3, 2012 at 1:02 am

    I’ll take the Fighter!

    Or as a back-up I’ll play a Half-elf Explorer (due with the bow). The “half elf” just means human, but he’s got pointy ears from his elven ancestor.

  10. April 3, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Brock, a fighter is you! When we know how much it costs to build Paul’s dungeon, we will have an idea what level your character will be when he is ready to rule it. You can go ahead and make decisions up to Adventurer level now, like proficiencies and thinking about what kind of magic items you hope to have.

  11. 11 Adam
    April 3, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    @kelvingreen: My understanding is that the story is a little bit more complicated. Regdar, the iconic human fighter, got killed a lot because he was foisted on the creative staff by marketing, and the creative staffers resented both that and the idea that there needed to be a white male fighter as the default “face” of the D&D PC. See http://montecook.livejournal.com/150303.html

    So I think Regdar’s death in 4e art was just continuing that pattern, not representing a decision to kill off the 3e iconics in general.

  12. April 10, 2012 at 4:02 am

    Always liked this art and thought it made the back of the book that much more interesting

  13. September 26, 2014 at 8:45 am

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    My web site looks weird when viewing from my iphone4.
    I’m trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to fix this problem.
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