“I Want to Play Her”

Basically, this is a collection of pieces of art, primarily gaming art, that makes me say “I want to play her”. I started looking for these and thinking about this recently as the result of an article and question I read on Yudhishthira’s Dice. Everything is explained in this post (and there is a link to a meme hub with a lot of posts from other people on the same topic, so you can see what other women had to say on the subject). If you’ve never read it before, I’d suggest you go check out the original article, since it’s interesting and fairly short.

Without further ado, onto the art! Image thumbnails link to larger versions.
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Sharn Air ShipIn Sharn: City of Towers there is a double-page spread right after the title page of a big battle in the air around a flying ship thing. On the left-hand page standing on the ship is a woman. She has on a green leather breast-piece and numerous small pouches hang from her hips. She holds both a sword and a crossbow (and a quiver of bolts can be seen on one hip). Her hair is in a sensible short ponytail with braiding around her forehead to keep stray hairs from getting into her face. She looks totally awesome. I would totally love to play her! She appears competent, strong and prepared, just like a good adventurer should be, but she has character. The green is interesting, there is a flamboyant red sash at her waist, she almost has a swashbuckler air to her, although she certainly doesn’t look like a pirate. It’s great.

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Polgara the SorceressIn thinking more about images that inspired me, I remembered the cover of Polgara the Sorceress by David and Leigh Eddings. The art is by Keith Parkinson. It’s not exactly gaming art, but he’s a gaming artist much of the time, so I’m going to count it anyway. Polgara isn’t actually doing anything in this image, she’s just standing there with the owl on her arm and staring out at the viewer, but for some reason that doesn’t bother me (usually images that inspire me to play a character are actively doing something). She just radiates competence and power, which up to that point wasn’t really something I necessarily associated with mages (chalk that up to the people I played with). She doesn’t look angry or anything, but you still get the sense that this is not a woman to mess with. I looked at her and knew I wanted to play a wizard like that. I’ve played a number of spellcasters since then, all with that aim in mind (to greater and lesser degrees of success). That look of power has inspired me a lot. I’ve even tried a spellcaster that didn’t have the firepower the back up that look, but affected the bearing and mannerisms as if she did. It’s a great piece of art and certainly made me say “I want to play her!”

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Dragon 342 SorceressAfter finding these two, I decided that two wasn’t enough, so I went looking for one more. What I found was actually another spellcaster (which wasn’t what I expected, but the pickings were kind of slim, in my opinion). The piece I found was by Tomas Giorello and on page 63 of issue 342 of Dragon magazine. It’s of a woman spellcaster standing proud and tall on top of water with her bright red cloak billowing behind her, arm upraised with an artifact casting a spell. In her other hand is a golden staff and her eyes are fixed intently on something straight ahead of her out of the picture, over the viewer’s left shoulder. Her robes are practical and not billowy and she has what appears to be some type of light armor as well, partially over her robes and partially peeking out under the sleeves. It’s a remarkably practical version of the very impractical wizard garb we always see. At about the level of her hips and knees are the heads of her male, armored companions (two of them), both hip-deep in water. They are looking brave and everything, but they are clearly clustered around her (perhaps she’s casting haste or something where they all need to be close). In the foreground are the backs of two creatures (kuo-toa, maybe?) with spears. The effect is that the woman appears clearly in command of the situation and radiates power. Again, I’d love to be playing that woman, even if usually she isn’t the one in the center, directing the show. It’s a great piece of art with a great woman character and no cleavage!

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Dragon 354 PaladinI was looking through the current Dragon Magazine, number 354 (April 2007), and came across this image of a paladin in an article about Heironeous. The art is by Andrew Hou and I absolutely love it. The woman in the image is great. She’s surrounded by green-skinned goblin creatures and off to the left, in a part of the picture I unfortunately couldn’t get because it crossed the fold of the magazine, are the knights she is traveling with, holding back (probably until she’s done with her spell). The woman is great. She’s astride a powerful horse, dressed in surprisingly useful armor (notice the flatness of the chest piece and how her hips are covered with chain or scale mail rather than plates – easier for riding in). Her face is small in the picture, but there is still a distinct sense of sternness, which is quite in line with a paladin of Heironeous. She also has that awesome hammer raised easily over her head with one hand (showing she’s strong), crackling with lightning (showing she’s powerful). What else could you want in a paladin character? I’m not big on playing paladins, but if I was going to play one, this is exactly the type of image I would want to convey!

