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tabitha_clrOnline games rely heavily on their images. While you can certainly play in a “theater of the mind” style, good images will usually enhance the experience. A well chosen image can give life to an NPC, or provide a concrete way for players to attach to their characters. This article will discuss some of the technical details involved in making tokens for your online (or face-to-face) games, and also look at some in-game considerations. Even if you only run face-to-face, many of the thoughts in this column should apply there as well.

One free tool for making tokens is tokentool [1] from rptools. It lets you quickly make tokens in various shapes with different border options. Simply drag an image into the program, resize it, and save it. It’s also a fairly quick download.

Any image manipulation program may be used to make tokens. I use paint.net [2], also free. To make a perfectly square token, select an area using the rectangular selection tool while holding down the SHIFT key. Then crop to that area and save it. The SHIFT key will also let you make a perfect circle using the oval selection tool. There are a couple advantages to a “paint” type program. First, you are not limited to any particular shapes. Need a rectangular giant or star cruiser, just select it and go. Also, you can sometimes eliminate the background. If the background of your image is mostly one color, you may be able to select it and remove it. You’ll then have a token in the exact shape of the character.
Once you’ve uploaded your images to your virtual tabletop (VTT), you can place them on or around your maps. You’ll probably be able to link a few stats to the token, and perhaps a nameplate. It’s a bit more work beforehand, but can make things run very smoothly during a session. You can also resize an image as needed. Make that dragon or Klingon cruiser as large as you need.

If you wish to use your tokens for face-to-face games, simply print them out and glue them to cardboard. I’ve had good luck printing them on cardstock and gluing them to cereal box cardboard. Make all your tokens square or rectangular so they are easier to cut. This is a great way to get double duty out of your work.

If you’re running a game for the first time, you’ll want to have player character tokens on hand. Be sure to include male and female versions of all your standard classes or archetypes. If possible, try to represent different ethnicities. You can then have them available as your players choose their characters. Also, players may wish to send you images to use as tokens. This is a great way for them to bond with their character. Use any unchosen tokens for NPC’s as you need them.

Don’t limit your image choices to just game art. Historical paintings are great for fantasy and period games. Public domain comic books [3] are another great resource. You can even use pictures of your family, friends, or even your players. Celebrity guest stars can even make an appearance. I rarely run a campaign without Lee Majors when he had his mustache. (Man, that was a great season of the Six-Million Dollar Man!).
Don’t discount your own drawings as well. Many people who claim they can’t draw aren’t as bad as they think. A hand-drawn character or beastie can bring a nice personal touch to a game.

As a parting word, keep copyright laws in mind when using images. Just don’t get into trouble by making money off other peoples’ work. Check out “fair usage guidelines” for direction if needed.

What other possibilities are there for tokens? What hints can you share with other readers? Let us know below.

6 Comments (Open | Close)


#1 Comment By Angela Murray On April 15, 2016 @ 12:10 pm

The GM who runs the online game (in Roll20) that I’ve been playing for a year now does a fantastic job of getting tokens together for the game. Almost any named NPC we run into will have a well-thought-out token that in a quick glance, gives us an idea of who they are. It helps that she’s an artist herself and can easily modify what she needs in Photoshop or whatever, but still… it’s one of the prettiest games I’ve ever played.

Then there are the times where we players make an off hand comment that takes a life of its own. The two cooks at a lodge we took over suddenly became Bill & Ted. So their tokens are now totally excellent. 🙂

#2 Comment By John Fredericks On April 15, 2016 @ 12:21 pm

Thanks Angela! Sometimes I go out and make a drawing of an NPC, but mostly I just codge whatever I can find.

#3 Comment By mrbosko On April 19, 2016 @ 10:21 am

My game group uses Roll20 as well. One of us is an actual digital artist, so he makes his own tokens using his fancy programs and education. The rest of us found that using a Magic The Gathering token maker we can make nice tokens with a nifty border. We make the token (usually skipping the text) using the standard style frame, then just save it and crop it.

#4 Comment By John Fredericks On April 19, 2016 @ 12:31 pm

Thanks for that suggestion Mrbosko. Always good to see what other options are out there.

#5 Comment By Bronze Dog On May 24, 2016 @ 1:24 pm

I haven’t gone into playing online tabletop games, but it’s good to know they’re making it easy.

I’m working on a Changeling game for the physical realm, and I don’t have many miniatures. I do, however, have lots of Magic cards. I’ve been using cards to inspire character/monster concepts, so it was a natural extension to use them to represent characters and other game elements. I can even instill a bit of paranoia (or just give reasonable hints) by using cards that imply certain dangers. If I put down a creature with Deathtouch, they’ll probably keep their distance. If I use a creature with Vigilance to represent a guard, they’ll be more careful about trying to sneak by it.

Hexproof: Discourage the use of magic.
Protection from X: Implied immunity/resistance to something. (Protection from red: Fireproof)
Defender: Unlikely to pursue or strike first.
Haste/first strike: Quick/easily provoked.
Ridiculously high power/toughness relative to the PC’s cards: “Run. Just run.”

Of course, I’ve got some artifact cards to represent MacGuffins. “You find an old book with rusty nuts, bolts, gears, and such haphazardly attached to the cover. You think some of that rust might be dried blood.” (Hand over Phyrexian Tome card) “Do you want to open it?”

#6 Comment By Faheem Daha On September 25, 2016 @ 12:56 am

Great post