DMing 101 – Visuals and Imagery

Would you believe that a few months ago I though I was running out of ideas for these? Now I have a surplus, plans for a podcast, a book, and a brief hiatus coming in February. Not to worry dear reader. Be sure to make use of a few handy links in this week’s article!



Visuals and Imagery

Though RP is largely the domain of the imagination, inevitably you’ll find yourself in need of a visual aid, most likely a map, but there are many other uses for visual-stimuli to help enhance a situation. I covered the matter very briefly in What You’ll Need but there are ways that pictures, videos, and models can change the way your game feels, and other items that you may not have considered using.


Props and Pictures

The basics of most role-play games are maps and miniatures. There are a wealth of resources available for those with or without money. Paper-fold minis and simple browser-based map makers for those on a budget, or one quick google search for anyone willing to invest.

Here’s a new trick I picked up recently: if you’re trying to evoke a certain image, or feel, stock footage shown on a tablet nearby where all of your players can see will really help you drive your point home. I created an Angel of Death who took the form of a gigantic fly that walked on its’ rearmost legs. Rather than resorting to comedy clichés like buzzing as I spoke, or pretending to clean my head with my arms, I kept a video of a fly cleaning itself running underneath my face as I spoke. The effect was impressive.

Keep your eyes peeled. Shops are filled with inspiration, or tools for your ideas. Toys, antiques, dollhouse furnishings, random pieces of craft, simple model kits or pieces of other games. Rarely will you find exactly what you need from those places producing specialized items so look for alternatives wherever they appear.

It may sound an odd way to go about creating a campaign, but sometimes finding the right item or image can inspire you to create certain scenes. Browse places like DeviantArt, and follow artists that you like the look of and that create pictures that suit your preferred worldscapes, and base your scenes and campaigns on those.


Maps are all but essential. Even a rough scribble on a blank sheet of paper can make the game and the world it occupies seem more real. In combat it may be necessary to know exact distances, or pinpoint details of a room or location in order to judge whether a plan will work or not, or whether someone is about to walk into a trap.

Combat is one of the hardest things to manage without a visual aid. The easiest and most cost-effective way to cover all bases is to get a simple dry-wipe grid. With that you can throw together a quick room, or a complex network of caverns. This may require detailed planning on square paper, and it’s useful to keep a copy so that you can note locations of traps and hidden items.


Clear sheets used for overhead projectors are a great way to create rooms that you can lay down quickly to cut down on preparation time at the table, or you might consider cutting small pieces out for areas that need to move, such as fields of vision on security cameras, laser grids, and magic auras.


Here is where practice will really come in handy. The way you describe an area will not only affect the way your group behave, but how they feel, so your choice of words and your delivery will make a world of difference. For important scenes you may want to practice a description of a room a few times to really drive home the point.

A flat, and atonal delivery will not get your group excited, scared, or curious enough to carry on. “Room full of blood? Boring, next!” Give the room some history in your description:

“The room beyond is carpeted in blood and viscera. Broken furniture sticks out here and there.”

Try to engage other senses to draw your players into the scene:

“The air is dry despite the cold, making your face sting as you climb up the mountain.”

If necessary, get animated. Remember that when you communicate much of what you say is conveyed by body language, so move your hands, or if the moment demands it, stand up:

“Another explosion, this one much closer. Everyone roll to avoid the burning jeep that comes crashing through the wall!”

Once again:

  • Don’t over-do it. Bombarding your players with information is going to get dull no matter how exciting your monologue may seem.
  • Everyone has their own style. Practice makes any talent perfect, and every DM has their own quirks and personal habits that makes their campaigns different to everyone else’s.
  • And while I’m re-hashing old tips Take notes! It may not be relevant to this article particularly but do it anyway.

If you’ve enjoyed this post and/or this series, please check out my other site Quotes from the Tabletop, a place for all the funniest quotes and stories from your tabletop role-play games.

Next week, The Return of The Campaign!


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