Interior Module Art

Why do publishers include art inside adventure modules?

I mean, aside from the rare instance where an illustration is required to make the description of a particular area intelligible, or in the case of illustrations intended for the game master to show to the player (which is not what I’m talking about here), I have to wonder why do companies bother?

Adventure modules are, by their nature, utilitarian products. They’re meant to be used in actual play. The inclusion of interior art doesn’t assist that function in any way (other than noted above).

Do you think that the inclusion of such art helps the game master get a better understanding of the “feel” of a particular module? (In which case, what about the use of generic fantasy art, such as we see today in the licensed clipart used in some modules?) How about pictures of particular characters/NPCs/deities/etc.? Why include them if they aren’t intended to be shared with the players? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Do modern publishers use such illustrations as a sort of atavistic homage to the way modules were done in years gone by? In which case, why did TSR include such art in the first place? From my recollection (I’ve not actually looked through the modules in my collection; so it may be wrong) the old Judge’s Guild modules had much less art than their TSR counterparts. Why did TSR add an extra couple of pages worth of art? Just to round out the page count to a number divisible by 4?

I’d be particularly interested in hearing from those out there who’ve published their own modules, but all are, of course, welcome to comment.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

17 thoughts on “Interior Module Art

  1. Illustrations are for more than just illustrating. Images will help you remember the page you're looking for ("Oh, those rules are on the page with the picture of the orc eating an adventurer's leg.") Which means you don't need an index, you can just leaf through the product. This is especially important for printed materials that are too small to make an index practical.

    Most RPG publishers don't think about this, despite the fact that RPGs are clearly a product where this matters.

  2. It also aid comprehension by breaking up long runs of text. Reading nothing but text for several pages without anything to break it up is tedious for many.

    Now it doesn't have to be art, you could use maps, visual aids, whatever just as long the as the text layout get broken up from time to time

  3. I don’t want an illustration in a module unless it is someplace that I can show it to the players. I get so frustrated when a module gives me a good illustration that I have to crop and copy to show the players.

    Maps (except maps meant to be shown to the player) and diagrams I want to be utilitarian. No extraneous elaborations that get in the way of my marking them up.

    I think Talysman and Mr. Conley make very good points, though. Artwork specifically designed to help you find entries would be very welcome if it is done methodically.

    On the other hand, I’ve mostly sworn off running modules. I just look to them for inspiration. So, I guess my opinion isn’t worth much. ^_^

  4. Illustrations inspire and convey much better than words. The whole pic=thousand words thing. I can't stand how many RPG products today include narration or long passages of fiction. That truly doesn't assist actual play.

    I had no idea what a "steading" was. That little pic of the Hill Giant Steading backdroped with mountains explained everything to me.

    Generic art is stupid. It should be based on the module, pictures of rooms, traps, npc's, monsters, and PC's encountering same.

  5. If a picture is not placed to be easily shown to the players, then that means that the DM is left to come up with the thousand-word equivalent to speak to the players.

  6. Personally I think portraits of NPCs are necessary for me to make them come alive. Also, some pictures of scenes in the adventure goes a long way to get the point across of how the writer envisioned the module, which can be handy when adopting it.

    Like other posters have said something to break up blocks of text is also good for readability purposes.

    NPC portraits are a biggie for me, though.

  7. I agree with a couple points already expressed:

    1. Helps to avoid the "wall of text" problem in reference writing, and also provides reference points.

    2. I find it especially helpful to have a picture to illustrate any complex architecture or scene. To accurately describe such a scene in words alone is oftentimes very difficult.

    Art can also suggest a "tone" for a module (and/or rulebook).

  8. Because people like books with pictures better than they like books without pictures.

    At the end of the day, the 'module'is part of a game — a toy. So it should be amusing to read and look at as it should be to 'run' for your players. All balls could be white or grey and they would still roll or bounce as well as colorful ones (and, if the ball is intended for a toy for a dog, the dog may not be able to discern the difference between some colored balls if dogs are indeed color blind as I have been told), but since the ball is intended as a toy, making it colorful probably encourages people to want to play with it, or squeeze it or buy it.

    Plus pictures spur the DM's imagination… and some of them are just damn funny. I think it was in Hackmaster's "Annihilate the Giants" that they have a picture of a pair of adventurers looking at a polar bear cub with "AWWWWW — ain't he cute?" written all over their hapless faces. Behind them is the mother bear — all teeth and claws — about to open a can of whup-ass on them. The drawing serves no 'utilitarian' function. It's just there as an easter egg for the DM (who probably paid for the book it appears in, so it would have behooved the publisher to include something for the DM).

