Looking Good, Feeling Great – Visual Aids

From Loz Newman

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0260

A Brief Word From Johnn

Dungeons & Dragons For Dummies

D&D For Dummies hits store shelves soon. For many roleplayers, this product might be the object of derision. However, when I first heard about this book I thought it was a very positive thing. I think it brings pen & paper gaming to the mainstream, which can only be a good thing. It will hopefully attract new players to our shrinking hobby.

I also feel it will be a great, inexpensive resource for parents, educators, and those who are wondering what roleplaying games are all about.

I guess time will tell if the book has utility for newbies and a positive impact for the industry.

Dungeons & Dragons For Dummies

Happy Easter!


Johnn Four,
[email protected]

Looking Good, Feeling Great – Visual Aids

The DM uses descriptions to help players visualize his game- world. He uses maps, words, gestures, music, and so forth, to help them do this. This visualization is one of the “fundamentals” of tabletop role-playing. As a DM and long- time worshipper at the altar of “Good Game Preparation,” I use a _lot_ of “visual aids” to help the players get more involved in my game worlds. All the aids in the tips below require some preparation, but I feel the gains more than repay the effort.

Each “book” or ring-binder I use (Player’s Character Creation Book, Player’s Guide, DM’s Gameworld Book, DM’s Game System Book, “Ambiance” Book, etc.) has a distinctive cover image (which eliminates those “Oops, I accidentally opened the DM’s Secrets Book” type excuses), and images to illustrate many of the Races, famous Places mentioned, etc. These books or ring-binders are also color-coded in a traffic-light style system.

  • Green: “Any Player can open this”,
    (PC sheets, PC’s Gallery, Quotes section)
  • Yellow: “Only if your PC should know this”
    (cultural/geographic info)
  • Red: DM-Only

Two folders that are rarely used:

  • Blue: New Character Creation
    (for after you looked in a Red folder)
  • Black: DM source material/old files
    (filed away in a cupboard)

Character and NPC Images

Each PC sheet has their image in the top right-hand corner, and each PC’s image appears in the group’s “Gallery” (with PC names across the bottom of their image).

Ambiance Booklet

Each of my game worlds has its own “Ambiance” booklet of images of the gameworlds’ typical and extraordinary people and places to help the players visualize the world. This gets updated with images of people and places used in-game (and stops you losing time searching for those images in- game!). It is also a great help for the initial PC-creation session as it steers the players toward character concepts in harmony with the style of campaign displayed in the booklet.

Reference Galleries

I have “Reference Galleries” at the back of each “Ambiance” Booklet of the known Demon Races, Undead types, Celestials, Biker Gangs, Super-hero/villain groups, Flying Cars, Orc Warrior Castes, the Races available to create PCs, and so on, for that particular game world.

In-game Illustrations

In-game illustration of maps, floor plans, symbols, heraldry, people, places, vehicles, robots, battles, monsters, non-human races, magic objects and so on. These can be shown to the players as they are encountered.

For example:

  • You walk into the tavern and see _this_ scene
  • Inside the treasure chest you see _this_
    [weird- looking object] glowing softly
  • You suddenly run into _this_ group of
    tough-looking scum
  • The Ballroom looks like _this_
  • With an earth-shaking roar _this_
    springs out of the bushes at you!
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Browsing for Inspiration

I often take the heavy-lifting out of campaign NPC creation by assembling “Rogues’ Galleries” that feature the most famous and notorious NPCs in the most powerful Factions (Magic schools, Religions, Political Factions, etc.) that I’ve just finished sketching out. Once I have an image for an NPC, I’m halfway toward fixing their base concept.

Also, details drawn from the image often augment the “randomness” factor that can help NPCs feel more alive and certainly saves me having to create all those minor details for myself.For example, I get pointers on an NPC’s spell “special effects” or gestures, his dress, equipment, default expression, etc.The order is:

  1. Create rough concept/summary of NPC
    (in the Faction description for the PCs)
  2. Find an image for him and _then_ write
    his physical description
  3. Perfect the NPC using details in the image
    (full description/stats)

One line per Faction and three to four images per line allow several Factions per page.

Tip: Do up an Excel sheet to help you align/resize/crop the images evenly and allow space for the Factions/NPC names.

This is all about game preparation and requires a medium to immense amount of images, maps, plans, etc. stored on your computer. I have thousands, sorted into folders to ease searches. _Don’t_ leave your files arranged by artist unless you have a truly perfect memory. Don’t be discouraged; I didn’t get these images in one gigantic spurt of effort, either.

