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D&D 5E On Representation and Roleplaying

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
This is where we have to be careful. "some people" isn't the same as everyone, or even the majority. That article is a bad take, understandable, but still a bad take. But it existing doesn't take away from the fact that if we want to represent another culture in our work we have to do the work to do that culture justice.


It's all very much worthy of discussion. Only by discussing we can grow. I'm just worried that we might fall on the "slipery slope" argument and never do the tough work because we are afraid of potential risks hidden in overcorrections. Let's focus on this thread, has anyone made a reasonable argument that someone like Matt shouldn't ever try an aproach a culture he does not represent?

The way that it directly affects most people on this thread is in the lack of campaign settings that represent different cultures. I think it's too bad that we don't have a campaign sourcebook based on, say, First People legends and lore. Maybe something from southeastern Asia or any of the other hundreds of cultures we could pull ideas from. I get that mistakes were made in the past and we should learn from them. Times change and we are more sensitive to depictions than we ever were but we've gone from Oriental Adventures to ... nothing.

P.S. I know I've been using CR as an example, it was just one article that caught my eye a little while back that seems to be representative of a trend.
 

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Ixal

Adventurer
The Into the Motherlands book isn't out yet, but afaik the setting is afrofuturist, a well-established subgenre of science fiction. Afrofuturism is very much a diasporic literature and aesthetic, that is, it emerges from Black people in the Americas contending with their shared history of forced diaspora. It's not historical fiction, which is why afrofuturist stories take place in an imagined counterfactual future. So this critique is misplaced given what the authors' goals are (while also making assumptions about the authors' supposed lack of knowledge).

Moreover, it was a fairly successful kickstarter, but still an indie rpg project, and as such has a much much lower profile than a book like Tomb of Annihilation (2017), a "fantasy africa" that was made with no Black authors or consultants and, despite some relatively minor criticism, is still one of the most popular 5e adventures. The existence and success of this book belies any claim that there is censorship going on; meanwhile, it's not surprising that the aforementioned minor criticism will come with a wotc release, given that most rpg media focuses on wotc releases.
It might be afrofuturist, but the writers themselves draw the connection to history and Mansa Musa, not only referencing him and Mali several times in the backstory but even naming their culture after him "Musalians".
And for that they have very few references to Mali, its culture or religion and even get the few things they have said wrong (namely that they can dodge the whole slavery issue because by the time the exploration fleet leaves under Musas reign the Europeans have not arrived yet, even though slavery existed in Mali before that and it is well documented that Musa himself took thousands of slaves with him on his Hajj)
 

Bolares

Hero
Times change and we are more sensitive to depictions than we ever were but we've gone from Oriental Adventures to ... nothing.
Well, using the first people as an example... Coyote and Crow just joyned the million dollar kickstarter club. And the problem with "from oriental adventures to ... nothing" is that it assumes that bad representation, stereotypes and bad tastes design is a form of representation. And I disagree. Being from a place were Hollywood loves to do bad representation (I still see people speaking Spanish or having Portuguese accents in Brazil), bad representation, for the people being misrepresented is nothing. So we are not going from one place to nothing, we are staying on nothing. So the next step IMHO is to figure out how to open space for these people to be well represented or to make their own stuff.
 

Yes. If I were publishing a campaign book based on beliefs from ancient Japan that I should make my best effort to get accurate information including hiring a consultant if I have the budget? Of course.

But in at least some cases (I hate pointing back to CR, but it's an easy target) CR has hired consultants and there's still pushback saying that it's not correct because they're "a group of people engaging with cultural touchstones that they aren’t a part of." What would make it acceptable? Fire one of the players and replace them with someone who happens to have a corresponding ethnicity even if, like me, they're several generations separated? Limit themselves to cultures dominated by caucasians?

