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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

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
Singular "y'all" is a bit controversial even in the South, but when it present it's intended to be inclusive. It implies you don't know the exact plurality you are addressing. You can think of it as, "You, and whomever else it applies to (if anyone)." or "You, and yours (if any)." You might say to a stranger whom is leaving your store, "Y'all have a nice day.", on the assumption that there may or may not be a spouse and kids in the car, but either way your blessing will reach them.

Where as, "All y'all" implies that you want to make clear that you are extending that inclusivity as widely as possible. As in, "All y'all, God Bless and have a Merry Christmas."

See, my very, very Cajun grandmother taught me that "y'all" was singular and "all y'all" was plural, but I suspect that's hardly the consensus even in N'Orleans, let alone the rest of the south.
 

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Celebrim

Legend
See, my very, very Cajun grandmother taught me that "y'all" was singular and "all y'all" was plural, but I suspect that's hardly the consensus even in N'Orleans, let alone the rest of the south.

Singular "y'all" is a very Louisiana thing, but my MawMaw thought very much as yours.

And Geaux Tigers.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)

This may come as a bit of a shock, but I'm gonna side with Celebrim on this.

There is a long history of infantilizing and otherwise deriding the intelligence of folks who don't speak "proper" English, whether that's a southern dialect or AAVE (African American Vernacular English, for those wondering). And while, given historical and modern contexts mentioning both issues in the same sentence amounts to comparing apples with significantly larger apples, they're still both apples, and you're not going to solve one without the other.
 

ad_hoc

Hero
None of my group, black, white, male, female, etc, cared about any of this stuff that people are "bringing to light" nowadays. If you're down to game you're down to game. Everything else is just politics, and the gaming table doesn't need real-life politics, we hear enough of that in real life.

Right, but some people do care.

If you don't care, that's fine. You haven't been injured.

The heart of the problem is that straight white male is considered the default and some people believe any divergence from that should have a reason. That's the problem. There shouldn't be a 'default'. There shouldn't need to be a reason. Just let it happen.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
As Celebrim pointed out, the argument regarding the singular they here is... mostly nonexistent.

...

If you had told me this summer that there'd be a "singular they" thread like this one before the end of the year I'd have thought you mad.

I suspect your overall awareness of the forums may be incomplete. There have been more than two since the summer. You may have missed them, but I get the post reports. Recently there was one in the Media Lounge, for example.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
I suspect your overall awareness of the forums may be incomplete. There have been more than two since the summer. You may have missed them, but I get the post reports. Recently there was one in the Media Lounge, for example.

This is true; I tend to only read threads that catch my interest, which is a fair few of them. Recognize, however, that I am a bit more sensitive to the topic than many, and have been even before I "came out" on this board (which I felt comfortable doing when I did because I felt much safer here than I have in years past). And believe me when I say that I have engaged in many of the "pronouns" conversations on this board, and this one has been significantly better than any of those by a country mile.

I felt safe to come at as trans here several months ago, specifically because of the work you and the other mods have made in making this a safer place for people like me. That's progress.

So take the damn W, you old curmudgeon ;)
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
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.
My comment about "no politics" wasn't about the issue of representation per se, although of course that's what started the thread. It was about table norms. You're right, of course, that presentation of the game material can certainly matter to someone from a marginalized group who might be interested in the game. A publisher has to make decisions about possibly expanding their market by bringing in new folks versus the risk of alienating old ones, as well as the kind of social statements they want to make. It's often not helped by how nostalgically clueless a number of fans can be, for instance not noticing that the X-Men always had a social justice agenda.

This is a separate issue of a particular table's norms, which is what I was thinking of. Folks I play with are usually free to play what they want, but I haven't played with a crowd notably seeking much beyond fairly straightforward characters recently so it wasn't at the top of my head. (I have in the past, but not recently.) In my case it's more a group that has people with different political viewpoints, sometimes markedly so. For instance, I know one player is pretty reflexively traditional/conservative and another is definitely not. However, our own social contract is to view the game as a place where those kinds of debates are in a state of truce and we're pretty clear about telling folks to save it for outside the game. As DM I would avoid writing adventures that make strong reference to current political topics. Issues like these also factor into what's OK at a table or not in other areas that can lead to contention. For example, we have a pretty strict "no ringtones or sound effects" rule. That rule has no political implications but does have a big propensity to create dissension and throw the game off track.
 


Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
This is a separate issue of a particular table's norms, which is what I was thinking of. Folks I play with are usually free to play what they want, but I haven't played with a crowd notably seeking much beyond fairly straightforward characters recently so it wasn't at the top of my head. (I have in the past, but not recently.) In my case it's more a group that has people with different political viewpoints, sometimes markedly so. For instance, I know one player is pretty reflexively traditional/conservative and another is definitely not. However, our own social contract is to view the game as a place where those kinds of debates are in a state of truce and we're pretty clear about telling folks to save it for outside the game. As DM I would avoid writing adventures that make strong reference to current political topics. Issues like these also factor into what's OK at a table or not in other areas that can lead to contention. For example, we have a pretty strict "no ringtones or sound effects" rule. That rule has no political implications but does have a big propensity to create dissension and throw the game off track.

Recognize that for some folks like one of the players you described, someone like me even existing is considered a "current political topic". Thus, in order to maintain your truce, you would have to erase from the existence of your game world, for example, all trans folx. I would imagine anybody one the LGBTQ spectrum would qualify as well.

