Dec 4, 2023

Stars of the VTT Galaxy: #10 Vicnedel

18 min read - Published: 3 months ago

Greetings to our amazing community, and welcome to the tenth edition of our Stars of the VTT Galaxy interview series. In this series, we illuminate the already bright stars that make up our community of Bazaar Creators.

In addition to being a creative DM, he is a content creator, graphic designer, and amateur game developer. He makes tokens and map assets for you to use in your games. From grim dark science fiction police officers to high-fantasy jungle explorers, you will surely find something of his to like.

We are happy to present our interview with Vicnedel below.

Our sky consists of many stars. Each of them illuminating our planet. As you can guess, the stars are you. Yes, it's you, the great content creators who, in your own unique way, shine on our worlds. Thank you for being part of our heavenly sky and weaving the fabric of our Community.
Let's meet today's star.

Introduce yourself. For those who don’t know what you do, what would you describe yourself as doing for a living?

Vicnedel: Hello fellow nerds, artists, alien humanologists, and beloved assorted mutants! My real name is Victor and I am the digital artist known in some places of the internet's VTT/RPG sphere as Vicnedel.

I draw strange drawings and sell them for a living. If you've seen any of my monster, character, or map art, you might recognize it by its cartoony but detailed style, slightly tilted top-down perspective, and a distinct lack of eyes on all the humans.

What’s one random fact about you?

Vicnedel: Hmm... A random fact? Just one? I'm a pretty interesting guy, it's hard to choose just one.

Let's see... I could say something current like I'm training to be an educator in the STEM fields.

Or I could go for something really random, like when I was getting my degree in College, I interned at a movie studio. We made one film about a 9th century historical figure which involved a lot of battles that had to be shot for the movie.

I made a lot of the weapon props for the extras and was responsible for keeping them functional and sometimes retrieving them from the set of the "battlefields". We were working with hundreds of extras in medieval Viking clothing and weapons, and Frankish ones with Christian crosses. There were horses and mounted warriors also, and the Art Team, which I was a member of, made all the props for the film.

At one point during filming, I found myself in the valley between two hills dragging some round shields, swords, and spears I had made across the set because they had broken during filming, so I had to repair some of them and recycle others. This was in between shots. We were filming some scenes with the cavalry that day and the riders were supposed to hide behind one hill, emerge over the top to strike a menacing pose (they were the bad guys after all), then charge down the hill and attack the good guys. And I was there, right under them, with my props, making good time carrying them all on my back.

Then I heard the assistant director shouting in my earpiece at the top of his lungs (he didn't understand how microphones and earpieces work): "AAAAACTION!" And thought to myself. "Oh... I might be in the shot. If I end up on film in my modern clothing, I'm going to ruin it. Need to duck out of the way just in case."

So I jumped into a nearby patch of tall grass. That was a mistake. As I lay there hiding, I heard the hooves of about 50 horses charging down the hill towards me. I felt the whole earth shake as the rumble got closer and closer... I kept looking around, not able to see anything because of the grass, just looking up at the cloudy sky expecting to see a pair of iron-shod hoofs descending on top of me. I was probably feeling the same kind of fright as a field mouse that senses the combine harvester getting closer and closer...

Miraculously, all the horses passed me by harmlessly. I wasn't hurt at all, and they missed all the props too. Without a doubt, these majestic and powerful animals are more careful where they step than we humans.

I can't help thinking that I would have been a lot safer if I had just shouted loudly and stood there waving my arms. You know... Give them a big loud target to avoid instead of staying hidden and risking being trampled. Screw the film shot. My life is worth more.

How did you get started creating TTRPG content?

Vicnedel: This is likely a story you've heard dozens of times before, but I got started for myself.

In 2015, I moved countries to study which meant that me and my old RPG group could no longer physically meet. So we needed an alternative to going to each other's houses, and that's how I discovered VTTs.

