Art in Game Manuals

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  • Does anyone feel they can write a manual to a RPG without using any text? Images only? Of course it would only count if you could accurately communicate the rules to the players.
    This was a neat mental exercise. On the surface, I'd say you could certainly do the world building part of creating an RPG in only images. Look at stuff like 300 and other such graphic novels. Even text-light or no-text graphic novels can convey a world and a story very effectively, with all the color and emotion that a visual medium can bring.

    However, as soon as you go from free-form roleplaying to having any rules for the adjudication of outcomes, then you absolutely need text and more importantly math. You could perhaps do so in comic-book form, showing how a game is run rather than explaining the actual rules. That would be quite neat and original. But no, you wouldn't be able to get away with only images.
  • In books about writing there aren't pictures of people sitting at laptops in Starbucks.

    In books about radio dramas there aren't pictures of people standing at microphones on every page.
    In books about role-playing games, there usually aren't pictures of people sitting around tables with sheets of paper, pencils, and funny dice, either. Yes, I have in fact seen such pictures once or twice, but it's certainly the exception, not the rule. Your objection here is disingenuous.
    It's just ludicrous and insane that books about playing RPGs have tons of art in it and it's useless, a huge waste of money and space, and nobody should like it, ever.
    So, you're not familiar with Talislanta, Skyrealms of Jorune, Warhammer 40K, D&D: Dark Sun, The Shadow of Yesterday, or any of the many other games with a fantasy or science-fiction setting in which artwork is the fastest and easiest way to convey details about the setting and its tone? Or are you advocating that all RPG rules text on how the game actually works should be kept separate from any and all setting material?
  • edited August 2013
    By this logic, fantasy novelists can't get their setting across except by virtue of the illustration on the cover. They can, so the argument is flawed. All those games had superfluous art. Proof: all of fantastical/imaginative/descriptive literature in all human history.
  • By this logic, fantasy novelists can't get their setting across except by virtue of the illustration on the cover. They can, so the argument is flawed. All those games had superfluous art. Proof: all of fantastical/imaginative/descriptive literature in all human history.
    OTOH, describing critters in Brian Froud's art and simply looking at Brian Froud's art is pretty significantly different.

    For me anyway.

    Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal would have been significantly different movies ( and different sorts of inspiration for gaming) had a different artist been working on them. They would have been different if they were only described in text.

    Both film versions of Dune are different to me from one another, and from the book.

    How do you feel about those sorts of thing JD? Does the visual imagery make no difference at all for you?

  • edited August 2013
    It's as I said before, JD happens to be more verbal than visual and only needs maps and miniatures to play, leave him alone. You can't convince a verbal player to go visual, it's like convincing a cat-person to become a dog-person. And for people who have an easier time thinking on visuals, it's the same thing, we tend to perceive blocks of texts as blocks of text and not as fiction, but when we see an image we can imagine even the things that aren't there.

    If you've happen to have one foot on each world, however, you'd be able to take advantage of both properly, as long as you don't repeat yourself by explaining in words exactly whatever is in the images. Just complete the image to make your fiction more vivid, and that's it.

    So no, you can't convince me either that text-only games are cooler than games with meaningful inspirational art, but I respect your perspective since we're completely different and we both have our place in the world.
  • Oh heck, I just like aggressive conversation with JD.

    He annoys and challenges me, and makes me laugh in equal amounts.

  • edited August 2013
    Of course not, comics and movies and other visual media are fine conveying things visually. But we aren't conveying things visually in our hobby, we're doing so verbally.

    I can maybe imagine an RPG where it might be helpful - say, an edition of PTA where it tries to teach you about the visual grammar of TV shows, including camera angle, sight lines, different sorts of camera movements and editing effects.

    Similarly if there was a comic book game where you were literally describing a panel of a comic book I guess?

    But nobody has done that and that's not what we're talking about.

    In a game where you're not pretending to create something visual, instead everyone at the table is trying to convey things through words into imagination, there's no point.

    (Hell, even in LARP books there's no information about Acting 101 like stances, breathing, facial expressions, etc.)
  • Tangent:Expedition to the Barrier Peaks actually did use art for in-game reasons, even if AD&D didn't in general.

    Of course, that was a rather specific module rather than core rules.
  • Sure. And I can envision, say, a less collaborative version of The Quiet Year where you were creating a very specific kind of themed map that would require some specific visuals to be conveyed and expanded on by the players.

