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D&D 5E Orion Black No Longer a D&D Designer [UPDATED!]

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WotC employee Orion Black announced yesterday that they were no longer working for the company or on D&D, citing the corporate culture at the company.

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"It's July 3th and I no longer work for Wizards of the Coast. I no longer work on D&D, the little that I did. This is going to be a long thread and my last for quite a while, so bear with me.

I took the job for two reasons. The first was for the dream. To escape poverty doing what I love, writing and making games. The second was to make D&D welcoming to the millions who are scorned by it.

A lot of people had hope for D&D that they carried with me. While some people were upset to see me work for a corporation that overshadows indie, others hoped that I would be able to make real change. I tried. I failed. And I lost a lot.

Liking a tweet or post, RTing, or even following people who speak ill of WotC can lose you your job in an instant. That's why you never see it happen. @Zbeg is 100% correct. It's a silencing tool. I can say more now.

Kindness doesn't replace respect. Working within your comfort zone doesnt support change. Most people in that group were not ready for me to be there, a nonbinary Black person who would actually critique their problems. Idk what they expected.

I worked hard for a very long time. I got a lot of smiles and vocal support, but it was followed by inaction and being ignored. My coworkers were frustrated for me, and still are now. I confided in them often, cried on shoulders on a few occasions.

I realized at one point that leadership had given me 2 assignments over about 5 months. It was mostly me asking project leads for work, searching out opportunities. Leadership didnt really care about me or my growth. I had to.

I firmly believe that I was a diversity hire. There was no expectation for me to do much of anything. I probably disrupted them by being vocal and following up. It didnt matter if I was supported by seniors and positive.

I think genuine people proposed me as an option and it was accepted because it would look like a radical positive change. It would help quiet vocal outrage. And because I had to stay silent, it was a safe bet.

I started to lose all of my confidence. I started to lose trust in myself. After finding out that I wasnt getting an extension or FTE, I resolved to just finish things out and take care of myself. To stop fighting and to just survive, quietly. But it just kept getting worse.

They would talk about how they're going to start working on treating staff better, retaining contractors, actually answering questions. How much they were invested in diversity and change even though they hired two cis white dudes into two big leadership positions during this. One of whom claimed that he doesnt know what he's doing. No shit. I never want to hear "maybe they just hire the best person for the job" again.

I found out that some of my work was stolen, which destroyed me. It lined up with a project they were going to do and I had sent it in to someone in leadership months ago. The project was announced and this person who contributed "forgot" that we had a meeting where I gave them my ideas, and then a follow up document the day after. I knew nothing was going to be done about it. Someone else told me that the person said sorry that they forgot. That's it.

I was really losing my ability to do much of anything. I have depression and anxiety and ADHD, all of which I manage pretty well. But those parts of me were under the pressure of being ignored, disrespected, "forgotten", and not being able to say a word to the world.

Then, as social unrest continued global due to BLM, the D&D team comes out with their statement. It was like a slap in the face. How much they care about people of color, how much changing things (that I and others had been pushing for months, if not longer) was just going to happen now. It took weeks of protesting across the globe to get D&D to do what people they hired have been already telling them to fix. You cannot, CANNOT say Black lives matter when you cannot respect the Black people who you exploit at 1/3rd your pay, for progressive ideas you pick apart until it's comfortable, for your millions of profit year over year. People of color can make art and freelance, but are never hired. D&D takes what they want from marginalized people, give them scraps, and claim progress.

I spent my time in that building worrying about how much people hated me for working there. I spent a lot of time thinking about how much it hurt to work there. I had and still have supporters, and many. Thanks to you all for being my voice and speaking out when I could not. But I felt so isolated and alone. If not for some coworkers who checked in on me, who were going through the same things? I would've quit. Every angry statement about D&D felt personal because I couldn't fix it. Because I failed, whether it was my fault or not. I felt like I was being trashed by everyone because I could not disconnect what I set as a personal responsibility from the state of the game. That part IS my fault.

But I wound up as I am now because of all of this and much, much more. I am depressed. I am unable to write. I constantly question if anything I create is worth anything. I feel like I let everyone down, and no matter how much people tell me I didnt, that doesnt change. I feel guilty for not being what y'all needed me to be, what I wanted to be, and betrayed for how I was treated at that company. It's an exceptionally kind place on the D&D team. People are very nice to each other in a very genuine way that I truly enjoyed. However, that doesnt replace respect. That doesnt delete how I was treated. It doesnt change the fact that I honestly never want to play a trpg again and am definitely not working in that field anymore.