I'm not gonna tell anybody what they should or shouldn't do in their own personal home games; you do what works best for you and your players. But if you think you game is not political, then based on this description you appear to be wrong about that.
 
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Zardnaar

Legend
To me it needs to be organic. If something makes you think it's well done.

If it's to heavy handed and tells you what to think it's just gonna run people the wrong way.

It's much like when Jehovah Witnesses come knocking on the door preaching. Just tends to annoy people.

D&D is based heavily on European myth, legend and history. Doesn't have to be 100% that IMHO. Diversity to me means variety ymmv. Variety does include stuff you won't like.
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
3e still had the rubric of 'favored class,' probably had something to do with it.
oh god, I forgot all about favored classes. it's like they just couldn't let go of the idea of race/class restrictions and just had to have something about it left in 3e.
Eberron sort of avoided this question altogether by not really having any parts of it traceable to a “real-world” equivalent. In this way, basically any appearance could be suitable for a human.

If there is a “fantasy Asia” in Eberron, it’s probably Riedra, but that’s a tenuous connection at best. It’s described in a way that reminds me of authoritarian communist China, rather than generic “fantasy Asia”. Others may disagree.
I get not wanting to have equivalent everything in a fantasy setting, and copying and pasting every culture into a setting is boring af. idk I used to not care so much, but someone I know (who is a person of color) compared Dragon Age and Elder Scrolls, and how at least in Tamriel not only was there visible diversity among all races but also a history of where all these different people came from.

meanwhile in Thedas everyone is ostensibly white (though that may have changed in the last game??) except maybe your own character, but then it's like why are you the only non-white person in the world? Eberron does seem to strive for the melting pot model of things, which I guess is fair and at least it's a history of diverse people coming to one continent over time.
I sometimes include actual RL events or trends into my games, often in a satirical way. But I will not elaborate here, because there is a small border between satire and political incorrect these days and I do not want to hurt any ones feelings.
man, sounds like a real hoot. I bet you treat those events and trends with a good deal of respect even 😉
There are thousands of creators who can consult on a wide range of cost, including simply part of any money made on the product (usually this would be a job like editor or even a co-author).

A creator who is literally penniless can lean on various online communities.

There is always a way.
even better is when someone makes something based on their own experience but it goes largely ignored haha Orz
 


Arnwolf666

Adventurer
ah yes, the long history of buddhist monks in europe learning martial arts is why we have the monk class in D&D I forgot, lol.
Exactly. It’s based on them. Not exactly the same. They may even just have unarmed fighting that developed in their fictional world and not something like king-fu.
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
Exactly. It’s based on them. Not exactly the same. They may even just have unarmed fighting that developed in their fictional world and not something like king-fu.
have you... ever looked at the Monk entry in the first PHB? they're very explicitly supposed to be East Asian monks who learn kung fu. there's a reason TSR decided they shouldn't be a core race in 2nd edition.
 


dagger

Explorer
have you... ever looked at the Monk entry in the first PHB? they're very explicitly supposed to be East Asian monks who learn kung fu. there's a reason TSR decided they shouldn't be a core race in 2nd edition.
I fall to see the problem with the 1e monk in the phin except it needs a couple of small buffs.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
ah yes, the long history of buddhist monks in europe learning martial arts is why we have the monk class in D&D I forgot, lol.

Yeah they were gonna get cut even if Gary was in charge.

I'm not a fan of the Monk but have played it in 5th as no one else would and I wanted to test the mechanics.

Monks did kinda suck mechanically pre 5E (4E idk).
 

ah yes, the long history of buddhist monks in europe learning martial arts is why we have the monk class in D&D I forgot, lol
Martial arts exploded on the American pop culture scene in the early 70s. Bruce Lee in the movies, Kwai Chang Caine on TV, and, the nominal inspiration of the D&D monk, Remo Williams, in print.

Rather than say, "sure, your fighter can learn unarmed fighting styles," 0D&D gave us the Monk. Perhaps understandable, at time, but still orientalist.

Monks did kinda suck mechanically pre 5E (4E idk).
No class sucked outright pre-Essentials, the 4e Monk was just, perhaps a bit weirdly, made Psionic.
 

ad_hoc

Hero
This is a separate issue of a particular table's norms, which is what I was thinking of. Folks I play with are usually free to play what they want, but I haven't played with a crowd notably seeking much beyond fairly straightforward characters recently so it wasn't at the top of my head.

What is a "straightforward" character to you? Are they straight, white, and male?

Is a divergence from that no longer "straightforward"? Consequently, are people who diverge from that not "straightforward" people?

Is it a special character trait to not be straight, white, and male?

This is the crux of the issue. It's not a political topic until bigoted people make it one.
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
Martial arts exploded on the American pop culture scene in the early 70s. Bruce Lee in the movies, Kwai Chang Caine on TV, and, the nominal inspiration of the D&D monk, Remo Williams, in print.

Rather than say, "sure, your fighter can learn unarmed fighting styles," 0D&D gave us the Monk. Perhaps understandable, at time, but still orientalist.
oh no I know exactly why monk was there lol. not that I mind in of itself, I'm even playing a monk in the campaign I'm in right now, and honestly it would just feel weird if monk were just a class that just did unarmed combat ngl.
No class sucked outright pre-Essentials, the 4e Monk was just, perhaps a bit weirdly, made Psionic.
I never got to play the 4e monk, but I kinda liked that it was psionic? it made sense at the time.
 

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