Having said that, there are experiences that I simply can't fully relate to and I accept that. No matter how many consultants I hire I'm never going to really know what it's like to be hispanic in the US. I don't think there's one answer, it's a complicated topic. I just disagree with some of the gatekeeping based on ethnicity.
Critical Role...is going to be fine. They are going to do their show, it will be successful and adored by their legion of fans. They will make a ton of money and their 5e AP will come out in spring and everyone will buy it. They might have to deal with a few people in media criticizing their choices. And honestly, that is a good role for media criticism--that's what they should be doing, providing needed outside perspectives for fans of the show. These are perspectives that would have been few and far between in the media landscape of the 90s, for example (twitter is a separate, and imo not healthy, thing).
 

Times change and we are more sensitive to depictions than we ever were but we've gone from Oriental Adventures to ... nothing.

Though I have to note some of this is an artifact of the fact D&D is, well, D&D and thus pretty conservative on a lot of practical grounds here. There are indie games that foray into this sort of thing that have come out in the last few years (I just got Coyote and Crow in PDF today).

The biggest problem you run into here is often scope, too; even POC who have some serious knowledge in an area may not have the breadth to be able to do it well enough to cover a serious sourcebook usefully. Let's say you have someone who wants to do a fantasy sourcebook about the American Southwest. Let's say you even have someone who is really knowledgeable about the Dine. Do they have similar knowledge of the Hopi and other Pueblo? How about the Yuman? But all these overlapped and if you ran a game in the area it might be difficult to do so without having to deal with multiples. So its a big undertaking in the first place, and hard to get right.

(And that isn't even getting into the question of whether old baggage comes up; if the author of such a work was of Hopi heritage I can pretty much promise there would be potential Apache readers who'd view every error about the Dine with a suspicious eye and vice versa).
 

Though I have to note some of this is an artifact of the fact D&D is, well, D&D and thus pretty conservative on a lot of practical grounds here. There are indie games that foray into this sort of thing that have come out in the last few years (I just got Coyote and Crow in PDF today).

The biggest problem you run into here is often scope, too; even POC who have some serious knowledge in an area may not have the breadth to be able to do it well enough to cover a serious sourcebook usefully. Let's say you have someone who wants to do a fantasy sourcebook about the American Southwest. Let's say you even have someone who is really knowledgeable about the Dine. Do they have similar knowledge of the Hopi and other Pueblo? How about the Yuman? But all these overlapped and if you ran a game in the area it might be difficult to do so without having to deal with multiples. So its a big undertaking in the first place, and hard to get right.

(And that isn't even getting into the question of whether old baggage comes up; if the author of such a work was of Hopi heritage I can pretty much promise there would be potential Apache readers who'd view every error about the Dine with a suspicious eye and vice versa).
we would at least have a book about one bit of it which would be useful as a first step.
 

It might be afrofuturist, but the writers themselves draw the connection to history and Mansa Musa, not only referencing him and Mali several times in the backstory but even naming their culture after him "Musalians".
And for that they have very few references to Mali, its culture or religion and even get the few things they have said wrong (namely that they can dodge the whole slavery issue because by the time the exploration fleet leaves under Musas reign the Europeans have not arrived yet, even though slavery existed in Mali before that and it is well documented that Musa himself took thousands of slaves with him on his Hajj)
You could argue that afrofuturism in general romanticizes precolonial culture. I would say that's because it's coming from contending with the violence and complete cultural rupture that was the transatlantic slave trade and the ensuing and ongoing legacy of racism in the Americas. It would be like criticizing creole culture for not articulating itself in "original" languages, when it was precisely those historical and cultural links that were intentionally destroyed. And yes, a group of Black creators have more of a connection to and ownership over that legacy than just anyone. The afrofuturist perspective and take on Africa is far, far different from the exoticization fantasies of European pulp fantasy authors and their modern rpg descendants.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
You could argue that afrofuturism in general romanticizes precolonial culture. I would say that's because it's coming from contending with the violence and complete cultural rupture that was the transatlantic slave trade and the ensuing and ongoing legacy of racism in the Americas. It would be like criticizing creole culture for not articulating itself in "original" languages, when it was precisely those historical and cultural links that were intentionally destroyed. And yes, a group of Black creators have more of a connection to and ownership over that legacy than just anyone. The afrofuturist perspective and take on Africa is far, far different from the exoticization fantasies of European pulp fantasy authors and their modern rpg descendants.
I disagree. Why would a black american writer have any more connection to Mali than a white american writer just because of his skin colour? Let alone when you reference Mali from 700 years ago.
And the material I have seen of ItML does not reference precolonial culture at all and just uses it for name dropping.

