Dave A. Trampier and the Art of Inspiration

One of the few local places that sold gaming stuff circa 1980 was a mall bookstore called Lauriat’s. They had D&D and Traveller books, and a small selection of Grenadier and Heritage miniatures. I had started playing D&D at age 10 and I would go browse that section whenever my family went to the mall. I had little money, so I mostly just looked. After my birthday or Xmas, I could usually splurge and get something. Deciding what to buyu was difficult. I could not pop on Google and find reviews. If there were gaming fanzines in Massachusetts at the time, I never saw one. I was left to judge by flipping through the books…and looking at the art. And one cover piece always drew my eye: module T1 The Village of Hommlet.

DAT_Hommlet

I came back to this image time and again. It was such a great evocation of D&D: a crazy monster to fight, an evil cult to smash, and the mysterious ruined moathouse to explore. When I finally scraped together $5, I bought that module and it was largely because of the cover art.

It was the first time I noticed the initials DAT on a piece of D&D art but certainly not the last. DAT was Dave A Trampier, one of the great artists of D&D publisher TSR. You may not have known his name but if you played the game in the early 80s, you knew his work: the iconic cover of the AD&D Player’s Handbook, the beautiful GM Screen panorama, the classic monster illustrations like the lizardman and fire giant, and of course Emirikol the Chaotic in the DMG.

trampier - lizardman

Tramp’s story was a strange one. After doing all that amazing work, he disappeared from the game industry and from the world of illustration in the late 80s. No one knew what had become of him for years. About a decade ago he was discovered driving a cab. Yesterday, he passed away.

I don’t know why such a great artist left a promising career behind. Rumor has it he was bitter about the way TSR treated him. It’s a shame he stopped doing art altogether. It’s tragic that he never had his second act, as many of us hoped he would. I do hope that before his passing, he had some understanding of the impact of his work on a generation of gamers and dreamers. For many of us, our careers as creators began with D&D and the inspiration we drew from it. The game, the ideas, and the art set our imaginations on fire. Dave Trampier was a big part of that and gaming is poorer for his lost.

Thanks for everything you did, Dave. You will not be forgotten.

1979-DM-screen-back-art

6 thoughts on “Dave A. Trampier and the Art of Inspiration

  1. This event makes me realize that I know nothing of these artists who had the same effect on my youth that you describe Chris. The cover of the Village of Hommelet affected me the same way. And that Dungeon Master’s screen? I looked at that thing every day for years as I took it out and put it away. I was sequestered behind the art, DMing my heart out, but I’m sure that my players were inspired by it – it gave me thrills and chills every time I looked at it. That image captured the very essence of D&D. Let’s hope that Mr. Trampier has finished his first horn of mead in Artist’s Valhalla and has retired to a quiet corner to again take up his charcoal, pens and brushes to capture the scene there.

  2. I was sad to hear of DAT’s passing. He was an amazing artist – if you thought the DM Screen was good, take a look at some of the later episodes of Wormy – beautiful watercolor and marker work.
    Due to non-disclosure agreements and the like we probably will never know the full truth of his dispute with TSR. I know he was trying to self-publish a collection of the Wormy strips, and asking fans to send in contributions to fund it (in essence, he was trying to do a Kickstarter, before Kickstarter – or for that matter, the Internet – existed). In exchange for my contribution, I got a little pin-on Wormy button, and was eagerly looking forward to the book. Then TSR shut it down; apparently it violated some aspect of his contract with them? All I know is, I got a polite, apologetic letter from Trampier informing me the project had been cancelled, and a check refunding my money. Later, Dragon magazine informed its readers that Trampier had left TSR and there would be no more Wormy strips.

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