'Dungeons & Dragons' Tries To Banish Racist Stereotypes.

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Fnord
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30 Jun 2020, 10:55 am

The announcement of these changes was met with mixed reviews by the fanbase.  The world of tabletop role playing games -- like many other communities -- is currently figuring out its role in the broader dialogue about racism.

When you play Dungeons and Dragons -- usually referred to as D&D -- one of the first steps is to create a character. They can be a human or an elf or a gnome or some other mythical creature.  These classifications each come with their own backstories, as well as their own baggage.  While it's generally up to you if your character is good or evil or somewhere in between, historically some of these characters were depicted in a villainous, monstrous light.  Orcs were brutish savages.  Drow (dark elves that live underground) were dark skinned and inherently evil.

Source:
This NPR Article.

Personally, as a "Dungeon Master", I never asked my players to adhere to the species' alignments found in the rulebooks.  If someone wanted to play a chaotic-good Orc Bard, I could never come up with a reason other than "it's in the rules".

"Well, I am the DM, so eff the rules!  Your Orc Bard can also wear a pink tutu and dance the merengue on a high-wire as long as it makes its DEX rolls!"

So why has it taken so long for this "house rule" to become official?


:shrug:


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Fnord
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30 Jun 2020, 11:08 am

Here is part of the original June 17, 2020 announcement from WotC: Diversity and Dungeons & Dragons.

Quote:
Here's what we're doing to improve:

• We present orcs and drow in a new light in two of our most recent books, Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Explorer's Guide to Wildemount.  In those books, orcs and drow are just as morally and culturally complex as other peoples.  We will continue that approach in future books, portraying all the peoples of D&D in relatable ways and making it clear that they are as free as humans to decide who they are and what they do.

• When every D&D book is reprinted, we have an opportunity to correct errors that we or the broader D&D community discovered in that book.  Each year, we use those opportunities to fix a variety of things, including errors in judgment. In recent reprintings of Tomb of Annihilation and Curse of Strahd, for example, we changed text that was racially insensitive.  Those reprints have already been printed and will be available in the months ahead.  We will continue this process, reviewing each book as it comes up for a reprint and fixing such errors where they are present.

• Later this year, we will release a product (not yet announced) that offers a way for a player to customize their character's origin, including the option to change the ability score increases that come from being an elf, a dwarf, or one of D&D's many other playable folk.  This option emphasizes that each person in the game is an individual with capabilities all their own.

• Curse of Strahd included a people known as the Vistani and featured the Vistani heroine Ezmerelda.  Regrettably, their depiction echoes some stereotypes associated with the Romani people in the real world.  To rectify that, we've not only made changes to Curse of Strahd, but in two upcoming books, we will also show -- working with a Romani consultant -- the Vistani in a way that doesn't rely on reductive tropes.

...

Thoughts?


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Karamazov
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30 Jun 2020, 11:24 am

It does seem to parallel the way Tolkien shifted his depiction of the dwarfs between The Hobbit (pre WWII) and LOTR (post WWII).

I must confess I never went for D&D much (Warhammer 40K was my thing) so don’t have any emotional investment here.

Did read a tie-in novel with a Drow protagonist though... but I imagined him as deathly pale skinned for some reason: probably because being a subterranean species that made (to me at any rate) more sense biologically.

I could see that an argument could be made that a series of prefaces acknowledging the problematic aspects of existing works in all future printings would be more appropriate (honest?) than altering the text to expunge such material.

I’ve always found Orcs a bit nonsensical in every fantasy I’ve read though: a major & important species that has no real elite culture or systematic conception of the world of any kind?
Credibility issues.



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30 Jun 2020, 11:30 am

It seems strange to have a fixed moral alignment for life.

This should increase character design options.


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Fnord
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30 Jun 2020, 11:31 am

Karamazov wrote:
... Credibility issues.
It's a fantasy role-playing game, after all.  Willful suspension of disbelief is essential for its enjoyment.


