I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons during 3rd edition, and though I was always taken with the artwork, it wasn’t until I was older that I paid attention to the artists that contributed to my beloved hobby. It was at this time, during the rise of Pathfinder, that I discovered the work of Wayne Reynolds. What stood out to me was Wayne’s ability to capture dynamic scenes that felt inspired by adventures taking place at tables around the world. Each painting leaves you with a sense that there’s a rich history to the subjects of each piece. Like they’re living, breathing things. Which means, you kinda want them to make it out alive. though, often the characters find themselves in perilous situations. There’s also a sense of urgency and conflict within each piece that must be overcome by the heroes. Which brings me to one of the main reasons Wayne is such a good fit for tabletop RPGs; his character design. Whether that’s a trinket hanging from a characters belt, or a ritualistic tattoo, Wayne includes small details that creates a sense of depth to these larger, bombastic scenes. All of which, welcomes you into a world that that is actively trying to kill you.
Born in Leeds located in the UK, Wayne Reynolds attended University in Dewsbury with a focus in art. Upon graduating, Mr. Reynolds became a concept artist for a number of different companies, some in the computer game industry, before returning to freelance work in 1998. Around this time, Wayne began working in a freelance capacity for Wizards of the Coast, who were putting out Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition at the time. Wayne produced interior art for D&D products, as well as, covers for Dungeon magazine. However, that would change with the launch of Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, and their rival: Pathfinder. You see, Wizards of the Cost used a smaller publisher to put out Dungeon magazine, and, when 4th edition was announced, the partnership for all third party creators ended. With suddenly no content, this small publisher, named Paizo, changed the title of the magazine to “Pathfinder Adventure Path”, and continued to put out content under the 3rd edition open gaming license. This new line would become so popular that it would eventually lead to Paizo creating their own RPG system. It was at this time that Wayne Reynolds became the face of tabletop RPGs. You see, Wayne’s art was featured on the cover of the core D&D 4th edition books, but at the same time, he became the exclusive cover artist for the newly created Pathfinder system. It’s impressive looking back on it now. One artist developed the style and look for two competing products. It has to be said, though Wayne’s work is recognizable as his own in both instances, he still gave both D&D and Pathfinder two distinct aesthetics. The Pathfinder community celebrates Mr. Reynolds, so much so, that he was kept on to develop Pathfinder 2nd edition. This is notable because many new editions try to stand apart from what the company had done previously, and, the primary way to do this, is to change the cover artist. While Wayne still freelances for Wizards of the Coast on D&D, his talents are also used for Magic the Gathering. So, it’s fair to say, that if you’ve been inside a game store in the past 10 years, you have most likely seen Wayne Reynolds art gracing the cover of books and cards alike.
Style and Works
Coming from a background in concept art, Wayne Reynolds work gives you the sense that a broader story lies just beyond. In an interview, Wayne credits this to a love of history. Researching backgrounds and different cultures allows Wayne to add flavorful details that make a statement about the character. This goes for more than just characters, and includes the various weapons Wayne designs. Axes with the head of a dwarf that indicates a clan or worship of a particular god. It’s this cultural diversity that makes the combination of Wayne and Pathfinder so fruitful. Pathfinder is a system that prides itself on the ability to create thousands of different characters, and the art reflects that. It would feel strange if Pathfinder’s artwork only showcased eurocentric medieval fantasy. Taking this to heart, Wayne has crafted each iconic (Pathfinder’s term for named characters) to reflect a variety of different cultures. Including diversity is fantastic, but it’s the combination of this attention to detail, research, and visual story telling that makes these characters feel fully realized, rather than just a token effort. On a personal note, I always love seeing the weapons and gear Wayne draws for his characters. Fighters are decked out in gear giving the viewer the sense that these heroes are ready for the adventuring life! I mean, look at some of these character concepts and tell me if you don’t already have a sense of how they act, and just as importantly, fight.
Obviously, Mr. Reynolds has been working in the gaming industry for over 20 years at this point, but what continues to impress me is his ability to paint a scene. Not just physically paint, but framing the piece in a way that makes the viewer feel like they just walked in on a paused movie, and, as soon as you press play, the events will continue. Always dynamic and full of peril, much like adventures at the table, the artwork captures that spirit. We already discussed Wayne’s character art, but it’s when he brings both of these talents together that’s so enthralling. You see this cast of interesting characters and want to know if they made it out alive! Even though the characters are heroes, Wayne puts them in some tough spots. Perhaps, Mr. Reynolds is the GM for an unfortunate band of adventures… (if so, Sorry guys/gals). Just look at the below artwork from Wayne. Full of energy and motion, but also uses a juxtaposition to exemplify the danger. On the right side, you have a peaceful town painted in a cool blue, and then on the left side, you have a monster exploding out of the ground! These conflicts are present in much of Wayne’s work. Though, they may take the form of different shapes, colors, or subjects, like we see below.
While looking over Wayne’s body of work, the word extreme comes to mind. Not 90s X-games extreme, but a clash of two things in opposition. This can be both in the arts subject, as we see above, but also the layout or color choices. The shapes and character poses are bold to provide a sense of motion and action in the scene. We also see the use of contrasting colors from the subject versus the background. This technique is used to make the image POP and draw the eye to a specific subject. This also requires special care crafting a layout for the painting. Exceptionally in tighter, more character focused pieces. Be it the setting, characters, or the scene itself, the eye is always drawn to subject via these extreme conflicts. Below are two examples of smaller character focused pieces where the contrast of color between the subject and background draws the eye exactly where the artist intended. As you can imagine, Wayne has painted quite a few fantasy tropes, such as dragons, in his time, however, I never get the sense of having seen it before. Each cover is a treat, and is a key factor in me running out to my local game store to purchase the latest Pathfinder books.
I hope you enjoyed getting to know the artist and works behind some of our favorite tabletop RPGs. I encourage you to check out Wayne Reynolds on his various social media accounts linked below:
Follow Wayne Reynolds on Instagram @waynereynoldsart
While your here, you can read more Pathfinder articles here! So, check out all the reviews for new books and products!