At first, I used to use other artists' maps and tokens for characters, creatures, and creepy caverns. All of this stuff was available online, and it's really good stuff. I used a lot of Devin Night's free token collections which are brilliant, by the way - check them out. But they (mostly) are not sci-fi. I was GMing for a cyber-punk/mad-max/sci-fi/dystopia game live for 4 years, before I switched to digital, so I needed... I wanted something more.

Custom jobs. I took tokens that other artists had made, put them in Photoshop, and modified them. I erased their medieval weapons and gave them pistols. Or I brushed new sci-fi-looking armor over their Renaissance breastplates. That sort of thing. But there was still stuff that I was missing for my own games or things that didn't quite fit... It's not that I couldn't find stuff online. I'm sure if I had taken the time to look harder, I would have found everything I needed at a reasonable price, but I'm a talented guy. I've got some skill in drawing. Modifying other people's work might be good enough, but if I'm going to spend 2 hours taking a fantasy dwarf that someone else drew and giving him a laser gun and a cybernetic arm, I can instead spend those 2 hours sketching out my own guy from scratch.

So I did. I started with the classics: Cops and Robbers. The first token sets that I published online were Space Cops - Law Enforcers  & Space Robbers - Anarchs Gang to challenge my players, and Civilians to get caught in the crossfire. I continued doing that when my group later switched to The Fantasy game. I just kept up drawing what I needed for my own games between sessions and putting them up for sale as assets and map tiles.

Civilians

Where does the inspiration come from in the work you do? Or perhaps, your “muse”?

Vicnedel: It really depends on what I'm currently playing.
When I was GMing for my sci-fi game back then, my inspiration came from Judge Dredd and the discontinued cult classic Warhammer 40,000 game Necromunda (which they've brought back now).

Then I switched to the TTRPG's largest franchise (Dungeons and Dragons), and from there took inspiration from their books as well as the Fantasy version of Warhammer.

My orc asset collection titled "Feral Raiders" is a mix between the DnD Orcs and the Warhammer fantasy ones, which is why every time the word Orc is spelled in the description, it comes with a "K". Maybe that's why that asset set doesn't sell well. Nobody spells Ork with a "K" so people just never found it.😁

Feral Raiders

Then I decided to DM a zany fantasy sci-fi-themed one-shot set in the cult classic Spelljammer setting, which at the time was discontinued (and which they've also brought back now), and drew my first ever "hit" token/map pack the "Starwhal", that probably I'm best well known for.

Not gonna lie... The inspiration for that was that weird song that gets stuck in your head "Narwhals, narwhals swimming in the ocean, causing a commotion because they are so awesome" by MrWeebl on YouTube... And now it's stuck in YOUR head too. I just wanted a ship that's got a weird shape and looks kinda funky.

Starwhal

I also have some token sets that are a little more grounded and "normal". My "Arctic" and "Forest" sets were inspired by nature documentaries.

Forest pt.1

My "Vikings" set is inspired by historical re-enactment.

Vikings

The "Starime" is another Spelljammer that is inspired by ancient Greek myth because I was reading Homer's Iliad at the time.

My "Dwarven Warriors" are again Warhammer fantasy-ish but also inspired by the book "Die Zwerge" by Markus Heitz.

Dwarven Warriors

So you see... I take inspiration from random stuff I'm into at the time, which is why my asset packs are so diverse in subject matter.

I just draw things that I personally need for my games. Right now, I'm back to GMing sci-fi stuff so I draw spaceships and aliens.

Your art style is a bit cartoony, though not super abstract. So what's the most common challenge you face when creating tokens, and how do you address it?

Vicnedel: My most common challenge is managing my time. Because I like to put a lot of little details into my tokens. I sometimes get carried away and spend hours and hours on something that should have only taken me minutes to complete.

Take this 4-armed Crocodile monster-man for instance.

