Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Rulebook art?

What is the minimum necessary amount of art for an rpg rulebook? I know that (with the notable exception of the original "little black book" edition of Traveller) rpg rulebooks have traditionally included a lot of illustrations, and that certain types of products (bestiaries, adventures with scene-setting illustrations intended to be shown to the players, products aimed at beginners who aren't necessarily familiar with the genre and its tropes) need illustrations, but is this also true for a "standard" rulebook aimed at experienced players containing "crunch" info on classes, spells, magic items, and procedural stuff? Other than making the book more attractive to look at, are "filler" illustrations that just exist to set a mood (and fill white space) and aren't depicting anything practical really needed?

This isn't just idle navel-gazing, since I'm working on a product for publication that I am not capable of illustrating myself (at least up to a standard I would consider acceptable) so I'm trying to gauge how much art I'm going to end up having to buy (or beg) for this thing. A cover illustration is surely necessary, but what about the interior? RPG audiences are accustomed to seeing an illustration at least every 3-4 pages because that's what we've been given for the past 45 years, but if a book doesn't include that would it necessarily be seen as incomplete and unprofessional? Do I need little pictures of adventurer-types rappelling on cliffs in my section on wilderness adventuring, or a guy strumming a lute in the section on bard spells? And if I do need to include some interior illustrations, what is the minimum acceptable amount? Would 3 or 4 illustrations in a 128 page book be sufficient or if I'm going to have that few would I be just as well off not having any at all?

On the one hand I'd obviously prefer not to sink all of my potential dozens of dollars of profit (and more) into art, and I especially don't want to feel obligated to buy or accept a bunch of low-quality art because it's the only stuff I can afford, but on the other hand I think the text of this book is of high quasi-professional quality, and I'd like the presentation to be at a similar level if possible. If I'm going to expect people to pay real money for this then they should feel like their money was well spent, and I'm trying to get a sense of how important interior illustrations are to that determination.

I'm wondering how my 12 (!) readers feel about this. Given that a lot of good art isn't an option, what are folks' preferences between (a) no interior art at all; (b) a couple-three pieces of interior art; or (c) the book must be fully illustrated, even if the illustrations are of amateur quality?

7 comments:

  1. I'm of the opinion that it's an important part of an RPG book. Quality over quantity, though. One illustration per 10 pages.

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  2. For my part, I'd rather have a small amount of illustrations that are really good and give the book a distinctive feel; but my tastes have never accorded with the majority on much of anything. There was a great discussion of this recently over at Monsters & Manuals:


    http://monstersandmanuals.blogspot.com/2019/08/a-lot-of-rpg-books-are-too-expensive.html

    http://monstersandmanuals.blogspot.com/2019/08/bog-standard-capitalism-and-price-of.html

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  3. I'd say for a monster book, or the monster section of a rulebook, you'll need "more" than the rest. Other than that, a few tone/mood-setting illustration every 3 or 4 pages would be plenty for me.

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  4. My rule of thumb is one piece of art every 3 or 4 pages. Monster books are, as you say, an exception to the rule.

    I was originally of the opinion that art didn't matter, and then I realized that it has a purpose beyond simply making the book pretty. Art serves as an informal bookmarking system. To take a very conspicuous example, if I'm looking for the paladin section of the AD&D 1E PM, I just flip through the book 'til I see "A Paladin In Hell". Smaller pieces work just as well, but I try to put them on the outside edges of the pages (right or left) to make them more visible. I will also put themed art for spells or magic items adjacent to the description, for the same reason. If I flip through the DMG and see a guy pointing a snake at me, I'm in the "staffs" section of the magic items.

    It's an under-appreciated, but very real, feature of artwork in a rulebook.

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    1. I totally agree with that, and have been using the illustrations in my PH and DMG that way for decades - I know when I see that black-background to flip one more page for the start of the combat section, that the Otus illo of the dude getting zapped by a lich is the start of the spell explanations, that the guy looking at a gem is the gem values table (flip one page to the jewelry values...) etc. That said, while it's a handy shorthand, I wonder how necessary something like that is. Does everyone rely on visual cues in this way? Is it something inherent in the wiring of our brains?

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  5. For a rulebook that doesn't need to visually convey information that the reader otherwise would have a hard time conceptualizing, I think some nice older pics not under copyright would serve just as well.

    Breaking up the layout is important to give the mind a break. But RPGs are based on old fairytales and such; perhaps finding illustrations in books on these subjects which are out of copyright, mixed in with a few decent stock art pieces, would serve just as well for little to no money.

    I don't know if true S&S works are out of copyright or not, but fairy tales, wizards, priests, and men in armor should be easy to find in both still life and action scenes.

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    1. That's probably the direction I'll end up going in, since the consensus seem to be pretty unanimous that a fair number of illustrations are needed. Since the contents of my book are pretty traditionally-flavored (and, as such, very much out of the "OSR" mainstream) this would probably work. A combination of Celtic/fairy stuff, Arthurian stuff, "gypsy" stuff, and "oriental" stuff would pretty much cover my needs, I think.

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