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General Problematic issues with TSR era D&D from a modern lens

Sacrosanct

Legend
Several of the recent threads about OSR products and reactions, problem favs, etc has given me some thought.

Note: I do not want this thread to be an argument of what's really offensive and what's not., or if the writers back then were bad people. I want participation about what things you find/found troublesome in prior TSR era D&D that would turn you away from the game if presented it now, not from a rules/mechanics standpoint, but from a presentation perspective.

Let's start with some assumptions I think most of us can agree on:
  • D&D back then was primarily written by white cis men for a white cis male demographic
  • chainmail bikinis with nipples, strength caps for women, and harlot tables are almost universally frowned upon by the current gaming culture.


What are other main issues you have seen? And how would you address it if you were in charge to go back and rewrite those games?

I think mature content is ok, if done in an inclusive and mature manner. I.e., constant illustrations of dominant men over naked helpless women, or depictions where women are the overwhelming victim of violence rather than the instigators of violence is something I would consider problematic. Older D&D did have nudity, but the problem was that it was almost exclusively female nudity, and presented in submissive manners. I think you could have a mature themed piece of art with female, male, and gender neutral representations in that art and still adhere to a sword and sorcery theme while also not reinforcing those old sexist tropes.

D&D was full of stereotypes, and while I think someone who is white can write a game about Asian, African, or other cultures can be done, it should be done with consultation from members of whatever culture you're writing about. Diversity writers do exist, and are growing. Those old stereotypes should be removed.

Gender pronouns. Most of the text, when talking about an individual, referenced "he". I think this should move to "they". Years ago in my own writing I thought I was inclusive by alternating between he and she, only to realize later I was excluding an entire group of people.

Other thoughts? As a cis white male myself, I am positive I'm missing a lot and I want to expand my knowledge of areas that others are impacted much more than I am. I acknowledge my privilege in this, so outside feedback is greatly appreciated and listened to.
 

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Retreater

Legend
Personally, I'm good with some sex appeal in D&D. Any genders are fair game. Chainmail bikinis, loincloth barbarians, etc. It really got many teenagers (including me) interested in the game. "Sexy" isn't the same as "sexist" though, so I would drop that stuff. (There is basically zero sex appeal in any WotC-era D&D product that I've seen. But hell, look at Marvel and DC movies. If they can get away with it, so should D&D.)
 


TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
The way I look at it, as a game system, it should present itself in a relatively neutral manner that can fit in most settings. The setting is what should suggest social, gender and economic realities. If someone wants to make a setting ala Conan where women wear bikini mails and are cattle for muscular conquerors, so be it; some people grew up reading that stuff and will take interest in it. But the game system itself should be really open and allow for a large variety of settings.

When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense because it's already stuff we discuss at the table before starting a campaign. I like to explore racial (or species) tensions in my settings. I think the concept of strangers/foreigners and the tensions it brings is almost universal in time and space. But it's not something everyone is interested in exploring, so I fail to see why this should be baked in the rulebook.

This distinction is where, I think, some of the issues come with the recent turmoils. People pick up a book of rules, and the book suggest that orcs are inherently evil. Rules are this abstract concept where they suggest that you should either abide by them, or break them. They're mathematical or logical. Social concepts like races, genders and everything identity related is not.

I personally think both Wizards of the Coast and Paizo have done a great job ahead of the curve and have smoothed out most of the issues, but obviously some remain.

However, in other cases, like in the very recent debate of ability score bonuses and minuses for races, I think they are pertinent and should stay.
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
Personally, I'm good with some sex appeal in D&D. Any genders are fair game. Chainmail bikinis, loincloth barbarians, etc. It really got many teenagers (including me) interested in the game. "Sexy" isn't the same as "sexist" though, so I would drop that stuff. (There is basically zero sex appeal in any WotC-era D&D product that I've seen. But hell, look at Marvel and DC movies. If they can get away with it, so should D&D.)
You surely missed a lot of Eva's stuff in the 4e era. Please don't tell me that this isn't sexy ;)

 



I actually still like the wandering prostitute table. I think of it more as an example of evocative language and humor than anything particularly serious.

Uh-huh, but it's pretty sexist in a dumb way low-brow "hurr-hurr" humour sort of way, especially when combined with other elements (like the "hilarious" way PCs are unable to distinguish housewives and prostitutes), so it is problematic. It's sexist rather than misogynist, but it's not actually funny, and is pretty dim-witted 1980s humour. The sort of reason kids today complain about "boomer humour".

It really got many teenagers (including me) interested in the game. "Sexy" isn't the same as "sexist" though, so I would drop that stuff.

I think good artwork, sexy or otherwise is absolutely key for that audience, and I am completely certain WotC does not get this. WotC have consistently shown, through three editions now, that they're not really interested in D&D having great artwork, or really evocative or stylish artwork (unlike, glaringly, MtG). I've whined about this before, but WotC seems very keen on giving D&D just "okay" art. Not terrible, but not amazing, and particularly not stylish or exciting. Pretty sure every piece I've been excited about in 5E has turned out to be from MtG, which is sad.

