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Tabletop role-playing games are cool again, and so is RPG Art. Shows like Stranger Things, Harmon Quest, and Critical Role have all used the internet as a springboard to make playing tabletop RPGs into a media sensation. But these games aren’t just fun; they’re a great opportunity for artists to find interesting work.
These days, there are legions of artisans designing and crafting handmade game accessories, like dice and gaming boards. However, there is also work for visual designers and game artists, making RPG art to illustrate the ever-growing libraries of books, maps, and cards. From the very beginning, art has been an important part of creating tabletop role-playing games.
Modern tabletop role-playing games emerged in the 1970s from strategy board games involving miniatures, and to this day, miniatures are an important part of RPG art. Miniatures are the tiny figures used to represent players in board games. In traditional board games these figures only needed to distinguish one player from another. In role-playing games, the miniatures became powerful tools in helping to create a visual style for a player-character, or a villain.
Many fans sculpt their own minis from clay, but many game manufacturers also hire artists to design minis that they sell to players. Some minis come unpainted, letting the player paint them themselves. This created a strong connection between the artists making the games and the players who themselves are becoming artists.
As role-playing games grew, so did the need for art. Manuals and reference books for the games feature art on every page, helping players to immerse themselves in the world of the game and visualize how every character, setting, item, or animal may look. This job demands artists who have versatile skills and vivid imaginations and who are able to create powerful, evocative images that capture a reader’s attention.
But books aren’t the only thing that need artists in these games. More complex games involve maps of new worlds and cards with illustrations and statistics for each item players may encounter. And the art isn’t just as simple as drawing a picture of something. On maps or cards, you have to present a lot of information in a way that is easy to recognize. This means that designers have to develop a carefully composed vocabulary of symbols and icons that are not just simple, but also instantly recognizable, and impossible to confuse with anything else.
Today, games have developed communities of thousands of players all around the world, and they aren’t just about dragons or dungeons. There are science fiction games in space. There are realistic survival or mystery games in the modern world. And in each community there are opportunities for artists to pick up a little extra work.
Even if you are not working full time for a game company, you can join a community and find many people interested in your artistic skills. Many players commission portraits of their characters from artists they find through internet communities. Games held in stores to attract customers will often commission custom artwork for maps and models in order to make the experience as vivid as possible.
The fun of role-playing games isn’t just playing them, it’s creating them. And if you’re interested in learning the artistic skills to create your own role-playing worlds, then check out BEAU’s specialization in Game Art in the Visual Design BFA, where you’ll learn the skills to make art for all kinds of games.