David Larkins' post On the Value of Visuals prompted me to finish ('finish' = cut the rambling guff) a post that has been sitting on Blogger as a ‘draft’ for some time now:
Unusually, there is no picture pinched from the internet illustrating this post. There’s not even a photograph of a badly painted miniature – having two kids eats time but has saved my old Ral Partha and Regiments of Renown from being crudely daubed in acrylic. Why? Because I want to ask about the role of art (and, probably, graphic design more generally) in role-playing game books.
Some role-playing game books are full of great art (Realms of Chaos – subject of an upcoming blogpost). Some are full of bad art (D&D white box booklets…). Some adventures have beautiful hand drawn maps. But, excepting free PDFs of OSR games, very few are art free. What purpose does this art serve? In many cases, I would argue, the vast majority of this art is only ever seen by the GM. I understand the argument that good, evocative art builds the appropriate mood for the game, although I will say that as a GM I am so thoroughly steeped in fantasy art I can picture a nightmarish Ian Miller townscape or a bright, clean Elmore adventurer with the barest moment’s reflection.
This is not a post to argue that fantasy art in role-playing game books should be done away with, that the industry standard should be the no art .pdf (or .doc file for ultimate in open-source role-playing), but that the time, energy and artistry invested in illustrating adventures should be spent on material designed to be seen by players. I have scanned and printed the illustrations from published adventures, scattering them on the table in order to set the scene, but why embed these in the ‘secret’ GM text in the first place?
Why not publish sheets of ‘spot’ illustrations to be printed, cut up, to either be spread out on the table handed out as appropriate. Rather than dungeon floor plans, I would like to see a compendium of ‘dungeon views’ that I can use to help align the players’ visual imaginations with my own. And with the fashion for one-page dungeons, why not move to three-page adventures – the text and maps on one side of a GM screen and a series of evocative illustrations on the other side? And maps – beautiful maps – all too often the preserve of GM, but as David Larkins points out, maps (and filler illustrations) can set the tone of the game and their visual style, if not their secrets, demands to be shared with the players.
Of course, I could just learn to draw and do the work myself…