Sunday, May 3, 2009

RPG: Fantasy Art, Ecchi Gaming, and Pathfinder


Sometimes I really think my RPGs at 34 are more juvenile than they were at 17. I wish there was some defense, like it was key to the story or that the sex and gore jokes served to lighten the dark mood, but no. Really, we just think it's funny. My group is a pair of couples, one married one engaged, so it's not as creepy at 5 guys sitting around talking porn. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

When we started this campaign we designed the characters to be like anime. The three sisters were all born on the same day, each to a different mother, same father. Weird. Each sister filled an anime stereotype. Ramona is slender, red hair, dressed well, very quiet, studious and secretly a bad ass. She even wears glasses when not adventuring. Isabelle is tall, muscular, buxom, dark hair and skin, with just enough scars to indicate she is a tough bitch but still be hot. Desdemona is extremely short, violet eyes and were it actually anime purple hair. Extremely busty to the point of improbability with a short temper and imperious attitude. Anyone who has watched any amount of anime series has seen these characters in some way. Most of the campaign has been these three characters sniping at one another, coming to each others defense when someone else gets involved, or cracking jokes at everyone else in their vicinity. The two priest characters with them aren't that anime actually, but that's because anime male characters tend to be either annoying because they are just so over the top competent or they are little weasels like Shinji.

Of course, while our intention was to use anime style for comedic effect, sword and sorcery fiction has always had a touch of sexualization in it's art and it's content. My introduction to fantasy was not JRR Tolkien, it was Conan. My uncle collected Conan novels and comic books, and had in his house fantasy sculptures, swords, and other collectible items that first intrigued me and eventually fostered a love of the genre that has remained with me all this time. I never knew that uncle well, he was not fond of children, he was short tempered, he was really set in his ways and died in an offshore accident when I was 13. We are a lot a like despite never having known him well, our tastes and personalities are very much the same. Those books he had probably got my attention because of the nearly naked women, I'll admit. Yet the female characters of the Conan stories were hardly meek damsels in distress. They were cunning, intelligent, savage, capable and in many cases equal if not better than the men, even Conan. This was especially true in the L. Sprague deCamp stories, but his were my real introduction to the genre. It was not until later that I read Robert E. Howard.

Fantasy, in my mind is not just about magic, dragons, and adventure. Sword and Sorcery fantasy, or perhaps Sword and Sandal fantasy is as much about physical idealism, romance born not out of chivalry but struggle and desire. Romance in one form or another plays a part in most forms of fantasy from Arthurian tales, to Micheal Moorcocks doomed anti-heroes, to the fantasy anime of today. Middle Earth aside, very little fantasy is written with protagonists that are average Joes. While the Hobbits certainly represented every man, the common simple strength that good men posess, most fantasy protagonists are larger than life. They are strong of mind and body, they are beautiful, potent, towering in their rage and expansive in their generosity, they are like unto the heroes and gods of our forbearing cultures.

Anime styled art, while not to everyone's taste takes the idea of physical idealism and institutionalizes it into a stylistic form immediately recognizable. Games like Lineage and even Warhammer Online are heavily influenced by the nuevo baroque styles of games like Final Fantasy, itself drawing on the big eyed small mouth, insane proportions of traditional anime. I'm fascinated by the level of detail used in the costuming and character design in these games. While certainly the prurient details of the female form are the focus I love the attention to detail in the clothing and weapons. Most importantly, it differs so much from the historic that while likely impractical and improbably make an entertaining divergement from the familiar armor of the middle ages.

From the first session the ecchi jokes and fan service began, never mind that the only audience was ourselves. Fights invariably ended with armor or clothing being shredded. If there was any conceivable way that gore might fly, it landed in Desdemona's cleavage. Half the fun for the group has been new and inventive ways to slaughter the enemy in such a spectacular fashion that Desdemona needs to be cleansed. Poor little wizard now memorizes spells just to keep herself presentable. The jokes weren't limited to her. Little mousy Ramona apparently draws in anyone with a title, who fall madly in love with her despite any complications of race or station. Isabelle with her monk husband spend most of their time at home in their rooms, playing Joe Cocker singing you can leave your hat on, and her belt of giant strength too apparently.

Even the bad guys come out of a bad anime series. You have pontificating giants covered in runes. You have tentacled horrors from beyong time and space (no hentai, thanks). The lamia are all half animal bondage queens with animal familiars bad attitudes and spells. Ogrekin and Mamma Graul were definite lowpoints in the campaign in terms of ewwww factor. The amount of detail I used with Mamma Graul might have been too much, even for my jaded crew.


The campaign has been like Sorcerer Hunters, or Dragon Knight or any of those other ADV fantasy ecchi series from the 90s. It alternates from silly, to completely juvenile, to actually serious. Most of the characters have experienced real development and growth. Oddly, most everyone is read to move on. I kind of expected that the campaign would be hard to close out, but I think once this is over with and they've defeated Karzoug they will happy to see these characters and their plot lines as background in the wider world. In some ways, what is to comes is better as narrative than interactive play. This campaign really delved into the camp and the fun parts of fantasy literature and gaming. I expect the next Pathfinder campaign will feel more gritty, more like A Game of Thrones than Terry Pratchet by way of Lin Carter.


Dungeons and Dragons, even when called Pathfinder, is really about the exploration and adventuring not ruling and administrating. It's not about raising a family and building a college and monastery. It can be done, but it should be part of the game rather than it's focus. Some things are better left off screen, which is a little ironic considering some of the things that have been said at our game tables. I think we will come back to these characters in some way, perhaps after the next long term campaign.

Paizo's Golarion has interested me in ways no other published setting has, perhaps because in a lot of ways it is what I tried to do for so long with my own. Where I was trying my best to play a game in my neverfinished novel, they merely set out to make a game world. They succeeded in doing everything I wanted out of a game without the baggage of trying to make it fit a vision of a novel. Many of their sensibilities are the same as my own, as are our influences, Clark Ashton Smith, RE Howard, HP Lovecraft, japanese animation, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (don't mock- for most people it was the first sci-fi and fantasy blend they saw), Stargate, and the collected whole of science fiction, space opera, fantasy and horror of the last century. Even their art style, largely that ofWayne Anthony Reynolds has a great deal of influence from anime, and has intentionally strayed from the traditional designs of history insteady choosing to remain internally consistent rather than excessively strange nor too closely cloven to our European ancestors. Besides, a little skin never hurt anyone.


For an explanation of ecchi I included two videos. The first is what ecchi used to be like, a kind of cute, more or less chaste excuse to draw skimpy clothes on anime chicks and put them in positions where nudity may occur. Fan service is when an anime will gratuitously insert either nudity like a shower scene or close ups of the anatomy for no other purpose than titillation.

For a more extreme version of ecchi, which I have not seen but understand is really just softcore hentai you have Queen's Blade. Aside from the pink bunny girl (which apparently is a slime creature masquerading as a woman) the art style here is really a bit like my players have always described, including the wildly impractical armor.

1 comment:

  1. My character like Chandler is very much a filler character and not the real focus. The three girls really rule the space and I get to me the glue. It has been a very fun ride and these characters have changed our version of Golarion and made it our own.

    I agree that the next Adventure path will be more gritty and serious. But then again a city type of adventure is vicious and deadly.

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