Policy - The Art in our Products

Publishing TTRPG content is not profitable for Running off the Rails. I make content because we love to, but more so because we hope people will use our content at their tables. If we want people to use our game mechanics at their tables, inspiring art is necessary. However, I cannot afford to pay artists for custom pieces (I can’t even afford to pay myself for the time that we invest in design, layout, animated videos, custom battle map art… etc).

However, I hope that this will not always be the case. I dream of the day where one day, our following is far reaching enough where we can afford to hire artists to bring our exact dreams to life. If I can make a respectable living making TTRPG products, then the very next thing that I will spend funding on, will be custom art because we believe that it is not only the right thing to do, but that my products will benefit from the investment.

Until the day where Running off the Rails is profitable enough to pay rent and put food on the table, I will need to source art from elsewhere. The Weave Breaker, Pact of the Dragon God, and Emery’s Log were all created through the use of stock art. For the Za’Ul the Lich King product, there are some ideas that are custom imaginings. Take for instance one of Za’Ul’s security golems the Murder Golem.

Murder Golem

There is not suitable stockart available to effectively communicate what a Murder Golem looks like to a Dungeon Master, so we need to turn to some affordable art option that does allow us to customize art. The golem above was created using AI generated art. 

In the process of making the Za’Ul, the Lich King product, I have done some research about the nuances of ethics of AI generated art. I have done my best to understand and empathize with the arguments and I have formed my own opinions on the issue. 

I believe that there are some applications of the technology that are in bad taste and unethical. An straightforward example of one such unethical practice is invoking the name of a specific artist to instruct the AI to emulate a specific artist’s style and likeness. I believe that if you want a specific artist’s style in your product, that you should source your art from them directly.

I also believe that there are obvious reasonable applications of the technology, like asking for images to spark inspiration, or for personal use.

Running off the Rails will need to operate in an area of nuance in between these two extremes. My current belief at the time of writing this blog post, is that Running off the Rails should use AI generated art, when no reasonable affordable stock alternative is available. We should use it to increase the value of our products and original game design for our customers. On the day that Running off the Rails allows me to quit our day jobs and work as professional designers and publishers, I will commission artists for our products.

Publishers will need to decide what they want their relationship with AI generated art to be. Today, with or without AI, I cannot afford to pay artists to art my custom design. I hope that one day, that I can leave it behind, and invest in high quality commissioned art to bring even more value to the folks who use my design at their tables.

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