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Illustration Inspiration


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?

ArcaneNaturalist Chaos4



6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "Illustration Inspiration"

#1 Comment By Angela Murray On September 28, 2016 @ 10:24 am

When I’m prepping for a one shot, I love finding illustrations (and some photographs) that I can throw on my ipad to pull up and show the players. Having a visual can really help bring out the mood you’re trying to evoke.

And your pictures already have me thinking. What are those soldiers marching towards? Are they automatons or are they wearing armor? Who are they? Why do they scream danger. 🙂

#2 Comment By pixelscapes On September 28, 2016 @ 2:03 pm

I find a lot of great visuals and associated ideas like this at [1]

#3 Comment By Avi On September 28, 2016 @ 3:45 pm

This is so true. Illustrations are what tends to hook me on an idea or setting more than anything else.

Also, Pinterest is a really useful tool for this.

#4 Comment By Blackjack On September 29, 2016 @ 2:17 pm

Art is great inspiration not just when designing an adventure but also when playing it! A picture that illustrates what an ally, opponent, or setting might look like goes a long way towards helping players immerse themselves in the roleplay.

Years ago I adopted the idea of initiative cards. These are 4×6″ cards I stand on a small picture easel at the edge of the table. Their main purpose is to identify who’s turn it is now, who’s next, and so on.

At first we wrote characters’ names in marker on plain white index cards. Soon after that we started printing them from computer, using fonts that conveyed style. Then we added illustrations, e.g. clips of monsters or PC archetypes from the manuals. Now, when I have time to search for it, I find inspiring art online and/or create a collage myself. Sometimes the “reveal” of these cards is quite an event; players gasp at the illustration of what the foe or scene looks like.

#5 Comment By theowlington On October 5, 2016 @ 11:05 pm

The illustrations of the 1983 D&D Red Box are what get me completely hooked on RPGs. I mean, I’d always been a consumer of fantasy and science fiction, but it was limited to cartoons and the odd book I’d borrow from my crazy Aunt. Since the discovery of RPGs and games in general (I was 6 when I started), fantasy art and illustrations have been a driving force of creative influence on my games. I’ve been lucky enough to illustrate for a couple of small publishers, and I’d like to think that my work in turn inspires others.

The new documentary Eye of the Beholder is coming out soon, and I can’t wait to see what the artists’ who set the tone for my entire life have to say about their work and get an insight in to their creative mindset.

#6 Comment By Avery Liell-kok On October 11, 2016 @ 11:35 pm

Wow, thanks for the heads up on Eye of the Beholder– that looks great!