This week, I’m going to share with you our art guidelines for Infinite Earths and all the rest of our gaming products. These are guidelines that the three founders of Room 209 Gaming have discussed extensively, though interestingly enough they haven’t been through very much revision. As it turns out, the three founders of R209 pretty much had the same aesthetic in mind!
These guidelines are provided to all artists we hire before they create any pieces for us. We want to make sure they understand, before anything is signed, what we are interested in so that they don’t spend a lot of time working on something we won’t publish. It’s bad for them and it’s bad for us. So, without further ado, our art composition guidelines after the break:
- Minimize anime styling; no “big eyes, small mouth” or unusually long limbs. More realistic styling preferred. As you may be aware, the anime/manga influence is a very powerful one; many young artists today work in that style thanks to the popularity boom of Japanese animation and comics during the late 90s and early 2000s. We ourselves were huge fans–I remember wandering through obscure forums in the late 90s looking for Ranma 1/2 fansubs, and Sarah’s senior project to complete her Bachelor’s in Japanese was a translation of one of the more complex chapters of Fullmetal Alchemist. We enjoy well-drawn and well-scripted anime and manga; but it just isn’t, stylistically, the appropriate choice for Infinite Earths.
- Generally prefer to have very dynamic, Kirby-esque depictions of characters in action. This is a big one for us. How many times have you seen a picture of an RPG character, the defining picture for an RPG character, and he’s just. . .standing there? Probably with a glower on his face? We want our art to be more dynamic than that, characters should be doing more than just posing for a picture. They should be in action, illustrating what it is that they’re doing, and inspiring viewers to say, “Oh wow, that’s cool, I want to do that!”
- Avoid Pathfinder-style or D&D 4th Edition style art, the “Dwarf of ten thousand pockets” and hyper-angularity. Prefer more realistic proportions depicted in a fantastic world, like movie art. See Lord of the Rings, Dragonslayer, Season of the Witch, Skyrim. That’s not to say we don’t enjoy the art of Pathfinder or D&D 4th Edition: frankly, I think thePathfindercore rulebook is one of the more beautiful core rulebooks produced. This exists because we want a different feel and appearance for our products, to visually distinguish them from the giants in the room.
- Dungeons should look and feel dark and dirty, like places you don’t want to go if you’re sane.
- Royal courts should similarly be sumptuous and beautiful, with fine fabrics and no garbage, dust, etc. Again, these are a stylistic choice based on the nature of the game we’re developing. Infinite Earths is not about running headlong into dungeons, murdering the people who live there, and stealing their stuff. So dungeons and royal courts should look realistic–because the former is a place people generally don’t want to go, while the latter is a place that people often killed each other to achieve.
- Character art should say “This is who you can be!” and should appeal to players who are interested in being those characters. This may seem like a no-brainer, but too often it’s not. This goes hand-in-hand with the artwork exciting the imagination, and reinforces the idea of who the artwork is really for.
- People dress for their jobs, for functionality primarily and for style to individualize themselves. This is a very important one, because so often art can depict characters who look like they would be cool, but ultimately are unrealistic or make us a little shy about the character as a result. The example that springs immediately to mind is the Pathfinder iconic sorceress. Is it an excellent piece of art? Oh yes. Is she hot? Oh yes. Does that piece of art say anything whatsoever about what she can do? No. But she’s hot!
- On women, no unnecessary boob windows, leg-showing, etc. They should be feminine without being sexpots in the middle of battlefields.
- Fashion should survive an adventure—no spangly unitards with diaphanous flowy streamers for wading through swamps. These two points clarify the previous point; appropriate dress for the appropriate occasion. Lingerie is not appropriate for a battlefield.
- Watch out for passive poses among female characters; they should be every bit as dynamic as male characters. This is another one that can be tricky. Many times, art depicting males shows them doing something really cool and awesome, while art depicting females shows them. . .not doing much of anything at all. They’re just standing there, on display, for the hungry eyes of whoever’s viewing the book. Indeed, we’ve already had a couple situations where that popped up: it’s practically innate socialization to draw women at rest, or posed, instead of doing dynamic or cool things.