I know that I'm probably losing a ton of opportunities writing elsewhere because of what I've said here, as well as what I've sent in internally. It may mean that I will return to poverty, which makes me feel like a failure to my race, my family, and my partner who I want to provide the world. But under all these things, I have my integrity. I worked my ass off. I did my best for as long as I could. And I didnt let them treat me like that without telling the world what needs to be said.

Trust actions, not words. Not "look at how much we freelance so and so", because freelancing is exploitation of diversity with no support for the freelancer. Not "here we finally did what we KNOW we should've done a long time ago", because they only care about how optics turn to dollars. EVERYTHING involving D&D will continue to farm marginalized people for the looks and never put them in leadership. They wont be put on staff. They will be held at arms length. I hope they prove me wrong.

A lot of BIPOC and other marginalized people are trying to make their way by using D&D. Dont shame them for that. Think about how much, and when you wield your anger, that it is done righteously.

That said, I dont recommend to anyone, working for the D&D department of Wizards of the Coast."


Orion's Tweet about this. They also cite this statement, The Wizards I Know, by Zaiem Beg.

WotC's PR person, Greg Tito, commented publicly on the issue.

This should not have happened the way it did & I'll continue to fight so it does not happen again. I'm sorry if I let you down, Orion. You deserve better.


In response to an observation that this required more than just a PR statement or donation, and that it required diversity at the executive level he continued:

I have said almost these exact words for years, and more recently to executives put in charge of a community they don't understand. I am in the awful position of saying things I believe without the company making even a single, simple action of real change.


UPDATE! WotC has issued a short statement:

We sincerely apologize to Orion Black for the negative experiences they had as a contractor with the D&D franchise team. Their statement is being taken seriously and is an opportunity for us to improve the experiences of all those who contribute to our company and community. We're not perfect and we know there is more work to do. The ongoing dialogue with our community is critical to make meaningful change. We remain committed to making D&D a more inclusive community by supporting voices from people of all backgrounds.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Every time any thread like this comes up, it really just becomes a countdown until one of these guys shows up with this stale take 🙄
Yep. I only don’t remove them from my experience of the forums because they serve as an early warning for when the thread will get closed.

And sometimes it’s fun to tear their arguments apart or watch others do so.
 

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Zardnaar

Legend
The person you're replying to is right.

There's absolutely no evidence WOTC has expanded its demographics significantly. WOTC released a bunch of completely fabricated numbers to claim that they're capturing particular demographics, but it's trivial to tell that the numbers are disinformation. No WOTC product comes with a requirement to self identify, and no WOTC product has the ability to track and report how many different people use it. So WOTC has no way of knowing its demographics, all it can know is units sold, and it has no idea how many people that represents or anything about their demographics.

That said, D&D has definitely improved its market penetration, but no one knows who those players are.

On the topic of the person you've responded to, he's right. WOTC has two fairly major problems.

1. You cannot sell left wing politics to conservatives and the further left you go, the fewer moderates you can sell it to. As WOTC uses their product lines to push their politics on their consumers, they alienate and lose more and more customers.
2. They're being targeted for outrage culture now, people are looking for anything they can find to attack WOTC for non-compliance with left wing politics. Which causes some number of left wingers to stop being customers as well with each new outrage. I mean seriously, early this week the WOTC campaign was to ban 1st and 3rd edition Oriental Adventures for being racist. Ban a pair of books that've been out of print for decades. They're under a microscope.

To put it another way, this is another Edition War. Across both of its product lines, Magic and D&D. They're making the exact same mistakes they made in the last edition war. They're focusing on one particular group, catering to everything they want to see WOTC produce, and operating under the assumption that the out-groups (Conservatives, most Moderates) are few in number.

They're going to walk off the same cliff they did with 4th edition. They're going to release some product, and it'll massively undersell because the out-groups left, and they're going to be stuck with an unrecoverable situation.

4E was 12 years ago, people buying D&D now were kids then.

What upset people then was the playstyle. That's goneburger they're not drunk enough to resurrect that.

Elements of 4E are also popular. Warlock in core, probably Drow, the dawn war pantheon (via critical role).

If they go to far one way or another they might lose some sales but I don't think they will.

I suspect that one problem Orion had was he thought he was going to change the world and would go further than WotC were willing to go.

Commercial viability is a thing. I don't think they're going to go full whatever even if that's what the designers personally would want to do.
 

How many years in a row did they post December layoffs in the Oughts? Hell, even when I was working on my entries for the 3.5 setting contest-- the one that produced Eberron-- I never really thought a job at Wizards of the Coast was a good idea.

I'm one of the people who got laid off in the oughts by WotC.

