There has been a 'growing' trend in dwarf illustration over the last 20 years or so to depict them not as the small fey creatures of mythology but as slightly shorter-than-normal humans of bizarre proportions who are as wide as they are tall.
When did this:
Iconography has great influence on human psychology; what we perceive, visually, becomes reality. The phrase 'a picture is worth a thousand words' might be better expressed as 'a picture trumps a thousand words.' The Oxford dictionary defines 'dwarf' as a person of abnormally small stature but the image of the dwarf as a hypersteroidal mutant, such as is pictured above has become indelibly stamped on the psyches of an entire generation of gamers. The dichotomous split in iconographic perception became clear to me during my last game session when I described a cavern with small tunnel in the ceiling that was only wide enough for a small-sized creature to fit through, and I mentioned that of the PCs, only the dwarf was small enough to fit into the tunnel. One of the players told me that there was no way a dwarf would be able to fit in a small sized hole because they were so broad and that a human would be better able to get through than the dwarf. What a profoundly different viewpoint from my own.
Here's how the dwarf compared to other races in the AD&D Player's Handbook circa 1978:
Compared to the dwarf of 3E, circa 2000:
Between these two editions the dwarf has gotten taller and considerably broader, and when I imagine a dwarf it is the former I picture, not the latter. There can be a real disconnect when the players are envisioning one version of the dwarf and the game master is thinking of the other.
Of course, it isn't just dwarfs that have been subjected to distortion of their anatomical proportions; this has been an artistic fad for quite some time now, and I point my finger of accusation squarely at comic book artists of the nineties, particularly guys like Todd McFarlane, who couldn't draw a properly proportioned person to save his life, but somehow spawned an entire generation of imitators that came to dominate the entire comic industry and, by consequence, the field of fantasy illustration as well.
Now we adventure through lands where women have enormous, gravity-defying bewbs that cannot be constrained by mere fabric, and men with ridiculously large pectoral muscles that couldn't possibly attach to a human skeleton, and biceps that are bigger than their heads. It's like looking at people in a fun-house mirror - everything is exaggerated to bizarre proportions.
One of the worst current offenders of iconographic naturalism is one of the iconic characters from Paizo's Pathfinder RPG.
|That's not a sword...THIS is a sword.|
The artist has obviously never handled a real sword - there's no counter-balance in the hilt and it couldn't possibly be wielded. But who needs realism when you've got crap-loads of kewl!
I guess I'm just not hip to current trends. I know that the fantasy genre deals with the impossible, but illustrations like these rip my suspension of disbelief into little itsy bitsy pieces, chews them up and spits them out in a gooey wad of masticated dreams. RPG illustrations should be evocative and reflective of the genre being emulated; they should stir the imagination not elicit gales of laughter at their utter stupidity. But that's just my opinion and I know I'm in the minority. So give me dwarfs that are midgets, swords that are balanced, and women with breasts instead of bewbs.