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[The Rustbelt] trepidations about illustrations

Started by Marshall Burns, January 12, 2010, 11:28:18 PM

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Marshall Burns

I want the 1st edition of Rustbelt to have illustrations. I don't have the money to pay an artist -- I mean, AT ALL. My budget for this project is zero dollars. I don't consider my own attempts at illustrations to be up to par (although I will be doing a cover even if it kills me). I do, however, have dozens of photographs that are excellent illustrations of the Setting, and also look really cool.

Here's where my trepidation comes in: none of these photographs include people. The Rustbelt runs on Character-based Premise. I worry that this combination is a problem, that illustrations that only show you Setting could shift reader attention away from Character (where it belongs) to Setting (where it won't actually help the game be fun).

Am I right? Am I worrying to much? Discuss. Help!


Seth M. Drebitko

Do you perchance have adoring artistically endowed friends that you can trade with?

Some people might be interested possibly in  getting a free copy of the game and some free publicity for providing a bit of art.

Maybe you could do pre-orders and factor in art costs to what needs to be collected, providing the actual text of the game in the mean time.

(Maybe all of the above combined?
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Ron Edwards

Hi Marshall,

No one knows what illustrations actually convey to (the, a, or plural) reader.* I think the only standard an author can go by is whether the graphics (including layout, graphic design, et cetera, in addition to illustration) work for him or her. I'm assuming from your post that the photographs do work for you. If they do, then they do.

We might speculate all over the place whether leaving the illustrations empty of characters militates against character-centric play as you fear, or whether conversely doing so would actually facilitate such play by not imposing a text-based standard for character priorities. That might be a fun discussion but it would also suffer from no foundation whatsoever. The fact is that whatever you choose, you can invent some unfounded reason for how it will undermine your goals. You've named the thread well: you're experiencing trepidations, and I suggest that that's all you're doing.

Let's look at the questions at hand.

1. Are the photographs good for the text?
2. If they are, are they enough?
3. If they aren't enough, or if they aren't good, then what other artwork would be desired?
4. Given an answer to #3, how can such artwork be generated on a limited or absent budget?

I'm reluctant to address #4 - for which useful answers do exist - unless I get a better sense that #1-3 are founded on real answers, rather than trepidations bombing back and forth in your mind.

Also, when and if #4 does become a more solid topic for you, then I recommend this thread be focused very directly upon what other publishers have actually done, rather than on speculative notions.

Best, Ron

* I suggest that "a" reader, "readers," and "the" reader are all problematic concepts in the first place. So this post focuses instead on the author and publisher.

Marshall Burns

I really like the photographs. I think they're well-composed (some more than others, but good in general), they look cool, and they evoke the texture and atmosphere (to me) of the Rustbelt setting. I think they do a good job of suggesting the miserable conditions that the characters probably live in. No matter what else might happen art-wise, these photographs will be used in some way.

Are they good enough? Good enough for blues. This is my first project for publication, and I know there are limits to what I can do -- I know that if I go all-out with my ambitions that I'll only stumble over them. By which I mean, although there are certain subjects (fight scenes, Psyche mechanics, Push/Price mechanics, eldritch shit) that are not at all illustrated by any of these photographs, I can live with that fact. (For one thing, the text goes into great detail on all of those, and there's no necessity for the illustrations to be redundant.)

Would I like to have illustrations of fights and Rust phenomena and such? Sure. But are they absolutely necessary? Nah. But I wouldn't say "no" if, f'rinstance, I was offered some for no monetary cost.

(The idea of doing pre-orders to offset production costs scares me. But besides that, I don't have any liquid capital in the first place to handle the production costs until money from pre-orders came in.)


C. Edwards

Just chiming in with complete and 100% opinion here, but when I see a well crafted photograph without people in it I usually find it pretty powerful. Doubly so if the photograph shows the effects/results of human endeavor. The Rustbelt is apocalyptica correct? Images of ruins and wastelands can have quite an impact.



Something occurs to me; when writing this book you expect to do all the work for free and be repayed by a percentage of the sales cost. Is there a way to do the same for an artist?

In terms of practically doing that, anyone know if it is possible to set up a mini bank account that automatically redirects it's current contents to two different sources? If such a thing exists, then you could just set the income share agreement and then have the publishers or pdf buyers send the money in to that account, splitting the money appropriately.

