Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How are you using (or not using) art in your games?

Here's a question for your veteran GMs out there: how much or how little do you rely on game (or other) art during game play?

Do you show your players art to set the mood or give them an idea of their environment or adversaries?

How much of your art at the table is non-game art?

Do you let them bring in art?

While I've used art in games, I've encountered players who admit that the art doesn't do much for them. Others love it because (they say) they're "not great with visuals". (Not sure if I should find that worrisome or not!)

I've considered describing images that the players cannot see (hidden behind a screen), and let their imaginations do the rest. In the past, I've wimped out and shown it to them because, I deemed it just too cool not to show. But I think for some people it detracted from their experience.

Again, I think it's important to make a distinction here: I'm not talking about how you use art in crafting settings, creatures, or NPCs--but how important that art is during game play.

Feel free to be as detailed as you like in the comments.

And thank you!


  1. At the table, very rarely. Maybe a monster picture, or an item if it's difficult to describe succinctly. Aside from that, it's usually theater of the mind. It isn't a matter of thinking it detracts from the game, but rather that it's rare that I find the perfect image.

    1. Interesting--so the art is used more to support an existing description.

  2. I have/use lots of art.

    Now, in the past it was very easy to do. I went to an art High School (The High School of Art and Design), and an art college (The School of Visual Arts). Ya'know how some groups have that one cat who can draw really well? Well, all my players were that guy (And I'm not bad either).

    These days it's harder. My group has fewer artists (OK, none but me). I tend to use a lot of pics I find off the internet or massive photoshopping done by yours truly. When I can draw original art I do, but time constraints, er, constrain that option.

    That said, after reading this post and your previous one on Rad Astra, drop me an email. Maybe we can work something out.

    Stay spacy space cowboy!

    1. Man, what I wouldn't do for my own art dept! That sounds awesome. Thank you for the kind words B.A., I'm still a ways off from putting art in, but I will definitely keep you're generous offer in mind!!

  3. I call those gaming props "flashcards" pictures. They were the big selling point for the S-series D&D modals (Tome of Horrors, Barrier Peeks, etc.).

    Most of the people I play with like to use images they find online to represent their character, as well as to use flashcards to quickly show characters, devices, scenes, etc. without having to dump disruptions. Is an artist, I have a tendency to draw stuff that happens in-game.

    But I get what you are getting at: Should we supplement our imagination with game props (maps, miniatures, pictures, etc.), or should we just immerse ourselves in the theater of the mind?

    One minor issue with props is how they create a visual bias. For example, when people (who know if it) think of the Jabberwocky, they naturally get the image of John Tenniel's iconic wood graving of the creature. Such bias can ingrain people's perception of something presented is inaccurate. Much like the Eyes of Ibad (the blue eyes of Spice-users) form Dune. In the original books, they appeared as deep blue that masked the sclera, cornea and iris. But most people remember the luminous bright blue eyes that were seen in the movie and miniseries.

    1. Yeah, you've pretty much hit the nail on the head there Mal. I'm always torn about art since it can pretty much convey instantly what you want to get across. (Which can be challenging with scifi, sometimes.)

      Still, I don't want to take anything away from the players' experience.

      Art is definitely a double-edged lightsaber!

  4. flash cards with IMAGES 'liberated' from the net ...
    I believe this concept is what mmade
    "Tomb of Horrors" and "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks" so endearing..