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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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Calling someone a whale is an insult. Period. It’s the same as calling them a sucker, a mark, etc. Unless you are referring to their weight. Which is a different insult.
I think the meaning has drifted, at least outside of the world of gambling. As someone who at least has swum with whales in terms of what I've been willing to spend on my hobby, I've never found it offensive and have never encountered anyone complaining about the term. Seems like a serviceable term for those with the income and willingness to spend much higher than average amounts of money on something. For certain goods and services, whale hunting makes for a successful sales strategy. Even in the world of gambling, I've never encountered anyone raising issues about the term. When you are able and willing to spend huge sums on gambling and the casino rewards you with lavish comps, I fail to see how that is a context that makes the term offensive.

As far as I can tell, you're an outlier here and I'm not going to stop using the term and replace it with limp, verbose phrases like "high net-worth individual" or "top-tier client" ("high roller" doesn't make sense outside the gambling context) because it bothers one stranger on the internet.
 
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Queer Venger

Dungeon Master is my Daddy
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.
okay good, I was afraid old D&D fantasy art was being canceled.

So happy it's not.
 


You know, I'm starting to get really annoyed with this idea that these two authors wanted to pass judgement and destroy Gary Gygax and hate old DnD. I did not want to open my copy of this book yet, I was not ready to read this book yet, but the sure amount of misinformation I knew was present was driving me up the wall.

So, here it is. Typed up in its entirety from my copy, the Preface from Jason Tondro followed by the Foreword from Jon Peterson. Let us stop going by what other people claim, and look right at the source of this outrage.

First, thanks for posting that. Unless you scanned it, that's a lot of work. The vast majority of both texts, I didn't find particularly offensive.

The framing of race (of the original creators and players) and cultural appropriation are forms of 'passing judgement.'
 

Zardnaar

Legend
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


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.


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

It's an illustration of my point. It's been a while but I remember the difficulty of convincing people otherwise from rehab to Integration. Failure rates are really high. Things will change but it's generational. And might not go your way.

Rupert just the easiest example to use along with Roger Ailes whose worldview was shaped by Vietnam. I may have rewatched the Bond movies lately the 1997 one iirc is quite relevant now.
 

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.

Certainly not popular opinion, but common opinion.

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...

I am somewhat skeptical about the reporting or for that matter, just how serious he was when he made different statements. Some people will say outrageous things to just get a rise out of others, or they think they are being funny.

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.

Again...common.

It is really hard to compare.

 

Kannik

Hero
So, here it is. Typed up in its entirety from my copy, the Preface from Jason Tondro followed by the Foreword from Jon Peterson. Let us stop going by what other people claim, and look right at the source of this outrage.

Some language in the first iteration of D&D presents a moral quandry. The documents reproduced in this book include many pages of charts and tables alongside lists of monsters, spells, and magic items. But that game content also includes a virtual catalog of insensitive and derogatory language, words that are casually hurtful to anyone with a physical or mental disability, or who happens to be old, fat, not conventionally attractive, indigenous, Black or a woman.
Thank you for posting that. It has made me angry, for now I realize that the REAL controversy has been suspiciously ignored: the lack of Oxford comma use! It's an affront to proper language and an attack on all of us readers! Where's my Fauchard-Glaive-Voulge-Guisarme-Fork?
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
You know, I'm starting to get really annoyed with this idea that these two authors wanted to pass judgement and destroy Gary Gygax and hate old DnD. I did not want to open my copy of this book yet, I was not ready to read this book yet, but the sure amount of misinformation I knew was present was driving me up the wall.

So, here it is. Typed up in its entirety from my copy, the Preface from Jason Tondro followed by the Foreword from Jon Peterson. Let us stop going by what other people claim, and look right at the source of this outrage.

It's difficult to overstate the impact of Dungeons and Dragons on games and gaming. Modern video games - their classes, levels and hit points - are D&D's direct descendants, using language, tropes, and mechanics first created by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax. Science Fiction and fantasy wargames likewise descend directly from some of the materials included in this book. The influence of D&D is not limited to gamers; people who've never played D&D brag about leveling up or choose their alignment from a meme depicting a nine-panel grid. D&D is a part of American culture and resonates deeply with audiences from around the globe.

Perhaps more important than D&D's worldwide influence is its role in the lives of the millions of people who play the game. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS brings people together. It encourages players to adopt the perspective of someone other than themselves and cooperate towards a shared goal.

