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3E/3.5 Diversity in D&D Third Edition

With 3rd Ed, our main goal was to return D&D to its roots, such as with Greyhawk deities and the return of half-orcs. By staying true to the feel of D&D, we helped the gaming audience accept the sweeping changes that we made to the rules system.

One way we diverged from the D&D heritage, however, was by making the game art more inclusive. People of color, for example, were hard to find in earlier editions, and, when they did make appearance, it wasn’t always for the best. Luckily for us, Wizards of the Coast had an established culture of egalitarianism, and we were able to update the characters depicted in the game to better reflect contemporary sensibilities.

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A few years before 3E, the leadership at Wizards had already encouraged me to go whole-hog with the multicultural look of the RPG Everway (1995). In this world-hopping game, we provided players and Gamemasters with scores of color art cards to inspire them as they created their characters and NPCs. The art featured people and settings that looked like they could have come from fantasy versions of places all around the earth, and the gender balance was great. I once got an email from a black roleplayer who said that Everway had forever changed the way he roleplayed, so I know that the game’s multicultural look was meaningful to some gamers out there. With D&D, we took the game in the same direction, but not nearly as far. The core setting has always resembled medieval Europe, and we expanded the diversity of the characters while still maintaining the medieval milieu.

The characters that players see the most are the “fab four,” the four iconic characters that we used repeatedly in our art and in our examples of play. Two are men (the human cleric and the dwarf fighter) and two are women (the elf wizard and the halfling rogue). Given the demographics of gamers in 2000, the implication that half of all D&D characters are female was a bit of a stretch. The only complaints we got, however, were about the introductory Adventure Game, where the characters were pregenerated, with names and genders assigned to them. Some young men would have preferred fewer female characters and more males to choose from. None of us worried too much about those complaints.

In addition to the main four characters, we also assigned a particular character to represent each of the other classes, with that character appearing in examples of play and in art. The four human characters comprised a white man (the cleric), a white woman (the paladin), a black woman (the monk), and an Asian man (the sorcerer). The remaining four nonhuman iconics were three men and one woman. It was a trick to strike the right balance in assigning fantasy races and genders to all the classes and to assign ethnicities to the human characters, but the iconic characters seemed to be a big hit, and I think the diversity was part of the appeal.

Somewhat late in the process, the marketing team added Regdar, a male fighter, to the mix of iconic characters. We designers weren’t thrilled, and as the one who had drawn up the iconic characters I was a little chapped. My array of iconic characters did not include a human male fighter, and that’s the most common D&D character ever, so the marketing team gave us one. We carped a little that he meant adding a second white man to the array of characters, but at least he was dark enough to be ambiguously ethnic. Regdar proved popular, and if the marketing team was looking for an attractive character to publicize, they got one.

Back in 1E, Gary Gygax had used the phrase “he or she” as the default third person singular pronoun, a usage that gave the writing a legalistic vibe that probably suited it. In 2E, the text stated up front that it was just going to use “he” because grammatically it’s gender-neutral. Even in 1989, insisting that “he” is gender neutral was tone deaf. By the time I was working on 3E, I had been dealing with the pronoun issue for ten years. In Ars Magica (1987), we wrote everything in second person so that we could avoid gendered pronouns. The rules said things like, “You can understand your familiar” instead of “The wizard can understand his/her/their familiar.” In Over the Edge (1992), we used “he” for the generic player and “she” for the generic gamemaster, which felt balanced and helped the reader keep the two roles separate. That sort of usage became standard for Atlas Games’s roleplaying games. Personally, I use singular-they whenever I can get away with it, but 20 years ago that was still generally considered unorthodox. For 3E, I suggested that we tie the pronouns to the iconic characters. The iconic paladin was a woman, so references to paladins in the rules were to “her.” I thought we’d catch flak from someone about this usage, but I never heard fans complaining.

One topic we needed to settle was whether monsters that were gendered as female in folklore, such as a lamia, should be exclusively female in D&D. I figured we should ditch gender limits wherever we could, but an editor argued that gender was important for the identity of a monster like the lamia. I asked, “Is that because it is in woman’s nature to deceive and destroy men?” Luring and destroying men is a common trope for female-gendered monsters, with the lamia as an example. “Yes, it is” said the editor, but she was laughing, and I had made my point. You can see an illustration of a male lamia in the 3E Monster Manual.

While we incorporated Greyhawk’s deities into 3rd Ed, we had no intention of picking up Greyhawk’s description of various human ethnic groups, corresponding more or less to ethnicities found on Earth. For gamers who cared about the Greyhawk canon, the Asian sorcerer would be from a lightly described territory to the west and the black monk would be a “Touv” from the jungles of Hepmonaland. Touvs in 2E were defined as having a penalty to their Intelligence scores, and we sure didn’t want to send any players in that direction. In 3E, the Asian and black characters were just humans, full stop.

