Interview with Rob Carver: Art of the City of Terrors

Greetings delvers!

As we said in last week’s dev blog, this year marks the 40th anniversary of a classic Tunnels & Trolls solo adventure, City of Terrors. Besides being the grandest solo adventure of its time, it also incorporated the art with the text in breakthrough ways: every page included beautiful and gritty illustrations by Liz Danforth and Rob Carver. To celebrate, we got in touch with the reclusive Rob Carver for his unique perspective on the development and growth of T&T and his memories about working on City of Terrors.

Rob Carver was there when Ken St Andre started playtesting Tunnels & Trolls back in 1975 and became the first artist to contribute published art for Tunnels & Trolls. His illustrations appeared in the 1st through 5th editions of the rules, in some of the early solo & GM adventures, the first few issues of Sorcerer’s Apprentice and several other places as well. More recently, his work has appeared in the Adventurer’s Compendium, the Deluxe T&T rules and quite a few of our own remastered adventures (especially Naked Doom).

Often mixed with a touch of sardonic humor, Rob’s art left an indelible mark on the style and tone of Tunnels & Trolls.

Carver header.jpg

Q: Do you remember the first time you met Ken St Andre?

Rob: It was at one of the Cosmic Circle SF club get-togethers in Phoenix, Arizona. I'd heard of him: he was one of the regular writers in the fanzine we produced. He was dryly witty, and quite approachable.

Q: How did you start drawing for Ken?

Rob: I started in the fanzine, and when Tunnels & Trolls came along it was a natural segue for Ken to ask, and I whipped up the first drawings in a hurry.

Q: There’s a lot of humor in your illustrations. Did you add the humor into your work naturally or was that something that Ken asked you to add?

Rob: I was already a wise-ass, and that fit in well with the Cosmic Circle gang, so I think ken expected that right off. He told me to be semi-serious, and you can see it was the path for future illustrations.

Q: Female fans were rare 40 years ago. When did you first meet Liz Danforth?

Rob: Once again at a Cosmic Circle meeting, with some of the local University people. There were a number of women involved with Tunnels & Trolls right off, I thought it was the usual way. I liked her work, and she had tremendous enthusiasm.

Q: Had you met Mike Stackpole before he submitted City of Terrors to Flying Buffalo?

Rob: I met him around that time, I think. He was with a bunch of us and we were playing off each other's humorous banter, (scatological, of course...), he was a very creative thinker.

Q: There weren’t too many RPG adventures in set in cities back in the 1970’s. What did you think of City of Terrors when you first read it?
Rob: I thought it was monumental, it was the most densely created RPG thing I'd ever read to that point, and it's still pretty damned great.

Q: How long did it take to do the wraparound cover on City of Terrors and how did the idea of two artists working on the cover together evolve? How did the two of you work on that together that and do you remember who (in general) did what? 

Rob: We were working from separate locations, and I did most of the landscape pencils and basic building set ups, some other parts, and Liz refined it after I sent it back to her. She added details and interpolated mine: the ship in the harbor was actually two vessels, one a square rigger, the other with lateen sails, and she combined them, it made it extra unworldly, I think by accident.

Q: Is it true that some of the characters on the cover are drawings of you, Liz and others?

Rob: We three, Mike, Liz and I agreed we would include ourselves in the world we created. I drew myself, and Liz drew Mike and herself. At the time we had been playing a live-action real-time game version based on Roger Zelazny's Amber series, that Ken had created, and it was getting pretty wild, as it was our own versions of what went on. We added a bit of a salute to that as well.

Q: What did you think of the colored version of that famous illo you and Liz did that was used on the recent cover of City of Terrors?

Rob: Loved it! We didn't have a huge budget for color back then, I'm glad someone did it! Good job!

Q: How did you and Liz decide which paragraphs to draw and how did you split them up? 

Rob: We talked back & forth and said what we thought would be good for each of us. Turned out quite well.

Q: Are you surprised that 40 years after it came out that people are still playing City of Terrors solo?

Rob: Grateful, but not too surprised. Tunnels & Trolls Adventures in general surprised the hell out of me, though.

Q: What do you think of MetaArcade’s Tunnels & Trolls Adventures?  Have you played it?

Rob: I messed around with Naked Doom, and it killed me quick, a not unusual result for me on that one.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say, or stories you can tell us about City of Terrors?

Rob: The reception of it was fun back then, lots of nice things were said. I'd see good things still said about it so many years later, It's gratifying. The people involved were the best, too, our interpretations were seamless, a hard thing to do, but we had a similar mind-set for creation, it wasn't a competition, it was like a family thing. We all wanted it to succeed on all levels, which it damned well did.

Q: Thanks again Rob, for your time and great contributions to T&T.  Your art really gave City of Terrors a gritty edgy look!

To join the anniversary celebrations, make sure to download the remastered City of Terrors in Tunnels & Trolls Adventures and continue your travails in the notorious city of Gull!