DDAL Racism and DDAL4-1 [Spoilers]

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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.

You might note that in this case, this particular group was treacherous and does seem to be living up to the stereotype that Realms natives have of them. I think that is apt in this case and you will note by my response above, its intentional since we want to depict these individuals as real people with flaws. I also suggest that you are jumping ahead of the story and trying to encapsulate all of it in one adventure as opposed to its development over the course of a season.

It's disappointing that AL once again has to resort to rushed corrections after the fact rather than catching these problems in advance.

Is there another example of offensive material in an adventure that was later edited out of an AL adventure? I can't think of one off the top of my head, but perhaps you are trying to use corrections to grammar or stat blocks unrelated to your argument to support your argument. I understand the need when you target an opponent of racism by calling them a racist to need some sort of evidence to back it up, but I think you might be stretching a bit in this case. That said, in this case, especially after all of the arguments the admins have had on the Facebook groups decrying the use of the gypsy slur and trying to help educate others, it is unfortunate that we did not catch the examples in this adventure.
 
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Is there another example of offensive material in an adventure that was later edited out of an AL adventure? I can't think of one off the top of my head, but perhaps you are trying to use corrections to grammar or stat blocks unrelated to argument to support your argument. I understand the need when you target an opponent of racism by calling them a racist to need some sort of evidence to back it up, but I think you might be stretching a bit in this case. That said, in this case, especially after all of the arguments the admins have had on the Facebook groups decrying the use of the gypsy slur and trying to help educate others, it is unfortunate that we did not catch the examples in this adventure.

Actually, I was just referring to the corrections regarding the exclusivity of launch event materials, the date of the launch of the season's modules, the missing rewards on the DM Quest materials, etc.

I'm glad that you are an opponent of racism. I don't think that I once in this exchange called any one a racist - I merely pointed out that racist stereotypes had made their way into a product. Based on your last sentence, you agree with me. I think it was unfortunate, too. :)
 

I don't think that I once in this exchange called any one a racist

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.

So you say the author (Shawn Merwin) and the editors (Travis Woodall and Claire Hoffman) are not racists, just guilty of racism by using racist stereotypes??? I'm not sure I understand your point.
 

delericho

Legend
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.

In general, I find it best if the non-human races aren't direct analogues of any real-world culture. That said, it's certainly valid for them to take bits from one culture and bits from another, all mixed together with a dash of fantasy...

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.

Aye, "wait and see" is certainly the best approach on that one.

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.

...

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.

Firstly, thanks for the response, and it's good to know this is taken seriously.

Secondly, I would like to note that I wasn't ascribing any such attitudes to the admins/writers/anyone else - I found some of the material described* problematic, but that was all.

* In particular, the OP noted that the use of the word "race" was problematic, since in the D&D context it actually means *species*. An edit to change that to "ethnicity", as suggested by the OP, would be welcome.

(I do also find the Gar and Vistani somewhat problematic in general - in the same way as, though less significantly than, the WoD's "Gypsies" sourcebook. However, given the key role of that group in the Ravenloft setting and adventure, I can see it would be difficult to excise the material in this case.)
 

So you say the author (Shawn Merwin) and the editors (Travis Woodall and Claire Hoffman) are not racists, just guilty of racism by using racist stereotypes??? I'm not sure I understand your point.

I think you may be over-reacting a bit, which isn't terribly professional for someone who is publicly representing DDAL. You agreed with me that the passages in the adventure were problematic. You said "it is unfortunate that we did not catch the examples in this adventure." What are these problematic sections examples of? At the least, gross insensitivity - at the most, passing on racist stereotypes. Is every person who contributed to a racist stereotype a racist? Hardly. I make no claims that the author or the editors *intended* to further racist stereotypes. In fact, I assume that they did so unintentionally. But they still did it, and we both agree that they shouldn't have.
 


I think you may be over-reacting a bit, which isn't terribly professional for someone who is publicly representing DDAL.

Please note that I said originally I was speaking my own personal opinions, not as a representative of the AL. For that official response, you should go check the Facebook thread.