Now the result of this would be an effect on pricing, as if you go full colour with loads of art, then you'll be pushing up the price and then moving that extra money streight over to the artist. I've no idea where to set that price increase! Also, you'd probably have to agree with the person that you get to choose where it's distributed and when people get discounts, despite them having a financial interest in the product, which should be ok, given that you'll be largely in the same boat anyway.

Jasper Flick

Josh, while that could work, it really only does if you're an actual team. As a freelancer, you want to be payed for what you deliver, without delay. Not eventually, based on the success of some product out of your control, with no way of knowing whether you'll be ripped off.

Marshall, you make it sound like what you have right now is good enough. If things go well and you earn some money, then you can always make a revision that does include nice illustrations.
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I can understand that, that's partly why I was wondering about the direct debit thing; it allows you to make the relationship more mechanical, more predictable. I wonder whether many people operate on similar principles anyway "I can pay you, but not right away", just obscured. At least they would be having the entrepeneur's reward for that risk...

Charlie Gilb

Quote from: Marshall Burns on January 13, 2010, 07:11:50 PM
(The idea of doing pre-orders to offset production costs scares me. But besides that, I don't have any liquid capital in the first place to handle the production costs until money from pre-orders came in.)

I think you should do pre-orders. You know the product will get done, right? Personally, it sounds to me like a lot of the trepidations you are having are related to the fact that this is the first thing you are actually publishing, which is a huge step. I, for one, do think that having your book be completely absent of people might detract from the character-centric priority that the Rustbelt has. If you look hard enough, I think you could find someone willing to help you out. Maybe you can trade some art for some editing for someone around here or something like that.

As an aside:

How many pictures do you have? How many do you want to have?

Marshall Burns

I've got about a dozen pictures that I think are good enough to use. I don't want a lot of pictures, though. I think many RPG texts have too-freakin'-many illustrations.

I'm not so worried about the "what does this say to the reader" issue any more. The photos say a lot about Setting but nothing about Character, but the actual text goes on and on and on about Character while only glossing over Setting. I think it's a good balance.

Which isn't to say that I won't one day do a second edition with some new graphics. Didn't Vincent do that with DitV? The original had no illustrations at all aside from the cover, yes?


Paul Czege

Hey Marshall,

Here's a thought: turn on your songwriting brain and put some blues lyrics into the photos. Work them into the photos, hand-written, or with appropriate fonts, as a way of putting people and their thoughts into the scenes.

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And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans

Tim C Koppang


Just by way of letting you know that you aren't the only one out there worried about artwork, I will be using 100% photographs for my new game.  None of the photos have people in them.  At first I had the same trepidations as you: "Will no people send the wrong message to the reader?"

But then I realized that all of the photos I chose were incredibly evocative and realistic, which is what I want.  If your game is designed to be character driven (and I know it is), then people will play it as character driven.  The photos will be about inspiration and mood and whatever else you want them to be about.  I say press ahead.

If you're really worried, take another look at some free stock photo sites.  With a bit of Photoshop (or GIMP) editing, you might be able to come up with something you like.  But before you even get there, you have to trust your instincts and decide what will work best for your game.

Callan S.

Philosopher Gamer

Filip Luszczyk


Since you plan to use photographs anyway, why don't you try asking some of the people already involved in your project and enthusiastic about it to pose for you? Or, perhaps a LARP could work well enough? You could promise your models free copies of the game. It probably won't hurt to try - after all, we're talking about people who already are your audience, most likely playtesters, so chances are at least some of them find the perspective of having their faces in your book fun enough in its own right.

Otherwise, it seems I've been in a somewhat similar situation illustrating my Polish translation of Kumquat Tatoo. It's also apocalyptica, my budget was also exactly zero, and I also struggled hard to find any free photographs with people that would match. In the end, the only living things that made it into the document were some vultures, who I hope won't sue me. However, I'm sort of satisfied with the overall end result. The lack of characters seems to fit. While it is neither commercial nor very professionally done, you might want to take a look at it as a sample of the approach in question in practice.

Marshall Burns

QuoteIf your game is designed to be character driven (and I know it is), then people will play it as character driven.

Thank you, that makes me feel a lot better about it.

No, I haven't. The idea makes me itch, I'm not sure why.

That's not a bad idea in concept, but there's some problems wrt to actually executing it. Getting people together aside, the issues of props, costume, and makeup (I'd need everyone to not look, y'know, clean and healthy) require money and/or skills that I don't have. It's something I'd like to do, but I don't have to resources to do it properly, and I don't want to do it half-assed.