Handling mature artwork/themes in modern mass-market RPGs

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
By "Mass Market", I mean a gaming product that would have a target demographic of a majority of the player base. I'm excluding niche products geared towards "edgy" material like you-know-who with a cartoon name.

The current project I'm working on, Twilight Fables, is a 5e book (thus mass-market demographic) based on historical European folklore and mythology, rather than how these creatures have been depicted in RPGs in the past decades. That means many of the themes are darker and more mature than people are used to. More Bros. Grimm and less Disney.

Which poses the question: How do you approach art and other representation of these mature themes while avoiding misogyny, and ensuring the art is done tastefully and inclusive? This is a question I took seriously and asked several folks for their opinions, especially those artists who aren't cishet white men.

Today I got the final piece that I would consider marginally NSFW. These are the three images in the book that all have a mature theme about them, based on the feedback I received. I think I met the goal above, but as a cishet white man myself, I understand I might not catch things others will. Thus the reason for this thread, to open the discussion even further before the book reaches publication.

Artists: Gerald Brom, Toni Bell, Alexael Artworks. (Brom's work is licensed, not commissioned solely for this project. Toni and Alexael both were great to work with for the other two images. Brom's piece is censored here, but will not be in the book)
alexaelArtworks_roderic copy.jpg

fairydance copy.jpg

TitianiaT3 copy 2.jpg
 

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MGibster

Legend
Which poses the question: How do you approach art and other representation of these mature themes while avoiding misogyny, and ensuring the art is done tastefully and inclusive? This is a question I took seriously and asked several folks for their opinions, especially those artists who aren't cishet white men.

To start with, I think it's important that whatever illustrations you use makes sense within the context of the pages they're appearing in. You've got an illustration of a bunch of fairies dancing and two of them are nude. Will that illustration make sense to your reader in the context it's presented in? If the answer is yes, it's more likely to be tasteful in my opinion. (You know, unless those pages are just tasteless anyway.) In the past, I've railed against Avalanche Press' d20 splat books for their lurid cover illustrations featuring scantily clad women in questionable poses. It's not that I'm necessarily against such art, it's just that those illustrations didn't make a whole lot of sense in that context and it was the opposite of tastefully done.

It always helps to include a diversity of body types. In the top illustration, the red headed woman is somewhat Rubenesque, the man next to her has an athletic build, and the kneeling man looks a little bulkier. With the dancing fairies, you've got a nude incarnation of Bacchus dancing with a thin person of indeterminate gender (at least I can't tell). And of course the Brom illustration features a more traditional fantasy rendition of an attractive woman. And while I can't relate to that, I commute to work across the Arkansas river in a giant swan boat so I can relate to that illustration. But since your audience likely has a variety of body types that can help present a more inclusive image.
 


MGibster

Legend
This is true. If it helps, these are the page layouts where they appear, and in what context:
It looks okay to me. I wouldn't be embarrassed to own a book with those images in it. Right now we've been focused on body images, but what about the text? What is it about this game that's dark and mature? I mean besides the DC 11 save versus pass the time dancing with fairies for the next 7 years. (I'm digging the wearing your clothes inside out bit.)
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
It looks okay to me. I wouldn't be embarrassed to own a book with those images in it. Right now we've been focused on body images, but what about the text? What is it about this game that's dark and mature? I mean besides the DC 11 save versus pass the time dancing with fairies for the next 7 years. (I'm digging the wearing your clothes inside out bit.)
Since it is based on the historical folklore, there are a lot of darker elements, like Mylings. Children killed by their parents who couldn't feed them, risen as ghosts. And a whole bunch of consent issues. Lots of abduction themes as well.
 

MGibster

Legend
Since it is based on the historical folklore, there are a lot of darker elements, like Mylings. Children killed by their parents who couldn't feed them, risen as ghosts. And a whole bunch of consent issues. Lots of abduction themes as well.
Okay, I get where you're coming from. In the OP, you mention your concern about the "art and other representation" of these mature themes with a desire to keep things tasteful and inclusive. What particular areas of the game has you concerned? I see you mention foxglove, which makes me think of "The Rake's Song" by The Decemberist where the narrator murders one of his children with foxglove.

Warning: This song is probably as dark as your game.

 

IvyDragons

Explorer
By "Mass Market", I mean a gaming product that would have a target demographic of a majority of the player base. I'm excluding niche products geared towards "edgy" material like you-know-who with a cartoon name.

The current project I'm working on, Twilight Fables, is a 5e book (thus mass-market demographic) based on historical European folklore and mythology, rather than how these creatures have been depicted in RPGs in the past decades. That means many of the themes are darker and more mature than people are used to.
I can't remember buying a DnD product that had boobs hanging out, but if you want to use Broms work and call it "mature" then sure, its certainly going to turn heads.

The dancing naked dudes in a circle, I don't even notice anything out of the ordinary, looks fine.

The first one is a bit "Roman" and seems to go out of its way to present an orgy like scene. I would probably double check the cover at this point and wonder what I bought.

