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TTRPG illustration artist guideline, blog 1.

Article / 12 November 2020

Here’s a little guideline of things you need to know if you’d like to work in the TTRPG illustration scene. Explaining what it is, as well as the standard rate range for such illustration work.

Many of you may know TTRPG companies and their projects such as:

Wizards of the Coast:     (Dungeons & Dragons, Magic the Gathering.)
Paizo:                                (Pathfinder)
CD Project Red:               (Gwent)
Aplibot:                             (Legend of the Cryptids)
Fantasy flight games:     (Talisman, Keyforge, Legend of the five rings, and various famous IP’s which they turned into games such as: A Game of Thrones, Star wars, Lord of the Rings.) (*FFG's rates are not included in the equation below, as they pay significantly different, than the industry standard.)
And various, Indy or slightly less famous companies. Like the rapidly growing company I work for as Principal Art Director:
Ghostfire Gaming:           (Grim Hollow) (Stibbles Codex of Companions) (The Seekers Guide to Twister Taverns)

The standard industry rates in TTRPG:

Those companies named above work in role playing products and card games. The two products are often paid very differently!
Whereas card games illustrations payments range between:  300-1000 usd (with the exceptional 1500 for really special cards.)
RPG book illustrations are priced in a different categories, most commonly:

  1. Character/creature/spot illustration without backdrop: 100-300 usd.

  2. Props/items: 50-150 usd.

  3. Quarter-page/Half-page illustrations: 200-650 usd.

  4. Full page heroic illustrations:  500-1000 usd.

  5. Book cover art:  500-3000usd 

  6. Dm/gm screen art: 500-2000usd

  7. World/location Maps: 50-500usd.

The majority of the companies working in the TTRPG industry work with fixed prices, they don’t look at your hourly rate or day rate. They don’t change it whether an artwork has 1 or 3 or 5 characters doing a thing.

Some trivia:

TTRPG= Tabletop Role playing game. A game often coming in the form of a book, or multiple books. There’s also side products. Here’s a list:

  1. Campaign guide. A book explaining the game, mostly aimed for the game master/dungeon master, who dictates the story of the game and fulfils the role of NPC’s, villains and monsters. They are the director/storyteller of the game.

  2. Players guide. These books are aimed to help the players make their character backgrounds, and statistics as well as getting to know the world they’re going to play in and it’s game rules.

  3. Monster manual. These books are filled with various monsters and villains you can encounter during your gameplay. They come with their own statistics and game mechanics. 

  4. Random fantasy titled TTRPG book: These are often books showcasing new adventures and realms and everything that comes with it.  They’re an addition next to the other books. 

  5. Roleplaying Game Dice! A set of dice the player and game master need to play the game. Not just your regular 6 sided dice (D6), but there’s also: D100, D20, D10, D12, D8 and D3!

  6. Dice box and or dicetray. A box in which you can safekeep your dice, sometimes, just like a dicetray it will have a velvet layer in which you can roll the dice without any discomfortable sound. 

  7. DM-screen. (Dungeon/Game Master screen,) This is a screen that the DM/GM puts in front of them, to make sure you cannot see their dice and notes. On the inside of the screen, only visible to them, there’s a list of statistics that help them with the game. On the outside, there’s a panoramic illustration for the player’s viewing pleasure. (since these artworks are rather large, you often get paid between 600-2000 usd to paint them)

  8. Ability and spell cards. These are little cards, mostly used by players to keep track of the abilities and spells their character can use. Sometimes these cards have an illustration on the back, but most times it’s nothing more than a symbol and decoration.

  9. Monster cards. For either players or DM/GM’s, a card with on one side a visual representation of a monster or villain, and on the other side their statistics. 

  10. Miniatures/figurines. Little statues to represent the players, the monsters, villains and NPC’s. Some TTRPG players like playing the game with having these figurines on a board. Given them a visual representation of their location and battle tactics.

  11. A game board. A board depicting a scene or dungeons viewed from the top down. It’s made out of hexagon or square tiles. Sometimes you can dress them up real fancy with cardboard/molded or 3d printed elements such as decor, walls, doors etc.

