Hello one and all. Jon Hodgson here. I’ll be your art director for this crazy flight to Ellesland.
Funnily enough, my roleplaying games “career” such as it was as a teenager runs the other way to Ian’s, who graduated from D&D to DW. I went the other way. My very first proper roleplaying game after Fighting Fantasy books which I adored and positively devoured, was Dragon Warriors. Like so many I bought the books from the school book club thinking they were Fighting Fantasy style choose your path adventure books. Smart move, Corgi.
I would have been about 12, an age when boys often turn to roleplaying games to escape the fact they are diminutive nerds with no hope of excelling at anything remotely physical in the real world. Thus it was that my first DW character, Ellidyr the elf knight, sprang to life, name stolen from the pages of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. Which was a pretty good place to find a DW character, even if in these modern times actually playing an elf PC is “doin it rong”.
I can clearly recall a feeling that Dragon Warriors was probably a bit too dark for us as kids. Which of course made it all the more exciting. The bit of back cover blurb about hobgoblins screaming across desolate moors still gives me a shiver. As does the recollection of getting our miniatures and dice stamped on as we played at lunch break. I bet those bullies are running multinational conglomerates whilst I sit here blogging from the helm of a small press rpg company. Who’s laughing now, eh?
So anyway, my imaginative wellspring has always been full of things such as Prydain, The Mabinogion, Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, The Illiad, Robin of Sherwood and the like. A very British (ok, the classics aren’t British and yet in another sense they are) very low key sense of mythic fantasy, which my adult work has never really escaped. Little wonder then that I had such a marvelous time when things came full circle, as they so often do if the myths are to be believed, and was offered the chance to help with making art for Dragon Warriors under the auspices of the mighty Magnum Opus Press. The challenge was a weighty one, with a great personal investment in getting it right: For Legend, for the overseeing eyes of Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson, for James Wallis and most importantly for the 12 year old Jon having badwrongfun playing that elf knight.
Painting the covers was relatively stress free – the original covers were never quite right for Legend, although clearly they were right for the paperback gaming market of the 80s. When it came to the internal art I almost passed on the opportunity. Walking in the shadow of greats and personal favourites such as Leo Hartas and Russ Nicholson was not something to be taken lightly, and replacing such well loved art was never going to be an easy task, nor win over everyone. The presentation, tone and artwork of the original game is tightly bound up in it’s appeal for many of the fans, and indeed to me. But I decided if I wasn’t going to do it I’d have to spend a lifetime moaning about whoever did.
Getting started was difficult. I wanted to reference the style and feel of the originals, and to carry on something they began. But time and styles have moved on since those heady days. I’m not a pen and ink artist, and it would be foolish to try and become one overnight. So I just resolved to make my Dragon Warriors. You can’t please all the people all the time, and whilst you can’t be completely unmindful of the audience, the bit of the audience that I wanted to please was in me too. If I liked the feel and tone, then hopefully other DW fans would too. It’s always a gamble making something anew, and making something genuinely from the heart.
So far no one has thrown a bottle of piss at me in the street, for which I am most relieved. And on the up side Dave Morris is on record as saying: “Jon Hodgson, for me and Oliver, the DW artist”, which practically caused me to pass out.
And hey, don’t tell anyone ok, but I might have been speaking to some artists which might have been mentioned above, about making a slight return. We shall see if we can make it happen.
So I guess this post is about cycles and circles and how we come back to the start of things. And so I would just like to take this opportunity to apologise to Neal, a member of my original DW group, who’s character was left to die in the pool in the ruined villa in Gallows Wood in 1986 or thereabouts, for the heinous crime of saying “I follow the rest of the party” a bit too much. Sorry Neal. 12 year olds are horrid. Dragon Warriors is good though, innit?