You’re a professional Dungeon Master– you’ve modded VTT of choice for maximum immersion, you run the modules you know people want to play, and you have glowing reviews from players who love your style. So why are you still struggling to fill seats for your new campaign? It’s probably that your listing art isn’t great (or your game description, but that’s a topic for another post). 

An ideal picture for your listing is one that instantly communicates the themes and vibe of your game. The most clicked often feature a humanoid being at the forefront, be it the cloaked goddess of death or a suave swashbuckler that screams “pirate campaign!” Distinct color palettes or stylized text can also help sell the setting. StartPlaying users in particular tend to favor looking at the site on mobile devices, so keep your file size and image dimensions appropriately scaled. 

Of course, you may have done your research and know this already. You might be thinking, “That’s all well and good, but I’m not an artist and I can’t afford to commission a custom piece!” What you can afford might actually surprise you. And if you’re really strapped for cash, you can still do a lot with royalty-free assets. Let’s take a look at the various ways professional Game Masters can create eye-catching art on a budget. 

Where To Find Royalty Free Art

The first thing any StartPlaying GM should know is that we offer a folder of free art for use in your games and listings. You can find a link to this folder on the page where you create a game template. Or, if you’ve joined the StartPlaying Discord, you’ll be able to see the “art-for-game-listings” channel. The pinned post in that channel contains a link to our free art folder. There you’ll find high-quality images of different kinds of landscapes, creatures, and genres suitable for most popular TTRPGs. 

The art in our folder is very high res, so you can crop it or edit it to fit your needs. If you want to use the whole image, you'll need to rescale it. We'll cover how to do this in a later section.

A surprising source of good royalty-free is the websites of various art galleries. Institutions like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art or the MET have databases of classic paintings and photography available to download. These can provide a good starting point for editing your own images. Sites like Unsplash and Pexels also provide large collections of photos and paintings for copyright-free use, with more genres available. Be sure to do your diligence and check the terms, however. Artists on these sites do tend to offer open use, but the terms may or may not change depending on if you profit.

Where To Buy TTRPG Stock Art

Plenty of artists specifically create low-cost images for TTPRG use. There’s a plethora of character art you can find for $1-$2 with a quick search, from odd monsters to enough generic wood elf archers to fill a forest. It’s not just characters, either, there’s a few artists who create magic weapon and prop arts to populate your VTT maps. These items can be combined with a background piece using a simple image editor, allowing you to create something unique to your listing. 

Several artists bundle their works into stock art packs for sale on sites like Drive Thru RPG or DMs Guild. These artists will often put their terms of use in the art description, with many allowing for use in paid products/services as long as you credit them appropriately. 

How To Make Your Own Header Art

Once you’ve found a great piece of background art, you’d do well to spice it up with some additional images or text. Two great free websites for this are Canva and Pixlr. Canva is more geared towards placing ideas on a template, which is great if you plan to make text a prominent feature. Pixlr acts like a Photoshop lite, allowing you to place images on top of one another and reshape/resize them. 

The trick is to not get too complicated–a blessing for those who don’t consider themselves to be Photoshop experts anyway. Just center your background art and slap a prominent figure or text on it. Imagine it like a movie poster or book cover: you want the main character, villain, or the title to catch a viewer’s attention and not let go. Once you’ve got some experience, you can play with adding small touches like blurring the background slightly or coloring in a magical aura on the character.

How To Commission Art

via: JesterJade

If the idea of all that searching and editing gives you a headache, it might be time to consider a commission. The easiest way to find an artist working in the TTRPG space is searching on social media. There’s a good chance you already follow an artist whose work you admire and fits well for your campaign. Or you can check sites like Fiverr or Artstation. Check the artist’s recent posts to be sure that they’re even accepting commissions at the moment, and how they prefer to be contacted. 

When you do reach out, be polite and accept their answer if their rates end up being outside of your price range. Some artists might be open to a single use of an already-existing image for credit alone or prorated pay. But don’t badger them with an attempt to haggle. 

Reach Out To TTRPG Publishers

One last suggestion is to reach out to the publishers of indie RPGs and ask if you can use their art for your listings. Wizards of the Coast, as part of the large company Hasbro, isn’t keen on letting people use D&D art. But smaller organizations might be more amenable, especially when it comes to special events or charity games. On StartPlaying, you can use official art from Paizo, Evil Hat, Modiphius, Onyx Path, and the Alien RPG for your game listings. 


We hope this was a helpful read! Now go out and create (or buy) some wonderful art!

May 30, 2023
Game Masters