Prompt 1: “If you could change anything about one of your core fandoms, what would it be?”
For the past few years, the fandom I spend the most time in is Dungeons & Dragons. The friends I play with are wonderful people. The company behind D&D has recently started working on replacing problematic content with updated versions that fit better into today’s world.
Unfortunately, some of the people who play D&D continue to be toxic, and this needs to change.
I am participating in “Promptapalooza”, where each blogger in the group posts a prompt for the next blogger to write about. This one was posted by Belghast on Tales of the Aggronaut. This prompt wasn’t directed at me, but any blogger in the group can write about any prompt they feel inspired to respond to.
Years ago, when I was just getting into D&D, I was the only woman in the group. It wasn’t until this year that I realized I’m an “enby”. The word non-binary wasn’t one that was widely used back in the 1990s, when I was in a D&D group that played – in person – regularly.
It wasn’t easy being the only girl in the group. I remember rolling up a female fighter, and being told that I needed to lower my character’s hit points because women were weaker than men. To me, it was obvious that this was dumb. But. the guys at the table insisted that this was part of the rules.
Maybe the rule book was intentionally designed to discriminate against female characters. The guys I was playing with didn’t seem to care about that. If I wanted to play, I was going to have to do it with less hit points than I should have had.
As time went on, some of the other guys in the group took turns as Dungeon Master (a phrase that is incredibly outdated now, in a world where the terminology “master/slave” is being removed from coding). The world moves on, and it is time to move from Dungeon Master to Dungeon Manager.
One of the DMs decided to harass a very socially awkward player by forcing him into a choice. The player’s male character could either be turned into a female character (against the will of both the character and the player), or a powerful NPC was going to sexually assault the player character.
The other players tried everything we could think of to intervene, but the DM wasn’t allowing it. It appeared that everyone, except the DM, was incredibly disturbed by the situation. No one wanted to talk about it after the game ended for the night.
The DM knew that I had, in the past, been sexually assaulted multiple times and was a rape survivor. And he insisted on putting that particular scenario into the game anyway. He never apologized to me, or to the friend he was tormenting.
Our solution was to not allow that guy to be a DM anymore. Later, he was allowed to be a co-DM with another person who could veto that guy’s horrific decisions.
Unfortunately, these type of horrible scenarios continue to happen in tabletop RPGs. A recent example happened in the Far Varona “actual play” (which isn’t D&D, but is a tabletop RPG, which means there are similarities). Game Master Adam Kobel played an NPC that sexually assaulted a player’s character. This happened while Far Varona was streaming live on YouTube.
Elspheth Eastman played a synthetic human named Johnny Collins. She was not told ahead of time that Rocket, the NPC played by Adam Kobel, was going to sexually assault Johnny.
Elspeth Eastman quit the game, as did the rest of the Far Varona cast. Season 2 of the series has been cancelled.
Recently, a small D&D group that apparently is on Twitch decided to have a meltdown on Twitter. Whoever is behind the account felt the need to let the world know how sexist and racist they are. I’m not going to link to the Twitter account because mean people don’t deserve free advertising.
Insisting that their viewpoint is the majority, the person behind that Twitter account had a tantrum because people pushed back against a segment they posted in which they ranted against “SJW ideology”.
The person appears to be angry that Dungeons & Dragons is making an effort to correct errors made in the past regarding diversity in how peoples are depicted in their games.
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 characterized as monstrous and evil, using descriptions that are painfully reminiscent of how real-world ethnic groups have been and continue to be denigrated. That’s just not right, and it’s not something we believe in. Despite our conscious efforts to the contrary, we have allowed some of those old descriptions to reappear in the game. We recognize that to live our values, we have to do an even better job in handling these issues. If we make mistakes, our priority is to make things right.
Here’s a few things D&D is 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.
- We’ve received valuable insights from sensitivity readers on two of our recent books. We are incorporating sensitivity readers into our creative process, and we will continue to reach out to experts in various fields to help us identify our blind spots.
- 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. We’re going to invest even more in this approach and add a broad range of new voices to join the chorus of D&D storytelling.
The nasty person, whose Twitter account and podcast shall not be named here, described D&D’s changes as “virtue signaling”. The person insists their D&D group “is not giving in to the SJW grievance/cancel culture Twitter mob”. Fortunately, this person claims he will stop purchasing D&D products that he appears to be offended by. So, no one will have to play D&D with him anymore!
Obviously, this is a toxic person that refuses to grow up and realize that there are plenty of players who are happy about the changes D&D is making. D&D is for everyone, and it makes sense for that game, which was first published in the 1970s, to update and improve in order to fit today’s world.
If I could change anything about Dungeons & Dragons, my core fandom, it would be to remove the worst people from the game. Kick them out of your group. Shun them at conventions. Block them on social media. Make their world smaller, and you reduce their ability to harm people.
Wizards of the Coast, which owns Dungeons & Dragons, has the opportunity to set a good example by firing Mike Mearls, making a meaningful apology to Orion Black, and publicly stating the active steps they are taking to improve how they treat their freelancers.
Changes Must be Made is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.
If you enjoyed this blog post please consider supporting me on Ko-fi. Thank you!