DDAL Racism and DDAL4-1 [Spoilers]

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Considering how good AL adventures have been with including gender and sexual diversity (as mentioned on another thread in this forum), I was really disheartened to see the antagonists of the first AL adventure for Season 4 to be stereotypical "thieving gypsies". Spoilers below.

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The players are confronted by a group of Gur, a nomadic people native to the Forgotten Realms who are clearly based on the real-life ethnicity known as the Romani (or Roma) people, commonly referred to with the ethnic slur "gypsies". The DM is told, up front, on p. 5 of the adventure, that the Gur "committed a host of crimes" "as befits their reputation". So in this module, the Romani-surrogates are not just treated like criminals, but they are presented as explicitly living up to the stereotype against their people. Similarly, on p. 6, the author states that the Gur "proved to be as treacherous as their reputations suggested". If it wasn't already problematic to present slightly veiled versions of human ethnicities as if they were negative, racist stereotypes, for those stereotypes to turn out to be true is just awful.

I'm also made uncomfortable by the language used to describe the Gur on p. 6, where they are called a "human race infamous for in the Realms for their nomadic lifestyle". The use of the word "race" here is very troubling. Presumably the author intends the term to be read as "ethnicity", but the idea that different ethnic groups consist of different "races" of people is something that was popular among 19th century eugenicists, not something that is acceptable in the 21st century. Moreover, if the author intended the term to refer to "races" in the traditional D&D sense, then this is even worse, because it implies that the Gur (and thus the Romani) are a separate *species* from the rest of humanity, on par with elves, or dwarves or halflings.

I kept hoping that at the end of the adventure, the Gur would prove to be innocents who were misunderstood by the other characters in the adventure. But no. Hricu really was sent to steal someone else's magic wand, Rilynin really did steal the gems, Kehkim really did steal the weapons and, while Ozzcar didn't actually curse the cook, he did drug him... All of this is supposedly done for purposes of self-preservation, but it still hews to closely to traditional racist stereotypes to be comfortable.

[sarcasm]Reading this adventure makes me wonder if future AL scenarios will send the players to "deepest-darkest" Chult to parley with ignorant natives, or head over to Maztica to barter the local's land for beads and "fire water".[/sarcasm]

Seriously, this sort of thing would not be acceptable if it was written about proxies of other real-life ethnicities or cultures. It's not OK to do with the Gur/Vistani/Romani either.
 

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delericho

Legend
Yep, a lot of that sounds distinctly problematic. I don't agree with absolutely everything you say here, but there's enough bad that I'm not going to quibble over a few details.
 


Pauper

That guy, who does that thing.
I'm a little surprised you hadn't noticed the racial stereotypes in earlier AL adventures: the avaricious dwarf, the unworldly elf, the comfort-seeking halfling.

Using the word 'racism' to describe the depiction of someone who lives up to a racial stereotype is taking an extreme position to make a point, and one I'm not even sure is defensible. Are you saying that AL should never portray a Gur tribesperson as a thief or as duplicitous? That seems to me much more harmful than depicting people who, unfortunately, live up to their ethnic group's poor reputation.

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Pauper
 


Pauper

That guy, who does that thing.
[sarcasm]Reading this adventure makes me wonder if future AL scenarios will send the players to "deepest-darkest" Chult to parley with ignorant natives, or head over to Maztica to barter the local's land for beads and "fire water".[/sarcasm]

I certainly hope so -- my own lawful evil paladin idolizes Cordell and his Maztican expedition that basically conquered and enslaved many of the natives they encountered, as a means of justifying the superiority of the Helmite faith over the worship of the local gods, many of whom demanded human sacrifice.

Not everybody likes uncomfortable history at their gaming table, but I'm cool with it, because it adds a dimension of realism that helps make the decisions you make at the table feel more meaningful.

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Pauper
 

Inconnunom

First Post
The Gur are explicitly referred to as gypsy-like in the "Heroes Lorebook".

Well when they update that 20 year old book into 5e and will have to see how they describe them then. Either way, I would love to know how you would quickly and concisely describe a culture without any reference points.

Lastly, last I checked the Vistani are the protagonists. (Which are described as gypsy-like)
 

I'm a little surprised you hadn't noticed the racial stereotypes in earlier AL adventures: the avaricious dwarf, the unworldly elf, the comfort-seeking halfling.

Using the word 'racism' to describe the depiction of someone who lives up to a racial stereotype is taking an extreme position to make a point, and one I'm not even sure is defensible. Are you saying that AL should never portray a Gur tribesperson as a thief or as duplicitous? That seems to me much more harmful than depicting people who, unfortunately, live up to their ethnic group's poor reputation.

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Pauper

Well, first off - dwarves, elves and halfling are not directly inspired by specific real-world ethnicities. If the avaricious dwarf also had a hooked nose and spoke Yiddish, I would find it more problematic.

I think that "racist" accurately describes the fact that the very first AL module that depicts the Gur (or any other Romani stand-in ethnicity) chooses to not only focus on their supposed ethnic stereotype but also demonstrates that that stereotype is accurate.

