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.)

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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.”


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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."

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"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.

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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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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
God I hate when people dissect my posts to try and respond line by line rather than addressing the entire point...
Tangential point here - I understand that this posting style is frustrating for some people, and that it can be used as a deceptive rhetorical tactic. But, also, some folks (myself included) find it very difficult to respond to a lengthy post without breaking it up, at least a bit. Forum discussion works very differently than live discussion, because a poster can write as much as they want in one post, and take as long as they want to write it, which often means a they can easily make several different points in a single post. Trying to respond to a lengthy post without breaking it up to address different points with in it can be a lot like trying to respond to a gish-gallop, even when the person who made the post was not trying to use such a tactic.

Obviously don’t go crazy, breaking up a single paragraph into many different parts, or breaking up sentences into incomplete fragments. But, I think within reason, separating a long post into multiple talking points should be considered appropriate in a forum discussion.
 

They were -both- called out in their own time.

Hell, Gygax's statements in the article he wrote were in DIRECT RESPONSE to being called out for sexism. And it's not like he was some massive famous celebrity being attacked by people who were outside his sphere of influence and had only heard about his statements second or third-hand.

Being 'called out' for either doesn't mean their views were uncommon for their time, only that some people found what they said offensive.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
Tangential point here - I understand that this posting style is frustrating for some people, and that it can be used as a deceptive rhetorical tactic. But, also, some folks (myself included) find it very difficult to respond to a lengthy post without breaking it up, at least a bit. Forum discussion works very differently than live discussion, because a poster can write as much as they want in one post, and take as long as they want to write it, which often means a they can easily make several different points in a single post. Trying to respond to a lengthy post without breaking it up to address different points with in it can be a lot like trying to respond to a gish-gallop, even when the person who made the post was not trying to use such a tactic.

Obviously don’t go crazy, breaking up a single paragraph into many different parts, or breaking up sentences into incomplete fragments. But, I think within reason, separating a long post into multiple talking points should be considered appropriate in a forum discussion.
Sure... But he dissected a post into 3 lines to try and break out individual "Gotchyas" while ignoring the rest of the post, the post it was responding to, or the previous posts in the discussion.

Splitting it up into paragraphs or whatever I get, especially when I get going on my verbosity 'cause you've seen me post. I'm a wordy bird.

But that was -dissection- for the purpose of dismissal, nothing more. Cutting out three lines to discuss them in isolation with rhetorical flourish and an insulting tone.
 

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
but beauty is in the eye of the Beholder.
Don't I matter??

LOL
You do know the thread isn't about old art in D&D or how much of a racist GG was, right?

To quote Morrus: "
I’ll explain it again.

1) WotC published a history book. In the foreword the authors mentioned briefly some of the historical elements of the game we’re discussing.

2) People online attacked the authors calling them liars and accusing them of slander.

3) Ben Riggs posted defending the authors, showing that they are not liars or slanderers by providing evidence."

No one's talking about the art of Elmore or whatnot.
 

mamba

Legend
t'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.
I don't know his dad either, but I can tell you that most people do not just become carbon copies of their father, regardless of how abusive they are

Asking Gary to change his views to suit yours also works the other way round.
First of all, I did not ask him to change, little late for that. Second, I see no problem with wanting people to do better and not tolerating their intolerance.

They can still choose what they do about it, but they cannot expect that they can just be as horrible a human being as they want to and no one points it out to them. You have the right to be a PoS, and I have the right to call you out on it.

I used Rupert Murdoch as an example. Caricature James Bond villain. His father though was a piece of work.
my compassion for poor Rupert is very limited. He has been a net negative to humanity for a long time now, and I do not excuse that just because his father sucked too
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Sure... But he dissected a post into 3 lines to try and break out individual "Gotchyas" while ignoring the rest of the post, the post it was responding to, or the previous posts in the discussion.

Splitting it up into paragraphs or whatever I get, especially when I get going on my verbosity 'cause you've seen me post. I'm a wordy bird.

But that was -dissection- for the purpose of dismissal, nothing more. Cutting out three lines to discuss them in isolation with rhetorical flourish and an insulting tone.
For sure. Like I said, there’s a limit. I just wanted to chime in cause I’ve had friction with other posters before over my own tendency to separate out points within a post I’m responding to. But yeah, like I said, keep it within reason, don’t chop things up to the point of obfuscating their context.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
Being 'called out' for either doesn't mean their views were uncommon for their time, only that some people found what they said offensive.
Yes. You're right. It means some people found what was said offensive.

Which means that at the time there were people who didn't agree. And in the context of sexism in America which passed the ERA through Congress uncontested 3 years prior with 84 senators voting in favor of protecting women's rights and working to redress the inherent structural issues facing women...

And Wisconsin ratified the CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT within 35 days of it landing in their legislature...

The context kinda indicates that maybe, -just maybe-, Gary Gygax wasn't on the side of popular opinion as much as people like to present it that way. Because it's EASIER for us to pretend that the past was a miserable place full of evil and darkness so profound and popular that no one could really do anything about it.

And the fact that he doubled down and said "Yes I am a sexist" and offered to write terrible sexist things into the game and tell stories about how women "Ruined" games and players...

It becomes less and less likely that his behavior was normal to the period and more like he was a Justin Lanasa or JK Rowling type. People who, when confronted with any kind of rebuke of their bigoted ideas double down and gnash and wail about how they're being oppressed by people who just don't want to hear their bigotry anymore.

YMMV.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
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.

Well, the public at large in the North anyway:

Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example:

House Reps from South: 8-94
House Reps from Rest: 281-32

Senators from South: 1-22
Senators from Rest: 1-21

To be fair, much/most of the north was very segregated geographically and unofficially (as opposed to legally), and I wonder if many white voters up there didn't think it would affect them.

Speaking of the north, the sitcom Good Times began in 1974, with the Jeffersons a year later. My hometown's school board in Northern Illinois had a major lawsuit filed against it in 1989 about racial discrimination. Los Angeles filed suit against four banks for redlining just last year. As of 2019, a list of the most segregated cities in the US had Detroit, Newark, Chicago, and Milwaukee as numbers 1 and 3-5.
 

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