For purposes of this post, I'll call them Doom Metal, Death Metal, and Heavy Metal.
(There is also "movie poster" style cover art but that doesn't fit any comparisons and that's not much used in RPGs anyway. And it sucks when it appears. No names right now since it's outside the point)
Doom Metal cover art sets an atmosphere and wants you to feel like something epic (and oftentimes unsettling) is about to happen. Often uses old paintings instead of new art.
Heavy Metal cover art shows something awesome and wants you to feel cool.
Death Metal cover art shows horrible things and wants you to feel uncomfortable, or even threatened.
Examples of Doom Metal cover art:
Examples of Heavy Metal cover art:
Examples of Death Metal cover art:
Of course this Doom/Heavy/Death classification breaks down under too much scrutiny. The work of Dan Seagrave, for instance, sometimes straddles all three categories, being OH COOL and DOOMY ATMOSPHERICS and DRREEAADD DEATH METAL. That Suffocation cover up there is a Seagrave, and I was waffling about whether it was a HEAVY or DEATH metal cover (the music itself is definitely death metal). I went with HEAVY because that machine is definitely intended to be inspiring and cool, not confrontational.
I actually came up with these categories to describe RPG covers, and the metal cover examples are there just to establish exactly what I mean for you weirdos that aren't into the metal scene.
Now that all that is out of the way, on to RPGs...
There are some examples of doom metal cover art.
... but there are lots and lots of examples of Heavy Metal RPG cover art.
But where are the examples of death metal cover art in RPGs? Beyond Rafael Chandler's stuff and some Hackmaster comedy? Even the zombie games seem to avoid intense imagery... with one exception.
Why is that? Commercial concerns, of course. The metal scene has the public image of being reprobates and dunderheads, so aspirations of respectability is almost a non-starter. So there's more freedom to literally throw shit at the wall and call it an album cover, or to have an artist with skill carefully craft an image of horror. When whirlwind riffs and machine gun drumming are par for the course, there's no reason to hold back on the cover art. Even the sickest things can be successful. Hell, inventing a new way to be harsh makes one a legend in the scene.
And they'll get featured in retail stores, mail order catalogs (webshops nowadays, of course), magazines and webzines, and all the rest that features heavy metal at all.
And it's not just metal. Pop music has often taken a rebellious attitude. Everyone from Elvis Presley and the Beatles in their day to Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus today have been used as examples of bad things in the world that sensible people shouldn't get involved in. Yet nobody cares. Nobody that likes Miley Cyrus gives a shit if people are upset about whatever the hell it is she does, and nobody that doesn't like Elvis Presley was going to be a big fan if he only didn't shake his hips in such a scandalous manner.
RPG creators still have a coward's attitude. The assumption seems to be that RPG players are children struggling to find themselves. They can't handle anything that gives them a slap in the face. Collectively we seem to feel ashamed that what we do isn't seen as normal, and anything other than a tasteful and empowering presentation is seen as confessing that great sin of being a bit weird or even, gasp, being associated with people who are. (Not quirky. Not unique. FUCKING ODD.) God forbid people admit that they don't fit in very well with John Q. Public and enjoy the freedom that comes with that. No. Step outside the lines and you'll be scolded and interrogated like a child that's scribbled some drawing or another on the margin of a test paper. Imagination outside set boundaries is a threat to the tribe. Being worried about what strangers on the bus think of your choice of reading material is something quite important.
For fuck's sake. If we're really that weak and insecure and downright fucking useless, we should be throwing ourselves in front of the bus, not riding on it.
Shame has absolutely no place in creativity, and doubt's work should be done as soon as a decision is made.
So drop the warm and inviting horseshit. Challenge people. "You must be THIS tall" - creatively and attitudinally speaking - "to get on this ride."
If you're going to be self-absorbed enough to think anyone else wants to see your shit, have enough fucking conviction to stand behind it and shout from the rooftops about how it's YOUR creation. YOU did it, it's fucking awesome, anyone who is not you - BEWARE! It's not FOR you. But you CAN experience it... IF YOU DARE.
It's that exclusive experience, one that promises being not for everyone, that is enticing and exciting. Promoting inclusivity is for the insecure begging to be liked, or for the arrogant who believe that permission was ever theirs to give or deny.
You want your thing to be the conversation piece. The one that demands attention from those who will like it, the one that will be looked askance at by people who won't like it. You want it to be the MAIN EVENT. Not interchangeable entertainment that you can slot in between a hundred other games that anyone can tolerate for a few hours for their friends' sake, and not the gaming equivalent of IKEA furniture.
You want to light a fire under your audience's ass. Or better yet, just SET THEM ON FIRE.
Ain't gonna do that being safe and tasteful.
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I have to tell you, LotFP has mainly gone for Doom Metal album covers, with some Heavy Metal here and there. Even Death Love Doom and Fuck For Satan went with more atmospheric covers and left the over-the-top imagery for the interior. And there are a number of books still in various stages of production that will continue the trend of Doom and Heavy Metal album covers. (And the covers of projects without my byline are going to be whatever the byline wants them to be.)
But the Death Metal phase will be coming, and we're going to push that to retail. They'll reject it, but that just means we have to push harder. Anyone who gets in the way will be eliminated.
(you can discuss this article here)