Using Images As Visual Aids In Your Game

I buy a lot of PDFs, especially the Paizo Adventure Paths where I get the PDF free with the book for being a subscriber.  I have taken to making a lot of printouts as props for my game.

It’s a shame for the players never to see the beautiful character art for the NPCs.  Or else you have to fold the book over, hand it around, and tell them “Don’t look at the stats on the same page!”  We’ve done that, and it’s time-consuming, sometimes hard to see when the DM just waves the picture around…

Also, I get a lot of “How do you spell that weird character name?!?”  So I’ve cut to the chase, and before a game session I create a bunch of printed strips that I can fasten to the outside of my GM screen with binder clips (bulldog clips to you Brits).  It’s sweet – when the party meets their new buddy Saul from the Second Darkness adventure Shadow in the Sky, and I whip this out and clip it to the screen:


Then in later scenes, I clip whoever’s present to the screen.  It provides great visual cues of who they are talking to and what their name is, cutting down on the “Tell…  Sully, or Slim or whatever… that we accept!” And too often PCs forget NPCs that are even in their party.  Have you ever had a PC group say, two combats later, “Oh yeah, what about your follower Gerald?  I guess he’s been tending the horses or something.”  Out of sight, out of mind.  Even if you don’t have images, at least print out the names and post them up.  (As an aside, we find ourselves doing this at work for people on conference calls – it makes it easier to remember them and incorporate them into the meeting.)

In many published adventures, there’s images for the vast majority of the important NPCs, and when there’s not, Google Image Search comes to the rescue.  “I need a half-0rc wizard.   Hmmm… <types “half-orc wizard” into Google Image Search>  There we go, the first result!”

Now, there aren’t *that* many easily findable images online.  So this may not work forever, but certainly is enough for important NPCs.  And if you make a habit of ripping them you can have a library of ready-for-home-use images.  You can probably reuse them judiciously in other campaigns.

Extracting and preparing them for use isn’t as easy as it could be.  Next time, tips and tools for preparing these little beauties.


8 responses to “Using Images As Visual Aids In Your Game

  1. I do EXACTLY this – paperclip images from Paizo APs to the front of my DM’s screen.

    It’s a great way to make use of that wonderful art, and help your players put a face to the NPC names.

  2. I used to do this when we played Shackled City. Although had to scan the pics out of the book.

    We had a permanent wall in my dining room for them though, every time the players met someone new I stuck a pic up on the wall.

    As the players got to know them they would move them from to the evil or good end of the wall, or somewhere in-between.

    It was like the Top Gear Cool Wall for NPCs.

  3. I’m planning something like this (using my own drawings though) for an upcoming game. I’ve also had some success in the past with “casting” actors as NPCs; it works best for one-shots, as sometimes the fact that the villain looks like, say, Peter Cushing can become a running joke rather than an aid to imagination.

  4. Have you had any luck with extracting images from the PDF without that black background? I often use Photoshop to remove it but it doesn’t always leave the image as crisp as I’d like.

  5. Crossposted from the more recent post on this topic:

    If you have Acrobat, you can use the Touchup Object Tool (Tools -> Advanced Editing -> Touchup Object Tool) to bypass all of this (not sure if it works if the PDF is password protected).

    Find the image you’re looking for within the PDF. Delete everything else on the page. You should now have a white page with your image on it. You can reposition that image to the center of the page, then use Print Screen to take a screenshot of the page. Using Paint (or any other image editor), all you have to do is cut the picture out and paste it into its own image file. Done.

    You now have your image, white background and all, saved as its own file, and you didn’t have to mess with pixel-removal or Photoshop/GIMP.

  6. And if you have Illustrator/Photoshop you can right click on a single object and choose to edit it. Usually this will pull through to Illustrator or Photoshop the exact thing you were interested in.

    If not you can choose “edit page” which will pull everything into Illustrator where it’s helluva lot easier to edit and delete stuff till you’ve got what you want.

  7. Yeah, my approach is the “no $200 software” route. Adobe Acrobat (full) and Photoshop are probably going to make all this happier. But you can do effectively the same thing for free…

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