• Paizo Publishing and Pathfinder – On Art

    by  • November 2, 2012 • Design & Art, People & Events • 17 Comments

    I recently had the opportunity to speak with creators of the Pathfinder RPG at Paizo Publishing, James Jacobs (Creative Director) and F. Wesley Schneider (Editor-in-Chief). The subjects at hand were: the inclusion of the “forced-sex” origins of Half-Orcs in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook (discussed here), and some of the art in the Pathfinder Advanced Race Guide.

    This is the second installment of the discussions and will focus on the art in the Advanced Race Guide. Some of the e-mails will be trimmed down for length. The end of the post will have some comments from me on the good and bad from the discussion.

    As I said in the first post:

    In the e-mails, Jacobs and Schneider also discuss a lot of other things about the Pathfinder setting – feel free to comment on these, because picking apart the good and bad of the game is important. I’m hoping that these posts will open up even more discussion of what we expect from Paizo, what they are doing right, and what they need to do better – not just with these things, but with everything.

    As a small disclaimer, I am a Pathfinder system fan and play regularly. Due to my objections to the Half-Orc background and some of the other material, I have rarely played in the standard Pathfinder setting. I have a positive leaning towards the Pathfinder creators because of their efforts to improve the content from what Dungeons & Dragons had, but in spite of this, I still don’t think they are perfect, so I hope that’s clear.

    Check out the conversation below the cut!

    All emphasis is mine.

    Sylph from Advanced Race Guide - the image in question.

    Sylph from Advanced Race Guide – the image in question.

    Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Schneider,

    I also would like to comment on some of the recent art in the Advanced Races book. I actually liked a lot of the art in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and Players Companions. There was realistic armor for most of the females represented, and that was really great. However, in the Advanced Races book, there were a few pieces in particular that I was bothered by (for overly “sexy” portrayals or unrealistic armor), the biggest offender being the female Sylph*. Sylphs in general are really cool, but the artwork had odd proportions and also seemed to have the character’s torso turned completely around (both her chest and backside were facing the same direction). It was a very strange, and pretty off-kilter from the art I am used to seeing in Pathfinder. I just wanted to pass along comments that maybe in the future, this kind of thing could be looked out for, to provide the most realistic and empowering character representations (for both men and women).


    -Brie Sheldon

    (from James Jacobs)


    And second, regarding artwork, we actually DO try to ensure that women depicted in our art are not always over-sexualized. Now and then, portraying female characters in sexy, revealing outfits is appropriate (same with men), but all the time does indeed get tiresome. In fact, we’ve sent back MANY covers and illustrations for female characters to our artists with directions like “Give her more clothes” or “get rid of her cleavage.” This is probably the number one reason we send art back for revision before publication, in fact. Some (and at times it feels like MOST) artists just prefer painting women in sexy outfits or poses. For the sylph in particular… well, these creatures have a long history in the game of being portrayed as beautiful women with little to no clothing, so this is certainly a race that would be justified in having less clothing than, say, a changeling or a dwarf or an aasimar. As for her “strange proportions,” that’s something that not all artists were born equal to illustrate. We commission a HUGE amount of artwork each year for our products, and now and then you’ll get artwork that isn’t as “accurate” or as fun to look at as other art. We DO try to make sure that what we publish is up to our standards, but whether or not that means it’s up to everyone’s standards is hardly a guarantee.

    Anyway, again, thanks for the feedback. Both of these topics are ones that we know about and present knowing the possible conflicts that they can create, which is why we pick and choose when to pull those triggers for the good of the story rather than “spamming” them. Sometimes mature content is appropriate, sometimes not. We don’t want to sanitize Pathfinder, but nor do we want to make it feel totally exploitative. Walking that line between the two extremes does mean we’ll sometimes stray too far in one direction (sanitization or exploitation) for some folks, but in the long run, we try to keep it balanced. Feedback from customers is one of the most important tools we have to ensure that balance remains.


