Skip to main content
If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

D&D Red Box artist rejects “stupid” reveal of female warrior, then accepts “you can interpret it however you want”

“That is the magic of art,” Larry Elmore says after initially insisting the anonymous figure was painted as male.

Image credit: Larry Elmore/WizKids

The artist behind the illustration for Dungeons & Dragons’ iconic Red Box has responded to the recent reveal of the anonymous warrior on the cover as female - first by rejecting the claim entirely, then by accepting that it’s in the spirit of both art and D&D to allow for interpretation.

Larry Elmore is one of D&D’s best-known artists, having worked for the RPG’s original publisher TSR as its first in-house illustrator from 1981 to 1987, contributing artwork to pillars of D&D from Dragonlance to adventure modules. The artwork for the ‘Red Box’ - the 1983 revision of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set - is arguably Elmore’s most widely-recognised image, with the illustration of a warrior battling against a red dragon (officially titled “Ancient Red” or "The Red Dragon") becoming the defining image of D&D for many a generation.

For over 40 years the warrior on the Red Box was only seen from the back, until it was revealed earlier this month that the nameless, faceless warrior would be given a face by accessories maker WizKids in a miniature recreation of the character released for D&D’s 50th anniversary. Notably, WizKids “purposefully and clearly” interpreted the warrior as a muscular woman.

Among those who disagreed with the interpretation - obligatory hello to the bigots in the comments section - was Elmore himself, who insisted that he had painted the warrior as male, after being asked by D&D co-creator Gary Gyax explicitly for a male warrior and “something simple that would jump out at you”.

“No one thought it was a female warrior. ‘Whoever thought it was a female warrior is quite crazy and do not know what they are talking about,’” Elmore wrote in a Facebook post. (Thanks, ENWorld.) “This is stupid. I painted it, I should know.

“If it was a woman, you would know it for I'm pretty famous for painting women.”

Elmore later seemed to soften his reaction, editing his post to accept that while “it was painted as a man” - and imply that his initial response that been an answer to “a question that was asked without context” - others were free to “interpret it however you want, for that is the magic of art”.

Elmore also acknowledged that the very spirit of tabletop roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons is to allow their players to make the worlds and characters their own, writing: “The thing I love about D&D was that anyone can be anything in this game. Male, Female, both, neither, it does not discriminate.

“It’s a game of imagination and you can be and do whatever you want.”

Will this stop the angry response from a load of internet bigots? Definitely not, but it’s at least somewhat heartening to see the artist open up to a fresh interpretation of a 40-year-old illustration - especially when it’s a case of adding something new to the original artwork in a completely different medium, rather than replacing or erasing something that already existed. Now, if only the rest of the game's fanbase could follow suit - I'm sure their reaction will be measured and reasonable, as usual.

Read this next