So a few days ago I went over to the USC games department (yes, it looks like you imagine: arcade machines in the hallway and always someone hopping to class on a pogo-stick in the background) and gave a lecture to their tabletop RPG design class (yes, USC has a tabletop class) on visuals in RPGs.
It was fun and signs point to "they liked it". For the benefit of y'all here are the basic talking points--longtime readers will recognize some familiar takes.
|Anybody recognize this guy? That's right, the Githyanki!|
Why? He's still around and popular...
|Here he is, still in modern D&D. Why? Because he looked cool on the cover of the|
book. That's the only reason! How do we know?...
|...because here's his almost-identical brother from the Fiend Folio,|
the Githzerai. Muchhhh less sticking power. (though still around--WOTC
doesn't toss away IP) And what's the difference?
Only the picture.
|Eberron's art had a task to do: make robots ("steel golems") and steampunk|
stuff look like D&D. And they did it: these folks look like they could
be next to a knight or a wizard. Mission accomplished.
|This guy on the other hand...everyone knows the RIFTS system sucked,|
but the designs were original, and Siembieda and Long's artwork made
sure they felt concrete and toyetic--even if you don't like the art,
it's easy to reognize this guy, the psi-stalker, the skull-walker as things
specific pieces of IP that other post-apoc and genre-mash games don't have.
So the game is still around.
|Fast forward 40 years, they have a graphic design budget..it still sucks.|
On the left it takes FOUR PARAGRAPHS to say what a "fighter" is...
|And say you wanted to make a fighter...you die midgame, try|
to make a new PC. Half the things you get are here and...
|...you gotta turn the page to get the rest. Interpol agents can tell you|
horror stories of finding the mangled
fingers of graphic designers who tried stuff like this
at LotFP found littering the Finnish countryside.
|Kinda useful tables here in the 5e D&D Dungeon Master's Guid...|
|...and since these tables aren't grouped together or color-coded I had to draw an arrow to each one|
along the (disintegrating) page-edges
|The standard TSR dungeon map is actually a nice piece of design,|
there's a set of standard symbols (trap, secret door, rubble, pit, etc) that
you can draw and so sit at your desk all day in math class just
making up dungeons.
The only problem is...
|Fast forward 40 years and surely module design has|
|They even put a page turn right in the middle of a scene.|
As for how these things link together? A visual map
is totally eschewed in favor of more paid-by-the-word lard.
|Now some good examples of info design:|
the Call of Cthulhu character gen pages.
You can run your whole group through character creation using this spread.
|Jez Gordon's Qelong map--instead of little color codes|
saying what the terrain is, the map looks like what terrain
is there. You can sit in one hex and the GM can tell you what you see over
the horizon in adjacent hexes. Yay!
|This is just me proving that you could fit all of the Keep on the Borderlands|
on three spreads: one for the Caves, one for the wilderness, one for the Keep,
and maybe like one spread w. the treasure on it. You just saved like dozens
of pieces of paper.
|Dr Doom's castle--an excellent FASERIP map. On the right all the info on|
all the rooms is listed. I've used this as SO MANY different castles.
|The Monster Manual format is actually a good pice of|
design--it acts as its own index and its easy to find things. Its not perfect in its original
form, but it was a good precedent.
|the blue and the red are notes I added to the standard Night's|
Black Agents character sheet--literally all of the character creation
rules for the game can fit on the sheet.
|Kirin Robinson's wonderful Old School Hack is an example of|
simple graphic design tools (standard fonts, too) used to
make rules clear, accessible, readable and concise
|All over the world, people know how to paint their Chaos warriors all chaosy. How?|
|...the grimoire-like and aggressive and aggressively-specific aesthetic of|
the original Realms of Chaos books, that's how
|Luka Rejec's excellent one-page-worm-dungeon.|
Its missing some detail but how many pages would it take
TSR or WOTC to do just this?
|The Original One Page Dungeon: Michale Curtis' Stonehell.|
Efficiency is beautiful. Efficiency is art.
|Making a chaos champion looks fun, amirite?|
|So to walk y'all through the process, I am gonna show you some of my own stuff.|
Do you all have Vornheim? "Yes, they all have Vornheim, it's on the syllabus"
These are projects that win design prizes and all it costs is the
graphic designer's first-born child.
|One-spread dungeon. With pictures--maybe you can't read my pictures til you|
understand the description? It's ok, it's right there. Then you look back and
go "Ohhh, it's a piano"
|Simple graphic solution to keep track of NPCs|
|I actually invented the adventure as I drew.|
If you're not an artist or graphic designer, having them on from
the jump helps.
|Name of the room on the room--and descriptive. Not rocket science but mainstream|
games still haven't figured it out.
|The famous Vornheim die-drop covers|
|Red & Pleasant Land was a different challenge than Vornheim.|
Vornheim was about maximizing the info in 64
black-and-white-pages. RPL also needed to feel like a convincingly
luxurious object from inside the gamewold.
|The gameworld itself was built on gamelike principles|
because Lewis Carrol's fiction was gamelike to
|Nearly all the RPL pictures were done on one big piece of board|
|Name of the room on the room, also invented some symbols|
that show map structure, like the one in the Liquid Parlor showing a door
in the floor and the one in the dry room showing a door in the ceiling.
|Reprint the relevant section of map on every page. When there's a diagram,|
make a full illustration out of it to kill 2 birds with one stone.
|Simple map, with random encounter solution (different dice) on the right|
|Monster Manual format, basically. We all use this bc it works.|
|Again showing what adventurers here look like--in this|
case I wanted Connie to show a black girl
fitting easily into the setting's western/middle european vibe
|Jez Gordon's lovely spread-map. I ran adventures off this one spread for|
|The challenge in Maze was: I wrote short stuff for Maze, but Patrick's prose|
was long and I didn't want to edit it much
|The original painting|
|Every picture in Maze is just a blow up from that one painting.|
The entries have short summaries ont he first spread....
|Then longer ones with any extended prose on the next|
|Search the body table where its easy to find.|
|Lovely lovely look at me|
|We used the left over space to repeat useful info to minimize page turns:|
Search the body table, random encounters for that area, minimap, etc.
Nobody complained it was redundant bc it helps.
|for Frostbitten & Mutilated (now at the press) we wanted a real doom/black metal look.|
Luka Rejec did the graphic design for us.
|Same info design imperatives as before but different aesthetics|
|Again, almost all the art fit on one page|
|A WILDERNESS MAP WHERE ALL THE AREA DESCRIPTIONS ARE|
ON THE MAP! So excited.
|Info design combines with world design and game design--the|
Amazon chess game is also a divination game
|Whole dungeon fits on the spread, as|
|Painters take note I just put a bunch of wet thin white paint over a black background|
and let it dry and it krink;ed up into a landscape
|Visual random table. Kelvin Green did it first.|
I basically said What's the specific thing I imagine happening
in Demon City? That image--the one that makes you think
the game is a Thing. Paint that specifically.
|General description of each Motive (class) at the top of each column,|
character gen rules underneath, during-game panic rules at the bottom.
|Shawn Cheng's design can take advantage of the fact that, since|
its a modern setting, the game can use some modern "designy"
|The tarot page doesn't need to be consulted fast--it's sexy|
and that's what's important.
|Although all the art is by me, I want to give a range of|
kinds of imagery because Demon City can do the
Kubrick Shining horror or Anime guro or whatever
|I keep telling Shawn to give my art these vintage-looking designy|
|I eventually just realized: hey why not paint these patterns right|
into the pictures and give him a break?