I was bothered by your implication that this has been a regular problem and you cite unrelated examples to support your argument. I also note you posted your review/thoughts in several places (DMsguild, Facebook, here) all at the same time so I assumed you were looking for a direct response and to stir up a lot of conversation. You also entitled the threads "Racism and DDAL4-1," so the implication is that 4-1 (and by extension the people associated with it) are racist. You also sarcastically imply that the campaign admins/storyline are rascist when you say "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"., so hopefully you will understand that I didn't get from your post that you believed the references to be unintentional.

Now I do better understand that you did not intend to use the word "racism" at all. It was a typo I guess. All those involved are grossly insensitive.
 

kalani

First Post
This is my personal opinion only (removing my AL hat for this post)
As far as the Gur/Vistani being based on a real-world stereotype goes... Historically this is true, they were originally based on a historical stereotype of the Romani (they have since grown into their own distinct fiction, which has diverged from their stereotypical roots). However with that being said, it is very difficult to tell stories relating to Barovia and leave out the Vistani for PC reasons.....They are integral to the setting. Is racism wrong - you betcha, and as I said in the Vistani PCs thread and other threads on the subject, it is my intention to show up the fact that the bigots are plain wrong, and that bigotry itself is objectively evil (rather than subjectively so).

I will also be encouraging my DMs to refer to Vistani as the "travelers" and/or Vistani and to try not to use the word "gypsy" as it is a racial slur of a RW people (there are many other ways to represent the cultural racism toward Vistani without resorting to the word gypsy or any RW slurs) Likewise, I will be encouraging all of my DMs to not roleplay Vistani as one-dimensional stereotypes, and to instead inject some measure of dimension to each vistani (and by extension Gur) they encounter in an adventure. At minimum, each individual should have one or more traits/behaviors/attitudes/quirks/goals/etc which are atypical for their people.

In respect to the Rasia (sp) family
- They are flawed individuals - but they are still individuals. In addition, it is clearly indicated that they have valid reasons for their misguided actions - and those reasons SHOULD be brought to light at the soonest possibility. They should be made to appear desperate, and taking desperate actions. It is unfortunate that the background information paints them as trecherous, thieving, and - basically villains when (as I understand it), that is not the role they actually take in the adventure. Also, as Greg said above - the Rasai family are painted as flawed protagonists and allies who undergo considerable growth throughout the campaign. Land-basing the AL for how they are portrayed in their "prologue" adventure doesn't allow for any growth to occur.

I personally trust that the admins have the best interests of the program at heart, and while specific terminology and phrasing that may be received poorly may slip through their editing net, overall I trust that they know what they are doing and would never present the Gur/Vistani in such a light if there wasn't a valid story-based reason for doing so. I know they have worked incredibly hard to weave this tightly-focused story arc together, and there are just too many details that none of us have been given yet. This is especially true once you consider that the playtesters are only just now playtesting the first of the tier-2 adventures

Erasing historical references to racism only drives it deeper. It doesn't solve the issue
Finally, I have to agree with some of the points made in this thread. Portraying Gur/Vistani as flawless and removing all trace of their former stereotypes does nothing to solve the problem of racism. In some ways it can be interpreted as a form of racism itself - as you are still refusing to allow them to be individuals, and are keeping the culture/identity segregated from the rest of the population as some "other" group. Inclusivity (not just integration) is required in order to address this problem head on.

Eliminating all traces of racism out of a sense of political correctness only serves to make the problem invisible. It doesn't address the underlying causes that lead to the intolerance and stereotypes in the first place. Just because you can no longer see racism, doesn't mean that it vanishes...

No, the only way to remove such attitudes (both in real life and at the game table) is to treat people as individuals IRL, and to portray fictional characters (of all ethnicities/races/etc) as having the full range of human virtues and failings and be represented as being distinct individuals with a shared, yet insular cultural ethnicity/identity. Only when we stop presenting characters (in general) as one-dimensional stereotypes will the issues start to resolve themselves.