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Wolfram87
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30 Jun 2020, 11:54 am

I get getting rid of the locked alignment thing, but do people really take a look at this:

Image

and think "yep, those are black people"? Especially considering there are already actual, human black people in the game. (In a related article in a similar vein, someone said that Orcs were a negative stereotype of black people.)


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30 Jun 2020, 2:08 pm

Quote:
In those books, orcs and drow are just as morally and culturally complex as other peoples.


Orcposting was a joke guys.


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funeralxempire
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30 Jun 2020, 5:39 pm

Wolfram87 wrote:
I get getting rid of the locked alignment thing, but do people really take a look at this:

Image

and think "yep, those are black people"? Especially considering there are already actual, human black people in the game. (In a related article in a similar vein, someone said that Orcs were a negative stereotype of black people.)


You're oversimplifying it (and I hope you already understand that). Personally I've always found the depictions of orcs, goblins, drow, etc as inherently evil morally troubling because it made it easy to handwave actions that would otherwise be unconscionable, like eliminating every member of that species you encountered in a campaign without ever having to consider that maybe the paladin in gold and chrome armour smeared with the blood and gore of a dozen goblin children might actually be the most evil character in the entire campaign.

WH40K does more to draw parallels between 'greenskins' and black American culture than DnD ever did, but that shows the notion isn't entirely far fetched even if you and I both feel it should be.

Mostly this inspired me to ensure my fantasy writings didn't fall into that trap without going too far into the other direction of every second drow you encounter being another Drizzie.


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30 Jun 2020, 6:30 pm

In Traveller (a sci-fi RPG), there is a branch of humans called the Zhodani.  From the game's beginning, they practices psionics as a way of life.  To them, psionically adjusting someone's attitude to maintain society is seen as normal and good.  Ongoing clinical depression is virtually unheard of, and most of the population is happy and grateful for the interventions of the Tavrechedl ("Thought Police").

In the Imperium, however, the possession and use of psionics is punishable under Imperial and local law.  Punishment ranges from exile to prison to lobotomy (or simply death).  While the government does maintain a couple of secret training centers (for its Intelligence service), the vast majority of the citizenry perceives psionics as a sickness (at best) or perverted criminal activity (at worst).

The Zhodani mistrusts the Imperium as a polity of liars, thieves, and cheats in need of assimilation into Zhodani society.  The Imperium views the Zhodani as a polity of mind-control tyrants who enslave the citizens and "brainwash" them into contentment, and who should be conquered, contained, and eventually eliminated.

Both empires consider themselves more moral than the other.

This isn't a matter of "right" versus "wrong", but a matter of cultural context.

Dungeons & Dragon was first published in 1974.  Traveller was first published in 1977.  I often wonder why Traveller is morally relativistic, while D&D was morally absolute (and only now changing).


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30 Jun 2020, 6:40 pm

I'm fine with this, as long as it has the added benefit of getting control freak DMs to shut up about characters not being "true" to their races because of their alignment. My fantasy character will act however and do whatever the hell it pleases as long as it fits the campaign. lol



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30 Jun 2020, 6:51 pm

HeroOfHyrule wrote:
I'm fine with this, as long as it has the added benefit of getting control freak DMs to shut up about characters not being "true" to their races because of their alignment. My fantasy character will act however and do whatever the hell it pleases as long as it fits the campaign. lol
Jean-Paul Sartre called this concept "Radical Freedom".  I like it.


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30 Jun 2020, 8:36 pm

Fnord wrote:
In Traveller (a sci-fi RPG), there is a branch of humans called the Zhodani.  From the game's beginning, they practices psionics as a way of life.  To them, psionically adjusting someone's attitude to maintain society is seen as normal and good.  Ongoing clinical depression is virtually unheard of, and most of the population is happy and grateful for the interventions of the Tavrechedl ("Thought Police").

In the Imperium, however, the possession and use of psionics is punishable under Imperial and local law.  Punishment ranges from exile to prison to lobotomy (or simply death).  While the government does maintain a couple of secret training centers (for its Intelligence service), the vast majority of the citizenry perceives psionics as a sickness (at best) or perverted criminal activity (at worst).

