Reviewing Art & Arcana: A Visual History

I didn’t know what to expect when I got my copy of Art & Arcana. I guess I expected an art book, which A&A technically qualifies as, but it’s also a lot more than that. I want to call it a history book but even that, while technically accurate, doesn’t feel right. Art and Arcana tells a story. It’s a story that most of us are at least a little familiar with, the story of how Dungeons and Dragons evolved into what it is today. I don’t want to go into too much detail about the specific contents of the book, but I do want to look at some elements of A&A and how they shine.

Detect Magic

The First Chapter

I want to start by talking about the overall presentation of Art & Arcana, which is really cool. The chapters are named after spells from the game and the chapters are all broken up into smaller sections to make it easily digestible. With a tome this thick and dense it could have been a very dense, intimidating read but instead it’s easy to pick up and read, either straight from start to finish or one section at a time.  This is such a big deal because books like these are so often dense and difficult to just pick up and read and usually end up just sitting on the coffee table before being rotated back to the bookshelf to remain forever, but Art and Arcana is a book to be read and very likely reread multiple times.


An ad for Tower of Doom, a D&D Arcade Beat’em’up

Art and Arcana provides a thorough and well written history of the development of Dungeons and Dragons throughout the ages, and the editions.  The creation and evolution of the world’s oldest RPG is told in narrative format and it pulls you into the journey of the game’s development and evolution.  Along the way I learned about other parts of the Dungeons and Dragons legend such as Gygax’s early attempts to break into Hollywood and the stories behind the animated series, short-lived or ill-fated board games, the history of fantasy miniatures, and other exciting tidbits of gaming history that don’t fall directly in line with the progression from Original to Fifth Edition.



The cover of Dragon Magazine #65, by Clyde Caldwell

Finally I want to talk about the art. I feel like this is what most people are going to buy the book for and even if all you want is an art book then Art and Arcana is definitely worth its price. I saved this part for last though because it’s the easiest part to write.  The art in this book is awesome, and I don’t just mean the full page paintings but also the sketches and magazine covers and old advertisements. This book really walks you down memory lane with its pictures and really brought me back to the days even before I actually played D&D and would just look at promotional material and dream of the adventures that the game could take me on.  This book is a treasure trove of nostalgia and beautiful artwork that I know I’ll keep going back to, probably for my whole life.

As I finish my writing I realize that this isn’t really a balanced review. I haven’t said anything bad about the book and honestly that’s because I don’t have anything bad to say. The visuals alone are worth the price point but the lore makes this book a real treasure. Art and Arcana is definitely a worthy addition to any gamer’s collection, whether for the visual inspiration or just as a fun read. Art & Arcana is available on Amazon or at your local book store an I definitely recommend picking it up whenever you get the chance.

Hey! Thank you so much for reading my article!  If you liked my writing, you can check out my archives here!  I’ve also got other reviews! Here’s one I did for an independently published D&D adventure, and here’s one of my attempts at game mechanic design. If neither of those suit your fancy, here’s a list article I did about awesome monsters in the D&D monster manual (and how to use them).

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