Artworks in an RPG

aia_2

Custom title
The question seems simple but it might have some considerations that I am not sure I know and therefore I likely miss the whole picture: why are artworks in an RPG book so important? A good book would sell also for the contents regardless to the presence of internal artworks?
I imagine that the first answer would be: because if these are evocative they help the reader in the exercise of imagination. I see however that a fraction of rpger still play with edition where this answer doesn't perfectly fit as the quality is not that great (I am thinking to 1E or Rolemaster... Pls apologies in advance if this hurts someone's favourite artist!). We also have the example of "ordinary" fantasy book completely artworkless which had a success in the past (and this leads me to think that the evocative power of images is not really a must...).
I wonder whether or not a completely free of artworks RPG has ever been published (and in that case if the unsuccess of it is totally due to this feature).
Another though goes to products where the editing is so poor that the presence of artworks helps these products to "off-set" the lack of care of the text...
A final note: I have recently seen some artoworks which are real forms of art rather a fine representation of an inspirational scene of fantasy; some of them are well known and had a success like Mork Borg and Deep Carbon Observatory... In this case I would better understand the role of the presence of these artworks.
 

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Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Epic
A picture invokes one of the five scents, vision and from that the brains' ability to imagine, fantasize, and process information. A lot of people are visual in how they take in information, artwork helps that, it is a delivery system. If it does not relate to the material, it fails in that delivery or at least is confusing in the processing of the material it is presenting.

A TRPG without art is a manual. Boring. Some people like those. I think some of the "pocket" sized prints of did not have artwork.
 

aramis erak

Legend
The question seems simple but it might have some considerations that I am not sure I know and therefore I likely miss the whole picture: why are artworks in an RPG book so important?
Because so much of RPG play requires mental images, and so much is beyond normal experience, it's VERY much faster to put in a drawing or painting than to spend the wuarter page (or more) that's going to be vague anyway?
A good book would sell also for the contents regardless to the presence of internal artworks?
No, not really. It should, but that really only holds true for novels.

Non fiction normally has illustrations. In the case of instructional texts, you get procedural flowcharts, illustrations of start and finish, and often steps between.
Historical texts use paintings, drawings, photos, and visuals of source documents.

Illustrations help reinforce the text.

In RPGs, illustrations reinforce the text, inspire additional non-text elements, show the hard to describe bits, show the things the author's talking about when there's potential confusion
eg: "claidhmore" or claymore... some use it to refer only to the scots bastard sword, others to the greatsword, others still to the dress sword of the regimental pattern, and others still in its original use, as the Scots Gaelic for "sword"... When an author labels a blade a claidhmore and depicts it with a basket, you know it's a one-hander. If they show a long angled quillions, it's probably a late Reiver era bastard. If it's straight quillions, odds are it's a late medieval bastard sword or greatsword.​
And now, how do you describe some of the fantasy weapons, such as the main characters in later (7 & up) Final Fantasy JRPG CRPGs??? Such as Cloud's insane single edged two-handed straight blade? (FF VII) I could call it a "very angular variant greatsword variant of a scramseax" - but that assumes one knows what the latter is - a sword length meat-cleaver with a thrusting point - which makes it still not a great description. But you see a pic of Cloud and the Sword, and you instantly see just how freaking disproportionate it is. Oh, and I'm talking the Buster Sword - a term that's meaningless to most... see https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Final_Fantasy_VII_weapons#Cloud's_broadswords

Sure, pure text can convey information, but it's not doing all the jobs an RPG needs to do in a corebook... Provide visual cues, provide inspiration, communicate setting information about the look of things, provide a meaningful description of things outside human lived experience...

Oh, and even some novels don't go pure text - JRR Tolkien included maps in his novels, specifically so he reader was able to grasp the geographical situation.
 

aramis erak

Legend
A picture invokes one of the five scents, vision and from that the brains' ability to imagine, fantasize, and process information. A lot of people are visual in how they take in information, artwork helps that, it is a delivery system. If it does not relate to the material, it fails in that delivery or at least is confusing in the processing of the material it is presenting.

