07 May 2011

Gamebook Art?

Continuing my recent trend of only posting on things when somebody else raises the subject, this Grognardia post asks about art in game books. I'm going to assume that he's not talking about "game books" like my beloved Fabled Lands game books, because he explicitly mentions Traveller, which is certainly not a "game book" but is rather a book detailing how to play a game. Being nitpicky is fun, sometimes.

I know I'm supposed to post on the thread but nothing bothers me more than having to read 70+ opinions to finally get to post mine or else risk looking like a jackass because three different people posted the same thing already, man, can you please read the comment directly above yours? We already finished talking about it. GOD, YOU ARE SO DUMB.

I'm overreacting, of course, and meandering with my thoughts as a labyrinth. What I mean to talk about is art in gaming materials. Personally, I think a little bit of art can really help set the scene, especially when it comes to detailing things that you don't see every day or providing a bit of brain fuel. In games with particularly good art, it can be inspirational to leaf through the pages and just see what's going on (I currently have a copy of Aberrant by my computer right now, to be leafed through when I get the inclination and, most typically, when I'm waiting for something to happen in a video game.)

The line is drawn, for me, at 4th edition D&D. There's a two-page splash at the beginning of every chapter, then there's art on each of the races, each of the classes, each of the monsters, everywhere. It's not awful, but it makes the book feel, I dunno, childish. Like I'm not reading a book for grown-ups somehow, like there has to be a picture of a Dwarf or I'll go, "But wait, what the fuck is a dwarf? Do they mean midgets? I hear they like to be called little people but that always seemed demeaning to me, that can't be right. Seriously, what the fuck is a Dwarf? Do they have beards and get really drunk a lot and use axes and hammers and wear heavy armor and are they basically Gimli except with the serial numbers filed off?" I mean, cmon.

Not every thing you describe has to have a picture, and if they do, can we please get something serious? I'm not talking "pseudo-badass serious" like the infamous 4e Orcus (no longer pictured on the right, sorry, but you know what I'm talking about) that gets so much criticism around these parts. I'm talking about a picture that you could look at that doesn't scream immaturity. I'm talking about a picture that you could find in any book on the times, like maybe a picture of a guy in moderately realistic armor, with a regular-sized weapon, fighting something that looks odd but believable. Like a chupacabra, or a griffon, or a manticore, or a dragon. Things that are obviously supernatural but not "supernatural badass." Something that you can show people that aren't even into the hobby and not look silly.

Normal art for normal people.
I guess that's what bothers me about a lot of art- it's embarrassing. I'd love to be one of those guys who doesn't care what anybody thinks about his hobby, but it's not happening. I should be able to look at role-playing game books in a store and not feel goofy because there's some sparkling princess on the cover. It doesn't have to be all grimdark like the Warhammer series can be- mostly because it knows to take itself a little less seriously than that. There's an enormous amount of very subtle, very black humor inherent in the setting, and the art can reflect that with a smirk here and a little goofy bit there. That's the sort of stuff I like. The stuff that makes us look like hey, we know this hobby can be a little silly. We're people. We're not all those creepy, sweaty, trenchcoat-wearing, neck-bearded, overly enthusiastic nerds that you see nasally arguing about the specifics of some game world that nobody else cares about. We have girlfriends and careers and talk about normal dude stuff. See, you got us all wrong. The stereotypes are all wrong. Look at these books. Look at that guy. Pretty cool, right? You can play that guy, and do some stuff with buddies.

I guess this is an extremely meandering post, and it kind of lost its way (I got distracted and then I drank too much coffee and then I came back and the caffeine is mostly out of my system), and I apologize for that.

The point is: Not having art is preferable to pastel-hued super high fantasy goofy art. We need art that can be taken seriously, and that means sometimes poking fun at ourself and not drawing everything as dramatic as possible. There needs to be normal in the games or nothing is awesome.


  1. No apologies necessary, that was very well written. All the stuff today, it is just pictures of characters and monsters posing to show how BADDDDD they are. It is just plain silly.

    Back when I used to play guitar, this point was driven home to me while reading one of my guitar magazines. In the table of contents, it had pictures of all the guitarists that were featured in the mag. Every guitar player had these fake expressions, trying to show how tough and serious and awesome they were. And at the bottom of the page, there was a picture of Stevie Ray Vaughn with this big, goofy, Texas-sized grin. He made everyone else look goofy simply by being genuine.

    I'm currently working on some art for an OSRIC Player's Guide, and there will be art that doesn't include "RAWR! I'm teh awesome!!!11!one!" Sometimes less is more.

  2. You set up the shot and Bree knocked it out of the part with

    "to show how BADDDD they are"

    It is just an immature circle jerk in these books now. Nauseating

  3. I would happier if the pictures were useful illustrations. Instead eccentric, spectacular and self serving arts.

  4. I really liked the faux-retro woodcut-style art from the Birthright Blood Enemies monster book.

    Instead of buff Orcus mid-posedown, or sparkly-spray wizards zapping things, you had Tudor-looking portraits, wonky castles and ships, and menagerie illos by monks who'd only ever heard of the monster third-hand.

    Badass? No.
    Perfectly suited to the setting, an interesting change from the norm *and* characterful pictures in their own right? Absolutely.