But the reality is nobody is going to notice this until much later anyway, maybe one Karen will complain about it on Facebook. Not really a big deal.

But personally, I don't see the point, you want to "mass market" but try to be as "edgy" as possible? Its certainly nothing "mature" about it, if it was more mature then nudity of the first would be done more tastefully.
 


delericho

Legend
Surely if it's tackling mature themes and including NSFW artwork, that automatically moves it out of the "mass market" sphere? Which should be fine - not everything needs to be for everyone.

As for the artwork, that's always going to be a judgement call. It looks fine to me, but then I'm speaking as another cishet white male.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Just some thoughts:

1) There is nothing wrong with putting a content warning on your product and selling it as “adult” as you want it to be.

2) mature content doesn’t necessarily need to be illustrated.

3) be aware that different countries have different laws on depictions of violence, nudity, politics, religion and other “adult” content. That may affect your decisions on what to include AND/OR where you wish to make your product available.
 

How do you approach art and other representation of these mature themes while avoiding misogyny, and ensuring the art is done tastefully and inclusive?
As a fellow cishet white man here's my opinion. When dealing with a mature subject no matter what precautions you take chances are someone is going to be offended or feel left out. I'd just put a warning/disclaimer and age restriction on a shrink wrap cover of a physical book or on the website before someone can purchase and download/access it. I think one sentence describing what the material in the book is should be enough. I like the artwork and personally don't find anything wrong with it, nice job.
 

MGibster

Legend
I honestly don't always know where to draw the line between regular content and mature content. In the first episode of The Clone Wars CGI animated series on Disney that I watched, I was more than a little surprised to see the battle droids murdering helpless soldiers trapped in escape pods. This is a Star Wars cartoon so you know there's a significant number of children who watch it. Was it appropriate? I'm not sure. (Though I'd argue it's better than depicting a war with no casualties.)
 

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
IMO, there's big difference between a nudity scene and a sex scene. Nudity, even more when representing diverse genders and body types, is tasteful.

Secondly, we are talking about faes with a moral very different than our own (or a lack thereof), so I see them as wearing clothes only if it helps make them more fabulous, not to hide and cover something. So nudity makes sense.
 


opacitizen

Explorer
As an aside, using stylistically so varying images (especially in color) is an interesting and imo somewhat risky art direction choice.

As for the main question, I'd just recommend taking a look at thematically similar products like Crow Land Publishing's Wickerpunk or Fria Ligan's Vaesen, for example.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Surely if it's tackling mature themes and including NSFW artwork, that automatically moves it out of the "mass market" sphere?

This was my thought. In movies, you still have "mass market" for R-rated films, but in RPGs, I think these qualify as niche.

Which should be fine - not everything needs to be for everyone.

Also agreed. The classification isn't a moral judgement, it is a realistic assessment of the market and where your marketing should go.

Which poses the question: How do you approach art and other representation of these mature themes while avoiding misogyny, and ensuring the art is done tastefully and inclusive? This is a question I took seriously and asked several folks for their opinions, especially those artists who aren't cishet white men.

As a cishet white guy... even I noted that everyone in the selected pieces seems to also be white - if not in actual color, then in facial features and build.
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
I really like the pieces by Toni and Alexael, and wouldn't consider either a problem.

As a cishet white guy... even I noted that everyone in the elected pieces seems to also be white - if not in actual color, then in facial features and build.
It's a thing. My latest game had instructions to artists that said "the default skin tone is dark, and people should be 50/50 men and women." Even with specific art order instructions, I'm not sure that every artist gets it!

I'll also point out that there can be a difference between nudity and objectifying women for the male gaze. Take a look at this superhero image from the game Ascendant, compared to this image from Heroes of the Cypher System. Both show women superheroes, but one is really sexualized. Definitely a pet peeve of mine.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
As a cishet white guy... even I noted that everyone in the elected pieces seems to also be white - if not in actual color, then in facial features and build.
The two dancing fairies are both PoC*. Also, the book is focused on western and northern European folklore and folktales as they were originally, so naturally, most depictions will be representations of that culture.

*And one of them has Vitiligo. When we talk about diversity in representation, body types and other conditions such as Vitiligo often get overlooked.
 

Smackpixi

Adventurer
I mean, ask yourself, why do I want these people naked? If you have an answer, ok.

The dancing naked in the forest one is tame, I’d show a toddler, dancing naked in the forest is a family safe theme for going crazy and doing witch things.

I have no idea why all the archfey are naked. That one is weird.

there seems to be no reason for u n a to be naked. Other than to present as an attractive body to cishet men. From you stat block, doesn’t seem necessary. Only reason for tha picture is titillating.

jmho
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Which poses the question: How do you approach art and other representation of these mature themes while avoiding misogyny, and ensuring the art is done tastefully and inclusive?
If the emphasis is on mature themes, the answer is probably: you don't.

My answer: get as much Brom work as you can, regardless of the market. Because: coolness.
 

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