    I believe there was a Paranoia module where you were supposed to put a diagram of a badly labelled control panel in front of the players and have them describe/point to what they were doing.

    But these are really outliers compared to, say, the 1,000,000000,00,000000 pictures in the Pathfinder corebook (science estimate.)
  • I haven't seen the PF book.

    I do own the PF Iconic PCs and Goblin minis from the Reaper Kickstarter.

    The art is distinctive. It has a different feel for me than another artist's interpretation of fantasy critters.

    It may or may not inspire different game ideas. I haven't tried it out yet.

    Your outlier comment is interesting though, since it does tie in a bit with my reinforcing cycle comments ( a negative feedback cycle specifically).
  • By this logic, fantasy novelists can't get their setting across except by virtue of the illustration on the cover. They can, so the argument is flawed. All those games had superfluous art. Proof: all of fantastical/imaginative/descriptive literature in all human history.
    On the contrary, your rebuttal is flawed. I never said those games could not get their setting across except through artwork; I said it was the fastest and easiest way to convey detail and (a sense of) tone.

    What does a jabberwock look like? You could spend a paragraph describing its appearance, or you could include an illustration and save the text space for details that directly affect the game, such as its habits and how it fights. And then the illustration still allows the game master to describe the monster in their own words, or just show the illustration, whichever they prefer.

    Again, your argument only makes sense to me if you're advocating that the rules of any given RPG should be entirely separate from the imaginative content of setting. The rules may not need illustrations of jabberwocks and palaces and whatnot. Strictly speaking, the game setting doesn't need illustrations either, sure; it could be done all as text. But to say "it's useless, a huge waste of money and space, and nobody should like it, ever" is contrary to the entire history of illustrated texts, including the medium of comics, as well as the experience of many (but not all!) people who are not you.
  • The flip-side, if you have to describe everything in prose, is that you might start writing a novel or introduce more blocks of flavour text. How often have I seen people complaining about flavour text in RPGs? ;)

    Personally I find rulebooks of wall to wall text to be a bit of a drag to read. The comprehension requirements are different than reading a novel.
  • Again, your argument only makes sense to me if you're advocating that the rules of any given RPG should be entirely separate from the imaginative content of setting. The rules may not need illustrations of jabberwocks and palaces and whatnot. Strictly speaking, the game setting doesn't need illustrations either, sure; it could be done all as text. But to say "it's useless, a huge waste of money and space, and nobody should like it, ever" is contrary to the entire history of illustrated texts, including the medium of comics, as well as the experience of many (but not all!) people who are not you.
    You take comics, I'll take novels and we'll see who has the most vividly realized settings. Ready? I have a 500 year head start by the way.
  • You take comics, I'll take novels and we'll see who has the most vividly realized settings. Ready? I have a 500 year head start by the way.
    You realize that texts have been illustrated since the earliest manuscripts, right? And that humanity sought to illustrate concepts, ideas, philosophies and laws through pictographs before they could even write?
  • It's true, novels don't need pictures, but RPGs aren't novels.

    The rules are more like technical manuals, and so benefit from clear layout and relevant diagrams. The rules themselves don't "need" illustrations.

    The setting information isn't really a novel either, or a technical manual. It's more like a tourist guidebook or gazetteer. Most of those I've seen do include pictures of locations and locals, and also maps. While these sections may not "need" illustration either, I think they generally benefit from some that complement the text.

    If an RPG has closely aligned mechanics and setting, I think it can afford to have illustrations throughout so long as they don't interfere with the presentation of the rules.
  • Now you're all just discussing about your tastes, this thread has gone irrelevant. I'm out, have fun.
  • edited August 2013
    Tourist information is trying to guide someone through a real place, not guide someone in playing a character in an interesting/challenging/fun way in a fictional place. Analogy doesn't work for the exact reason the hobby is fun: you are roleplaying.

    And suuuure. Look at all those stupid novelists still trying to muddle by, struggling with just words, when if they only knew what they could do with words AND art. They had it right when manuscripts were illuminated! Everything has gone downhill, except comics, since then.

