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

Aebir-Toril

Is lukewarm on the Forgotten Realms
I wasnt describing human beings. I was broadly refering to biological beings of a physical sex category. The correct usage of hermaphrodite cant apply to humans because it carries with it conditions of functional norm and reproductive capability of a particular kind.
Exactly, thanks for posting this before I could.

Actually, of the hermaphroditic species which I have learned of, it seems that slugs, not humans, are the most prevalent.
 

Aebir-Toril

Is lukewarm on the Forgotten Realms
And comes home and lays strange looking eggs ....
And drow sometimes put one of their eggs in an elf nest when the male elf dozes off.
And the drow hatchling throws all the elf hatchlings of the tree and grows fat.
So... Elves are birds now?

Cool, very much digging it. All of the cool.
 
Exactly, thanks for posting this before I could.

Actually, of the hermaphroditic species which I have learned of, it seems that slugs, not humans, are the most prevalent.
Tbh im not even confident there is such a thing IRL as a hermaphrodite (a creature that fully qualifies in every way for that to be a fully accurate AND precise term) that is also a vertebrate. Maybe there is one that im missing but i think thats not the case. For one thing there are a select few that can change sex but that actually disqualifies them technically. They have to have both in a fully functional state at all times for instance. And there are many other restrictions which, if actually taken into account rule out a lot of contenders people often think of.

Slugs are an EXCELLENT example of a qualified creature that actually counts btw.
 
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Coroc

Adventurer
... I've never heard of hermaphrodite used for people ...
They changed it for correctness it was most common to call intersex people like that in the 70s or 80s still.
Although back then i already encountered a form at a doctors visit, where i had to have an X-Ray and the options for sex to cross off were: male, female, multiple male, multiple female and intersex.
I guess it was just for the biological sex, so they knew where to apply screening material, the plumbum vests, to protect your procreation cells from the X-ray.
Being a young teenager back then, i thought to myself on multiple male, multiple female "wow what did i know", but on intersex "What the heck is that?" I asked soemone and was told this is a hermaphrodite, and so i knew what was meant.
Please note, that most knowledge back than came from reading books and magazines, and you took what was in there without option to instantly look it up on wikipedia for additional clarification.
 
They changed it for correctness it was most common to call intersex people like that in the 70s or 80s still.
Although back then i already encountered a form at a doctors visit, where i had to have an X-Ray and the options for sex to cross off were: male, female, multiple male, multiple female and intersex.
I guess it was just for the biological sex, so they knew where to apply screening material, the plumbum vests, to protect your procreation cells from the X-ray.
Being a young teenager back then, i thought to myself on multiple male, multiple female "wow what did i know", but on intersex "What the heck is that?" I asked soemone and was told this is a hermaphrodite, and so i knew what was meant.
Please note, that most knowledge back than came from reading books and magazines, and you took what was in there without option to instantly look it up on wikipedia for additional clarification.
Tbh we need a different term than intersex for the same reasons though because that term has a lot of (though not all and some different) the same issues concerning accuracy, precision, and general applicability that hermaphrodite did. It basically doesnt work any better. People are mostly not noticing because they havent had time to. We need a different word. Or rather we need to break it down into more groups and then, for the various groups, we need words denoting them properly. None of those words can or will ever be "hermaphrodite" or "inter". It probably wont involve the addition of just one or two syllables to the word "sex" and will likely refer to aparent (not strictly visually aparent) sex morphology of two kinds simultaneously being present to a degree. Thats not what inter implies. Inter implies some weird stuff that sloppily incorrect. But the word is currently in vogue even if it doesnt work so great. Its basically got a lot of the flaws of "harmaphrodite though and it will be noticed by the necessary critical mass of people soon enough.
 

Mercule

Adventurer
Swimming a long way upthread, but, I'd point out that this choice is pretty... umm... well, it leaves out pretty much anyone who isn't European or at least European adjacent. The four original races were, pretty much "Roman" (Oeridian), "Germanic" (Suloise), "Arabic"(Baklunish) and "Celtic" (Flan). That's leaving a LOT of different folk by the wayside. Not really something you want to follow if inclusivity is a goal.
I can mostly see where you get that breakdown, but that's not how I read it, originally. It's been a really, really long time, so I'm reaching into the back of my brain, but I interpreted it more "Mediterranean" (Oeridian), "Germanic/Nordic/Celtic" (Suloise), "Far Eastern" (Baklunish), and "African" (Flan). That leaves out any sort of Native American and the Indian subcontinent. Gygax had some throw-away line that indicated, to me, that he kind of viewed areas with mixed offspring of Baklunish and Flan to fill the Indian role, but that's far from canon. That's not too bad for racial representation.

Culture-wise, there were cases where things lined up with the real-world racial equivalents -- pseudo-vikings were pale Suel, pseudo-Mongols were "golden skinned" Baklunish, the Flan had a more animistic religion and worshiped the "old gods", etc. In other cases, the culture didn't line up -- having the Arabic culture being held by the golden-skinned, Eastern-looking Bakluni, rather than the olive-complected Oerids, for example (I've seen others suggest the Bakluni are Arabic, but I think that's because of the cultural overlay, not the physical description). Largely, though, Oerth has its own culture that isn't (entirely) straight out of the real world, includes things like lands ruled by immortal demi-gods and undead lords, and is much more coherent than the Realms, Krynn, or any of the others. It still obviously spins around the psuedo-Medieval Europe axis, thematically, but is pretty darn inclusive within that space. You may not find your culture represented, but you can almost definitely find someone who looks like you.
 

Eekmonster

Visitor
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.
I also spotted that, and i spent a lot of time wondering if that was a conscious decision or an english grammar thing (not a native english speaker). So now many years later, i finally know! And I like it!
 

Jonathan Tweet

Adventurer
I consider 3E telling me LG, CG, and NG are the "best" alignments and discouraging me from LE, NE, CG to be far closer to telling me what to do than pictures of Mialee or a black dwarf.
That seems right, and I can live with that. The three neutral alignments (LN, N, and CN) were also described as "best".
 

GobiWon

Explorer
Wellllll...

The AD&D monk class elements were clearly taken from legends and wushu depictions of asian martial arts. Meanwhile, the class art and minis were inspired almost exclusively by western monasticism.

Having spent a LOT of my life around christian clergy- including MANY monks- I can say I never saw any of them attempt a Flying Mare Kick*, nor use their rosaries as nunchucks or chain-whips.

Nor, for that matter, do D&D monks (at least up to 4Ed) have any of the out of combat abilities we associate with clergy and that are often modeled with spells in game. Given that christian monks are priests, that’s a bit of a giveaway as well.



* nor a Holy Mary kick
But we see Forgotten Realms broaden this concept of a monk's unarmed tradition being solely in the domain of an Asian influenced culture. The monks of Ilmater are a perfect example of unarmed combat devoid of Asian influence. I would like to see more things like this developed that are devoid of the cultural tropes associated with real world ethnicities.
 

GobiWon

Explorer
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.

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GobiWon

Explorer
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.

Yes D&D is steeped in medieval fantasy lore, but D&D and fantasy in general is often best when it offers something new. A fully fleshed out culture of dark-skinned, nomadic human seafarers with a matriarchy based on ancestor worship would be an interesting addition to a world with elves and dwarves. It is much more interesting than copy and paste cultures stolen from real world history. I don't need another fantasy world Egypt clone.
 

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