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D&D 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.
 

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Jonathan Tweet

Jonathan Tweet

D&D 3E, Over the Edge, Everway, Ars Magica, Omega World, Grandmother Fish

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
No. I actually did not miss the "not".

I missed nothing.
Then I'm not sure how you're managing to misinterpret their post. Azzy's argument is that dismissing one bad faith argument someone makes does not equate to dismissing everything that person says. The example given is someone who is pro-vaccine and a flat-earth conspiracy theorist. Dismissing their bad-faith argument (the ones against a spherical earth) does not necessarily mean dismissing their perfectly reasonable pro-vaccine position.
 

Azzy

KMF DM
Then I'm not sure how you're managing to misinterpret their post. Azzy's argument is that dismissing one bad faith argument someone makes does not equate to dismissing everything that person says. The example given is someone who is pro-vaccine and a flat-earth conspiracy theorist. Dismissing their bad-faith argument (the ones against a spherical earth) does not necessarily mean dismissing their perfectly reasonable pro-vaccine position.
This, exactly. Thank you.
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
Question: what if i said "if the devil said it, is it an invalid argument?"

To amend your statement, "if someone you knew was a serial killer said it, is it an invalid argument?" (not using the devil because that's an unrealistic abstraction, need something more literal).

Not necessarily. But you already know that the person is capable of frankly immoral acts. So whatever they say you can already view with far more doubt of sincere "good intentions," because you already know they've intentionally done immoral acts.

Same goes for people you know (if they're using slurs, that's pretty good proof) are racists/sexists. You know that they're capable of having bigoted opinions. So why should people take their arguments seriously, when we know that they're POV is already skewed in favor of their own terrible opinions?

TLDR: If the devil said it, it's probably an invalid argument.
 



Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
TLDR: If the devil said it, it's probably an invalid argument.

Not valid at all (in the way you mean this).

To explain it differently; if someone you know is making an argument to justify their own selfish/immoral POV, you're free to disregard their argument as they aren't actually making it in good faith; their making the argument not because they actually agree with it (it doesn't even matter if they do), they are making it so that they can continue their selfish immoral ways.

Darth Sidious argues that the Jedi and Republic are fragile and innefective at providing peace and stability to the galaxy. But he doesn't actually care about peace or stability (he is literally the architect of a civil war that kills millions), what he cares about is being in charge. So whether or not he's actually correct is irrelevant, because he's a very bad man and should get thrown into a reactor.

A cannibal can argue that eating humans is a very good source of protein and nutrients, and that it would help cut back on overpopulation. But he's making that argument because he wants to keep eating people, not because he actually cares about overpopulation. If his argument was incorrect, he'd just find a different one to justify his underlying beliefs.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
One of my favorite things is being told to tone down my existence in order to give enough space for people who don't want me to exist to not have to think about my existence at all, because that's going to be the best way to "make progress".

If you need me, I'll be over here, existing as little as possible, so people can stop being fatigued by me.
 

Aebir-Toril

100100101010
One of my favorite things is being told to tone down my existence in order to give enough space for people who don't want me to exist to not have to think about my existence at all, because that's going to be the best way to "make progress".

If you need me, I'll be over here, existing as little as possible, so people can stop being fatigued by me.
But, but. You're cramming down on others. Family values!

I don't think that's quite fair to certain people, but, your point is good and valid.

Postscript: Sometimes I feel like I don't exist, but that's mostly an existential crisis.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
One of my favorite things is being told to tone down my existence in order to give enough space for people who don't want me to exist to not have to think about my existence at all, because that's going to be the best way to "make progress".

If you need me, I'll be over here, existing as little as possible, so people can stop being fatigued by me.

If you make it down this way you just need to pass the kebab and beer test. And an erupting volcano.

You can swap the beer for a coke and the kebab for a pie/burger/salad. No broccoli or califlower though you're on you own.
 




Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
But, but. You're cramming down on others. Family values!

I don't think that's quite fair to certain people, but, your point is good and valid.

Postscript: Sometimes I feel like I don't exist, but that's mostly an existential crisis.

To be fair, I don't think that most people are deliberately bigoted. But most people (and by most I mean all) have unconscious biases that impact their perception of things. Note that that does not make those biases okay. In most instances they are very much not. But without introspection biases just seem like perfectly natural and normal thoughts and feelings.

On the other hand, I got to watch the internet lose its goddamn mind twice in rapid succession over Baldur's Gate and Dragon Age having a single trans character each, just being there, minor NPCs existing in the game world, and how many people for whom this simple act of a trans person existing was downright unacceptable.

See, the thing with diversity, at least from a passive, pop culture perspective, is primarily about the acknowledgment that people different from you exist in the world and might be involved in the types of stories being consumed. Sure, representation is a plus and important too, but at the most fundamental level it is about simple existence.

