Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dungeons and Slave Girls

If you've ever been a player in one of my games then at some point you will almost certainly have encountered, and presumably rescued, a naked chick tied to an altar.  If you've been playing with me for a while then you've probably experienced this more than once.  It's a common theme in many of my adventures and given my predilection for dark sword & sorcery, there is going to be an element of pseudo-sexual imagery associated since sex and horror always seem to go hand-in-hand.  So when you reach the climactic set-piece of one of my adventures you will likely find a power mad wizard about to sacrifice a naked chick to summon a demon:

or a bunch of crazy cultists about to sacrifice a naked chick to summon a cosmic horror:

The Abyss and the Outer Dark probably don't have a lot women, so it probably increases the chance of a successful summoning if you offer the demons a bit of cheesecake.

There is something about the imagery of a helpless woman about to be sacrificed to the powers of darkness that evokes a visceral response in people - beyond the obvious adolescent titillation - and to me, it strikes to the heart of what fantasy role playing is all about in a single, powerful image.  It's almost as important as killing monsters and stealing their stuff and maybe more so, since it clearly delineates gaming then and now.

Back in the early days of D&D, when the game was more closely linked to the sword & sorcery genre, you couldn't lob a longsword without hitting a naked woman.  They were frequently depicted in game manuals and were a commonplace sculpt for early miniatures.  In subsequent years gaming has become more 'family-oriented' and the imagery of D&D has been cleaned up and steered away from its S&S roots and into the realm of Heroic Fantasy Suitable For All Ages.

I bought my very first miniatures on a Saturday morning in February of 1980 when  I picked up a package of big-nosed goblins with floppy hats to use in my first-ever game of D&D - I was running Keep on the Borderlands later that afternoon.  The package, strangely enough, included a naked female with her hands shackled above her head.  I rushed home and slapped a coat of Testors enamel paint all over the miniatures, then proceeded to make my premiere foray into the world of gaming, and my first stint as DM featured the Caves of Chaos with a naked captive to rescue.  This, perhaps, set the stage for all future game sessions to come.

It was hard not to buy miniatures of naked women in those days - they were really common.  The fact that I couldn't even buy a pack of goblins without the obligatory naked chick speaks volumes about how the game was played back then.  Another example, of course, is the cover of D&D Supplement 3: Eldritch Wizardry.

It's hard to imagine TSR using an image like that by the mid-80's.  Compare the cover illustration of 1976's Eldritch Wizardry to this image from the 1981 module B3 Palace of the Silver Princess:

According to Gary Gygax, TSR executives (whom he referred to, I believe, as 'twits') wigged out when they saw this picture and removed it from subsequent printings - the 'twits' even went so far as to search the desks of TSR employees to confiscate any existing copies.

Ironically, as nudity was excised from role playing games it became a lot more prevalent in mainstream media.  Back in the early '80's I could buy miniatures of naked women and game books like Eldritch Wizardry, but I couldn't go to see Conan the Barbarian, which was X-rated.  Nowadays, while it is deemed inappropriate to depict nudity in game products, kids can see shows on prime-time T.V. that are far racier than anything in the Conan movie.  When I was a kid I used to have to stay up until 2:00 a.m. watching the CBC French channel to catch a fleeting glimpse of breast - kids today can see much more than that well before bed time.  I don't know what, if anything, this means, but the dichotomy is interesting, as is the change in the genre tropes of fantasy role playing.

Gaming may have diverged from its Sword & Sorcery roots long ago, but in the den of iniquity that is my basement, it is still 1974: wizards are sinister, cultists are crazy, and women are naked.  And unsurprisingly, that's the way my players like it.  The imagery is as powerful today as it was thirty-five years ago.


Shane Mangus said...

You are a sick, sick man!

Hi-res pics of your handy work with the paintbrush is just appalling! It is obvious that you gleefully spent hours upon hours adding more and more detail to that slave girl mini.

Right, enough of that... Once again another post that mirrors my own opinions on the subject. Nice paint job BTW.

Sean Robson said...

Thanks, Shane! I just finished the cultists last week - the hog-tied slave girl I've had since the early '80's (you'd be hard-pressed to find one like that today :P). I hope you noticed the Elder Sign on the sorcerer's scroll?

And, yes, I am a bad man.

Shane Mangus said...

The Elder Sign is a great little easter egg. You did a fantastic job with the little details.