Monday, December 31, 2012

Which Comes First in the RPG Books You Buy - The "Words" or "The Art"?

I hope I'm not ruffling any feathers with this post, as I personally know some amazingly skilled and underpaid artists in this hobby of ours, but I have a "chicken or the egg" type of question coming up.

We all know the saying: "you can't judge a book by it's cover" which is totally true. However, we often do "buy a book by it's cover".

When it comes to RPG products, you can't have a rule book or an adventure without the words but you can do one without art. Art is nice, but the meat and potatoes of the product is the actual words that make it up.

When did artwork start to jockey for place the actual writing? 

Marketing often seems to push the art these days and not the actual writing and rules that will be sued in play.

Most adventures are sold with the GM in mind (I know there is a huge segment of collectors, but that's a whole 'nother topic). Which means much of that art only gets seen by the GM, not the players.

Is artwork therefore more important for a rulebook that will be used by all and seen by all?

The last question is just a matter of taste an opinion:

Do you prefer full color pages in your RPG purchases, black and white are instead or black and while with color plates inserted?


  1. I have to say I'm keenly interested in the response to this question.

  2. I have to admit that a good cover is one of the more likely reason I buy something unless it was something I was waiting for. Also, I find that good interior layout with some nice small art makes the product more fun to read.

  3. Last question first - given that most of my purchases are pdfs (damn that bloody expensive international postal costs) I prefer illustrations to be black & white, and not too heavy on the black. I print most of my pdfs so I hate those that have coloured pages, such as a beige parchment look - what an unnecessary waste of my ink, publishers save it for the printed version.

    I do think that artwork as a filler is more important in books that will be read by all, such as a rulebook, rather than in modules. And practical artwork, those images that illustrate a module for instance, is helpful but often unnecessary. I don't need my modules to be crammed full of art. It's my job as a DM to paint a picture for my players, especially as my vision may vary from that of the author (or publisher).

    I have only ever purchased one book based primarily on its artwork and that was The Dungeon Alphabet. Yes, the tables are super handy but first and foremost, for me, it's a visually stunning book. I may never actually use it in a game, but you can be sure I'll take it off the shelf now and then for the pleasure of simply looking at the artwork.

    When it comes to pdfs, too much art can be a turn off for me. Take the DCC RPG. I've yet to print out a copy of this but I have prepared a copy of the pdf for printing. I have cut out all the whole page illustrations. The chapter title pages of solid black with white writing have had their colours reversed so as to be printer friendly. All up I was able to cut out 56 pages of unnecessary artwork, which is quite a chunk out of a rulebook. Think about that - 56 bloody pages! That's more pages than the entire Holmes basic D&D rulebook.

    An overemphasis on artwork is great for a coffee table book, but I think some publishers have gone a bit too far when it comes to books that are first and foremost a practical gaming tool.

  4. Content: words and ideas. I look at lots of items and find little worth buying due to a lack of content. I've gotten to where I'd rather make my own. Some expensive games pad the books out with full page art every 5 or 10 pages and quarter page art everywhere and no real content. The entire presentation meant to hide the lack of ideas. "Pretty art" only sales to the rich and those with low standards. Which is a huge market, I guess...

    I'd gladly buy some newer games - at half the page count and no art. never happen.

  5. IME art is most important for products that need to inspire the GM, such as adventures and campaign settings. Look at WoTC 4e D&D adventures to see what happens when you strip out the art - it's not pretty. Players by contrast can get by with art-free reference texts.
    Eg for Labyrinth Lord, I like to have a printed copy to GM, but players can get by with the free no-art pdfs.

  6. As artist of dubious ability I find art important to my own world building as it helps solidify content.

    Monster drawings are great for example - they allow a GM to describe the creature in their own words with a quick glance.

  7. My friend Craig (a trained graphic designer) explains the importance of art here: http://eternitypublishing.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/article-top-10-flaws-of-4e-adventure-design/

  8. Though I'll add I've never bought a book based on art - well Vornheim to a degree, but it's a unique artifact of sorts.

  9. I buy a lot of PDFs, sight unseen, based on what I know of the author and the content. Art is nice, but it sure sucks when you have to print the book out and it sucks down your toner and ink.

  10. I started playing because I was into the art as a kid.

  11. The greatest game to date, in my opinion, had no artwork at all when it was first published. Well, it had a couple of diagrams. Traveller didn't even have cover art, per se.

    On the other hand, as Gus L points out, a book like Vornheim would be greatly diminished if it had no art. So, as usual, it depends on the particular item.

  12. The topic of art in RPG products has been bugging me recently. I personally prefer a do-it-yourself aesthetic when it comes to RPGs as opposed to the more "professional" format that seems to be the norm these days. We're loosing a lot of the charm that attracted me to OSR products in the beginning.

    To be perfectly honest I am getting a little tired of seeing preorders and kickstarters getting delayed by months on end because of art issues. I don't care for the ever increasing price tags on some products because of premium art assets and graphic design.

    So yeah, get off my lawn and make me a dungeon.

  13. To me the cover is important as a means to tell the buyer what he's getting into at a glance. Simple as it may be, the front cover for X-Plorers told me about all I needed to know.

    As for interior art, I've a soft spot for monochromatic pen & ink drawings and the such. Easily read, and not too distracting from the text on the page next to it.

    As for whether or not I require the art; that depends on what part of the book I'm reading. It annoys me to have a monsters entry with little to nil pictures.

  14. Art grabs my attention, it's just that simple. As for color vs b&w that varies. Walking Dead would be a different comic with color. Adventure books might seem bland in gray tones only. The writing should not suffer and/or make room for art. So you hired a good artist? Great, there are lots that need the work. But don't blow all the budget on pretty pictures if you're going to have some idiot do the word work. And for f*** sake do no publishers run simple spell checks anymore?!


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