log in or register to remove this ad

 

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.

dnd-party.jpg

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.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Jonathan Tweet

Jonathan Tweet

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

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Certainly, but it's also using a game as a break from the relentless drumbeat. It can be a way for a table that has people of divergent views to get along. I play with some folks I consider long term friends who don't all get along politically, for example. One reason that's been able to happen is because we have a general norm of "keep the politics out of the game." Obviously, that's not 100% possible (or desirable) but we do try.

Clearly this depends on how things happen in specific cases and it can easily become stifling. In this day and age of negative partisanship and polarization, that is a bit subversive insofar as it allows people who don't agree politically to maintain relationships when many forces push for pillarisation.

Certainly a game can offer a haven from relentless partisanship bickering. I don't think anybody would argue that's a bad thing, particularly when you're able to game with people who hold a variety of political views. That's diversity of a particular type... so what's the hang-up over other types of diversity?

There really are some things that shouldn't been seen as particularly political, that nevertheless get intensely politicized (typically by opposition). The issue of inclusion and diversity strikes me as something that should be utterly apolitical. If a game company wants to make their product more attractive to more markets rather than cisgendered, heterosexual, white males by including more diverse representations of genders, sexualities, or ethnic groups, how exactly is that political? Why should it be more political than a car manufacturer wanting to increase the appeal of their cars by offering more color and upholstery options?

The reality is increasing diversity is political because identity is intensely political because it has constantly been used as a political weapon to divide people and distribute privilege. When people have the privilege of having their own identity catered to, they don't like that being diluted by widening the identities catered to.

As I see it, everyone's got to get over that.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

At Goth clubs back in the day, I guarantee I saw people in outfits with just as many buckles and straps. We took going out very seriously back then... :)

The sorcerer I wasn't too fond of, it looked like were was wearing one giant boot with all of those straps.

This. Not having representation and diversity in art these days is absolutely a political statement. Silence always favors the oppressor.

"Leaving politics out" is an inherently political move.
 


Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
"Leaving politics out" is an inherently political move.

One more time, for those in the back. Why is this true? Because it reinforces the entrenchment of the current standard, and often that standard is to the benefit of those in power while excluding those who aren't.

Also, I'd posit that representing diversity isn't political at all. Or it shouldn't be. It's just representation of factual people.
 

It existed in the past in various forms but was stamped out in the 19th Century by the Victorians when the English language was regularized. (Similar things were going on in many other countries at the same time.) So in a lot of ways, the language is reverting to an older pattern
Prior to the rigid, history-revising Victorians inventing immemorial traditions and standards, English simply lacked standard usage, everything varied with social-class, region, even individual. We're not returning to that lack of standards, we are changing the standard. So there is no reversion or resurgence going on: that would be abandoning standards.

Frankly, English is a pretty nonsensical language, and trading the minor nonsense of using one word for both masculine and indefinite gender in a language comparatively light on gendering, for the minor nonsense of singular/plural disagreement in a language that is otherwise a little more consistent that way (with the prominent, closely-related exception of 'you,' for instance), is not going to make it meaningfully easier for kids growing up to learn to use formally, or ESL students to pick up.

But, the crusade to change the standard has not been strictly between two political camps, nor even several. Simple resistance to change has also been a factor.

So I'll stand by my opinion that the 3e approach, which left resistance to change out of the issue by following extant usage in an inclusive way, was a little stroke of genius.

En français there is "on" which does exist in English as "one" but it sounds kind of ludicrous and awkwardly formal, especially in conversational speech: "One does not simply walk into Mordor."
I rather like 'one,' that way. Of course, I also liked passive voice, and got dinged for that a lot in my college writing. 🤷

Certainly a game can offer a haven from relentless partisanship bickering.
Except when there's edition warring, of course, then it's a hotbed of partisan bickering.

If a game company wants to make their product more attractive to more markets rather than cisgendered, heterosexual, white males by including more diverse representations of genders, sexualities, or ethnic groups, how exactly is that political?
Because it's not that simple. If a company chooses a representation disfavored by the majority of their current customer base, that association could lose them business. So choosing to take that risk, is a political act, as is choosing not to take it. Of course, as societal mores shift, a given representation can become less of a risk, and, finally, eschewing it can become a risk.

