DDAL Racism and DDAL4-1 [Spoilers]

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delericho

Legend
New post on the AL site that talks about the concerns that people have brought up, and the points/ counterpoints that others have raised

Good to see. Further...

In short, the only update needed to this adventure that would serve to clarify the role and presence of the Gur and Vistani in our games is this: change the reference of “race” into “ethnicity”. They’re still human, after all.

This was the issue I had with the material as presented, so I'm glad to see it changed. Thank you.
 

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Pauper

That guy, who does that thing.
Then that needs to be explained at the beginning in the setup text.

It is -- there's a faction contact in the village who takes the PCs aside and explicitly tells them that they should not take the villagers' opinions at face value and should investigate and decide for themselves.

--
Pauper
 

delericho

Legend
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.

That's very true - and, actually, is nothing to do with controversial material at all. It would be equally true if the 'villains' of this piece were a mixed band of ex-Harpers doing exactly the same things.
 

delericho

Legend
It is -- there's a faction contact in the village who takes the PCs aside and explicitly tells them that they should not take the villagers' opinions at face value and should investigate and decide for themselves.

It should be explicitly stated to the DM. That way, s/he knows that it's important to hint at that "things are not what they seem" approach throughout and to highlight that the other villagers are not being objective and that the elf is.

Having said that, this adventure is far from the only one to fail to brief the DM with everything he should know up-front! :)
 

RCanine

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

This is the sort of response you'd expect from someone with the privilege of being unaware how hurtful indelicate depictions of stereotypes can be to the people that resemble them. The internet is rarely known for its empathy.

That said, I love me some racisim in my fantasy. D&D is an awesome sandbox to engage with issues that are challenging to deal with in the real world. I get that some people prefer to be murder hobos, but not me.

The problem is not racism in the text. I would definitely present Barovians as being fearful and distrustful of Vistani, some likely calling them useless, thieving gypsies. This gives me the opportunity to portray this description as ignorance, and present the Vistani/Gur as different—not better or worse.

The problem is the text being unaware of its racism. It's because it uses appropriated racial stereotypes as a basis for characters, and presents them as truth, rather than unfair generalizations. It's like the dude at the last con I went to that put on blackface to read some lines from a Drow during the epic. There was nothing racist about what he said, but it was ignorant of the cultural baggage there.

These issues can be hard to notice. When you're not a part of a underrepresented group, it's easy to miss stuff like this. After all, it's not offensive to you, so I wouldn't call out the authors as being bad people. You are, however, a bad person if someone tells you that your words are hurtful, and your response is to dismiss them, deride them, or tell them to go away.
 

Pauper

That guy, who does that thing.
New post on the AL site that talks about the concerns that people have brought up, and the points/ counterpoints that others have raised:

http://dndadventurersleague.org/sensitivity-in-the-demiplane-of-dread/

I have mixed feelings about this article.

It's certainly well-intentioned, but it's not very focused and it's difficult to get a sense of what the article's thesis is meant to be. Is it 'AL DMs need to fully prep a module in order to avoid possible problematic things that may have slipped past editing?' Is it 'let's talk about the Gur and how they're actually really cool?' Is it 'hey, remember Arthur Chu's seminal 'Your Princess Is In Another Castle' essay regarding how nerd culture is excusing problematic or worse things because nerds are too dazzled by finally being in the spotlight they craved for so long?'

The entire essay could have been condensed to two sentences: "The reference to the Gur as a 'race' will be changed to 'ethnicity'. The AL regrets the error." Much of the rest of the material could be seen as simply muddying the waters -- I mean, did anybody actually believe that AL DMs could bring in characters from other campaign worlds as NPCs in their AL games? What if 'let's go beat up some gypsies' happens to be exactly what a specific table would consider 'fun'?

Though some might appreciate the timeliness of the response, the actual essay comes across as a shotgun-blast of topics hastily arranged around the premise 'we don't really think we did anything wrong here' (paraphrased), which is defensible, if not really defended. It's a pretty good example of what Suzette Haden Elgin refers to in her Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense books as Distracter Mode; bring in lots of different, tangentially-related topics until nobody remembers what everybody in the room was so mad about.

