This guest post is from Chris Tregenza, the creator of the 6d6 RPG, and helps game designers, bloggers and even GMs find suitable artwork for their projects. The 6d6 Core 2nd edition is available at DriveThruRPG this week, is published under a Creative Commons license and uses Creative Commons art itself.The use of Creative Commons (CC) means other writers and authors can build on 6d6. Creators who work with the license know how to find and use high quality art for free. In this guest post Chris discusses 4 need-to-know sources of Creative Commons art and techniques for searching those sources.
4 great places to get free art for RPGs
So you’ve written your groundbreaking genre defining RPG but you cannot afford any artwork. Without it your game will disappear into the 8th circle of hell (the circle of failed Kickstarters), never to be seen again. There is only one thing to do, find some free artwork on the internet.
Flickr is a fantastic place to find photographs of almost anything but best of all is the Advanced Search function with its all important Creative Commons option. Most photographs on Flickr are strictly (c) only and out-of-bounds for people looking for free RPG art. However, a significant fraction of people do share their photos under the CC and Flickr makes it very easy to find them.
Most of the images on Flickr are just holiday snaps and the like from average Joes. Their quality is pretty low but the laws of probability mean they occasionally take truly amazing photos. There are also semi and fully professional photographers who use Flickr as a showcase and publish under the CC. The range of subject matter may be more limited but there is some top-quality work to be found. Some government organisations use Flickr to place professional photos into the public domain. For example, the US Army.
The problem, if you are publishing an RPG, is that all the photos are modern. They are perfect for any game set in the early 21st century but not much use for illustrating Sci-Fi or fantasy games. However, many people use Flickr to share scans of old books, newspapers and art. There is an eclectic mix available and with some digging you can find some real gems.
One last Flickr tip: Turn off ‘Safe Search’ at your peril.
The Wikimedia Commons manages all the images used on Wikipedia and related sites. It houses an incredibly diverse range of photographs, maps and art supported by reasonably good search facilities making it a very useful tool when hunting for free RPG art. The images are also categorised for easy browsing. This process can be erratic and idiosyncratic but it does mean if you are looking for, say, pictures of umbrellas, there is a fair chance someone will have already compiled a list for you.
Wikimedia images normally includes details of where they come from and why Wikimedia is allow to use them, e.g. the image is in the public domain. Copyright law is complicated and you should never place your entire trust on anything you read on the Internet but if Wikimedia says something is OK to use, it generally is.
The downsides to the commons is that most of its images are very small. That is, they are perfectly sized for viewing as part of a Wikipedia page on your phone but are not suitable for print or even in PDFs. However, most Wikimedia images are just small versions of much larger publicly available images and using Google, it is not hard to find the original.
DeviantArt contains fantastic free-to-use art covering a wide range of genres and would be the number one destination for people looking for RPG art apart from two things.
» The good art is buried under a mountain of shit art, copyright infringing fan art and copyright infringing shit fan art. And let us not forget the badly drawn soft porn created by the near infinite number of teenage boys who populate the site.
» DeviantArt’s search function lacks any way to filter the results and only include Creative Commons images. Which is odd, because DeviantArt gives artists the option to flag their art under a number of different CC licenses. This inability to only search CC artwork makes DeviantArt’s search function useless to anyone looking for free RPG artwork.
But all is not lost because using Google it is possible to search the site. It is far from perfect but it is usable. For example, if you wish to search for the image of an orc, enter this into Google’s Image Search:
site:deviantart.com "creative commons" -derivative -Noncommercial -fan orc
What this does is limit Google’s search to the DeviantArt site and to pages which contain the words “creative commons” but not the words “derivative” or “noncommercial”. This rules out CC images which use the more restrictive no commercial or no derivatives variants. The “-fan” part helps filter anything tagged as fan art. Finally the “orc” part is what you are searching for. If you wish to search for dragons or spaceships then replace this bit with a more suitable search term.
Using Google Image Search makes DeviantArt usable but not good. You will still have to wade through a lot unusable shit to find the gold but there is free art for your RPG, to be found.
It may be obvious but if you are looking for a particular subject matter, e.g. ogres, get on Google and start looking with phases like “ogre free art” or “ogre creative commons”. Away from the big file sharing sites there is lots of free art to be found on artist’s own blogs, in Kickstarter projects, in other people’s creative common RPGs and so on. The downside of this approach is that it is time consuming and places more onus on you to find the image and then verify it truly is in the Creative Commons.
The secret to success with Google is patience. You won’t find what you are looking for on the first page of Google’s results. You have to dig hard for your free art and follow clues. If a site contains an unsuitable, but free image it almost certainly will contain more free art so take time to browse the site. It might just contain the perfect image for your RPG and if it doesn’t, move onto the next site in Google’s results and keep digging. Sooner or later you will find the art you need.
About the author
Chris Tregenza is author of the 6d6 RPG. It is published under the Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA) and uses CC or public domain artwork throughout.
Image credit: David Revoy / Deevad at Deviant Art.