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WotC Dungeons & Dragons Fans Seek Removal of Oriental Adventures From Online Marketplace

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Derren

Hero
And WotC needs to do better in future products. Not just better than "Oriental Adventures", but better than the current 5E products as well.
Which basically means, no more Asian of African inspired content ever. When you set the bar so high that it becomes impossible to do a "respectful" representation of that cultures its better and much easier to ignore them entirely.
 

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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Which basically means, no more Asian of African inspired content ever. When you set the bar so high that it becomes impossible to do a "respectful" representation of that cultures its better and much easier to ignore them entirely.
I don't see how this follows from the need to avoid stereotypical representations. That's not really that high a bar to clear.
 

Derren

Hero
I don't see how this follows from the need to avoid stereotypical representations. That's not really that high a bar to clear.
It actually is when your product is a light hearted fantasy rpg full of stereotypes. No matter how respectful you make it, people will complain because the expectation of what respectful is supposed to mean to them has been set so high that it is unachievable and they will go through everything you publish with a comb to find anything disrespectful, no matter how far fetched (Chopsticks! Rice!). So the best course of action is to avoid this topic entirely.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
It actually is when your product is a light hearted fantasy rpg full of stereotypes. No matter how respectful you make it, people will complain because the expectation of what respectful is supposed to mean to them has been set so high that it is unachievable. So the best course of action is to avoid this topic entirely.
You don't need stereotypes to produce a light-hearted RPG. Not in any way, shape, or form. Archetypes? Sure, but those can be handled respectfully. Stereotypes play on unwarranted or ignorant generalizations. The goal is respectful use of other cultures, not to produce a product no one will complain about. The latter is impossible anyway, and some people just like to find things to be offended about. Those people aren't important.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
You don't need stereotypes to produce a light-hearted RPG. Not in any way, shape, or form. Archetypes? Sure, but those can be handled respectfully. Stereotypes play on unwarranted or ignorant generalizations. The goal is respectful use of other cultures, not to produce a product no one will complain about. The latter is impossible anyway, and some people just like to find things to be offended about. Those people aren't important.
There's another basic problem. People are treating other cultures as monolithic.

There are those in those cultures who believe their culture should not be used for commercial purposes full stop.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
There are those in those cultures who believe their culture should not be used for commercial purposes full stop.
Those people are bound to be disappointed then, aren't they? That would also include, for example, academic study, or photography, just to pick two. Wacky. Demanding respectful treatment is one thing, a good thing, but an individual or small group trying to claim legal ownership of something like 'culture' is whistling in the wind.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Those people are bound to be disappointed then, aren't they? That would also include, for example, academic study, or photography, just to pick two. Wacky. Demanding respectful treatment is one thing, a good thing, but an individual or small group trying to claim legal ownership of something like 'culture' is whistling in the wind.
Just saying some Maori here feel that way for example.

The All Blacks do the Haka and international people like it but there's more than one haka.

At some point you have to draw a line and ignore people.

Another example is some if the stone and bone carving here. In their culture your not supposed to buy it for yourself. They don't mind if you have it but it's supposed to be a gift.

For example I could go to a Maori craftsman and buy a traditional hand carved bone pendant inlaid with shells.

I can send that as a gift to whoever I like. But I'm not supposed to buy it for myself.

And then you have different cultural values. For example women aren't supposed to do the Haka or speak on some maraes (meeting house).

This caused a problem when you have a female prime minister. Some tribes allow her to speak, other tribes allow her to speak as her rank over rides her gender while other tribes don't allow her to speak.

And then you have some dumb American company come blundering in thinking they're being all diverse etc and violating cultural norms by commercialising their culture.
 


MGibster

Hero
There are those in those cultures who believe their culture should not be used for commercial purposes full stop.
As far as samurai and Kung-fu masters are concerned, the S.S. Commercial set sail many decades ago and has circumnavigated the globe countless times.
 


That covers a lot of ground. Do you have a specific 'handling' in mind? A specific culture, or myth? Otherwise you're talking about most of the fabric of the game spread over 40 plus years.
Correct, I am. My point is, where is the outrage over that? Why is the accusation of cultural appropriation only being targeted at one culture (or mixture of cultures, since "oriental" covers a lot of the planet)?
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Correct, I am. My point is, where is the outrage over that? Why is the accusation of cultural appropriation only being targeted at one culture (or mixture of cultures, since "oriental" covers a lot of the planet)?
You didn't read this thread, did you? I get it, its long, but the difference has been outlined clearly multiple times. Mostly it boils down to power differential, to give you the short answer. This is especially true of, say, Asian Americans as compared to someone living in China or Japan. One group suffers from racism and stereotyping in a way the other doesn't, which in turn indexes their legitimate concern about cultural stereotypes. Anyway, all the info you need is just a google away.
 