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Dragon 150I have been browsing through The Art of Dragon during my breaks at work and came across this cover. It’s from Dragon 150 (October 1989) and was drawn by Larry Elmore. A looked at this piece a long time before I figured out why I liked it so much. It’s the sky. The sorceress has almost a shamanic look to her because of the fruit-like bobs in her hair and the Native-American-inspired beaded bag at her hip. Even her wand is less what you would expect of a wizard and more what you would expect of a magic-focused druid. All of this makes her unusual in D&D art. But I think it was the look on her face that drew me to her. She looks almost angry, like someone just really pissed her off and she’s getting back at them but they don’t know it. Like she’s holding a grudge. So I wondered, what did she do to this unsuspecting evil person that originally pissed her off? And then I noticed the sky. It’s not as clear in this scan, but in the really nice version in The Art of Dragon, with the title of the magazine removed and everything, you can see the sky really clearly. There are gray clouds rolling in above her, in front of those mountains where the sky is clear and beautiful. It actually looks kind of ominous. I think she changed the weather, called in a storm on the unsuspecting person who messed with her. Don’t mess with a shaman. That’s way cool. I like shamans. Natural magic really appeals to me a lot. I enjoyed playing a shaman in Shadowrun way more than a hermetic mage, and I’m really enjoying the druidic tradition in D&D (even if it’s a little broken because the game designers don’t really seem to want druids in the game at all), so a female mage showing that kind of power in a subtle way like that really sparked my imagination.

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Dragon 130This is another find from The Art of Dragon. This is the cover of Dragon 130 (February 1988) called “The Summoning” and was drawn by Linda Medley. I love this picture! It’s a woman wizard summoning what appears to be some type of outer-planer creature, who is pretty pissed off to have been summoned. What I like about this is that the woman is really well prepared. She’s surrounded by books, showing she’s done a ton of research (as any good wizard would). Not only is the summoned creature in a binding circle, but she’s in a protective circle in case something happens. She also has various scrolls, spell components, magical implements and other useful objects easily within reach, again, in case something happens. This all makes a lot of sense since, in my experience, as a wizard you tend to worry a lot and over planning is good. Besides all the stuff around her, she just looks very self-confident and composed, especially given that she’s face to face with something that could probably kill her outright and is probably asking it to do something for her. And I love the red hair flying everywhere, it adds personality. This is just a very cool piece.

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Dragon 292My last find from The Art of Dragon was a cover I actually remembered and own. It’s from Dragon 292 (February 2002) called “Winter Warrior” by Wayne Reynolds. I had Michael scan the actual piece of art shown in the interior of the magazine, rather than use the cover, because the cover crops off some of the parts I like. This is a great image of a woman (probably a halfling) who is likely a ranger. She wields a spear and has a bow and quiver of arrows slung across her back. At her waist is a dagger. This is a well-equipped woman. She is covered head to toe in leather armor that looks well-worn and creased. She’s got fur trimming on various parts of her clothing and all around her voluminous cloak, which makes a great deal of sense, since they appear to be traveling through quite the winter storm. I love the scowl on her face. She is definitely not to be messed with. In fact, she looks down right angry about something. Behind her a ways is a man, less heavily armed but just as protected from the elements, on another dire weasel. His spear is held up, at rest. He clearly isn’t expecting an attack or anything. Hers is down, ready to be poked into someone or something. She’s fired up, fists balled and eyes narrowed. Something has tripped her “go” button, but she hasn’t seen fit to tell anyone else yet. Maybe because she’s cool enough to take it down alone. Who knows? Regardless, her prey is not going to be happy in another few seconds when she strikes.