Also worth noting that sexy art counts for way less in 2020 than it did in 1985 or 1995. Back then it might have been somewhat minorly challenging to find "sexy" art. Now you can have as much of it, and as specific as you like, for an internet search. Whereas quality art that evokes the thing being discussed is much harder to get.

Also I think the PHB/DMG needs to present multiple really different takes on D&D, aesthetically, not just one consistent-ish take. They've done a bit of this in every edition, but I think they could go further.
 



Retreater

Legend
The way I look at it, as a game system, it should present itself in a relatively neutral manner that can fit in most settings. The setting is what should suggest social, gender and economic realities. If someone wants to make a setting ala Conan where women wear bikini mails and are cattle for muscular conquerors, so be it; some people grew up reading that stuff and will take interest in it. But the game system itself should be really open and allow for a large variety of settings.
My personal preference is a variety of artistic styles to reflect the spectrum of games and gamers. This is one of the reasons I've been turned off by the "iconics" in 3.x era and Pathfinder. I don't like the look of a unified campaign world "look" in a core book (though in a campaign setting book, that's fine). Depict steampunk dwarves on one page, Hyperborean barbarians on the next, traditional epic fantasy later, some gothic horror, and so on. Art should be inspirational to players and appeal to a broad spectrum. I think this is best achieved by displaying many types of campaigns in a variety of settings, rather than one standard.
The 5e PHB does this better than 3.x or 4e.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
My personal preference is a variety of artistic styles to reflect the spectrum of games and gamers. This is one of the reasons I've been turned off by the "iconics" in 3.x era and Pathfinder. I don't like the look of a unified campaign world "look" in a core book (though in a campaign setting book, that's fine). Depict steampunk dwarves on one page, Hyperborean barbarians on the next, traditional epic fantasy later, some gothic horror, and so on. Art should be inspirational to players and appeal to a broad spectrum. I think this is best achieved by displaying many types of campaigns in a variety of settings, rather than one standard.
The 5e PHB does this better than 3.x or 4e.

I fully agree.

Reading my paragraph through your quote made me realize it could look like I'm advocating for a homogenized neutral art style through the book; but what I'm actually questioning is one homogenized art style pointing in one direction, flavor or setting. By having a huge variety of art style, you effectively achieve the setting neutrality I was talking about.
 

ccs

40th lv DM
And how would you address it if you were in charge to go back and rewrite those games?

No need. It was already done with 2e. And 3rd ed. And 3.5. And 4e, PF, 5e, PF2 & any # of other games/systems. Heck, if you want to take a shot yourself, there's the OGL. You can copy (and change) any edition you like.

But return to the late 70s & rewrite 1e at the source? No. I would not go back & rewrite those games/editions. In fact I would go back with intent to thwart others from doing so.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
I’m troubled by the lack of non-white European cultures in 1st Edition/Basic.

Luckily AD&D broadened the concept of fantasy to more diverse backgrounds. With a wide range of new campaign settings 😜
 

Retreater

Legend
I’m troubled by the lack of non-white European cultures in 1st Edition/Basic.

Luckily AD&D broadened the concept of fantasy to more diverse backgrounds. With a wide range of new campaign settings 😜
What I've read about Mystara in recent months seems like there are many non-European cultures, with an even greater number in the Hollow World. It is a lot more creative than I thought at the time.
 



MGibster

Legend
About the only thing that bothers me about old school D&D was strength caps based on gender. Other than that, I'm not particular bothered from a presentation perspective. That said, I have zero interest in ever playing any version of AD&D ever again and 5th edition is my favorite thus far (I miss the golden age of settings during 2nd though). To paraphrase Muhammad Ali, "If you're the same gamer at 44 that you were at 14, you've wasted 30 years of gaming."
 

I don’t usually post in these kinds of threads, but this one seemed to make me think of a response that may be relevant.

I personally never found any of the old TSR stuff problematic at all. Not really any of it, to be honest. Sometimes some phrase or bit of art would kind of stand out in some way....a little too scandalous or whatever....but I dismissed them as one-offs.

None of that stuff was ever really offensive to me.

So, when I started hearing how it was offensive to some, my initial instinct was to dismiss the concerns. But, as I’ve matured, I realize how different our experiences can be. So now, when someone finds something offensive, I tend to listen so that I can learn something instead of assuming that everyone’s experience should match mine.

That being said, in products that come out today, I notice this kind of stuff much more readily. I think we’re all (generally speaking) just more aware of this. I think it’s good that we’ve made some progress in this area and that most topics tend to be approached with thought and care.

I do think that our standards of judgment for modern material versus older material should be a bit different though.

I also think that generally speaking, we’ve become too....resistant, I suppose, to offense. Sometimes, things may be offensive, and that doesn’t always mean they need to be changed or removed. Offense due to laziness or lack of care? Sure, that can be corrected. But lots of creative works are meant to provoke, and that’s naturally going to lend itself to being offensive to some. And I think that’s important.

So....if some of the more problematic elements from the TSR days were somehow presented today, I think it would depend on what it was and why it is being presented in such a way today. Is it just thoughtlessness? Or is there some meaningful discussion to be had, or more importantly, some interesting topic to explore through play?

The former can go. The latter, though? I think we need to preserve that at all costs.
 


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