Kaodi

Adventurer
Just saying some Maori here feel that way for example...

...This caused a problem when you have a female prime minister. Some tribes allow her to speak, other tribes allow her to speak as her rank over rides her gender while other tribes don't allow her to speak.
Would they pull this with the Queen too or do they get away with it because Ardern is legally a subordinate?
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Would they pull this with the Queen too or do they get away with it because Ardern is legally a subordinate?
Happened with Helen Clark. Some elements of the tribe wouldn't let her speak at Waitangi. The tribal elders have permission.

Queens not overly popular in some quarters.

They just moved the event elsewhere and she refused to attend.
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
This is late, but I'd like to point out that HathiTrust and Google Books have well over a million publicly available works, virtually the complete pre-1925 contents of several major university libraries, including some notorious racist works. Much of the history of pulp literature, including Oriental Stories, is also available, more or less legally. Oriental Adventures itself is widely available on the free web, though not legally. For all the comparisons with Gone with the Wind, the Birth of a Nation has long been PD, as has a lot of other racist films, and Gone with the Wind will join them in the US in about 15 years.

I think it about time we recognize that all this material is out there, and making Oriental Adventures not available for sale isn't going to change that. It's way more productive to put a warning label on it, instead of thinking that removing it from sale will change anything.
 

pemerton

Legend
"Mostly - not completely, but mostly" Thanks for the laugh.

<snip>

Right, the racism in OA has other issue—those tied to Western stereotypes of Asians rather than Western stereotypes of Africans. Something that should be obvious.
I think your argument would be strengthened by presenting in more detail what you find objectionable.

I've already said where I think there is overt racism: the title, and the back cover blurb about the "mysterious east".

Off the top of my head, there are two bits of interior text that frame the content by contrast to European norms - the discussion of armour and the discussion of unarmed fighting.

For stereotyped portrayals of culture there is, as I have already said, the Honour rules. (Particularly the suicide-at-zero-honour rule.)

What else do you have in mind?

It implies that people getting offended actually have a choice about what offends them when, in reality, they don't.
This depends. If the offence is taken at racial slurs like "Oriental" or "mysterious East" then I would agree. If the offence is an intellectual one, like a judgement of cultural appropriation, then I would disagree. The latter may be sincere, and warranted, without having to be visceral.

you don't think OA's reductionist depiction of Asian people and culture and its use of bad stereotypes is as racist as Sumatran rats (which was lifted from a Sherlock Holmes story), gold dragons, ogre magi, and rakshasa? That's certainly an opinion.
I think "reductionism" is primarily an intellectual criticism. That doesn't make it "invalid" (whatever that would mean) and certainly doesn't make it false. But it means that we can talk about it, ask what the basis for the claim is, present contrary views, etc.

I think OA is reductionist in the same sort of fashion as any work of FRPGing is: it is not a work of history and it trades on popular culture tropes rather than real detail.

No one (that I know of) objects to comparably reductionist treatments of European peoples and cultures. The basis for the corresponding objection in relation to East Asian peoples and cultures therefore is one of two: (i) unlike the European case it perpetuates racialised power and hierarchy; (ii) it is an act of cultural appropriation.

The second criticism goes to the very heart of much RPGing. It's an interesting line of criticism. I have my own views, but this thread is not a good forum to try and express them, for any number of pretty obvious reasons.

The first criticism seems to be the one you are advancing. It's an empirical claim about what sorts of cultural artefacts play what sorts of roles in what sorts of power dynamics. I think a book like OA, with its (by RPGing standards) relatively extensive and scholarly bibliography, its framing of the cultures and peoples it deals with as valuable and worthy on their own terms, and its lack of sneering, sniggering, racialised fear or denigration, is not a significant contributor to dynamics of racialised power and hierarchy.

I own books that I would not want my children to read before they reach a certain age, because of the effect they might have on their self-esteem and self-conception. REH and HPL stories are right upthere. The MM "caveman' and "tribesman" entries are up there to. So is all the bullsh*t about half-orcs as "mongrels". OA is not on that list. I don't think that a reader of OA comes away with the message that East Asians are primitive or dangerous or sinister or all alike. One comes away with the impression that Chinese and Japanese folk/popular culture contain dragons and nature spirits and shapechangers and ascetics and unarmed fighters and self-possessed, self-proclaimed "honourable" warriors.

Well, you do you. But point of fact, the same arguments defending OA here could also equally apply to defending minstrel shows.
No they couldn't. No one can argue that minstrel shows are intended to present Black people as other than subhuman and inferior.

Minstrel shows belong to the genre of vicious racism based on oppressive fantasies. The closest AD&D gets to minstrel shows, as best I'm aware, is the MM Tribesmen with their prisoners for food. The only RPG book I know that treats East Asian people in anything like the same way is the CoC adventure The Vanishing Conjurer.

