Skip to main content

Lost Art of D&D No. 1: Alex Nuckols

Artist Alex Nuckols made what disappointingly ended up being a minor yet still evocative contribution to the visual history of D&D with a series of paintings he was commissioned to produce for a school supply company named St. Regis. It seems he painted nearly a dozen pieces that graced the covers of D&D-themed notebooks, folders, and three-ring binders in 1980-81. As a D&D-obsessed kid of 10-11 years old at the time, I owned three or four of these and have never parted with them. 

Here are some examples I found online. I’ve always regretted that Nuckols didn’t produce work for any actual gaming material released by TSR (or any game company) because to this day I think he captured the gritty feel and texture of how I imagined these fantasy worlds in my mind’s eye. He was certainly a more accomplished artist than many of those who ended up in the stable as staff at TSR at the time. Artistically, his compositions are always compelling and typically eschew the over-heroic poses of much fantasy art. The moments he chooses to depict are usually ones in which the “protagonists” are quite vulnerable, overwhelmed, and not at all certain of survival, with a genuine sense of pervasive fear as the “heroes” encounter something they might not be capable of reckoning with. 

This looming dread and uncertainty was much more in the spirit of how our games of D&D felt at the table and how I imagined any good D&D narrative should feel. The less-than-heroic realism of the anatomy, garb, and proportions of the characters only added to the perilous realism depicted in a moody watercolor palette. I was hoping that the recent art of D&D book was going to at least reference this series of paintings, and was disappointed by their omission.

My career is in publishing, and besides my day job I also have my own press dedicated to preserving the forgotten work of illustrators and cartoonists. If anybody has any of these notebooks and folders and would be willing to make high-resolution scans, I very much would like to publish a portfolio of these underappreciated gems.

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out the subsequent installments in the "Lost Art of D&D" series of posts.


  1. Great art! I didnt see these untill they popped up on ebay recently.
    Is he related to Harry W. Nuckols, author of B9 Castle Caldwell (and apparently not a pun)

    1. No he's not. He was the son of Dr. Frank J. Nuckols of Birmingham, Al

  2. I have a very beat up version of the opening shot.

  3. Wonderful images! The essence of (pre super-heroic) D&D. Thanks for sharing these.

  4. I poked around a bit, and found this thread on an art site. Scroll down to where his nephew joins the conversation. Sadly, Nuckols passed away in 2008. But, perhaps, contact his nephew to see about reprinting his work? I'd love to see such a book (or even retro folders).

  5. I had two of these folders and, I think, still do (though they are very beaten). One is the guy with an axe above, the other (not pictured) shows a sorcerous-looking individual with a dagger.

    Would love a collections of these.

  6. Well written and agree with your take on the art completely.


Post a Comment

Well-thumbed posts

Take the High Road: Making Cheap and Easy Dirt Roads

I have wanted some good roads to add to my games for a while now. My first attempt was a couple of years ago when my standards were a bit lower and I wasn't sure how much I was interested in investing in this new hobby. I bought some PDFs of cobblestone roads that I sized, printed, and glued to felt. The result was okay, but the way my laser printer  produced the roads ended up being quite reflective to the point of almost being glossy looking. The combination of glue, paper, and felt also meant the roads had a wavy consistency and almost always curled at the edges. I used them once or twice but was never happy with them. My sub-par first attempt at making roads for my games using felt strips, glue, and printed designs. You can see how shiny and how wavy and curled at the edges they turned out. I never felt good about putting them on the table for our games and eventually stopped altogether. I've been meaning to take another crack at making some roads now that I have

Scrum Con IV: In Your Face!

