Odd DD3

Down in the Dungeon (1981)

Another strange one that I didn’t know existed until recently, this is Down in the Dungeon (1981). Before we get into the book, let’s talk about the publisher, Squadron/Signal, which puts out books of interest to folks interested in military history and vehicles. Most of their books are visual guides to a single vehicle. They’re part of a larger company, Squadron, that has been selling scale military models since the 1960s. This is, as far as I can see, their only foray into fantasy/tabletop gaming.

OK, now to this brilliantly mad book. The art all seems to be by Don Greer, who, for the rest of his career seems to have focused on extremely realistic paintings of military aircraft. Down in the Dungeon, though, is a visual chronicle of his and Rob Stern’s exploration of a dungeon they discovered in the Southwest US. I know that is meant to be a cute metaphor for “from a D&D game we ran in Arizona” or whatever, but the introduction presents this as fact and it kind of lends a gonzo quality to what follows.

Which is gonzo enough on its own. Greer’s paintings are just shy of fever dreams. His style is…I don’t know quite how to explain it. He’s a capable draftsman, everything looks in proportion while also seeming somehow not quite right. The colors and compositions are garish, bordering on grotesque, but with wild, if slightly stilted, energy everywhere (this might be because some of the compositions are cribbed – Grognardia points out similarities between one painting and one of Ralph McQuarrie’s concepts for the Mos Eisley cantina, and a whole lot of them remind me of Frazetta paintings that I can’t quite place). There are so many scantily clad women in peril. And there is a kind of disjointed narrative playing out across the paintings. I was chatting with Benjamin Marra about it (of course he owns a copy, this is so Marra it hurts) and he said it “feels more like what a campaign feels like” than the stuff produced by TSR artists at the time, and I tend to agree. More D&D than D&D. Who’d have thought it possible?

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