OA has a bibliography of scholarly works dealing with a variety of relevant topics, all (I think) in English but some by East Asian or East Asian-descended authors. It is not a parody. It is not a vicious attack. If you play a game following its character build, scenario build and monster rules it will come as close to a film like The Seven Samurai or Hero as one is likely to get playing AD&D.

Problematic issues aside, it really isn't that great a sourcebook. I think it's best feature was the inclusion of NWP, and also the attempt to introduce non-Western play. In a lot of ways it was a dumpster fire in regards to game mechanics, like UA. Most of the classes were power creep over original classes and it didn't play well with standard classes (not to mention that some of the classes really didn't even need to exist). The Comeliness stat. Both OA and UA are guilty of that unnecessary addition. I put it on the same level as UA. It didn't help that it fell apart just like UA.
It has a few key mechanical innovations. Non-combat resolution is one. Most classes having an ability to "try hard" (ie ki powers) is another, and anticipates one of the stronger features of 4e D&D.

My own view is that the classes are not OP, and that yakuza and ninja are seriously underpowered. The issue of compatibility with the PHB doesn't come up if one is playing an OA game that takes the setting on its own terms rather than frames it through an orientalist lens.

When you say it introduces "non-Western play" I'm not sure what you have in mind given that I thought you are criticising it for not stepping outside of "western" preconceptions. It is possible to play AD&D in a non-European context using the resources found in Gygax's books: there are nomads and "dervishes" and "tribesmen" and Japanese ogres and Japanese-styled hobgoblins. The City/Town encounter matrix in the DMG evokes The Tower of the Elephant as much as it does the Lankhmar stories.

What makes OA distinctive in this respect is precisely that it presents a non-European setting on its own terms rather than through the lens of the pulps or the Saturday serials. This - to repeat - is why I find the comparison to minstrel shows wrong.

But anyway, besides those two mechanical innovations what makes OA the best RPG book in the AD&D line is that it is the only one that shows how RPGing can be about something other than dungeon-crawling or other forms of puzzle-solving: it encourages the creation of characters who have meaningful connections to the world they inhabit (they have families and masters and lords and the like) and it encourages the GM to frame encounters that are meaningful expressions of the world also, and that connect to those PCs (hierarchies of spirits, who have motivations other than eating dungeon explorers; rivals and challengers; etc).

Is it a sign of racism that AD&D books which take the outlook of European-descended Americans as the default present their protagonists as rootless, aimless and essentially nihilistic; while the one book that self-consciously tries to present historical Asian cultures presents its protagonists as rooted, connected, and motivated by other- as much or even more than self-regard? Perhaps, but that is certainly an intellectual argument that would need more elaboration than it is going to get in this thread. And reinforces the inaptness of the comparison to minstrel shows.
 
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pemerton

Legend
How much less problematic would the original OA be viewed today if it had been published under a title like "Kara-Tur - More from the World of Greyhawk" (or FR), or if it came out six months later as "Unearthed Arcana II' . And if the blurbs had just been about adding more material to D&D, instead of showing us the exotic or capturing part of the real world

It doesn't get rid of any problematic material in it - but how much would changing how it was framed push it back to the level of the 1e PhB monk or pantheons in Deities and Demigods?
I've already posted that the title and the back-cover blurb are racist.

But if that's all that is being complained about then it should be trival for WotC to edit those on the PDF.
 

pemerton

Legend
Then you have no dog in this fight.
I do have a "dog in this fight".

It is your comparison of OA to minstrel shows. Which you have since doubled down on. I think that shows you don't understand why and how minstrel shows are racist. Which makes me doubt the credibility of your assessments of OA as well.

You and @Aldarc and others have poo-pooed suggestions of "a little bit racist". But any serious discussion of racism, racial hatred, and social hierarchies and power dynamics needs to be able to engage with the differences eg between a minstrel show, a claim of cultural appropriation, and (say) the effect of names on prospects of getting a job interview - just to pick three different ways in which racism might be thought to manifest itself.
 

pemerton

Legend
Thank you. I was just trying to gauge how much of it was was situating it as being reflective of "an exotic part the real world" (as opposed to making it "just more pastiche like we did in the PhB". I haven't actually read a copy for decades, but would believe some of the inside is troubling.
If you read it I think you will find it is heavy on pastiche and light on exoticisation.
 

pemerton

Legend
I don't see how this follows from the need to avoid stereotypical representations. That's not really that high a bar to clear.
You don't need stereotypes to produce a light-hearted RPG. Not in any way, shape, or form. Archetypes? Sure, but those can be handled respectfully. Stereotypes play on unwarranted or ignorant generalizations. The goal is respectful use of other cultures, not to produce a product no one will complain about. The latter is impossible anyway
So, applying your standards here to OA, what survives and what falls?
 

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