Championing the Imperfect


Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 10 May 2012

While I may sometimes take exception with or point out the parts of D&D that bother me, I love the game. I love the people who make it, who play it, who talk about it, those who agree and those who disagree with me. Yes, I'm opinionated and strong-willed. Yes, I make mistakes. Yes, they sometimes make mistakes. But, at the end of the day, I still love the community and the people and the game and its offshoots.

I'd like to take a moment to point out something I really like, and that was the recent article by Jon Schindehette, D&D Art Philosophy. Is it perfect? Nah, but hell, nothing I write is perfect either. But it says a lot of really cool stuff. In it, he lays out his vision for the artwork for D&D Next, opening it up to public comment by the D&D community. That's awesome! It's what we've been asking for and I'd like to respect it for what it is. Here are his key philosophies.

  • Storytelling is king
  • Impact and drama required
  • Great characters
  • Realism
  • Fantasy
  • Cultural clarity
  • Differentiated monsters
  • Look to the past to create the future

With the exception of the last, I'm either in love with or am more than happy to support every item on that list (even if supporting realism gets me in trouble with a close friend). I want to see illustrations of wonder and action. I want to explore new lands, try my hand at figuring out how something breaks the laws of physics, and be scared by monsters. I want the art to take on new perspectives, different angles, and show us a world unlike our own.

I admit, the last is a little scary for me. D&D history is full of examples of things that leave some of us shaking our heads today. Then again, it was a product of its time and those times also leave me wondering how people could have thought those things. When Jon pointed out in the comments that they mean, "What would Gary do today?" I was still nervous but willing to see where it goes. And here's the thing. I had those worries before Jon said anything. If it wasn't for him saying something, me being able to comment on it, and him being able to respond, I'd continue to get sick with worry about what exactly they were going to bring back from the past.

In the end, it's an important conversation to have, out in the open, with as many points of view as possible. I wish we could have certain base rules, like women in D&D are equal to men, that sometimes they will be the rescuers, sometimes the rescued, and sometimes just background elements. I wish I could smooth away the years of distrust on both sides that have built up. The best I can do is present why some of these things make people uncomfortable and hope we can move forward. Sometimes, just feeling like someone hears and understands you, even if nothing can be done, is enough. Sometimes we can make small changes, like being a bit more circumspect in the types of images that get the most prominence. And other times, we need to be willing to bend and change, like perhaps finding room in the canon for new characters that fit our modern values.

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I think that with Jon Schindehette's final point "Look to the past to create the future" he is talking continuity of ideas but given D&D, that will mainly be reflected in the monsters. Weapons, armor, magic items, those have all been very mutable in their presentation from edition to edition. But a beholder or mind flayer or even the umber hulk is obviously a riff on the same creature theme from D&D to 4e, that is where I think he is going to be applying that idea.

I agree. Many of the old monsters can be problematic though, and not just orcs. For instance, the hard cover AD&D Monstrous Manual is full of female monsters that enslave men to satisfy their hedonistic desires, that can be enslaved by stealing their shawl (including one that will leave her husband, kill her male children, and flee with her female children if she ever gets it back), and the like. With past statements that they want all monsters to be available in case there's a current campaign that is using one, it worries me a bit.

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