A TRPG without art is a manual. Boring. Some people like those. I think some of the "pocket" sized prints of did not have artwork.
There are a number of games with "no art versions" as free teasers... most of those for OSR games. But the work the OSR most often emulates, Moldvay Basic and Cook Expert, is filled with good illos to inspire, to illustrate points (literally), and most importantly, to convey that D&D isn't just for the guys...

Mörk Borg just had a free version hit DTRPG a few weeks ago. No art. Just the tables. I can run it from those, and knowing that the name is vaguely "murky woods".... but not everyone can.
 

aia_2

Custom title
Because so much of RPG play requires mental images, and so much is beyond normal experience, it's VERY much faster to put in a drawing or painting than to spend the wuarter page (or more) that's going to be vague anyway?

No, not really. It should, but that really only holds true for novels.

Non fiction normally has illustrations. In the case of instructional texts, you get procedural flowcharts, illustrations of start and finish, and often steps between.
Historical texts use paintings, drawings, photos, and visuals of source documents.

Illustrations help reinforce the text.

In RPGs, illustrations reinforce the text, inspire additional non-text elements, show the hard to describe bits, show the things the author's talking about when there's potential confusion
eg: "claidhmore" or claymore... some use it to refer only to the scots bastard sword, others to the greatsword, others still to the dress sword of the regimental pattern, and others still in its original use, as the Scots Gaelic for "sword"... When an author labels a blade a claidhmore and depicts it with a basket, you know it's a one-hander. If they show a long angled quillions, it's probably a late Reiver era bastard. If it's straight quillions, odds are it's a late medieval bastard sword or greatsword.​
And now, how do you describe some of the fantasy weapons, such as the main characters in later (7 & up) Final Fantasy JRPG CRPGs??? Such as Cloud's insane single edged two-handed straight blade? (FF VII) I could call it a "very angular variant greatsword variant of a scramseax" - but that assumes one knows what the latter is - a sword length meat-cleaver with a thrusting point - which makes it still not a great description. But you see a pic of Cloud and the Sword, and you instantly see just how freaking disproportionate it is. Oh, and I'm talking the Buster Sword - a term that's meaningless to most... see https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Final_Fantasy_VII_weapons#Cloud's_broadswords

Sure, pure text can convey information, but it's not doing all the jobs an RPG needs to do in a corebook... Provide visual cues, provide inspiration, communicate setting information about the look of things, provide a meaningful description of things outside human lived experience...

Oh, and even some novels don't go pure text - JRR Tolkien included maps in his novels, specifically so he reader was able to grasp the geographical situation.
I get all your points, i am not against any of them as i do recognize that artworks are an important part in an RPG book... Still i wonder why: this because RPG are the paramount of imagination to my eyes! Being games where ppl sit around the table and imagine collectively a story to live together, this is the top of the effort in immagination... So why the presence of a "little push" like an artwork could be?
Pls consider the example you gave with the calymore definition: why is necessary to provide details of the shape and the structure this sword has? ...and i do not want to consider its artwork in the picture... Wouldn't be better (by far to my eyes!) to leave an unprecise description that it is a large sword and the game mechanics info (namely damage and speed for instance)? In this way everybody is free to imagine within his game what kind of claymore he likes better...
Do you understand where i want to get?
It would be like having a movie played while you are reading the book... Artworks would set "constraints" to your immagination... (How many times we have heard that the book is better than the movie IF you have read it before watching it?)
 

