For a little while back in the 80s, D&D was awesome! It was also everywhere. ET, a Saturday morning cartoon, candies, Shrinky Dinks. Then, it was scary. Poor journalism and Satanic Panic took over, turning D&D’s manuals into forbidden tomes, lumping them in with things that parents need to watch out for like drugs and gangs. When I was a wee 80s child, carting my AD&D Player’s Manual around, I was stopped by an adult and told that the book I had in my hands was dangerous, and that I would be going to hell if I played this game. Not cool, random adult. Not cool.
Of course, now we know D&D is a harmless, nerdy hobby practiced by harmless nerds everywhere – I know, I was one of them! Some of the artwork, though, frightened the heck out of eight year old me, in a great way. D&D of old was more Dark Souls than Marvel – adventurers just trying to survive their treasure hunts in deep, trap infested dungeons where murderous monsters lurked. You felt like this when you got out alive:
Sure, most of the art was pretty amateur and shaky, but it was cool, darn it! Come, follow me into the dark, nerdy pits of yesteryear visiting a game I haven’t played in decades, in a piece I like to call: D&D Art that Scared the Crap Out of Me
1. The String-Rolling Troll
This small piece was stuck in a section about mapping. Not only does that troll look horrifying, but I remember thinking on the moment of horror when that mustachioed intrepid adventurer realizes some hungry, moldy bastard has been rolling up his pathing string, leaving him hopelessly lost, hungry, and out of torches, miles below the earth. The patience of the troll to slowly follow, hour after hour, waiting for the right moment was chilling to me.
2. Dude Trapped in a Flooding Room with a Skeleton
Being trapped in a flooding room, facing drowning, is bad enough. Finding out that there’s an animated skeleton hiding in the murk, well, that’s just the worst. Terrible situation all around. 8 year old me had nightmares. I think the cool thing about D&D art of old was they often showed heroes that were super scared, and just totally screwed. The skeleton is pretty rad, too.
3. Carrion Crawler
Bugs scare the hell out of me, and this thing is one giant, disgusting, weird-ass bug. I don’t like it when tiny bugs touch me. This thing wants to kill me, and like Clark says in The Thing, it’s weird and pissed off.
4. Rot Grub
Boy, this guy is in a bad place. That’s an, “Oh, sh*t,” face if I’ve ever seen one. I get it – you’re days deep in a dungeon, it’s just not that easy to properly clean a wound, but wow, things have been going real bad on this adventure. Dude looks kind of similar to the string troll dude – there’s bad luck, and then there’s stalked-by-a-troll-and-infested-with-rot-grubs luck.
Pretty standard zombie here, but the thing just looks gross and rotten. I am still unsure whether those black marks are rot, or this zombie is just crawling with bugs. That tongue does not look good, either.
6. Giant Toad
Okay, yeah, just a big frog. Doesn’t sound to scary. Well, this damn toad just killed a skilled fighter, and it’s now casually hanging out, like, “What? Yeah, that’s a rotting corpse hanging out of my mouth. So?” How long is this toad going to take to eat this dude?
Another image of the giant toad, ready to chow down. Look at the fear on that little dude’s face. He knows he’s screwed.
7. The Adventurers
This one scared me because while it’s a moment of triumph – some adventurers have just opened up a chest and found some treasure – this was the image that made me think that adventurers aren’t right in the head. Look at their faces! That’s some naked, lusting greed. These “heroes” would leave you down there with that skeleton behind the chest at a moment’s notice if you had something they wanted. It made me understand those scenes in cheap fantasy novels where strange adventurers are mistrusted. No way in hell I’d trust these filthy villains.