Thursday, March 24, 2011
By now, those in the old school gaming community know of the unfortunate passing of one of the early TSR artists, Jim Roslof. Jim's unique style helped form the "look" of TSR just as much as Trampier, Sutherland and Otus. James at Grognardia and many other bloggers have spoken of Jim and his influence on the hobby, but mine is a more personal note.
Several years ago I realized some of the old guard TSR artist from the early days of TSR were still active (due to the DCC covers by Jeff Dee and Erol Otus). I began thinking about whether or not it would be possible to get a commission done by one of these guys, a personalized scene that I could share with my original gaming group. Back in the day (late 70s/early 80s), I was not one for writing up my own adventures. We ran through every module published by TSR, from the letter modules to the contest winners in Dragon magazine. So, my original group did the great GDQ crawl with their first characters, finally escaping the Demonweb Pits sometime in 1984 or so after a good five years of off and on gaming.
While looking for something to memorialize these times, I thought about the classic covers of the modules (all by David Sutherland) except for Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits. Dave Sutherland was sadly already gone, so I thought about asking Jim if he would do a "reinterpretation" of the classic Q1 cover, only with my group's favorite characters as the subjects. Through various online sites, I acquired his contact info, presented the idea to him, and he was very enthusiastic about the project. He told me that he had no problem going back to one of his classic pieces, and as a matter of fact it would be a lot faster and easier for him (as he could work with the original cover for reference instead of creating it from whole cloth). Jim was super easy to work with, and I remember him being very particular about what each character was wearing, what weapons they used, spells they liked to cast, etc. He wanted to make the art as "authentic" as he could so it wouldn't be just a generic fight scene.
I was simply blown away at the art Jim did for me (only taking 30 days from start to finish). Each character (From the left: Krago the Dwarf, Gandolin the elvish mage, U-gor the half orc fighter, and St. Michael the cleric) is clearly recognizable to everyone in my old group (U-Gor using his flaming sword, Gandolin casting one of his ever present fire spells, etc) as their personal characters. It is something that I will treasure forever, now even more so that Jim is no longer among us.
It is very obvious that Jim's skills were far from declining, and very sad he couldn't get more work in the gaming field in his later years (except for a few DCC covers and some incredible spreads in The Dungeon Alphabet). Jim still "had it", and in my opinion, his recent work was better than some of his originals (while still being recognizable as a Roslof piece).
Not much more to add, except that I wish I had gotten Jim to do some other commissions. As always, we don't know what we have until it's gone....one reason for the North Texas RPG Con is for the old school gamer and fan to mingle with these guys while they are still with us....no one is getting any younger. If you are putting off sending an email to or attending a convention with one of the old guard, DO IT.