How Art Inspires Campaigns

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on January 24, 2011

As both a DM and a player I draw my inspiration from four different sources: fantasy literature, movies, my daily walk and art. It is amazing how a single phrase, scene, tree or image can inspire a character’s history or indeed an entire campaign. I walk my dog daily and on the path I take through a forest there was a dead tree that was covered in vines. This image inspired the idea for an entire campaign where the natural world was being threatened by rot and corruption. Not the most original idea, I’ll admit, but as the dead tree was surrounded by life I decided to represent this by an antagonist that the party trusted. Over time his duplicitous nature would be revealed. Not bad for an idea inspired by a tree.

I find that simple images and stills can often provide great ideas for campaigns and character concepts. Fantasy art has inspired me in more ways than I can count. The idea of taking an image and providing a history for that image is an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Art clearly is a popular subject and I’m obviously not the only one inspired by it. Two of our most popular articles here at Dungeon’s Master are The Art of D&D (Part 1 | Part 2). My purpose here isn’t to go back as Ameron did and talk about artists who have shaped our thoughts of Dungeons & Dragons. Instead I want to look at some select images and create things from them. Today’s post is a workshop and I’m interested in the stories we will create.

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. While my intention is not to write 1,000 words about each of these images, I do want to use them as a starting point to discuss how each image could inspire a D&D session. For some of these images I know exactly who the artist is and will link to their site, providing appropriate credit. Others are images I found in a random Google search.

Image 1 – Rayna by Eva Widermann

We will start off with a character portrait and create a NPC. Eva Widermannis my go-to artist when I’m looking for a character portrait. This image really jumps out at me for several reasons.

There are several questions we need to ask about the image, who is Rayna? Why is she wearing nothing but a sheet? Is the dagger for defense or a ritual? Finally, what does the pendant on her necklace signify?

Let’s make Rayna is a re-occuring NPC. The party first meets her during the mid-heroic tier. She was kidnapped or offered by her local village as a blood sacrifice to appease the old gods. The party is requested by her distraught family to rescue her and rid the region of the evil that is plaguing it.

The real evil is a crone who is magically extending her life by borrowing on the life force of young villagers. Though the PCs resuce Rayna, the crone has already transfered her life force into Rayna. Over the next couple of levels the party will continue to complete tasks that are designed to ease Rayna’s discomfort as no one is aware of the possession. Of course the party is unwittingly assisting the goals of the crone. It’s up to the DM to decide when the party might become aware of the deception.

Image 2 – Blood Moon Over Sanctuary

This is one of the images where I don’t know the artist, but whoever they are thank you for producing this piece.

The blood red moon in this piece instantly makes me think undead or lycanthrope. I will run with undead in this instance, most likely intelligent undead. The light in the tower indicates one of two things, either an individual in a position of power is expecting a nocturnal visit or they are the undead themselves. The town is secluded, heavily fortified and easily defended from an external threat.

OK, let’s put the whole location together. The town of Sanctuary is located in a remote region of the kingdom. It’s natural fortifications, combined with a robust wall allow its citizens to defend themselves from the lycanthropes who dwell in the forest beyond the town’s borders. The lycanthrope have been attacking for generations and the citizens don’t know why. The battle has become a blood feud with members of the town launching hunting parties every season. The true reason for the attacks is that the lord of the town is an ancient vampire. Once he was an adventuring companion to the leader of they lycanthropes. Both were cursed in their own terrible way. The lord of the town turned his back on his companion eventually settling in Sanctuary. Through corruption, bribery and murder he worked and infiltrated his way to a position of power and now maintains that power with an iron grip.

The PCs now find themselves in this strange town. They are warned not to leave due to a build up of lycanthropes in the forest. But is the true threat outside or inside this town?

Image 3 – Aerial Battle In Sharn by Wayne Reynolds

This image evokes action and perhaps that I what I enjoy most about Wayne Reynolds’ work, there is always something going on. His work promotes action.

This piece speaks for itself regarding the type of encounter that could be designed. The PCs are travelling through the city in an airship, when they come under attack. The attackers are travelling on hover discs, Let the mayhem ensue.

The Workshop

For the three images found below I would encourage the community to share their thoughts on a possible encounter that could occur for each. Feel free to be as detailed as you want. Working together we can create an easy pre-made encounter ready for your next game.

Image 4 – Body Snatchers by Wayne Reynolds

Another image by Wayne Reynolds. There are a few things going on in this image and a DM could craft multiple encounters out of it.

Questions to ask:

  • Is the body alive or dead and who is it?
  • The combat at the house appears separate from the ghouls, what’s going on?
  • Where is this house and who lives there?
  • Why is the party there in the first place?

Image 5 – By David Revoy

I am not sure of the name of this piece by David Revoy. I like to think of it as shops by the bridge. The piece seems quaint and very peaceful. In fact the only disturbance is a woman emptying her refuse into the river.

I imagine a very intricate social skill challenge for this image. Of course some multi level combat is also not out of the question. Using roof-tops, the bridge, stairs and river could create a very interesting and dynamic encounter.

Image 6 – Title and artist unknown

Another bridge sequence, this one a little more dramatic with dragons flying all over the place.

What has brought forth the dragons? Are they native to this city or are they attacking?

If they are attacking, why and where do the PCs fit in?

Using art to inspire my campaign idea’s has always been a fun experience. What artists do you draw inspiration from? What encounters would you craft from the images found above?

Looking for instant updates? Subscribe to the Dungeon’s Master feed!

1 Neuroglyph January 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Very nice selection of fantasy art there, and you definitely make a good point about how inspirational art can be to creating D&D adventure. Makes me want to start skimming over at more often!

2 Wimwick January 25, 2011 at 2:32 pm

@ Neuroglyph
In my mind you can never look at too much art and you are bound to find something that plants the seed for what becomes a great idea.

3 Acheron January 26, 2011 at 9:43 am

Nice man, indeed occasional day to day situations inspire a lot, but art also does, and is very funny you used picture 3 and 4, I had discover them a while back and for the first i made an entire civilization in my campaign, and for the second it offers so many good ideas, i think is the horror that represents the picture.

For the 3rd i will put it as the PC’s nation is making a merchant treaty and they are send as diplomats to buy several war airships and they get under attack by a group of mercenaries from an opposing-to-the-deal noble family.

For the 4rth… People start dissapearing in town, they seal all the entrances and barricade the town thinking is external, maybe slavers, but then, after all entrances are closed, there are still people going missing… Till they discover that a part of the catacombs fell when the town created the new sewers and some seals that should not be broken where destroyed…

Those were the ones that inspire me the most, although the ones with dragons… ooohhh the possibilities… If they live there may be a Great Wyrm is the patron ? And his sons fly by freely as royalty?
And if they are attacking they may have declared war against town and at autumn they have come to burn the grain stores so the town starves on winter and they can smash it easily when they are at the direst moment.

And the PC’s where there to buy grain? So they get pist off and decide that dragon leather is the next winter fashion… Lol hehehe 😀


Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: