Lies, damned lies and TTRPG art – our experience with a dishonest “artist”

We have been working on the second edition of our storytelling horror card game, Lovecraftesque, for quite a while and have begun to reach out to artists to illustrate the game. During this process we had a bad experience with an “artist” who we think was trying to scam us out of money, or who at the very least was dishonest, and we wanted to share what we’d learned as a warning to others.

We solicited artists for the game through a google form that we circulated on social media, requesting details, availability and a portfolio. Our intention was to review the portfolios submitted, alongside other artists we were potentially interested in working with, and then draw up a shortlist to ask for quotes from. This is a new idea for us – we usually identify artists we like and approach them directly, but we wanted to cast our net a bit wider this time, avoid just going to the usual suspects, and potentially open up the field to lesser known artists. Little did we realise that we were inviting in someone with less positive motives.

We got a good response and we shortlisted five artists whose work we liked. We reached out to them by email with a detailed specification, asking for a quote, and having got these, we narrowed the field to two artists whose work we liked. One was an artist we had used before and whose work and professionalism we were confident of. The other was someone we had not worked with before, who had an eclectic portfolio of gorgeous images, albeit submitted as a Google drive folder of images, which was a little unusual. It was this second person who very nearly tricked us into hiring them on false premises.

Having narrowed the field, we arranged a meeting with each artist and talked through the project a bit more, clarifying details and trying to ensure we got the most accurate estimate of both the cost and the time to do the work. Our new artist, who said they were based in Texas, turned up a little late for the call and when they arrived they did not turn their video camera on. We thought nothing of it at the time. We talked through the project and they offered refined quotes with a discount based on the volume of work we were suggesting, but saying they would give a final “package” price once we confirmed exactly what we were hiring them to do. They asked for a 50% deposit on each piece before starting work, something we’ve done before with other artists. At this point no alarm bells rang.

It was only later when we sent them the final details of what we wanted that they came back with a different price from what they’d discussed with us – a higher price, even though the specification hadn’t changed. They also asked for 50% of the total package as an up-front payment, which was a big change and would mean giving them a lot of money without any work having been done. They’d also given a New York address which, having said they were in Texas, seemed at the very least a little strange.

Something felt wrong and, acting on instinct, I Googled their name. I’d done this before of course, but hadn’t really worried when I didn’t find any information about them. Looking back this should have been a warning sign. I still felt a nagging concern and so I went back to their portfolio and downloaded the images, before performing a reverse Google image search on them. And that is when I realised that we were being lied to.

The reverse image search revealed that most of the images were lightly edited copies of images in the online portfolios of several different artists, none of whom shared the name of the “artist” that we’d come so close to hiring. I put “artist” in quote marks there since, at this point, it has to be doubtful whether the person we had spoken to was an artist at all. Perhaps unsurprisingly they were quite prepared to continue lying once confronted, claiming they shared the portfolio with other friends of theirs, and continuing to state that they are a “legit artist” even when I informed them I had contacted the artists whose work they had used and none of them had heard of them.

The fact is that we were extremely close to giving this person money to produce art for Lovecraftesque. If they had played their game a little bit better, and not attempted to change the price and terms they offered us, we would have handed over hundreds of dollars to them. I think it likely that they would have simply taken that money and disappeared. At the very least we’d have been unlikely to get art that was up to the standard we wanted. Of course, if we hadn’t got suspicious it’s possible we could have ended up giving them even more money.

Two images of an angel-like creature, appearing as a dark-skinned woman with two pairs of feathered wings, and wearing white and gold clothing and a gold headdress. 

They look essentially identical except that the one on the left has been colorised with a purple filter, mirrored, and its aspect ratio slightly altered.
One of the images submitted in the “artist’s” portfolio (left) and an original illustration by Kang Sojin, used with permission (right). Find Kang Sojin’s work here: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/L9oK5

It was a surprise to me that anyone would bother to target a small creator like us in this way. Obviously we’re aware of internet scammers, you couldn’t move for Nigerian bankers looking to give their money away in the 1990s, but the idea that someone would fill out a Google form for a tabletop game art project with the aim of tricking them out of money never occurred to us.

My lessons from this experience are:

  • Google your artist. You want to know you’re not hiring someone disreputable, and if they have no internet footprint at all then that should at least prompt you to investigate further.
  • Consider asking around – has anyone worked with this artist before? Of course with this you should be careful that you aren’t discriminating against newcomers.
  • Reverse Google image search their portfolio images, and make sure the names match.
  • As with all scammy stuff, trust your instincts – if something feels wrong, pause and look again. Don’t hire someone that’s setting off your inner alarm bell.

Similar considerations apply to hiring freelancers of all kinds, I fear. If you don’t know them or have good references, you need to do your homework.

Two near-identical images, each showing what appears to be a boat atop a pile of moss-covered stones, in the shadow of which is another ship, and the whole of which is surrounded by azure water. Rocky crags loom in the background.

