A Day in the Life: Tony DiTerlizzi’s Athas

Brom certainly is the most well known Dark Sun artist, and Tom Baxa is downright prolific as an illustrator for the setting, but there are several other artists who took up the torch to show us Athas. One of note is Tony DiTerlizzi.

Tony DiTerlizzi is known in D&D mainly for his work in the Placescape setting and his phenomenal color illustrations in the 2e Monstrous Compendium, though there was a time in 1993 where his work could be found showing us the world of Athas. Despite DiTerlizzi’s work throughout the TSR D&D catalog, his Dark Sun work is comprised in only 40 images in three supplements: City-State of Tyr, Elves of Athas, and Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume 1 (the jarbo). I won’t count his Monstrous Compendium work at the end of Black Spine since those aren’t truly Dark Sun subjects. So quiet was his contribution to Dark Sun that his wiki entry makes no mention of it, and even his web site gives only a simple notation regarding the event.

City-State of Tyr (published August 1993)

The City-State of Tyr supplement describes the sites, common events, and common people a player would experience were they to explore the city. Consequently, the art of the supplement contains scenes from within the City-State of Tyr, its people and places. Both DiTerlizzi and stock Baxa pieces are found throughout the supplement with DiTerlizzi being represented by 12 images. DiTerlizzi’s style meets the supplement’s need far more than Baxa’s as DiTerlizzi’s work contrasts Baxa’s in many extreme ways. Baxa has done many day-in-the-life scenes and his hard and think-lined style usually expresses the scene with some slant on the sinister. Whereas DiTerlizzi’s illustrations are beautiful captures of what every day in the city might be like, with a softer tone and no greater or implied meaning beyond what is presented.

The greatest example of DiTerlizzi’s ability to capture Athas is an image with citizens in line at a well guarded by half-giants and overseen by a templar. The scene captures all that Athas is in a single image: Water is scarce and must be guarded, water is a vital resource and must be controlled, tyrants control the water and oppress others to stay in control. There is nothing complex about the image as it shows life as it is on the city-dwelling citizens of Athas. There is no statement of the injustice of this reality, nor is there any indication that things may change. This is what life is on Athas, oppressive and unchanging.

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Image from City-State of Tyr.
Elves of Athas (published November 1993)

It has often been the case for the races of D&D to be grouped into a single category. Because of this, Athasian elves have been considered naught but rogues. Elves of Athas looked to expand on elven culture and break, or perhaps give more depth to, the roguish stereotype. To that end, there are 27 illustrations (including 3 section images and 6 images in the accompanying map) from DiTerlizzi that capture the elves, not picking pockets or sneering menacingly, but living their lives.

My favorite piece is one where elven elders are conversing with elven children. Aptly located in the “childhood” section of the supplement, the elders may be teaching the children a (possibly dubious) lesson, or perhaps the children are wiling their way out of some mischief. Whatever the subject of the interaction, the work succinctly captures elves at rest in a both common and real situation.

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Image from the “Childhood” section of Elves of Athas.

From these two supplements we see a different view of Athas, where the sharp edges of the world soften (thanks to DiTerlizzi’s use of shading) and show not the tyrants, horrors, or heroes of the land but rather the people and the way they live. Despite his small number of illustrations for the setting, DiTerlizzi’s style lends itself to the subject of these supplements showing us the Athas of the common man.

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