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  #1  
Old 02-05-2018, 06:20 PM
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Choosing character portraits

I have only now ventured out of the game threads and discovered that there is a whole lot more happening on the site! And the reason I found my way here is because a few of us in a recruitment thread were moaning about discussing how difficult it can be to get just the right character portrait for our character, and exactly what we are looking for when we search for one.

My own preferences (to quote that other thread):
Quote:
Originally Posted by fluglichkeiten View Post
In general I find it hard to find pictures I like for any of my characters, but I suppose I'm picky. I don't like them to be too beautiful (unless that's part of the character concept) which rules out at least ninety percent of the ones you find. And I like them to be portraits, or candid pictures where they aren't swinging a weapon or wielding magic. And then when it comes to female characters it's even harder, trying to find something without in-your-face ass or cleavage, and with reasonable clothing (although that does seem to be getting better now). I also like the pic to be fairly realistic, not cartoon-y.

So, like I said, I'm picky. :-)
It got me wondering what everyone else's preferences are, and if anybody has good tips for finding the right photos. I personally have amassed a large Pinterest file of potential characters (as well as one for NPCs), but I still find that when I come up with a new character I search google first.

Last edited by fluglichkeiten; 02-05-2018 at 06:24 PM.
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Old 02-05-2018, 06:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mandaanne View Post
In some cases, I find that it's easier to locate a portrait that speaks to me and let that image shape my character generation, instead of the reverse.
Not to steal mandaanne's thunder, but I think this is a really forward-thinking move. Images are extremely powerful in telling stories in PbP and if it's something as important as your character, getting the image in your head and the one you're showing everyone else is key.

One workaround I've used in longer running games is to have the character's appearance change in some way (haircut, new duds, MAKEOVER) that goes along with a new picture I've found. And if you've been staring at the same picture for two years... Sometimes a change doesn't hurt.
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Old 02-05-2018, 06:36 PM
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There's a subreddit exactly designed to grant your wish

https://www.reddit.com/r/ReasonableFantasy/
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Old 02-05-2018, 06:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wynamoinen View Post
There's a subreddit exactly designed to grant your wish

https://www.reddit.com/r/ReasonableFantasy/
Fantastic sub! Thanks for the tip!
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Old 02-05-2018, 09:33 PM
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I have always had this problem, both here and in other online forms of RP (where they often use images of RL people, called "faceclaims", to stand in with the idea that "this is the actor that would play my character in a movie/show, if such a thing existed").While it's nice to be able to attach an image to your character, particularly to help out people who have trouble visualizing text descriptions, I firmly believe that overall, the expectation to produce a picture is detrimental to both the individual writer and the community as a whole.

First, I think that once the tendency to provide pictures sets in, some writers begin to rely on them to the point that it stifles their ability to create compelling physical descriptions from scratch. Instead of imagining their character during the creation process, they begin to search for a picture before, and then instead write the character to the image, instead. This wouldn't be a problem in and of itself, except that it imposes a limitation on something -- your imagination -- that is far more colorful than anything a picture can provide the vast majority of the time. Interesting little quirks begin to disappear from their descriptions, particularly things that would be at home on a more realistic, less idealized person than art tends to portray: things like pockmarks, freckles, acne, crooked teeth, pointy noses, big ears, thinning/receding hair, unflattering scars, etc. It also makes it even easier for the writer to overlook important details that can't easily be captured in a picture: things like gait, mannerisms, posture, etc.

And none of that is a crime, of course, nor is it inherently awful. There are tons of people on this site who can write amazing descriptions based on images, and will never need/want to compose something different straight from their heads. Images can be a great source of inspiration when you're stuck. Additionally, there's nothing wrong with wanting to have conventionally attractive characters!

The bigger problem, in my mind, is how the expectation of pictures actually reinforces a woeful lack of diversity in characters, thanks to the prevailing trends in the fantasy art that exists for us to choose from. Think about it for a minute: if you feel that you have to provide a picture, either because the DM demands it, the community expects it, or you insist on always having one for your own personal reasons, you are going to be strongly encouraged to write a character who fits a description that's easily found in pictures.