Perception is a big piece of this; a lot of "think of it from my perspective". Well, this is my perspective: a not insignificant portion of the population treat the existence of someone like me in the stories they consume as a bridge too far for them. Regardless of why that is, exactly how is that supposed to make me feel about how they would treat my actual existence, in the real world?
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
For another example, if you've ever donated to the ACLU, you'll quickly learn that doing so will primarily get you monthly phone calls, bimonthly mailers, biweekly emails, and so on.

Ummm...that’s pretty much any organization that gets a decent share of their operating funds from donations.

Exhibit #1: come visit me and come to my church, and be sure to drop a check in the collection basket.

I’m still occasionally hearing from churches I visited on vacations YEARS ago.
 


BrokenTwin

Adventurer
D&D 3.5 was my introduction to the tabletop rpg, and I do remember noticing that the class pronouns switching around. It threw me off at first, not because of the usage of she/her, but just because it seemed to switch at random. Then I noticed that the pronoun in use was based on the class iconic, thought "ah, that makes sense", and moved on.

To me at the time, the diversity of the iconics wasn't a "better representation of real-world people" thing, but a good way to show the variety of settings that were possible. Ember, for instance, clearly wasn't from the standard European mediaeval fantasy setting I was used to, so imagining the type of world she DID exist in helped expand my perception of what the game was capable of being.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
D&D 3.5 was my introduction to the tabletop rpg, and I do remember noticing that the class pronouns switching around. It threw me off at first, not because of the usage of she/her, but just because it seemed to switch at random. Then I noticed that the pronoun in use was based on the class iconic, thought "ah, that makes sense", and moved on.

To me, it felt strange, I never made the link with the iconic characters. But the apparently random pronoun swtich was not detrimental to my understanding of the text, despite not being a native reader, so I wasn't affected by it.

To me at the time, the diversity of the iconics wasn't a "better representation of real-world people" thing, but a good way to show the variety of settings that were possible. Ember, for instance, clearly wasn't from the standard European mediaeval fantasy setting I was used to, so imagining the type of world she DID exist in helped expand my perception of what the game was capable of being.

The diversity of characters in the art of a fantasy RPG can't be a better representation of real-world people. They're depicting a fantasy world, so, they can be all-white male if the settings tells us that only white male are adventurers. If you play an historical game where PCs are samurai, set in the Japanese Kamakura period, no, you can't play a white person. Neither can you play a halfling. If the settings tells us that genders enjoy a perfect equality, I'd expect to see commonly female adventurers, criminals, political rulers, military... in this setting (for internal consistentcy) and in illustrations depicting it. The weirdest thing to me is settings where they say "everyone is equal in this setting" and have 100% male rulers, heroes and antagonists.
 
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BrokenTwin

Adventurer
The diversity of characters in the art of a fantasy RPG can't be a better representation of real-world people. They're depicting a fantasy world, so, they can be all-white male if the settings tells us that only white male are adventurers. If you play an historical game where PCs are samurai, set in the Japanese Kamakura period, no, you can't play a white person. Neither can you play a halfling. If the settings tells us that genders enjoy a perfect equality, I'd expect to see commonly female adventurers, criminals, political rulers, military... in this setting (for internal consistency) and in illustrations depicting it. The weirdest thing to me is settings where they say "everyone is equal in this setting" and have 100% male rulers, heroes and antagonists.
I don't disagree with this, but I do feel the need to point out that D&D didn't explicitly come with standard setting. Straight from the get go they tell you that making your own world was not just an option, but a supported one. That's different from an RPG like Legend of the Five Rings, where the setting is intrinsically baked into the rules of the game. For games that take a more toolkit approach (whether it's the narrow toolkit of D&D or the wide open toolkit of GURPS), I feel like it's important for the art to showcase the range of options the game supports, whether it's skin color, body shape, culture, magic, technology, or anything else.

I feel may be arguing past you though, in the sense that I think we actually agree on this topic.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The diversity of characters in the art of a fantasy RPG can't be a better representation of real-world people. They're depicting a fantasy world, so, they can be all-white male if the settings tells us that only white male are adventurers.

Let us not pretend that fantasy content is not written and consumed in the context of a real world, and a reader with experiences. Fantasy world are not truly alien, and the authors are making use of the cultural contexts of the reader, either through comparison or contrast with that real world.

The fantasy world is not actually independent from our world - the characters generally have the same numbers of arms, legs, and heads as we do. They largely act like... people. In fact, we complain a great deal when a character doesn't behave like a real person. We expect the character to be relatable, or their lack or relatability to be explained.

The same should then follow for groups of people - they are fantasy people, but we have reasonable expectation for them to be relatable - like the real world. Or, that lack of relation to the real world explained in some way.

And if your explanation isn't there, or doesn't hold together, that's a problem.
 

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