When Star Trek presented a somewhat more diverse crew in 1966, that was a bit of a risk. 53 years later, that same level of diversity might be seen as desultory and inadequate.

So, even as a political act, a given depiction might be driven by cynical corporate calculus, or by genuine belief in the issue. (And if the former, there will almost certainly be a press release claiming the latter.)

D&D hasn't exactly been in the forefront. The ERA still looked like it might yet be ratified when D&D capped female fighters' % strength. Ember made it onto the cover of a D&D supplement the decade after Dante appeared on the cover of the core Mage: the Ascension book. 5e got props for casually referencing a gay marriage the decade after Modern Family put such a couple front & center.

Maybe it's nerd culture, or maybe it's the natural conservatism of an already-market-leader, but the bar for inclusivity applied to the world's premier TTRPG seems pretty forgiving.
 
Last edited:

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
Frankly, English is a pretty nonsensical language, and trading the minor nonsense of using one word for both masculine and indefinite gender in a language comparatively light on gendering, for the minor nonsense of singular/plural disagreement in a language that is otherwise a little more consistent that way (with the prominent, closely-related exception of 'you,' for instance), is not going to make it meaningfully easier for kids growing up to learn to use formally, or ESL students to pick up.

For some of us these terms have significantly more meaning than "minor nonsense"

One more time, for those in the back. Why is this true? Because it reinforces the entrenchment of the current standard, and often that standard is to the benefit of those in power while excluding those who aren't.

Also, I'd posit that representing diversity isn't political at all. Or it shouldn't be. It's just representation of factual people.

Oh yes, that old saw. It's always fun having my mere presence or existence called into question as a political statement.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
One more point re: "I wish they didn't have to hammer <some ideological point, usually about respecting others or just acknowledging their existence>" complaints. What I've found, historically, is that the majority of these complaints are from people who disagree with the ideology of the creation/creator but still want to enjoy the creation. When it comes to people who don't want their game full of, say, women, or minoritized races, or queer/trans people, I have to ask... why would anyone worth listening to consider that a bad thing?

Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped, after all. Many more than you'd expect, in my experience.
 

For some of us these terms have significantly more meaning than "minor nonsense"
The minor nonsense of words disagreeing on gender vs quantity, as considered in the realm of grammar, before factoring the political issues - and personal issues of identity - into it.
I was pointing out that the original Victorian case for agreement with the singular over agreement ambiguity of agreement with gender (and y'know, Victorians were pretty hung up on gender, too) is no longer that significant in light of today's considerations.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
The minor nonsense of words disagreeing on gender vs quantity, as considered in the realm of grammar, before factoring the political issues - and personal issues of identity - into it.
I was pointing out that the original Victorian case for agreement with the singular over agreement ambiguity of agreement with gender (and y'know, Victorians were pretty hung up on gender, too) is no longer that significant in light of today's considerations.

It seemed (to me, at least) that you were making the argument that the change from "generic he" to "singular they" was inconsequential. I apologize if that was not your point.
 

It seemed (to me, at least) that you were making the argument that the change from "generic he" to "singular they" was inconsequential. I apologize if that was not your point.
Oh, that was part of my point. That, from the point of view of the teachability of the language, the 'sense' of the grammatical rules, and similar justifications of having standards of grammar & style usage, at all, there's not much to choose between the two options. So the much more compelling contemporary issues driving the change can take precedence. That, and of course, that it is a change to a standard, not a return to a lack thereof. (And a personal pet point I like to make about parallels between Victorian and contemporary times.)

Frankly, and this is probably me having lived in CA my whole life, to me, personally, the political issue feels long since settled, and the question of changing the language standard - or letting it shift naturally - at this point, comes down to minor considerations like those. If we wanted English to make sense, it'd be a much greater overhaul than required to correct it's political issues.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
There really are some things that shouldn't been seen as particularly political, that nevertheless get intensely politicized...

This is at the crux of the matter.

When people have the privilege of having their own identity catered to, they don't like that being diluted by widening the identities catered to.

Yes. Unfortunately, when you are used to being in a superior position, equality feels like oppression.

As I see it, everyone's got to get over that.

The period of transition to greater equality isn't comfortable for anyone, but it leads to a better world, overall.

Certainly, but it's also using a game as a break from the relentless drumbeat.