In a time when humanity has been wracked by a global pandemic and forced to isolate, when children have beenm unable to got to school and friends unable to share a meal, D&D reminded us to never split the party. And as we have - in halting steps and at varying comfort levels - emerged from COVID, roleplaying games have shown us a way to rebuild relationships and alleviate loneliness.

The history of D&D is, therefore, worth knowing. Many authors have attempted to chronicle its history, and many of those texts provide valuable insight. This book takes a different approach. It presents the documents that made up D&D in its earliest form so that you, the reader, can see the origins of D&D for yourself. It begins with early writings by Gygax and Arneson, including Gygax's Chainmail rules and selections from Arneson's Blackmoor campaign.

This book also includes something never before published: the original draft of Dungeons & Dragons that Gygax crafted on his home typewriter, with his and Arneson's annotations and corrections. This draft led to the 1974 publication of the first edition of D&D, which is reprinted here in its entirety.

Finally, the three most important suplements to the first edition of the game - Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry - appear here, as do numerous articles and expansions written by fans, many of which were incorporated into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in the years after 1977.

With a few noted exceptions, every page reproduced in this book is from a first printing with no attempt to correct the original pages. Street addresses and phone numbers have been redacted. The early rules for D&D are important and incredibly influential, but they're also confusing and even contradictory; that's how we have left them. We don't encourage you to try to play 1974 D&D from these pages! (If you want to try, Wizards of the Coast has edited and republished the original Dungeons & Dragons "white box" in both physical and digital formats. These reprints incorporate errata from later printings of the game.)

This book presents D&D as it was first imagined, warts and all. What sort of warts are we talking about? One example is including creatures from other intellectual properties, such as J.R.R Tolkien's Middle-earth, without permission; in later printings of D&D, balrogs, hobbits, and ents were renamed balors, halflings, and treants to avoid these copyright issues.

Some language in the first iteration of D&D presents a moral quandry. The documents reproduced in this book include many pages of charts and tables alongside lists of monsters, spells, and magic items. But that game content also includes a virtual catalog of insensitive and derogatory language, words that are casually hurtful to anyone with a physical or mental disability, or who happens to be old, fat, not conventionally attractive, indigenous, Black or a woman.

Some people have charitably ascribed this language to authors working from bad assumptions. In the 1970's, historical wargamers in America were predominantly white, middle-class men; it isn't surprising that they would dub a class of soldiers the "fighting-man". But when in the pages of Greyhawk, the description of the Queen of Chaotic Dragons includes a dig at "Women's Lib" the misogyny is revealed as a concious choice. It's an unfortuanate fact that women seldom appear in original D&D, and when they do, they're usually portrayed disrespectfully. Slavery appears in original D&D not as a human tragedy that devastated generations over centuries, but as a simply commercial transaction. The cultural appropriation of original D&D ranges from the bewildering (like naming every 6th-level cleric a "lama") to the staggering; Gods, Demigods, and Heroes (not reprinted in this book) includes game statistics for sacred figures revered by more than a billion people around the world. Were players expected to fight Vishnu, one of the principle deities of Hinduism, kill him, and loot his "plus 3 sword of demon slaying"?

Despite these shortcomings, D&D has always been a game about people choosing to be someone unlike themselves and collaborating with strangers who become friends. It has slowly become more inclusive, and as the player base has become more diverse, the pool of creators who make the game has expanded to include people with a broader range of idenities and backgrounds. As these new creators make the game more welcoming, the game has attracted new fans who, in turn, continue to make the game more inclusive. The future of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, here at its fiftieth anniversary, is bright.

And it all started with the pages that follow.

And now, I am glad I am doing this. While I am certain many people will be offended by the three paragraphs out of eleven that discuss the issue, this also highlighted something very useful. Not once in the entire Preface did he name names. He mentions that Gygax and Arneson wrote the original stuff, but when discussing the first printing he doesn't say "and Gygax said" or "and Gygax was" or anything of the sort. He says the material existed and the total part talking about sexism is THREE SENTENCES.

But that was enough to spark calls of lying and conspiracies.

In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Dungeons & Dragons (1974), this omnibus gives the complete text of the original game and its first three supplements, with supporting material from before and after its release that sheds light on D&D's development, evolution, and reception. Focusing on the years 1970 - 1977, it provides both a definitive edition of the earliest incarnation of D&D and indications of how it came to be what it is. Beyond published products, this book reproduces drafts, correspondence, magazine articles, and related ephemera.

No book published today could hope to give a complete picture of the making of D&D. For reasons of space and copyright, not everything can be included. And for many early parts of this story, there is but fragementary evidence. The commentary in this book is intended to be an account that will stand regardless of anything that might come to light in the future.

