Apr 10, 2014

DM Tools: Know Your Enemy

Do you know the enemy?
Do you know your enemy?
Well, gotta know the enemy
-- Green Day - Know Your Enemy

Images can be a powerful tool for DMs. Some of the earliest D&D modules (i.e. Tomb of Horrors) included illustration books that helped DMs to further show what the PCs were seeing at certain key moments and locations in an adventure.

Also, along those same lines, miniatures not only help show where everyone is during a given moment of combat, but the sculpts and paint jobs also help clarify who or what the PCs are fighting (otherwise you could just use chess pieces for positioning).

Another area where images can be very useful is for key NPCs. In any adventure there are usually one or two antagonists for the PCs to face, from the town mayor, to "the evil necromancer" to the "goblin king". For some of these characters (the necromancer and the goblin king) miniatures might be useful, but for the town mayor, a miniature isn't probably very useful, especially if he doesn't fight the PCs.

For some of these non-combat NPCs, images can really help the players know just who they are dealing with. Fortunately there are a number of ways to find just the right face for your NPC.

A simple Google image search can give you plenty of images, but most will probably not fit in to your game setting (unless you are playing in a modern setting). The images can still be useful for a DM as the right image can really help solidify who a character is, even if the original source material isn't something you can show at the game table. For instance, I once based a female warrior character on an image of model Angie Everhart I had seen. Something about the image (an ad for some product), and the toughness she displayed felt right for the character I was coming up with.

deviantART is another great resource for images. When looking for something, I typically start there. Also, it's free and easy to sign up, and having an account allows you to bookmark favorite images. Recently, for my weekly game, I needed an image of a bone devil, and was able to find something useful there I could use in my game.

A couple of other resources not to forget, especially if you're looking for fantasy images.

Your own collections. If you have any copies of Dungeon, Dragon, modules from any edition or system, don't forget to give them a once over for images you can copy and use in your home game.

Wizards of the Coast posts art galleries for most, if not all, of it's print releases. If you have a DDI account, then you can access galleries from various 4th edition products, to the monthly Dungeon and Dragon online magazines.

If you don't have a DDI subscription (like me), the Wizards of the Coast site still has useful places to visit. For instance, back in the days before the walled garden, the WotC site posted the art galleries for free. Check out this archive page fora list of galleries from older products. This can be a great source, especially for monsters, but also for various adventurer types.

When WotC had outsourced the production of Dungeon magazine to Paizo, Paizo would post a free PDF supplement for that month's issue. Check out their downloads page to get free supplements, often with key art and maps for the various modules in each issue. I've used these supplements in several sessions when running a module from the magazine in my home game.

Now while all the above suggestions are free (or products you already own), one last source for NPC images are from the various GameMastery decks Paizo puts out. In addition to their equipment decks, and decks specific to their various Adventure Paths, Paizo also has decks of face cards, like their Enemies, and Dungeon Dwellers decks. For a few bucks (even less if you take advantage of their current Scratch-'n-Dent sale), you can get plenty of images for all types of NPCs. And the nice thing about the cards is that the backs are blank for the DM to keep track of any important details for each NPC.

This list, while offering you a lot of ideas, just begins to scratch the surface of what you can utilize to find the right image for the right NPC.

If you liked this article, or have other suggestions for other DMs to consider, please consider leaving a comment.