But the culture has seemed different for a number of years now. Even having left Seattle and moved back to OK, I'd happily consider the right job at WotC nowadays.
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
It is unquestionably true that the wired world in which we live makes digging up certain skeletons much easier to do, but the fact remains that the essential options for reacting to such discoveries are unchanged: nothing, wrist slaps, cover ups, demotion/career stagnation, firing, blackballing, etc. Which path is chosen has a lot to do with societal norms and the internal corporate culture.

Using your example, GE’s HR department would look at the applicant’s resume and initiate an investigation into his or her references. The thoroughness of an investigation would depend on the position applied for. Groundskeeper? Probably not much of an investigation. Legal department, they’re going to talk to everyone on your resume...and everyone those people say HR should talk to. One of the executive positions, security, R&D or patents might get a full on private investigator/police/FBI write up, focusing on things like your finances and associations. Hell, there are certain jobs at GE that actually require a government security clearance.

Even back then, some jobs required investigations into your background before you could be cleared for TRAINING. for the job. (My FBI file dates back to 1990.)

This has nothing to do with “surveillance states”. This predates electricity. This predates written language.

You don’t want someone to use your public statements and actions, keep them private.

I'd say when you're getting to the level of "government security clearance", you are talking about "surveillance states". Certainly none of what you mentioned predates written language. Nor do I see how "the essential options for reacting to such discoveries" is relevant to the discussion.

What exactly are private statements and actions? I really don't know what a private statement or action is, with respect to something as invasive as a government security clearance. To whom can you speak that they will not ferret out?

The point stands that with respect to most things, what was once a private statement between you and family over the phone, or between you and the person at the bar or salon or Elks club, is now a statement on Facebook.
 

They sold their most popular book since the core books this year. And their core books, at least on Amazon, show no signs of slowing down.

I play the game with high school students where I teach. The majority fit somewhere in the LGBTQI demographic. Of all my gaming groups, it’s about 45% male, 45% female, 10% non-binary. I believe part of this diversity derived from avoiding sexist language and objectifying imagery. The game is no longer about teenage boys fulfilling their fantasies of power (kill the things, take the things) and seduction of women in bikini armor. It’s about diverse characters working together toward a common goal.

WotC now needs to address the issues of race as presented in the game to help its increasingly diverse and idealistic fan base feel welcome. This means more diversity among its content creators and more sensitivity to the needs of players of color. It’s not liberal Puritanism. It’s inclusiveness.

I don’t know anything about Orion Black and their experience with WotC other than what Orion is telling us. I’m not here to judge one way or another on that issue but to say that I’m sorry for Orion’s experience. But I do know that the fan base has changed and the game must change with it.
Addressing the issues of race. Problem is. Worrying vocal number of fans do not see issue with racist connotations or descriptions. They resist change in this. Because they do not associate with it. As they do not associate they do not think this area needs change or work.
Probably quite a lot of fans think like this.
This will also one day catch up with Wizards.
 

dalisprime

Explorer
Addressing the issues of race. Problem is. Worrying vocal number of fans do not see issue with racist connotations or descriptions. They resist change in this. Because they do not associate with it. As they do not associate they do not think this area needs change or work.
Probably quite a lot of fans think like this.
This will also one day catch up with Wizards.
They don't associate with the issue because the game wasn't designed around representing real life peoples via the medium of monstrous races.
If you raise flags on race representation, someone at some point will raise flags on glorifying murder (kill things to get rewards), glorifying animal violence (kill beasts... any beasts), skimming over mental issues (Madness rules) and terrors of mind/ emotion control. We could go on and on. Video games get bashed for inciting violence on a regular basis which is a similar phenomenon to what we're observing here. Do you genuinely feel that video games incite violent behaviour?
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Very sage advice. As an employer and someone who does hiring, people who unload on social media are an easy pass for me. It raises concerns about personality and psychological factors. Not saying that is the case with they/them. But it is not a wise career decision.
As a team lead involved in hiring, I understand, but do not agree with, that approach. "Personality and psychological factors"? What would those be, exactly? That a person had the courage of their convictions to speak up? That I might expect them to question my actions or decisions, or those of others in my team? That they might voice alternative points of view?

It might not be your intent, but the implicit threat in your words seems designed only to chill the conversation. I repudiate it.
 

Raduin711

Adventurer
Addressing the issues of race. Problem is. Worrying vocal number of fans do not see issue with racist connotations or descriptions. They resist change in this. Because they do not associate with it. As they do not associate they do not think this area needs change or work.
Probably quite a lot of fans think like this.

It's everywhere. But ultimately I think the power lies with Wizards, and it seems like they have a real problem having diverse voices in their good ol' boys club. I think time will tell if they can walk the walk.

