RPG Corner: Visuals

Since my buddy John and I have both done interior illustrations for various RPG modules (he even did the original cover for "Champions of the North"), I wanted to ask about what you do for visuals in your games. Obviously computer RPGs have their own graphics, but for good old fashioned pen-and-paper, how important is it for you to be able to visualize what's going on and who you're fighting? Does your GM give you printouts of images that enhance the mood?

When you're leafing through a game supplement in the store, how important are the illustrations to your buying decision? Or do you even care about them at all?

I ask particularly because HM was started in part to let GMs get Full Color Visuals to show their players, prompted largely by the ongoing campaigns John and I were in. Plus we got kind of tired of having to do all the drawing, which, if it wasn't our own adventure, ruined the surprise of the characters we'd encounter.

If you or your GM have used HeroMachine images in a campaign before, how were they used? Did they go over well?

Setting HeroMachine aside for the moment, what else does your GM do to help "set the mood" for the campaign? I know some will put on a custom mood-mix CD for audio effects. Others use miniatures and maps. I'd love to hear what works for you, what you like, what you hate, and if all that stuff matters at all or if it's more than enough just having the descriptions.

9 Responses to RPG Corner: Visuals

  1. PCFDPGrey says:

    I’ve been in several campaigns ranging from AD&D to RIFTS, to ROBOTECH, to Champions and just about everything in between. We’ve always used character pictures (either sketches, or photos of actual people) for both PCs and NPCs. I think it’s helpful when the player, and or GM has a particular look in mind for someone or something then it helps to have everyone “on the same page”. It’s one thing to say that so-and-so is a middleaged man with short, greying hair of average height sporting facial hair of several days growth, who walks with a cane. Everyone who reads that description is going to think of something different. On the other hand, if you say you run into “this guy” and hold up a picture of Hugh Laurie, everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about. Mood music has also played a key factor in the campaigns that I’ve played. It helps to set the stage and when timed properly can really help to enhance the experience. Just like in film. What would Jaws, or Star Wars, or any other movie have been like without the benefit of music to draw you in and give you cues as to the action? As to the use of miniatures, I’ve been in games that do and don’t use them. as to that, I really do think that it is dependant upon the situation. There are times when it is really handy to be able to actually visualize where everyone is, and what the terrain is like.

    My friends and I were in a Champions game that ran for 3 years. HM2 and HM2.5 were key and instrumental in all of the Chracters (both PCs and NPCs) throughout the campaign. In fact, I was so impressed with what was done, that I asked the GM and the other players for the copies of all the characters that they had done in all of the HM incarnations, so I could have them in a collection. Running your contests has also been incredibly helpful as I have seen submissions from other people and go, “That’s cool, I think I could use that character in a spot in my campaign”.

    I think art is also a huge part of any gaming manual, and are also a key ingredients for purchases. In fact, I’ll admit that I have bought game books for games/systems that I don’t play and never would, just so I could have copies of the art. This also comes in handy for inspiring ideas for other games.

    By the way, since HM has come out, it has become an invaluable tool in the games I’m in. It is great to be able to actually create a visual interpretation of one’s character that they can point to and go “See, this is what my Rogue looks like”. or “Here is my spandex-clad do-gooder for everyone to view”. This has been expecially great for those of us with little or know artisitc talent ourselves.
    So, Thank you, Jeff for giving us HM. Besides, being able to create our own spandex-clad heroes and villains, means I don’t have to go raiding those skeezy spandex fetish sites any more. 🙂

  2. The Eric says:

    I prefer when we have maps for our adventures to visualize them.

    I want to use Heromachine portraits for my miniatures, but i haven’t been able to yet. Using a kobold for a dragonborn is not cool.

  3. MeMyself&I says:

    Speaking of miniatures The Eric; have you seen any good ones of a scottish warrior using an axe?

  4. Tim K. says:

    I made “mini’s” by buying some inkjet Shrinky Dink paper–it can run through an inkjet printer then baked to make hard “plastic” 2-d figures. It be great for Heromachine prints (if the color is light enough–dark colors tend to burn in the baaking process.

    I supply color maps, sketches, and the like. I rarely use full color materials mostly due to the time to produce–but sometimes I do, when I color a mecha, or hero or villain.