    James Jacobs

    Creative Director

    Paizo Publishing, LLC

    (From F. Wesley Schneider)


    The sylph topic is much easier to address, as it’s a logistical concern. Sometimes timing, resources, and price conspire to put book makers in the unenviable positions of making the choice between a piece of art that’s not so great or no piece of art at all. While we always strive for A grade art, sometimes a B (or sadly even a C) is better than a person-sized blank spot on a page. I think our track record shows that we strive to avoid the chain mail bikinis of many fantasy experiences–we’re more likely to tell an artist to add clothes then ever subtract them (artists are notorious perverts you know :P)–but every now and then a piece falls to an extreme side of the road we try to walk with our art. I’m sorry that particular illo didn’t do it for you, but rest assured that our vigilance on this matter remains a firm commitment, and know that we’re doing all we can to make sure that Ultimate Equipment and the NPC Codex after it has scads of even more awesome art.



    F. Wesley Schneider
    Paizo Publishing

    As far as the art, knowing how much you have to pull from and that there is a lot of difficulty in finding the perfect piece makes a lot of sense. I would personally hope that in future books, like you have with many other stereotypes, that there could be images of sylphs or other typically-sexualized races that differ from the norm, but I know it could be hard to find. With the recent surge of internet groups trying to encourage artists to draw for realism instead of for T&A, I hope that you’ll receive more submissions of that type.

    -Brie Sheldon


    So, all in all, a pretty great response from the creators. As I said, I really was happy that the guys got back to me. My response to them was a little more brief than I would have preferred, as I didn’t want to take up too much of their time and didn’t have a lot of time myself when I responded. A failing on my part. Rest assured, though, my commentary is below! (I have also included from G+ some of the discussion I had recently on this very topic.)


    well, these creatures have a long history in the game of being portrayed as beautiful women with little to no clothing, so this is certainly a race that would be justified in having less clothing than, say, a changeling or a dwarf or an aasimar.

    I get Jacobs’ point here, I really do. I’ve read about sylphs in mythology for ages. I’ve read about them in RPG books. I understand how people typically perceive them. However, I still think the excuse of “it has always been done that way” is kind of a bummer. As far as clothing goes – I’d rather not stereotype by race, at most would do by class, and it would be refreshing to see the sylph represented in a stronger way – as they’re supposed to be air elementals, there’s no reason they couldn’t be portrayed in an androgynous form, or even as a male figure – that’s the cool thing about magical creatures. You can do whatever you really want to do with them.

    As for her “strange proportions,” that’s something that not all artists were born equal to illustrate.

    I guess I have the same thoughts here as I do with comic books: If someone is drawing a thing that is supposed to have proper anatomy, in a style that typically uses proper anatomy, then have them do it right or not do it at all. If it’s something with more fluid anatomy, then learn ways to do it that don’t involve too-long, revolving waists or t-rex arms (although if you drew a monstrous race with vestigial t-rex arms… yes!).

     I think our track record shows that we strive to avoid the chain mail bikinis of many fantasy experiences–we’re more likely to tell an artist to add clothes then ever subtract them (artists are notorious perverts you know :P)–but every now and then a piece falls to an extreme side of the road we try to walk with our art.

    I do agree that Paizo has done a pretty good job. Below are some images that they sent back for corrections (courtesy of Wes Schneider)!

    Paizo often sends images back to authors to make them better.

    Sometimes, boob windows just aren’t necessary.

    I think in this post, it’s more a plea from me to artists. I do put a LOT of responsibility on the creators like Jacobs and Schneider – if I didn’t I wouldn’t have e-mailed them. However, the content of books comes in part from the artists who contribute – or don’t contribute.

    Now comes the final piece from a discussion I had on sexist art in RPG books, which turns some responsibility onto the readers and consumers, as well – some things were edited for clarity:

    They say they need to fill the space in the book and they accept what is sent in after a few times through a filter (basically, they filter it and filter it, but sometimes there’s still chaff left over, because ya gotta fill them pages). My thoughts are, go beyond what people send in. There are plenty of artists who do great work who just haven’t submitted to Paizo either because they don’t think they can, or because no one has told them they should. It is not that hard to have a person to spend a little time online searching for artists who might be willing to sell a piece for them. I’m sorry if that seems unreasonable to expect of a business, but damn it, quality is important and no one should ever settle for “filling pages”.
    The big thing about the sales numbers model (artists make, companies sell because people buy) is looking at it in a vacuum. People buy them, but they probably don’t like everything in them. Paizo does accept criticism well, and I do think it shows in most of their books that they consider more than just what people spend money on – or, well, let me put that a different way: they consider more than what the stereotypical majority/expected consumer will spend money on. However, sometimes people buy books with shitty or sexist art because of the rules but still don’t like the art – and the problem is you cannot evaluate why people buy something without asking. Many people buy books or movies that have sexist content, but not because they want the sexist content – because they want everything else in it.

