>Mixed Messages in D&D 4th Edition

>So it has to be said that Wizards has made strides in improving how women are portrayed in 4th Edition D&D. It’s certainly a lot easier to find images of women who are both fully clothed and active. You also see a lot more pictures of women as fighters, where in the past any woman in armor was by default a cleric. Furthermore, I’ve been quite pleased by some of the images I’ve seen of strong, competent, not sexualized women.

The problem is that Wizards seems to want to have their cake and eat it too. It seems like for every fantastic image I see, there’s somewhere between one and two really awful ones. What’s worse, when you see women on the covers of 4E books they’re almost always cheesecake women and not the positive strong women I just mentioned. (Case in point: The Adventurer’s Vault 2, Dungeon Delve, The DMG 2, The PHB, The PHB 2, The PHB 3, and too many others to count.)

So I thought I’d do a little side-by-side comparison of some really great pictures of 4E women right next to some really awful ones. These are images that I found in two threads (good art, bad art) in the Astrid’s Parlor forum on the Wizards site. As such, I don’t own the rights to any of this. See the end of this post for the cover-my-ass boilerplate.

(Noteably, unlike my last post, there are larger versions you can click through to of the below for more detail.) First up we have:

So here we have a comparison of different approaches to the badass pose with weapon. The woman on the left really does look badass. Those weapons are most definitely not for show. (Incidentally, this is one of the few images by Wayne Reynolds that I found that WASN’T guilty of egregious cheesecake. Maybe he got tired of all those uncovered boobs.) The woman on the right – what is she doing? Getting drunk? That would explain her complete lack of caring about the sideboob. I know which one of these two women I’d rather take on.

So D&D is purported to be loosely based on medieval Europe. The wizard on the left is a good example of that, with her costume looking pretty similar to stuff you might see in that period. The woman on the right, however, appears to be wearing absolutely nothing to cover her backside – which I’m pretty sure isn’t in keeping with the feel of medieval Europe. Last time I checked, Europe gets pretty cold and, dude, a tail is not a replacement for pants.

I’ll also note that despite the fact that the tiefling is actually casting a spell and “controlling the elements” or whatever, I find the halfling far more imposing. I love the “don’t fuck with me” expression on her face.

Another contrast in spell casters, here. Overall, the art for the female dwarves has been pretty fantastic and positive in 4E, and the mage on the left lives up to that standard. The pose is pretty neutral, but the shadow-serpent and the expression on her face make her someone not to be dismissed lightly. And sure, the mage on the right has a more active pose – but she’s pretty obviously posed that way so as to display her, uh, attributes to their maximum advantage.

Also, the anatomy is problematic on the slutty-mage – she’s suffering from a pretty serious case of sphere-boob. She also doesn’t seem to have any hips, which is kind of bewildering. Maybe the only difference between the sexes for elves is that women are just men with boobs tacked on?

These are, unfortunately, both depictions of female fighters. Don’t ask me how the chick on the right is supposed to fight in that getup. I’m sure she spent a much longer time getting her hair to do that than getting into that “armor”. The sad thing about this is that the woman on the left is both powerful and feminine. The chainmail she’s wearing is clearly serving a function and actually covers all the stuff you’d want to protect when hacking at people with swords. And, personally, I find the woman on the left a lot sexier than the freak show on the right.

What to wear when hacking at people with swords: Part Two. Again, fantastic female dwarf. Again, I love, love, LOVE the “don’t fuck with me” expression. Whereas the woman on the right is wearing a tube-top held together with a few pieces of string. Here’s the deal, guys. I’m approximately that well endowed, and there’s no way in hell I’d trust that top to keep the girls contained. Also, what’s with the visible thong? Did medieval Europe have Victoria’s Secret? Lastly, look at the poses. The dwarf looks like she’s two seconds from smashing your face in with that giant hammer. The human just looks like she’s posing for a glamour shot.

Okay, we’re going to end with how to portray threatening women. The woman on the left is strong and competent. She’s not just swinging the spear around for show. Whereas the women on the right… Okay, okay, yes they’re succubi. They’re “supposed” to be sexy. But succubi are demons, for crying out loud! Practically immortal beings from another plane that are supposed to eat men for breakfast! These women don’t look like they’ve eaten anything more than a lettuce leaf for breakfast.