Crocodile Monster-Man

Look at him. I mean really look at him. Zoom in. Zoom in Close. Closer. Use "Ctrl+". See that? The big obvious scales you'd expect to see on a crocodile's back are highlighted, every single one but the little ones. The ones all over the rest of his body. They exist. I didn't NEED to draw every single scale on his gross lizard body. I didn't need to give him red-eye make-up. I didn't need to draw little designs on his Macuahuitl (war club) or give him beads and jewelry to wear. Why did I do it? I don't know. I just felt compelled to.

I feel like, when I draw something, if I'm going to be selling it with 40 other somethings, for 5 bucks online, I really need to make it worth my buyer's money. I can't half-ass it. I work super hard for very little payoff. That's how I justify it, but honestly, it's not worth it. It is still for me and my games. But it kinda makes sense.

When I'm working and I'm in the zone, something comes over me and I just can't stop myself. I draw scale after scale, bead after bead, and carvings in the wood. It's just me and the drawing. For hours. The rest of the world just melts away, and in the end, when I finally snap out of it and realize how much time has passed, I'm always shocked. But I somehow still get the satisfaction of knowing that those scales are there, hoping that someone somewhere is going to buy this token set and notice them and stop for a second to think "Oh my God... He drew every scale."

How do I address this challenge? I try to predict this behavior and set proper work hours for myself. It doesn't always work. In fact, I'd say it almost never works. I still get carried away and it feels very zen. Like meditating or something.

You vary quite a bit from other creators, in that your primary focus seems to be on selling content over running a Patreon. Why have you taken this route?

Vicnedel: So, I knew this question was coming and I still feel unprepared to answer it.

I started doing this as part of my hobby, then when I started selling my creations, it grew into a legitimate source of income over time. A minuscule one at first, just enough to buy a pizza now and then "from the fans". Then I released more drawings and more people bought them, "Cool, 3 pizzas". And now it's to the point "the fans are paying my rent". It's so strange.

I can't explain what I do for a living to "normal" people who aren't in the hobby. The closest I can come to is "I am a video game artist and online content creator". I never intended this to be "my job". What I'm trying to say is that "I didn't choose to take this route, things just naturally progressed to here."

I started drawing for myself as I said, and then I started selling those drawings through the marketplaces I found, and later I discovered Patreon. Last year, actually. I didn't even know what Patreon really was. I thought it was some online banking website through which Youtubers make money from donations and try to pressure you to join them in the middle of every video because... "Skip forward 10, skip forward 10, skip forward 10".

My first post on Patreon was on the 13th of March, 2022. I have 70 "members" and only 25 of them are actual subscribers who donate real-life money.

Currently, I make 90 euros per month. That's 9 Pizzas.

And how has the support of your patrons impacted your ability to create and expand your TTRPG content? How did the feedback influence your approach to future projects?

Vicnedel: How this has affected my ability to create or how their feedback influences my approach... It kinda doesn't.

Maybe I'm just bad at creating engagement but what I do differently on there is that, when I'm making a new set, I post parts of the set up there before it's finished so the patrons get early access. But because I work so slowly, a thing that I posted last year on the Patreon page JUST came out for sale on the Bazaar recently.

My patrons don't really comment on my posts. Three of them sometimes leave likes and a comment like: "This is really cool!" On average, my posts have one like and one comment.

I love you guys, keep it up. If you talk to me more, I might even be influenced, I swear.

Whenever I post an asset pack on the Patreon, I do it as a zip file. In that file, I always include a message to my patrons. It's a secret text, for their eyes only. And in there, I just write whatever is on my mind completely off the cuff, no filter. It's a glimpse into my psyche. Raw. I don't even bother correcting spelling mistakes. If I type a word wrong, I count it as a bonus.

We see that you are open to receiving commissions from tokens. How do you handle feedback from clients to ensure the final product meets their vision?

Vicnedel: When a patron commissions me, I add them as a friend on Discord, and I have a conversation. Asking a bunch of questions about what they would like and getting into as much detail as possible. I sometimes get into conversations about their favorite anime too. I personally don't watch anime anymore, but I take a look at pictures and screenshots and use that as inspiration as well. If they have reference material for what they'd like, I take that and run with it.