I am quite certain if a group of white writers would write ItML they would be showered in complains.
 

Bolares

Hero
I disagree. Why would a black american writer have any more connection to Mali than a white american writer just because of his skin colour? Let alone when you reference Mali from 700 years ago.
And the material I have seen of ItML does not reference precolonial culture at all and just uses it for name dropping.

I am quite certain if a group of white writers would write ItML they would be showered in complains.
I think the main thing here is that the book and the game isn't about Mali. Mali is referenced sure, but the book is about the experience and aspirations of diasporic black people, so yes, a black american writer is more well fited to write this story.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I disagree. Why would a black american writer have any more connection to Mali than a white american writer just because of his skin colour? Let alone when you reference Mali from 700 years ago.
And the material I have seen of ItML does not reference precolonial culture at all and just uses it for name dropping.

I am quite certain if a group of white writers would write ItML they would be showered in complains.
Looking at this in context, I think it has less to do with expertise and more with opportunity. Black perspectives have been shut out of the conversation for so long that another white author writing about African culture does deserve an extra look.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
I think the main thing here is that the book and the game isn't about Mali. Mali is referenced sure, but the book is about the experience and aspirations of diasporic black people, so yes, a black american writer is more well fited to write this story.
Even when you limit it to that I disagree. Why would a black person born and raised in the US automatically have any connection or idea about being disaporic or, when you consider the ItML setting, go out and explore unknown lands?
 

Even when you limit it to that I disagree. Why would a black person born and raised in the US automatically have any connection or idea about being disaporic...
Well this one's simple: they're part of a diaspora.

or, when you consider the ItML setting, go out and explore unknown lands?
I don't think I've heard a single person every state that people who aren't adventurers shouldn't make adventure games.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Well this one's simple: they're part of a diaspora.


I don't think I've heard a single person every state that people who aren't adventurers shouldn't make adventure games.
What? Why would a black american automatically be part of a diaspora? Even when he or she was born in the US, as were (probably) their parents? You do seem to attribute quite a lot to the skin colour a person has.

Which is exactly what I was talking about why it is about appearances. No matter their personal background of someone, if they are black they are more qualified to write about diasporic people etc...
 
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What? Why would a black american automatically be part of a diaspora? Even when he or she was born in the US, as were (probably) their parents? You do seem to attribute quite a lot to the skin colour a person has.

Diaspora is not an issue of just immediate events. People referred to as part of the Jewish Diaspora had often been in the parts of Europe they were in for generations.

Some American blacks aren't part of a diaspora, but they're in the minority.
 

What? Why would a black american automatically be part of a diaspora? Even when he or she was born in the US, as were their parents? You do seem to attribute quite a lot to the skin colour a person has.
Being part of a diaspora does not mean being a first generation immigrant. It means people who have been forced out or fled their ancestral lands (e.g. the Jewish diaspora). Further, the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism wasn't just an event that happened and then went away, but was a process of forming societies and their institutions in ways that still affect--deeply--present-day experiences. That's the key--it's not about some mystical connection to one's ancestors, but about the way that history is an on going process, and how the past has informed and continues to inform everyday life.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
What? Why would a black american automatically be part of a diaspora? Even when he or she was born in the US, as were (probably) their parents? You do seem to attribute quite a lot to the skin colour a person has.