Very few people write dark-skinned humans, unless maybe they're writing something stereotypically tribal. The fact that they're going to have a very difficult time finding more than a handful of images of dark-skinned fantasy humans only reinforces this problem. Have you ever tried to find an adequate fantasy image for a woman over the age of 30? Or -- God forbid -- a not-so-conventionally-attractive woman (or man, for that matter, though to a lesser extent)? I'm playing a middle-aged female dwarf in a campaign IRL right now, and I finally just broke down and commissioned a portrait as a Christmas gift to myself, simply because I wanted an image and it's almost impossible to find a middle-aged woman of any race, let alone dwarf. (I can only imagine how difficult it would be for someone wanting to play an older elf!) The person who originally inspired this post lamented how difficult it was to find a non-sexualized image of a drow female. This is an issue with nearly all races of fantasy women, some moreso than others, and I think it's something we should be aware of, too. Without getting too much into gender politics, I can at least say that it's disheartening when you're trying to find an image of a woman whose personality would not lead her to dress in skimpy clothing, pose in a sultry manner, etc.

And of course, there's the problem of playing a race that's far more rare in art. There are images on the internet of anything and everything, of course, but the less art there is, the more limited your options overall. I'm writing an aarakocra right now, and I scoured the net and found some really nice images of them, but none of them were my aarakocra. Birds are amazingly diverse, even if you limit yourself entirely to birds of prey, and it's a crying shame that the need to provide a picture might limit a person's imagination when describing one.

None of these things are overwhelming or game-ruining, and I love pictures as much as anybody else... I just think that relying on them as heavily as many of us do is ultimately a negative thing, and it's very rare that a GM will get a picture from me for exactly this reason. If they're scoring apps strictly by Seravok's (otherwise excellent) guide, that's just a point I'll have to eat.
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Old 02-05-2018, 11:44 PM
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I can only speak to myself, Duskdog, but when I create a PC in my head, I write the description, who they are, how they look, etc.. Then, if I am accepted, I build my PC sheet, and get it all set up to play.

The last step is going to find the art.

So, yeah, I agree with you... I want to design my PC in my mind, and then go see what I can find that's close. I don't want to find some art, and then design my PC around it.

I also tend to find that I prefer people tell me what their PC looks like, rather than slap a picture on every post or two. I don't mind a small icon, especially on a battle map, but in your post, I just want to read what you are doing, how you limp, speak, how your cape ruffles in the wind as you ride, etc.. To me, the picture is not needed, if you write well enough.

And to be honest, sometimes I think it lets us get lazy, and we use the picture instead of the thousand better words.

I also agree... if my icon/avatar/picture is just there to give you an idea of what I might be like, in general, that's great. Dwarf with an axe, barbarian with a spear, witch with a pointy hat, all is good. But if you toss that picture in every single post, like it's supposed to be YOU in the battle, then yeah.. I want to see it bloodied and dirtied, and near death, not pristine and perfect after slaying demons for an hour.
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Old 02-06-2018, 02:51 PM
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I appreciate the praise, @Nasrith. At the same time, I also 100% agree with @Duskdog that the pressure to include a character portrait severely limits the diversity of characters' appearances, and the richness of the people and worlds we create.

The vast majority of portraits found online will be depictions of characters who are:
  • white or light-skinned
  • when non-white, people of color depicted in stereotypical/racist ways
  • male
  • when not male, females depicted in stereotypical/overly sexualized ways
  • conventionally attractive
  • young
  • conventionally "perfect" body type
  • typical race/class combinations
  • standard fantasy garb
  • common/most popular armor/weapons/equipment
  • etc.

The fact that the majority of character portraits you can find fall in these parameters is not going to change any time soon, because culture reinforces these norms. Yes, one can find character portraits that do not conform to these norms. But it takes a lot of hunting to find them. And the chances of finding one that matches the specific image in your head get smaller the further from typical that image in your head is.

Wanna play a male dwarf fighter with a warhammer? You'll be spoiled for choice! OTOH, my NPSG character is an island woman with mahogany skin, salt-and-pepper wildly curly hair, and a face and body that have the wrinkles and curves of a 40-something matriarch of a small village. She wears flowing maroon trousers and an ivory linen top whose sleeves are bound with strips to make them snug to her arms, and over that flowy island garb, traditional chain mail which she acquired when she began adventuring. Good luck finding that portrait! I never would've created her for an app that required a character image, because I know good and well that I wouldn't be able to find it and I'm not artist enough to create it.

This is a problem!

The question is, how do we solve this problem while still meeting people's need for a handy image to easily cue you as to which character is posting? (It's all well and good to say "paint a word picture" but the reality is many of us are visual creatures and an image helps us keep the characters straight in our minds.)

One idea I have is to require an image but it must be of an object or piece of art that is NOT a portrait -- just something evocative. Maybe think of what your character's avatar would be if they made an online profile?

Other ideas?
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Old 02-06-2018, 03:54 PM
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Piling on here, possibly...