I currently sort images stored on my computer into the following folders (sub-folders are listed between brackets):

  • Abstract/Surreal/Weird
  • Females – Medieval (magicians)
  • Females – Modern & Sci-Fi
  • Fight scenes – Medieval
  • Fight scenes – Modern & Sci-Fi
  • Groups – Medieval
  • Groups – Modern & Sci-Fi
  • Heraldic
  • Males – Medieval (Magicians)
  • Males – Modern & Sci-Fi
  • Map+Plans (Maps, Caverns, Cities, Labyrinths)
  • Necromancers (Male, Female)
  • Non-humans (Angels, Animals, Demons, Dragons,
    Elves, Fairies, Medieval, Humanimal, Orcs,
    Unicorns, Mermaids, Modern & Sci-Fi,
    Monsters, Undead)
  • Objects (Weapons, Helmets & Armour, Tools)
  • Places – Medieval (Interiors)
  • Place – Modern & Sci-Fi (Interiors)
  • Symbols
  • Unclassifiable

A little explanation is in order for the “Non-human”category:

  • Humanimal – Werewolves, leopard-men,
    humanoid foxes/warthogs, and so forth.
  • Non-humans – Modern & Sci-Fi – Aliens,
    Robots, Artificial Intelligences, etc.
  • Non-humans – Medieval – The default category
    for whatever won’t fit in the other “Non-human”
    folders (Golems, Djinns, Centaurs, Elementals,
    Deities, strange Races, etc.)

This may seem overly detailed to some, but I assure you that it saves huge amounts of time by avoiding having to search through thousands of images every time!

Keep one folder per game system _outside_ of the above structure, and copy all the images actually used into that folder. This allows you to let your players browse through your main library without them getting a sneak preview of those “DM-only” images you’re planning on using later. You can also rename the images after the NPCs/places, etc. to speed up searches to the ultimate degree.

Tip: High-definition Group and Battles images of a sufficiently high resolution can often be another source of images for individual NPCs/monsters. Crop them to pick out just one member of the group and then save as a separate image.

Tip: Don’t hesitate to give images a more descriptive name when you save them as you can then do filename searches for specific categories of NPCs/Places, etc. This is fast, but not a perfect substitute for checking all the images in a folder.

Tip: Searching for inspiration? Bored with always starting to check through the same old images from the beginning of the list? Skip around a bit.

  • Start from a random letter part-way through the
    list of file names.
  • Sort by file size, date, or type instead of just the
    same old boring alphabetical sort
  • Check out the individuals in battle or group images

Be prepared to adapt the character concept a bit to match an image rather than search for _the_ perfect image. Whatever it takes to avoid having your image library from being a burden.

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Where To Get All These Images?

First, a word of caution, don’t overdo it. Add a dozen or two to your library every day and it’ll soon build up. 10 to 20 per day x 5 days a week equals 400 to a thousand new images per month.Second, ask your role-playing friends for copies of their images.

Thank them by giving them back a compiled version of everything you get from all your friends and everybody wins.Third, the Internet! Use Google for example:”floor plan”+”download”+”castle” “home” “house” convention”Will get you 600+ website pages with potential castle floor plans! (Love that map of Harlech Castle!) Use multiple search criteria, as in the above example, to cut down on the “Ten gazillion pages found” phenomenon.

Search for your favorite artist names, too. A decent Internet connection, and a soul possessed of patience, are obviously desirable.Fourth, more Internet! Role-player supply shop websites sometimes have “artists galleries.” For example, Pen & Paper Art Gallery has so many I’ve been downloading 10-50 images most weekdays for the past two months and I’m far from finished!I also recommend:

  • Elfwood (which has its own search function, even if the images aren’t always of professional standard) at:
  • Marsden’s RPG page. It is a very good site for all sorts of things. For example, the Heroquest link leads to images of rooms for the Heroquest boardgame, which happen to be dandy for modular dungeons.

Tip: Save time. Download all the images into _one_ folder (preferably the root folder, called “Images” in my folders list), then use a good image-handling program (e.g. ACDSee) to quickly check through them and drag-and-drop into the appropriate folders. Add some of these sites (including the ones found via Google) to your Browser favorites (especially the www.pen-paper.net one) and make the downloads a small part of your daily routine.

Fifth, if you have a scanner, scan the best bits of your reading material into .jpg format (at least 200 dpi or better). Magazines, comic books, publicity handouts, TV guides, and tourist books are all good sources. More time- intensive, but they’ll be just the way you want them.

And lastly, a bit more of the Internet for those with Modern/Sci-Fi campaigns or who prefer photographs. Actors Guilds and Agencies often have galleries of photos of their actors and actresses.

Tip: Make backup copies of your image library at least once per month. Then pass round the latest-but-one copy to your friends to boost your popularity.

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The Care and Feeding of an Image Library

About once a year, go through all the images in each category and erase those that no longer appeal to you, such as all the images that now seem:

  • Amateurish
  • Of poor quality
  • Too small
  • Too gory
  • Too weird
  • Utterly unusable

This keeps down the library size, speeds up image searches, and generally confirms your good taste in the eyes of those whom you pass copies of your library to.

Also, if like me you use “default” folders (in the list of folders I cited previously, “Unclassifiable” and “Non-human- Medieval”), look through them two or three times a year to see if some of the images in them can’t be filed in more appropriate folders.