The fact that you proudly state that your characters enslave proxies for Native Americans puts one of us outside of the pale, but I don't think it's me...
 

Lastly, last I checked the Vistani are the protagonists. (Which are described as gypsy-like)

Actually, I thought Curse of Strahd did a fairly good job dealing with the Vistani. They aren't called "gypsy-like" in that book, as far as I can tell, which is appropriate because "gypsy" is considered a slur. They are described as flamboyant "silversmiths, coppersmiths, haberdashers, cooks, weavers, musicians, entertainers, storytellers, toolmakers and horse traders" (p. 26). It does mention that some people consider them "lazy and irresponsible", but the author quickly states that this belief is incorrect. Curse of Strahd doesn't use any of the traditional negative stereotypes of Romani to paint the Vistani.

DDAL4-1, on the other hand, uses those very stereotypes as the sole introduction to the Gur people, and then proceeds to tell a story that reinforces those stereotypes.

The two approaches couldn't be more different.
 

delericho

Legend
Well when they update that 20 year old book into 5e and will have to see how they describe them then.

Yes, if and when WotC get around to updating them, we'll see what they do. However, the point is that it's not the OP's assumption that they're based on the Roma - it's a feature of the lore as it currently stands.

Lastly, last I checked the Vistani are the protagonists. (Which are described as gypsy-like)

The OP was talking about the AL adventure DDAL4-1, which I presume is set in the Forgotten Realms, rather than the current "Curse of Strahd" adventure in Ravenloft. Which probably explains why it's the FR version who feature rather than the RL ones.
 

Pauper

That guy, who does that thing.
Well, first off - dwarves, elves and halfling are not directly inspired by specific real-world ethnicities. If the avaricious dwarf also had a hooked nose and spoke Yiddish, I would find it more problematic.

How about if he has a long red beard and speaks with a pronounced Scottish accent? That's most dwarves I've ever encountered, both at the gaming table and in popular culture.

It should also be pointed out that the Vistani are not the protagonists of Season 4 -- at best, they're outcasts, untrusted by the Barovians, and at worst, they're part of the Vistani group that has pledged their loyalty to Strahd von Zarovich, the biggest evil in the land. It's probably a good idea not to buy into the stereotype, but it's probably also a good idea not to blindly trust the mysterious people you know little about.

The fact that you proudly state that your characters enslave proxies for Native Americans puts one of us outside of the pale, but I don't think it's me...

You did notice that I described him as a *lawful evil* paladin, right? And he hasn't had the chance to enslave anybody yet; he simply idolizes historical church leaders who have. ; )

Also, the Mazticans aren't Native American, except in the sense that the Olmec, Aztecs, and Mayans can be considered 'Central American'. That itself is a bit of cultural imperialism -- the more culturally and scientifically accurate term would be 'Mesoamerican'.

Or do the Aztecs and the Iroquois look the same to you?

Edit: Obv ref: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RovF1zsDoeM
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Pauper
 

Inconnunom

First Post
Edited:

I'm just going to remove myself from this conversation but don't know how to remove posts.
 
Last edited:

Pauper

That guy, who does that thing.
The OP was talking about the AL adventure DDAL4-1, which I presume is set in the Forgotten Realms, rather than the current "Curse of Strahd" adventure in Ravenloft. Which probably explains why it's the FR version who feature rather than the RL ones.

Well, there's a post in the Vistani PCs thread that suggests that the Vistani and Gur are actually the same people -- that's not a theory I subscribe to, but based on the source, it's possible that it will be revealed during the season as 'new lore'. We'll have to see.

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Pauper
 

kalani

First Post
Well, there's a post in the Vistani PCs thread that suggests that the Vistani and Gur are actually the same people -- that's not a theory I subscribe to, but based on the source, it's possible that it will be revealed during the season as 'new lore'. We'll have to see.
It has been confirmed by the Admins that we are building off the 4th edition canon. As such, it is canon that the Vistani/Gur/Aperosi/etc are all a singular extended culture of nomadic people spread out across the planes.

With that being said, there will be significant differences between a Gur and a Vistani due to interplanar cultural drift - but they are all descended from the same peoples, and are treated as the "same" by those who don't know better. It has been theorized that all of these disparate groups are descended from the Aperosi which were a nomadic spelljamming society.
 

Rils

Explorer
I think the adventure portrays the Gur as the other local cultures see them. But it's just a point of view - whereas the townfolk think the Gur are thieves, the Gur simply have a different POV when it comes to concepts of personal property. It's just in your perspective.

Also, while the modern world may be a little more PC, I'll say this - stereotypes develop for a reason. If the Gur weren't liars and thieves, why would everybody think they were? Think about the different real life cultures around you. Speaking for myself, there are cultures in my own city that I view less favorably based on their typical behavior. Are all people from those cultures "bad"? Of course not. But at the stereotypical level, does that cultural group engage in socially "bad" behavior? They sure appear to, and as a result, I am more cautious around them than I might be around other cultures. (please note - I'm not naming names, just making generalities.) And on the flip side of that coin, if you were a member of one of those cultures and engaging in that behavior, then you would subsequently justify your own actions as typical and think that my POV is skewed and un-just.