As a player, the character is, for the most part, your only creative outlet in the game. If you start with a picture that you didn't draw/paint, you are basically outsourcing a good chunk of your only creative outlet right off the bat. I'm like Dirkoth in that I'll write the description of the character as I envision him or her and then will google for an image last. And if I don't find an image that is reasonably close to my vision, then I go without one. As a result, only two of the four PCs I'm currently running on the site have pictures.

PbP is a literary style of play, not a visual one. If someone has trouble visualizing your character from text, then either you need to work harder on your description or (just as likely) it's they who have the problem. I have immense respect for people who are good at art and can create their own portraits, I think that's awesome. But if you don't have that skill (I don't), it shouldn't mean you have to outsource what your character looks like. And yeah, portraits do help you get accepted to games with certain GMs... but in my experience, the GMs most worth playing with don't need one and will often even discourage them.

I think most of us play this game because we're creative and like to create. Unless we're artistically gifted as well, using pictures not found after the fact, robs from us a part of that creation.

Last edited by ruffdove; 02-06-2018 at 04:08 PM.
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Old 02-06-2018, 07:24 PM
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I completely agree with the last four posts (Duskdog onward), but rather than just say ‘me too’, let me address one point:
Quote:
Originally Posted by mandaanne View Post
The question is, how do we solve this problem while still meeting people's need for a handy image to easily cue you as to which character is posting?
Identifying which character is posting is usually not a problem for me, but then I play in games with relatively small numbers (3-6) of usually unchanging players. If you're involved in a larger universe of games with rotating players, I would suggest a simple fieldset for each post, like so:
Zephyra, talkative but deaf female dwarf who greets people with a slap on the behind<insert descriptive post here>

You can make the PC description shorter or longer, depending on how much is required to firmly fix the PC in your mind. A memorable phrase/quote/description will work as well as any picture to identify which character is posting.
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Old 02-09-2018, 10:02 PM
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If it's just an image/avatar problem that needs a solution, you can try this:

Instead of searching and searching for a 40 year old frizzy haired woman with a scar on her cheek, and dark skin, somewhat plump, carrying a bucket and a shovel, just focus on one or two aspects which are most important to you.

Is it the weapon? Then find a female with that weapon. Is it the armor? Then get something with that armor. Is it the age? Get a close up shot of just a face, and forget whether it's a gnome or human, or whatever.

This won't always work, but sometimes, it might. I looked and looked for a half orc with a whip, and couldn't find what I wanted. But I did find a big strong "human" with a whip, and just went with it...because to me, the defining thing in my PC was the whip.

In another case, I wanted a certain female with the right armor, and white hair. Couldn't find it. So, I took a female with red hair in the right kind of armor (almost), and went with that.

perfect? Nope. But close enough to serve as a battle marker, or icon, or avatar, or sketch, for the others.
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Old 02-10-2018, 10:36 PM
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I spend way too much time on Pinterest following 'More Like This' suggestions and ending up with 60+ tabs open. I download everything I come across and sort the pictures into folders, from 'Generic Portraits' to 'Arcane' or 'Divine', etc.

What I find myself doing now is browsing through the images whenever I'm coming up with a new character. Sometimes I'll have an idea of race/class and run through until I find an image that speaks to me, and other times I'll just see a picture I like so much, I'll build the entire character around it. Regardless, I almost never have an image of the character in my head first. Trying to find something to match is just too difficult, and I'm not that creative.

As an example, my most recent project is a gestalt evil character for Way of the Wicked. I decided on a Dread Vanguard Antipaladin(no spells)//Psychic Bloodline Sorcerer. The idea is a character that's all about physical presence, and mostly uses its spellcasting to boost that. It helps that I enjoy charismatic characters, and I've never made a strength-based melee character.

I had a few races in mind, since the game was very generous with race selection, but when I came across the Natural Charmer feat for Dhampir, I was sold. Take 20 on any charisma-based check with a friendly target. Oh yeah.

Originally I had a male in mind, but while browsing through my pictures I came across this:


I basically fell in love. To me, the girl in that picture doesn't give a damn. She's beyond confident, she has a very clear goal, and nothing is going to stop her. She also looks like she's got something broken inside. Ideally she would have a two-handed sword, but beggars can't be choosers.

Also interesting to note is that I've looked at that image half a dozen times for other characters, but since it didn't have the right 'feel', it was just another picture. Sometimes things just click.