    The monster manual illustrations were useful to me for imagining the creatures so I could explain their appearance to the players.

    Plus, as someone who always enjoyed drawing and doodling, they are just fun to look at. I don't mind if a novel has no illustrations, but I want them in a book of any other kind.

    I find some of the later products from TSR, with fancier covers but lots more 'clip art' inside, to be dissapointing. Illustrations like the Giantesses in the kitchen from G1 or the crazy hermit from B2 made me glad I bought the module. I suppose I could cover up the text and show them to the players, or photocopy them, but usually I just enjoyed looking at them.

  9. I think this is a great thread. I made a comment to Michael Curtis on this topic regarding Down Night-Haunted Halls, but I didn't use any specific examples (not helpful). Let me do so here.

    As a VTT gamer who relies on pdfs, I use the interior art to help set the tone for my gaming group. To that end, I like to have interior art, even if I have to pay a bit more to get it. I mean, if you're going to commission the best artists, I want to support their fantastic efforts.

    Now the examples in DNHH (because I know you have Stonehell Dungeon): If you refer to pages 4 and 6, these are not very effective pieces of art. They break up the text, but I wouldn't show them to players. They're too generic. I'd prefer a landscape of what the box canyon or the Gates of Hell look like. You know, a 'We're not in Kansas anymore' image.

    Alternatively, the image on page 8 is incredible and exactly the kind of art I would love to see more of. Evocative. Something the players will remember for a long time after they've passed beneath those teeth.

    In general, I would agree that architecture, items, what a scene or an important portal might look like is more interesting than 'action scenes' with adventurers fighting monsters. I won't use those images, because they're not my group's PCs. They also don't need to know what goblins look like, etc.

  10. I took another long look at my shelves and took down an adventure module, D3.

    My impressions got a bit long winded so I posted them on my own blog.

    Sometimes art suck, and sometimes it's sublime.

  11. Pictures sell a product better than any number of words. Or so I believe 🙂
    For me an rpg book without fitting and good quality illustrations is one that I wouldn't look at, unless a friend told me I have to get it.

    I personally like how Wizards make their books look like. It tickles my imagination without having read a single word.

  12. Just to round out the page count to a number divisible by 4?

    Yeah, pretty much.

    Of course, all the reasons that have been mentioned by others are all pretty valid, as well. In addition, sometimes it's better to have a clean page break as you start a new section of the module. Having some art to help fill out the blank space is usually preferable to starting a new section mid-page.

    Mind you, the only art I think is really essential in a module (besides any maps) are images of new monsters, and perhaps major NPC's.

  13. Another alternative to images, especially if you are looking to include "functional" images only in an RPG module rather than filler, would be smaller, detailed maps of certain key encounter areas from the larger map.

    Not that I don't mind art for art's sake in a module, especially if it particularly inspiring or helps to "visualize" the location, encounter, monster, rules or what have you.

  14. A picture is worth 1,000 words, as they say. I think that art, whether in the rule books or supplements of any stripe, set the tone of the game and fire the imagination in a different way than text alone.

  15. If I had the money to commission custom art for my modules, I would make sure that every single piece of art was player-viewable. Modules are utilitarian, and I can't imagine why you aren't making the art useful, too.

    (Similarly, Monster Manuals should never use "group shots". And if you're paying someone to make a pretty map for your product, pay them to do it in a high enough resolution that you can make a printable battlemap available so that the players can appreciate how pretty the map is, too.)

    Since I can't afford to commission custom art, the pieces I do pay for are carefully chosen to be as utilitarian as possible. If it doesn't have utility, I prefer not having art at all.

    In the case of The Black Mist (which was a bit of a gamble that didn't actually work out), I specifically chose images from the public domain to capture the pre-modern era experience of the plague. And this was specifically to give the prospective GM some insight into the tone of the module and how to handle the events surrounding the magical plague in the module.

    However, there is one other use for art that I employ in my Rule Supplements: Filling white space left behind by a utilitarian layout.

    For example, I think it's useful in a module to keep the entirety of a room description on a single page. (Or, in a Monster Manual, to keep the entire monster on a single page.) That way the DM doesn't have to flip back and forth to see all of the information they should be seeing at one time.

    So if a room description is going to cross multiple pages, I'd rather introduce a piece of art and "force" the entirety of the room onto the next page.

    Unfortunately, virtually no module publishers both to make their layout utilitarian, either.

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