Diversity changes hit Dungeons & Dragons

HAYDYN EVANS

Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of The Coast are taking diversity and inclusivity seriously by making plans to change the way certain character races are depicted in future game content.

D and D handbook

Changes coming to Dungeons & Dragons will give players the option to change ability score statistics that are inherently associated with race. Photo: Haydyn Evans

 

In a blog post, the publisher of the world’s largest table top roleplaying game said the issue was a priority for the company.

“Making D&D [Dungeons & Dragons] as welcoming and inclusive as possible has moved to the forefront of our priorities,” the post said.

“One of the explicit design goals of 5th edition D&D is to depict humanity in all its beautiful diversity by depicting characters who represent an array of ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and beliefs,” it said.

“Throughout the 50-year history of D&D, some of the peoples in the game — Orcs and Drow being two of the prime examples — have been characterised as monstrous and evil, using descriptions that are painfully reminiscent of how real-world ethnic groups have been and continue to be denigrated,” the post said.

In classic D&D settings, Orcs are depicted as bloodthirsty tribal savages who are strong but unintelligent, while the Drow are a subterranean race of Elves with black skin who are described as irredeemably evil.

Wizards of The Coast were criticised by the D&D community in 2016 after players felt the Vistani culture featured in the Curse of Strahd game content relied on stereotypes based on real Romani people.

To combat outdated racial and cultural stereotypes, Wizards of The Coast said upcoming D&D content would offer players the option to change ability score statistics that were inherently associated with race.

The D&D creative team said this option would “emphasise that each person in the game [was] an individual with capabilities all their own”.

Members of the D&D community are divided over the changes, and some are concerned the new optional rules will erase the characteristics that make the playable races diverse in the first place.

President of The Mithril Hand Gaming Society at Griffith University Gold Coast, Cassia Costain, said Wizards of The Coast were caving to external pressure by “pandering towards political correctness”.

Ms Costain has been an active member of The Mithril Hand, which is a social club where students play table top games like D&D, for four years.

She said Wizards of The Coast’s decision wouldn’t affect the way she ran the club, as D&D had “always been a place for anyone and everyone”.

“D&D is a game for a bunch of nerds who want to sit at a table with some paper and plastic rocks that go click clack,” Ms Costain said.

“We’re not too focused on what people look like, or how they identify, we’re focussed on the story the Dungeon Master is telling and how our characters are going to react,” she said.

D and D figures

D&D publishers Wizards of The Coast are focusing on making the game “as welcoming and inclusive as possible”. Photo: Haydyn Evans

 

Gold Coast D&D player Rhys Evans said he “always found [D&D] to be an inclusive and open game to play”.

Mr Evans has been his playing group’s Dungeon Master – the roleplaying game’s referee – for more than four years.

He said the “reflexive nature” of Wizard’s decision made the changes “superfluous”, not “negative”.

“The changes don’t necessarily have to impact everyone and if it makes some players more comfortable, then it’s a good move,” Mr Evans said.

“Personally, I never really liked that Drow were black, it never made sense to me,” he said.

“They live underground, they should lose pigmentation, not gain it.”

“I think when you try and regulate an idea, you squash it, I think when you create a community that is inclusive, the words on the page don’t matter.”

“At least not when they aren’t explicitly or implicitly racist.”

Gold Coast resident Andrew Chalker has been an active member of the D&D community for five years.

He has been both a player as well as a Dungeon Master.

He said the upcoming changes would help inexperienced players avoid racial or cultural stereotypes they might find “uncomfortable”.

“Often with pre-made settings with established species players are discouraged [by the player’s handbook] from playing the darker skinned species, such as Drow Elves, who are weak to sunlight,” Mr Chalker said.

Due to the Drow being a subterranean race, the game imposes a handicap based on their weakness to the sun, making the race harder to play compared to traditional races such as Humans, Dwarves and Elves.

“The Half-Orc race also makes many players feel they have to adhere to the noble savage trope to have a character that fits the narrative,” Mr Chalker said.

The ‘noble savage’ is a literary concept historically applied to Indigenous people around the world that labelled them as savage and uncivilised, but pure at heart.

Mr Chalker said Wizards of The Coast were wise to implement change before facing “significant societal pressure”, but said he believed true change came from the imagination of the D&D community.

“If people wish to retain the old black and white ‘this species are born evil’ dynamic, they’re more than free to change it,” he said.

“That’s the beauty of the game, it’s all a world created in the minds of the players and narrated by the Dungeon Master.”

“Your only limit is imagination.”

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