- Don’t focus on how to attract women/gays/minorities; instead think about how not to drive them away. This is actually a copy/paste from a forum somewhere; I unfortunately do not have the original source (if you find it, please let us know and we will update this!). Sarah originally brought it to my attention, and when I read it, it resonated. I know several gay people–more than I thought I knew. And I know many women and Latinos and black people and I have to say this: mentally, emotionally, they’re people not a bit different than anyone else. Everyone wants to feel valued, to feel like they have a part in a community, and to feel like they can get a chance to do cool stuff. And doing things special or differently to attract these different demographics can and will feel like pandering to them. Instead, we simply want to be careful to not make these groups–traditionally sidelined at gaming tables and in gaming products–feel slighted.
- Be careful of ethnic diversity in the art—no whitewashing! Definitely want humans to not all be “medieval English,” but instead have human characters who are recognizably South American, African, Southeast Asian, Native American, Mongolian, Indian, Northern European, Central European (the “standard”), and Southern European (and any others that might not be listed here). This goes hand-in-hand with the previous guideline. So much fantasy art is faux-King Arthur that it can become bland and boring. We’re working very hard with our artists to make things feel vibrant, alive, and different by drawing from different cultures for different pieces. Not so we can create a patchwork quilt–“this is our Italy, this is our China, this is our Transylvania”–but so the broad variety of humanity is represented.
- Pay attention to the facial expressions. Without the featured person having visible feelings, they become objects and therefore objectified. Generic scowls don’t count—different art pieces need to express different emotions, the full spectrum should be represented instead of just “I am Dark Bob and don’t I look badass.” Laughter, sadness, greed, contentment, exhaustion, determination, love, hurt, etc. This is another feature we want to see in the art for Infinite Earths, and let me tell you–it’s remarkably difficult at times! The default scowl-and-glower has become so ingrained that sometimes asking for a different facial expression becomes a chore–both for us, when we have to keep saying, “no, not that,” and taking goofy photos of ourselves with the expression we’re going for, and for the artists who have trained themselves largely on the anatomy of the frown. I was surprised at how much of a challenge this can be–but in the end, it’s been totally worthwhile.
- We prefer no “cheesecake.” If the pose would appear in porn, it won’t appear in Infinite Earths. No BDSM poses or gear. No bondage images. No use of sexuality or BDSM attire to suggest the character is evil. Bam, done. This sort of nonsense just pisses us off. Women are not pieces of meat, people who are interested in bondage are not evil or weird or disgusting. Moving on.
- Correct Stance: Avoid women standing off-balance in order to emphasize hips, butt or bust. Female characters should be depicted in logical stances with emphasis on their activity, not their body parts. Again, bam. Women still aren’t pieces of meat, and when a woman adventures it’s not so she can find a husband in a treasure chest.
- Sightlines: All characters should be focused on the threat or the object being interacted with, even if it’s not shown in the piece. Avoid having women looking at the “camera” or posing for the viewer. Wow, three completely different guidelines to say “females are depicted to be a power fantasy for women and the people who identify with the character, instead of being a sex fantasy for their oglers?” Yes, really. Flip through your typical RPG book, paying careful attention to the way female’s lips are slightly parted, their busts or back are emphasized, and the direction they are looking. Annnd. . .yeah, three different guidelines. I could probably say it a few hundred more times: women aren’t pieces of meat. On a positive note, our artists, after they have read these notations, have generally expressed support and appreciation for this idea.
- Avoid monsters as ethnic stereotypes. “All orcs are green, drow are black, etc” as this posits the idea that all humanoids of X color are present merely to be killed (see: D&D, Pathfinder, “Color Coded for Destruction.”) Non-humans, when depicted, must be clearly identifiable as unique individuals. This rule goes hand-in-hand with both “not pushing people away” and our own strong philosophy that all societies depicted in our product should be internally logically consistent, and each race should have its own broad range of skin colors or other “ethnic” features. Why should humans get to have all the fun of different ethnicities? And why does a full-blooded orc have to be in the “Monster” manual instead of being a playable race?
So as you can see, the principles we’re aiming to follow with Infinite Earths are also followed by the art we’re selecting for it. We’re currently gathering art for our first two products, the Infinite Earths core rulebook and the Talover: The Crossroads Kingdom adventure hub. With over 150 different pieces of art anticipated between the two, art is clearly going to be a major focus for us (and our biggest expense by far).
Thank you for reading!