For the uninitiated, Dungeons & Dragons is a role-playing game in which self-chosen characters with magical qualities embark on a unique story. This fantastical world can be experienced through various means: books, board games, video games, and cards. And some models of the game are so elaborately designed and well crafted, they blur the line between gaming and art.
Ryan Devoto's extravagant D&D models are filled with architectonic ships, forests, dungeons, and mazes, among other curiousities. One of Devoto's pieces fills his entire dining room and depicts a huge castle, standing tall, overseeing a vast forest. The forest is filled with shrubbery of every shade, and peeking through the vegetation is a windmill and a group of fighting warriors. Observing models like these is similar to witnessing beautiful architecture—awe inspiring.
Devoto is notoriously private and declined our request for an interview, but Creators spoke to board game expert Quintin Smith of Shut Up & Sit Down about the nature of D&D and the importance of Devoto's work in role-playing games. "When you're playing out the fights in your evening of D&D, scenery like Devoto's is an unimaginable luxury because then the players know where everybody's standing at any moment, and can make decisions accordingly," Smith tells us. "Most Dungeon Masters have to make do with scribbling maps on bits of paper to get the same effect."
Devoto's work is reminiscent of the artistry that goes into designing gaming models. Unlike a video game or a piece of art, models allow you to imagine synthetic characters as flesh and bone, or the landscape as natural and realistic. There is beauty in tactile design. Devoto's models, like those of other war game artists, offer incredible opportunities for gameplay, because a number of adventures can be conjured up in these intricate spaces.
"There's a reason that people spend insane amounts of money buying tiny armies, assembling and painting them, only for them to get flattened by an imaginary cannonball and removed from the field in the first five minutes of a battle," Smith explains. "It's the same reason that the most successful Kickstarter board games have fun miniatures. We don't quite know what that reason is, though, because the communities that play these games aren't particularly interested in discussing or analyzing their love of toy soldiers. Society treats it as regressive behavior, so the communities try to mask it."
Painstakingly detailed, Devoto's models push the limits of what makes an incredible game space. The dynamic composition of models like these is unmistakably important, shaping the player's psychological experience. Although many critics have dismissed games as concepts that do not fall under the standard art bracket, art and games are both designed to be experienced, evoke reactions, and encourage personal opinion and debate. After all, gaming models such as Devoto's stimulate the imagination and evoke a similar experience to witnessing a traditional piece of art: it takes us away from our own realities.
Smith says, "I think the reason models and miniatures are awesome is that they let adults return to that golden age of imagination. Do you remember when you were really young and you could sit with your action figures and run around the garden, and your imagination told captivating stories? For me, the appeal is somewhere in there."
For more from Shut Up and Sit Down, click here.