Part of that work falls to the DM to breathe life into the NPCs and make them their own, as there is only so much information that can be written about any given character before it becomes information overload, and starts to overwhelm the DM. As such, fleshing out each character so that they are more than a stereotype, and leap from the page as a fully-realized character has (and always will be) the DMs job.

In cases of cultural sensitivity such as with the Gur/Vistani - this job is doubly as important, as only by showing people that each NPC is an individual in their own right will we slowly but surely take steps toward removing racism within our cultures, and at the game table. Healing the issues of racism (both fictitious and real) starts with the Individual. It always has.
 
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warfteiner

First Post
Here is the AL's official statement on this current topic:

We understand that the description of certain elements in this adventure may be viewed by some gamers in a less-than-desirable light. To that end we will be reviewing the adventure and are aiming to post some more descriptive elements on our site in the next day or so. While we are sensitive to the needs to of the gaming community at-large, we also want to point out that gaming is, at its heart, structured around conflict on one level or another - and that conflict may be difficult for some people to accept. It is not our intention to create a polarizing environment, and we are optimistic that any further clarifications on this topic should be sufficient in addressing the concerns of the global D&D community. The interactions of the Gur and the Vistani within the overarching storyline of Curse of Strahd is pretty tightly regulated and may be deeper and more far-reaching than some folks realize based on this adventure alone. Thanks for your feedback; additional comments can be emailed to community@dndadventurersleague.org.

(as originally posted in the ongoing Facebook discussion)
 

smerwin29

Full-time Game Designer
First and foremost, I want to thank Aaron for voicing his concerns. When any work of creativity is placed into the public sector, it is fair game. As the designer of the adventure, I do not feel personally attacked by Aaron or anyone else who has issues with the text. The text needs to be able to defend itself.

There is always a risk when presenting potentially provocative material in a text, especially when the point of the material is to present a very nuanced situation. As Greg very succinctly pointed out, the story of the PCs and the Rasia family is not over--it is only just beginning. The townsfolk of Phlan were meant to be portrayed as being prejudiced against the Gur family. The words I used, both when "speaking in character" and when just providing exposition, were meant to portray that prejudice felt by the townsfolk. Aaron correctly points to those places where the inflection of the words points to prejudice, and they were chosen that way to reinforce the attitude of the townsfolk. If the words imply that I, as the writer, feel that way about any real-world group, that is my failing. Writers must be clear, even when writing nuanced material in a fantasy RPG.

As the AL admins have said here and elsewhere, another look will be taken at the text to make it clearer for the DMs presenting the story: we want them to portray Sybil, Hricu, Rilynin, Kehkim, and Papa as "real people" (in the fantasy sense), scared and flawed and misunderstood and fighting for their survival in the terrible world that is descending upon them.

So thanks to everyone who has taken the time to comment and care. I welcome anyone who wishes to discuss it further with me to do so here or PM me directly.
 

Cascade

First Post
As the AL admins have said here and elsewhere, another look will be taken at the text to make it clearer for the DMs presenting the story: we want them to portray Sybil, Hricu, Rilynin, Kehkim, and Papa as "real people" (in the fantasy sense), scared and flawed and misunderstood and fighting for their survival in the terrible world that is descending upon them.

I find this incredibly divisive.

A fantasy author (and publisher) has to defend the actions of a set of fictional characters and how they are portrayed because a PC culture takes offense.

Somehow these characters simply can't be bad because they're protected by some real world proxy?

last time I checked - D&D is still FICTION
 

Pauper

That guy, who does that thing.
Eliminating all traces of racism out of a sense of political correctness only serves to make the problem invisible. It doesn't address the underlying causes that lead to the intolerance and stereotypes in the first place. Just because you can no longer see racism, doesn't mean that it vanishes....

I would agree, and say that this goes beyond issues of racism.

