Yesterday I argued that the cover of the 0e supplement Eldritch Wizardry, which features a fully nude figure, presents an interesting contrast with the art of the recently released 5e Player's Handbook, which features 100+ human and humanoid figures, virtually all of whom are almost fully covered, head to toe, in a manner that suggests rational outdoor attire in cold weather conditions or an irrational fear of sun poisoning.
Now, if you were to draw 100+ figures in different and varied contexts and situations, and they were all nude or close to nude, that would suggest a preoccupation with, well, nudity.
But if you were to draw 100+ figures in different and varied contexts and situations, and they were virtually all fully wrapped and draped in clothing that exposed very little skin whatsoever, that would also suggest a preoccupation with nudity, though a preoccupation of a different kind.
Back in the day, some would have called the first sort of preoccupation perverted. Then and even now, many would call the second prudish.
I owe use of the second very apt term to the astute comments of Paul Go. (See his comments on Google+). Note that 'prudish' is very often not defined as having a marked aversion to sexuality per se, but as a tendency to just be offended in general, or to be offended by nudity (defined in a neutral and not necessarily sexual way). A prude would for example be affronted by a prominently displayed loin cloth-attired Christ hanging from a crucifix. He would want to cover Him up.
Last night I said the 5e clothed thing was 'weird'. But tonight I'll accept that its prudish.
There are many who like 5e for a variety of reasons. Even many 'OSR people' seem to like it. It's understandable that if you like it, you're probably not going to like some upstart blogger calling it prudish, especially since these days, 'prudish' is thought of as about as bad a thing as, well, 'perverted' used to be.
That doesn't mean it's not true.
Now, two sorts of counter-arguments were given. The first was what we might call the moral argument:
1. Whatever else might be said, the art of 5e is morally preferable to, say, the John Norman, Frank Frazetta, chainmail bikini, women-exist-only-to-be-put-in-positions-of-peril (preferably while naked)-in-order-to-be-rescued-or-eaten style of fantasy art. That's sexist. it also doesn't give our daughters good role models.
The second is what we might call the practical argument:
2. The art of 5e more accurately or realistically represents what player characters actually look like, given the rule mechanics coupled with the equipment lists--in terms of armor, clothing and accessories--of the game. Whatever else one might say about the women (and men) in Frazetta paintings, they're not attired in the way any rational player would dress his or her character.
In what remains of this post I want to dispose of these arguments. Do not misunderstand. I'm not unsympathetic to the underlying views or motivations expressed in each. Indeed, I think they're reasonable.
But that doesn't mean they succeed in saving 5e.
1. Disposing of the first is easy. It's not an either/or choice. Just because you think that it's weird that very little skin of any kind is shown in the 5e Player's Manual, doesn't mean you want everyone to be nude, or all the women to wear chain mail (or non-chainmail) bikinis, or role-playing games partly intended for kids to sexualize our kids or provide bad role models for our daughters (or sons) or whatever. Selecting the cover of Eldritch Wizardry as the starting point of the discussion doesn't mean I want restrained nude women on sacrificial slabs to be the model for all of the art of the market leader in role-playing games. I can't even believe I have to say that.
2. The second argument or claim has two problems. First, the initial premise is just nonsense. 5e art is not more 'realistic'--in any of the meanings that term might have. The mechanics of these systems do not require that 5e (or any of the e's) mandate full body coverings for virtually all characters. They just don't. Should fighters often wear full plate armor? Of course. (And, incidentally, the 1e Player's Handbook has more depictions of full plate than 5e.) But do fighters ever take their plate armor off? Do they ever relax, at taverns and the like? And of course, aren't there other classes where armor is either not worn or not that important? Yes, yes and yes.
Exhibit A is the 5e Barbarian, above. For most of the various editions of D&D, barbarians were often the half-naked guys. They are, after all, barbarians--uncivilized and uncaring regarding the usual norms. They don't have access to effective armor or they prefer not to use much of it.
This is not only a fantasy trope, but also has reasonable historical grounding. Here's an excerpt of the text from the great Avalon Hill wargame, Caesar at Alesia:
The Gauls were an altogether fearsome lot. Many wore long red and blond hair and mustachios in tight braids. Their horrendous battle-cries were literally stunning. The warrior males of a family often linked themselves together with rope so that whether they prevailed or perished it would be together. Some GauIs, attacked without garments of any sort but with their hair and beards worked into fantastic shapes with a mixture of grease and pitch.
As I understand it, they also sometimes painted their naked bodies blue. How’s that for a cool 5e character?
But not that guy above. Except for the axe, I see his type at Starbucks every morning.
What about 5e game mechanics? Well, barbarians have a skill or feat (or whatever it's named) called 'unarmored defense'. Sure enough, the barbarian above does not seem to be wearing much armor save perhaps light leather. His arms aren't covered by armor. They're covered by...
...a long sleeved shirt.
That's just one example, but it could be multiplied 50 times.
The second problem is this: Let's assume that obsessive body covering is more 'realistic' (it isn't but let's assume it is). Does that mean that the pictorial representations must track that precisely? Well, the history of, say, science fiction and fantasy paperback book covers say No. Those of us who read such stuff have all had the experience of reading a novel or story where the cover doesn't quite match up with what's described. (Ironically, the Conan stories are a great example of that--as was noted in the Google+ comments by Jeffro Johnson's sharing of yesterday's post.) Is that phenomenon sometimes silly? Of course. But does it also often make things more interesting, romantic and, well, fun? You bet.
What's wrong with fun?