A typical commission starts with me making a really quick and extremely messy initial sketch that I can show the client. They are so messy but just good enough for the clients to understand what they're looking at.

Brace yourselves. Examples are coming.

It starts with the client asking for a Robotic Beholder with a huge mecha body. The initial sketch looked like this. It's kinda hard to make out but the head is the robo-eye tyrant and the body is well... A big guy made of metal.

The Initial Sketch of the Robotic Beholder

Then I break the project up into parts. Think that the head part should be able to move on its own so I draw it separately.
The line art for it looks like this.

The Head part of the Robotic Beholder

I show the client and ask for feedback. He loves it, so we discuss it very little.

For the color palette, I usually consult the client but for this one, I picked brass since it was in the initial reference that he sent me.

So the next day, I worked on it, I colored it, and sent a progress report that goes a little like this: "I hope you like the color because I'm nearly done with this".

A colored Head of the Robotic Beholder

I explained what my next steps were gonna be.

Adding a bit of grime, shadows scratches, and other final touches. No back and forth this time so I was good to go.
The final looks like this for that part.

A final touched Head of the Robotic Beholder

I got lost in the zone when I was making the eye but I got it to shine juuuust right.

Then it was the next step. The Mechanical giant body.
There was a little back and forth on that one concerning the pose and changing one of the arms to be more "punchy".

The Mechanical Giant Body
The Mechanical Giant Body

Then the client didn't really like the chicken legs and wanted something more stern or strong-lookin'. He referenced an anime with mechs in it, and I looked it up, copied their style, and ended up with legs like this.
The new ones are on the left (inspired by a TV show from the 80s).

The Mechanical Giant Legs

Then we discussed color.
And Wham. Final result.

A Robotic Beholder - Final Product

Can you share some examples of your favorite or most challenging pieces you've created?

Vicnedel: I'll answer these questions in a slightly unorthodox way.

My most favorite piece... It's very hard to choose, but I think it's one of the dragons from my "Dragons and Minions" asset pack. They're all really cool looking, but my favorite one of all is the green one.

It's the first dragon that I drew and some might think it's the most basic of the bunch. I think differently. First of all, green is my favorite color and its mossy scales on the neck and tail were a joy to draw. Secondly, this was a villain in my campaign. A green dragon that had lost its green luster and become white as it was subservient to another master. In my game world, the dragon's color is linked to its emotional state. The more confident a dragon is, the deeper and richer its color is. Like a chameleon, their scales can change shades of their original color over time.

It was after I was finished drawing it and its white version that I considered skipping a step and saving time by just taking the line art for it and re-coloring it to represent the other colors of the chromatic dragon. But after I was done doing that, I took a good look at the formally beautiful green dragon, now an opalescent and shiny white, and I said to myself: "Is that good enough for you? Would you be satisfied and happy with your work if all you did was copy/paste a bunch of the same line art and play around with the hue and saturation options in Photoshop? Is that what an artist is? Some lazy guy who does the minimum and calls it a day? Is that who you are?" The answer was NO.

So I went on and created unique drawings for all the flavors of the dragon. And it was good! And it was another best-seller! Top of my personal charts. It still is my most popular asset pack. If I were a dragon and I had let myself skip all those steps, the color would have drained from my scales and pooled around my feet in a shameful puddle. But I did not. I went the extra mile and it was worth it.

Green Dragon from the "Dragons and Minions" asset pack

The rest of the dragons in that set you can look here.
It also contains a bunch of minions. Kobolds, lizard-men, gargoyles, toad-men, evil wizards and cultists. There are even some good guys too. A very diverse pack of drawings.

What are the biggest issues facing you as a smaller content creator?

Vicnedel: I think I have a very small reach. I have a rich and diverse range of products, I'm a hard worker, and I put a lot of effort in, but that doesn't seem reflected in my income or the way I interact with clients or fans.

