Pathfinder Art (Part 3): What… I… Just… No.

[Notes: Some problems with my language were pointed out, and I have some made some revisions accordingly. WRT calling Roma “gypsys”, that was my bad. I knew better. As far as “heebie jeebies”, that was something I wasn’t aware of as being a problem.]

In my last post, I did an analysis of art from a few Pathfinder books to look at the differences in how men and women are portrayed, and how that sheds light on sexist trends that are present in Pathfinder art. This post was done according to my usual methods, and you can find a whole lot more such posts by searching the numbers tag here on my blog.

Now, numbers will only take you so far – which is why today’s post will look in some pretty extreme depth at art in these books and why saying simply “the art in the three books I examined displayed clearly sexist trends” is, if anything, understating the matter. I’ll be talking about specific issues with the artwork in order of increasing awfulness, from “ick, really?” to “what the actual fuck, gross”.

(And as always, click through the images for a view with more detail)

Gross Trend #1: The prevalence of sexualized character design

Because it’s supported by the numbers that were gathered, I can say that “in the NPC Codex and Inner Sea World Guide … women were about twice as likely to be suggestively attired as their male counterparts”. But that statement alone doesn’t really convey the sheer stupidity of so many of these pieces of artwork, where the spec obviously called for “heroic avatar” and the artist, instead, turned in “hurr hurr tits”.

The least offensive example I have of this is boobplate, which was depressingly prevalent:

These are just the MOST INFURIATING examples of boobplate, btw. I had a depressing variety to choose from. (Click for larger view)

I don’t think it’s necessary for me to cover yet again why boobplate with individual boob pods, or boobplate with a boob window is a terrible fucking idea[1]. But I think it’s worth pointing out that the Haughty Avenger’s boob window is actually one of the least offensive (in my opinion) of the images that I picked out. The Ice Maiden, with her Madonna-esque metal brassiere over her armor, strikes me as being just as gross, despite not actually being able to see any skin. The Tribal Champion and Bloodfire Sorceror are similarly frustrating, given that they also have metal boob pods over other armor – although theirs at least aren’t cone-shaped. And the Heir Apparent… [facepalm]

The Heir Apparent is possibly the worst drawing of boobplate I have ever seen, which is impressive, because I’ve been writing this blog a long time and have looked at A LOT of really bad art. First of all, her breastplate seems to also double as a corset, judging by the otherwise impossible narrowness of her torso and waist. More important, however, is the fact that her armor’s boob pods are distended and lemon-shaped, which… you know… just… no. Breasts can be shaped like a lot of things! They’re all different! But NEVER distended protruding lemons, because that’s just not how gravity works. So the stupidity of drawing protruding-lemon boobplate is just staggering.

But of course, boobplate isn’t the only kind of frustratingly sexist character design. That comes in a wide variety of flavors!


A spear and shield fighter who doesn’t wear any goddamn pants! A huntress who punches things with magic fire (?) while wearing a bra and hot pants! A cleric who dual wields crossbows while wearing a drab-colored evening gown that require a lot of garment tape to prevent wardrobe malfunction! An embarrassingly racist Asian elf whose leotard is meant to be sexy but mostly looks like an adult diaper! A lizard person with tits in a bustier[2]! Boobplate is just one tool in an artist’s stupid sexualization tool kit! The number of ways that a female character can be reduced from “heroic avatar” to “sexual object” are almost limitless!


It’s worth noting that this sort of thing can get unintentionally hilarious when you have a particularly egregious example of sexualization in the same 2-page spread as a male cover that is completely covered from wrist to neck to ankle:



Gross Trend #1a: Impossible breasts

The fact that so many artists insist on needlessly sexualizing the women they draw wouldn’t be nearly so infuriating if they bothered to put in the least bit of effort into understanding 1) how breasts work 2) how gravity works 3) how breasts and gravity work in combination with each other. Breasts are sacs of flesh and fat that hang from the pectoral muscles. This means that they hang down and slightly away from one another. BREASTS DO NOT HAVE THEIR OWN GRAVITY. They don’t pull themselves into perfect spheres. They don’t magnetically stick together to form cleavage without a garment providing A LOT of structure. And gravity pulls them DOWNWARD. Which is why all of the following is just plain inexcusable:


No. No no no NO. The only one of these that is even CLOSE to correct is the halfling on the far right, and even then her breasts are doing some uncanny valley shit where they’re close to correct, but just wrong enough that they’re giving me the heebie jeebies willies.

