Art by meeeee, Avery Liell-Kok
It would be very nice to have an endless font of ideas, but I spend my days tapping that well so thoroughly, sometimes it can be difficult come game night to squeeze a little more blood out of the stone. When I’m stuck in an imagination desert, I have a lot of sources I can look to, but none revs me up quicker than a good illustration.
Illustrations are at their core all about storytelling. I have a nice fat folder on my desktop full of pictures I’ve collected over the years, but I also have a number of art blogs and sites I regularly follow. A scroll through my Tumblr feed becomes something more than a time-suck: it’s a brainstorming session.
The key is finding an image that speaks to you. It doesn’t even have to be in the same genre as your game to work, as long as it gets the mental ball rolling. If you pause, if you think “cool”, if you want a closer look at a detail, all of those mean you’ve found something that could have a hook. Dissect the picture! Ask yourself what about it has you twitterpated and make a mental (or literal) list.
Even if all you can come up with is “I dunno, I just like it”, you’re a creative person. You wouldn’t be running games if you weren’t, so make up a story about what you’re seeing. You might just be spinning the plot of your next session, or creating the back story for an important NPC. I use this method all the time to add extra details and life to my characters: I pick one thing from every picture and use it as a trait, piece of background information, like/dislike, etc. An image of rice fields could mean they grew up in a rural setting, or have a fascination with East Asian culture, or just really, really like rice.
A good picture can also be used as a prop in game, helping your players see exactly what you want them to. Better yet, *feel* what you want them to. Art is great for setting the mood, whether for your players or yourself. I find it a less obtrusive way to settle into a genre than, say, watching a movie or reading a book. Those stories are too complete, and I come away with the cadence of another creator’s voice overwhelming my own. Art is much more of an interactive experience– you have to inject your own meaning and story into an image. With players, it’s easier to map their characters into a scenario that they can see, but maybe isn’t so fleshed out otherwise.
In the future, I hope to direct you guys toward some of my favorite artists and pieces, but to kick this off, here’s a couple of pictures of my own that I think beg for some good stories. What tales would you spin around these? How have you used art in your games?