I'd have appreciated a more focused essay, one that might have taken a bit longer to research and write, but that highlighted the process of publishing an AL module, how things like this can end up slipping through the cracks, and the responsibilities of AL staff, volunteer admins, and DMs to help prevent those things from becoming larger problems for the campaign. As it stands, the only clear advice to a DM is to 'make it fun!', which, if a player really is having an issue with the portrayal of the Gur as a Romany-themed culture in this module, isn't necessarily helpful.

I'd like to see a more thoughtful, more focused essay that can actually serve as the 'last word' on how issues like this can affect an Organized Play campaign, and what people should do when they encounter issues like this. That essay should also include advice to a DM when one of her players takes information in a module out of context or seems to be deliberately trying to provoke controversy at a table where it otherwise wouldn't occur. That would serve as helpful advice to an AL DM.

Let's try leveling with the Adventurers League.

--
Pauper
 

While I think that a more thorough article posted as a blog post on the AL website would be welcomed (maybe you'd like to take a stab at one Pauper?), I do not believe our internet culture allows for you to take time anymore. It used to be you had a whole 24 hours to respond to something (at least a news cycle). Now, if you don't respond in an hour or two, your email fills up with hate filled letters and lots of bad reviews of your products. That sort of slow response (even if we you are expecting volunteers to handle it) can result in the end of a product-line or program and the anger builds exponentially on the net.
 

RCanine

First Post
I have mixed feelings about this article.

My feelings aren't mixed. This article sucks. It sucks not because it's incorrect, but because it's being dishonest about what the actual problem is, and blaming readers for being offended.

  • "Sensitivity" is right in the title. The implication is right at the top: if you are offended by this, you're being oversensitive.
  • The article doesn't even touch on why people might have a problem with the depiction of Vistani/Gur or what's even wrong with the word "gypsy". Many players and DMs might not be aware of the cultural baggage.

The whole thing reeks of CYA, being distilled in to three main points:

  • Hey look see I've proved we're not racist because the Gur aren't actually bad!
  • If it offends you, as DM you can change it! It's in the rules!
  • Oh yeah, oops we used a trigger word that was inaccurate. We'll get on that.

This isn't a topic the AL should be afraid of. It should be pretty straightforward. Here I'll do it for you:

The Gur and Vistani draw some influences from a real-world culture, the Romany people of Europe. The word "gypsy" is sometimes used as a racial epithet towards those people, although many people may not be aware of its connotation. We made some indelicate goofs in the text of 4-1 and we'll fix those. That said, AL DMs should be aware that players may come from different cultures and backgrounds, and listen carefully to those players' concerns about the content.

This stuff is sometimes difficult to get right—as we have clearly shown—but the important thing is to listen, be empathetic, and change for the better where you can.
 

In addition to Pauper, it seems like RCaine has a good handle on this as well. I'd invite you you to write a longer article for the AL website as well.
 

RCanine

First Post
I'd be happy to draft what I think is a good response, and @Pauper if you pm me some contact info I can run it by you for feedback. @skerritthegreen let me know what the best way to get it to you is.

Edit: it might take me 24 hours or so due to IRL stuff.
 

Pauper

That guy, who does that thing.
I'll help RCanine take a stab at this. I don't expect it to be easy or quick, because the issues involved aren't easy. Also, I honestly don't have inside knowledge of the module-approval process (though I can hazard some guesses), so some help with that info would be appreciated, even though I can understand why the AL staff and admins would have no obligation to share those 'trade secrets' with someone who isn't a part of the organization.

I think, though, that we might end up writing two different essays -- RCanine seems like he's got ideas on how to address the current issue raised in this thread, while I've been moved to consider a more general question of how to deal with boundaries at an AL table. (Though a lot of what I'm thinking is already addressed in Joe Lastowski's article on handling the more overt in-game racism of Season 3, so we'll see how that goes.)

Edit: As a response to the 'we don't have time to reflect before responding' critique in Skerrit's post, I'll point out that the essay I linked to wasn't published until over six weeks after the start of Season 3. If the Powers That Be felt that delay contributed to a damaging of "the brand", that's one thing, but that would be news to me.

--
Pauper
 
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kalani

First Post
I'd be happy to draft what I think is a good response, and @Pauper if you pm me some contact info I can run it by you for feedback. @skerritthegreen let me know what the best way to get it to you is.