When we examine the development of D&D in the crucial period of 1972-1973, we must inevtiably contend with the respective contributions of the game's coauthors, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Following a bitter public dispute that began in 1977 over credit and royalties, both authors made contradictory public statements about who did what. It has long been my position that the contributions of both cocreators were indespensable - that the game would not have appeared, let along survived for half a century, without the works and ideas of both Gygac and Arnseson.

But that said, the original designers of D&D were themselves participants in broader communities in wargaming and science-fiction fandom, and the game owes much of its shaoe to the web of influences that surrounded them. Gygax and Arneson socialized many of their ideas in fan magazines, or fanzines, some of which are reproduced here.

Fanzines are notoriously difficult for researchers to work with: they are often poorly printed, are full of significant typos, and have problems with dating and attribution. They may therefore be difficult to parse, but fanzines and other such ephemera are presented here in their original form, with some digital cleanup to remove blemishes and other artifacts.

Much of the immediate context of D&D began with the Castles & Crusades Society, a medieval wargaming club to which Gygax and Arneson both belonged. In the pages of the club fanzine Domesday Book, Gygax first published material he later compiled in Chainmail (1971). As the draft foreword to Dungeons & Dragons related, the Society's "Great Kingdom" setting encompassed the territory known as Blackmoor, the site of Arneson's seminal fantasy campaign. While there is no small controversy about the details, it is safe to follow the foreword and say that "from the Chainmail Fantasy Rules [Arneson] drew an expanded set of rules for battles and the campaign." for Blackmoor, which Gygax further developed into the first draft of Dungeons & Dragons.

Readers may note that more material of Gygax's is reproduced in this volume than of Arneson's. Gygax was quite a prolific writer and neccessarily left a longer paper trail of his activities in the original D&D period. The collaboration between the pair of them was not entirely a happy one even before Dungeons & Dragons was published, and assessing which one of them contributed a given idea can be challenging. Certain early documents relating to Blackmoor were published by Judges Guild in The First Fantasy Campaign (1977), though it also anthologizes material created after the 1974 publication fo the original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set with little signposting to date the age of respective passages. THose documents aren't included here, though this book summarizes their contents where neccessary.

It is my privilege to help make this rare early material available to gamers interested in the history of D&D. The degree to which the original system is playable today depends heavily on the impetus and imagination of the players; in the mid-1970's early adopters had to fill in plenty of gaps and make rulings on the spot to create a coherent play expeirence. Thus any attempt to identify a single "original" play style for these rules can only ever be one interpretation. As Chainmail puts it "these rules may be treated as guidelines around which you form a game that suits you."

Note that the "Rules for Fantastical Medieval Wargames Campaigns" that make up original D&D were created by and sold to a wargaming community that was almost esclusively white, middle-class men. The rules compiled here offer little by the way of roles for other players, nor indeed for anyone who wouldn't easily identify with a pulp sword-and-sorcery hero. Especially before 1974, the rules made light of slavery, in addition to including other harmful content. To reiterate the disclaimer Wizards of the Coast includes on legacy D&D content, "these depictinos were wrong then and are wrong today. The content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these pejudices never existed."

I'd like to thank a few people who helped me parse and understand this material in various ways, including Bill Meinhardt, Mike Mornard, Dave Megarry, Dave Wesley, Bill Hoyt, Mike Carr, Frank Mentzer, Dan Boggs, and - ever so long ago now - Dave Arneson. I'd also like to thank the team at Wizards, including Judy Bauer, Janica Carter, Matt Cole, Kate Irwin, Bob Jordan, and Jason Tondro.

And there is that. Only a single paragraph that talks about a controversy OTHER than Gygax and Arneson fighting over DnD. IT doesn't mention women AT ALL, doesn't call anyone out, and actually specifically focuses on the "Rules for Fantastical Medieval Wargames Campaigns" and material from before DnD was published!

So, here we have a really interesting scenario. I'm not on Twitter, but supposedly a whole lot of people hated these two writers for calling Gygax sexist.... which they didn't even do. They said sexism was in the early game, along with bad depictions of slavery, slurs against a wide variety of people, and general tone deafness for the modern day... which amusingly enough, no one has ever denied is in the early game.

The judgement? The hatred? The vitriol? The condemnations? None of it is here. Riggs might have done some of that, but he was reacting to people who were blasting these two authors for these words. None of which should have even raised an eyebrow from someone even loosely aware of the game's history.
I think the introductions are really sound and informative introductions to the material.
 


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