[Let's Read] The 4e Player's Handbook!

Terhali

Weird and pissed off
Validated User
It’s been almost two years since the publication of the three original core books for 4e. I thought it would be fun to read through the Player’s Handbook, reflecting on my impressions when it first came out, what experience has taught me, and how the game has changed with the release of new rules and significant updates and errata. We’ll see how far I get. Let’s begin with:

The Front Cover. Here we have an illustration of a human wizard and a dragonborn melee combatant (presumably either a fighter or a paladin), both striking heroic poses. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t care for Wayne Reynolds’ cover art. Nor, indeed, for much of 4e’s art, which is overburdened with randomly-selected pieces of armor, oversized shoulderpads, jagged weapons, and Dramatic Action Poses. Nevertheless, this picture is, in my opinion, easily the worst of the lot, and I think it is a shame that it ended up on the cover of the book that would, inevitably, serve as the poster child for the entire line. (I would much have preferred, for instance, the illustration on the front of the character-sheet package, which depicts a group of adventurers actually engaged in combat. The scene calls to my mind the many past D&D cover illustrations showing something Actually Happening. As a bonus, it would have reflected the important fact that combat rules were contained within.)

The human has been endlessly discussed in all those corners of the internet where gaming culture intersects with feminist theory and dabbling. While I don’t wish to restart any of those debates, I don’t feel that it’s right to do a “Let’s Read” thread without sharing my thoughts on the very first thing I noticed when I picked up the book, namely that idiotic woman. To me, her pose is unnatural and forced (I’ve tried to duplicate it) and probably intended to highlight her breasts and her rump as sexual characteristics. Her outfit is no better. For months I fretted that the poor thing would pop out of her top in the middle of battle. I’ve since come to realize that there’s no danger she’ll ever be in combat, because she’s so busy using Mage Hands to hold her top in place that she’ll never have enough concentration left to cast an attack spell. I’ve seen fantasy illustrations of women showing more skin than her, that managed to make them look competent and yet gorgeous or even hawt at the same time. There is no excuse for this.

The dragonborn is no better. His spiky layered armor blends into his scales in a way I find slightly off-putting. His dead-on gaze (straight at the viewer) makes his head look more serpentine than draconic, but not in a good way. If all dragonborn looked like this, I probably wouldn’t want to play one. I wish I could explain my reaction better. All I can say is that I find the total effect to be a jumbled mass of spiky bits, not a character I would find inspiring. The coloration’s ugly, too. To make matters worse, he’s adopted a Dramatic Action Pose: sword held back, ready to swing (don’t 4e sword wielders ever get to use their powers on their enemies?) and it’s an oversized, jagged, irregular sword, to boot. A well-made sword is an object of beauty. It is simple and has an obvious purpose. I don’t want a sword that screams, “Look at me! I am all cool and stuff!” I want it to say, quietly, “I am here to kill you.” Alas, 4e art does not cater to me.

The positive side: for the first time of which I am aware, we have adventurers of both sexes appearing in equal numbers on the cover of a major D&D publication. We also have blatantly non-human adventurers figuring prominently on the cover, again for the first time on a core rulebook. This trend has happily continued in the books and on the covers of the Player’s Handbooks 2 and 3, both featuring a female and a male character of races (and classes) introduced in the books. Looking through the pages of my AD&D books, I have found myself thinking, “What these books need is more boobs.” Because that would mean more illustrations of women supporting the boobs. I also heartily approve of the shift away from humanocentrism signified by the humanoid adventurers proliferating in 4e’s artwork. As far as D&D goes, if I never play a human PC again or see one in an adventure I run, I won’t be upset.

I suppose, despite my intense dislike of the cover, it represents a net gain. *sigh* I promise to complain about the art less in the future. But really, you only get to make a first impression once.

Next time: the copyright notice.

shortforbob
 

Mr. Teapot

Registered User
Validated User
The Front Cover. Here we have an illustration of a human wizard and a dragonborn melee combatant (presumably either a fighter or a paladin), both striking heroic poses. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t care for Wayne Reynolds’ cover art. Nor, indeed, for much of 4e’s art, which is overburdened with randomly-selected pieces of armor, oversized shoulderpads, jagged weapons, and Dramatic Action Poses. Nevertheless, this picture is, in my opinion, easily the worst of the lot, and I think it is a shame that it ended up on the cover of the book that would, inevitably, serve as the poster child for the entire line.
Blame the Germans. The original cover art featured a Tiefling (it wound up the cover for Dungeon Delve, I believe), which German distributors were unwilling to touch because it looked too demonic. So they changed the cover relatively late in the development.

