Jan 312012


A picture is worth a thousand words. We have all heard that phrase many times over. Not only can they be worth a thousand words, pictures can sometimes be just the thing to get you over a hurdle when developing your campaign.

Have you ever sat down at the beginning of a new campaign needing a spark of inspiration to get things underway? Or maybe your players have just wrapped up a plot arc and you need something for next week. Or maybe you have a great evil villain, but you just don’t have a suitable lair for him.

If you ever find yourself at an impasse in campaign design, take some time to browse through image sites on the web. DeviantArt.com is an excellent site to browse when you find yourself needing some form of inspiration. Or even sign up for National Geographic’s photo of the day, or follow artist types on Google Plus who tend to post images and art they are working on. These image collections cause ideas to spring to your head that might not have come without some outside inspiration.

Whether you find landscapes that give you ideas for scenes to create for your players or works of architecture or stunning images of naturally occurring events, images and art can be a wonderful tool for a GM to help create more vivid scenes for your games.

Look at the landscape in the image of the painting above. The image immediately gets my mind thinking, picturing myself as a set of adventurer’s that have just come upon this scene. A bird flying through the air, other birds chirping, a mountainside creek spilling down into a small lake as the sun struggles to peek through the clouds in the distance. This could be a vista described to the party as they pass through, a backdrop to an encounter on the way to something bigger or it could be the final destination to meet with a long forgotten druidic order. In either case it provides a GM with a wealth of descriptors for use during a gaming session.

As another example, take the picture of this old run down tavern. This image quickly gets me thinking of a wayside Inn in the party might happen upon while traveling from one city to another. The Inn is barely hanging on, just enough business to stay open and enable a pauper-like living for the owner. I can see a horse or two stabled just outside and smoke rising from the chimney. Then the mind moves quickly to just who is this owner? What is he or she like? How busy would the Inn be on a typical night? Who would frequent the Inn? What types of travelers? These are all questions that should drive a GM, but they are jump started by an image.

Images as inspiration is not a tool reserved for GMs either. There are a multitude of uses as a player as well. Perhaps it is finding a portrait of a character on an online art site like DeviantArt. Some of the art there can really get a character concept flowing faster than sitting down with a blank piece of paper.

A character will often have a background that might occur offstage, a home of their own. Images and pictures work great for detailing out this background. Maybe a quiet village in the hills or in the trees is where your elf came from or the picture of forges being worked underground are inspiration for your dwarf. While these may not see actual usage in game play, they can provide a sense of home for your character and help mold his or her personalities as the game unfolds.

Whether a GM or player these examples help show how images and art should not be forgotten when looking for inspiration. They can often be the kick your mind needs to get the idea flowing. So the next time you are stuck or are looking for new campaign ideas, spend a little time browsing various image sites and see if this doesn’t help get the wheels turning. Good luck!

About Jeffrey

I am a long time RPG gamer with a heavy slant towards fantasy RPGs. I am currently running and playing Pathfinder. When I am not keeping computers running, tending chickens, playing games or out for a run, I write about RPGs. You can follow me on Twitter or see more from me at The Iron Tavern.

  5 Responses to “Images as RPG Inspiration”

  1. I have a whole folder on my hard drive just dedicated to inspirational pictures and art. It’s a good idea for places, scenes and NPC’s.

  2. They certainly are. Various forms of art and images can really spark an idea from in my experience. I tend to bookmark a lot, I should start saving them to a folder in case the URL ever changes.

  3. Google Image Search, deviantart or conceptart.org are really great sources for inspiration for any genre imaginable. I rarely use pictures as a handout during a game though as usually the picture is never quiet where it is in my mind. And I have an aversion against photographs in a fantasy game. Modern or Sci Fi games are different, there I do not mind photos much.

  4. I tend to use handouts when I run published adventures, such as some of the Adventure Paths. I will show NPCs and such. I agree with you that photographs as handouts in a fantasy game are off putting. It seems to jar the senses to see a photograph in that genre.

  5. My very first D&D campaign was inspired by a series of photos taken of an old farmhouse. I don’t use photos in fantasy games, but in other settings i use them quite a bit. Used to use a ton of old B&W photos when I ran Call of Cthulhu.

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