The left-hand image has a brighter, more saturated palette and is mirrored compared to the one on the right.
Another of the images submitted in the “artist’s” portfolio (left) and an original illustration by Andrew Porter, used with permission (right). Find Andrew Porter’s work here: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/w88qg

In the age of AI, this is going to get harder. Some of the art of our “artist” did not show up on reverse image search, and looking at the images that it did throw up made us suspect that these might have been AI-produced. Of course you might ask why that’s a problem, if you liked the art? Personally I find AI art to be ethically dubious, as it essentially remixes the work of other artists without credit or permission. But even if you’re comfortable with it, you probably wouldn’t want to pay the same price to such a person as you would for an original illustration by a skilled artist. You might also think that there was a risk that a person who had simply produced their portfolio using AI might be doing as we suspect our “artist” was, and luring you into giving them money for nothing.

Luckily, we did spot the fake artist’s lies, and we’re now working with an excellent artist to make Lovecraftesque as beautiful and haunting as it deserves to be. But we will certainly be a bit more wary of unknown applicants, and check their credentials carefully as standard in future.

The Great British Snake Off Pt 2 CORRECTED VERSION (Episode 60)

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***CORRECTED VERSION OF EPISODE 60 – due to an editing error we originally posted a version which was mostly the same as episode 59.***

Our final episode before Christmas.

It’s The Great British Snake Off! The reptile kingdom’s premier baking contest. Our three contestants will duke it out to see who is the best at baking – or, if they can’t be the best, then who is the sneakiest.

In this session the bakers make a birthday cake for Greg’s birthday, and produce a school dinner for some hungry pupils. What could possibly go wrong? We are about to find out.

You can find The Great British Snake Off here: https://blackarmada.itch.io/the-great-british-snake-off

Our players are:

  • Joshua Fox (GM) https://twitter.com/armadajosh
  • Becky Annison as Penelope Pit Viper. https://twitter.com/BeckyAnnison
  • Elizabeth Lovegrove as Hercule the Slow Worm. https://twitter.com/ejlovegrove
  • Sue Elliott as Steven Tightly, the boa constrictor. https://twitter.com/SuefaceTM

Black Armada create and publish TTRPGs here: https://blackarmada.com/

The music is Orange Button by Esther Garcia.

The Great British Snake Off (Episode 59)

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One last short game before we break for Christmas. It’s The Great British Snake Off! The reptile kingdom’s premier baking contest. Our three contestants will duke it out to see who is the best at baking – or, if they can’t be the best, then who is the sneakiest.

In this session we create our characters and the judges, and we find out who has what it takes to win the technical bake.

You can find The Great British Snake Off here: https://blackarmada.itch.io/the-great-british-snake-off

Our players are:

  • Joshua Fox (GM) https://twitter.com/armadajosh
  • Becky Annison https://twitter.com/BeckyAnnison
  • Elizabeth Lovegrove https://twitter.com/ejlovegrove
  • Sue Elliott https://twitter.com/SuefaceTM

Black Armada create and publish TTRPGs here: https://blackarmada.com/

Nick creates and publishes TTRPGs as Ickbat here: https://ickbat.itch.io/

The music is Orange Button by Esther Garcia.

After The War Part 13 (Episode 58)

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Final episode of our After The War campaign. In this episode:

  • The team busts their people out of the Daedalus settlement, but at what cost?
  • We explore the future of the Boneyard and our characters.

After The War is a science fiction RPG of memetic horror by Jason Pitre and Alasdair Stuart. You can find it here: https://genesisoflegend.com/product/after-the-war/

Our players are:

Becky Annison (GM) https://twitter.com/BeckyAnnison
Elizabeth Lovegrove (Lisna Ojebawa) https://twitter.com/ejlovegrove
Joshua Fox (Major Grallani) https://twitter.com/armadajosh
Nick Bate (Odd Alvarez) https://twitter.com/ickbat
Sue Elliott (Novak The Bull) https://twitter.com/SuefaceTM

Black Armada create and publish TTRPGs here: https://blackarmada.com/

Nick creates and publishes TTRPGs as Ickbat here: https://ickbat.itch.io/

The music is Orange Button by Esther Garcia.

After The War Part 12 (Episode 57)

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In this episode:

  • Odd, Damanso and Krevalya are all set to blow up Daedalus’s secret weapon. But now they have a tough decision to make.
  • A moment of discovery for Odd.

After The War is a science fiction RPG of memetic horror by Jason Pitre and Alasdair Stuart. You can find it here: https://genesisoflegend.com/product/after-the-war/

Our players are:

Becky Annison (GM) https://twitter.com/BeckyAnnison
Elizabeth Lovegrove (Lisna Ojebawa) https://twitter.com/ejlovegrove
Joshua Fox (Major Grallani) https://twitter.com/armadajosh
Nick Bate (Odd Alvarez) https://twitter.com/ickbat
Sue Elliott (Novak The Bull) https://twitter.com/SuefaceTM

Black Armada create and publish TTRPGs here: https://blackarmada.com/

Nick creates and publishes TTRPGs as Ickbat here: https://ickbat.itch.io/

The music is Orange Button by Esther Garcia.