    Like I say, the industry standard in RPGs is at least 1 piece of art per page. With heavily produced RPGs it is often 2-4. One person saying this is horrible stupid garbage is not going to change anything. Just let me throw my rocks against the 4,000 foot thick steel reinforced concrete wall that's been erected around this perfect and never-again-changing aspect of our god damn hobby in peace.
  • edited August 2013
    For what it's worth, my own opinion is largely along the same lines with Jason. And as he says, there's no particular need to argue about the matter. To learn of different viewpoints, yes, but not to argue, simply because there's not that much of an argument to it; we just have different opinions about what kinds of books make each of us the most happy. For my part I know that a game's art or lack of the same has never caused me to gauge its utility to be substantially different, so when somebody puts major effort and sacrifice into the visual art of the work, it's a natural thing to look at that really critically: is it actually about their own enjoyment of the book-maker's art (something I like very much myself - just look at Carcosa!), or is it really about the game itself?

    And of course art is not the same as book design - you still need high-class typography and page design and structural choices and diagrams (themselves having nothing to do with rpg illustrative art, which is the topic here) to make a good book, even if you are taking a swing at a low-art or art-less rpg book.
  • edited August 2013
    Coming from a design background, I really appreciate a visually well-designed game. Sometimes a good design includes some illustrations, but it doesn't have to. It's more important to me that the typography, layout, and color communicate what kind of game something is than the pictures.

    All of that said, it's more important to me that the words in the game communicate what kind of game something is than any aspect of the visual design. I've certainly played and enjoyed games that weren't particularly visually attractive. I just appreciate it a bit more – and am a lot more likely to actually pick something up in the first place, without a recommendation from others – when a game looks nice. (Part of why I was so determined to run Ghost/Echo was that just looking at it made me go, "That looks so cool!" – and then the intriguing minimalism in the rules themselves reinforced my first impression.)
  • Right. My take is, art and typography makes a game look better, which is important if you want people to buy it, but it doesn't do much to make it play better.
  • edited August 2013
    Right. My take is, art and typography makes a game look better, which is important if you want people to buy it, but it doesn't do much to make it play better.
    Maybe that's a more relevant question than whether the people who really like art in a game's rulebook work with visual arts: whether they choose what they buy based on what it looks like. Y'know, browsing a shelf, flipping through a book, deciding right then and there whether they're going to take it up to the counter and buy it. Are the art-lovers mostly impulse buyers, collectors, and/or regular shoppers?


    As for me, I'm none of those things. I'm the guy who waits until he's heard/read some opinions about a game, asks some questions about it, looks for more information online about it, then still won't buy it unless my friends are interested in playing it with me AND we plan on playing it within the next week or two. The art can't really sway my choice one way or the other.

    (Which doesn't mean that game designers are crazy to put art in their books: if the people who love art are also the ones who buy the most books, hell, they pretty much HAVE to, right? Lord knows I don't buy many rulebooks these days...anyone whose business plan is trying to target someone like me is just going to go out of business even faster.)
  • Planescape wouldn't be Planescape without Tony DiTerlizzi.

    image

    Nothing got the message of how even though Mechanus is supposed to be a perfect and orderly society, everything is just wrong like that picture.
  • Accounting for Taste:
    I'm apparently halfway between you and TallPaul!

    My buying habits aren't that different from yours ( including warnings to about how I might not be the person to base your business plan on).

    On the other hand, that picture that TallPaul just posted really does immediately hit me with concepts about whatever Planescape is like and supposed to be about in some sense, in a way text alone never would.

    Seeing art like that may well start to tilt my decision to buy something positively or negatively very quickly.

    It isn't the only factor, but it matters.
  • edited August 2013
    So question: How does that inspiring image make you have more fun when you play? I don't doubt it does, but can someone explain it better than "It's inspiring" or "It communicates the setting"?

    I guess it might be a matter of what you need the game to do, too. For me, inspiration is cheap and I don't really need it supplied by the game. But then setting isn't very important to me, either, so I guess it's no surprise that I'm not that jazzed about all the art.
  • So question: How does that inspiring image make you have more fun when you play? I don't doubt it does, but can someone explain it better than "It's inspiring" or "It communicates the setting"?

