D&D Historian Benn Riggs On Gary Gygax & Sexism

D&D historian Ben Riggs delved into the facts.

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The recent book The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons 1970-1977 talks about the early years of D&D. In the book, authors Jon Peterson and Jason Tondro talk about the way the game, and its writers, approached certain issues. Not surprisingly, this revelation received aggressive "pushback" on social media because, well, that sort of thing does--in fact, one designer who worked with Gygax at the time labelled it "slanderous".

D&D historian Ben Riggs--author of Slaying the Dragon--delved into the facts. Note that the below was posted on Twitter, in that format, not as an article.

D&D Co-Creator Gary Gygax was Sexist. Talking About it is Key to Preserving his Legacy.

The internet has been rending its clothes and gnashing its teeth over the introduction to an instant classic of TTRPG history, The Making of Original D&D 1970-1977. Published by Wizards of the Coast, it details the earliest days of D&D’s creation using amazing primary source materials.

Why then has the response been outrage from various corners of the internet? Well authors Jon Peterson and Jason Tondro mention that early D&D made light of slavery, disparaged women, and gave Hindu deities hit points. They also repeated Wizard’s disclaimer for legacy content which states:"These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed."

In response to this, an army of grognards swarmed social media to bite their shields and bellow. Early D&D author Rob Kuntz described Peterson and Tondro’s work as “slanderous.” On his Castle Oldskull blog, Kent David Kelly called it “disparagement.” These critics are accusing Peterson and Tondro of dishonesty. Lying, not to put too fine a point on it.So, are they lying? Are they making stuff up about Gary Gygax and early D&D?

Well, let's look at a specific example of what Peterson and Tondro describe as “misogyny “ from 1975's Greyhawk. Greyhawk was the first supplement ever produced for D&D. Written by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz, the same Rob Kuntz who claimed slander above, it was a crucial text in the history of the game. For example, it debuted the thief character class. It also gave the game new dragons, among them the King of Lawful Dragons and the Queen of Chaotic Dragons. The male dragon is good, and female dragon is evil. (See Appendix 1 below for more.)


It is a repetition of the old trope that male power is inherently good, and female power is inherently evil. (Consider the connotations of the words witch and wizard, with witches being evil by definition, for another example.)

Now so-called defenders of Gygax and Kuntz will say that my reading of the above text makes me a fool who wouldn’t know dragon’s breath from a virtue signal. I am ruining D&D with my woke wokeness. Gygax and Kuntz were just building a fun game, and decades later, Peterson and Tondro come along to crap on their work by screeching about misogyny.

(I would also point out that as we are all white men of a certain age talking about misogyny, the worst we can expect is to be flamed online. Women often doing the same thing get rape or death threats.)

Critics of their work would say that Peterson and Tondro are reading politics into D&D. Except that when we return to the Greyhawk text, we see that it was actually Gygax and Kuntz who put “politics” into D&D.

The text itself comments on the fact that the lawful dragon is male, and the chaotic one is female. Gygax and Kuntz wrote: “Women’s lib may make whatever they wish from the foregoing.”


The intent is clear. The female is a realm of chaos and evil, so of course they made their chaotic evil dragon a queen.

Yes, Gygax and Kuntz are making a game, but it is a game whose co-creator explicitly wrote into the rules that feminine power—perhaps even female equality—is by nature evil. There is little room for any other interpretation.

The so-called defenders of Gygax may now say that he was a man of his time, he didn’t know better, or some such. If only someone had told him women were people too in 1975! Well, Gygax was criticized for this fact of D&D at the time. And he left us his response.

Writing in EUROPA, a European fanzine, Gygax said:“I have been accused of being a nasty old sexist-male-Chauvinist-pig, for the wording in D&D isn’t what it should be. There should be more emphasis on the female role, more non-gendered names, and so forth."


"I thought perhaps these folks were right and considered adding women in the ‘Raping and Pillaging[’] section, in the ‘Whores and Tavern Wenches’ chapter, the special magical part dealing with ‘Hags and Crones’...and thought perhaps of adding an appendix on ‘Medieval Harems, Slave Girls, and Going Viking’. Damn right I am sexist. It doesn’t matter to me if women get paid as much as men, get jobs traditionally male, and shower in the men’s locker room."

"They can jolly well stay away from wargaming in droves for all I care. I’ve seen many a good wargame and wargamer spoiled thanks to the fair sex. I’ll detail that if anyone wishes.”

So just to summarize here, Gygax wrote misogyny into the D&D rules. When this was raised with him as an issue at the time, his response was to offer to put rules on rape and sex slavery into D&D.

The outrage online directed at Peterson and Tondro is not only entirely misplaced and disproportional, and perhaps even dishonest in certain cases...

Part 2: D&D Co-Creator Gary Gygax was Sexist. Talking About it is Key to Preserving his Legacy....it is also directly harming the legacies of Gygax, Arneson, Kuntz and the entire first generation of genius game designers our online army of outraged grognards purport to defend.