It's all a matter of perspective.
 

Cascade

First Post
...Curse of Strahd doesn't use any of the traditional negative stereotypes of Romani to paint the Vistani.

DDAL4-1, on the other hand, uses those very stereotypes as the sole introduction to the Gur people, and then proceeds to tell a story that reinforces those stereotypes.

The two approaches couldn't be more different.

But it seems like the "fantasy" Gur are "that" way.
They are exactly a people that conduct business in that manner out of choice.
It's not a stereotype.

Are you implying that the "real" author in some way hates and desires to slander some real ethnicity?
I see no references in this document that state that Gur are patterned off of any "Romani".
No where in the document is the word gypsy or Romani present or even Vistani for that matter.
How many degrees of separation are permitted before it is not considered a proxy ?

It IS a fantasy game.

I'd suggest you choose a different hobby genre than fiction / fantasy.
 

Let me say that a more thorough response is coming and what follows is more my thoughts than anything official:

The Admins have been fighting the fight on Facebook and other forums against using the term gypsy, and rascism/sexism and other bigotries in general. We do plan to provide some additional guidance on this adventure and should have edited this adventure a little more. It likely didn't get as much attention due to the workload associated with the number of Winter Fantasy premiers. However, you might also note that the Rasia family overcome that prejudice and become some of the main allies and protagonists of the season (I would also point to Sybil's presence with Fai Chen at conventions, as well as her appearance in 4-3 which premiered at GaryCon as part of our story development plan.). To automatically ascribe the motives of some NPCs to the racist/insensitive authors/admins is to ignore the tightly woven story development of this season and prevent us from ever telling a complete story. It is hard to tell a story in which a group overcome a stereotyping of their ethnicity over the course of a season if you do not have a set-up and depict the persecution they face. We also wanted to depict the family as not saints but real people. Yes they did some bad things, but they had a very good reason and they are actually much more in the know than anyone else. If they were perfect saints and the world black and white instead of shades of grey, it makes their struggle less significant. This season in particular is less fairy tale and much darker gothic romance. My personal preference would be for you to look at the history of the authors and admins and assume we are going somewhere with this, rather than assume the worst. Just maybe we'll be able to help a few gamers learn something along the way.
 

Let me say that a more thorough response is coming and what follows is more my thoughts than anything official:

The Admins have been fighting the fight on Facebook and other forums against using the term gypsy, and rascism/sexism and other bigotries in general. We do plan to provide some additional guidance on this adventure and should have edited this adventure a little more. It likely didn't get as much attention due to the workload associated with the number of Winter Fantasy premiers. However, you might also note that the Rasia family overcome that prejudice and become some of the main allies and protagonists of the season (I would also point to Sybil's presence with Fai Chen at conventions, as well as her appearance in 4-3 which premiered at GaryCon as part of our story development plan.). To automatically ascribe the motives of some NPCs to the racist/insensitive authors/admins is to ignore the tightly woven story development of this season and prevent us from ever telling a complete story. It is hard to tell a story in which a group overcome a stereotyping of their ethnicity over the course of a season if you do not have a set-up and depict the persecution they face. We also wanted to depict the family as not saints but real people. Yes they did some bad things, but they had a very good reason and they are actually much more in the know than anyone else. If they were perfect saints and the world black and white instead of shades of grey, it makes their struggle less significant. This season in particular is less fairy tale and much darker gothic romance. My personal preference would be for you to look at the history of the authors and admins and assume we are going somewhere with this, rather than assume the worst. Just maybe we'll be able to help a few gamers learn something along the way.

Thank you for the response. I'm glad that the Admins are aware of the problematic nature of this content, and I'm glad that they (unlike many in this thread) are committed to avoiding racism/sexism and bigotry in general. And I'd like to note that the quotes describing the Gur as proving "to be as treacherous as their reputations suggested" and such were not taken from the mouths of NPCS, but were included in the background to the adventure and are, therefore, correctly ascribed to the author and editor of the piece. I have no problem with NPCs in the Forgotten Realms expressing stereotypes against the Gur - my concern is with those stereotypes being presented as valid by the author of the module.

I agree that more care should have been taken, and additional guidance to the DM to avoid playing the Gur NPCs in an offensive manner would be great. It's disappointing that AL once again has to resort to rushed corrections after the fact rather than catching these problems in advance.
 

Pauper

That guy, who does that thing.
I can confirm Skerrit's point about the adventure is true -- each mini-adventure contains a bit where the Gur who had 'behaved badly' explains why he or she did so, and with a greater purpose. While the Gur might be faulted for taking matters into their own hands rather than trying to work with the townsfolk, it's not unrealistic for them to have done so, especially since numerous prior AL adventures have adventurers doing precisely the same thing -- disrupting local lives and messing up relationships with the goal toward achieving a greater good.

The biggest disappointment is that the OP has already posted a poor rating for the AL adventure on the DMs Guild, using his hastily thought-out argument about racism as the justification. This is unfortunate, as the OP's flawed generalizations might now convince some people to avoid purchasing and running this adventure.

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Pauper
 

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