Imagine that you’re sitting at a table with a handful of friends. On the table surface rests a wide variety of polyhedral dice as well as an assortment of maps, miniature figurines, reference manuals, and character data sheets. But you’re not really thinking about any of that. In your mind you see the mongoloid tents around you in the fading evening light, and you hear the crunch of snow beneath your feet, and you feel the warmth of a nearby campfire on your face.
You’re playing Dungeons & Dragons, and one of your friends is leading the rest of you through a story. It all started back in a remote place called Palebank Village, where a few mysterious deaths triggered a series of events that led to a wide adventure. You’ve already had several encounters and collected a handful of mysterious relics. It now turns out that you’ve been directed to one of the tents around you, where you’ve heard someone wants to buy some of those very relics. You shoulder your heavy bags and approach the tent. You begin to step inside and the Dungeon Master (DM) describes the buyer:
“The Buyer (lawful neutral, nonbinary, high elf mage) is a mysterious elf who purchases Aeorian relics in Syrinlya for the Uthodurnian government.” – Frozen Sick DM Guide
Your immersion is completely broken. The image fades and all you see is the objects on the kitchen table. You can’t even muster the imaginative energy to wonder what sort of life a high elf mage would have had in order to get the point where it identifies as “nonbinary”.
You’d have been ready for almost anything. The DM could have described an elephant person and you were prepared to roll with it. You were ready for almost any fantasy element, save the particularly stupid fantasy elements of a contemporary libtard. The only thing that would’ve been worse is if the Buyer had greeted you with “let’s go Brandon!”
How did we get here? It turns out that the Dungeons & Dragons community has been undergoing a long process of “awokening” on issues surrounding race and sexuality.
In the wake of the 2020 death of George Floyd, Wizards of the Coast (the owning company of both Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering) put out a statement on diversity:
“Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is strength, for only a diverse group of adventurers can overcome the many challenges a D&D story presents.” – Wizards of the Coast
This is a classic equivocation that is often used when speaking about diversity. In one sense, this statement speaks to a core truth of many adventuring games. You need diversity on your team. You don’t just need fighters – it’s helpful to have a rogue to sneak around and pick locks, and to have a cleric to heal your team, and perhaps a bard to keep spirits high. This isn’t all they mean of course. They want you to accept that having black trannies on your adventuring team is also helpful for overcoming challenges.
When creating a Dungeons & Dragons character, you have many different races to choose from. In this context, “race” doesn’t mean what it means in the sense of “the White race”. It means whether you are a human, or an elf, or an orc, or something else. For example, here’s a representative image of what a D&D human looks like:
As you can see, Wizards of the Coast has been making an effort to keep up with the times – and the efforts go far beyond inserting faggot elves into adventures in frigid, remote regions.
Polygon reports that the upcoming D&D adventure book Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel is written by only black and brown authors.
“The next book published for Dungeons & Dragons will be an anthology of 13 adventures penned exclusively by Black and brown authors. Titled Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel, it will add a mysterious new floating city to the original role-playing game.”
The theme of that floating city is inspired by Indian rock-cut architecture. Some of the adventures are going to be about internal struggles about identity. It’s also going to feature a lot of peace and love.
“Unlike other cities from the modern D&D lore — places like Baldur’s Gate and Waterdeep — the Radiant Citadel isn’t overrun by crime lords, demons, or mind flayers. Instead, it’s a place where people can live together in peace.”
I’ll reserve judgment on how well the “living together in peace” thing works out as an adventure setting, and I do think that Indian architecture is a cool environment. But given how this book is being hyped it’s likely to have some very anti-White themes. When it comes out, I might stop by the local game store and report back.
The humans of reddit are generally supportive of this book’s diverse authorship. Some are sharp enough to note that black and brown people raised in America are influenced by the west and don’t have any special insight into other cultures by virtue of being black or brown. Some also notice the hypocrisy while supporting the overall mission of increasing diversity.
“I just don’t like the idea of making a book where the point is the absence of a specific race of author, which is expressly given as the point in the article.” – u/PurpleFirebolt
But these measures are a response to a crescendo of criticism for many of the “problematic” components that are inherent to D&D. From WIRED:
“It’s a game that was dominated by white dudes for decades and, because of that, it’s got some baggage. Some of its concepts—evil races, descriptions of orcs and half-orcs that mirror racist stereotypes, and the concept of racial disadvantages—don’t make sense anymore in a modern context.”
(Note the race-essentialism built into the claim that the baggage is because of white dudes.)
One of the problematic “racist stereotypes” is based on the theory that orcs are caricatures of blacks. Black author Nora K Jemisin did some brave deconstruction on the concept of an orc.
“What are orcs supposed to be? In nearly every iteration of orcs that occurs in fantasy, orcs are meant to be a warped mirror of humanity. They’ve got all the stuff that’s in humans — emotions, a degree of intellect, sometimes free will — but it’s all wrong.” – NK Jemisin
She goes on to infer that this means orcs are black.
Whether or not orcs are black, race is “baked into the cake” in D&D systems. From another WIRED article:
“Genetic determinism is a fantasy tradition. Dwarves are miners and forgers. Half-orcs are rampageous. Elves have otherworldly grace and enjoy poetry. Dark elves, known as Drow, have skin that ‘resembles charcoal’… Half-orcs, which are half-human and therefore playable according to Player’s Handbook rules, are ‘not evil by nature, but evil does work within them’.”
