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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mamba

Legend
Not really an excuse an explanation.
is it though? Plenty of people of his time were not like that, so what is it explaining?

All it does is say ‘look at all those other people, Gary was not that bad when you look what others did, and it is not really his fault, they all were like that’, and that very much is an excuse
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
As someone who bought the book, I am resentful of being called a “whale” for doing so. Whale is a derogatory term that comes from gambling and has since migrated to other media, and specifically refers to suckers who lack self-control and are thus easy marks.

So are you calling me, specifically, a whale, or are you just being casually insulting?
As I've yet to notice the word "whale" going by in the preceding 28 pages I can only assume you're replying to someone who has me on ignore.

Otherwise, this is really out of the blue! :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Why would a person being trying to discuss WoTC's flaws in a thread about Gygax, talking about a book about Gygax?

It isn't a valid question. The answer is self evident in the title of the book. The Making of the Original Dungeons and Dragons. Unless you can point to some evidence that WoTC was involved in the creation of the Original Dungeons and Dragons, 20 years before they existed as a company and 27 years before they purchased the well-established brand of DnD, then your "just asking questions" to bring the very idea of a history book covering the origin of DnD into question.
WotC isn't the subject of the book, and can't be as the company didn't exist until long after the period covered; but they are the copyright holders and publishers of said book (I just checked my copy to confirm), so like it or not they are corporately involved at least to that extent.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
is it though? Plenty of people of his time were not like that, so what is it explaining?

All it does is say ‘look at all those other people, Gary was not that bad when you look what others did, and it is not really his fault, they all were like that’, and that very much is an excuse

I'm saying a lot were like that. Maybe not those exact comments but leaning in that direction were a majority for a huge chunk of time it seems. Even now it's 45% or higher at least lean that way.

In my country it's around 15 % or 2-4% depending where you draw the line.

Your argument is basically just because some people thought differently/better everyone else should fall in line. Last year I found out 53% of my country fundamentally disagreed with me. That will fluctuate but 35% are baked in. I dont have the answers how to convince that 35%. There's 8 billion people on the planet my country is in the top 19 generally for nice places to be USA is 25is depending on what metric you look at.

Those top ten countries a large % don't agree with me/most of us here. And it's a tiny % of that 8 billion.

I'm cynical and big picture type stuff. Cheery thought for the day. If you live in New Zealand or USA and things go the right way things should be OK if the right decisions get made.

For most of the rest of those nice places to be good luck you're going to need it.
 


UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
You're not wrong. But we were specifically talking about layoffs that happen at the end of the year, around Christmastime. It happens so often in America that we have a dubious nickname for it, "Red December." I wasn't sure if that happens in other countries or not.
You can lay people off in Europe, but you got to pay redundancy money. In Ireland for instance the statutory redundancy payments for full time workers are currently 2 weeks gross pay per year of service up to a max of 600euro. This is tax free, and many employers will offer more, but they will not do it often.
 


TiQuinn

Registered User
Does that help at all?

Okay, here’s my take.

It doesn’t help to bring up that sexism existed in the 70s when one is discussing one particular person’s sexism. Mentioning its existence is so obvious that it has the effect of appearing to rationalize or excuse the behavior because there is no greater point being made. Unless more information relevant to Gygax is going to be forthcoming from these comments being written in the 70s, that fact in and of itself, is immaterial. It only serves to lessen the words he wrote.
 

mamba

Legend
I'm saying a lot were like that.
and you might be correct, but it is an excuse, not an explanation.

I cannot defend me stealing a car by pointing out that I am not the only one…

Your argument is basically just because some people thought differently/better everyone else should fall in line.
no, my argument is that he was a misogynist, and that he was not the only one does not explain or excuse it

Also, while he should ‘fall in line’, it is not because some people say so, but because misogyny is objectively and clearly wrong… Are you saying misogyny is something that is worth upholding?

I'm cynical and big picture type stuff.
the big picture is misogyny is always wrong, regardless of how many people agree with that around the world…. To me it looks as if you have completely lost track of the big picture, the cynical I grant you
 
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TiQuinn

Registered User
I'm struggling to understand how saying sexism was prevalent in the 1970's can be viewed as an excuse for Gygax's sexism. Maybe it's something extremely simple like - any attempt to provide context that doesn't paint Gygax in the worst possible light is being viewed as excusing him? Or better yet, maybe instead of me guessing, you can just elaborate?
Because it’s such an obvious statement that the only effect is to excuse it.

If a history teacher was teaching about sexism in the 20th century and simply kept saying how prevalent it was at the time without any further information being revealed while discussing the individual acts of sexism, it would have the same effect.
 

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