A big part of a game master’s job is to paint portraits with words. From the simple man on the street to the broad, bloody sweep of a battlefield, a GM’s words are the catalyst for the players imaginations.
Unfortunately, after a while and certainly in the heat of the moment, it can become difficult to create fresh and unique descriptions for everyone and everything. And in some cases, even a thousand words can’t do justice to the image you want to create for your players.
In planning my Mist campaign, I decided to give the key NPCs in the city specific images. The thought was that it would help solidify those characters in my mind, and be a stronger reference for my players. I found images via Google’s image search. Some, including Galwyn Ott to the right, came from Paizo.com’s Pathfinder website. I created a background that I reused for each NPC handout. I then found icons and symbols to represent the NPCs faction. In my image editor, I used five layers. The background went, naturally, in the back. Over that went the cutout image of the NPC. Then the text. Then the faction icon. And finally, the borders of the handout. I printed them out on card stock and put them up on the wall for the players to refer to whenever they wanted.
For my Spycraft campaign, I created a series of handouts that had NPC dossiers and photos. I designed them to look like they had been downloaded onto their iPhones. In addition to the NPCs, the handouts included maps and signal intercept transcriptions that I gave out at various points during the mission. I created a basic background image, which is supposed to look like some sort of hightech iPhone device. I used that background repeatedly, changing the images and text for each new NPC. The image is actually a photo of chess champion Anatoly Karpov that I found via Google’s image search and then altered to suit my purposes.
When it comes to creating these objects, a little working knowledge Photoshop Elements or the GIMP (or similar programs) is required. Knowing how to crop and resize images is important. Understanding how to work with transparency and layers is vital. Adding text is easy, and working with specialty fonts can really make a difference. Other skills include using built in filters to add gain, noise, and aged photo effects. I assure you, you can find tutorials on all of these functions with a quick search of the internet.
Now, let me be clear. I’m no IP lawyer, but using images you find on the internet for your own private games isn’t a copyright violation. But, don’t even think about trying to sell your creations. And you probably want to make sure you provide clear credit for any work you wind up posting back on the internet.