This is kind of meandering, and not really much more than an excuse to put pictures on my blog. Whatever.
Words are dumb. They are very nearly the crudest thing I can imagine in terms of ways to convey information. This is because people are unique and complex and not clones of one another. Our lives would be so much simpler if we were not unique or complex and were in fact clones of one another that had only a single language and a single precise definition for each word. Each of us has this thing called a past that shapes and defines every aspect of who we are today. It also shapes and defines how we interpret the majority of what we encounter on a daily basis. Past is why some people can joke about things like rape being struggle cuddling, and other people start slugging those people when they start joking. Forgive me for using a buzzword issue like rape in a pseudo-serious context on a blog primarily about chucking dice, I'm lazy and it's an easy to use example in this context.
We all attach meanings to words that other people who haven't had our experiences would never think to connect to them. You can use as many words as you want in as many paragraphs as you want, and people still aren't going to understand precisely what you mean, because each of us thinks and imagines things in a certain way. Given that most GMs are not phenomenal artists with the ability to scrawl epic art, all we're left with to display our worlds most of the time is our words, whether spoken or written. I can write and speak till my fingers cramp and my lips turn blue about my dragons being green and spitting acid that burns flesh and having a venomous bite, but Eric still thought they breathed fire and were thus red dragons. Eric's not stupid. He just associates fire with burning and in his head fire + dragons + DnD = red dragons. It's pretty simple math when you get right down to it.
So Monday was my birthday. My current regular partner at work is Fred. Fred is a friend and a former player in my previous Hekinoe campaigns. If you read or hear me say anything about a murderous and completely bat shit crazy sorcerer named Derf that literally fucked up everything in The Rebellion Arc, that's Fred's character. For my birthday, Fred drew something for me:
It didn't take him terribly long, and it was done with black and red Sharpie markers. Looking at it, most people (I imagine) see the outline of a man with a staff or stick in one hand and probably a sword in the other, and blood on his face. What I see is...everything. I see everything in my head laid out before me in stark black and white, with a single key element of color. Something within me responds to this drawing, because it has significance to me. I want to frame it and put it behind glass and hang it above my computer so I can sit at my desk with something heavy playing on Pandora and just stare at it and smoke cigarettes until the stars burn out.
Things mean different things to different people because they have different things in their heads. That said, images are easier to communicate with. I can say Sereth are grey and hairless and have cat eyes and extra elbows and knees, but Lance and I are still probably holding different (at least slightly) images in our heads. With a drawing of a Sereth in hand, I don't have to tell him anything beyond "This is what they look like." and there it is. He sees it just as I see it. He'll still attach different things to the Sereth than I do, but at least he'll see them physically just as I do.
We play a game frequently called "the theater of the mind" or some variation of that. This all occurs in our heads. I've never seen the Donovan that Cary imagines, or the pocket watch Eric role-plays as having great significance to Karl. I've never seen the runes in Karrak's eyes or the engravings of briars on the butt of Eran's rifle. As I said, most GMs are not phenomenal artists. They muddle through maps and such much like I do. With chicken scratch on a sheet of college ruled or a faint blue grid of squares. I try to write hefty descriptions of things, dense walls of text, so my players can come as close as possible to seeing the world that I see. In response, they still thought/think Sereth were basically elves. Because pointed ears. ::shrug::
Like I said, there's not a real point to this, I'm just meandering and musing.
So Fred drew this image for me and I sat and stared at it with my Kindle forgotten on my lap for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, my mind just idling and recalling things. A thought occurred to me eventually. We play games in my head, and I am not given to artwork. With the help of friends like Fred and Jeremy (mostly Jeremy), I have been able to pepper my campaign book with a few images. Just an image on the cover page and some flags for the countries and some stuff Fred drew a few years ago. The flags are only important because the countries are important and the text beneath each image explains a bit about what the flags mean, and thus show a bit of insight into the nation and its people and offers insight into their minds.
There's an image on the cover page though. A crescent with a black sword descending into it and a red teardrop (of blood) beneath the crescent and in line with the sword.
Books are about words, not images, but most books have cover artwork. It's part of what draws your attention as you peer at spines and covers trying to pick your next read. No, don't judge a book by its cover, but your eye is definitely going to be drawn to the book with the fucking cyborg shark dragon with two uzis and laser eyes on it more quickly (assuming you like those sorts of things) than the book with a blank cover the color of mud (assuming you're not really really weirdly into mud). That's what the artwork is there to do, it's designed to draw your eye and say, "Hey, this is the one. This one is better." or at the very least it shows some scene or aspect of the story contained in the book to give you an idea of how it would appeal to you.
So I have this image on the first page of my campaign book. When I give the campaign book to a new player, it is the first thing they see about The Known World and Hekinoe. I've told Jeremy what it means, because he created it for me. I've probably shared it with Eric, or he figured it out for himself after I told him and then he forgot that I told him. But no current or previous player that has adventured in Hekinoe has asked me about it. This image is the first thing they learn about The Known World. There's no text to go along with it. It isn't on any of the flags in the document. It hasn't featured in any of the campaigns in Hekinoe. I don't think it is ever mentioned in the campaign book beyond the picture.
This thought occurred to me while staring at the image above, and I told Fred that I wouldn't call it willful or blatant disinterest, but it seemed odd to me that no one has asked me about it. Fred, as one of the players that never asked about the image (but now knowing what it means and why it is important because of a certain document I constructed many moons ago), cocked his head to the side and muttered a faint, "Huh."
I dunno ultimately what I'm trying to say. It just seems to me that in a game primarily made of invisible pieces, when you do find an image that the GM has put forth effort to provide you, that image should be paid close attention to. You should ask yourself, ok, he's got this picture, but not pictures of every race. Why? Part of that is obviously the varying difficulty in constructing various artwork. Drawing an alien creature from my world is much more difficult than constructing something that is essentially a sword and a crescent.
In other news, Jeremy is working on an extra special map for me. He's taking my clumsily drawn map of The Known World from a few years ago and using it as a sort of stencil for a program to sort of make it look realistic. Or just plain good. He showed me his work a few weeks ago and I was in awe, similar to the way I was in awe of Fred's drawing. I was literally fanboying out about it. I kept thanking him and telling him how amazing it was (it really really was, Jeremy). I even texted Jason about it because I was so bubbly. I don't even quite know how to describe it. All I can say was that looking at the map Jeremy was making was like seeing everything within my head made real. Frankly, it made my "spirit" soar. It tripped all the happy centers of my brain and I wanted to grin until my face hurt. So again, thank you Jeremy. You are my star.
As a finisher, here's some other stuff that Fred drew a few years ago.
That image there is Fred's concept art sketching of a Dwenoren. It's pretty close to my internal image. The head drawn on the left has the "beard" of sensory spines more as tentacles, which is inaccurate. Their more like like, straight, fibrous spines. Everything else is pretty much dead on though.
This is Fred's concept sketch of the Children of Volung. Through a misinterpretation of what I said (or lack of clarity on my part), he thought the bone plates over their ribcage were actually scales on their skin, rather than beneath it. He got the eyes down exactly as I'd imagined them, and the head at the lower section matches my internal image as well. He's got a couple sketches on the bottom of what their sharp teeth might look like, and my head image matches the lower left of the picture.
This were pretty cool drawings to receive. They filled me with that same sense of awe as the image he gave me for my birthday and Jeremy's map do. It's the stuff in my head, which I love and adore, visualized and made real outside of my head in a way.
Words word words.