Tip: Have problems improvising NPCs? Do up a few Galleries with random (previously unused) images and random names. Whenever you need a improvise an NPC in-game, hand around the gallery saying, “He’s called [pick a name already on the gallery].” You will gain a few seconds to think about the NPC’s details while the players check out the image and some clues as to probable first impressions and the best use of the NPC, based on the players in-character reactions.


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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks

DVD Player as a Visual Aid

From Scott BlackHey Johnn,

I copy jpg’s to a CD and then use my DVD player to show my players what they see. For example, I can use a picture of the Three Sisters Mountains and say these are the mountains you need to cross. Even video is possible with this method.

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Writing Characters for a Story

From Mark Iradian

http://www.chroniclesofgaras.com No matter how unique, original, or deep a writer’s plot is, a boring cast of characters will ruin it. Yet, at the same time, a stolen idea or cliche plot with original characters can make a good story. Characters are one of the important, if not most important, cogs in the storytelling machine. You need good, original characters, ones that the readers and players can relate to, to make a story. If your cast of characters are ones the audience despises (and not because they are the bad guys) then they will get disinterested in the story very quickly.

How do you make good characters? Make them human. I don’t mean by appearance or by what race they are, but in terms of their goals and personality. Remember that players, readers, and viewers always look at characters in stories as people they might know or be part of themselves. A fraction of their experience, if you will.

For example, we _cheer_ on that cannibal protagonist, Hannibal, because despite his disgusting acts, he appears to be a vigilante trying to get rid of the antagonists of the story. Wouldn’t you have done the same thing if you were in his shoes?

A good way to make realistic characters is to borrow personalities from associates, friends, co-workers, parents, and relatives. Afterwards, set up their goals and ambitions. Make them _realistic_ goals, not silly ones like “King of the World.” Maybe that mercenary wants to make a name for himself and, one day, raise a family. Another character might believe in genocide of a race due to his childhood years training with a certain religious order. Again, the best source for goals and personalities is to use _real_ people.

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Create Player Contact Sheets

From E. M. Brown (In response to ‘Create Player Contact Sheets’ [RPT #259])

Here is an Excel file I just whipped up for keeping gamer contact info organized.

Names entered on the ‘Contact Info’ sheet will appear on the subsequent ‘Availability’ and ‘Interests, Involvement’ sheets. This only goes down to row 200 though, so if you have more people than that in your gaming group, you’re out of luck.

Besides spaces for the suggested data, I put in some extra stuff. On the ‘Contact Info’ page it includes a spot to indicate whether a person is willing to host games, in case of last minute location hiccups. For the Ride? column, I’d suggest also entering if a person is willing to give rides as well as whether they need one.

On the ‘Availability’ page, I added a column to put info regarding vacation schedules. I added the ‘Interests, Involvement’ page to have a place to cross-reference who’s in what game for more complex gaming groups and clubs that are running more than one thing at a time. Also on this page are some columns for what people’s general gaming preferences are.

This I think would help in initially setting up games, so if Bob, and Ann hate anything horror-related but Jane and Steve are mad about Cthulhu, you’ll have an easy reference chart to see whose schedules will and won’t be a concern when planning your next CoC game, etc.

As to the security question, I would suggest assuming all info is to be kept private until the person directly says otherwise. This could be indicated by changing the background color of individual cells a different color (click the paint bucket icon in the toolbar) I’d also suggest using different colours for different ‘clearance’ levels, depending whether it’s okay to give the info to anybody that asks, just established group members and not new members, just GMs, just participants in specific games, not Bob, whatever.

Hope this helps somebody! [Scot: The file can be downloaded directly here: gamer_contact_tracker.xls

If you have some time, I would recommend checking out the offerings at http://roleplayingtips.mythosa.net – lots of good downloads free for the taking.]

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Marker Tip

From Norman J Harman Jr.

I’ve seen lots of things used to mark minis (damage, status, who’s moved). I don’t know from where, but I got the idea of creating markers from ShrinkyDinks. With colored pencils, I created sets of numbers in a couple colors, hearts, skulls, red-crosses, “held” symbols, yin-yangs, and a few other abstract symbols. They’re small, durable, relatively cheap, and look pretty cool. [Scot: For those that want to dive in and can’t locate ShrinkyDink paper at your local craft store you can purchase them online at http://www.shrinkydinks.com ]

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Classic Tip: Clear Protective Covers

From Mark S. Hoffman

I had my players go out and purchase clear protective covers to cover their character sheets. This is to protect the sheets and allow them to use markers to take care of hit points and such. My players love this because it makes their sheets last a long time, and at the end of the night they just change the points then. The cost is minimal in comparison to printing the sheets every couple of weeks due to holes through the sheets and not quite being able to read some of the equipment on the back anymore.

Dungeon Crawl Classics #14: Dungeon Interludes (D&D)

An ancient summoner is seeking to forge the Oculum Infernae
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through the course of an epic campaign.