Sunday, May 8, 2011

RPG Art in General, OSR Art in Particular, Color vs Black & White (Plus First Ever Joesky Tax Payment!)

Blah blah.

It's not about the reader, the customer, or however you want refer to the person that'll be using the thing in the end.

It's what the person making the thing wants... and what they can afford.

Opinions are like assholes, and there are a lot of assholes on the internet, and I think any publisher that makes production choices based on blog and forum discussions is in for a lot of heartache as they scramble to fulfill the desires of the most fickle bunch of people on Planet Earth instead of following their own muse.

While my first choice is to make stuff that I think is cool and then sell enough to be able to make something else that I think is cool, if I had to choose (and was psychic), I would choose to go out of business making that one last cool thing rather than making something I don't think is cool but sold much better.

For example, take Grindhouse's art and presentation.

I like box sets, so a box set is what you get.

Ernie Chan was a very influential to me as a child, so you get an Ernie Chan piece, even if just about nobody cares and he was far from the most economic choice for a full page of art.

Vince Locke was very influential to me as a teenager, so you get a Vince Locke piece, even if it's the single most expensive new piece for the box and is (as one person complained) "hidden" in the middle of one of the books.

I doubt I'd sell one less copy if I hadn't hired these "celebrity" artists. But the game wouldn't be nearly as cool to me without them.

(Yeah, it's rather rude to mention money in the context of art, but I think we can stop pretending that it doesn't matter for a few minutes here. If you give someone a $5000 art budget, their book will always look tons different than if they have to get it done on a couple hundred bucks. We need a rich benefactor to play some sort of Top Chef reality show bullshit competition but for art direction, give several people the same manuscript and $5000 and see who can get the coolest and most effective artwork with it.)

I like color and black and white art. Each has its place. Yeah, at some point on this blog I talked about not liking color art quite so much (you can find that post yourself), but as soon as I could afford it what did I do? The truth was revealed...

If I wanted to do an all-color game, I would have. It would have been a smaller production, with not a great many pieces of art, but it would have been done. The vision comes first, then the project is shaped to match the vision. If I wanted a book with no color, I would have done that too.

But I like both.

Rainville's Rules & Magic cover doesn't work in black and white - how else than with color do you give the idea that it's the same character as the box cover? (for example, did you know the woman in Berger's piece on page 64 is also the same character? And for that one person that hates "iconics" because of some sort of implied character invincibility, defeating that impression is specifically what Sheppard's piece on page 69 is made to do)

I can't imagine Rainville's swamp exploration scene on page 73 being done in black and white, since the entire thing is about light effects.

On the other hand, Sterns' Fighter class picture wouldn't have worked as well with color. It has a lot of similarities to Rainville's picture on page 68, but I think the atmosphere in both pics is completely different and a lot of that is due to the color vs black and white issue. You can get lost in the details in Jalo's page 84 mechanical workshop or Nicholson's page 78 junkie wizard.

While a few of the black and white pieces would work well in color, there's only one color piece appearing in the LotFP box that might have worked just as well in black and white. Cardiff's Blackie Ritchmore on page 65 doesn't have much that demands color, but I think it's cool to do something a bit fancier with a low key subject. If I can pay Nicholson to draw people shopping, for crying out loud, I can have a lewd bard in color. :D

The similarities between the pics do show that there was no grand plan with the art - in the middle of things I just think "What would be cool here?" and sometimes I even have little plans like "page spread with pic and description for the classes" or "wandering eyeball header!" but no overarching scheme... when printing them out before press it's to search for typos and layout glitches to minimize them (unfortunately, they will not be eliminated altogether). It's only when the finished book comes back to the printer that I see things as a whole object and think of things like "I should have had Amos do borders for all the class pics like he did for the Elf and Dwarf pieces." Ah well. If I did anything perfectly I'd have to quit because why continue if you can't hope to put something better out next time?

Now I did poll "the internet" when it came to the Tutorial cover, because my first impression was the black and white version was better. But because there was no strong consensus on the matter online, I went with the artist's choice. But that was a specific thing; I didn't start off "Hey everyone, before I commission this new Tutorial cover, I want to ask everyone whether it should be color or black and white! Vote now!"

So those are my very concise thoughts on the matter.


The Bad Penny

The Bad Penny is a copper piece that disguises itself as another type of coin.

When the Bad Penny is discovered in a treasure pile, it will attach itself to a character so that any carried cash will always include the Bad Penny. Whenever the character spends money, there is a 50% chance that the Bad Penny is used in the purchase, for it will change itself to seem like a silver or gold coin in hopes of being spent as such. At this point the disguise is perfect, and only through magical means can the Bad Penny be detected.

d4 turns after a purchase using a Bad Penny is made, the seller will be compelled to count his money... and at this point the Bad Penny is obvious as a very poor counterfeit, and in fact will make all of the money spent along with it to appear counterfeit as well. d4 hours after this, the Bad Penny exchanges itself (even over great distances!) with a coin in the purchaser's possession. It will wait patiently if the buyer currently has no coin.

The only way to permanently get rid of a Bad Penny is to get rid of all of one's money, storing it somewhere (not giving it to anyone!) and never returning to collect it again. Then some poor sap will discover this hoard and the fun begins again...


  1. Despite what I've said elsewhere, I agree completely. I know what I'd do if (when - it's just a matter of actually finishing this manuscript) I design a gamebook. What I'd do, though, has nothing to do with what someone else does or should do. Each artifact (in this case, a book) is individual. It is an art, in itself, to design such a thing, and what each design needs is a matter of consequence only to itself. I tried to emphasize that there are different approaches out there (Vornheim was mentioned, approvingly).

    As you say, the product has to appeal to exactly one person. If, after appealing to that one person, other people want to buy it, that's cool, too.

  2. I think you do right. If you try to make the game everybodys darling, it wouldn't be the game YOU want to make. And the buyer perhaps doesn't like everything about your product, but he feels that YOU made a product as YOU love it. And this is a better buy than any "we wan't to make a everybody likes it"-product. (Sorry for my bad english).

  3. James, I love your vision and where you are taking the game. Keep it up and I'll keep coming back for more.

  4. I'd add "The Bad Penny makes all the coins in the character's possession radiate magic." Otherwise it'd be pretty easy to for a MU to pick it out when shopping.

  5. Nicholson? Russ please.

    As an aside ...and my cents worth ...I liked the box set which I thought a nice production.

  6. If I had some extra dinero I would so pick up the new grindhouse addition it looks great.

    The right kind of Art is so important to a successful table-top gaming and I am surprised how often a lot of even big companies mess it up. Elmore & D&D, John Blanche & WH40K,Bradstreet & Shdaowrun.

  7. In the discussion at I responded to "nothing not in S&W, etc" by pointing out that LotFP has one thing rare in the retro-clones (but dripping from the old Fantasy Heartbreakers): voice.

    I could confuse S&W/LL/OSRIC/BFRPG with each other long before I could confuse LotFP with any of them. That's all about voice.

    Art is a huge part of the voice. My favorites so far is the duel at the top of the fighting rules. I seem to remember a discussion about violence with women while you were doing this edition and I suspect that's it. It's brilliant.

    I like the color plates as I said've used color much better than most games do and I'm hoping people learn from you and KS in Rifts in how to use color plates to evoke the game instead of illustrate it.

    As for the B&W piece of the Flame Princess herself, did you commission that for the old heavy metal zine. I could swear one of your find players flyers used that art.