For example, I recently participated in a musical that, in the script, depicted a character named 'David' who dressed as an angel for the church Nativity pageant. He was bullied for this, beaten up and his costume damaged, by the town bully, who repeatedly called him 'fairy'. Now this is pretty clearly homophobic, and the director identified it as such. However, the solution -- renaming the character from 'David' to 'Daisy' -- arguably created a bigger problem than it solved, because the reaction of the other characters to 'David's' plight, chiding the poor boy for not standing up for himself and dismissing his injuries as 'boys will be boys', becomes entirely inappropriate when the character being beaten up is now 'Daisy'. The characters now seem entirely heartless and insensitive to violence against a young woman in a way that's almost ridiculously unrealistic.

I can certainly appreciate Shawn's response here -- he's right that when an author decides to tackle sensitive material, he (or she) has a responsibility to that material and to the audience. But reading the adventure as a whole, it's pretty clear that Shawn's intent here was not to portray the Gur in the adventure as stereotypical 'thieving gypsies'; it was, as he notes, to contrast the townsfolks' stereotypical response with what the party might think later once the Gurs' true motivations were revealed.

Someone who wants to criticize a work also needs to take on a certain responsibility toward that work; namely, to critique the work as it exists, not as the critic assumes it is in order to validate a worldview or make a political point. I don't feel that the OP took that responsibility seriously here, and so I feel no particular responsibility to take that person's opinion seriously.

Warfteiner's response is also welcome -- more guidance for DMs, particularly inexperienced DMs such as those who might be tempted by this season's DM Rewards to try a turn behind the screen, is always welcome -- but based on the response to this and to the Inclusiveness thread elsewhere, I'm fairly convinced that our community (at least the portion of it that frequents this corner of the Internet) is already pretty well-aware of these issues and isn't going to blow them off or throw them under the rug.

--
Pauper
 

Byakugan

First Post
It's hard to blame people for stereotyping the gypsy culture when that culture goes so far out of its way to ostracize everyone who is not part of said culture. Most of them live in a part of our country far removed from most of the population centers, they try to live their lives off the grid, and they are nomadic and come across as xenophobic. I only know that much because of a brief mentioning in an Anthropology class in college. Literally the only other info I have to go on is stereotypes I grew up hearing, and the show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Most people have no idea that gypsy is considered a slur, and even the ones that have heard that are stuck using the term because we were never given another word to use.

As far as the Vistani go...they look like fantasy world gypsies to me...but not like -real- ones because the real ones wear lots of rhinestones! Then there is the fact that they have magical powers, and they worship a dark vampire lord, and they are in fact his 'chosen' special people. Not exactly following recognizable stereotypes here. It is fantasy.
 

delericho

Legend
A fantasy author (and publisher) has to defend the actions of a set of fictional characters and how they are portrayed because a PC culture takes offense.

Somehow these characters simply can't be bad because they're protected by some real world proxy?

last time I checked - D&D is still FICTION

It is fiction, and as long as it remains fiction it's fine. We don't need to worry about our portrayal of elves, and dwarves, and orcs, and the rest because none of those are real.

But once we step onto real-world material (be it by proxy or directly), then it's not entirely fictional. And at that point there's a greater responsibility to treat the material with appropriate respect. And so it does matter how we depict our Roma-proxies here, for the same reason it matters how we depict female adventurers in RPG artwork - because the issues raised then do apply to real people.

Now that's not to say we can't portray a member of the Gur as a villain or a thief, any more than to say we shouldn't depict the occasional damsel in distress. But it's important that that's not all we depict, and further it probably shouldn't be the first thing we depict either - because there's no guarantee people will ever get beyond that first, stereotypical, depiction. Better to introduce the wider group first, show that the stereotype is lacking... and then introduce the villain.

I'm not saying they should never, ever do that; I'm saying they need to be careful.
 

Cascade

First Post
It is fiction, and as long as it remains fiction it's fine. ...

But once we step onto real-world material (be it by proxy or directly), then it's not entirely fictional.


How about when something is fictional, portrayed as fiction, completely written to be fictional and a PC sensitive reader decides to make a proxy connection where none exists?

Why is it that a race of green skinned tusked creatures can be inherently evil but any form resembling human is suddenly infringing and racist?