aramis erak

Legend
I get all your points, i am not against any of them as i do recognize that artworks are an important part in an RPG book... Still i wonder why: this because RPG are the paramount of imagination to my eyes! Being games where ppl sit around the table and imagine collectively a story to live together, this is the top of the effort in immagination... So why the presence of a "little push" like an artwork could be?
Pls consider the example you gave with the calymore definition: why is necessary to provide details of the shape and the structure this sword has? ...and i do not want to consider its artwork in the picture... Wouldn't be better (by far to my eyes!) to leave an unprecise description that it is a large sword and the game mechanics info (namely damage and speed for instance)? In this way everybody is free to imagine within his game what kind of claymore he likes better...
Do you understand where i want to get?
No. I read the woords, and they trigger disdain. I understand what your seeking, but cannot grasp why....
Because it's coming across as just about the worst kind of gamer I can think of at my table - the guy who refuses the tools to keep everyone sharing the same understanding in favor of his own disconnect from what the others are doing.

Plus... The original subtitle under "Dungeons and Dragons" is "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures."

For me, RPGs are a type of boardgame. Going TOTM is NOT a goal, it's a fallback for lack of resources.

I don't trump rules limitations for story reasons, either; I treat the rules much as another player in the game - and my players - most being neuroatypical, prefer that the rules work as a fellow player. When we go to the dice, we accept the result.
 

aia_2

Custom title
No. I read the woords, and they trigger disdain. I understand what your seeking, but cannot grasp why....
Sorry, disdain for what? I don't think to disdain anything related to rpgs...
Because it's coming across as just about the worst kind of gamer I can think of at my table - the guy who refuses the tools to keep everyone sharing the same understanding in favor of his own disconnect from what the others are doing.
Again, sorry, you misunderstood my idea: i was not aiming to say that every single person around the table should have his own idea of how a claymore is... I wanted to say that if there is not a picture of a claymore, the GM can use this weapon for the purpose of his game (and obviously the players accept this version of the weapon).
Plus... The original subtitle under "Dungeons and Dragons" is "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures."
Hence? I miss the sense of this sentence...
For me, RPGs are a type of boardgame. Going TOTM is NOT a goal, it's a fallback for lack of resources.
What does TOTM mean?
I don't trump rules limitations for story reasons, either; I treat the rules much as another player in the game - and my players - most being neuroatypical, prefer that the rules work as a fellow player. When we go to the dice, we accept the result.
Again, i miss the "quid" of your thought referred to the topic... I miss how this relates with the presence or not of artowrks in a book...
 

TBeholder

Explorer
It’s not necessary, but desirable.
If you want everyone to be on the same page, a picture cannot be really replaced with text.
Also, it’s good for defining the style/mood.
Obviously, this applies only to the illustrations that actually fit the material. Better nothing than a Random Pic From Internet Search.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
For me, RPGs are a type of boardgame. Going TOTM is NOT a goal, it's a fallback for lack of resources.

9dd0bb6b-c488-43fb-8c79-380326c6c24a_text.gif


Uh ..... I'm sure it's not what you meant, but saying that RPGs (the majority of which are "TOTM") are just a type of boardgame, and that (paraphrasing) only poor people play TOTM .... probably not the best approach?

ETA- @aia_2 "TOTM" refers to "Theater of the Mind," which playing RPGs without a grid/minis. Most RPGs (other than D&D/PF and related games) use TOTM. D&D itself has a large contingent of TOTM players and DMs, including (for example) me.
 

aia_2

Custom title
Also, it’s good for defining the style/mood.
That is smtg i didn't take into consideration! Now that i read you, i also have a reply about the abstract artworks of some games like Mork Borg and a great example from the past: the Planescape setting!
Obviously, this applies only to the illustrations that actually fit the material. Better nothing than a Random Pic From Internet Search.
Ok, that is rather clear! That was not even under discussion!
9dd0bb6b-c488-43fb-8c79-380326c6c24a_text.gif


Uh ..... I'm sure it's not what you meant, but saying that RPGs (the vast majority of which are 'TOTM') are just a type of boardgame, and that (paraphrasing) only poor people play TOTM .... probably not the best approach?
Sorry, what does TOTM stand for?
 

aia_2

Custom title
ETA- @aia_2 "TOTM" refers to "Theater of the Mind," which playing RPGs without a grid/minis. Most RPGs (other than D&D/PF and related games) use TOTM. D&D itself has a large contingent of TOTM players and DMs, including (for example) me.
Thanks! Now it is clear!
I miss how this aspect is related to thr presence or not of artworks but i do understand now.
I also play with pencil and paper but without grid and minis... I have been playing this way since the very beginning, in 1983!
 