Sadly, even when artists manage to get the structure of breasts right, they often fail to consider how breasts + gravity will interact with the clothing being worn. For example, while the following images actually manage to not screw up the actual breasts (too much), all of them would be a hot mess the instant any of these women tried to actually do anything:


The Battle Skald’s outfit is the most practical/realistic of these trainwrecks, but even that isn’t saying much. With no underwire or other supportive structure, the fact that only two stitches hold the two halves of her top together means that she’d get maybe a few swings of that axe in before having some severe wardrobe difficulties. As for the Undead Slayer, I will at least give the artist points for structuring her outfit such that they managed to have visible underboob without having to worry about areola or nipples[3]. However, the Undead Slayer, the Vivisectionist Cleric, and the Seductive Enchantress will find themselves popping right out of their tops, because BREASTS ARE AFFECTED BY GRAVITY. Without a structuring top like a corset or supportive bra, breasts move around a lot.

There’s also the issue that AREOLA EXIST – covering the nipple doesn’t render them magically invisible. Further, NIPPLES ARE THINGS THAT HAVE THREE DIMENSIONS. They are protruding fleshy bits! So there should absolutely be nipple showing through both the Vivisectionist Cleric’s and Seductive Enchanter’s “tops”.

Tl;dr, LEARN HOW BREASTS WORK. The internet has a wealth of examples you can learn from.

Gross Trend #2: Women aren’t heroes

As I pointed out in my last post:

…when looking at the Inner Sea World Guide … 34% of all women can be said to fit into a class archetype – which is ALL KINDS OF DEPRESSING when you consider how incredibly underrepresented women are in the Inner Sea World Guide as a whole. There are vast swathes of the book where there are no women at all, and when women DO show up, fucking TWO THIRDS OF THEM aren’t even heroes or adventurers. They’re fucking barmaids, peasants, princesses, and slaves – which is some creepy woman-erasing misogynistic bullshit.

That alone is bad enough! But even worse is the fact that A LOT of these non-heroic women are also objectified. Most women can’t be heroes, but they can be sexy barmaids?


And sexy slaves. And sexy princesses. And sexy human sacrifice victims (more on that in a bit). Welcome to Golarion! Where the men are heroes and the women are fuckable! …which is fucking horrific when you consider the overall lack of women in the books in the first place. [brr]

Gross Thing #3: Quotas and Interchangeable Women

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the major problems with representation in the books I examined was the fact that so many group scenes contained only 1 woman. This is pretty aggravating when the lone woman is shown as a hero or other avatar figure, but when they’re shown as something else, things can get pretty gross.

Take, for example, these examples – in which the ratio of male figures to lone female figures was particularly egregious: 


In the left image and the bottom right, the lone women in the scene are at least shown as heroes. But in the top right, our lone woman is shown as an imminent victim of human sacrifice, which is just all kinds of wrong! Apparently the answer to “where are all the women in Golarion” is WE MURDERED THEM?

But then, it’s not like any of this is entirely surprising given that women are so entirely unimportant that they are completely interchangeable. After all, one sexy woman is as good as another, right?


There were no less than six pieces in the Inner Sea World Guide by the same artist of ostensibly different women who had the same damn face. Because who cares about depicting women as individuals with their own unique characteristics and attributes? Really all that matters is that they’re sexy, and so long as that requirement is fulfilled, they can be assigned a generic face. That’s the bit that no one cares about (as long as it’s sufficiently aesthetically pleasing), because sometimes words come out of it and that’s gross.

…obviously I’m being sarcastic here, but sameface syndrome is something you almost always only see in illustrations of female characters. And it’s something that I would expect an art director to be more on top of, when dealing with a large number of images from the same artist.

Gross Trend #4: Embarrassingly Racist Art

Last, but most certainly not least, was the distressing prevalence of racist art. Starting with CODING ALL OF YOUR BARBARIANS AS CRYPTO-NATIVES:



“Barbarian” is literally just another way of saying “savage”:


The stereotype of Native peoples as savage devils is one of the most pernicious, destructive, racist stereotypes out there. It directly led to the genocide of Native peoples by colonialist forces, the establishment of the Canadian residential school system – which was only shut down in 1996, as well as a legacy of racism and structural injustice for natives. So coding Barbarians as Native is bad, but making a subset of those Barbarians a CANNIBALISTIC EVIL MATRIARCHY??? NO. Just. NO.

Sadly, I wish I could say these were the only example of gross racism, but… no:


Oh good. A sexy gypsy Roma – a trope almost as gross as “savage” Natives – and evil crypto-Arabs. (There are A LOT of game products that even call them “gypsies”, which at least Pathfinder didn’t do – since “gypsy” is an actual ethnic slur.)

That’s nice. At least the racism is well rounded.

In Conclusion

I parted ways with D&D quite a while ago after discovering indie table top games – not because indie games are “better” per se. But because the complexity and crunch of D&D and other systems like it or derived from it, as is the case with Pathfinder, just didn’t do it for me. But even if that were the case, I don’t think I would feel comfortable picking up these books, or recommending Pathfinder to someone just getting into games for the first time – because this is the kind of shit that makes me embarrassed to be a gamer.