    Music and the like is rare, mostly because few things fit the images or sounds I have in my head. I do try and produce them however when I can.

  5. The Atomic Punk says:

    @Tim K.: Killer idea!

    When I was gaming “full-time”, we had a couple of artists in the group. Except they wouldn’t draw your character if you asked. Nay, only if they “felt like it”. I used to design spaceships for random campaigns. But that was all done with rulers and stencils. More for a visual than anything that affected game play.

    I always enjoyed painting miniatures. Even accessorized a few Hot Wheels as avatars of my Car Wars vehicles. Lost a model Apache helicopter that I had painted up to look like the Republic of Texas.

    A friend was really into Battletech, Warhammer 40k, basically anything epic that required the whole living room floor. Used to enjoy watching the tournaments at cons. The detail and care a lot of guys (and the rare female) would take into setting them up.

    Except this one time, I helped a friend prep for a D&D tournament. Painted his Umber Hulks purple. I thought they turned out nice. Never upset a purist!

    As for the GMing, our group had a rather stringent policy of no distractions. We were rather serious gamers. Right down to the dice.

  6. Valkem says:

    Usually we use a hex map and some mini’s for our adventures. Mostly to get distance rules down, but I have used small rocks and the flat marbles you can get from dollar stores to help give a minor real feel to it, and get the players involved. I haven’t used it much, but I did let the kids use Hero Machine to make their characters so they could show them to each other, and kind of have them out on the table.

    I’ve started DM’in for mine, and my friends kids. They’re new to D&D, so we’re playing some. For the purposes of their game, I try to add just a little to get them started into the world, but try to leave a lot out, to let their imaginations go wild. Seems to work pretty well.

    So, I don’t use a lot of visualization at this time. usually it’s maps, or some maps of cities/villages, just to give them an idea of size and technology.


  7. PCFDPGrey says:

    I’ve found it to be very handy to have a laptop with an additional monitor or 2 handy. That way, pictures can be displayed to the players, and you save money on ink. Laptops also come in handy for having descriptions at hand, and for those gamers willing to enter the 21st century, automated random dice rollers/ generators. That REALLY saves on cost of dice, space consideration (as you don’t need a place large enough for that double handful of damage dice) as well as there’s no more diving under the furniture for rogue dice either.

  8. Cliff says:

    I’m leagally blind and LOVE Hero Machine to illustrate my characters both Superhero and AD&D (1st & 2nd Ed) since Hero Machine only had the ONE version.

    Before then I used to draw my own, but when I was a little lazy, I would use Hero Machine. Now over the years diabetic retinopathy has made me legally blind and HM is a real life saver.

    I am LOVEING HM3 since it does so much, but I do miss some objects like books, wineskin nad bottles etc … I am hoping to see them in the future.

    I love satyrs and LOVE the HM goat legs, although I do wish I could pose them a little more, but they rock.
    I have done over 100 HM characters in the last month or so, true some of them are the same characters in stages, here he is with armor, peasant clothes etc …. about 15 are Satyrs.

    To answer your question though, mostly I used my own sketches of my characters, pictures from magazine or computer printouts for other characters before HM, and equipment was from other game books or real pics of real equipment.
    We have used graph paper maps, tabletop maps and painted figs (or extra dice, coke bottle tops, and/or Pente beads for the hordes of misc monsters.)
    Once in a while we would even used mood lighting, closing the shades and using candles, but not often.
    For Mood there was/is usually CDs, we have a rock and roll soap opera of a band we made called The Haunted, we have made over 25 CDs of their hits though the years.
    I admit the core group of players are more character/personality driven than big guns and “let’s kill everything.”

    Another friend has recently used his laplot hooked up to his 60″ plasma screen TV for our Werewolf the Forsaken game, we also used Google Earth which really effected the game “OH! A police station is on the block. Behave!” or “There is a restaurant on the street corner lets go eat, etc …” We also used Tax Assessor records to get the info on Buildings as well as Hotel and other floor plans and online pics and even state, city or neighborhood history, local politician pics and bios etc. It waws a great WtF game. Which makes me think now, I need to do a HM3 of Conner.

    Sorry for the ramble. I’ve meant to write you, literally for YEARS.

    I love Hero Machine. THNAKS


  9. Jeff Hebert says:

    Thanks for the kind words Cliff, it made my day!