For those who don't know, aphantasia is a condition where a person basically lacks a mind's eye. As such, I cannot imagine characters or places that I read about, let alone create them in a way that will allow others to imagine them.

I first started tabletop RPG's probably 5 or 6 years ago. I don't have a huge amount of experience, but I think I'm knowledgeable enough to be able to run a campaign. I was spoiled with my first GM, as he was incredibly imaginative. His worlds were always expansive and unique, and he seemed to adapt to anything my crazy party would throw at him. His campaigns were my favorite, and I suppose he's somewhat of a role model for me. The trouble is, I don't know how to do that. I like the idea of building a world, but it's very hard to do without being able to visualize things. I can't picture a map or a city or a person. I can (sort of) draw, which might help, but creating something worth drawing is where I get stuck.

What kinds of things could I do that might help me create a world, or at least run a campaign? I know I could just get campaigns that are already created, I want to go beyond that. I've let it get in my way for a long time, but it's about time I do something about it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. Take the tour. The system you're considering may be important, so tagging this question with a system might be worthwhile. I don't want to vote to close because general advice for those incapable of mental visualization is valuable, and even if users have no experience with the condition, they might with players who instead simply struggle to imagine (which is, I know, a different issue). That said, I urge you also to explore some forums that can offer advice in a style markedly different from this site. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 18:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's a good point, I'll be sure to use the forum for this type of question in the future. Thank you for leaving it up though \$\endgroup\$
    – Asaaj
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 20:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Asaaj, could you elaborate a bit more on how you experience imagination? Can you imagine things? If someone describes a scene, could you draw it from their description? If I asked you to make up a map, could you make one up that isn't a real place? \$\endgroup\$
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 1:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you wish to run games in a setting you would invent or would you be happy to run games in a setting developed by others such as Middle Earth, Westros, or Dresden-verse? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 8:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sardathrion I'm hoping to invent one, since I have the resources to find one. I'll probably run my next campaign in a world already created, but I'd prefer to create one myself. \$\endgroup\$
    – Asaaj
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 13:03

1 Answer 1


Congrats on deciding to overcome the challenges associated with your condition!

Your condition, while rare, is not an automatic no-GM situation. Here is some advice for successfully world-building for your RP scenarios and campaign despite lacking the "visual mind's eye" (please note, a lot of these will take effort):

Collect (or Create) visual resources

1) Search engines are your friend

Use numerous image search methods with varying keywords related to what you are trying to go display. Need to describe a castle? Find images or videos of castles. The same can be done with characters, items, costumes, jewelry, and so forth.

Unsplash.com, Pexels.com, and Pixabay.com are excellent resources for various images - people, landscapes, fantasy, structures, and more... best of all all the images are CC0 images or otherwise royalty free and license free: as in free for both personal and commercial use (certain minor limitations apply to commercial use - mostly don't claim it's yours or make compilations of other's works, check licenses on each site for details - but shouldn't affect RP stuff in any way)

2) Fiverr (or similar) is also your friend, if you are willing to spend a bit

If you have a bit of cash, then you can ask artists to create what you are looking for, or modify something you found that is 'almost'. When asking others to modify a pre-existing thing, however, be aware of copyright, license, and usage restrictions.

3) Photoshop or GIMP is your also your friend

If you don't, or can't, pay someone else to do it, give your own artist's chops a try. Even when lacking a visual mind's eye, with the undo features of modern graphics software, you can alter (and mess up) to your heart's content, and still undo anything you don't like how it turned out. Just remember to save often. As a tip, save alterations under different names, so that you can go back to a specific point in time - takes more file space, but allows you more latitude in your work. GIMP, by the way, is free.

4) Bryce, Daz3D, Blender are also your friends

Daz and Blender and are free 3D software which are quite capable in their own respects. Strong communities with lots of tips, tricks, and advice support both; Blender even has a Stack Exchange site. Bryce is not free, but is usually worth the price tag - and is still considered one of the leading landscape creation tools. In conjunction with one of the other two (it already is configured to work directly with Daz) it can support buildings and characters as well. Use existing resources (lots of free stuff out there online) and build your scenes (towns, buildings, maps, you name it), or even learn to make your own resources.

5) Use Props

Always fun to have the real thing (or close approximation) handy for reference. Nothing says light saber like some red and blue giant pool noodles, duct tape, and electrical tape. Plus you get to bash each other after (or during) game for fun (and profit?).

On a more serious note, a yellowed piece of paper with the note the characters just found, a Chinese puzzle box with something rattling inside of it for the players to actually solve, a cracked chess piece with what looks like a blood stain (a bit of paint or even certain types of markers work), can do wonders to set a scene and tone to the game.

These visual collections can be used to 'show' what you want, can be composited to 'create' what you want to see and/or show, and is all around useful for both you and your players. When you find a picture that you like, decide it is a picture of the Plain of (random name) and just behind that out-thrust rock is the City of (another random name). You can show it to the players if appropriate, or simply use it for your own personal reference to aid your descriptive verbiage.

Collect (or Create) aural resources

For those with a visual mind's eye, a bit of background sound will help them build a scene. If your locations and/or characters have their own theme music, or associated background sounds, a bit (or a lot) of work with some music software or websites where musicians post their work freely for everyone to listen to (or spend some resources to collect music files and/or sound clips) and you can have your own SFX library at your command.

Collect Descriptions

If you find that your aphantasia extends to preventing you from coming up with verbal descriptions of visual effects, then there are still a couple of things you can do. You can read the works of others, and collect quotes. Find bits of verse and descriptive text, make a copy and keep a portfolio of useful descriptive bits. When planning out adventures and locations, base descriptions on certain of your snippets. To keep your descriptions consistent (and unique to each location), keep notes so that you don't overuse any particular snippets.

Also, walk around (or use Google Maps Street View for distant locations) and verbally describe to yourself what you are seeing. Write your descriptions down. Touch things (appropriately, mind you), smell things (again...), take pictures (yet again...) and listen; in other words gather sensory data, and practice putting it into words. Describing the smell of a place as rank, musty, but with just a touch of the lingering memory of fresh bread, and your non-aphantasia players will build the image without any further help from you.... Plus, it's a great excuse to get out and see the sights, visit museums, and other places of local color.

If you can record the sounds and images of your walkabouts, this can help with your later descriptions as you (probably?) can't pull up the visual memories of your experiences.

I hope this advice is helpful.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is really great, thank you for taking the time. I think I had gotten stuck with the idea of being a GM like those that I've seen in the past, but perhaps a more tech-dependent version (making use of models, pictures, etc) could be really helpful as well. I like the idea of Fiverr for some of the big stuff, and I do have some pretty artistic friends I could ask for stuff I can't afford to pay much for. This is very useful \$\endgroup\$
    – Asaaj
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 0:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm glad you like this! I too have certain conditions and associated challenges, not exactly the same as yourself. However, as a result I have become accustomed to having to think outside the box, as I cannot get things done the usual way, all too often. \$\endgroup\$
    – nijineko
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 3:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ My favourite search engine for RP-related imagery has become Pinterest. Just search for "dwarf warrior" or "space rogue" or "hyperdrive" or whatever to find tons and tons of images... \$\endgroup\$
    – fgysin
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 14:06

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