Art: Epic Inspiration

Battle at the Cliff by Rodolfo Guerreiro

Continuing with my discussion of art in DnD, this week I am taking a look at art for monsters and not just any old enemies but rather the sorts of epic threats that have been handled so poorly by DnD in the past (4E included).

Epic Threats

Epic threats need to be just that, epic. They need to be things that are so huge in scope that only true heroes or gods could hope to stop them from wrecking havoc on the world or universe or whatever. This is an area where 4E performed badly, epic threats were just more monsters like the ones in the prior levels, and epic threats need to be more than that and in order for DMs (and designers) to be inspired to create truly epic threats we need to see art that shows such threats.

A good example of where 4E failed in this is Allabar. Allabar is an enemy the size of a planet and the picture shows this enemy, but that is all it shows, nothing is there to really give a sense of the scope of the threat posed by the enemy; how much more inspiring would a picture of it breaching the atmosphere of a world with dragons and such fleeing in terror before its approach would it have been?

Epic Story

Before I show some pieces of art another thing about Epic threats is that they don’t just inspire an encounter; that is really the role of “normal” monsters (regardless of level), epic threats should inspire campaigns. They can build in the background growing closer to the PCs as they work to deal with other matters that are more urgent (and gain levels), maybe they are encountered and the PCs need to flee and so on. So in addition to art epic threats need more story to inspire their use, more than a normal monster. These are not enemies that you should just “run into” as you wander the lands, these are enemies you plan to face and seek out because only you can stop them!

God of the Forest by Noah_kh

 Size Matters

One of the things that sets epic threats apart from mundane threats is how big they can be, in the real world the greatest dangers might well be small even microscopic (or mere nanometers in size), but these are not great threats for a heroic campaign like DnD. So this is a case were bigger is better; even if it is not the ultimate evil of the campaign the gargantuan foe can shake the earth and trample cities to rubble so they offer a danger that is suitable for such powerful characters to triumph over.

Artist’s Gallery


Sikelgaita Battle by Alayna

Army of Me

Epic characters need not just fight a goblin or an orc, they can fight whole armies of them. Perhaps they do it alone, perhaps they have their own army at their beck and call, regardless an epic battle between the forces of the PCs and their foes is far more exciting than simply killing foes 1 room at a time.

Artist’s Gallery



Search for the Gods by Alayna

Gods, Demons and Devils

Sure at lower levels you might fight agents of the great powers of the cosmos, but by the time you are epic level you are a power that these beings are starting to notice, and they will quite possibly be your personal foes.

The artist’s comments on this picture on DeviantArt are particularly apt as well. “One day, the gods stopped answering the kingdom’s prayers, and the people were terrified they had angered the deities in some way.

They sent their most decorated warrior to go to the Citadel of the Gods, and after many moons he arrived. He found nothing but rubble, and something else…”

An epic campaign isn’t just about who the enemies are but what the consequences of the heroes failure to defeat them will be as well, and that description of this picture sums that up nicely.

Invasion by Kerembeyit

Mad Genius

Sometimes the bad guy is more mundane, but still appropriate for epic characters, especially when they create machines of war and destruction of suitable scale.

This picture is a good example of the sort of art that can inspire a campaign that leads into the epic tiers of play. Clearly some sort of war is going on, and the PCs could start off dealing with more routine elements of the war, reconnaissance and so on, only to finally come face to face with the colossal war machines of the enemy and be able to take them on and defeat them while riding fantastic mounts and so on.

Artist’s Gallery

Dragon Rider by M. Hugo

Dragon Allies

Well it need not be dragons, but by the time the characters hit epic levels of play they probably shouldn’t be riding around on normal horses so much. Epic play calls for appropriate companions, and really riding around on a dragon because you are individually powerful enough that the dragon is willing to let you is pretty epic.

Arist’s Gallery



Final Words

The astute will have noticed that some of these ideas can be used at different levels than 4E’s pre-defined Epic Tier, still using them changes the feel of the game and gives it a grander scope than is normal for DnD. In 4E, and even the prior editions this sort of art, art that inspires the epic scope possible with heroic fantasy has been limited. If DnDNext is going to support the idea of high level (or really high level) play then the art needs to embrace these ideas as well in places.

More Art

And here is some more art, just because its cool and appropriately epic.

Earth Colossus by Chase

Fire Colossus by cyl1981 Air Colossus by Steve Goad
Surtur by Sam Burley
(also has awesome landscapes)
Good Colossus by Marta Nael Touch of Death by TheRafa


1 ping

  1. Rich Green

    Some great pictures here – love the forest god and the horned demon in the ruined city. I’ve played and run epic 3.5 but never felt we’d properly captured what EPIC should be. It just felt like battling against increasingly complex bad guys, although I did feel I had a good premise for the adventure I ran – sneaking into Demogorgon’s fortress to steal back two magic weapons which contained the souls of one PC’s parents!

  2. ObsidianCrane

    See I like that idea for an adventure, but it doesn’t seem epic to me. The end of the Savage Tides adventure path (the last Paizo Dungeon AP) was Epic – go to the Abyss and fight or neutralise Demogorgon’s captains and then finally confront and kill the demon prince himself (or not…). Very few DnD campaigns have really managed to strike that level, and even then they often get too bogged down in the minutae of killing things just to get XP (where Scales of War failed IMO) – but that is a different topic. :)

  1. Links of the Week: March 26, 2012 | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

    […] provides a list of pictures and ideas for epic inspiration.¬† The ideas and imagery alone are worth a look, and there are also links to the artists’ […]

Leave a Reply