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Violence and Gore
Dragon's-Eye View
Jon Schindehette

"You creep silently into the dark cave. It reeks of sulfur and death. On the far side of the cave you catch a faint glint of your torchlight reflecting on a metallic surface. Finally, after days of fighting your way through the fierce denizens that inhabit the twists and turns of this vast cavern labyrinth, you get a glimpse of the hard-won prize. Purposefully you stride across the cavern floor only to be brought up short when the treasure blinks. Blinks? What the hell? That's when you realize that the metallic glint isn't treasure, but rather the reflection of the light on the massive eye of a great red dragon . . ."

T his scene could be from any of a million Dungeons & Dragons stories that are told around tables all over the world. The difference often comes in after this point. In some of my games, the DM would launch us into a battle and there would be lots of clashing steel, bursts of magic, and the occasional death of a party member. It happens, right? The question is . . . how should the product show this scene?

I guess I'm a bit of an old-fashioned guy. I loved those monster movies that hinted at the monster and strung us along with faint glimpses. Doing so let our imagination fill in the details. I had a very strong imagination, and I'd dream up a better monster than the one that the concept artists created. In today's entertainment, computer graphics have opened up a whole new world of visuals. Now we see them creating creatures that could scare the pants off us or make us die of laughter. Sometimes the line between those two experiences is pretty thin. But the one place that CG has really stepped up is in the realm of simulated gore and violence. With the CG software that is available today, people can be sliced up better than a julienned carrot on an infomercial. Does it increase the entertainment value for the product? I don't know if there is a clear-cut answer to that question.

When I overlay the issue of violence and gore onto D&D, a whole host of questions arise. Last week I asked you about your thoughts on the Visual Guidelines document I'm working on bringing together. Now that you've had a chance to think about that (and comment on it), I want to change the conversation from sexism in fantasy to violence and gore in fantasy. So let's kick off this discussion with a simple question:

What do you think the level of gore and violence depicted in Dungeons & Dragons products should be?

My personal stance is pretty simple. I want the visuals in the product to be approachable and safe for teens, but not so vanilla that it bores adults. If it were a movie, I'd be shooting for PG-13: moderate action violence without extreme bloodshed. But even using the standard for PG-13 for violence and gore is a pretty vague guideline. When I chat with folks about what is "moderate action violence," I don't get a very coherent definition. For some, that means showing a sword fight is cool. For others, showing a sword fight with a bit of blood spray is cool. There are those who believe that a sword fight that ends up with a "nonrealistic" fatal wounding is okay—ala Monty Python. So the definition of "moderate" is all over the place.

Let me step back for a second. Please don't get the idea that I'm trying to tell you how your game should be run. You can tell your stories any way you want, and you can pull together visuals for your game that suit your play experience. That is both your right and the power that D&D gives to its players. You get to define your own play experience.

What I'm trying to figure out is this: how do I depict the settings of D&D in the product so that it serves as an inspiration for those who use the product, and so that they can be used by DMs to provide glimpses of the world. I want the art to be cool. I want the art to evoke emotional responses to the stories being told. I want the art to be . . . well, good art. In addition, I want to make sure that the art provides that visceral and magical feeling that I got when I first discovered the world of D&D, and I want it to do so without alienating the new folks coming to the brand for the first time.

One of the things that I remembered about D&D in my teen years was that it felt slightly "edgy." What I mean by that was the fact that it wasn't something my "square" parents would have approved of. It wasn't that it was really that bad. Sure there were a few breasts scattered through the drawings, but the National Geographic my dad brought home was more visually graphic than my core rulebooks. So it wasn't really about the nudity. For some reason, the line drawing of a succubus seemed more edgy than a photographic image of a bare-chested African tribal woman. The idea that dragons could raze a city seemed more out-there than newspaper descriptions of the latest wave of crime in the inner city. The political maneuverings with the courts of Castle Greyhawk were more engaging than the rantings of political pundits in the latest election campaigns. I think it was the fact that this was MY world that made it so powerful. The fact that some felt that it was taboo perhaps made it even more attractive to the rebellious teen that I was.

So how do I capture that same feeling in today's audience?

The world has moved on. The idea of a PG movie nowadays is much different than it was in the '70s. So where do we stand on the idea of violence and gore in the product? We, in the D&D Creative Studio, have had lots of conversations about what is an acceptable level of violence and gore. While we might not agree about the details, we do agree that we want great art that fits the needs of our community. So let me ask you the question to see what you would like to add to the conversation.

Feel free to drop me your comments. I read each and every one. I wish I had time to respond to all of them, but I don't. I will have follow-up conversations occasionally—when the subject warrants it. I ask only that we respect each other's comments and opinions and leave the flame wars for those folks who don't believe in conversations.

 What is an appropriate level of violence and gore?  
Violence is hinted at, but actual contact and injury is not shown. No blood.
Mild violence is shown. Contact and injuries (but not life-threatening ones) are shown, with minimal blood.
Moderate violence is shown. Contact and potentially life-threatening injuries are shown, with moderate blood.
Significant violence is shown. Contact and fatal injuries, including dismemberment, are shown, with significant blood.

These are pretty broad statements, so don't be shy about jumping into the comment section and fine-tuning your responses. Maybe you are okay with a tailored version of moderate violence—where nonfatal injuries are depicted with a little bit of blood, and showing dismemberment of nonhumanoid monsters might be okay with you. If so, just spell it out.

 What would you consider the minimum age that the products should be appropriate for?  
Under age 10

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. I'm using them to start a conversation and to help me understand what you feel is an appropriate level of violence and gore in your D&D game.

D&D should be rated _____.
G: General Audiences 179 5.4%
PG: Parental Guidance Suggested 1081 32.8%
PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned 1667 50.5%
R: Restricted 371 11.2%
Total 3298 100.0%

Jon Schindehette
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at
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