How? Let me show you.The D&D player base is getting more diverse in every measurable way, including age, gender, sexual orientation, and race. To cite a few statistics, 81% of D&D players are Millenials or Gen Z, and 39% are women. This diversity is incredible, and not because the diversity is some blessed goal unto itself. Rather, the increasing diversity of D&D proves the vigor of the TTRPG medium. Like Japanese rap music or Soviet science fiction, the transportation of a medium across cultures, nations, and genders proves that it is an important method for exploring the human condition. And while TTRPGs are a game, they are also clearly an important method for exploring the human condition. The fact the TTRPG fanbase is no longer solely middle-aged Midwestern cis men of middle European descent...

...the fact that non-binary blerds and Indigenous trans women and fat Polish-American geeks like me and people from every bed of the human vegetable garden ...

find meaning in a game created by two white guys from the Midwest is proof that Gygax and Arneson were geniuses who heaved human civilization forward, even if only by a few feet.

So, as a community, how do we deal with the ugly prejudices of our hobby’s co-creator who also baked them into the game we love? We could pretend there is no problem at all, and say that anyone who mentions the problem is a liar. There is no misogyny to see. There is no **** and there is no stink, and anyone who says there is naughty word on your sneakers is lying and is just trying to embarrass you.

I wonder how that will go? Will all these new D&D fans decide that maybe D&D isn’t for them? They know the stink of misogyny, just like they know **** when they smell it. To say it isn’t there is an insult to their intelligence. If they left the hobby over this, it would leave our community smaller, poorer, and suggest that the great work of Gygax, Arneson, Kuntz, and the other early luminaries on D&D was perhaps not so great after all…

We could take the route of Disney and Song of the South. Wizards could remove all the PDFs of early D&D from DriveThruRPG. They could refuse to ever reprint this material again. Hide it. Bury it. Erase it all with copyright law and lawyers. Yet no matter how deeply you bury the past, it always tends to come back up to the surface again. Heck, there are whole podcast series about that. And what will all these new D&D fans think when they realize that a corporation tried to hide its own mistakes from them?

Again, maybe they decide D&D isn’t the game for them. Or maybe when someone tells you there is **** on your shoe, you say thanks, clean it off, and move on.

We honor the old books, but when they tell a reader they are a lesser human being, we should acknowledge that is not the D&D of 2024. Something like...

“Hey reader, we see you in all your wondrous multiplicity of possibility, and if we were publishing this today, it wouldn’t contain messages and themes telling some of you that you are less than others. So we just want to warn you. That stuff’s in there.”

Y’know, something like that legacy content warning they put on all those old PDFs on DriveThruRPG. And when we see something bigoted in old D&D, we talk about it. It lets the new, broad, and deep tribe of D&D know that we do not want bigotry in D&D today. Talking about it welcomes the entire human family into the hobby.To do anything less is to damn D&D to darkness. It hobbles its growth, gates its community, denies the world the joy of the game, and denies its creators their due. D&D’s creators were visionary game designers. They were also people, and people are kinda ****** up. So a necessary step in making D&D the sort of cultural pillar that it deserves to be is to name its bigotries and prejudices when you see them. Failure to do so hurts the game by shrinking our community and therefore shrinking the legacy of its creators.

Appendix 1: Yeah, I know Chaos isn’t the same as Evil in OD&D.

But I would also point out as nerdily as possible that on pg. 9 of Book 1 of OD&D, under “Character Alignment, Including Various Monsters and Creatures,” Evil High Priests are included under the “Chaos” heading, along with the undead. So I would put to you that Gygax did see a relationship between Evil and Chaos at the time.


Look, folks, we know how a conversation like this goes on the internet. Because, internet. Read the rules you agreed to before replying. The banhammer will be used on those who don't do what they agreed to.

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I'm a little lost in your argument here. Are you saying the history book should not have prefaced Gygax's writing by acknowledging that he included sexist ideas?
No, I'm just saying that I think people are not taking the context into account when judging his words and that his statements probably sound more extreme to us today because of that.

So, are we infantilizing Gygax now, saying that the person who was inarguably the biggest figure in the roleplaying industry -- then and now -- and who had a very sense of self-esteem, could not have expected his words to have been recorded and passed on?
I think you can't underestimate the difference between a pre- and post-internet world. People had to get hard copies of things in order to read them back then. I don't believe that is infantilizing; it's just acknowledging that things were different.

And now I really am going.

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Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Two thoughts: first, racism didn't go away or even immediately become a social taboo in all circles when the Civil Rights Bill was passed. That took a few years to percolate. Second, as we all know, the Equal Rights Amendment ultimately didn't succeed.

Why do you suppose it took as long as it did to get as far as it did?

Never said it was. But it was more tolerated then then than it is now. I don't see how you can dispute that.
God I hate when people dissect my posts to try and respond line by line rather than addressing the entire point...

