An Observation on the Monster Manual

To use Tumblr parlance, I think it would be reasonable to say that in some ways, D&D is my problematic fave. It’s the quintessential tabletop RPG, and a hugely formative experience for most gamers, even if they do move on to other games for preference. But I’ll say that I’m enjoying D&D 5th edition, and I really liked how the new Players’ Handbook was really inclusive in its art. I mean, why not, right? It’s a fantasy world, and if there can be elf-and-dwarf mixed race parties, why not black-and-white mixed race parties?

So, imagine my disappointment when I noticed an interesting pattern while going through the Monster Manual the other night, looking for inspiration for some monsters I could throw at my players. What I started to do was look at all of the clearly-female-humanoid monsters. I’ll start going through it and you see if you spot what I did (I can only assume that you will, because it’s super obvious once you start looking for it).

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So, we’ll start with the simple Banshee, a creature of folklore here in the real world. First of all, Banshees are always female, universally (in D&D they are also always elves for some reason). “Banshees are the undead remnants of elves who, blessed with great beauty, failed to use their gift to bring joy to the world. Instead, they used their beauty to corrupt and control others.” Okay, could you not? Because that’s not a narrative we’ve heard a hundred times. Because obviously the world is entitled to a woman’s appearance, no matter what. And yet, “These creatures hoard beautiful objects: fine jewelry, paintings, statues, and other objects of art.” Ah, of course. Us greedy, vain women.

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Cambions are not universally female, but the one shown here is definitely someone’s fetish (a recurring theme in RPG art, you’ll find). Cambions are the offspring of succubi or incubi and humanoid parents. They are, as you see, quite literally born to be bad. They have no choice but to be evil, like some sort of pre-Drizz’t dark elves. Of course, because of their parentage, they are characterized by “unearthly beauty”. Those evil, sexy, monsters.

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Erinyes are, again, not universally female, but I find it interesting that it’s erinyes and cambions who the artists chose to portray as women. “Their beauty is nothing compared to their wrath.” I find the choice of gender especially interesting when you see that this is one is actually a variant, with a “rope of entanglement”, which is exactly what it sounds like. This one is like some strange, evil Wonder Woman, with her glowing magic lasso. Kinky.

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I debated as to whether or not I should include the drider – they’re not universally female, and this one is not shown as being especially sexy, unlike the erinyes. But like, have you seen this? These things are definitely someone’s messed up fetish, especially this one.

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Dryads are sexy trees. I’m not even sure what else to say about them. Dryads are derived from Greek mythology, and I’m pretty sure they were sexy there too. But that is… that is a sexy tree-lady and I don’t know who the target audience of this creature is. But she can “beguile humans with her enchantments”, because of course she can. …I’m sure there’s a “bush” pun I could make, but I will not, because I am not running a gutter blog.

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I also debated about including sea hags, or any hags, because they’re just so damn ugly. I mean, do you see her? She’s like a woman mixed with a sea lion. But you see, I was missing the larger point until I read her summary. “Beauty drives a sea hag to fits of anger. When confronted with something beautiful, the hag might simply attack it or deface it.” Oh, I get it now. Just like those ugly women who have to attack and tear down all the pretty girls because they’re jealous, amirite men?

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Harpies are another one from Greek mythology, and they’re a common enough idea that “harpy” has become a generic catch-all term for any kind of screeching harridan of a woman. But the backstory of these harpies is just great, because the first harpy was a woman who was scorned by a man (a god specifically), and so she turned into a great big bird monster. So irrational. Couldn’t she just get over it? (I’d just like to note that although this woman looks absolutely tormented, there’s definitely bros who have never gotten past the fact that you can see her breasts)

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I sort of hope that no one finds lamias sexy, but I know that we live in a world where furries exist, so I don’t want to get my hopes up. Lamias are described as being both “Tyrants of Pleasure” and “Vain Predators” (just like my ex-wife, amirite? …I am not). They have “an intoxicating touch” and they “seek out adventurers with pure hearts to seduce and corrupt to evil, savoring the destruction of their virtue.” …Ew. I should note that both lamias and cambions are minions of Graz’zt, who is the sexiest of the Demon Lords, and male.

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I hardly need to explain medusas, do I? Snake-haired lady, turns things to stone, morals on reflections and vanity (despite the fact that the original Greek myth was about not having sex in a god’s temple and disrespecting the hell out of them (and what’s more, Poseidon probably raped that temple maiden, but that’s for another time)). Interestingly, not the only sexy snake lady in this book. And yet, I too would like to be described with “as deadly as she is ravishing”.

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Pixies. Pixies could look like so many things. But this one is a sexed up Tinkerbell, as if Tinkerbell wasn’t sexed up enough already. The description is mercifully short on “seductive” language, possibly because pixies are literally a foot tall and look like teenagers at best. But “they take great pride in their regalia and beam with joy when they are complimented on their ensembles.” Well, if it’s not lust or vanity, it’s gotta be pride, right?

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The succubus is another fairly obvious one, and I debated about including her because after all – there is a spear counterpart in the incubus. And he is shown as being just as sexy as she is. But hey, I included the cambion, so I figured I should probably include her mom too. The original sexy devil. With her weird ab cut-out leotard. Standard issue, I can only assume. But you know succubi – are they evil because they’re sexy or are they sexy because they’re evil?

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Ah yes, the yuan-ti pureblood, the other sexy snake lady! The other two yuan-ti shown in the book – the full snake and the half snake – are both male. But the one that looks most human-like obviously had to be female. Otherwise, they’d be missing out on an excuse to squeeze one more sexy snake lady into this book, and that is just wasted page space. Unsurprisingly, her face is really disturbing if you look at it for any length of time, but I know there’s bros who’ve never seen anything above her neck (and that lovingly rendered sideboob).

So, we’ve got a lot of evil sexy ladies here, so what? It’s not like they’re totally equating being female with being evil! The pixie and the dryad aren’t evil! They’re just prideful and seductive! Totally different! And there’s some that aren’t sexy! They just hate all things beautiful and good in the world! That’s okay! And besides, isn’t everything else in the Monster Manual evil? If it wasn’t evil, why would you be fighting it? Well, no. For one thing, you sometimes need stats for creatures outside of combat scenarios, and two, evil parties exist and they want to smash some good-aligned monsters. So, I decided to take a look at the angels shown in the Monster Manual.

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Um. Hello there. I’m not sure why he has Justin Bieber hair, but that is what one might call a “chiseled physique”.

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There’s also two planetars (aka, green angels), who are basically Dr. Manhattan with wings. I don’t even see a six-pack here; that’s a solid ten-pack.

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And then there’s this Khal-Drogo-meets-Fabio-looking asshole! His shirt is literally ripping open like the cover of a romance novel. And all of them are wielding massive phallic weapons.

And that’s it? So many different varieties of demon ladies, and all we get are some generic bodybuilder dudes for angels? Damn you, Monster Manual artists. Damn you.

2 comments for “An Observation on the Monster Manual

  1. Plamen Kovatchev
    January 20, 2018 at 11:32 pm

    The original Solar art was Tony Deterlizzi’s, which used the Apollo Belvedere as its reference. THAT is an angel, with an odd gaunt, ascetic look that goes perfectly with D&D’s idea of angels. However, your comment that all the sexy guys in the MM are bodybuilder types ignores creatures like the Sprite, who has a kinda David Bowie type sex appeal.

  2. anon
    March 11, 2018 at 9:56 am

    I think you’re reaching a little too hard here.

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