I don't know why, but I find it very difficult to become attached to a character, my own or otherwise, without being able to visualize it clearly. I'm not an extremely visual thinker, so a picture is almost required for me to form an attachment.
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Old 02-12-2018, 04:35 PM
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I had a game where my character was a female, middle aged, desert elf (meaning her complexion was like that of an Arab) horse archer. I could find young female human arabs (with scimitars), female elf archers, and even a few Caucasian female elves wearing (skimpy) desert clothing, but middle aged and brown skin were virtually non-existent.

Sometimes I'll take an existing image and modify it to change the colors (ie, you can turn a sorcerer into a druid just by recoloring the purple background/armor into a green background/armor).
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Old 05-01-2018, 11:49 AM
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New here, but I have loads of experience with finding character portraits from a Discord D&D server I used to be in... and I certainly know it's not easy, especially if you have something in mind but can't find that exact same thing online literally anywhere. I searched EVERYWHERE to try to find a pure white male Dragonborn in some light armor, and the only pics I found were of white femaleDragonborn. I gave up the search and tried to draw it myself, since clearly no one else had this same idea. The outcome was a stick figure with a snake tongue. In other words, trash

That's when I realized that instead of picking a picture to match my character idea, I should match my character idea to a picture. So I mentally tossed out the white male Dragonborn idea and just searched for the keyword Dragonborn in Pinterest until I found something that spoke to me. Took a bit of scrolling, but eventually found the perfect pic. Male black Dragonborn, in some heavy knightly looking armor that had a bit of blue in it. He became my Barb Mage, with the background of Knight. But not just any Knight. For some reason his armor screamed "LAWFUL GOOD" to me, and in my mind when you mix Lawful Good with Dragonborn you automatically get the deity Bahamut, so.... Thorkon, righteous Knight of the Ancient Order of Bahamut, my second ever Lawful Good character, was born. And he wascompletelydifferent than what I had originally planned with my white Dragonborn idea. I had the thought of basically making a strange Druid-like character from a Barb/Wizard build, but Thorkon was nowhere near Druid at all. Goes to show how much a picture can change your mind. He taught me that I need to find a pic to put a name to, than to have a name and try to find a pic that matches.
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Old 05-04-2018, 09:56 AM
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I can say that I agree with both sides of this discussion.

I spent years in an on-going writing-oriented group that worked very, very loosely like an RP revolving around your main character/characters, but was much more story-based than game-based. I created a whole pile of characters for that (20+), only one of which ever had an acceptable picture. I even commissioned a picture of my main character later, which turned out good but I deliberately asked for him to be heavily shadowed so that the details remained obscure...because I knew it was still never going to be a perfect representation of the person I knew in my mind the character was. These characters -- particularly the main one -- are a part of my own little assortment that I recycle in various ways over and over again, and I've learned how to describe them in depth so that I don't need a picture.

That said, on the flip side I work by inspiration, often. Typically what happens is that I will be joining/starting a campaign. First I'll think for awhile, maybe browse my resource books, and get a general idea of who/what the character is on a personal level. Then I'll start browsing pictures (typically not real people since I don't usually like those pics) that are generally in like with the personal side of the character. I remain open to anything on the race, gender, appearance, etc. so long as it strikes a chord with the nascent person I already have in my head. Once I have a fitting picture, I'll then flesh it out more and use the picture as a general guide. More often than not my choice of equipment, class, race, etc. will be modified (sometimes drastically) to fit the personality first, and secondly the image...not a premade choice.


So, in short, I think that BOTH sides of this discussion work well. Sometimes you need to create from scratch, and I would say that people should learn how to create a good character with nothing but words first. Once you know how to give wonderful expressive descriptions, though, using pics as inspiration often accelerates the process (although one time I spent a week hunting down the right pic) and sometimes leads you beyond your initial concepts. For example, I had created female characters before, but the first time I created a female character as my personal PC (instead of a cohort, supporting NPC, side character, love interest, etc.) was when I came across a picture that just spoke to me and everything I wanted for the PC...but wasn't a man like I had originally planned. I've been led into many experiments, in fact, by matching characters to pictures that just grabbed me...even though the picture wasn't what I thought I would originally play.

EDIT:

Also, one artist that is ridiculously good whom I use pictures from regularly is This guy on DeviantArt.

Last edited by Alphaeus; 05-04-2018 at 10:02 AM.
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Old 05-08-2018, 07:52 PM
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I honestly let art influence my concept quite a bit. I usually grab pictures I can from Pinterest or whatever and store them away for future reference. And, I lucked out in the talent lottery and can do my own portrait if need be. But only if I’m in a very inspired mood.
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