Illustrations by Drew Shenehan, Emi Tanji
The other day, as part of the discussion about my article on the Dungeons & Dragons logo, a great conversation about the ampersand broke out. Ampersands, whether they look like a micro dragon or not, are interesting subjects.
The ampersand has a rich and interesting history. Well, interesting to me! Did you know:
- The ampersand first appeared on a piece of papyrus from about 45 A.D.
- The ampersand was once the 27th letter of the alphabet.
- The symbol of the ampersand comes from the Latin word et (which means "and"), and the Roman scribes, who wrote in cursive, depicted the word with the E and T linked.
- Over time, the combined letters came to signify "and" in English as well.
There are many interesting variations on the ampersand through history, and the incorporation of a dragon into the D&D ampersand carries through with that tradition of bringing artistic flair into the ampersand character. D&D has had a number of different ampersands through the years, so let's look at a few iterations of this symbol and talk about them.
In the beginning, there was the ampersand. Simple, pure, and unadultered by the dragon that was to come. As we saw earlier, ampersands come in all sizes, shapes, and styles. This one is one of the more simplified symbols, and it only hints at its earlier connection to the et. The one thing to point out: it's easy to read as an ampersand, and it's easily recognizable as the symbol for "and." I'll be honest, though: This one doesn't have a lot of personality when compared to the other ampersands in use in D&D.
Another incarnation of the D&D ampersand was this little guy. Breathing fire and causing mischief, this ampersand has been described as looking more like a serpent than a dragon, but it has the heart of a dragon! This fella is a little more stylized, but speaks pretty plainly to the concept of an ampersand. It's a bit of a stretch, but still recognizable.
Later, we came to this guy. A lot of folks complained that it wasn't an actual ampersand, but now that we know the history of the ampersand, you can see that the early version of the et is actually more evident than in any of the other ampersand symbols. That aside, the next biggest complaint I heard about this guy was the fact that he wasn't blowing fire and that he was so stylized that he looked even less like a dragon than the previous ones. Alright, I can see that . . .
The next progression of the ampersand tried to mix in both versions of the dragons. We've got the more traditional English ampersand, but with the upright dragon. This time the cross brace is created by using the wing of the dragon. Again, the biggest thing I hear is "Where's the fire?!" You guys and gals love your fire, don't you?
Here we are, getting ready to launch into a new iteration of D&D, and there are tons of questions about where to go with the future. Should we abandon the dragon ampersand and just stick to a plain and simple font treatment? There are those who say this is the direction to go. In my eyes, though, the ampersand has a much larger purpose in the brand than to string together the words "Dungeons" and "Dragons." But that's a discussion for another column.
For a moment, let's assume that we are going to have a dragon ampersand as part of the D&D logo. Where then do we go? Do we harken back to our distant past and embrace a refresh of the fire-breathing dragon ampersand, do we stay closer to home and do a refresh of one of the more recent dragon ampersands, or do we head off into the uncharted waters and dare the unknown areas of the map that are marked "here there be dragons"?
"What character was removed from the alphabet but is still used every day?"
This Week's Poll
My favorite ampersand is:
Last Week's Poll
In my world, a sorcerer would wear:
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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.