This is a fictional game. Run mostly by volunteers. It's not the place for this type of confrontational material.

Our volunteers have enough to do without added work and distractions....
 

UnknownDyson

Explorer
If there was a race of dark skinned people who were subservient dim witted people who ate chicken, watermelon and danced little jigs all day, would that be acceptable? Its only fiction right?

Now I haven't read the adventure as of yet and can't speak to the nature of the content, some of the posters have said that the Vistani also have protagonist npcs that help the pcs in the adventure, in an entire culture of people logic would permit that at least some of them be thieves. With that being said, I can say that in my experience people who attack political correctness use it as a cover to express racist, homophobic, and sexist opinions.
 
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delericho

Legend
How about when something is fictional, portrayed as fiction, completely written to be fictional and a PC sensitive reader decides to make a proxy connection where none exists?

That's not the case here. As noted up-thread, the Gur are explicitly linked to the Roma in published FR lore.

This is a fictional game. Run mostly by volunteers. It's not the place for this type of confrontational material.

Then WotC shouldn't have included the material, or shouldn't have cleared it for inclusion.

That material didn't have to be there. Having chosen to include it, they then need to treat it with appropriate care and attention (and, yes, if and when mistakes happen then they need to be acknowledged and fixed promptly). They can't have it both ways.
 

Scorpienne

First Post
Also, as a DM, you are COMPLETELY empowered to RP and describe the Gur in whatever way you see fit as long as it is consistent with the general outlines of the story. As the DM you can choose to RP/describe the Gur any way you please.

So make good choices!

If you believe that the Gur are portrayed as a "thieving gypsy" stereotype in the printed material, then choose to describe them otherwise - as fully nuanced and complex characters that are caught in a dangerous and desperate situation.

A guy named Daniel John Taylor had a good point on FB that I'd like to repeat here: "I just want to add one comment. Yes the Gur did steal things but it was to fight a greater evil. (The incursion of the mists.) Stories are filled with good people doing bad things for a greater good. I think that the modules need to reinforce that idea. Yes they did wrong, and if I recall the play test they were all willing to fess up and pay consequences. If it is being run as "gypsies stealing things" part of the story is missing."


I think that's a good point. These are desperate people doing anything they can to preserve their family from a disaster. It's far more nuanced than just a stereotype. It's more Jean Valjean than "thieving gypsies".

Paige
 


Coreyartus

Explorer
These are desperate people doing anything they can to preserve their family from a disaster. It's far more nuanced than just a stereotype. It's more Jean Valjean than "thieving gypsies".

Paige

Then that needs to be explained at the beginning in the setup text. That simple sentence, "These are desperate people doing anything they can to preserve their family from disaster," would do it. It should be clear that's what the function of the town's perceptions and prejudices are there for. We shouldn't need to infer it from subtext. If it's that important it needs to be made clear much earlier to the DM as revealing the perceived situational context as false is integral to the end result of the mod. Otherwise the mod doesn't function the way it's intended. It seems this particular aspect to the story is relevant in future mod as well.

But I think the admins know that now. Isn't it the case that most mods develop "look-out-for--" or "remember-to--" aspects that need more attention than they are initially written to convey? Whether it's combat details or NPC's that have to deliver specific information that isn't mentioned explicitly, or environmental characteristics that sometimes slip through the cracks, or whatever... Almost every mod I've ever heard of has a "oh, that should have been more clear" element. Give the admins the chance to correct it so they can communicate what obviously needs to be made more evident at the onset.

This entire season of gothic horror hinges on things not actually being what they appear to be. Appearance contrasting with reality. On multiple levels. Those situations create false conclusions and can lead to fear of the unknown. It is the act of revealing things that are hidden beneath the facade of what they appear to be--that inherent contradictory duality--that needs to be overtly communicated to this season's DMs as they read their materials. The trap of taking things at face value through incomplete information--or manipulating others to fall into traps through false pretenses leading to horrific consequences--and then discovering truths is, in some ways, exactly what Curse of Strahd is all about.

Let's make sure that's obvious now while we can.
 

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