Furthermore, they’re in these awful “look at me, I’m so sexy” poses, but the anatomy is so distorted that I have a hard time seeing them that way. Their waists and shoulders are both way too small. Plus, you know, the boobs. Again, guys – BOOBS DON’T WORK THAT WAY. Christ, the succubus on the right practically has a shelf. I’m surprised she doesn’t carry stuff around on that thing.

So, yes. D&D is making strides, but they’re no Paizo. (Not that Paizo is perfect either.) And when you consider how many of their covers have cheesecake, it makes me wonder if they have any real intention of improving their depictions of women past this point.

[Oh yeah, the boiler plate. This blog is not affiliated with, endorsed, sponsored, or specifically approved by Wizards of the Coast LLC. Wizards owns everything, I own nothing. For more information about the products these are taken from, go to the Wizards website.]

17 thoughts on “>Mixed Messages in D&D 4th Edition

  1. >I think the problem with "BOOBS. HOW DO THEY F*CKING WORK?" lies in a pretty obvious place: not simply porn but the "this is a sexy woman" image of the media in general.Finding a woman without implants in *that* kind of images is pretty hard, and… yeah, the hemispherical boob is pretty much the hallmark of the (badly done) implant….and I think it's pretty obvious many illustrators use that kind of publications rather anatomy books as reference material, am I right?On the brighter side, I'm a fan of dwarven women in 4E too: they're generally portrayed as competent, solid, active and… well… also healthier than the average skinny-model-type (with huge sphereboobs, obviously) that tends to be pushed on people from other media.Renato(also: Hi Anna! Nice initiative here)

  2. >Renato: I definitely agree with you that finding pictures of bare NATURAL boobs on the internet is pretty hard. But at the same time, professional illustrators doing that level of artwork SHOULD have experience with figure drawing – it's far and away the best way to learn anatomy. So… I don't know.Ara: I don't know? Maybe at some point down the line if I generate enough material through the blog? I'm honestly not sure I want to do a book. And if I did a book – who would buy it? :/

  3. >Hey, I like you blog!Just one small comment on "the female fighters" of picture 4.I don't think that the right one depicts a fighter at all, I reminds me on a arthurian Lady of the lake gone trashy (or even on John Everett Millais' Ophelia with no clothes but with sword :P)

  4. >Very cool post. I'm impressed with some of the good images you've got lined up here. I'm so used to horrible cheesecake that I rarely see the art anymore.I have to say, despite the anatomy issues and boobtacularity, I appreciate the hips on those succubi. They are not sylphish waifs but rather substantial women! 🙂

  5. >Here's another interesting piece of information. A few guys got together and made an exhibition about D&D related art. One of the guys is now posting some background info on his blog. I laughed, when I read the following:I always try to write my art orders to focus on non-white characters using medieval-realistic equipment in situations that really emerge in play, and the output is often white heroes in anime-stylized gear in situations that happen in fantasy novels or the player’s daydream about playing D&D but don’t get any attention at the table.It includes an image of a white woman with long brown hair exposing cleavage looking semi-orgasmic, and the following description:This lithe and athletic survivor is wearing HIDE ARMOR made from the gray, spiky plates of a macetail behemoth. Her skin is dark brown, and her curly black hair is kept short; on Earth, one would assume that she was from Africa. She has a simple, functional, and deadly-looking GREATAXE strapped over her back, and a coil of rope at her belt.

