Twenty-five years ago, legendary Magic creator Richard Garfield had another card game in the works: The Great Dalmuti, a medieval spin on the trick-taking game President. Outside of a brief reprint in 2005, it’s faded into gaming history—but now it’s back with a shiny new coat of paint from the Forgotten Realms. io9 can exclusively reveal a first look at the return of the game as The Great Dalmuti: Dungeons & Dragons.
It’s still the same strategic social game of one-upping your opponents to gain control, and attempt to maintain the favor, of the Great Dalmuti as you try to trade away your cards to victory. But now, instead of playing in a faux-medieval court, you’re part of the world of Faerun and beyond. Say goodbye to the Knight, Archbishop, and Baroness, say hello to the Templar, Mind Minister, and the, uh, Baronesssss?
The original Great Dalmuti deck was illustrated by Margaret Organ-Kean, but for the game’s D&D twist, Wizards of the Coast turned to artist Harry Conway, and his stark, dark fantasy illustrations now form the striking decks players wield in their bid to become the Dalmuti... and, well, get rid of those pretty decks as quickly as they can.
io9 recently spoke to Conway over email to learn more about his approach to designing the new version—check out our interview below, as well as an exclusive look at the new card art!
James Whitbrook, io9: How did you become attached to this project?
Harry Conway: I received a wonderful email from the senior creative art director of D&D, Shauna Narciso, who found my work through Instagram. She was forthcoming with her praise towards my art and asked if I’d like to work with her on a new project, to which I said “YES!” It was a very exciting email to get, admittingly it felt too good to be true, and the skeptic in me thought it might have been a spam email, but fortunately, that wasn’t the case!
io9: Can you tell me a bit about your own history with D&D before this—was it an influence on your own fantasy work, for example?
Harry Conway: I’m a relative newcomer to D&D as a player but I’ve been conscious of the game through friends and family for a very long time. As a lover of fantasies like Lord of the Rings and Dark Souls, it seemed like something I had to try out and I’m so glad I did. While D&D is something you can play and enjoy with friends, I find it can also be a great teaching experience when it comes to improving one’s overall sense of storytelling and character development, and for me that has been a huge benefit for my work.
io9: Tell us a little bit about your approach as an artist when you begin a project like this. Where do you start trying to find a theme and tone for a series of pieces of art like this?
Harry Conway: The brief did a great job of establishing what the theme and tone was for The Great Dalmuti: Dungeons & Dragons, so I didn’t have to do too much there. One thing that really solidified the tone for me was Shauna’s direction that each card needed a “quietly wicked sense of humor.” I was off to the races after reading that. As for my approach, I usually begin with staring into space and wondering how the hell am I going to pull this off! That takes up a good afternoon. But once I’ve collected myself and I’ve read the brief a few times, I’ll lock myself away, throw a movie on in the background and get sketching on my iPad Pro.
io9: Where did you look to in D&D for your inspirations when choosing the characters to depict on each card?
Harry Conway: I looked to all sorts of things for inspiration both in and outside of D&D. I grew up having a deep fascination for Japanese films like Seven Samurai and Ran and anything that involved the solitary warrior journeying to their next adventure. Eventually, I grew to love fantasy like Lord of the Rings and Warhammer, all of which have influenced my art style and the subject matter I like to draw. This feeds into a lot of the work that I create, including The Great Dalmuti: Dungeons & Dragons. Of course, I researched other medieval card games including various Tarot card decks and the original Great Dalmuti deck that was illustrated by Margaret Organ-Keane. The work of Edward Gorey and Aleksander Lindeberg also served as inspiration for me throughout the project. But ultimately it’s my weird obsession with all things Kurosawa and Tolkien that feed my creative drive.
io9: These D&D versions of the Dalmuti cards have gone for quite a dark tone in line with much of your prior works. What do you think it is about D&D that works so well with this kind of aesthetic?
Harry Conway: D&D plugs into mythologies that I feel I’ve known since I was a child. Working on The Great Dalmuti: Dungeons & Dragons was such a natural progression for me; my dark interpretations of its characters and world was in a way effortless because it’s what I do, what my work constantly explores. Our mythologies are core to storytelling, which is probably why D&D has such a global reach.
The Great Dalmuti is set to hit shelves this November.
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