Still i wonder why: this because RPG are the paramount of imagination to my eyes! Being games where ppl sit around the table and imagine collectively a story to live together, this is the top of the effort in immagination... So why the presence of a "little push" like an artwork could be?
Fundamentally, to give framing. To set boundaries -- be that because you intend to adhere to them, or because you want to know when you are breaking them. You can't color within the lines without lines, but you also can't color outside the lines without lines (and, while you might not want to color within the lines, you may still constrain yourself to coloring on the page and not halfway across the kitchen table as well).

Let's take AD&D (1E and 2E) core books as examples. Both have covers which depict rather epic individuals (wizards wielding magic, dungeon-crawlers removing torso-sized jewel-eyes from giant statues, etc.), but once you look inside, the have decidedly different tones of artwork.
  1. 1E includes a lot more depictions of incredibly scared-looking adventurers meekly sneaking through dungeons like the next turn probably will be their doom. Also lots more comedic depictions of characters slipping on banana peels or sneaking past giant rats while wearing mouse costumes saying 'this had better work.' Also lots of depictions of the world of 1E being Conan/Fafhrd&Grey Mouser-esque shadowy back alleys full of cutpurses and seedy taverns.
  2. 2E instead includes lots of depictions of epic characters kicking in dungeon doors and laying waste to their enemies. Adventuring parties in power-poses. Individual mages standing there crackling with energy. Domestic/urban scenes hew more towards friendly inns with roaring hearthfires, market scenes, and so forth. Excluding an unfortunate penchant for fainted-women-in-peril* art, most of the people in the scenes are being victorious. And often epically so (fighting the truly powerful beasts of the game). The most grounded picture I can think of from 2e is a party of adventurers with a defeated dragon hanging from a tree, and the only constrain there is that it is clearly a very small dragon. *and these are typically unarmored women most-likely not part of the party so much as someone the party has to rescue.
These two different framings support (or honestly reflect, since the change happened in late 1E) that 1E and 2E had a change in how the game was generally perceived (and oftentimes played. And this is with rulesets that were* largely the same.
*I'm going to get flack from purists of both editions, but you certainly at least know what I mean.
Pls consider the example you gave with the calymore definition: why is necessary to provide details of the shape and the structure this sword has? ...and i do not want to consider its artwork in the picture... Wouldn't be better (by far to my eyes!) to leave an unprecise description that it is a large sword and the game mechanics info (namely damage and speed for instance)? In this way everybody is free to imagine within his game what kind of claymore he likes better...
If someone is wielding a basket-hilted claymore one-handed, it is (/can be) a grounded fantasy. If someone is wielding one of the big two-hander claymores one-handed, it is some level of over-the-top fantasy. Both styles of game are fine, acceptable, even great; but in general everyone should be clear on which of the two types of games you are playing in (before someone does something like have their character try to jump a 12-meter crevasse or something).
Do you understand where i want to get?
It would be like having a movie played while you are reading the book... Artworks would set "constraints" to your immagination... (How many times we have heard that the book is better than the movie IF you have read it before watching it?)
Books often take several chapters (and usually a non-trivial portion of the wordcount ongoing throughout the story) establishing these same constraints specifically because they can't use visuals the same way that a movie or book full of art can. Tolkien spends huge swaths of text focusing on travel and roads and towns and cottages to establish that the main adventure of each of his two main works are exceptional departures from a very grounded pastoral lifestyle that the protagonists normally have, and that the primary purpose of the adventure (one dominated by difficult travel punctuated by a few moments of mortal terror) is to be able to get back to that lovely adventure-free lifestyle. In the Conan stories, Howard spends a huge amount of time describing the towns, the places, the castles, alleyways, the smells, peoples' gaits, their eyes. All this to ground Conan in his world -- a very low fantasy world where even the greatest warrior in all the lands occasionally gets conked over the head and wakes up helpless in a cell.