Historically, those half-orcs had a debuff to the Intelligence trait, reminding players of the dangers of miscegenation (that debuff has since been removed from the game rules).
It isn’t just the racial debuffs to intelligence that trigger the libs – the very notion of racial traits in the game is the core problem. And even beyond racial traits, the very idea that a group of people in an area would share a culture is problematized by D&D’s critics:
“D&D is a fantasy game, and fantasy has this unfortunate obsession with an anti-intellectual sort of ethnography. These people live in this place and behave like so, by nature. These other people don’t get along with them, simply because they are civilized and they are uncivilized.” – WIRED
Many of the woke criticisms are in such obvious bad faith that it’s hard to imagine that anyone would take them seriously. Of course people living in a region would develop a distinct culture from people living in vastly different regions. And of course orcs aren’t black. Black humans are black.
“In most fantasy settings in which I’ve seen orcs appear, they are fit only for one thing: to be mowed down, usually on sight and [without] negotiation, by Our Heroes. Orcs are human beings who can be slaughtered without conscience or apology.” – NK Jemisin
Orcs, half-orcs, and other problematic races still exist in the game of course. It seems impossible to even consider removing them. But this means that Wizards of the Coast will always be involved in an awkward dance. They can make woke overtures, but they can’t meaningfully address the core problems raised by critics because those problems are nearly impossible to address.
“The loudest voices criticizing D&D right now are doing it out of love. They don’t want to see it destroyed, they want it to change with the times.” – WIRED
As much as I’d like to see some game company push back against the idea that every single game on the planet needs to keep up with the times, that’s not the line Wizards of the Coast is taking. They are committed to “improving”.
“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. We want everyone to feel at home around the game table and to see positive reflections of themselves within our products. ‘Human’ in D&D means everyone, not just fantasy versions of northern Europeans, and the D&D community is now more diverse than it’s ever been.” – Wizards of the Coast (2020 Diversity Statement)
So the company wants to do better without ruining their own game entirely. This effort breaks down into two main components.
(1) To reduce race essentialism as much as possible, largely by clarifying that racial traits and alignments are optional (of course everything in D&D was already optional, as all rules are subordinate to the discretion of the Dungeon Master)
“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.” – Wizards of the Coast
(2) To hire less White people.
“We’re proactively seeking new, diverse talent to join our staff and our pool of freelance writers and artists. We’ve brought in contributors who reflect the beautiful diversity of the D&D community to work on books coming out in 2021.” – Wizards of the Coast
The company later put out a book called Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, an expanded D&D “sourcebook” providing new class details, new monsters, and new updated guides for character creation. It reinforces what everyone already understood, that players can ignore assigned racial traits and apply their own:
“If you’d like your character to follow their own path, you may ignore your Ability Score Increase trait and assign ability score increases tailored to your character.” – Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
This non-measure was of course not good enough. Making a rule optional in a rules optional game doesn’t count as change.
Professor Eugene Marshall, a player who led the effort to create an alternative to race for D&D called Ancestry and Culture, had this to say about the updated guide:
“I would like them to say something like, ‘Any sentient creature from the material plane is like a human, in that they can be anything they want to be—good, bad, smart, or not so smart.’ And so races might dictate certain things like whether you have dark vision or a breath weapon, but they just don’t dictate your behavior.”
I hate to engage in the “anti-intellectual ethnography” that so deeply triggers the WIRED authors, but I can’t get past my assumption that if you breathed literal fire all the time that this would influence how you thought about the world and how you behaved in it.
While the product line has made what might be called “strides”, to this day the racial stuff is pervasive in official materials. The Dungeons & Dragons website has this introduction for new users thinking about choosing a character’s race:
“Your choice of character race provides you with a basic set of advantages and special abilities. If you’re a fighter, are you a stubborn dwarf monster-slayer, a graceful elf blademaster, or a fierce dragonborn gladiator? If you’re a wizard, are you a brave human spell-for-hire or a devious tiefling conjurer? Your character race not only affects your ability scores and powers but also provides the first cues for building your character’s story.”
Your choice of race still gives you positive bonuses, but the racial debuffs (such as the miscegenated half-orcs having “-2 intelligence”) have been removed from the guides. But D&D materials still speak about humans the same way that Richard Spencer speaks about the White race:
“Humans are the innovators, the achievers, and the pioneers of the worlds.”
Given the limitations of the genre itself, there’s only so much that D&D can do to become compliant. They can minimize the alignment system (which I think is a pretty bad mechanic of characters’ moral motivations) or outright remove it with some rule changes. They can take the recommendations of Ancestry & Culture which won’t get rid of inherent traits but will divide them into things you receive from your genetic lineage and the things you inherit from your culture. This would actually be a fairly non-destructive change to the game, but it’s still good for new players to have a “default Dwarf” build that they can just pick up and play.
There is one thing they can do, and that is to hire diversity. This means that the creative output of Wizards of the Coast will probably continue to get a lot stupider, especially if that diversity is just woke minority Americans with no extra insight into foreign cultural traditions. Another great Western institution bites the dust.