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July 10
2014

D&D’s Bumpy Road to Inclusion

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51kekOxPL9L
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(A word of caution. Some of the links to articles contained within contain strong language.)

On Tuesday, Wizards of the Coast released the free basic rules to the fifth and newest edition of the most popular RPG franchise, Dungeons & Dragons. Inside, aspiring adventurers and dungeon masters can find rules on how to create adventurers who are devout Clerics, brawny Fighters, devious Rogues, or worldly Wizards, and then tells them how to go out into the world, slay monsters, collect treasure, and become ever stronger.

It also included something new in a D&D product, something that gave me pause when I saw it for the first time. In fact, I didn’t actually believe it when I first saw it. The passage in question is a mere two paragraphs filed under “Sex” (as in one’s biological sex), but the content of those paragraphs are stunning to anyone used to tabletop RPGs.

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Now any sensible person wouldn’t be too wowed by this section, but if you have any history with tabletop RPGs then you know that an inclusive passage like this has never been written for a game as large as D&D. For the writers and designers of this game to make a conscious choice to tell their players that they can be any gender or sexual orientation they choose is, quite frankly, groundbreaking. Sure it’s not the best-worded section I’ve ever seen that has tackled the concepts of gender and sexuality, but it’s a far cry from what has been written before, which is usually nothing.

Reading this section and taking it in filled me with a sense of elation. I thought that this was a definite step in the right direction in terms of inclusivity. A rocky, unsteady step, to be sure, but a step. And that simply brought me joy.

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But…

Recently, it’s come to my attention that a group of people are deriding D&D5. Not for this section in particular, although the reason does have to do with inclusion in a way. You see, a few people that have been labeled as toxic within the RPG community were hired on as paid consultants for D&D5. What does toxic mean? In one case, that means excluding certain subsections of people from RPG gaming in general, with much vitriol and anger. In the other case, the person in question has a history of harassment and stalking others, especially cis women and trans people.

Unfortunately, the RPG community is not the safest of spaces. Being inclusive is not just about putting a section in your book saying, “You should be inclusive.” It’s also about acting on the words you write. Creating a community where others can feel safe sometimes means pushing out others who are toxic to that community.

So, does the inclusion of these toxic individuals as paid consultants mean that D&D and Wizards of the Coast are being exclusionary? Is credibility lost in that regard? On the other hand, does the message that this section of inclusion preach stay true, even with this new information? I feel like that is a conclusion that each person should come to on their own. For Sage LaTorra, who wrote one of the articles above, it means he will not be purchasing D&D5, and I can’t begrudge him that. I also don’t feel like I can begrudge someone who does buy it because they feel like they are supporting a game with a positive message. Both approaches have their merits, I think.

For me, it feels like a step forward…but also a step backward. So, in essence, it feels like we actually haven’t moved at all. Many other indie games, like Avery McDaldno’s Monsterhearts, have much more eloquent depictions of queer characters, and have been doing so for much longer. As it usually happens with big corporations finally catching up to indie developers, their first step can be plodding and clumsy. I can only hope that it leads to a much more decisive and sure second step.

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About Bryce Duzan

Bryce has lived in sunny San Francisco (or "sunny" San Francisco if you actually live there) for the past four and a half years. He studied Theater at San Francisco State, and spends most of his time playing games, whether they are in a video or board form. He hopes to make games and sip finely-crafted cocktails from a golden chalice for a living someday, but until then will settle for just trying to make people think...or at least laugh. Tweet at him @Spincut.

7 Responses

  1. avatar Lysander says:

    I’ve been reading up on this a bit.

    http://ardwulfslair.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/on-the-dd5-credits-controversy/

    The link above is yet another view of the whole thing. From what I understand, they were looking at rule sets.

    It is also talked about here.

    http://www.enworld.org/forum/content.php?1738-Encounter-Guidelines-for-D-D-5E-What-Does-A-Consultant-Do-and-PATHFINDER-UNCHAINED!#.U77f7pRdUmk

    I think that their role in D&D 5 is perhaps greatly overstated, and that simply because a person may have been consulted for their expertise around rule sets or mechanics, doesn’t mean that the product was at all governed or influenced by their thoughts. And since that passage appears in the rules, you can tell that they are trying to expand and include.

