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Nature vs. Nurture
Dragon's-Eye View
By Jon Schindehette

Comic by Drew Shenemann
Concept art by Conceptopolis

R ecently I was having a spirited conversation about body types. The person I was chatting with was heatedly pounding home the stance that certain body types shouldn't be depicted.

Wait. Shouldn't?

Let me take a second and give the discussion some context. It might be really important. The discussion had to do with body types illustrated for elves. I had made the observation that we have always depicted elves as thin, thinner, or thinnest. I couldn't find a fat elf in the database, period. My question was this: if we are going to show a spectrum of body types for humans, should we show a spectrum of body types for all races (humanoid and monstrous)? Should we depict a fat elf, a skinny dwarf, a tall halfling, and short goliath? At what point does the depiction push so far that we break the race? When does an elf get so fat that it almost starts to look like a tall dwarf?

Do I think there shouldn't be diversity in body types for all races? No! I do believe that there should be. I no more want to see a single body type for elves than I do for humans. Diversity is good. It creates a rich and vibrant worldview. The bigger question is simply this: how do we address diversity in races that have been depicted in a certain manner? How do we push the stereotype so that we get some diversity without pushing the visual depiction under a bus? Rather than have a fat elf, do I just have a less skinny elf? Are you seeing where I'm coming from on this one?

This same question morphs a bit when we start talking about monstrous races rather than humanoid races. Sure, it's no big stretch to think of a fat owlbear or a skinny owlbear. If the key features are still there, it doesn't break our stereotype too much, and we are willing to accept an owlbear that varies in body weight. What if I start throwing around colors and types of fur/feather combos? What if I said that our owlbear was living in the tundra and resembled a cross between a polar bear and a snowy owl? What if we dropped our owlbear into a more tropical environment and created a bear that resembled a cross between a sun bear and a Malaysian eagle owl? Now there are three very different takes on an owlbear, yet each is suited to the environment that they are living in. Does changing the depictions that much make it unrecognizable as an owlbear, or does it give the owlbear more global relevance . . . and make it more fun to plunk into your home game?

Wanna laugh? Here's my hatchet job on a couple of environmental owlbears.

Enough playing around. This is serious. Really!

Okay, maybe one more. Here's one Tony DiTerlizzi did to a grizzly image that Todd Lockwood posted on his Facebook page.

All right. Enough goofing around. I mean it!

Well, maybe one more. Sometimes the very artistic folks in the D&D Creative Studio have a little fun. Just blowing off steam, or jerking my chain. Emi, our very talented conceptual designer, was teasing me about making D&D "cute" one day. As an example, she made me a little one-off coloring book. I enjoyed the gift so much that I even asked Nick to model up one of the drawings and send it off to my friends in the prototype labs at Hasbro to get a few 3-D prints made. Mari then tackled exactly what we are talking about in this article: coming up with variations of coloring for the owlbear. She did a standard one, a northern one, and the cutest little "pet" one. Just for fun, we got some of the rapid prototypes painted up. Mari did a ton of other variants, including a zombie owlbear. They were great fun, and with the appropriate prodding, I might share some more examples of owlbear variations.

Now, back to the matter at hand. We've got a couple of serious discussion points out there . . .

 What should be the guiding principles when we deal with body types outside the human race?  
Just like humans, there should be a full spectrum of body types.
Unlike humans, nonhuman races should have a smaller spectrum of body types to keep closer to the archetypical look of the race.
Nonhuman races should not have a spectrum of body types. They should stick to the archetypical look of the race.
Other. (Explain below.)

 What should be the guiding principle when dealing with the look of a nonhumanoid monster? Should there be environmental-inspired differences?  
There should be only a single visual representation. The image in the Monster Manual is the definitive look.
There can be slight coloration and anatomical differences to indicate differences in environment, but deviations shouldn’t be very noticeable.
Emulate nature! Run the gamut and give me lots of imagination fodder for my world.
Other. (Explain below.)

Previous Poll Results

Big Red _______.
is my idea of what a red dragon should look like—strong and brutal. 1954 65.4%
isn't my cup of tea. I like the original design by Lockwood better—more noble and intellectual. 895 30.0%
I think I've got a better idea about what the red should embody, and I'm going to share it below. 139 4.7%
Total 2988 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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