All of these things are things that a game can leave up to those playing them (and some of them do, to a lessor or greater extent). However, then the group had better all come to a consensus on some of the scope and tone and scale of their fantasy (and, IMO, it is better that the game have tools which help facilitate this). Either way, the primary goal is that the game people want to play and the ruleset work well together, and if the games' artwork communicate what the game will be good for, IMO that is great.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
The question seems simple but it might have some considerations that I am not sure I know and therefore I likely miss the whole picture: why are artworks in an RPG book so important? A good book would sell also for the contents regardless to the presence of internal artworks?

Briefly, the answer to your question is ... no. The books would not sell as well without artwork.

The first thing you have to remember is that RPG books serve many purposes, but they aren't novels. People aren't reading them page after page after page for the story. So art serves an important role in breaking up blocks of text and making the book more "readable" and "attractive." I would find it difficult to dig into any of the larger RPG books without the art.

Beyond that, art serves as a fire to the imagination. I'm currently running several threads asking about the pieces of art that have inspired people in the past. The book Art & Arcana: A Visual History does an amazing job of detailing some of the great pieces (and the history and evolution of art in D&D).

Finally, I think we tend to undervalue the presence of art and good design. Having nice ... having beautiful things makes our lives better. We often hear this debate pop up in other contexts, as well- such as spending money from the fisc for public art. But spaces devoid of art, devoid of beauty ... it lessens all of us. From the beginning (with cave drawings and making our own objects nicer) to now, art exists to elevate beyond the mere utilitarian requirements of existence.

Put another way- in life, art might not be the reason that you eat and breathe. But it is what makes eating and breathing worthwhile. And while art isn't the rules of the game, the existence of great art is inseparable from the exploration of those games- just like I cannot imagine AD&D without thinking of this-

players-handbook-jpeg.146904


Does that picture change the system shock table? No. But can I ever think of D&D without it?

No.
 

No. I read the woords, and they trigger disdain. I understand what your seeking, but cannot grasp why....
Because it's coming across as just about the worst kind of gamer I can think of at my table - the guy who refuses the tools to keep everyone sharing the same understanding in favor of his own disconnect from what the others are doing.

Plus... The original subtitle under "Dungeons and Dragons" is "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures."

For me, RPGs are a type of boardgame. Going TOTM is NOT a goal, it's a fallback for lack of resources.

I don't trump rules limitations for story reasons, either; I treat the rules much as another player in the game - and my players - most being neuroatypical, prefer that the rules work as a fellow player. When we go to the dice, we accept the result.

While I agree RPGs come from war-games: to me the thing that makes them special is they are a different medium from boardgames. They are all about the imagination. This is why battle mats, miniatures and particularly tactical grids, just take me out of the game. Personal preference of course, but I think for me, the more heavy use of visual media, boards, and other materials shifts it away from the imagination part (not 100%, I don't mind useful handouts on occasions, or visual references when something is particular hard to grok, but overall, I prefer the medium to be our collective imaginations).
 

payn

Legend
A recent poster put together their own 3E heartbreaker. It was a variant of the Epic 6 style of game. The working document was just a massive wall of text. I'll be honest it was difficult to dig into the details and imagine the system. I dont need artwork for every single concept in an RPG. Though, images to break up the text and jog the imagination are very helpful for reading. Also, it helps maintain immersion in the genre you have chosen. Its a very powerful tool and you abandon it at your own risk.