    I guess it might be a matter of what you need the game to do, too. For me, inspiration is cheap and I don't really need it supplied by the game. But then setting isn't very important to me, either, so I guess it's no surprise that I'm not that jazzed about all the art.
    This tends to be my opinion of the vast majority of games. There have been a couple where the art was important for a mechanical reason (like the portrait in puppetland), but I don't approach a game for inspiration to play a specific story line out, and I haven't played with anyone that had. It has been an interesting conversation thus far...
  • It's okay, mechanics don't much inspire me, so I guess I'm the other side of the coin.
  • It's okay, mechanics don't much inspire me, so I guess I'm the other side of the coin.
    They used to inspire the heck out of me, but don't anymore, which is probably why I rarely buy games nowadays. :)
  • edited August 2013
    Right. My take is, art and typography makes a game look better, which is important if you want people to buy it, but it doesn't do much to make it play better.
    Well, to be fair, layout and typography can actually affect your experience (or at least my experience) playing games. Good design makes information clearer; bad design (or at least problems in design) can make key information harder to absorb or even notice at all, which can lead to inconsistencies or mistakes in how rules are handled.

    I'm sure I could come up with more egregious examples with a bit more thought, but just to give you an example offhand: I recently learned that I ran Castle Falkenstein wrong for years because of the way a certain bit of information was presented in the book. This completely changed the way the game was played. (In case you were curious: You play cards from your hand to boost your abilities when attempting something challenging; you're supposed to redraw after every card played. I missed this thanks to it only being mentioned once anywhere in the entire book, tucked into a paragraph at the top of a page following most of the rest of the card rules, and not called out visually in any way at all. More careful paragraph layout and/or intelligent use of contrast in typefaces sure would've helped ... but of course a "rules summary" page at the end of the book probably would've been even better. )

    Edit to add: Oh, and it's worth noting that Castle Falkenstein has some gorgeous and inspirational artwork. It's great! But it doesn't excuse the book being hard to use, with a table of contents only for the fluff material instead of the rules material.
  • To me personally it's not important, but I know it's huge for most people so it ends up being important for me as well.
  • Super late to this one but I think things like:

    I've been playing a lot of The Sundered Land lately, and up until very recently, held a roughly similar position to JD or Rickard.

    When I think about it though, the people and places we come up with in our games have a very strong desert/Qarth/Arabian Nights type of feel to them and it's almost completely down to the pictures.

    I think that maybe some people don't realise how much the art in an RPG affects them unconsciously.
  • Words, pictures, whatever helps get the designer's ideas/vision from their head into mine is great. The lack of ambiguity in an image can be super handy when someone asks me what a setting creature or vehicle or location looks like, and I usually find imagery inspirational. Sometimes, peoples words aren't good enough to communicate what they mean, and images can serve as a conceptual course-corrector.

    The splat images in White Wolf games (particularly Mage), the playbook images in Apocalypse World, the grainy shoops of WWII soldiers in Godlike, morphs in Eclipse Phase: these all got my mind racing with possibilities. Seeing them made the words real for me in a way just imagining didn't. Bad art, just like bad flavor text, can yank me right out of the flow of absorbing a book, for sure. I'd rather have no art than bad art, but otherwise? Bring it on!
  • Hey, sorry I'm late to the party....

    The main mistake I see turning as a vague conflict like thing is the assumption that games are played as images or as verbal descriptions.

    I'm afraid it's neither.

    Way back on the Forge, I got rolling a meme about the process of gaming called 'Shared Imaginary Space'. Simply, by any form of communication, you contribute to this 'space' that is 'imagined' and 'shared'.

    Saying that it's all verbage or all mental imagery is overly reducing the possibilities. Metaphor, similie, implication, denotation, connotation, expectation...the actual substance of the SIS is defined by the study of semiotics. (Research of that term is left as an exercise for the student.)

    So saying that the words in the manual are the only important part because words are how you contribute to the SIS is true...up to a point.

    Saying that artwork is necessary to conveying non-abstract concepts into the SIS is also true...up to as point.

    Simon_Pettersson's point about using entirely cinematographic cant to add to the SIS is also true. And it reveals a point often missed in 'how' discussions of gaming. The social mechanics of a group supercedes anything that can be put into a game manual. (He demonstrates a group happy with their communication method, even as it alienates him; I think.)

    And that's what this goes down to. It's a subjective preference. Some people enjoy picturesque games, others text-heavy. Some like mechanics-heavy, others fast-and-loose.

    (And yes, we all agree that bad parts mix into a bad game.)

    SteveDave's OP is clearly about requesting various opinions, but we started talking like there was a 'right' answer. When you bring semiotics and SIS into it, I can't believe how much we seem to agree.

