May 15, 2024

I push back on the utility of art in RPGs pretty frequently. Most RPG adjacent art of it is vestigial to when RPGs were marketed to children who liked comic books, and are still the gold standard for what will be commercially viable. I think the modern Indie RPG scene relies on amazing art to paper over the flaws in mediocre or poor writing more often than not.

Understanding that, I do like visual art, even if its utility in an RPG text is sketchy to me. I’ve had a couple of people ask me in the OSR Discord server Can you give an example of what you view as good TTRPG art?” - from Adamthegm. Rainer asked What do you consider good text?”.

In an attempt to illustrate my preferences (such as they are at this time) Here is a rough list of examples.

Good TTRPG Art:

  • Haunted Almanac - Nate Treme

    This is a good place to start. Nate is both the writer and primary (only?) artist who makes lovely art that are often highly evocative as well as non representational, the exception being maps which are also keyed well.

  • Fire on the Velvet Horizon - Patrick Stuart & Scrap Princess

    This is a double whammy showing the tightly woven bond between good writing and good art being made in conjunction to make a better whole. Art direction for a cohesive vision and style is worth it instead of the OSR trend to take disparate artists and styles and just shove them into the same work.

  • The Tragedy that Begot Ternwillow - Orbital Intelligence

    Chin Fong busts out some sicknasty mecha in a sad world for Troika on behalf of Orbital Intelligence. Each piece has such care and consideration in each piece that they could all be stand alone works in a much higher budget project. Orbital Intelligence works generally are very cohesive in this way with impressive works within them.

  • Black Knights - David Hoskins & Luke Gearing

    I’m sure you’re seeing a trend now… Black Knights is a strong collaboration between a great artist (Hoskins) and a great writer (Gearing) that captures the spirit of those old knights of yore both in text and illustration with a very cool aesthetic that I am too ignorant to pinpoint. (Mid Century?)

  • Hot Springs Island - Jacob Hurst

    Most of the art is provided by Gabriel Hernandez with more contributions from others, the maps provided by Billy Longino in both books (one is an in game companion reference for players) are stunning and effective, the spot illustrations are interesting and evocative for representational art and the whole work has a very cohesive direction behind it. The companion map from Jason Thompson is also wonderful and useful. By far the most mainstream of the lot it does what it sets out to do.

Good Writing:

  • Volume 2 Monsters & - Luke Gearing

    Where some writers marinate in purple prose and others are more ascetic with their words to the point of dryness, Luke never manages to hit either end of the gamut. Somehow conjuring deeply evocative passages about each monster without gushing about them or trying to demonstrate just how clever of a writer he is.

  • Fever-Dreaming Marlinko - Chris Kutalik

    Effective communication, gets you thinking about all of the contents and doesn’t linger for the sake of it. Gives you exactly what you need to get into the city of Marlinko and explore it at the table with grace.

  • The Ruinous Palace of the Metegorgos - Evey Lockhart

    Very sad work that just hooks you in making the line between reader and GM fade. Incredibly evocative and unsettling in the best kind of way.

  • Carcosa - Geoff McKinney

    Incredibly dry in a way that totally bypasses a lot of the emotional content and heaviness of the Carcosa setting. The stark presentation makes for a dense world presented for the GM to grok whats going on and to extend that to the players as a deeply unhuman experience.

  • Scenic Dunnsmouth - Zzarchov Kowalski

    Despite an annoying way to generate your Dunnsmouth its really well explained and as painless as can be. Zzarchov’s writing reminds me of Lovecraft capturing that weird and gross place between the pages of this book without being too gross or obtuse about it.

May 15, 2024