D&D 5E: Why so many wimmenz??

I’ve actually avoided writing about the new edition of D&D, even though I have a lot of positive feelings toward it, mostly because of having my name tied to the shitstorm that was Consultancygate – despite never actually saying anything publicly about Consultancygate. (Other than referencing that it was a thing that was stupid. Go ahead and google if you need to. I’ll wait.)

But now that’s died down, albeit mostly because a bunch of shitstains succeeded in creating an even bigger and more embarrassing faux-“scandal” that’s currently being used to harass women and “SJWs” in gaming (ie #GamerGate or #GamerGhazi or #notyourshield or #SockPuppetGate or #WhateverTheFuckTheyreCallingItNow), I figured now would be a good time to write about my impressions of the new edition.

Or, wait, no. Scratch that. What I meant was that some butthead said some wrongheaded stuff about the art direction and I felt compelled to lay a smackdown[1]:

This quote is taken from an RPGnet thread, which has since been locked (thankfully) (@tablehop is not the butthead being referenced, I am saying the opposite of that)


Jesus, internet. Could you maybe try to be less awful some time?

So here we go. Because it’s a thing worth saying, here are some reasons why D&D 5E is great and is totally a thing that tabletop gaming needed. (Spoilers: it’s the art)

Guys the art is so good I just can’t even

In the interests of full disclosure, I will mention that D&D really doesn’t mesh with my play preferences[2], and although I do own the PHB 3E and 4E, I will not be purchasing 5E. But this is the first time that I’m actually sad about that, because YOOUUU GUYYYYYSSSS. LOOK AT THE ART YOU GUYS:

These are taken from different spreads

WUT. Fully-clothed, actively posed, heroic looking women? Brown people? Heroic looking brown women? NO BOOBPLATE??? [swoon]

From LEFT to RIGHT: art for the Soldier, the Hermit, the Paladin, and the Tiefling

CHECK IT OUT, A HALF-ORC PALADIN. This is something I never expected to see! The treatment of race in the Forgotten Realms setting has always been… problematic at best. Orcs and half-orcs have always been depicted with traits that read as a very thinly veiled analogue for blackness. So to see Paladins, who are the literal embodiment of good, being represented by a righteous-as-fuck looking half-orc? That’s revolutionary!

Also, taking a step back, look at the characters being depicted here. These characters all come from obviously distinct cultures. So not only do we have group portraits that include a variety of ethnic backgrounds, but we also have PoC adventurers who come from obviously non-white cultures, rather than being rolled into some White Fantasy Crypto-European culture.

Which is really just the best, because yay social justice! But also because White Fantasy Crypto-Europe has gotten boring as shit. So the fact that WoTC has taken effort to portray a variety of cultures that go beyond different flavors of white people is amazing, because it’s new and exciting.

And to anyone who is complaining that not-sexualized women are so booooring, I submit the following as evidence:

Illustration: the Bard, from the PHB


Seriously, look at that cocky smile. Look at that badass outfit. LOOK AT THE GUITAR. How could you not want to play David Bowie with pointy ears? What is wrong with you? Are you some kind of terrorist? Some kind of awful, freedom-hating anti-Elf-Bowie terrorist?

Seriously, though, look at the image on the title page – the very first piece of art you see when you crack the book:

PH Teaser 1

Holy crap! That is one seriously heroic-looking black guy, beating the ever-loving shit out of a group of goblins! And we’re not talking “slightly tan skintone” black guy, either. Rather, this is a very-dark North-African-looking guy looking totally heroic and not-at-all like a villain, which is just really refreshing. Because all-too-often in fantasy artwork, people with this sort of skin tone are depicted as either 1) not focal or 2) evil. (I’M LOOKING AT YOU, THE DROW.)

But awesome depictions of PoC aren’t just limited to men. Nope! There are plenty of badass PoC ladies too:


That’s right! The iconic human is a black woman! A badass, fighter-y black woman to boot. I guess you could say that makes her a social justice warrior?[3]

Now all of this isn’t to say that there aren’t still things that could use improvement. For instance:


…it’d be nice if this group shot included some non-white folks. (Although I’ll admit that the old elf guy reads as white to me, but his skintone is also a bit ambiguous?) But even saying that directed at one illustration feels like nitpicking; there’s a good mix of gender and ages depicted and no ridiculous boobplate, and the rest of the book is obviously making a clear statement that THIS WORLD IS INCLUSIVE DAMMIT.

Why we’re winning the culture war (in which I drop names)

To see this kind of dedicated effort to Not Failing At Art from what is arguably the flagship product of tabletop gaming is just the best. It feels like a vindication of everything that I’ve been doing here. And in some ways, it sort of is.

I’ve posted earlier about how I got a chance to have lunch with Tracy Hurley and Mike Mearls at this year’s GenCon:

Mike was very open about the difficulties that he’s faced in trying to push inclusivity in the game products he’s worked on. He talked about how he’d been assuming diversity of representation was the default, only to realize later that there were many others who had assumed the opposite, who feared they might face consequences if they pushed their content “too far”. And now he’s working to actively make D&D products more inclusive going forward (something which I will write about in further detail later).

Another topic of conversation that we talked a fair bit about was how they’ve been trying to solve the problem of diverse art by creating a list of fictional cultures inspired by real-world counterparts and then making that part of the specs handed out to the artists. Instead of asking an artist to give them an illustration of a “human warrior”, they are asking for a “human warrior from [Fictional Culture]” to ensure that the art that is handed in isn’t mostly just white folks.