The Second Saturday Scrum Club rejoined the fray on April 8, organizing and hosting Scrum Con IV in Silver Spring, Maryland. Although we ran a surprisingly successful virtual convention in 2021 that took advantage of its online format to invite all sorts of participants we couldn't have otherwise (Dirk the Dice of Grognard Files  in the UK ran a game, and I interviewed wargame/RPG historian Jon Peterson via livestream ), Scrum Con IV marked our return to an in-person format. Because  Scrum Con 2020 ducked right under the pandemic lockdown on the last weekend of February that year, we were anxious to see if anybody would remember us. Turns out any fears were misplaced...because Scrum Con sold out again this year! In fact, every in-person convention we've organized has sold out, but this year's Scrum Con IV was almost 70% sold out of its 225 badges in the very first week, a pace that frankly caught us off-guard. About a week before the show, we had sold enough badges that

Candid Photos From "Conan the Barbarian" (1982)

This post is barely gaming adjacent, but the Conan stories have informed much of my fantasy gaming since my first forays into the hobby. I've seen the John Milius adaptation more times than any other movie (probably over 50 times, though most of those viewings were on VHS or HBO as a teenager). The 1982 Conan  film was the first R rated movie I saw in a movie theater (age 12). The first convention game I ever played in was one in which I played the barbarian himself. The first convention game I ever ran as game master was an adaptation of Howard's "Beyond the Black River." For good or ill, I've spent a lot of time in that fantasy world. When I stumbled on an online trove of about 400 candid photos from various sets of Conan the Barbarian shot by somebody on the crew, it was oddly visceral for me. It generated a warm feeling getting to see these actors and sets from new angles, both in character and out, in situ and behind the scenes. Seeing Sandahl Bergman, Ge

Playing with Yourself: 'Rangers of Shadow Deep' vs. 'Sellswords & Spellslingers'

As the year crawls to an end, I'm looking through this blog and noticing a couple of posts I started and never finished. This is one of them. Back in July 2019, I placed the photos on the page, jotted down a few bullet-point placeholder notes, and then never actually went back and wrote anything to post.   The post was meant to be my informal review of Rangers of Shadow Deep after my first game of it with Josh O'Conner, who set it up for us to try in his basement. I think I never finished this post because I was not very impressed with the game but I knew Josh was, and we hadn't been gaming together long enough for me to be sure my candor about the game wouldn't hurt his feelings and sour a budding gaming friendship. I consider Josh more than a gaming friend these days, and so I'll go ahead and post this with some very short notes fleshing out the bullet points I had left as a reminder for myself back in 2019 (at least the one's I can still decipher the

Lost Art of D&D No. 2: Games Workshop's Holmes Basic (1977)

After Games Workshop attained the license to print a co-branded edition of TSR's 1977 Dungeons & Dragons basic rules book, they set about putting their own stamp on it, designing a new cover and replacing a number of the illustrations they deemed too crudely drawn for their U.K. market.  The cover art was by John Blanche at the very start of his career as a fantasy illustrator. Blanche went on to be a mainstay at Games Workshop, producing countless illustrations for them. His fannish enthusiasm for the material--as an artist as well as a lifelong gamer--has deservedly made him a favorite over the decades. I first encountered Blanche's work in the David Day compendium, A Tolkien Bestiary (1978), to which he contributed five illustrations that sit comfortably alongside the book's chief illustrator, Ian Miller. I have a special fondness for this book, having coveted it as a child during my incipient Middle Earth fixation. My parent's procured an out-of-print copy of t

Chainmail: Battle of Emridy Meadows

In my imagination, Chainmail has always been that shadowy precursor to Dungeons & Dragons that I was both intrigued by yet leery of. I loved the idea of a game involving mass battles in a fantasy setting akin to those depicted in the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings , but I also had a sense that Chainmail , released in 1971 a mere year after I was born, was likely a clunky wargame that would be too frustrating to bother mastering. It also didn't help that my first inkling of its existence was around 1980 or so when I could never dream of amassing the miniature armies needed to play out these massive conflicts. No, back then I was pretty sure Chainmail was the province of grizzled old grognards who had started wargaming before I was even born. Even after my gaming rebirth decades later in 2016, I was fine with letting the dim past remain so, and was more than content during my first couple of years back in the hobby exploring rules of a more recent vintage and managea