Sad news this week about the untimely death of David A. Trampier, the artist whose signature letters "DAT" graced many iconic works of art in the D&D First Edition canon. Check out the links below for samples. Trampier also wrote and drew the incredible comic "Wormy" in the back pages of Dragon Magazine for many years; me and my gaming buddies, in high school at the time, breathed in every issue faithfully. Wormy did not have a liontaur character, but it did chess-playing minotaur. There were other comics in Dragon, but Wormy simply outclassed every one. This incredible 2010 review of Wormy by Matthew David Surridge explains the awesomeness of Wormy better than I ever could.
Here are a few links to obituaries and reflections, in gaming and out.
• "Dave Trampier, 1954-2014" at Dork Tower
• "Dave A. Trampier and the Art of Inspiration" at Ex-Teenage Rebel
• "Old-School AD&D Artist David Trampier aka D.A.T. Is Gone" at The Escapist
• "David A. Trampier, the Illustrator Who Defined the Look of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Has Passed Away, 1954-2014" at Tor.com
But I really want to talk about Titan, the "monster fantasy slugathon war-game" that Trampier co-designed and illustrated. As a boardgame, it is brilliant, playable, and re- and re-playable. It features different modes of play and layers of strategy. You can choose from among four or five general tactics, all viable. Here's the Wikipedia article on the game. We discovered it in college in the early '80s, and my roommates and I would sit and play for hours and hours.
In Titan, stacks ("legions") of monsters roam the playing board, but the stacks are topped by a marker (a "legion marker") that conceals the contents of the stack. Each legion marker is unique, so you can track legions around the board by keeping track of the marker that tops each stack. At times in the game, you have to reveal some or all of the creatures in a stack, and when that happened, we'd make frantic notes to track which legion contained which units. The legion markers are not distinguished by word, but by color and a symbol. We came up with names for the legion markers so we could refer to them. Most were obvious. A bear paw print was "Da Bear." A frog was "Da Fwog" and a claw was "Da Cwaaaah." Others were somewhat less obvious: "The Saints" for a fleur de lis. "Three Rings for Elven Kings" for an icon of three rings. "The Gnomes of Zurich" for a stack of coins. Others were just nuts, like "Hodeedo" for a face in a fountain, and another one we called "The Nazis." Take a look at some iconic DAT legion markers (click to embiggen):
From left to right, "The Staff of Ra," "Cthuhlhu," "The Bleeding Heart," "The Gnomes of Zurich," "Da Fwog," and "The Hand of Saruman."
We have other Titan lingo too. "Tickers" for the slow monsters with many hit points. "Suicide Stacks" for legions filled with top level creatures that could not be improved by mustering; gorgon and ranger suicide stacks were common. "Monster Heaven" for the piles of defeated creatures. Any game you play enough to create jargon for is a game you have made your own, and we made Titan our own. Here's a great low-tech page with Titan resources.
I remember one hot summer I spent off-campus with my fellow Titan fan, Harry, We had to go find a game shop to buy the game, and the $35 price was steep for us, so we split the cost and agreed that whoever won the most games that summer would get to keep the box. Lord, we spent days upon days in that sweaty sublet apartment in sweltering Troy, N.Y. -- with no air conditioning. We were pretty evenly matched, and my time-ravished brain tells me Harry and I both had about 20 wins under our belts, although I do not recall who won in the end.
I've been blessed with a wargamer wife, and we fell in love, it is fair to say, playing games, including Fellowship of the Ring and an early LucasArts Indiana Jones game on her Mac Plus. A couple years in, she got me Titan for my birthday, and it was hands down the best present ever -- not least because it included a promise to play. We just kept a Titan-dedicated table in our apartment with the game perpetually set up, playing whenever we got the chance.
When another college roommate got married, for his bachelor party we brought Titan and played into the early hours of his wedding day.
Just this year, we started teaching the game to my 8-year-old daughter and my 9-year-old nephew. He was visiting for a few days, and towards the end, when we asked him what he wanted to do, he said, "Play Titan." I am so proud! :-)
But let me talk about the art for Titan -- in short, it was as detailed and rich as the rules were. In most games, if you have a chit for a unit, you may well get an icon on the chit to ID it. Identical units, of course, get identical icons. Not Titan! Each and every ogre chit in the game has a different, hand-drawn ogre. An ogre with his club raised. An ogre with his club down. Right- and left-handed ogres. Scowling and confused ogres. Each one different -- and there are 25 ogre chits in the game mix. That's true for each and every creature … unicorns, dragons, archangels, serpents, centaurs, warbears, each one unique! And on the game board, the terrain icons are similarly customized: plains, swamp, hills, tundra -- each hex clearly identifiable, and each hex unique. The work and care involved is amazing.
Here, take a look at what I mean. These are from my own much-loved set, the one my wife gave me long ago ... minotaurs, centaurs, and other creatures from Titan:
There's a new edition of Titan out these days, both on iOs and in print, and that's great, because it means new players will be exposed to the game. But the art is banal. Each behemoth looks like the other behemoths. There's no way to tell one griffon apart from another. For the mechanics of play, it does not matter, but some of the joy goes out of the game for me when I look at the new art. For the genuine article, the Real McCoy, there's no beating the original art by David A. Trampier. Thanks, David! You made the world a richer place.