  6. >Nice comparison. I agree that the time has come to show women in an equal light. If the powers that be did that, there would be even more female gamers in the audience…( I found this article while researching the web on Brink, an up and coming video game that has sadly no women models)

  7. >Uh, uhm…you are partially correct in your tirade. Most fantasy women are inappropriately attired for survival, but the same goes for the men. Half the males are barechested barbarians, the other half wear armor similar to the half-orc you are so impressed with…also known as suicide-armor. All those spikes and things make it difficult to move and eliminate the "glancing blow" effect of armor. Even the elven chainmail pic, which I personally love, is inappropriate IRL…functional armor is made unisex, and not custom fitted to the bustline. The woman to her right is not a fighter she is The Srinshee from Myth Drannor in the Forgotten Realms setting. The Srinshee is one of (if not THE) most powerful elven arcane caster in the Forgotten Realms…and at the moment depicted is already a baelnorn (a type of elven lich). As for the succubi, yes they are demons, no they are not physically formidable…they are straight up manipulators with the ability to polymorph at will into any humanoid form…even unnatural ones.With all that said I find it almost impossible to find acceptable art for my pc's and npcs…of both sexes.

  8. >Wallace: No. Half of the men are NOT bare-chested barbarians. I spent several months compiling numbers from four of the core 4E books, and the numbers were quite decisive. Please at least go skim the article I wrote summarizing my findings. If you think I'm biased, then go through your 4E books and keep a tally of scantily clad women v. men. Seriously, they're not even close.

  9. >Sorry, you mean only 4th edition books? I was thinking of fantasy art as a whole. Regardless, 4th edition heavy armor (male or female) is death armor.

  10. >I don't have numbers for things that aren't the 4E books right now, but I'd be willing to bet large sums of cash that the trends in 4E D&D hold more or less true across fantasy tabletop gaming. It's been my experience that 4E is actually a lot more moderate than its counterparts now.

  11. I get that the article is tongue-in-cheek but some people (especially after reading some of these comments) REALLY get butthurt over what they perceive as racism/sexism/discrimination of sexual orientation/(name some ridiculous perceived persecution or bias here). While I’m not one to include actual or emulated discrimination or sexism in my games… let me just say this… IT’S A FANTASY SETTING, MORONS. Stop trying to shove it into some small box or realism. If you want realism, go play a non-fantasy setting game. Though, I do find it interesting that people so often get worked up over sex and sexual appeal or appearance of female characters and their wardrobes but choose to totally ignore all of the other completely ridiculous aspects found in fantasy settings… like… armor that looks like it should weigh about 500 lbs and swords that should be too heavy and unwieldy to actually use or even too fragile to stand up to more than one solid blow… being swung alongside shields that don’t even look like they should be able to be carried with two hands, let alone one… movement and actions that should make any professional athlete look like a chump… or stats that, when compared to even a person of above average ability, make them look like Superman.

    One commenter before me mention that he actually took the time to go through all of his 4e books looking for examples of the “typical” female character and compared them to the number or exposed men. Aside from being incredibly pathetic thing to worry about, you’re also doing it wrong. It might not be AS popular at the moment, but go back a few years and you’ll examples of men with rippling muscles and flowing locks on every other page. Why? Because the fat neckbeards who played those characters back in the 70’s and 80’s liked to imagine their characters as beefcakes with huge, oiled-up rippling biceps and broad bulging pectorals carrying an ax that looks like it could cleave an entire house in half… because… get this…. IT’S A FANTASY RPG and that’s how they want to envision themselves and/or their character inserted into the game. So, do you honestly think that most female gamers who play these characters want to constantly make characters that are exactly as they would appear in real life? Of course not. Just like those fat neckbeards, they want to be able play some buxom, beautiful heroine with hair flowing in the wind and sparkles every time they cast or swing a sword. Game art is going to reflect what and how most people create and play their characters. Sorry, maybe some of you are the exceptions… but most people aren’t going for realism when they create a D&D character. They aren’t looking to create an in-game recreation of themselves or worry that they could stray too far away from the constraints of real people. Besides that, D&D characters are, by default, already beyond the average person from the get-go. Otherwise, why would any world/kingdom ever need saving by the heroes? Wouldn’t the common-folk just go do it themselves?