    Fang Langford
  • Okay, I'm just gonna ask: Folks, those of you who think art doesn't have much use or is even negative in RPGs, do any of you work at all with drawing/painting/doodling/photographs/photo-manipulation/whatever ?

    WarriorMonk is a cartoonist, I'm a doodler, I don't know what everyone else is who likes art.

    I am starting to get the impression that the break-point of pro/con artwork is falling along lines that have to do with whether you work with some sort of visual art or not yourself.
    I doodle, and I love good visuals. But I'm very picky when it comes to art, so RPG illustrations usually look horribly amateurish to me. I mostly like big-budget professional RPG art: I don't think I really need it much to visualize the game setting for myself or other players, but it's nice to look at.

  • edited September 2013
    ... WarriorMonk is a cartoonist, I'm a doodler, I don't know what everyone else is who likes art.
    I'll just toss out that I do 3d modeling/computer graphics for my war games, but I use public domain clip art for most of my RPGs.

  • I think art in a game book helps with the purchase, at least in traditional retail sales. You walk in, see a book, flip through it, check out the pictures. You're probably not standing there and reading it to figure out if it's Fate in the Middle.

    That goes for Jason's fiction argument, too. You might very well buy the book because you like the cover.

    Once you purchase it, then the art has a different purpose. It might help you imagine the setting or how to play it. It might break up the monotony of all-text layout. It might serve as signaling layout for chapter breaks.

    Yeah, you can generally describe the same things in words as you could describe in a picture, but a picture is more or less instantaneous. It has a visceral effect on people. Bam, story. That's a powerful tool for marketing and sales, and a useful tool for conveying mood and setting for players and GMs.
  • edited September 2013
    You open the door, and you see—THIS! *plonk down a piece of art*

    Is that not a thing other people do? I sure as hell have done it!

    So I guess I gotta dispute the premise that RPGs are an exclusively verbal medium. We can use art at the table, too!
  • I've done that heaps of times, Creases. It often makes explanations far quicker, but I like using lots of props in my games too.
  • But that's a different topic. We were discussing art in game manuals, not whether you can prep art to be used while playing a game. Completely separate issues.

    I mean, sure, I've used the occasional piece of art while running certain sorts of games where prepping art is possible and desirable. However, it's pretty rare for this technique to have anything to do with art inherent in rpg manuals. Adventure modules have relevant art more often, but even in those it's somewhat clumsy to show pictures to players when they're embedded in text. The ideal functionality would be achieved by a separate art section, but that's unfortunately too rare.

    Everway, of course, does the art thing right: art on separate cards that can be handled regardless of the game manual, and clear techniques for using the art, too.
  • edited September 2013
    It seems to me that art in game manuals, other than visual aids, maps and such, does one of the following things:

    1. Illustrates a fantastic place, creature, or situation (which you can use as I indicated above). (I don't think it's as rare as you've made it out, Eero. There are games I can name where this is the main use of full page art, like Dungeoneer! Advanced Fighting Fantasy. So it's not a different topic at all.)

    2. Offers you a cool example of the sort of character you could make or adventure you could have, which you can use as inspiration. (Most 4e art seems to be like this. AD&D 2e was hella about this.)

    3. Illustrates a game concept (like flanking or surprise).

    4. Space filler when a paragraph is too short, or in place of a typer's flower between subsections.

    I dunno, I feel like all of those can have a place? I mean, maybe you don't personally need #2 artspiration. That's cool and all, but it's not like it's totally useless for all potential buyers.
  • I can't do that with game manuals (or art in general) because nobody in my game will sit at a table.
  • Sorcerer Character Has Warrior Adventure hotwires your imagination to supply the art in the simplest laziest way possible:

    [burning sphere floating above]
    [an outstretched hand]

  • You open the door, and you see—THIS! *plonk down a piece of art* [...]
    We can use art at the table, too!
    But that's a different topic. We were discussing art in game manuals, not whether you can prep art to be used while playing a game. Completely separate issues.
    Actually, I'm with creases here: I have used art from game manuals in that exact way. Specifically, I've used illustrations of pre-made NPCs as visual aids when introducing those characters in play, and I've used maps from books as well.

    (I've also prepped my own stuff, like marking up Philadelphia on Google Maps to show where all the tethers to Hell are, but I figured it was worth chiming in to agree that the art in books can actually be functional beyond that initial burst of inspiration.)
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