ecently, the brand team approached me with an interesting challenge. You see, we were going to break the rules. We were going to reprint products from another edition! At first, I was interested only from the fact that my worn and tattered classic tomes could be retired to a place of honor—rather than be constantly used, which hastened their demise. When they told me that I could give the project some loving care and make them into a cherished item, then my ears really perked up. If you have hit the front page of the Dungeons & Dragons site lately, then you are aware of the 1st Edition premium rulebooks, but in case you've missed the announcement, go read all about the limited-edition release and its support of the Gygax Memorial Fund!
When this project kicked off, like so many other projects at Wizards of the Coast, it had a codename: Yore. The brand team was very excited about the project when they talked to me. Like I said, they were breaking rules, and they were also going to have the limited-edition release help support the memorial fund of one of the guys that helped bring D&D to life! There were whispers of Yore throughout the company. Any time I was questioned about the project, I just smiled, 'cause we knew what was brewing in the dungeons of the office.
The concept was pretty simple. Reprint the guts of the book as faithfully to the original as possible, and give the cover a premium treatment so that it would stand out from the original printing, but still feel very much D&D.
As is often the case, the intent might be pretty simple, but executing on that intent can often be a lot of work. That was definitely the case with this project.
Hurdle #1: In case you aren't aware, the files for the original printing don't exist. In fact, there were never any files. The books were created long before the advent of the personal computer and its introduction into the publishing industry. When the original books were put together, they were put together "old school" style. Paste up, stats, Rubylith, and hand-building each and every page. Sigh . . . I remember those days fondly.
Hurdle #2: Faithful reproduction. Since we had to rebuild these books from scratch, it was going to be a chore to try to create a faithful reproduction. From selecting a digital font that was as close as we could get to the old font, to re-typing text, scanning and cleaning up the artwork, and working as diligently as possible to reproduce the layout as close as we could—all this we had to do without introducing new errors!
Hurdle #3: Coming up with a cover treatment that paid homage to the original covers, but that breathed some life into them and gave them a premium treatment that wouldn't be gaudy or over-the-top.
The process for the guts of the books was pretty simple. First we found a high-quality copy of the books (did I say simple?), had the text re-keyed, and had all the art scanned. The art was then sent through a couple of rounds of cleaning up so that it would print as close to the original print quality as possible. In case you didn't realize, the paper for the original books was a bit thin, and this meant that the content on the reverse side of the page was visible when the images were scanned. So there was a LOT of cleaning up!
Once all the artwork was pristine and ready to go, it was dropped into the InDesign document, and the proofing process began. I'm not going to tell you how many rounds of proofing went into this product. Suffice it to say, it was an all-time record for rounds of proofing here at Wizards. The re-keyed text had to be checked word-by-word. The flow of the text and placement of the images had to be tweaked many times over. It isn't exact—we didn't sweat every single line break, but we did try to make them match closely enough that you would have to compare books side by side to note a difference.
While the guts part of the process was all about getting the details and technical bits in order, the cover part of it was about trying to fulfill the goals and strategies put forth by the brand team: make it cool! Again, simple enough, right?
To start things off, we had a discussion about what we didn't want to do.
- We didn't want to make it ugly or gaudy.
- We didn't want to make it flashy, for bling's sake.
- We didn't want it to look just like previous premium editions.
What we did want to do was this:
- Bring forward some element of the original art, but keep it simple and tasteful.
- Tie to the game world in some manner.
- Give it a slightly distressed feel so that it felt like it had been lovingly owned.
- Make the books tie together as a family, but make it easy to tell them apart.
- Also, create a belly band that felt like it fit with the product design, but stood out to announce the Gygax Memorial Fund, as well.
How did it all go? Well, it was a bit of a challenge. Everyone loved this program, so everyone wanted to get involved. I love input, but it can slow a project down.
Probably the hardest part of the project was figuring out what to do about the cover art. As I mentioned, we wanted to pull the art forward, but all three pieces are so different in content and storytelling that it was difficult to find a treatment that did the artwork justice. We played with lots of different ideas: silhouettes, interesting crops, vignettes, letterboxing the art, limited-color solutions, and a myriad of other ideas. In the end, the concept of creating an icon out of one of the iconic elements in the paintings seemed to be the strongest solution. It hinted at the original art without showing the whole piece. Kept it bold and impactful. Allowed the leather, emboss, and "gold foil" treatments to support and embellish the artwork rather than fight with it.
You might notice that I put "gold foil" in quotes. I did that on purpose. You see, it's not real gold we're talking about there. The book was printed onto a foil stock, and we used white plates to affect the opacity of the printing inks. This allowed us to produce some nice highlights in various parts of the cover, and, with a little selective color blocking, we emulated the effect of gold foil . . . and at a lower cost to you. Pretty cool, huh?
After many rounds of concepting, we finally hit on a concept that got buy-off. Now it was time to finesse the designs and work out all the details of the project, such as the following:
- Creating a seal for the Gygax Memorial.
- Picking out the exact leather textures and giving them some aging and distress.
- Working out the gold leaf and emboss designs.
- Picking out the bookmark material and colors.
- Picking out the foils for the paper edges.
I'm pretty darn happy with the results. The images, above, are from the "first off line" samples. So you get to see samples of the real deal, not some mocked-up Photoshop image. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty excited to have these books join my shelf full of D&D products—right next to my dog-eared and duct-taped originals.
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.