    (Full disclosure: I am friends with one of the designers, who is gay as well).

  2. […] On Tuesday, July 8th, Wizards of the Coast released the free basic rules for the fifth edition of the long-running RPG Dungeons and Dragons. For the first time, the rule set contained a section on sex. Here is the full text on that section (Images via GayGamer.net). […]

  3. avatar Giblet Blizzard says:

    “the person in question has a history of harassment and stalking others, especially cis women and trans people.”

    complete bollocks there.

    this is from Zeea, a cis moderator over at rpg.net. it’s in the link from Zak above, but if you don’t click on that link here’s the full message.

    “Zak S:

    So, I’ve spent a few hours doing as much research as I can, and I’ve talked to folks some more.

    I’m not going to equivocate. People made accusations against you without proof, the accusations got amplified and distorted and repeated through the Telephone Game effect, and I bought into it when I shouldn’t have.

    I can’t find any evidence of you making broad transphobic statements. I can find evidence of you making trans-inclusive statements. Every transgender person involved in arguments with you was in an argument about something unrelated to being trans, with the exception of the “morphodite” thing, which was such an over-the-top obscure thing to say that I’ll take you at your word that you were using it to parody a certain posting style.

    Furthermore, in every one of those discussions, there was a lot of shit and toxicity flying around and everyone was hot-tempered. And finally, because all of the incidents I’ve found any public examples of were “person and an entire faction of people vs. person and an entire faction of people,” even if there was cyberstalking aimed in either (or both) directions, there’s zero evidence you instigated it or posted non-public information.

    I don’t think anyone I talked to privately is intentionally lying about this. I think they believe it. But perceptions color memories, as does hearing the same event discussed by multiple people, and some of things look a bit stretched by this point. I can’t base an opinion on stretchy-looking facts.

    So, I hereby apologize for and retract any implication that you’re transphobic or have engaged in cyberstalking. I’m sorry. I’m going back to my original statement on the subject before I got all the private messages, which was, “As far as I know, neither Pundit or Zak S have said anything transphobic.”

    Furthermore, while I highly doubt that my opinion has _any_ influence on the subject whatsoever, and I wasn’t the one who started this whole line of discussion (nor was I the person that got Mike Mearls involved*), I sincerely apologize if anything I said on this subject damages your industry reputation in any way. I disagree with you on plenty of subjects, but I fucked up here and let that influence me to believe and repeat something I shouldn’t have.

    Oh, bonus apology. I said you were disingenuous. Know what? I’ve reread a lot of stuff you’ve posted and then read it in the context of other stuff I’ve found in places I don’t normally frequent. I retract and apologize for that, too. While you can be abrasive as hell and tend to accuse people of disagreeing with you because they’re “conservative,” it seems you’re arguing based on a sincere belief and not intentionally strawmanning. Plus, you’ve displayed more nuanced opinions on the subject in some places, and if I’d seen those before, I’d probably have had a different opinion.”

    It’s easy to fall back on rumor and hearsay, but the accusations of harassment of women and the LGBT community is utterly false, please do the right thing and update your article accordingly.

    peace.

  4. avatar Zeea says:

    Er…

    1) I apologized for very specific claims that I made. Not every claim that everyone made about Zak. At the very least, Zak made “the Google+ +1 List” and that was over the line and I’ve made my opinion on that clear. I’m sure as hell not accusing people of lying and didn’t there, nor was that a demand made of anyone else.

    2) I wasn’t a moderator when I said that. Just to clarify. That was a personal statement, not an official statement or anything.

    3) I’m transgender, not cis. :)

  5. avatar Kimor says:

    Paizo Publishing (makers of Pathfinder RPG) have featured LGTBQ characters for years in their adventures. Most of their Adventure Paths feature at least one prominent character with an alternative sexuality. While I laud Wizards for being accepting in this book, I think it’s a bit disappointing to not have their contributions mentioned at some point.

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