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Dungeon SiegeI have been looking for video game images that inspire me, but in general I find that a lot harder than pen-and-paper gaming images. They tend to be a lot less to my taste in their portrayal of women, at least on their boxes and in their magazine imagery (which is primarily what I’m looking at). Even if the female characters in a game rock, they are often posed behind the men in passive poses or shown in less than appealing outfits. That doesn’t make me want to play them. But in looking around at box art I came across the cover for Dungeon Siege. I’ve never played this game, and it doesn’t really sound like my cup of tea, but I adore the cover. The woman on it is dressed in cool armor that I might actually believe could protect her, she’s holding a cool weapon, she’s actually looking out at the camera (a rarity), and she has a great smirk on her face. She’s got attitude, strength and the sense that it would be fun to play her showing right in her eyes. The whole package is great. If I didn’t know as much about the game as I do, I might have picked up this game just from the box. It’s got great personality. I definitely want to play her!

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Dungeon 146The most recent issue of Dungeon magazine has the best cover image of a female pirate. It’s issue 146 (May 2007) and the piece is by Tomas Giorello. I love how strong she looks, even if she does appear to be in a pretty bad situation here. She’s got a great outfit that is surprisingly practical for a female pirate appearing on the cover of a magazine (no corset, etc.), and actually, I like her outfit a lot. It’s pretty interesting. I like the look on her face too – she appears very concerned (who wouldn’t be when they are being attacked by a giant tentacled thing?), but she’s definitely not panicking and she kind of seems to be planning. That’s cool. She also has a “going down with her ship” vibe about her (clinging to the sails and all). Even though she’s not in the best situation, you definitely don’t get the impression that she’s going to lose. You get the feeling it’s the middle of a battle in the middle of a campaign and she’s going to be injured but generally ok. Probably pissed off, but not dead. Not dead is the important part. She’s very appealing as an avatar and I like her style. This is a very cool piece of art.

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Drow of the UnderdarkI was surprised when this image caught my eye. I’m not usually fond of drow at all. I hate the mythology behind them and the way they have always been portrayed. It’s sickening and horrible. So I assumed I was going to hate this book, cover art and all, just as much. But this cover rocked. It shows a female drow (because male drow aren’t important enough in the Underdark to be on the cover) and she is very unusual! First of all, she’s standing up in a non-sexified pose. I didn’t even know evil drow women know how to do that! Then I was attracted by her outfit. It covers her whole body (again, I had no idea evil drow women wore body-covering clothing, well, ever) and is actually kind of attractive. It’s hard to see in the picture I found on the internet, but if you find a physical copy and look at it, it’s a neat outfit. It’s a really attractive gown that actually looks kind of armor like on top. I’d wear it to a meeting of evil women I didn’t trust not to try and stab me with poisoned sharp things when I wasn’t looking. She’s also holding a crossbow and looking off to her left as if on her guard for something. She’s clearly a competent woman. In a game that took place in the Underdark, I would love to play this woman. I envisioned her as a woman who is wary of everyone and aware that they don’t necessarily have her best interests at heart. Maybe she’s undercover, making it seem like she’s something she’s not. Maybe she’s not even evil, maybe she’s just pretending to be so that she can bring down the power structure from the inside. Or maybe she is, but working with a different faction? Who knows? Whatever she is, she’s not what she seems and so she’s on her guard and prepared to defend herself no matter what. I’d totally play her in a game with the right GM!

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Traitor to the BloodThis is another image that surprised me. It’s the cover of a book that I never would have noticed if it hadn’t been faced out on the bookshelves at work, but it was and the image totally caught my attention. The woman on the cover first and foremost looks in command. The man behind her appears to be looking to her to see where they are going or what they are doing next. The entire image evokes a pack mentality, with her as the leader of the pack. She is heavily armed and reasonably armored. Everything about this image suggests competence, although as I think about it all I really have to indicate that is the trust placed in her by her companion. But really, that’s probably all I need. The guy behind her is more heavily armored, but given the differences between abilities and preferences with armor (as well as possibly class restrictions), that is not actually a big deal. She’s more than reasonably well armed for me to believe that her lesser armor isn’t an indication of her being a lesser warrior. She definitely presents a desirable avatar, particularly as this is clearly a woman in a position of leadership and that isn’t something I see often in art. This is definitely an appealing piece of art and certainly made me say “I want to play her”. I can’t say I’ll ever base a character off it, but the idea of strong woman leader who doesn’t necessarily need to be also a knight in shining armor (thus justifying her position as leader) is something I could see making a character out of.

