Tag Archives: images

Preparing Image Visual Aids For Your Game

Last time, we talked about using character standees as visual aids in your game.  Well, I found out to my horror that it’s not all that easy to extract and prepare them, which is a pain.  Even images that are supposedly “player handouts” are often mixed in with text, rendered very small, or otherwise not very suitable (and though most of us have color printers now, who the heck has a color printer or even a scanner?).  And naturally, even if you’re rich and have the full Adobe Acrobat, most of the PDFs are password protected so you can’t just edit them and get stuff out (lame!).

Here’s the combination of free software and prep steps I use.  Don’t worry, I’m worthless when it comes to graphics stuff, I can’t make a good looking image to save my life.  But the manipulation you need to do here is extremely basic.

First, extract the images from the PDF.  I use the free program Some PDF Image Extractor.  It extracts everything, which is annoying – mixed in with the real images you’d like are a hundred images that are little bits of page decoration and whatnot.  But, it’s easy enough to delete them all.  Use Thumbnail view in Windows Explorer.

Now in many cases the extracted images will mostly be JPGs but there will be more annoying formats like PPM/PBM that Explorer thumbnail view, Picasa, etc. don’t understand.  Especially for player handouts, it seems.  I use the free program ImageMagick (available on Windows and Linux) to do bulk conversions.  “convert *.ppm pic-%d.jpg” converts all the ppms to sequentially numbered jpgs (I haven’t figured out how to do what should be the base case, which is just bulk convert every name.ppm into the same name.jpg without writing a loop in a script or something).

Oh, you’re not done yet.  A lot of the extracted images have black backgrounds.  Don’t know why.  I use the granddaddy of all free graphics programs, GIMP, to fix that.  It’s like Photoshop but free (available on Windows and Linux).  Anyway, you pull in an image that looks like this:

Void Images-500

And then you use the fuzzy select tool (magic wand) to select all the black and hit delete.  Play with the threshold to get as much of the black without getting any of the main image.  You may have to go select other black subregions (like the ones between clumps of hair in this case).  Clean up stray black pixels with the eraser.  Quickly you get:

Void Images-500Perfect.  I then slap them into Word, add a caption, and print.  I like to put it in landscape and use multiple columns, so I get 2-3 vertical strips when cut.

It’s a bit of work but generally you only have to do it once per adventure, and you get to reuse the NPCs a lot. Heck, once the Bestiary is out I’ll make one for each monster and those will get loads of use.

Sometimes you can do a quicker capture of one or two things simply by alt-print screening the Acrobat window, tossing into Microsoft Paint, and cleaning it up. You can also use the same general approach to make paper minis.

Anyway, power tips from the rogue’s gallery are welcome… This process is a bit involved and I bet there’s ways to do it in a more streamlined way.

I wish companies would provide galleries – a zip of jpegs, or at least an easy to consume PDF appendix.  All the beautiful art is getting seen only by the GM 90% of the time.  And having the image handouts, paper minis, etc. adds so much to the usefulness of the product.  And it’s not like there’s a reason to protect the stuff; you can get it if you want it but of course you’d expect to get in trouble if you reused it illegally in a product or whatever.

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.