The good news is that the gaming audience rolled with the iconic characters featuring people of color and women. With 5th Ed, the design team picked up where we left off and have pursued diversity further. The diverse cast of characters goes a long way in making D&D look modern and mature.
 
Jonathan Tweet

Comments

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
For 3E, I suggested that we tie the pronouns to the iconic characters. The iconic paladin was a woman, so references to paladins in the rules were to “her.” I thought we’d catch flak from someone about this usage, but I never heard fans complaining.
I remember a few people noticing that but when it was explained that the pronoun was tied to the iconic character, most complainers just said "Oh... uh, OK, I guess that works" and moved on.

While we incorporated Greyhawk’s deities into 3rd Ed, we had no intention of picking up Greyhawk’s description of various human ethnic groups, corresponding more or less to ethnicities found on Earth.
They sort of do, although the blonde, blue-eyed Suel are pretty clearly Not Nice Guys(tm) and there are other substantial divergences. I always wondered why 3E picked up the Greyhawk gods and then never picked up Greyhawk more broadly, though.
 

Looking through my old 3e books, the increase in diversity over past editions is marked. Female armor was still problematic in some illustrations (and don't get me started on some of the third party products - anyone remember Avalanche Press?), but I suppose it was still better than how 1e had all of two women drawn in the entire PHB.

At this point, people are still arguing over the stylistic use of the singular "they," but that's what I use professionally. Back in the day, I remember when White Wolf started using "she" in their texts.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
They sort of do, although the blonde, blue-eyed Suel are pretty clearly Not Nice Guys(tm) and there are other substantial divergences. I always wondered why 3E picked up the Greyhawk gods and then never picked up Greyhawk more broadly, though.
It kind of did pick up Greyhawk more broadly. Living Greyhawk became the primary organized play campaign for the edition and the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer was published.
 

cmad1977

Hero
What I loved about the 3 edition is that all the pronouns( as I recall) were ‘she’.
I thought this was a genius move. As a guy it didn’t bother me a bit but I felt like it was a simple way to welcome a demographic that is massively underrepresented in our hobby.

‘When a character makes a skill check ‘she’ rolls a...’

Great move.
 

cmad1977

Hero
Looking through my old 3e books, the increase in diversity over past editions is marked. Female armor was still problematic in some illustrations (and don't get me started on some of the third party products - anyone remember Avalanche Press?), but I suppose it was still better than how 1e had all of two women drawn in the entire PHB.

At this point, people are still arguing over the stylistic use of the singular "they," but that's what I use professionally. Back in the day, I remember when White Wolf started using "she" in their texts.
Maybe 3e was inspired by white wolf. I just posted about when 3e used ‘she’.
 



The Storyteller system did have a massive impact on the industry, that's for sure.
TSR had been doing this as early as '96 or so. Think it mightve been in one of the 2e "Complete Guide To..."...but I specifically remember a friend of mine making a comment pointing this out and it was no later than early 1997.
 


Sacrosanct

Legend
TSR had been doing this as early as '96 or so. Think it mightve been in one of the 2e "Complete Guide To..."...but I specifically remember a friend of mine making a comment pointing this out and it was no later than early 1997.
Yep. By the mid to late 90s, it was being more common to include a lot more "she" pronouns in the text, and had been a topic of discussion in the gaming community. I was doing the same thing by the late 90s for the exact same reason as everyone else.
 


Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
man you're not gonna bring up the part where the devs called Regdar like "Captain Whitebread" or whatever it was? he also started as a character of ambiguous background, but I'm pretty sure he was just straght up "white" by the time 3.5 ended.

I will confess that I did not realize Hennet was Asian until now.
yeah I was never really sure myself. I think we were all too distracted by his lack of shirt to notice lol.
 

ad_hoc

Hero
Before 5e we played 3e.

The first thing the 2 non-men at our table said when I brought the 5e PHB to the table (we were playing the playtest modules before that) was how much more comfortable they were with the game with the new art. Kate Irwin, being the senior art director, no doubt helped (as well as other women on the art direction team).

While 3e was a step in the right direction, I think it's good to recognize that it still had a far way to go. It's nice though, to read about how it was an issue that was being worked on even then.

I feel comfortable talking about D&D among my friends and acquaintances for the first time now. I think it shows in the numbers too. If I remember correctly there was an 80/20 split of men/non-men before 5e and I think it is 60/40 now. For people wondering about the source of the new edition's popularity, being inclusive is a huge part of it.
 







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