(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.
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.
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.