    I bought the Advanced Races book because I liked the rules inside, and then I e-mailed Paizo to tell them what I didn’t like. It’s also a matter of what is available: If there is no RPG book without sexist art, then our options are to make our own, not buy RPG books, or demand something better of retailers and highlight what is wrong with it – or do all of the above, or a selection of them. Shrinking it down to that simple sentence of “artists make, companies sell” takes out the responsibility of companies to know their audiences (their REAL audiences, not the stereotypes of them), and enforces the idea that all people who buy things like everything about that thing – and that’s just not true.

    I guess what it comes down to, for me, is being aware of what art you look at (and the reasons why you look at it), what art you make (and your motivations for the art), and what art you promote (and if you’re promoting it honestly),  and then taking the time to recognize when you settle for something less in one area but more in another – like in my case with the Advanced Races book that I didn’t like some of the art but did like the rules – and then tell the creator why you did it, and then creators should be responsible for first, feeding that back to their pool of artists, and second, considering who is talking to them to reevaluate their audience. It’s hard work! I think it’s worth it, though.

    Is this something that’s achievable? I think so. From a personal perspective, I think that the 3e Shadowrun art is beautiful and representative and some of it is sexy and a lot of it is really hardcore, but I can’t remember running into much that made me cringe because of the porntasticity. The Pathfinder CRB doesn’t give me cringes. I think it’s totally possible, and I think it pays off in the end.


    Thanks for reading! Please comment below if you have something you’d like to share.


    Note: I am not demanding anything of any gaming company or any artist. Artists and creators have every right to draw or sell whatever they want, and I respect that. What I am saying is that they should be aware of what they are creating, and how potential consumers will respond. I’m asking for cognizance and explaining what I want and expect from gaming companies, and what I would like to see from artists and consumers.



    I'm a 25 year old admin assistant from around Pittsburgh, PA. I am married, work and attend college concurrently, and have been tabletop gaming for about 8 years. I blog (very, very periodically), and write unpublished short stories. I play tabletop RPGs, board games, and both casual and RPG video games. I live for the social part of gaming, but do enjoy a good explosion, and am learning the ropes of creating worlds in which people can play.


    17 Responses to Paizo Publishing and Pathfinder – On Art

    1. avatar
      November 2, 2012 at 16:56

      I think my biggest take-away from this article is that we should be vocal consumers. Consume when the balance of the product is good (good rules, mostly good art), but still tell the creators what we did and didn’t like!

      If the creators don’t know what we don’t like, they’ll keep putting it out. If they know what we do like, they’ll create more of it because they want our money. The more the creators can maximize our enjoyment of a product, the more likely we are to continue spending our money on them. Simple economics, but it breaks down if we don’t speak up about the products.

      Thumb up Thumb down +1
      • avatar
        November 2, 2012 at 17:06

        Thanks, IceBob! That is one of the primary points, so I’m glad someone picked up on it. 😀

    2. avatar
      November 2, 2012 at 17:23

      Well, first things first: The Sylph suffers from boobs-and-bott pose syndrome, which is fairly common among comic book characters (and tends to look completely ridiculous). See this link for more on this specific problem (images may or may not be SFW): http://eschergirls.tumblr.com/

      I don’t principally see a problem with a race who runs around naked – so long as it’s not purely done for eye candy purposes (Drow, I’m looking at you). So long as it’s clearly a race, or at least class feature – warriors of the goddess of sex and love might not wear very much, nor would Conan-verse barbarian women. However, at least keep the poses realistic, dear artists. This boobs and butt nonsense is just plain offputting. It’s way out in uncanny valley, at least for me. That Sylph looks like she ha sbeen twisted in the hands of some cruel chaos god. Unless she’s a disciple of Slaneesh or Tzeentch, there’s simply no excuse for this.

