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David Sutherland

You may have heard that David Sutherland passed a few days ago. It's been blogged extensively. Today it was mentioned on Boing Boing, and I realized that I have a Dave story to tell.

I've always been a weak-to-middling mapper. I love designing adventures, but I always disappointed myself with the maps. I wanted my maps to be as good as architectural drawings, but my drafting skills just weren't up to the level of my writing skills.

Flash forward a few years to TSR. I was working late on some freelance, and I walked through the map area. You couldn't really help it; the mapper's hall was the connections between the periodicals offices and the game designers' and editors' offices.

I was strolling along at a good clip when I saw a huge poster open on Dave's workspace, a shining map of beautiful texture and tropical colors. I had no idea what it was, so I stopped and asked. Dave told me it was the map for Al-Qadim, and he proceeded to show me all the art and craft he was bringing to bear on it: flicking alcohol onto marker colors to get watery textures, layering inks over markers, sketching tiny jewel-like insets for each city and fortress. It was stunning. It's probably still my favorite of all the poster maps TSR did in the 90s. Dave was incredibly generous in answering every question and describing how he'd gotten the effects. He enjoyed what he was doing, and enjoyed sharing it. Not all creative people are as eager to share their secrets.

I later wrote some products for Al-Qadim, and I always enjoyed seeing the progress on those maps. I worked harder on those turnovers because I knew Dave would be drawing the final versions for publication. I suspect the turnovers still weren't great, but by the time Dave got through with them, they were art. He brought out the best in what was there.

Dave Sutherland helped define the look of first edition, but really, I remember him because he was a kind man who always had time to talk shop and say something encouraging. By the time of second edition, he'd lost ground to the oil painters who defined fantasy art from then on, but he seemed to enjoy his work and his role as one of the founders of the look of the D&D and EPT.

Later life gave him some hard knocks, but Dave Sutherland made the game industry a better place.

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April 2016

Game Design


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