  12. Game play maps. These can be world maps, all the way to interior maps of buildings. These illustrations get paid between 50-500 usd.

NPC= Non playable character.

Applying your artwork to a TTRPG company:

Prepare your portfolio by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I know the product well enough? 

  2. Does my portfolio show work that already looks like it belongs in/with their product?

  3. Does the quality of my work match their overall quality (compare it not with their worst, but with their best.)

Sending in your work. 

Most TTRPG companies have a dedicated email address to which to send your application. They come with their own instructions, often asking for small jpegs of 3-5 samples of your work. Other companies prefer you send a url to your portfolio page. This doesn't need to be your own website, your Artstation profile works well enough. (social media profiles are a bit unprofessional to send, but if your art is extraordinary, something like that wont kill the deal.)

You’ve sent in your application, now what?

You wait. Sometimes it can take weeks before hearing anything back, most of the time you don’t hear anything at all. This isn’t because art directors are rude, this is because they’re incredibly busy and don’t have time to reply to hundreds of applications they get every week. Sometimes, you’re simply unlucky that whilst your work is good and fitting enough, they’re not looking for more artists at the time being. Sometimes, your work is not good enough and you won't find out through them. This is why it’s important to always keep learning, growing, improving and asking your peers for feedback if you simply cannot see your own flaws anymore.
I’d say it’s pretty fair to send in an updated portfolio every 4 months (given you have new and improved work to show by that time).

Standing out from the crowd of applicants! 

Now this is a key to success, let me tell you! Quality, style and having the right artworks are great BUT, if you’d like to end on top you gotta make sure that:

  • You show scenery, architecture. Your illustrations show a complete eye for attention for both the characters, their action and the location in which this takes place. Portfolio’s with just characters, or just natural landscapes, simply get drowned out by the numbers.

  • Don’t be a one-trick-pony.

  • Be consistent in your style and quality. Being able to work in various styles is amazing, but make sure you show multiple illustrations in the same style-set to prove your control over it. 

  • Sketches! Show your sketches, alongside the finished artworks. Art directors love to see what they can expect from you. Unclear sketches are a nightmare to give feedback upon. 

When you do art for a TTRPG company:

  • Your assignments will come with a number and title: 0047864_Goblin, for example. IT is key that you save your illustration files with these names, adding: sketch, or final at the end. Sometimes there’s iterations and you files might end up like: 0047864_Goblin_final-v2
    If you don’t keep to this naming convention, you’ll create an administrative mess for your art director. They may often request a re-submission of the work with the proper naming.
    They use this naming convention to keep track on what is what. With a game that might have 600 goblins… making sure they get a number is a must.

  • You’ll be working with deadlines. The artbrief you get provided will tell you the sketch deadline and final deadline. A smart illustrator, works ahead and sends their work in early. Don’t wait till the actual deadline day, if you don’t need to. Deadlines are often: 2-3 weeks to deliver the sketches, and another 2-3 weeks to send in the finals. Having your total workaround be between 4-6 weeks. It’s up to you to communicate how much work you can take on in this ‘artwave’.
    If you can’t make the deadline, communicate this with your art director as soon as possible.

  • Submitting sketches and finals. Adhere to the sizes requested in the artbriefs. Oftentimes, you can send sketches in a smaller size, as long as the final is the correct size (or a bit bigger, but with the same aspect ratio.)
    With some companies you simply email these jpegs or PNG’s straight to the art director. Other companies require you to log in to a software or website, and upload the work straight into their database. 

  • Invoicing! Make sure you have your payment details, full name and address on your invoice, as well as the company name, project and office address. Name the assignments and their pricing, in rows, with at the bottom the total sum. Sometimes, your assignments are tracked with another number (so not just the number attached to your individual illustrations), make sure this number is in the file name of the invoice, as well as mentioned on the invoice itself. 

I hope this was helpful!! I wish you good luck and lots of energy to accomplish your goals!