Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Art Imitates Game: My RPG Pinterest Boards

Our game room holds archaeological evidence of elder campaigns, shrouded in the mists of legendry. We have relics which fell into disuse as technology passed them by. At the deepest layer you’ll find gallery photo albums and pocket folders. They contain cut-out images from the days when I had access to a work color laser printer. For several campaigns-- notably Exalted in Crux and GURPS Steambuckler, I hunted down images online, These came mostly from anime, WotC, and obscure video games. They were hard to find and slow to download. It was here I first saw Magna Carta’ “striking” illustrations, Range Murata’s work, Shining Hearts, Narsilion, Lineage, and beyond. Today these albums look like strange collages. Images come in vastly different sizes and you can see the rough edges where I cut them out close to shape.

Another layer up you’ll find an even larger collection. This is the era of the Kodak Easy Share 5100 inkjet printer (RIP). I bought it after the fire; it had cheap(er) ink and it printed amazing images on photo paper- better than I’ve seen anywhere else. Over the next few years I printed, printed, and printed more 4x6 character shots. I assembled collections for different genres. These I sorted in file card boxes, ready to pull out. Tucked on the shelves are real, sorted photo albums from many campaigns: Changeling the Lost, L5R, Wuxia, Libri Vidicos, The Last Fleet. Beyond that you’ll find hundreds of unused images in those card boxes.

But at some point I fell out of the habit of printing images. The feed on the still-awesome Kodak printer became stubborn. You had to nurse the paper just right. That meant just doing a half dozen shots could take an hour. We also had a couple of games cut out short after I’d done a ton of prep work and image printing. That made me gun-shy. I looked around for another, electronic solution. I tried displaying on my tablet, but that became awkward. I tried using a TV screen., but finding & displaying individual images ate time at the table.

Eventually, I found Pinterest. Not exactly revolutionary, but I can explain my late arrival. All I’d ever seen from Pinterest were recipes. I honestly thought it was a cooking app. Once I found it, I loved it. I’ve used it in several ways. First as an inspiration for myself and players. Second as an NPC image resource. Third as a slide-show source. For this one I save the images to my Dropbox. A program called XView allows me to customize the display. I run that over my shoulder on a large second-hand TV. It add flavor and doesn’t distract too much.

While I dig Pinterest, it does have one problem. There’s an embarrassment of riches. When I return to a board after time away, I’ve forgotten what I added. It doesn’t stick with me even if I review it. Pinterest’s good about telling you “You’ve Already Pinned This,” but often the same image pops up in different forms. Truly an abominable problem.

Below are my current “campaign collections”:

We tried a short run of this online. I GM’d so I assembled this collection of odd images. I ended up using a few for specific characters. However, we only got a through character creation and a single play session. So I have this weird assemblage for what? Maybe for a Changeling game?

Our ninja cyberpunk campaign. I’m pretty happy with the images I’ve found. There’s a ton of catsuit & cleavage images out there. I haven’t avoided that entirely, but I think the set holds together.

One of my favorites. This is for our dieselpunk, Crimson Skies-inspired OCI portal. I looked for images which weren’t too steampunk. That offered a challenge. I tried to lean into a 1930’s vibe. Since the game featured an international cast, I wanted to showcase multiple ethnicities. That’s an additional challenge, especially with illustrations of the fantastic. Still I think I did a decent job.

Our magical Renaissance campaign. It has more than a little of Assassin’s Creed to it. This is a weird one. It has some great stuff, but also some boobaliciousness. I kept some of those images because they had striking clothing or a cool vibe. Overall in going back, some of the pieces feel a little too high fantasy. I might go back to excise those.

A counterpart to the AotGA board above. In the later sessions, the players travelled the Sorcerer Czar’s Moscow for their mission. I tried to pull together anything and everything that looked vaguely like classical Eastern European. It’s not bad, though because of the way the ordering working on the board you can see me pivot with the search terms.

Someday I’m going to run some version of Fading Suns. This is my collection for that inevitability. Searches done based on “Dune” and “Fading Suns”.

I ran a three sessions trial of this this weird-tinged post-apocalyptic PbtA game. Legacy has a Numenera vibe to it, so I ran down those boards and lifted from there. I might move some of these images over into the Fading Suns collection. It feels like there’s overlap
Our game of adults returning to the fantasy world they rescued in their youth. I wanted a nice mix of cute and sinister. You’ll see some heavy overlap with the Mythic Russia collection. This one came first. Brian Fround and Tony DiTerlizzi served as heavy inspirations.

Used for our post-apocalyptic game. This posed several challenges. First, guns and ammo are in short supply in the setting. That meant I had to skip tons of heavily armed character images. Second, the PCs are mutants. They aren’t necessarily pretty or clean. So I tried to steer away from anything too glossy. In the end I included some just to round things out. Third, the characters’ home Ark isn’t in an urban setting, so I wanted to minimize the number of ruined city-scapes. At the very least I wanted to balance that with images of isolated buildings and locations.

For our f2f Middle Earth campaign, I knew I didn’t want character pictures. That distract and remind players too much of the actual books. There's a truism in film that you shouldn’t show people watching a good movie. It reminds them what they could be watching. That holds true here as well. Any tabletop game will have immediacy, but lack the depth of Tolkien’s iconic works. I still wanted flavor so I went with environments. Some come from Middle Earth illustrations, others just felt right. They couldn’t be too fantastic, but they had to have that feeling of age.

Have great collections? Other approaches to images? 

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