      I can, however, see why they might have to go with this. I’m even willing to give them credit for not wanting to commission anything twice and making dow ith what they get – slips happen and game publishing is a shoestring budget business at best. Since Pathfinder doesn’t seem to use such poses regularily (feel free to correct me, I only ever paged through the core book), it might just be a case of “either we use this or we have an ugly blank spot” matter.

      However, boob and tigh windows certainly have to go. They are especially ridiculous in mail and plate, because those are the spots you want covered up BEFORE ALL ELSE. The heart is right below the breat (usually right, sometimes left), axles and tighs both feature a very strong artery just below the skin (sublclavian or iliad, respectively) – one cut and you’re dead in a few heartbeats – and the bare midriff usually bares the kidneys, which is just as lethal as cutting a cut through carotids or other major arteries. If you do not armour yourself there, you don’t need to armour up for close combat at all. Go for mobility and wall-of-steel style two-handed fighting with light swords (Escrima is a good thing to learn in that case) and hope for the best.

      It speaks for Paizo that they try to get around this problem, which is endemic inf antasy illustration. Art direction can always improve, and there’ll never be a book where everybody likes all imanges, btu awareness and attempt have to be given credit, especially considering other publications (hello D&D).

      As Brie observed, the impractically naked to porntastically posed art seems much less common in modern military illustrations – maybe because most people can relate to and know what today’s combatants wear but have no idea of appropriate armour for a world where close combat is the norm? Though Shadowrun has always been among the more moderate games in regards of sexifying (though by no means innocent, if you parse through a 1E book). I do miss images of female trolls and orcs and dwarfs a lot, but that’s another topic, I think.

      The main problem is, I think, the standard set by western comic books, which serve as inspiration, style guide and cultural background for most artists in the gaming illustrations field. See my above linked blog for much, much more on that.

      Thumb up Thumb down 0
      • avatar
        November 2, 2012 at 18:32

        I’m quite familiar with Escher Girls. I don’t think many female comic and geek fans are unaware of it at this point, actually, but thanks for linking it.

        I have no problem with nudity if it makes sense or if it’s well done in general. I am not even totally anti-sex or anti-sexy, but in battle is not where sex should be (people can be sexy in battle, but we shouldn’t force it into that situation).

        Pathfinder and Paizo are actually really great about their art for the most part, which is why I included the fixed pictures (Wes Schneider provided them after I gave him the opportunity to see this post in advance. We’ve had such great communication!), but obviously everyone has a fail sometimes, and they can only work with what people give them. That’s why I am making a call to artists and consumers, you know?

        I love Shadowrun’s art. It was one of the things that made me want to play the game, honestly, and Shadowrun is my favorite system and setting. Lots of representation, lots of very beautiful art.

        Lots of good stuff here, Richter_DL. Thanks for your comments!

        • avatar
          November 2, 2012 at 21:26

          Okay, I wasn’t quite aware of that site’s (much deserved) recognition! Just thought, given the ‘iconic’ pose, I’d link it rather than not.

          And neither do I want to hold Paizo entirely accountable for what their contractors screw up. I’m all with you on the call to artists, and consumers to complain. Apologies if my post read differently.

          Thumb up Thumb down +1
          • avatar
            November 2, 2012 at 23:00

            No worries! Thanks again!

      • avatar
        November 3, 2012 at 01:28

        I just wanted to drop my favorite Escher Guy here, a Hellknight from one of our own covers (http://paizo.com/products/btpy8tcv). Not excited when such a pose comes up, but when it did here, I was excited that it was on a dude. 😉

        Thumb up Thumb down +2
        • avatar
          November 3, 2012 at 05:49

          Wes. that totally made my night!

    3. avatar
      Mark Garringer
      November 2, 2012 at 17:45

      The art in the ARG in general is kind of all over the board in terms of style, with the quality being generally good. I didn’t recall the sylph standing out to me one way or another, but having it pointed at directly saying ‘Look at this.’ It’s not very good compared to other works in that book. Even other works from that artist, pg 103, 127, 133. Though the ifrit on 127 has one giant hand and one normal hand. A new racial trait perhaps? The kobold on 133 stands out to me also as something ‘wrong’ with the body, the way the head is positioned to the rest of the body. Not as mind bending as the sylph mind you…though she does seem to be better dressed than her Bestiary 2 counterpart.