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GraniaI was drawn to the cover of Morgan Llywelyn’s book Grania because the pirate woman looks powerful and independent, but is not sexualized in any of the typical ways. The art is done by Gregory Manchess and I love it. The woman is clearly a competent sailor (if she wasn’t, she wouldn’t be standing with her leg up on the edge of the ship like that), an image further reinforced by her very practical outfit. Nothing is feminine at all about what she’s wearing – it’s a perfectly typical sailor’s outfit that you might see on a man, it’s just on a woman this time. The pose also suggests that she’s in command (or capable of being so). She’s armed, but not heavily so. She’s prepared, but she’s also aware that she’s not likely to need heavy arms on a ship probably primarily peopled with allies. She’s practical. All of these qualities are attractive ones in a potential character – especially a short term one (this woman would make a great character for a one-shot or a three to four session game).

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Dragons of a Fallen SunNormally I hate the covers of Dragonlance books. They typically have few token women and those are generally either dressed in flowing gowns or largely naked with just little bits of strategically placed fur and chain mail they seem to be considering armor. I never understood the fur loincloths thing. I know it was the fashion for the best and brightest on He-Man, but even there the warrior women didn’t wear them! Anyhow, being as that is what I’m used to from Dragonlance covers, you can bet that I was pretty surprised when I came across Matt Stawicki‘s cover for Dragons of a Fallen Sun (a book I’ve never even read, by the way). It has a knight, fully clad in full-plate armor, sitting proudly atop her noble steed who is likewise wearing plated barding. This woman looks like she could hold her own, but is actually probably the leader of a platoon or something. In the background is what appears to be a landscape being devastated by lava. An idyllic city rests at the base of the lava-streaked mountains and right behind the woman’s horse is a flowing river of red lava. This is not a happy, fuzzy scene where bunnies frolic. This is the cite of destruction and devastation. This is a place where a warrior and leader like the woman pictured is really needed and can really make a difference. And doesn’t she look like she could make that difference, even if things are bad right now? I’d believe in her. I’d love to play her. She’s a great almost iconic image of a war leader.

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Tekken 6 - LeoA common thing to hear when a bunch of adult women get together to talk about what they were like as girls is “I was a tomboy, in fact, people sometimes even thought I was a boy!” It’s such a common backstory image that it comes up all the time in fiction, both children’s fiction and adult fiction with children characters. But we almost never see characters in games that convey that personality. Yeah, we get tough, go-get-’em girls who we may have no doubt could beat up the boys around them, but their images are always all girl. For the first time I came across an image of a game character that actually made me wonder if it was a boy or a girl – it looks exactly like a tomboy girl, but since I don’t know much about the game, I don’t know for sure. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at that image and I think she looks a lot like a girl, and she’s certainly posed in a position that conveys more of a sense of a female center of balance. The problem is, it’s hard to really say. It’s a video game, so they can make the character anything they want. For all I know it’s just a really feminine looking boy. Either way, I’d totally play a girl character who looked like that. She’s got a fun teenaged tomboy look and her pose suggests that she’s ready to jump into anything (even if not always certain it’s a good idea). Not only do I think this would make a great character for a video game (and such a character might make me pick up a game I wouldn’t otherwise have tried), but this is an image I could totally see stealing as a jumping off point for a character in a table-top game or a LARP. She’d just be such a blast to play! I definitely want to play her!

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ShatterglassTheron’s cover for Tamora Pierce’s novel Shatterglass caught my attention the other day. It shows a teenage girl in a very proper dress (kind of Victorian in style, but clearly without the proper Victorian underpinnings) standing in a room full of blown glass jugs and serving pieces. A small dragon hangs over her shoulder and she looks back at it with an expression suggesting they are sharing a secret. Her hand is held up, as if she were holding a tray or a plate, but instead of a serving piece being propped there we see the crackle of electricity. This is clearly a girl with intelligence and a command of arcane powers. She is young, not a full blown sorceress, and there is a hint of something secretive about her powers (as if she can’t, or isn’t willing to, let anyone else know about them). She’s got an interesting hair style, too. It shows care and would have taken much time to arrange. This is clearly a girl with a proper life somewhere who is currently something more than she normally appears to be – maybe a rich man’s daughter who found she has powers but can’t show them for fear of her father’s wrath. Many story ideas and character hooks spring to mind from this image. It’s really compelling. I love that it’s a young woman with power. We don’t see that nearly enough! Sometimes you want to play a wizard without having to be either graying or a 200-year-old elf! The idea of a teenager with wizardly powers is very appealing in its way and this girl embodies that idea! I definitely want to play her!

