As a "Forever GM" with lots of other things I need to do in my spare hours, sometimes it's hard to fully prep for a game night without skimping on certain areas. One thing I always try to do for my players is to provide character portraits for NPCs they meet along the way. If you've been in the game long or if you're a bit tech/internet savvy, it's fairly easy to find what you need at a moment's notice. For me, character portraits help inform my players who they're dealing with without me having to write an overly in-depth description of their physical features. But sometimes, searching for portraits can bog down a game if you haven't already found any that you like. Here are a few places and tools you can use to make or find character portraits you can use in your games.
If you've got extra money to burn and you'd like to support artists, it may be worth looking into to commission a portrait of a really important NPC that will be around for a long time in the game. At Headless Hydra Press, we prioritize art in any projects we submit to Kickstarter, and we have a handful of artists such as Pawel Parol, our lead illustrator, whom we love working with and we are glad to pay for their amazing talents. Art really gives life to TTRPGs, so in our opinion it's worth commissioning an artist for a BBEG or an NPC ally. They do cost money, but in commissioning an NPC you not only support an artist, but you also ensure your NPC is totally unique. There are many sites out there for artists looking for work. If you're an old fogey like myself and are still on Facebook, there's a group there called D&D Fantasy Art where you can commission folks. On Etsy, there's a section for DnD Commissions which vary in ranges of styles and prices. Reddit also has a good community for D&D Commissions, if you frequent that space and have an account. There has also been a thriving art community on Twitter, but results may vary at the time I'm writing this blog post due to the CEO possibly leaving the platform, etc. Remember - budget is important. Commissions for art are similar to if you were getting a tattoo. You need to find an artist you like and that you can afford. Most artists post samples and prices ranges, so make sure to check those out before committing yourself.
PORTRAIT MAKER SOFTWARE
If you need more than one or two different NPC portraits and you're not made of money, you may want to invest in some software that lets you continuously make NPC portraits whenever you want. Our personal favorite is called Portrait Works - We've been using it for the past couple of years and we've featured character portraits in several of our published adventures, and even here on our blog. The price is relatively low at around $20 for the full version last time I checked, which is well worth it. They're constantly releasing new additions, as well.
AI programs are under a lot of scrutiny right now, so I want to make it clear that we don't condone the use of AI art for commercial purposes unless the artists are properly credited and compensated. However, as a GM, AI art can create portraits on the fly in just minutes which are suitable for NPCs - although the dreamlike quality of the images that AI programs such as Midjourney creates often have problems with facial features and their proportions. Some of the results can be interesting but considering the amount of effort you have to provide in order to get anything close to something that looks decent, in most cases you'd be better off just Googling. Which brings me to my final recommendation.
This is basically my go-to when it comes to finding portraits I need. It's simple, easy, and doesn't hurt anyone financially in any way. There are seemingly thousands of different portraits for NPCs and characters already available in various places on the internet, and if you Google the term "npc portrait dnd" you will get a ton that you can peruse through. Sometimes I base my NPC descriptions around cool character art I find online.
Of course, these are just some of the methods that popped up off the top of my head, but there are more out there. What's your favorite method for coming up with NPC portraits on the fly? Let us know in the comments below! And make sure to check out our upcoming system neutral NPC supplement, Villains & Villagers! - Joe