      It was very cool of  Wes to include some revision sketches. Particularly Reiko because it really makes no sense that there should be a window in her outfit.

      Good read, thanks!

      Thumb up Thumb down +1
      • avatar
        November 2, 2012 at 18:20

        Thanks, Mark!

        There were plenty of other pieces of art that I’ve had minor quibbles with, but this stood out to me – in part because I like Sylphs, and in part because I think it was the greatest example of what I’m talking about. All good points!

    4. avatar
      November 4, 2012 at 22:08

      It’s funny, because it stands out to me a lot more in a Pathfinder book than it does in, say, a standard D&D book…because Paizo tends to be better about the art. That said, I do really also appreciate the amount of work they’ve put into giving us some other options (and some scantily clad men to balance it all out).

      I think my biggest issue with the sylph presented above is that she’s both underdressed *and* an EscherGirl. If she were one or the other, I’m not sure it would feel quite so awkward/bad.

      Thumb up Thumb down +1
      • avatar
        November 5, 2012 at 18:23

        You know, I think it is the same for me, Rowan! The intersection of the two and the fact that Pathfinder often has good work is probably what highlighted it to me.

    5. avatar
      November 6, 2012 at 19:12

      I have to say I really have to agree with IceBob that a good takeaway is that we need to be vocal consumers.

      I count as personal friends professional game designers who work for top 5 RPG/Game/Hobby companies. They are each and every one good people that my wife and I are happy to invite into our home. (there are some that are not welcome, but I don’t really consider them friends :) ). Their experiences tell me that there are really varying levels of awareness of this issue in the industry.

      There is often a disconnect between the designer, the art director, the artists, and the management of the company on ideas of how characters are depicted in art. Despite how many imagine RPGs get made, from what I understand the majority of them are the result of a very small team working very long hours against tremendous deadlines. If *any* of these folks don’t insist on better art it is easy for stuff to slip through. Deadlines are real and the choice sometimes comes down to using the bad art Bill approved before the rest of the team saw it and not using art at all. I have watched (male) friends working at top 5 companies try to get some more clothing painted over artwork going into their games only to be told that the art was already paid for & nobody minded.

      If everyone at the company is aware of how much heat they will take if the art is too Victoria Secret, the odds that the ball will get dropped go down.

      And although Pathfinder and D&D are by far the biggest games at the moment, it is important not to let other major publishers like Fantasy Flight Games, Green Ronin Publishing or Steve Jackson games off the hook either.

      Thumb up Thumb down 0
      • avatar
        November 6, 2012 at 21:54

        Ah, Fantasy Flight … though to their credit, at least with their Warhammer Franchises, they seem to try. Occasionally at least. There’s also wtf moments like the Sisters Repentia, whose battle robes are extensively described in text, next to an image of one wearing basically anything. Nice touch to retcon that nonsense (the running into battle naked thing, since it never made much sense) but why not etcon the art too? Then again, maybe they feared nerdrage or something.

        For all their other faults, Catalyst Game Labs does a great job with their art. Best of all studios I know, trailed narrowly by Paizo. I imagine their information policies, if written letters, are much worse though. at least they are about nearly anything else.

        Thumb up Thumb down 0
        • avatar
          November 6, 2012 at 23:37

          I’ll have to check out some of the stuff you’ve mentioned. I’ve seen a little, but not a ton in detail (specifically Warhammer – not my area, honestly). Catalyst – yeah, Shadowrun is basically my favorite system of all time, not just for the game but for their wonderful presentation.

          • avatar
            November 6, 2012 at 23:52

            A good sample is the adventure they put out with the Only War beta – which is for free on their site.

            It has a great Catachan woman, and a less great Commissar woman. The art is technically great in both cases, it’s a design issue. Admittedly boob windows on female commissars have a ong tradition in 40K figures design, so maybe it was a legacy thing. It still looks out of place next to the (not very dressed either) Catachans.

            Thumb up Thumb down 0
      • avatar
        November 6, 2012 at 23:24

        Well put, Jhamin.

        I have a lot of feelings about the other game publishers’ work as well, but I may be taking a break from critiquing art in any form until the trolls go back under the bridge!

    Comments are closed.