Members of my family, who are aware of my work, rightfully criticize me by saying: "You work so hard for so little". Honestly, it really does feel like that a lot of the time.
I don't think I'm expressing a new sentiment here that any other artist hasn't felt before, and I'm neither the first nor the last person to be in this position. After all the "hungry artist" stereotype is a stereotype for a reason.

I'm not really sure how many "fans" I have. I know that I have some steady supporters on Patreon, like I said, I love those guys, and I wish our conversations could be a little less one-sided. I have one very devoted client who regularly orders commissions, and I appreciate that a hell of a lot more than random likes on social media.

Speaking of which, my social media following is also very small compared to other creators who have been doing this as long as I have. Like I said, I started in 2015, and I've seen people who started doing this way later than me get a much bigger following and outgrow me very fast.

Maybe my art style doesn't have a large appeal. Maybe the subject matter of the things I draw doesn't resonate.
I do know that when the pandemic began, I had my biggest sales boom by far but it has died down since then. My success during that time is certainly owed to a bunch of people making a temporary switch to digital role-playing. But that was figuratively speaking a "captive audience".

Who knows, maybe in the future I could grow my following by hitting on something that really captures people's imaginations. I just gotta keep at it. If I were a wiser or more cunning creature, I'd do market research and try to hit on what people are most interested in at the time. But then I wouldn't be an artist, I'd be a marketer, wouldn't I? Ah...if only...

Do you have anything you want to say to the greater TTRPG/VTT community?

Vicnedel: I guess the real thing I'd want to say is: If you have a gaming group that's a bit open-minded, try some RPGs that aren't the two main big ones (DnD and Pathfinder).

Some suggestions I'd like to make: anything by Free League, Cubicle 7, White Wolf, Chaosium, Pinnacle Entertainment, and even Fantasy Flight.
It only takes a short time to read the rules, and you'll get a new experience out of it.

Some of these companies have made games that are associated with some amazing IPs, like Star Wars, Warhammer, The Lord of the Rings, and H.P. Lovecraft's mythos, and they also make their own unique and incredible games that are more than just "swords and goblins fantasy".

There are a lot of cool games out there and you should explore them. If you and your gaming group already are, then bravo! Don't be a snob about it, try to excite people.

Oh, that and "Give smaller creators a chance."

What are your plans in general for the future as an RPG creator? Are there any personal or professional goals you have for your career as a TTRPG content creator?

Vicnedel: My personal goal as a creator is to be able to get to a point where I can live comfortably off my art. That's the dream for everyone, I think.

To achieve that, I have to grow my audience and spread awareness of who I am, what I do, and that I am extremely awesome. Which is why I agreed to do this interview. So I can spread the word about how amazing, talented, intelligent, philosophical, hard-working, interesting, exciting, risky, and extremely handsome I am. And humble also. The humblest. I will manage to catch lightning in a bottle and, when I have it in my hands, I'll shake it up again because I will not stop!

But let's get back down to earth. More realistically, I have put plans in motion to properly finish my education so I can become an educator in the STEM fields, as I mentioned. My specialty is technology, believe it or not. I think that, if I become an educator, I'll have enough of an income to live alright and some time to also devote to making this art as a side hustle like I used to in the beginning, and not have to worry about paying the bills with my drawings.

Seems like a downgrade to go back to the way things used to be "at the beginning". But I don't think that way. I think that I took a chance by being a "full-time artist", and I would have regretted not giving it a go.

Thank you Vicnedel for your time, this was a really interesting conversation!

Vicnedel: I really appreciate the opportunity that you've given me to speak to a wider audience. I couldn't do this sort of thing without the support.

Life gets pretty difficult at times and when my spirits are low, it's good to know that there are people out there who appreciate my art and use it in their games. To know that I've made some people I'll never meet happy by enhancing their experiences in their favorite VTT gives me a warm feeling.

I really mean that. Having a platform where I can sell my art is hugely important, especially one that is run by such kind and considerate people.

Vicnedel Patreon
Vicnedel Twitter
Vicnedel Facebook
Vicnedels' Creator Page on The Forge