    I get the writer of this article is female and seems to be of the opinion that any female in anything less that full plate is just badwrong, but that isn’t really the going consensus amongst all female gamers. I know plenty of (married to one, game with many others) women who could care less about what females in fantasy gaming art look like. Why? Because most of them make characters that look just like that at some point. They aren’t conforming to some male sexual fantasy stereotype, they’re just having fun and making ridiculous fantasy characters from their imaginations. Besides, are you seriously going to tell me that a rogue or sorcerer (yeah, I know there aren’t any sorcerers in 4e, but screw 4e anyway) wants to run around in full plate? Using the argument that it “isn’t like traditional medieval European garb is just as ridiculous because a fantasy setting can be anywhere from the desert to the jungle to a tropical island… because… get this… IT’S A FANTASY WORLD! Also saying that “real women don’t look like that, etc.” just makes you look like and idiot. Why? Well… why don’t you take a second to explain to me how dragons really work…? How about how orcs or elves aren’t fairly portrayed as they actually look in reality. No? How about the real-world mechanics behind Magic Missile. Well at least explain to me how what kind of effect a magical deflection spell from something like Mage Armor would have on actual steel plate armor in real life… Oh, what’s that? Oh… that’s right…. IT’S A FANTASY SETTING.

    So please… fo the sake of the rest of us who are just trying to sit down, have fun, and escape reality for a couple of hours in a fun role playing game with our friends… stop your exaggerated dissemination of your anal sufferings. Just remember… if you find yourself having to say “but it doesn’t work that way in real life” you might be over-thinking things just a wee bit…. because… IT’S NOT REAL. If you are going to complain about something, complain about marketing. The people who sell this material have just decided that there are more male gamers interested in fantasy eye-candy than there are females and that male players don’t care about looks at pictures of awesome meat-tank fighters/paladins/etc. as they used to…. which really isn’t true either. I used to enjoy the Conan-esque artwork from the 70’s and 80’s.

    • Your premise is flawed. If you’re interested in reading actual statistics regarding comparative depictions in the core 4E handbooks, you can go here. If not, well, it’s not like I can make you. But saying “it’s fantasy” doesn’t mean that you can handwave past everything problematic about a setting. It certainly doesn’t excuse some of the fail-worthy stuff in Oriental adventures.

      • No, my premise isn’t flawed, you just chose to focus on the one thing you didn’t like about what I had to say. You can give me truckloads of statistics all day long… that doesn’t change the basis of your argument which seems to be “I don’t like the idea of women in fantasy games wearing clothing/armor I see as overtly revealing and/or what I see as “sexually suggestive poses.” That said… what do you propose? Removing it altogether? Toning it down a bit or scaling back on the ratio of “suggestive” to “non-suggestive” images? Perhaps replacing it with something you see as “more dignified”? Therein lies the problem. If you simply want equality of representation in imagery, fine. That’s something easily fixed. Start writing the marketing divisions of the publishers you have a problem with and complaining that female gamers think the ratio of suggestive male/female imagery is far too skewed. Personally, I think that much is true as well, to an extent, given the ever-growing numbers of female gamers. If you want what you consider to be “proper attire”, well… that’s little more than an inane opinion that you’re going to have a very hard time convincing others to support.

        Basically, what I’m saying is this; if what you really want is equality… you and all female gamers certainly have a right to, and deserve it. If what you want is to make the statement “suggestive imagery/exposed skin = sexism”, then that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. An issue that I think doesn’t have any business using pen and paper RPGs as it’s soapbox. While I think that no one has a right to force their view of what is either “sexually suggestive” or “decent” onto others., if you simply have problems with sexuality or sexual expression, then I would suggest seeing a psychiatrist, rather than trying to push that view or behavior on to others. While I don’t think the pen and paper world is a place to peddle sexual imagery, per say… neither would I suggest it should be removed outright because some would see it as “inappropriate”. If you don’t like the material, simply don’t buy it.

        That out of the way, please don’t think I’m just trying to defend 4th Edition or WoTC or Hasbro in any way, shape, or form. I don’t like 4E… at all. There’s nothing I’ve found yet about that edition that I like. When 4E hit, I went with Pathfinder. I have been most pleased with the things Paizo has done with the OGL and their new settings. I think most of Wizard’s best talent left with Paizo. Raise the banners of protest to their heights, as far as I’m concerned when it comes to 4E.

Comments are closed.