When it comes to minorities in the workplace, getting them in the door is only part of the problem. They need to be heard, too, and have their contributions counted. If everyone sees a minority worker and thinks they must be a "diversity hire" then their credibility goes out the window, regardless of why that employee was hired. Orion's account seems to describe just this kind or issue, and WOTC needs to choose whether to address it or circle the wagons.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Is this official? And the wording is very specific. Sorry about the way it happened does not equal it should not have happened, perhaps just handled differently. Very specific language from a member of the communication team.
It's officially what Greg Tito said. I'm not sure what "official" means in this context?
 

whimsychris123

Explorer
They don't associate with the issue because the game wasn't designed around representing real life peoples via the medium of monstrous races.
If you raise flags on race representation, someone at some point will raise flags on glorifying murder (kill things to get rewards), glorifying animal violence (kill beasts... any beasts), skimming over mental issues (Madness rules) and terrors of mind/ emotion control. We could go on and on. Video games get bashed for inciting violence on a regular basis which is a similar phenomenon to what we're observing here. Do you genuinely feel that video games incite violent behaviour?
The issue of video game violence seems like another issue that remains controversial. Such analogies stray from the topic at hand. Plus, you're making the logical fallacy of the slippery slope argument. The question here is whether the content of D&D causes enough BIPOC to feel marginalized in the TRPG community and what to do about it.

For me, races like orcs and drow have never had racial connotations. Orcs have just been monsters that cause destruction and drow were just kinda cool villains. But I am White and until recently, I have not really considered how these fantasy elements may be perceived by Black gamers.

I've been listening to panels of Black gamers and most of them have issues with the races. And I'm beginning to see their point even though I don't feel like the representations of these races have made me any more racist. However, for me, more to the point, is how welcome do Black gamers feel at my table. For that, I need to listen. Maybe some of these panels represent a small but vocal group of Black gamers who take issue with some of the content of D&D. I really don't know. But what I do know is that I'm not interested in ruining someone's enjoyment of the game because I refuse to see things from another person's perspective.

I'm assuming WotC has a better idea of what players, all of them, want from D&D content. Sure, they can't please everyone. But they can certainly get the pulse of all their players and help previously marginalized players feel welcome.
 
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dalisprime

Explorer
I am all for inclusion, the way I see it though - no particular human race is represented as evil or somehow worse.
Some people choose to find representation in areas where none is intended. If you really want an Elf race that represents your ethnicity, make one or rewrite an existing one so it's closer to what you want it to represent. Don't jump in assuming that drow are the representation of native peoples - not only are they not by default, there are native cultures within the human race that have the exact same statistics as humans of other ethnicities.
I could make the case for illithids being a racist representation of caucasian people - they are invasive, practice literal brain drain and slavery. Does this make me right?
The parallels i draw are on the same magnitude - this isn't a slippery slope fallacy, if the race issue is real, then so is everything else. Either you draw a line over everything and state - this is fantasy and none of it is meant to represent issues we face IRL, or you admit that it all is problematic and has to be addressed. Cherry picking issues while ignoring others reeks of hypocrisy.
 

Derren

Hero
So what did Orion expect from their job as contractor? That WotC rolls out the red carpet and treats their word as gospel? That they get special treatment because they identify as non-binary?
Yes, not getting credited is bad and an issue, but reading that rant this seems to be more of an afterthought to Orion
 

Raduin711

Adventurer
I've been listening to panels of Black gamers and most of them have issues with the races. And I'm beginning to see their point even though I don't feel like the representations of these races have made me any more racist. However, for me, more to the point, is how welcome do Black gamers feel at my table. For that, I need to listen. Maybe some of these panels represent a small but vocal group of Black gamers who take issue with some of the content of D&D. I really don't know. But what I do know is that I'm not interested in ruining someone's enjoyment of the game because I refuse to see things from another person's perspective.

Agreed. It's really not about whether some piece of media is making people racist. What makes racism flourish -I think- is the act of refusing to learn, refusing to listen, refusing to empathize.
 

Keefe the Thief

Adventurer
They don't associate with the issue because the game wasn't designed around representing real life peoples via the medium of monstrous races.
If you raise flags on race representation, someone at some point will raise flags on glorifying murder (kill things to get rewards), glorifying animal violence (kill beasts... any beasts), skimming over mental issues (Madness rules) and terrors of mind/ emotion control. We could go on and on. Video games get bashed for inciting violence on a regular basis which is a similar phenomenon to what we're observing here. Do you genuinely feel that video games incite violent behaviour?

This is a slipperly slope - saying "if we start with this, someone else will start to talk about something else". I mean, who cares? Discussion is discussion. Why not have a discussion about solving problems with violence in D&D? Why not talk about depicting madness in RPGs?

Raising flags is a good idea, because it allows us to see things in a different light.
 

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