It also sounds like they’re making a point of cracking down on ridiculously gratuitous sexualization when initial art drafts come in. Without going into potentially incriminating detail, Mike Mearls did tell us a pretty funny story about rejecting a piece of artwork that had humanoid breasts on a non-mammalian fantasy creature – which is heartening to hear! (One of my greatest disappointments regarding 4E was that female dragonborn were described textually as not being visually different from male dragonborn, only ALL THE DAMN ART gave them boobs. All of it.)

So to bring this back to Hates Women and Brown People in D&D Guy… Sorry, random awful person on the internet, but this bygone era that you long for, in which women and brown people are either objectified or ignored in D&D? That ship has sailed, and it’s not too likely to return. And frankly, I can only believe that that is a good thing.

[1] Don’t get me wrong, GG is still a total fucking shit show and anyone who seriously tries to advocate for it as a “real issue” after 3+ weeks of abuse that has actually driven women out of the industry is going to land themselves straight on my block list.

[2] I’ve played a fair amount of 3E and 4E, and a lot of 3.5E. But now if I’m going to play “killing things and taking their stuff” games, I’m much more likely to play Dungeon World or Descent.

[3] I’ll be here all week.

17 thoughts on “D&D 5E: Why so many wimmenz??

  1. I skipped over 4th edition because it felt too much like a certain popular MMO, and I was pretty much ignoring anything about the 5th edition, but now I think I’ll actually take a look and possibly buy the book.

    I hope that the rules are less “kill things and take their stuff” as you say, and more able to support an interesting story with characters. I felt that the 3/3.5 edition rules were definitely combat-centric, but they didn’t necessarily impose combat solutions to all problems. The 4th edition rules pretty much preclude ANY action that doesn’t also do 3d6 damage. It’s basically a more freeform version of D&D the board game to me. I hope 5th goes back to “world simulation”-mode as opposed to “combat simulation.

    • At the risk of going super far off the topic of the blog post — 5e does a *much* better job at giving you non-combat role play than 4e (which was, in reality, a tactical miniatures combat game designed to sell D&D minis, not an RPG).

      It’s a little better than 3.5e on non-combat solutions (In my opinion), but you need to keep in mind the root of what D&D is. It is, and always has been, an excuse to go dungeon crawling through a series of rooms where you known ahead of time that 99.9% of what you find will be evil, and you are justified in killing it. (See Belkar’s line here: http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0013.html ) Part of that is a culture thing, and part of it is a mechanical thing.

      D&D is a combat game. Other games whose systems and cultures are more “puzzle solving” oriented are better suited to games/worlds that are not combat oriented.

      • Oh sure. I didn’t mean my comments to sound anti-D&D as a game. Just that I have a very strong play style preference and D&D in *any* of its iterations doesn’t fit with that. Ditto Pathfinder, despite that I would also like to give them money for similar reasons.

  2. 5th edition is much more a roleplaying game than 4th was. The rules are focused on combat to the extent that that is where most of the rules go, but not to the extent that the two earlier editions was it. The chapter on combat is not that long actually, no more than 10 pages. One cool thing is that a battle mat is no longer required for combat, but is an option. Also the rules have a few story-game type additions, such as backgrounds that grant a special “ability”. For instance: the criminal background can always find people that are willing to shelter fugitives from the law, the sailor can always gain passage on a ship and such.
    I was very much on the fence about buying it, bought it anyway and I am very happy to have done so. And also, the art is awesome (except for the halflings that kind of creep me out).

  3. I wouldn’t say all the art in the book is great (most of the halfling art is horrendous and makes me sad as a halfling fan), but I’ll definitely agree that it does a great job in the representation department. Its rather refreshing to see female characters wearing armor that would actually protect them and seeing PoC characters throughout the book. I especially like the iconic human image (I actually think she’s a cleric because she’s wearing Oghma’s holy symbol around her neck) and the female paladin who routinely shows up throughout the book.

  4. Well, that’s certainly an improvement over that godawful cover art I saw awhile back. Still not my preferred style, but it’s definitely better. Now, if you wanna see some real D&D art, I can provide a few examples. Ignore, for a moment, the fact that these are all white males (well, I’m not sure if the dwarves really count, but let’s say they do), as that’s beside the point. There’s no reason there couldn’t be women or “brown people” in these scenes

    • Sorry this got caught in the moderation queue! WordPress will flag things with a lot of links in them, and I was away from the internet for a day.

      • No problem, I’m just happy to see it wasn’t deleted like I’d thought. I didn’t know about the links thing, but that seems a sensible practice

  5. I agree with everything here, equal representation is a good thing 🙂

    However just one nit to pick – it feels wrong that one piece of art with six non non-whites should be a point of complaint when everywhere else there are plenty of non-white representation. If there were a piece of art with 6 non-white persons (and there might or might not be, I don’t know, as I don’t own the thing) in the book, would you have complained that there weren’t any white dudes?

    Just a point on equality 🙂

  6. Out of curiosity, is the substance of the original complaint valid, even if the interpretation is BS? That is, are there in fact more women than men in illustrations? Not that that would be a bad thing–I think it would be awesome, if surprising.

    Oh, wait, his definition of “excess” isn’t “more women than men”, it’s “more than {some very small %}”, isn’t it? 😦

  7. FWIW, I think that iconic human is actually a (social justice) wizard. Staff, book, scroll carrier, light armor (I think that’s supposed to be quilted armor and not, like, metal scales).

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