I am sure that some folks would like a break from the relentless drumbeat. On the other hand, other folks have a valid desire for a game that gives them an escape from the real world, in which they feel marginalized.
 

Or a big stroke of centrism, depending on your perspective.
The thing I liked about it was that it removed an apolitical factor from consideration. If you objected to "A wizard must prepare spells ahead of time by getting a good night's sleep and spending 1 hour studying her spellbook," you weren't doing so on the grounds of standard usage, because 'a wizard,' in 3e, was, by default, the iconic wizard, Mialee, a female elf - 'her' was grammatically correct. So, it removed a fig-leaf from such an objection to inclusion.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
The Gazetteer was widely available in game stores and the Living Greyhawk campaign ran at conventions all over the US and many internationally as well. So, yeah, available to the general public.
Might have been. I don't recall seeing the Gazeteer but I'm sure it wasn't impossible to get.

Did you miss the end of that paragraph in which he mentioned the Touv had a penalty to Int? Dark skinned ethnic group with a lower Intelligence? I can see avoiding even touching on a hint of that.
Yeah, that's one I wouldn't want to touch either.

However, I do think that was not particularly common in Greyhawk more broadly. Most human cultures weren't statistically differentiated as I recall, but I don't have my old Greyhawk material to check.

Regardless, I still find it weird that the default gods in the main rulebook were from a setting that WotC chose largely to abandon.
 

Vael

Hero
One more time, for those in the back. Why is this true? Because it reinforces the entrenchment of the current standard, and often that standard is to the benefit of those in power while excluding those who aren't.

Also, I'd posit that representing diversity isn't political at all. Or it shouldn't be. It's just representation of factual people.

Liking this post feels insufficient, so let's repeat it for emphasis. Supporting the status quo is as inherently political as is supporting an increase in diverse representation.

Also, I'd point out that in this space, tabletop RPGs, because so much of our content is self-generated, it's easier than other forms of art with a narrative driven by writers and corporations. 5e achieved most of what they need by having diverse art and a few paragraphs here and there. That's not to minimize their effort, it's just an acknowledgement of how much we, the gamers of DnD, have control over our own games.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Liking this post feels insufficient, so let's repeat it for emphasis. Supporting the status quo is as inherently political as is supporting an increase in diverse representation.

This rather reaches into a very general point - a decision to not engage on a given topic is still a decision.

And, this is what brings the point down out of politics, into the level of our gaming tables. Just, on a personal level - if you decide not to stress representation, then there's real people who are going to look at that game, and say, "Hey, I'm not included here." Grand scale politics aside, that still means something for the individual.
 

doctorhook

Adventurer
Man, these threads are always so depressingly identical.
Just outta curiosity, can you add a Like option that’s both laughing and sadness, so that I can respond appropriately to your observation? I’m struggling to impart the correct emotion while I agree with you.
 

Aebir-Toril

100100101010
Certainly a game can offer a haven from relentless partisanship bickering. I don't think anybody would argue that's a bad thing, particularly when you're able to game with people who hold a variety of political views. That's diversity of a particular type... so what's the hang-up over other types of diversity?

There really are some things that shouldn't been seen as particularly political, that nevertheless get intensely politicized (typically by opposition). The issue of inclusion and diversity strikes me as something that should be utterly apolitical. If a game company wants to make their product more attractive to more markets rather than cisgendered, heterosexual, white males by including more diverse representations of genders, sexualities, or ethnic groups, how exactly is that political? Why should it be more political than a car manufacturer wanting to increase the appeal of their cars by offering more color and upholstery options?

The reality is increasing diversity is political because identity is intensely political because it has constantly been used as a political weapon to divide people and distribute privilege. When people have the privilege of having their own identity catered to, they don't like that being diluted by widening the identities catered to.

As I see it, everyone's got to get over that.
So... what you're saying is that people are equivalent to different types of upholstery in a car?

It's always the car metaphors that cause trouble. 🙃
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I didn't mention singular 'they,' but I remember when it started picking up currency. I feel kinda young compared to the English Language, itself, but I guess 'new' is relative.
No, you don’t, unless you’re hundreds of years old.

What you remember is a reemergence if it’s popularity.

So unless thou propose to erase singular “you” from the modern lexicon, thy point is somewhat silly.
 

Visit Our Sponsor

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top