The Zhodani mistrusts the Imperium as a polity of liars, thieves, and cheats in need of assimilation into Zhodani society.  The Imperium views the Zhodani as a polity of mind-control tyrants who enslave the citizens and "brainwash" them into contentment, and who should be conquered, contained, and eventually eliminated.

Both empires consider themselves more moral than the other.

This isn't a matter of "right" versus "wrong", but a matter of cultural context.

Dungeons & Dragon was first published in 1974.  Traveller was first published in 1977.  I often wonder why Traveller is morally relativistic, while D&D was morally absolute (and only now changing).


Didn't high fantasy of the time tend towards moral absolutism in general, so DnD is reflective of other work in the genre. Sci-fi seemed to grasp issues differently, maybe because it tended to be forward looking instead of reactionary.


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01 Jul 2020, 2:34 am

funeralxempire wrote:
You're oversimplifying it (and I hope you already understand that). Personally I've always found the depictions of orcs, goblins, drow, etc as inherently evil morally troubling because it made it easy to handwave actions that would otherwise be unconscionable, like eliminating every member of that species you encountered in a campaign without ever having to consider that maybe the paladin in gold and chrome armour smeared with the blood and gore of a dozen goblin children might actually be the most evil character in the entire campaign.


A bit, but not all that much. I've never used the alignment system, and especially not the inherent alignment of the races thing. I'm also glad they removed the Lawful Good requirement from paladins. From the official blog:

"in DnD, "human" means everyone, not just fantasy version of Northern Europeans."

I mean...yeah? That's why there are many different variants of humans, with varying cultures and ethnicities. But in a setting where other humanoid races (arguably species) is a real thing, how does it make sense to go out of ones way to reduce the differences between them? And in a game where homebrewing and house rules are already well-established customs, I don't see the need for official releases of optional rules that do just that.


Quote:
WH40K does more to draw parallels between 'greenskins' and black American culture than DnD ever did, but that shows the notion isn't entirely far fetched even if you and I both feel it should be.


Really? I Always thought of the Orks as a working-class fooball hoolingan type of deal turned up to 11.


And as a complete side-note; if Drow live underground in darkness, shouldn't their skin be white rather than black?


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01 Jul 2020, 2:37 am

Wolfram87 wrote:
I get getting rid of the locked alignment thing, but do people really take a look at this:

Image

and think "yep, those are black people"? Especially considering there are already actual, human black people in the game. (In a related article in a similar vein, someone said that Orcs were a negative stereotype of black people.)


In JRR Tolkein's universe the Elves, dwarves, hobbits and humans were mean't to represent the realm of nordic mythology.

The swarthy, hairy orcs and uruk-hai were mean't to be twisted versions of elves and humans (not different races).

Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is hierarchical, employing the medieval “chain of being”, a powerful visual metaphor that ranked all life forms according to their proportion of “spirit” and “matter”. God and the angels are at the top, human beings below, animals further down, and so on.

Similarly, Tolkien’s elves are at the top of the Middle-Earth hierarchy, while orcs are at the bottom, because of their corresponding moral and spiritual qualities (or lack of). In Tolkien’s mythology, orcs are traditionally “monstrous”; they represent corrupted, twisted versions of elves and men, made by Morgoth (the original Dark Lord of Tolkien’s world).

I don't think Tolkein entertained notions of race as it pertained to the human world in this universe.



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01 Jul 2020, 2:40 am

Wolfram87 wrote:
[
"in DnD, "human" means everyone, not just fantasy version of Northern Europeans."


That's what I thought.



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01 Jul 2020, 5:47 am

I’ve never used the alignment chart.

Like a few people here, the first time I met a Drow I imagined them as very pale-skinned. I ended up taking over the NPC’s sheet (we hired them as a mercenary because we lost a party member, so I played as two characters at once) and the whole time that was how I imagined them.

I don’t really care about morality while playing D&D. My characters tend to fight anything that gets in the way.