Review - Sketchbook Creatures


Sketchbook Creatures by Fat Goblin Games is a collection of over 50 creatures suitable for fantasy roleplay use and sold through DrivethruRPG.


Retails for $50


Fat Goblin Games produce a lot of material for the RPG world. I haven't tried their other work but I have purchased quite a few pieces of their stock art from them. They hold regular sales and this item was reduced to 50% of the asking price three times before I finally purchased. (As discussed in Ten Tips for Stock Artists).


I get the impression that the company is a one man operation with Rick Hershey being a very busy man. I know he contracts in some of the art but I think he's produced these - I might be wrong with that. Fat Goblin Games products are pretty good but their communication is a bit thin on the ground sometimes in my experience. Anyway, onto the artwork!


Initial Reaction


It all comes down in one big zip file (450mb) and the licence agreement is included. The creatures are named and effectively this is one big bag of Dungeons and Dragons creatures - bulettes (a land shark creature that burrows underground) is unique to them as are Modron's, Remorhax, Aboliths and Ankhegs to mention a few.


Legally, that's a bit naughty as those names are protected but then technically so would their likenesses and if people didn't produce images for them we wouldn't be able to use them easily and we'd all spiral down a boring legal whirlpool. I find it interesting that they kept the names, I can imagine Rick thinking 'Oh, bulette's are popular but there aren't lots of art for them so I will draw one' but to actually use the correct name, not something more ubiquitous is a surprise. Oh well, you know what they are meant to be at least.


I guess, I was, if I'm being honest, and what's the point of reviewing something if I'm not honest about it - I was a little disappointed that it was going to be all DnD creatures. The three that you can see on the cover look like the creature from that old monster movie who's name has just escaped me... got it - Creature from the Black Lagoon, then a flying skull and a triffid. That's some nice variety and to not get that wider spread of fantasy creatures was a bit of a let down. If they'd said, '5o+ creatures inspired by classic DnD creatures' I'd not have felt this.


And the art quality? Erm... not actually grabbing me at first glance. Everything seems a bit dark and slightly indistinct. Good range of images and a decent size but I'm not excited. Which was a bit of a let down.


After purchase I will confess I filed them away in the main stock art archive and got on with other matters. Which isn't a great thing. When I get art that excites me I very often either start mocking up things immediately or at least file the working copy in the art folder belonging to the publication it is for.


Considered Reaction

You get a lot of art for your money. Even at full price, a dollar for a work of art that you can use in commercial work is a bargain. However, I do take the view that it isn't the cost, but the quality that counts with stock art.


I've paid good money for cover art before and also used images I was able to get for free. So, is this 53 images that you would want to use?


Maybe.


There is a very specific style going on here and I'm not 100% certain it will work for everyone. Indeed, it's not even going to work for me except for a very specific use - I will explain more in a moment.



(Which is more of a preview than the official listing gives you by the way!)


I don't know, but I strongly suspect that this is artwork that has been run through a few computer filters to produce the work you see here. I don't create art from scratch but I do a lot of photomanipulation and this has the same, very precise type of linework that you can generate that way. Some of the background papers are the same - you can see the same faint aberrations in the paper background on more than one image.


The product description says - NOTE- Some of the creatures have appeared in other stock art releases and are presented here in a new style of art.


I don't mind they've done it like that but the consequence is that some of the art can be a little washed out in places and a little dark in others. The contrast being shallow, dark regions can blur with lighter and detail has been lost in the image.


Another issue is that the background is a faux paper texture. You can see below the texture and the grain on the background. It adds a nice touch if you want to use the picture on that background but it's almost impossible to remove it without removing content from the figure image itself. It would have been nice to have it on this background and without a background - again, assuming this was computer generated rather than drawn directly onto paper.



I intend to use the art as if written in-game by a traveller, thus this notebook style works for me but that does limit the arts versatility. The slightly washed out details are not so good but not so bad as to make the art unusable, more it's going to be used less.


The value likely comes from how many of those specific creatures will you be wanting art for. And art that you can't really combine with anything else but just show on its own e.g.


DM - "You enter a room and a succubus is in there..." *

DM - Shows picture

Players respond...


*Naturally you'd say something a lot more interesting than that but you get the point!


There are some nice little details which help. I love that the succubus has cloven feet for example rather than human feet. It really helps make her look demonic and non-human. Very often, demons are just fairly hot looking women with horns, tails and little clothing (you know I'm right!)


A couple more examples - the ettin has different numbers of eyes on each head, the chimera has one of it's head as a skull oh, and the blink dog has its eyes closed.., you know because it's blinking! Now, that's the kind of detail that makes me just applaud with pleasure and appreciation. But... the softness in the detail and the fixed background is still a problem.


The Chuul and Cloaker are two examples of images that are lacking contrast - the head o the chuul is shown below and the cloaker on the right.



The Chuul is only just usable and that's only because the body is quite good. Even so, if I were to use the art, I'd likely explain the quality in-character in some fashion such as having the pretend artist say "I've rushed to get this image off so apologies for the lack of detail."


I'd say 6-8 of the images are not ones I'd plan to use due to the quality of the image. So, that's roughly 12% of the images.


Particularly good ones in my opinion are the Bone Devil, Carniplant, Dretch, Dire Hog, Blink Dog, Ettin and Succubus.


The gargoyle is good but it's the oddest gargoyle I've ever seen and I'd use it for a demon instead. And that's my personal plan. Use the creatures to represent new creatures that fit how these look.


Summary


I want to like this set more than I do. I've got other art from Fat Goblin Games which is superior so this was a little disappointing. (More reviews to come). You do however get a lot of images for your money. If you can use a sketchbook style range of 30-35 usable creature images then go for it. This is fine for in-game but it's a bit of a push to plan to use it in publications.


Final point - The image files come as tiff files so you need a decent software package to open them. Krita, which is free, can do so if you don't have anything currently. You can then re-export them as pngs which are much easier to open with and the quality will be comparable.


Value for money 4

Aesthetics 3

Ease of use/construction 3

Fit for purpose 3

Can be purchased here https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/327885/Publishers-Choice--Sketchbook-Creatures-50-collection



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