No. Racism didn't go away when the Civil Rights Amendment passed. In fact it's still in the room with us. But the Civil Rights Amendment was a referendum on how the public at large viewed the rights and conditions of black Americans just like the ERA was a referendum on how the public at large viewed the rights and conditions of women in America.

Both of them passed because enough people in the US disliked racism and the way black Americans and women in America were treated that not only did they elect a BOATLOAD of politicians who would push it through Congress... They made those politicians understand that it was important enough to them that their political careers (the thing most important to a politician) would not be harmed by making a positive vote.

Meanwhile 150 Representatives knew if they voted AGAINST the ERA it would harm their careers. 100 abstained to avoid that.

Gosh. Why do I suppose that an Amendment which works to dismantle an unfair power structure that has existed for a long time took a long time to pass? Gee. Lemme think. Ooooo. This is a hard one! Maybe my tiny female brain can't quite comprehend big important things like this! Why don't you go ahead and tell me? But make sure to use small words!

Sincerely, this is not an appropriate topic, and I'm not an appropriate target, to slap with rhetorical leading questions which exist simply to dismiss points without actually confronting the content of those points.

The point being made was that feminism and women's lib wasn't something "New" at the time. It was a battle that had literally been going on for generations by the time it passed in the House and Senate.

That by the time Gygax was -born- in 1938, people had been not only talking about it in the Halls of Power, but had already taken up the idea of making it a Constitutional Amendment for 15 years.

Like I get it. You imagine that the race -STARTED- with the ERA being dispersed for ratification. But history doesn't work like that. Culture doesn't work like that. Ideas had been changing for SO LONG that by 1923 there was enough political power on the "Stop being Sexist" side to have Representatives and Senators support the movement.

Doesn't mean it's over. But does mean that being sexist wasn't as popular. ESPECIALLY in the states that ratified it and turned it around immediately.

Was sexism and racism more tolerated in the 1970s? Absolutely. We've broadly become less tolerant of bigotry over time. You still didn't proudly state you were a sexist in the 1970s and offer to write a chapter on sexual assault for your TTRPG unless you were, shock of shocks, ACTUALLY a sexist bigot rather than a 'Product of your time'.

Also: The ERA hasn't been ratified, yet. But that doesn't mean it "Didn't Succeed". Just means that the fight isn't over, yet.


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A lot of people sure do seem to think that having their incidental conversations recorded and then printed half a century later without much context to go with it will portray them as paragons of virtue, as fast as they are to point fingers.
2005 wasn't half a century ago, and a public blog post isn't an "incidental conversation." He wasn't hanging with friends at a party, he was participating in an online Q&A on Dragonsfoot Forums as the guest of honor.
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The Equal Rights Amendment passed the House of Representatives 354-55 with over 100 abstentions in 1972.

It passed the Senate with 84 out of 100 possible votes.

Sexism was controversial in the 70s to a degree that the overwhelming majority of politicians thought that the best way to resolve all the sexist laws was to pass an amendment to nullify them all in one shot.

And amendment that was proposed in 1923. 49 years earlier.

Sexism wasn't the hip and cool thing to be or do in the 70s. It was a form of bigotry and people recognized it and rebuked it to a massive degree.

And then (basically) Phyllis Schlafly's long planning paid off and she completed her remolding of the GOP, which killed the ERA, and and took all the forward momentum on the ERA and related issues out of the US's sails.

(Chapter 15 in Lepore's "These Truths" is really depressing about it).


I mean if he'd been born in, say, 1988 rather than 1938. His views (both his opinions and his perspective on what one can and can't say) would have been formed in a very different environment.
Maybe, there are still bigots around today too, he could be one of those just as easily. It's not like he was born into a time and environment and could only helplessly watch what it turned him into.

He lived long enough and certainly could have reconsidered his misogyny, but he did not, that was a choice then as it is a choice now.


Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Also worth noting:

Wisconsin ratified the Amendment on the 26th of April, 1972. It had been sent out for ratification on March 22nd of the same year. So in a month and 4 days, WISCONSIN, where GARY GYGAX lived and worked... Ratified the ERA.

That's a fast turnaround for someone who lives in the state to feel like it's socially acceptable to go "Yeah, I'm sexist. Wanna fight about it?" to his own very small fanbase 3 years later.


Maybe, there are still bigots around today too, he could be one of those just as easily. It's not like he was born into a time and environment and could only helplessly watch what it turned him into.

He lived long enough and certainly could have reconsidered his misogyny, but he did not, that was a choice then as it is a choice now.

It's a choice Sorta. IDK anything about Gary's dad but if you get raised a certain way it's very difficult to make a choice. Very easily leads to you're right I'm wrong.

Asking Gary to change his views to suit yours also works the other way round.

I used Rupert Murdoch as an example. Caricature James Bond villain. His father though was a piece of work.

That's assuming there's nothing else going on.

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