There have been a number of articles recently about the political correctness of the artwork across the fantasy genre, and Dungeons & Dragons range of products (this one for example) in particular.
Now I’ll admit there has always been an association between the fantasy genre as a whole and the scantily clad female form, in illustrations, in text, and on film. However, with the advent of the latest iteration of D&D, 5th Edition, its makers (Wizards of the Coast) have been leaning to a more balanced view (as talked about in the aforementioned article).
I’ve been involved with D&D for over three decades, and have played and ran games in multiple editions during that time. For me the game is one of the imagination, if one person chooses to view creatures such as the Nymph or Succubus as over-sexualized creatures, fine, that’s their prerogative. There’s no denying that in myth and folklore such creatures are said to have played upon their physical beauty to entrap and seduce their prey. However in game terms many of these creatures have the ability to change their appearances, often using magical means, so could in effect appear as either male or female as they choose.
As to the classic “bikini-mail”, it’s difficult to believe that warriors of such prowess as Red Sonja would go into battle wearing armour that barely covered such vulnerable parts of the body. One of my favourite characters from the associated D&D fiction was Kitiara in the Dragonlance books. A cunning warrior woman who was still able to use her charisma and looks to manipulate men but was most often seen wearing the concealing and protective armour of a Dragon Highlord – no bikini-mail in sight.
I think the earlier editions artwork reflected the general pattern of the genre at that time as the majority of the players were male and the games often followed the classic trope of saving the damsel in distress. The guys at Wizards have “moved with times” and present the artwork in their current books in a more balanced and modern approach which is meant to appeal to a wider audience.
Is this a good thing? Yes, most definitely. A wider audience means more people playing the games and sharing in the joy that is the shared experience of a role play game. Does the artwork influence me when buying the products? Not really as I’m more interested in the rules/adventure content.
Thankfully there is a lot more balance male-female in the gaming community (in my area at least) and if the change in art style has contributed to this then great, though I would prefer to think it’s the quality of the gaming on offer that keeps them coming back to the table.
Now if we shift the focus away from the artwork to the actual game content, that’s a different thing entirely. I regularly DM games for my friends both privately and in public/organised play environments.
The public/organised play has its own requirements with regards political correctness and appropriate content. That’s not to say it doesn’t occasionally include the odd remark or double entendre, but both myself as DM and the players all understand that we are in a public place and should behave accordingly as what might be acceptable to us may be viewed as unacceptable to others.
Whereas in a private game, you work with the attitudes of the group. That’s you and your group’s choice. My players and I share a similar sense of quite dark humour and many of our game sessions involve comments and things that would probably not be viewed as politically correct – but that’s our choice. It’s not something we have to or don’t have to include because the game says so, and at the end of the day that’s how it should be.