Edit: it might take me 24 hours or so due to IRL stuff.
If it is easier for you, you can always send it to me or skerrit via PM. If you send it to me, I will contact him as soon as I get it and pass it along. I tend to check the ENWorld forums more frequently than the admins, so if you want quick turn-around, might be faster to send it to me.

Alternately, you can always contact him directly on FB.
 

Coreyartus

Explorer
I'd be happy to draft what I think is a good response, and @Pauper if you pm me some contact info I can run it by you for feedback. @skerritthegreen let me know what the best way to get it to you is.

Edit: it might take me 24 hours or so due to IRL stuff.

I can't tell whether this is sarcasm or legitimate, but honestly it truly needs to happen. Really.

This entire article reads like someone saying, "No, I didn't offend you! See? You just didn't read between the lines to infer the right stuff!"

Does anyone know how that just makes it WORSE?!?

If it takes an entire article to explain what's not clear, the mod doesn't do what it's supposed to do. You've "apologized" by not apologizing and implied it's the reader's fault for not paying attention to what you "meant" by pointing out where they didn't read into things carefully enough, and then wrapped it all up by foisting all the responsibility on the DM to fix the situation!!

All of this stuff needed to have been in the mod itself when you released it! Otherwise you wouldn't have needed it! That's what the article should be explaining! Not how you really don't owe anyone any clarification!

You need to attach a pdf of the article to the mod's download in the DMsGuild at the very least. And then you need to upload a revision that includes this stuff in the actual mod itself. Because this crap of "this is what you should have inferred" is BS. Say it like you mean it. The first time.
 



I can't tell whether this is sarcasm or legitimate, but honestly it truly needs to happen. Really.

This entire article reads like someone saying, "No, I didn't offend you! See? You just didn't read between the lines to infer the right stuff!"

Does anyone know how that just makes it WORSE?!?

If it takes an entire article to explain what's not clear, the mod doesn't do what it's supposed to do. You've "apologized" by not apologizing and implied it's the reader's fault for not paying attention to what you "meant" by pointing out where they didn't read into things carefully enough, and then wrapped it all up by foisting all the responsibility on the DM to fix the situation!!

All of this stuff needed to have been in the mod itself when you released it! Otherwise you wouldn't have needed it! That's what the article should be explaining! Not how you really don't owe anyone any clarification!

You need to attach a pdf of the article to the mod's download in the DMsGuild at the very least. And then you need to upload a revision that includes this stuff in the actual mod itself. Because this crap of "this is what you should have inferred" is BS. Say it like you mean it. The first time.

I guess I would request an article from you as well Coryartus. I'm all for as many people explaining their points of view as much as possible.
 



Byakugan

First Post
Is anyone who is part of this discussion actually a part of the culture we are talking about? The reason I ask is because I think MOST people are ignorant about the issue.

The issue to me is not that 4-1 uses stereotypes. Fantasy lore in general is FULL of stereotypes. The core rules explicitly tells people not to rely too much on stereotypes. Immature jokes aside I don't really see many gamers expecting women to wear cheesecake armor, for example. The adventures themselves have a lot of really strong nods to diversity and inclusion .the issue seems to be that hardly anyone knows what we are even talking about. The collegiate community has pretty much completely disavowed the idea that race is dictated by skin color...skin color is an environmental trait based mostly on exposure to UV radiation, and diet. The gene pool was never as pure as the generations before us used to think. I'm working on getting into nursing school, and this is what was taught in Anthropology, Sociology, Biology, and Lifespan Development classes over the last couple years. I think its weird for someone to call themselves African American when they, their parents, and their parents before them were born in the USA. To me that is racist...Once opon a time my ancestors were of Scottish descent...but I never thought to call myself Scottish American. That said, you have to be able to acknowledge that there ARE differences, otherwise it is impossible to appreciate those differences.

People drawing parallels between racism against black people and prejudice against gypsies...myeh. I'm gay and I've done the same thing. The problem with that is that similarities are exactly that, only similar. I grew up on the porch eating chicken and watermelon and dancing in the sprinklers with people of many different colors. Most prejudices against other people are a bad thing, but they don't all come from the same place. Prejudice can come from love, hate, ignorance or, worst of all, indifference. I admit to being prejudice against all things I am ignorant about :).
 


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