For example, there are some RPGs I play where the company is on the small side. Their artwork is not that great. There is enough to break up the text, and jog the imagination. It helps. Though, because the artwork isn't great, I tend to buy only in PDF format as I want to have the game system and supplements. Publishers that make great use of artwork get me into physical copies as well as digital because they are great works to have on a book shelf.
 

Jared Earle

Explorer
Luckily, this is already an answered question: Name a successful game without art.

Lots of artless games have been produced over time and not one of them is still standing, so the market (ie. you and me) has decided that we don't want these games.

QED.

Edit: Yes, I know Traveller had no art, but look at it now.
 


Pls consider the example you gave with the calymore definition: why is necessary to provide details of the shape and the structure this sword has? ...and i do not want to consider its artwork in the picture... Wouldn't be better (by far to my eyes!) to leave an unprecise description that it is a large sword and the game mechanics info (namely damage and speed for instance)? In this way everybody is free to imagine within his game what kind of claymore he likes better...
Do you understand where i want to get?
Because a claymore is not 'art'; it is one of two very specific designs. Or three, because some people visualize a modern direction mine when that word is used.

Illustrations illuminates the scene. Imprecise descriptions means greater disparity between what the GM is describing, and what the players 'see'. It makes a scene murky and prone to confusion.
 

While I agree RPGs come from war-games: to me the thing that makes them special is they are a different medium from boardgames. They are all about the imagination. This is why battle mats, miniatures and particularly tactical grids, just take me out of the game. Personal preference of course, but I think for me, the more heavy use of visual media, boards, and other materials shifts it away from the imagination part (not 100%, I don't mind useful handouts on occasions, or visual references when something is particular hard to grok, but overall, I prefer the medium to be our collective imaginations).
Heresy!!!

I am of the exact opposite mind. Using a VTT means that shared information between the GM and players is exact, allowing the players to concentrate on what is best: what their PCs are doing.

Everyone has the same information. Everyone grasps that there is a fence here, a tree there, and a man pointing a musket at this point. They can see what he is wearing, and what he is armed with. It is all there in vivid colors and concise detail, unique to every situation.

So instead of constant tedious descriptions and clarifications, the GM can focus on the plot, the interactions, and the events; the players can focus on their PCs.

That is, IMO, how the best and deepest role-playing comes about.
 

Heresy!!!

I am of the exact opposite mind. Using a VTT means that shared information between the GM and players is exact, allowing the players to concentrate on what is best: what their PCs are doing.

Everyone has the same information. Everyone grasps that there is a fence here, a tree there, and a man pointing a musket at this point. They can see what he is wearing, and what he is armed with. It is all there in vivid colors and concise detail, unique to every situation.

So instead of constant tedious descriptions and clarifications, the GM can focus on the plot, the interactions, and the events; the players can focus on their PCs.

That is, IMO, how the best and deepest role-playing comes about.

For me this just kills it in a few ways (and again this is just my personal opinion, everyone is going to have a different perception of these things):

1) Time consumption: it takes more time when you are messing around with a grid and miniatures, doubly so online.

2) Imagination: I prefer that I be allowed to imagine this stuff on my own. VTT and battlements, or dungeon tiles, all that stuff just directs my attention towards the visual medium and away from imagining it in my own mind.

3) The shift: I find shifting from RP to battlement, for me, creates a phantasy star effect where the role-play and exploration part of the game feels like an entirely different game than combat. And in some cases RP ends up feeling totally different from exploration. I just prefer having that all feel like it is organic and part of the same process.

In terms of precision, there is a trade off. On the other hand, in VTT you are tethered to that grid so you can get more granular and expansive when you aren't. In terms of describing things, I find to get the most accuracy out of theater of the mind, it is less about long descriptions and more about the right description, as well as allowing players to ask key questions when needed. I hate long descriptions and favor short, quick, natural language when describing things in game. One good thing it does is train the GM to think more concretely about what they are imaging and to track things so they can report accurately.
 

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