[1] If you’re struggling with “why is boobplate bad”, then this probably isn’t the blog for you.


[3] Because nipples WILL be visible through a lot of fabrics

8 thoughts on “Pathfinder Art (Part 3): What… I… Just… No.

  1. Wow. And ugh. And sigh.

    I don’t play Pathfinder, for similar “crunch” reasons as yourself. But this just makes it worse.

    Forget for a moment what it says about the designers, publishers, art directors, etc. What does it say about the audience that supports it? I presume there are a lot of women gamers that still play Pathfinder (I haven’t been to a convention for a couple-three years, but I remember a fairly good representation of both sexes in the PF room…); are they just gritting their teeth when they flip through their books? Are they so inured to the presentation that they ignore it? Is the game so awesome that they’re willing to bite the bullet?

    For myself…a male gamer for whom art isn’t some be-all-end-all (I like old B&W games)…I tend to miss the sexism in these illustrations because I’m not paying all that much attention to them. I don’t salivate over some half-naked fantasy art anyway, but if I’m focusing on anything, I’m more likely to look at the “male” illos that I find cool or inspirational. ‘Cause I’m a dude playing a fantasy game, natch. I presume that the female players would, similarly, look to female illos for inspiration…and then, would they find this shit a slap in the face? Barmaids? Human sacrifices?

    I mean (clearly) you do…but you’re critiquing this as an exercise (and public service). You don’t play Pathfinder. What of the women who do? They just game in a perpetual state of aggravation? That seems fairly insane. Though I suppose (being white and male) I’ve never had to deal with institutionalized sexism and racism ALL MY LIFE. Maybe folks who have to have built up the fortitude to stomach it?

    I don’t know how many of your blog readers (or gamer friends) happen to be female Pathfinder players. I would be curious to hear how they feel (and handle) the artistic presentation, given the huge popularity (in RPG terms) of Pathfinder.

    • I think I mostly endured the artwork. >_>;

      It helps that in some places, Pathfinder is like, the only RPG choice for some people. Pathfinder Society is a HUGE selling point, in that you can walk in with your character and have a game despite not knowing anyone there, and that you can play almost anything from the heroic fantasy genre …

      … assuming your group is sufficiently civil, and you’re willing to shell out a ton of money on books / PDFs*, and the things that you want to take are on the Additional Resources list, and the GM does not get upset with you for knowing the correct way to measure AOE templates while he doesn’t.

      THEN you have to deal with racist scenario writing, horrible portrayals of kink and sexuality in general, an extremely clumsy rules set, super-lethal combat, and guys who ogle the pregens and the artwork in books. Like when I tried to show someone “look you can have a platypus familiar!” in the Animal Archive, and he made some lewd comment about Seoni the scantily-clad sorceress because she was the one who was holding the cute monotreme.

      Another woman in that store’s game group really took to Pathfinder, and became a PFS GM and everything. You can’t underestimate the value of a supportive community, here, or the wide-eyed wonder of someone who’s just discovered the roleplaying hobby (idk if she was a newb to Pathfinder or RPGs in general???) and is in awe of the possibilities …

      … all of which you have to pay for individually, because selling crap for a broken system and writing to a page count are how Paizo makes money.

      *The PRD isn’t a legal rules resource in Pathfinder Society.

  2. Maybe it’s just my browser+extensions, but I can’t just click the images for a bigger view. I have to right-click then “View Image” and even then it’s only a little bigger. Is everyone else able to click for a bigger image?

    • Shit, that’s WordPress fucking up the linkthrough again. It used to do it automatically and now it doesn’t and… ugh.

      I’ll fix it as soon as I can this evening

  3. That mermaid image is using guidelines wrong. As a person who actually used it several times, I must say that whatever the image is suppose to be measuring is incorrectly portrayed in two ways.

    1. The perspective ruins all arguments on it’s defense.
    2. One of the guidelines only support one of the pictures and doesn’t align at all.

  4. One could argue that different contents have had their own versions of “savage” barbarian-type warriors like the Picts who fought naked and enraged (Europe) and the Asian ones that fought in loin cloths and were high on cocaine and mushrooms. So there are different ways to look at a class that emphasizes the more primal aspects of battle.

  5. After reading this I glanced at my current RPG of choice, Fantasy Flights Edge of the Empire and I must say it appears to be doing a better job with not sexualizing women characters. But on the other hand white male human appears to be the default and female characters are not featured in half of the human character art (Though the fact I can’t differentiate a male wookie from a female one might be a good thing, same goes for Ithorians and most of the other species). Twi’lek are still problematic.

Comments are closed.