Summary

  • New concept art for the Black Dragon design for the Dungeons & Dragons 2024 Core Rulebooks has been revealed, and it features a more menacing and intelligent appearance.
  • The design was led by Josh Herman, Head of Art at Wizards of the Coast, who aimed to give the dragon more character and personality while honoring the art that came before.
  • Herman was inspired by the stats of the Black Dragon in the 2014 Monster Manual, which showed that it was bottom of the barrel in many categories but had high dexterity. This led to the design showcasing the dragon’s agility and speed.



Screen Rant is thrilled to present some of the original concept art of the Black Dragon that is featured in the new Dungeons & Dragons Core Rulebooks and a bonus Digital Art Book. The 2024 Core Rulebooks include the Player’s Manual, the Dungeon’s Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual, which are all available for pre-order now. There are also three bonus options that fans can bundle with their pre-order. This includes The Dragons of D&D Digital Art Book which will be emailed when the Player’s Handbook is released, D&D Beyond Golden Dice Set, which will be added to one’s D&D Beyond library once the Player’s Handbook is released, and Sigil Gold Dragon Mini, which will be available when Sigil enters Closed Beta later this year.


The new Dungeons & Dragons Core Rulebooks are designed to celebrate the fifty years of lore while making it easier than ever for people to play. With the rules set out in a more straightforward way new players will more easily be able to jump into playing immediately while also making it easier for longtime players to explore the fifty years of lore. This will also include adjustments to character classes and new art to show the world like never before.

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The 2024 Dungeons & Dragons Core Rulebooks are not a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but instead a revision from the ground up, expanding upon some elements while simplifying others and reworking the structure of the books themselves. The art has also been revamped to portray each of the different elements in a new way. When Screen Rant interviewed Josh Herman, the Head of Art at Wizards of the Coast, he explained how the Black Dragon has evolved since the art in the 2014 edition of the Core Rulebooks.



More Character & Personality For the Black Dragon Was One Of Josh Herman’s Main Goals

Dungeons & Dragons 2024 core rulebook Black Dragon Art by Chase Stone
Art by Chase Stone

Finding the balance between honoring the art that came before while bringing something new was something that Herman kept in mind while working on the new design for the Black Dragon. He isolated which elements were most important to him in how he approached bringing the Black Dragons to life on the page, especially with how dragons have grown in popularity and, thus, their visual representation has changed in the last two decades.


Josh Herman: The biggest thing when we talk about the Dragon designs, overall, the biggest goal was to give them more character and personality. Those are the big things that if I had to give a critique on the previous designs, those didn’t come through as clear for me. I think that they were beautiful designs that really innovated and established what a lot of Dragon designs looked like for about 20 years, which is pretty impressive honestly when you think about that. But one of the things moving forward is that a D&D Dragon can talk, it can speak because it can cast magic spells, it has motivations, it has plots.

Herman was largely inspired by the stats for the Black Dragon, and other dragons, in the 2014 Monster Manual. He noted that the Black Dragon is bottom of the barrel in many of the categories including strength, intelligence, and constitution, but is one of the most dexterous dragons. These details helped inspire the design in making sure the Black Dragon could move quickly, showcasing how its dexterity is one of it’s greatest strengths. Herman also leaned into another element of the Black Dragon, specifically Ancient Black Dragons, from the Monster Manual that added an element of macabre horror.


Josh Herman: I remember [the 2014 Monster Manual text] saying something like, as an Ancient Black Dragon ages, the skin starts to slough off of its face because the acid from inside its body starts to erode it, essentially. When you see the skull vibe on its face changing, that’s intentional. That’s very much coming from the text of, Okay, if an Ancient Dragon that’s like 800 years old and its skin is starting to come off. First off, that’s really gross, but it’s also really cool. None of the other ones do that. That’s fun.

We get to sort of play around with, does that mean the scales actually fall off? You can also get into this sort of creature design and the anatomy of certain creatures. The Black Dragon skin, is it white and is it covered in black scales? Or is the skin so thin that you can actually see the skull as the scales start to fall off? So we’re kind of playing around with just ideas of how that could even happen in the real world and then trying to make that turn into a graphic visual.


Josh Herman Shared Surprising Inspirations Including The Lion King & Real Life Animals

The Lion King - Scar vs Mufasa

Animation was a key inspiration for Herman about how the different dragons would look. Interestingly, this included animation outside of dragons and fantasy like many may expect. The Lion King was a key influence for Herman in how to quickly showcase motivation, intention, and intelligence all in the character design, so the villainous aspect of the Black Dragon would immediately come through as recognizable.