Which is exactly what I was talking about why it is about appearances. No matter their personal background of someone, if they are black they seem to be qualified to write about diasporic people etc...
You're getting into deep topics of culture and identity here that I'm not sure a D&D Forum is equipped to handle. There are some great authors of books on black identity you can check out. I highly recommend Ta-Nahesi Coates' "Between the World and Me." It's a really approachable and personal book that communicates a lot about some of the questions you've had.
 

Norade

Villager
One thing I've noticed in these discussions is that they are almost always exclusively talked about from the perspective of American race relations and tend to dismiss other viewpoints if such considerations are raised at all. Japan, as an example, is rather particular in how it views gaijin, but their views aren't the same that an American would have. Nor are the issues immigrants face in Germany the same as those faced in the US.

We need to carefully consider that what is problematic at home, such as the choice to cast ScarJo as the Major in GitS, isn't an issue in the country that initially created that character.
 

ECMO3

Hero
3. Good Roleplaying is Hard.

This can be true, but in D&D you choose the character you roleplay ....... unless you are a DM .... and then you can still choose to change the entire encounter and NPC.

I generally play women characters, not always but usually and I find I can roleplay them well (at least I think so) and I enjoy it. However I never play a woman Cobold, Lizardfolk or Dragonborn because I have realy trouble doing that well.

When it comes to accents I am awful, so most of the time I don't do it as a player.

4. Representation, Stereotypes, and Roleplaying.

There are two things I would like to note here.

1. First much of the rules themselves are based in stereotypes. For example the entire Samarai subclass is based on tropes of Asian samarais. There are other less obvious stereotypes, but they are there. It is difficult to completely avoid these and still play anything that looks like actual D&D.

2. While real-world stereotypes exist, many things are criticized which have no real world counterparts. An example is the racial abilities and specifically intelligence penalty to Orcs that was taken out. I am all for taking that out and it was stupid to be in there to start with. I am also for making the abilities movable as this enables more creativity and options. But this was painted as some sort of prejudice when in fact there are no actual Orcs in the world and a D&D "race" is not equivalent to a real-world "race".

Finally I will note that people can play what they want at their table and the metric by which it should be judged is not whether it is "right" or
"wrong" but rather if the people at the table are having fun. In organized play there certainly needs to be ground rules to ensure no one feels unsafe or pigeonholed and new groups forming up should talk about this in session 0. However in private games with people who know each other well and have played for years this can be completely different and the important element is if everyone is having fun.
 

ad_hoc

(he/they)
One thing I've noticed in these discussions is that they are almost always exclusively talked about from the perspective of American race relations and tend to dismiss other viewpoints if such considerations are raised at all. Japan, as an example, is rather particular in how it views gaijin, but their views aren't the same that an American would have. Nor are the issues immigrants face in Germany the same as those faced in the US.

We need to carefully consider that what is problematic at home, such as the choice to cast ScarJo as the Major in GitS, isn't an issue in the country that initially created that character.

Whether or not that is true, it could still be an issue for people of heritage from those countries living in North America.

It is an understatement to say that people of both Japanese and Chinese heritage have been treated very poorly in North America. Chinese people were enslaved to create railroads and Japanese people were put into concentration camps for example.

Violence against them has risen dramatically with the onset of the global pandemic as well.

Having positive representation in popular media would make a meaningful difference for them. At the very least it will heighten empathy toward them when white people see them as protagonists on screen.
 

MGibster

Legend
It is an understatement to say that people of both Japanese and Chinese heritage have been treated very poorly in North America. Chinese people were enslaved to create railroads and Japanese people were put into concentration camps for example.
Chinese people were not enslaved in the United States. After the Civil War, they were used as cheap labor to build our rail roads and even a bit in the American South to replace black laborers who demanded higher wages. And while Chinese laborers were often treated poorly by by all sorts of different groups in the United States, they were not slaves.
 

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