Sunday, April 17, 2011

The AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual that might have been

The AD&D 2nd edition Monstrous Manual is one of the high points of 2nd edition, a fact that has been rightfully championed by noisms both on his blog and at It's nearly a perfect monster book, and it could have been even better.

But what if it had been entirely illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi? Wishful thinking?

It almost happened.

Over the last couple days, thanks to the work of a colleague, Ari Berk, Central Michigan University has been hosting "Imagining the Fantastic," and Tony is one of the guests. The talks, art, and panel discussions have been fantastic, and Ari really pulled it off with this one. It's a rare opportunity to have artists of such caliber visiting mid-Michigan. It's been especially great because it has been relatively small event. Big for Mt. Pleasant, certainly, and a success on all counts. But still much smaller than the usual conventions you might find these folks at, allowing just about anyone to have real conversations with the guests.

Thanks to this, I had a chance to meet Tony, and he was a friendly, engaging guy who was a pleasure to talk to, and who seemed genuinely pleased when I asked him if he had any favorite illustrations from the Monstrous Manual. He didn't say, but instead told me the story of his involvement with it. After working on Dragon Mountain, his first job with TSR, he was invited to be involved with the Monstrous Manual and asked which creatures or creature types he'd be interested in working on. He'd responded by submitting a variety of things and telling them to let him know what they'd like him to do, based on his samples. And to his surprise, TSR asked him to illustrate the full book.

Unfortunately, at the time, they also wanted it with such a short deadline that he couldn't possibly have done it. Instead, he only was able to do certain creature types, and other artists worked on the rest of the monsters. If you've ever looked at your Monstrous Manual and thought, as I have, "Why isn't this whole book illustrated by DiTerlizzi?", now you know. To TSR's credit, they recognized the genius of asking him to do the whole book. Unfortunately, deadlines and publication schedules got in the way. It's still a fantastic book, but damn, that is a "might have been" for the ages.


  1. That would've been cool. I like the 2E AD&D manual. Full pages of monster stuff. Still my preferred version.

  2. I wondered that since I first layed eyes on the book. He's a wonderful artist and brought something really fresh and exciting to the game with his interpretations of the classic monsters. No offense to the other artists, but compared to DiTerlizzi's art their monsters looked very boring and bland. They were simply redrawing the monsters as they had always looked, for the most part, and the DiTerlizzi ones were astonishingly new in a storybook kind of way. In fact, I was so inspired by his art that I started a new campaign almost on the spot after looking through my friend's copy of the book. A book entirely by him would have been perfect, and just what the game needed at that time.

  3. Nah. His 'fairy tale' style works for certain creature types (fey, whimsical imps/lesser demons, planetouched babes, Modrons, etc) but his early 90s Tarrasque illo in the Monstrous Manual was ...less than impressive IMO.

    He gave us the Planescape look (the boxed set and both PS monster books were illustrated by him IIRC); so it's hardly like we were short-changed.

  4. I'd still have much preferred it, though I agree that fans didn't get terribly shortchanged, given DiTerlizzi's mark on Planescape.

    I rather like that DiTerlizzi's art expresses his interpretation of each classic monster. I thought the humanoids he covered in the monster manual were particularly often quite good, and they certainly influenced my interpretations of them in play. We have years of monster manuals, and will have years more to come, I reckon, and while some monsters may better fit a particular artist's style than others, I'd still like to have seen the results.

    Which has me thinking. Has there ever been a "single artist/single vision" core monster manual for D&D? Some of the specific setting manuals, but not a core monster manual, as far as I know. I can think of a few artists who have worked on D&D who I'd love to have seen a single vision monster manual from, with illustrations of every creature. Stephen Fabian would be one, working in grayscale. What I like about Fabian's art, admittedly, is not primarily "monster art," actually. But I'd still be interested in seeing something like that from him.

    Others will have other favorites.

  5. Lucky SH Necromancer! Tony DiTerlizzi is a great guy as well as an inspiring fantasy/RPG artist. I hope some of these sessions were recorded and will be made available for listening. Also, if you haven't heard it, I recommend the DiTerlizzi interview on the now defunct Open Design Podcast.

  6. I don't know whether sessions were recorded or not, but that's a good question. I'll check with Ari to find out. I hope they were as well. There were some excellent sessions, and it'd be a shame if none were recorded.

    Thanks for the pointer on that Open Design Podcast. I'll have to download the DiTerlizzi one for a listen.