Let’s face it–art for RPGs is expensive. It’s time consuming, difficult to arrange sometimes, and isn’t always exactly what you want when it’s completed. There is available art for use in material that’s marketed exclusively on Dungeon Masters Guild, but that artwork is already becoming overused and isn’t always useful within the context of the material it is supposed to support. Finding artists in the first place isn’t usually a problem, but a single illustration can sometimes break the bank.
So what’s a driven, zealous, creative RPGer supposed to do? Learn to draw?
Well, some have done just that. But that approach takes time. And it’s really difficult for most RPG creatives to wear all those hats–writer, editor, play tester, layout technician… A person needs to be an artist, too? On top of all that?!?
Sometimes you just can’t do it all.
And once a creator has their material completed and they need to format it to publish it on the site? There is a template that can assist you with the layout. WotC has published it for free on the DMsGuild and included a template for Rich Text Files as well as two different versions of Microsoft Word. There are also versions up there for Adobe InDesign, OpenOffice/LibreOffice, Scrivener, two different ones for Pages 5 (here and here), and Scribus 1.5.1.
But the supplied format looks terrible by itself. Rather like generic packaging from the 1970s and 80s, this template does what it’s supposed to do but not much else…
On top of that, learning different layout programs can be daunting. The templates provided are designed to provide the basics, but it takes some knowledge of the programs they’re used in to really take advantage of all the options available and make your product shine. Not everyone has the time (or the budget) to learn the ins-and-outs of the programs for the templates. That’s yet another hat…
So what does a person do when they can’t really afford appropriate art, and they don’t have the skills to do it themselves?
They should ponder graphics.
What is the difference between graphics and illustration? In my opinion both are art, but one is substantive and delivers visual information to the reader of the material through visual means, the other doesn’t. Graphics aren’t specific enough to the material to do much more than assist in breaking up the huge blocks of text that a header or boxed section can’t. They add to the feeling, mood, and theme of the material, but they don’t indicate specifically called out elements of the text.
Graphics are a bit easier to achieve. One doesn’t need a great deal of artistic skill. One can rely upon design programs to create visually interesting but non-obtrusive materials that can slip in between the paragraphs when appropriate, linger in the background, help create mental “partitions” to assist the reader’s comprehension of the text, and generally shape the overall feel of the published work.
A huge amount of the published RPG material written today features text formatted in columns with an interesting background. There are sometimes interesting little pictures scattered around the book (mostly at the beginning and ending of sections or between component pieces of chapters) or used to frame the text at the top or bottom or side. Currently (thanks to Wizards of the Coast) 5E’s graphic theme elements seem to feature artistically torn edges of paper or pools of watercolor stains that age the paper and give the text character. There’s a visual texture behind the words that goes with framing lines along the side and bottom that help constrain the pages. It provides unity and clarity, and is visually appealing.
So that’s what I’ve set out to do: provide graphics that a writer can easily use to spruce up their formatted text and provide a visual package that shows off what they’re trying to express with their own creativity.
I’ve created 4 packages of generic iconography that is silhouetted (in most cases) with artistic paint strokes and watercolor stains. Doing the same image in 5 different colors (red, purple, blue, green and brown), each pack ultimately contains 50 different images (10 different icons in 5 colors each). 200 different images. They can be found here:
Graphic Elements for Adventures I –Iconography includes single swords, crossed swords, single battle axe, crossed battle axes, a flame, a wagon wheel, a helmet, a shield, a tower, and arrows.
Graphic Elements for Adventures II —Iconography includes an eagle, a horse, a lion, a wolf print, 2 ravens, 2 wolves, a skeleton, and a stag.
Graphic Elements for Adventures III —Iconography includes five different spiders, a partial tree silhouette, a jungle leaf, a tankard, a single eye, and a pair of eyes.
Graphic Elements for Adventures IV —Iconography includes a ghostly apparition creature, a maple leaf, a set of mushrooms, a skeletal rider, a skull, a tombstone, 3 different trees, and a spider web.
All of the iconography is public domain. Each PNG image file is 5×5″ at 300dpi.
Even in the basic template provided for Microsoft Word, these images can be inserted behind the text (with the transparency adjusted) or in line with it so the text wraps around an image. Word being the program it is, it’s difficult to do much more than that and you might have to learn a more advanced program with a steeper learning curve (and more time invested) to achieve more advance looks. But on a basic level, your layout can look intriguing and visually pleasing if you use the imagery in the right way.
So when you’re looking for imagery to help you flesh out the layout of your particular published material, ponder using a piece of graphic art. The examples in this post and at the links demonstrate their versatility and effectiveness when trying to create a mood. They are simple, artistic, interesting, and as receding or pronounced as you prefer for your piece. An effective visual package makes your text more interesting and effective psychologically, and can ultimately increase your sales. Think about it!