Not that you would have liked that art any more, as it shares many of the same features that you complain about.


This trend has happily continued in the books and on the covers of the Player’s Handbooks 2 and 3, both featuring a female and a male character of races (and classes) introduced in the books.
Because they use the same exact layout every time. Big strong inhuman looking armored guy holding melee weapon in two hands, with off balance woman with little or no armor falling over on the right. Can't we see some women of the inhuman races, or women of the fighter-y big weapon classes? (Okay, they exist inside the books. I'm just complaining about the covers here.)
 
Last edited:

Hellzon

Barbarian Illuminati
Validated User
I'm not sure if there are any pictures in the whole 4E line where a dragonborn is shown facing the viewer and doesn't look weird. It's probably the snout (disappears) and the sideways-pointing eyes.

Also, missed the elf and dwarf in the background? Easy to do. ;)
 

Nokura

May the 4th be with you!
While I don’t wish to restart any of those debates, I don’t feel that it’s right to do a “Let’s Read” thread without sharing my thoughts on the very first thing I noticed when I picked up the book, namely that idiotic woman. To me, her pose is unnatural and forced (I’ve tried to duplicate it) and probably intended to highlight her breasts and her rump as sexual characteristics. Her outfit is no better.
You must have missed all the popular comics in the 90s then :) This art style is fairly prevalent in a lot of modern products - look at some of the the art in Exalted and the anime/manga that inspires it (and the video games and comics etc). I think the choice of cover artist was a deliberate attempt to appeal to the people who haven't played D&D and have money to spend.
Because they use the same exact layout every time. Big strong inhuman looking armored guy holding melee weapon in two hands, with off balance woman with little or no armor falling over on the right. Can't we see some women of the inhuman races, or women of the fighter-y big weapon classes? (Okay, they exist inside the books. I'm just complaining about the covers here.)
Hmm PHB 2 certainly has two characters who look equally inhuman in my opinion - there are distinct feline features on the female shifter shaman. PHB 3 contains two pretty inhuman races - sure the basic gross anatomy of a githzerai and a human is the same, but the facial features are out and out weird. I think that not seeing elf/human/dwarf on the cover all the time is a nice change.

And thanks to the OP for starting this thread - I find them really enjoyable to read but unfortunately don't have the spare time to start one myself.
 

Terhali

Weird and pissed off
Validated User
Blame the Germans. The original cover art featured a Tiefling (it wound up the cover for Dungeon Delve, I believe), which German distributors were unwilling to touch because it looked too demonic. So they changed the cover relatively late in the development.

Not that you would have liked that art any more, as it shares many of the same features that you complain about.
No, I know that cover, and I would have liked it better. This is literally my least favorite bit of D&D art ever.

Because they use the same exact layout every time. Big strong inhuman looking armored guy holding melee weapon in two hands, with off balance woman with little or no armor falling over on the right. Can't we see some women of the inhuman races, or women of the fighter-y big weapon classes? (Okay, they exist inside the books. I'm just complaining about the covers here.)
The shifter and the githzerai are inhumanly thin. Doesn't that count? (Yeah, I agree there's a problem and that the covers are kinda stereotyped. But I've spent enough time going through old books lately that I've become painfully aware of the dearth of female figures at all.)

I'm not sure if there are any pictures in the whole 4E line where a dragonborn is shown facing the viewer and doesn't look weird. It's probably the snout (disappears) and the sideways-pointing eyes.

Also, missed the elf and dwarf in the background? Easy to do. ;)
The what huh now? *goes to look* I'll be damned. Thank you for drawing them to my attention. The glossiness of the central figures completely distracted me. (Thanks for reminding me--yet another feature of the covers to complain about!)

shortforbob
 

Terhali

Weird and pissed off
Validated User
You must have missed all the popular comics in the 90s then :) This art style is fairly prevalent in a lot of modern products - look at some of the the art in Exalted and the anime/manga that inspires it (and the video games and comics etc). I think the choice of cover artist was a deliberate attempt to appeal to the people who haven't played D&D and have money to spend.
Heh. As it happens, I was married to a comic book collector in the 1990s, and I mostly stopped watching anime in the late '90s after oh, some 20-odd years of watching as much of the stuff as I could find. I've been exposed to plenty of it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it in my D&D. Maybe it's because the 4e material has less of a flattened look to it, but it's not clicking for me. Some of it I like better, and I'll be sure to mention that too.

And thanks to the OP for starting this thread - I find them really enjoyable to read but unfortunately don't have the spare time to start one myself.
My pleasure!

shortforbob
 
Top Bottom