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Theodosia and the Serpent of ChaosI love this cover so much and I found the girl portrayed on it to be so incredibly compelling! This is the cover of Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. La Fevers and the image is by Yoko Tanaka. This girl looks so ready for adventures! She’s dressed as a Victorian schoolgirl, but her exploring pose and the lantern suggest something of a treasure hunter-catacomb explorer spirit (the cat helps with that feel). You just get the feeling that she’s a supremely practical girl. If something scary jumped out at her, she’d look to see what it was before freaking out about it. And rats? Not a big deal. This is a girl who is prepared, smart as a whip and always on the prowl for interesting bits of information. I get the feeling she’d crawl through pretty much any type of dungeon for an interesting scrap of paper. And that’s a pretty awesome character! She’s a leader type, but probably would benefit from a friend who’s slightly on the cautious side (although her natural practicality does keep her in check much of the time). It’s all the better for the fact that she’s probably only about twelve and so she’s also bursting with that enthusiasm and obsession that kids always have about things they’re interested in! She would be an absolute blast to play!

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Ramona the PestThere is a tabletop roleplaying game called “Little Fears” where you play a little kid fighting closet monsters. The image of Ramona by Tracy Dockray on the cover of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest strikes me as a great character image for that game! Look at that no-nonsense pose! And those are totally monster-stoppin’ boots! She even has a war wound covered with a cute Band-Aid on her knee! I think she would make a fabulous and incredibly fun character in “Little Fears” or a game like it! I totally want to play her!

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My husband gets the Pathfinder modules in the mail from Paizo and usually I at least glance at the character on the cover when they arrive, but I somehow missed this one! When I finally came across it I was wowed (and annoyed that he hadn’t shown it to me, since he should have known I’d flip for this particular piece of art). You have to click through on this one and see the full piece, the details are amazing. This woman is badass. She’s fully armored and even has a helmet in her hand. Her armor is full plate and I counted at least five visible weapons plus a large heavy-looking shield. She’s got a great, believable sword, a longbow and full quiver of arrows, various small weapons, everything she might possibly need in combat. This is a woman who knows what she’s doing.

And check out that expression on her face! She’s determined and smart too! She may not be the strategist in her party, but she’s certainly not just a “tank” either. She’s got brains under that helmet and is clearly someone who weighs in on the advisability of a given course of action and probably the moral implications as well. I could see her being given a definite set of orders, weighing them in her mind and deciding to not follow them because to do so would be against the code that she holds herself, and likely everyone around her, to. This might easily be a holy warrior, but it doesn’t have to be. She could as easily be a fighter with a strong sense of responsibility to something as a paladin. Maybe she even works for a crown. Or maybe she’s fighting against them. Who knows? Whatever she’s fighting for, she’s decided to do so after careful consideration and possibly a lifetime of lessons. This would be such a great character to play. I don’t think she’s necessarily the leader of her party (although she certainly could be), but she is definitely not merely a follower either. I love seeing fighters with more to them than just muscle and this woman most definitely fits the bill. An image of a male warrior with this same armor and expression would have drawn my attention too, the fact that she’s a woman is icing on the cake! This is a total win!

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Look! I have two great images of the same great character! It’s completely unprecedented! As soon as I saw these book covers, this girl caught my eye. She looks totally prepared for anything. Aliens attacking? She’s ready. Zombie hamster? No problem. (Yes, that is a zombie hamster on that cover.) She’s even dressed for action in a practical jumpsuit that’s easy to move in and looks comfortable or a tee-shirt and hoodie with her hair back in a ponytail. Her companion seems a bit less ready for anything, but he’ll be ok since he’s with her. Besides, his main job seems to be to protect the little dog that is their constant companion. When she’s fighting zombie hamsters and alien invaders, this hardly seems like a taxing job, does it? This girl looks awesome. She appears inquisitive, attentive and prepared. I would love to play her! She’d make a great hero character in an action game! By the way, the cover art is done by Scott M. Fischer.