Sunday 9 October 2022

Tabletop adventures + dinosaurs: introducing Dr. Dhrolin's Dictionary of Dinosaurs

Tabletop gaming and (scientifically credible) dinosaurs: together at last! The draft cover of Nathan Barling's Dr Dhronlin's Dictionary of Dinosaurs, a book illustrated with my palaeoart and now being crowdfunded over at Kickstarter.

Time to announce a new project that, I must admit, I never saw coming. For the last few months, I've been working with insect palaeontologist and taphonomy expert Nathan Barling to create a new book: Dr. Dhrolin's Dictionary of Dinosaurs: a palaeontologically-informed, palaeoart-heavy supplement for your tabletop roleplaying adventures. I'm aware that there are enough awesome keywords in that sentence to get some folks on board so, if you're already sold, head to the Kickstarter page for full details.

Still here? OK, here's some extra information and background. This project is, by far, Nathan's baby and I'm really only involved as an artist and paleontological consultant, along with fellow advisors David Hone (whoever he is) and pterosaur expert Michael O'Sullivan. Nathan, who I used to teach back in his undergrad days, approached me about illustrating this book at Christmas last year knowing full well that I don't do the whole tabletop gaming thing. My entire experience with such gaming was condensed into one evening about ten years ago, so everything I know about it comes from cultural osmosis. I believe it involves a traditional fantasy setting, dice, campaigns run from behind little cardboard houses and... Jeremy Irons? He's part of this somehow?

Fortunately for us all, Nathan wasn't interested in my knowledge of RPGs. Instead, he wanted my art so he could create a 5th Edition supplement featuring modern, scientifically-informed takes on prehistoric animals. There are, I understand, already some dinosaurs in official D&D canon, but they're apparently pretty "standard" and not especially accurate to their true palaeobiology. Realising that the reality of dinosaurs is way more interesting than their pop-culture stereotypes, Nathan wants to bring a diversity of extinct animals to your campaigns, each with stats and abilities inspired by their real anatomy and hypothesised behaviours. He's also taking inspiration from palaeoenvironmental reconstructions of specific geological formations to create new, science-informed worlds for your quests to take place in. Furthermore, he's creating palaeo-based player races that should be new and interesting, not predictable and familiar. With this supplement, you'll be able to play as folks inspired by azhdarchoids or obscure ornithischians rather than generic "dinosauroids". I'm sure we're going to meet all these goals. Even writing as I am — someone totally ignorant of this vast topic — I'm pretty confident that there aren't many palaeontology 5th Edition projects being guided by four published, PhDed scientists. If you've ever felt your tabletop campaigns were lacking a Yutyrannus ambush, a surprise encounter with Gigantspinosaurus or a Microraptor player companion, this is the book for you.

To bring all this to life, Nathan has full access to my artwork portfolio and is also commissioning me to do new pieces, both of species I've not yet painted as well as new works showing adventurers interacting with scientifically-credible extinct animals. You can get a flavour of what the latter will involve from the cover, which has already been painted and (provisionally) designed, below (NB: a professional designer will be putting everything together next year, so what you see here and at Kickstarter is only indicative of the final product, not finalised book content). This piece was very much a collaborative effort: I can handle dinosaur art well enough, but Nathan's got a tight grip on the more fantastical content and is steering me accordingly. I was thoroughly told off for including an orb staff in an earlier iteration of this image, which I now understand is the tabletop adventure equivalent of legwarmers.

Witton does 5th Edition art: two Utahraptor take on a band of travellers, including one of the new player races, the Pterochaps (OK, OK, actually called "the Children of Seth"). Can you spot all the palaeo references on the adventures? You're looking for azhdarchid pterosaur wings, a Tyrannosaurus skull (in anterior view), a juvenile Psittacosaurus skull and a bunch of ceratopsian-inspired costuming. No, you're a big dinosaur nerd.

The Kickstarter for DDDD (which, I confess, is not the most elegant acronym) went live yesterday morning and we've been totally blown away by the response. The £9000 minimum needed to get things moving was met by lunchtime and, at the time of writing (Sunday evening) the project has over £40,000 in pledges. Wow, and thanks to everyone who's pledged something already. Nathan's promotional efforts have really paid off (and he, indeed, deserves all the credit for this, I've done very little despite my name being on the draft cover). What this means is that DDDD is definitely happening and, if you want in at ground level, now's the time to sign up, especially if you want access to the Kickstater tiers with additional rewards. All being well, you'll be holding physical copies of Dr Dhronlin's Dictionary of Dinosaurs by late next year, which means we need to get to work. Here's that Kickstarter link again, and I'll see you on the flip-die. That's what you tabletop guys say, right? Because of the dice? Hello? Is this thing on?