After The War Part 11 (Episode 56)

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In this episode:

  • The crew mount twin missions to the Daedalus settlement: diplomatic and covert ops
  • Would you believe things don’t go perfectly for them?

After The War is a science fiction RPG of memetic horror by Jason Pitre and Alasdair Stuart. You can find it here: https://genesisoflegend.com/product/after-the-war/

Our players are:

Becky Annison (GM) https://twitter.com/BeckyAnnison
Elizabeth Lovegrove (Lisna Ojebawa) https://twitter.com/ejlovegrove
Joshua Fox (Major Grallani) https://twitter.com/armadajosh
Nick Bate (Odd Alvarez) https://twitter.com/ickbat
Sue Elliott (Novak The Bull) https://twitter.com/SuefaceTM

Black Armada create and publish TTRPGs here: https://blackarmada.com/

Nick creates and publishes TTRPGs as Ickbat here: https://ickbat.itch.io/

The music is Orange Button by Esther Garcia.

After The War Part 10 (Episode 55)

Links to this episode on:

In this episode:

  • An unexpected arrival from the Daedalus throws the group’s plans in a new direction
  • Moments of discovery for Novak, Grallani and Ojebawa

After The War is a science fiction RPG of memetic horror by Jason Pitre and Alasdair Stuart. You can find it here: https://genesisoflegend.com/product/after-the-war/

Our players are:

Becky Annison (GM) https://twitter.com/BeckyAnnison
Elizabeth Lovegrove (Lisna Ojebawa) https://twitter.com/ejlovegrove
Joshua Fox (Major Grallani) https://twitter.com/armadajosh
Nick Bate (Odd Alvarez) https://twitter.com/ickbat
Sue Elliott (Novak The Bull) https://twitter.com/SuefaceTM

Black Armada create and publish TTRPGs here: https://blackarmada.com/

Nick creates and publishes TTRPGs as Ickbat here: https://ickbat.itch.io/

The music is Orange Button by Esther Garcia.

After The War Part 9 (Episode 54)

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In this episode:

  • Lisna Ojebawa discovers signs of The Song alive and well in the Boneyard.
  • Grallani, Novak and Odd investigate a strange signal.

After The War is a science fiction RPG of memetic horror by Jason Pitre and Alasdair Stuart. You can find it here: https://genesisoflegend.com/product/after-the-war/

Our players are:

Becky Annison (GM) https://twitter.com/BeckyAnnison
Elizabeth Lovegrove (Lisna Ojebawa) https://twitter.com/ejlovegrove
Joshua Fox (Major Grallani) https://twitter.com/armadajosh
Nick Bate (Odd Alvarez) https://twitter.com/ickbat
Sue Elliott (Novak The Bull) https://twitter.com/SuefaceTM

Black Armada create and publish TTRPGs here: https://blackarmada.com/

Nick creates and publishes TTRPGs as Ickbat here: https://ickbat.itch.io/

The music is Orange Button by Esther Garcia.

After The War Part 8 (Episode 53)

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In this episode:

  • Moments of discovery for Novak and for Grallani.
  • Back at the Boneyard, the team question Walden and debate what to do about the threat from the Daedalus people.

After The War is a science fiction RPG of memetic horror by Jason Pitre and Alasdair Stuart. You can find it here: https://genesisoflegend.com/product/after-the-war/

Our players are:

Becky Annison (GM) https://twitter.com/BeckyAnnison
Elizabeth Lovegrove (Lisna Ojebawa) https://twitter.com/ejlovegrove
Joshua Fox (Major Grallani) https://twitter.com/armadajosh
Nick Bate (Odd Alvarez) https://twitter.com/ickbat
Sue Elliott (Novak The Bull) https://twitter.com/SuefaceTM

Black Armada create and publish TTRPGs here: https://blackarmada.com/

Nick creates and publishes TTRPGs as Ickbat here: https://ickbat.itch.io/

The music is Orange Button by Esther Garcia.

After the War Part 7 (episode 52)

Links to this episode on:

In this episode:

  • The team locate the source of the weird voice they’ve been hearing – but there’s an ominous countdown clock. What is it counting down to – and what will they do about it?

After The War is a science fiction RPG of memetic horror by Jason Pitre and Alasdair Stuart. You can find it here: https://genesisoflegend.com/product/after-the-war/

Our players are:

Becky Annison (GM) https://twitter.com/BeckyAnnison
Elizabeth Lovegrove (Lisna Ojebawa) https://twitter.com/ejlovegrove
Joshua Fox (Major Grallani) https://twitter.com/armadajosh
Nick Bate (Odd Alvarez) https://twitter.com/ickbat
Sue Elliott (Novak The Bull) https://twitter.com/SuefaceTM

Black Armada create and publish TTRPGs here: https://blackarmada.com/

Nick creates and publishes TTRPGs as Ickbat here: https://ickbat.itch.io/

The music is Orange Button by Esther Garcia.c