While Dungeons and Dragons is a game of imagination, many players still find it useful to have some kind of visual inspiration or representation for their characters, world, or items. The official books come filled with gorgeous art, but sometimes you want something a little different. Whether you’re looking to add art to your own custom content, represent your character, or just fill out your world, there’s any number of reasons you’d go looking for fantasy and DnD art outside the official content.
You might be tempted to go toward AI art, since it’s cheap and customizable, but the tabletop community largely frowns on that practice, for a number of reasons. Not to worry, though – there are plenty of resources that you can use for your creations. And they’re often free!
Official Art from Older DnD Editions
One of my favorite places to go for representations of my worlds and characters is official art from previous editions of Dungeons and Dragons. Of course, don’t use this if you intend to sell your creations, but it’s perfectly acceptable for personal use.
Older editions of DnD have just as much art as 5e, with representations of gods, species, prestige classes, and monsters that both have and have not yet been introduced to the current edition of the game.
Dragon Magazine, which you can read on Archive.org for free, is also filled with gorgeous and interesting art, almost all of it specifically meant to portray the Dungeons and Dragons world.
The easiest way to get exactly the art that you want is to simply commission it.
Comissioned art is, obviously, not free. But it’s important to sustain the community, supporting and encouraging the artists who often do put their work up for free viewership. Most of these artists also post their work online, bringing inspiration and often allowing personal use of their work.
Plus, it’s often less expensive than you would think – a simple search on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, or other social media sites will bring up hundreds of different artists who would love to make you a custom artwork, with a variety of prices based on their quality and experience. You can get a simple sketch for astonishingly cheap, and support a member of the community while you do so.
Public Domain/Creative Commons/Open-Source Art
The terms ‘public domain,’ ‘creative commons,’ and ‘open source’ all have slightly different meanings. But all of it can be used for your personal creations, and a great deal can be used for commercial works (if you’re looking to sell your modules or custom content).
Public domain is an umbrella term, referring to art which does not belong to anyone, but can be used freely. These can often be used, reproduced, and sold without much problem. Creative Commons is a particular type of public domain, where the owner allows some kinds of adaptation or use of their work. Open Source means much the same, although it tends to be used for assets, mechanics, and code rather than creative works of media or art.
Usually, public domain art must be credited, alerting readers that something is not yours, and directing to the original artist.
Modern Public Domain
Recent public domain art is fairly rare, and usually falls under the creative commons or open-source labels. That means you’ll need to be careful and double-check the allowances for each piece of art that you find, especially if you intend to sell your work. Much of this art is stock photos and stock artwork, and can be bought in bulk packs or used for free from stock image sites. If you can afford to tip your stock artists, you absolutely should.
Here are a few places to start looking:
- OpenGameArt.org A collection of assets and artwork intended to be used in simple video and tabletop games. A lot of pixel art, music, textures.
- PublicDomainPictures.net A stock image site with lots of fantasy stock art and images. Includes the option to buy image packs and stock photos from contributing artists.
- DeviantArt.com An artist portfolio and social media site, with some art marked for Creative Commons. Make sure that you check the particulars of image usage here.
Older Public Domain
Older public domain art is much more common, simply by nature of old paintings and illustrations coming into the public domain when they reach a certain age. While this may sound like it’s filled with oil paintings and landscapes, there’s actually a ton of fantasy novels, children’s fairytale books, and mythological paintings that you can look through and choose from for a perfect fantasy world.
Here are a few places to start looking:
- Wikimedia Commons A site cataloguing public domain artwork. It’s easiest to sort by a particular artist or subject since the sheer volume can be intimidating. I find that searching a general topic, then searching again by an artist found within those results in some great options.
- Zorger.com A site collecting creative commons artwork from old sci-fi novels, whose copyright was not renewed. You can use these as you will, and they suit perfectly for Spelljammer, Starfinder, or another science fiction game.
- FromOldBooks.org A collection of images scanned from old books, which can be used for free. It’s recommended to donate if you can, or check out any number of similar sites which collect and record scans of antique literature and its artwork.
Do you ever need artwork for your games? Where did you get it? Have we missed a great resource? Let us know in the comments below!