Josh Herman: One of the things that I looked at for the Chromatics was a lot of animation, actually. A big piece of reference that I actually looked at early, and it kind of helped me set in my mind where we wanted to go, was the Lion King. Looking at the Lion King, specifically between Scar and Mufasa, just the physical differences between them. Even if you didn’t know who they were voiced by, you didn’t know who they are in the movie, you can tell immediately who the villain is, and you can immediately tell who the hero is just through their physical traits.

But you can also see that in both of those, there’s an intelligence in those designs and those creatures. So you can tell they look like lions, but they also clearly can do something later, especially in the movies. We wanted to take that approach, specifically for the Black Dragon. We wanted to make this something that you recognize immediately and know this is a villain, of all the dragons, when you look at the Black Dragon.


Herman also looked to real animals when designing the Black Dragon, specifically animals that inspire fear in people. He took elements of alligators and spiders when designing the Black Dragon to make them feel more dangerous and threatening with the horror of this creature bleeding off the page through the art.

Josh Herman: We want it to feel a little bit spikier. Have a sort of an alligator inspired, swamp creature, that would sit in the water very still looking like a stick or tree. That ambush predator kind of vibe. We wanted to bring some of that into it more. That was certainly already there. We played around with the wings. We wanted the wing shape of each of the dragons to be distinct. So for this one, the webbing on the dragon’s wings doesn’t go all the way to the tips of the digits like it does on almost all the other dragons.

So that gives these really long finger digits at the end that aren’t webbed that can be posed to create basically really weird, large, creepy hand silhouettes that you could play with. Somebody referred to them as really long spider legs at the end. That one digit of a black widow spider’s leg or something. So, trying to pump into this design, lots of visuals that people connect with things that they think are scary or evil, alligators, spiders, skulls, that sort of vibe to it. The creature is also a little bit more lean and a little bit more gaunt than some of the other ones to reflect the dexterity to show that this would be something that would move quickly.


Josh Herman Explains How They Portrayed The Intelligence Through The Design Of The Black Dragon’s Head

Dungeons & Dragons 2024 core rulebook Black Dragon Art by Campbell White
Art by Campbell White

With intelligence being one of the key factors that Herman wanted to portray in the dragon design, he had to look at the facial and skull structure. He explained how they adjusted from a traditional reptilian design to a more predatory style to make it easier to portray this intelligence, so characters could connect with the Black Dragon through eye contact.


Josh Herman: You can have the most fearsome creature from a profile, and then it looks at you, and it is looking two different directions. You’re like, What is this thing? In all the heads, but specifically the Black Dragon, we tried to create more binocular vision, which is basically forward-facing predator-style vision. Where it would be able to look at you and that adds a dual boon to the creature, to the face. Which is, first, you get more of a predator look of them having more forward-facing, focused eyes. But that also helps in communicating the intelligence standpoint, because then it is more natural for people to connect with.

The horns were another key factor in the design of the Black Dragon’s skull. Herman revealed why the horns on the Black Dragon sweep forwards compared to other dragons. He also further explained why aquatic creatures were such an important influence in the design process. These details show not only the thought that was put into every detail of the new design of the Black Dragon, but how Herman wanted to portray the character and personality through the physical design at every step.


Josh Herman: We spend a lot of time on the designs, of the styling of the head, the shapes of the horns and how we would want to position those on the head. We want to play around with what those forms could be for the Black Dragon, how they sort of always should be sweeping forwards and more of an aggressive, almost like a trident shape with the face. Whereas the other dragons have backwards [sweeping horns]. One thing we did with the horns was also try to make it a little bit more sleek, but also in a way sort of regal. I think that a dragon can be creepy and gross for sure, but we didn’t want to typecast this one too heavily into just being gross.

So we wanted to have a couple of features on the body. You can see this both in the horn shapes. I think in all the dragons, there’s kind of a rhythm to the design where you’ll see groups of scales or muscles that will flow into other ones, which is more prevalent in the aquatic or amphibious dragons. Black is one of those. The Green and the Bronze all have that in common, the Gold a little bit, but anything that adds an aquatic nature to it to bring a little bit of sleekness to the body as well, to make it have that mental connection to those creatures.


Check out the concept art that was key in the evolution of the Black Dragon. This art highlights the trident shape of the horns, the alligator shape of the swamp-inhabiting creature, the skull peaking through an Ancient Black Dragon, and the spider-like claws on the wings. Every detail that Herman broke down is showcased in this concept art that helped create the new look for this iconic Dungeons & Dragons villain.

New Black Dragon Concept Art For The Dungeons & Dragons 2024 Core Rulebooks

Fans can pre-order the 2024 Core Rulebooks from the D&D Beyond Marketplace now and secure bonus materials with pre-orders.

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