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General Two underlying truths: D&D heritage and inclusivity

Doug McCrae

Legend
Regarding the "Why not aboleths, mind flayers, etc?" question:

The problem is monsters that are similar to a racist's idea of a non-white person (particularly formerly colonised and enslaved peoples). What that idea boils down to is: like a white person but morally and mentally inferior. So we are concerned with monsters that are like humans (ie humanoid, human-like biology, bear young, social, need to eat and drink, mortal, etc), but of evil alignment, less-than-human intelligence or wisdom, and a less-than-PC-race level of technology and magic. Much more detail can be added but that's the essence of it, imo.

That's why drow are less of a concern to me, because they are smart, cultured, urbanised, and have advanced magic. They're still a concern, because dark skin is connected with evil, so they do fulfil two parts of the criteria.
 
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Doug McCrae

Legend
It could be that when HP Lovecraft was writing about the terrible alien horror of amorphous, tentacled things with lots of eyes, it was an unconscious metaphor for his fear of non-white people. I'll let him get away with that one. He concealed the metaphor sufficiently well.
 

Voadam

Adventurer
Why are the classic drow an elven race and not a human race?
I'd say it goes to their origin back in G3.

After fighting evil norse D&D frost giants, the party levels up and fights evil D&D norse fire giants. Behind the scenes at the evil norse D&D fire giants are . . . evil black-skinned elves. It seems another D&Dification of norse monsters, the not as well defined dokkalfar or svartalfar who are dark elves/black elves. The PH elves are all light skinned so they follow Tolkien and fit losalfar light elves.

I think they are black-skinned evil elves to fit Gygax's loosely norse themed 20 page module and then he ran with it in D1-3 after having developed them.

Their specific evil of slavery, debauchery, and demon worship shows up more in D1-3 and that seems more Melnibonean as Gygax develops them after their initial appearance.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I can't speak for anyone else, but there were several pages of arguments about what a person is. In my opinion either it's wrong for an intelligent self aware creature to be always evil or it's not.

As for "do I really have a problem", well no. I can see that there are some specific issues with depiction of orcs. I just don't have a problem with evil monsters, even the intelligent self aware ones. It's not reality, it's not attempting to be reality. It's a game.
So in other words, your goal in your argumentation is to create a false dilemma in which you frame the argument of your opponents in an all or nothing sort of position - dare they be hypocrites - in the hopes of maintaining monsters as written? Does that sum this up succinctly?
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
I'd say it goes to their origin back in G3.

After fighting evil norse D&D frost giants, the party levels up and fights evil D&D norse fire giants. Behind the scenes at the evil norse D&D fire giants are . . . evil black-skinned elves. It seems another D&Dification of norse monsters, the not as well defined dokkalfar or svartalfar who are dark elves/black elves. The PH elves are all light skinned so they follow Tolkien and fit losalfar light elves.

I think they are black-skinned evil elves to fit Gygax's loosely norse themed 20 page module and then he ran with it in D1-3 after having developed them.

Their specific evil of slavery, debauchery, and demon worship shows up more in D1-3 and that seems more Melnibonean as Gygax develops them after their initial appearance.
Yes, but not really the point.

Why elves at all? Obviously, D&D elves (and drow) are inspired by myths and literature . . . but why use them? Why not make the concepts examples of human cultures, it wouldn't play all that different. In fact, it's been done before.

Now, I'm not truly advocating for the removal of fantasy creatures and races from D&D. Playing an elf, even if you aren't really doing much more than playing a human with pointy ears who lives a long time, is an opportunity to step into the classic stories and myths and be somone other than yourself for a while, someone magical . . . .

And I don't feel that we need to craft elven societies that are truly alien and separate from human cultures . . . in fact I'm not sure that's really possible.

The reason to have elves, drow, dwarves, and orcs in our games is to add that feeling of magic of being something different from your normal day-to-day existence, and to live out myths and stories from that magical perspective. We just have to be careful, as those pesky racist tropes are often subtly hidden in our favorite myths and stories and translated into our games.

The drow specifically are LOOSELY based on the svartalfar of Norse legend. But the dark elves of myth weren't necessarily dark-skinned, they were dark of heart rather. And of course the developed culture of Lolthite spider-worshippers is a unique creation, not really pulling directly from existing myth or story (to my knowledge). So why do our underground dwelling, dark-skinned, spider-worshippers have to be elves rather than humans with the same story? My answer is, "Why not?" Why invent totally new drow cultures like the Umbragen, Vulkoor, and Sulatar that are pretty divorced from myth and literature? Again, "Why not?"

I think a race of red-haired fire-worshippers who live in a volcano sounds pretty cool whether they are described as elves, dwarves, or humans. But by making them drow, they gain the "edginess" of this fey race with a sinister reputation. We get to play a magical elf, we get to play something interesting, unique, and new, and we get to play the "edgy" character that makes the townsfolk jumpy. That's fun. And, as a bonus, we give the drow elf race a greater degree of cultural variety, which is a good thing as we try to move away from racist and deterministic tropes.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Why elves at all? Obviously, D&D elves (and drow) are inspired by myths and literature . . . but why use them? Why not make the concepts examples of human cultures, it wouldn't play all that different. In fact, it's been done before.
The assumed setting of Malhavoc Press's Arcana Evolved - The Diamond Throne - actually did have humans that were drow-like: the Vallorians, evil subterranean race of subhumans who had connections to aberrations, chaos, and such, but they were pale skinned.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
Here's another really good article on the situation, I don't think it's been linked in this thread yet, but if I missed it, apologies.

One of the folks interviewed in the article makes the very good point that D&D fans who are complaining that these changes are political and are upset they may be losing their one-dimensional disposable enemies are engaging in gatekeeping, which is something we have way too much of in our community.
 

Hussar

Legend
Why bother even asking? There are certain posters, such as myself, that accept that while all orcs are evil is a vast over-simplification of the real world, that's okay. D&D is chock full of vast over-simplifications. It's not the real world and neither are orcs. If there's specific wording or imagery that is problematic, fix it but taking away the concept of evil creatures (whether humanoid or not) would be adding needless complexity.
/snip
So, thousands of pages in, you are still missing the point?

The issue was never that orcs are evil. Or that any particular race is evil. That's never actually been the problem. Races in D&D can be evil. No one wants to take away the concept of evil creatures.

It's kinda funny. You recognize the issue "specific wording or imagery that is problematic" but, for some bizarre reason then take that a hundred steps further to "taking away the concept of evil creatures". :erm:
 

Hussar

Legend
I'd say it goes to their origin back in G3.

After fighting evil norse D&D frost giants, the party levels up and fights evil D&D norse fire giants. Behind the scenes at the evil norse D&D fire giants are . . . evil black-skinned elves. It seems another D&Dification of norse monsters, the not as well defined dokkalfar or svartalfar who are dark elves/black elves. The PH elves are all light skinned so they follow Tolkien and fit losalfar light elves.

I think they are black-skinned evil elves to fit Gygax's loosely norse themed 20 page module and then he ran with it in D1-3 after having developed them.

Their specific evil of slavery, debauchery, and demon worship shows up more in D1-3 and that seems more Melnibonean as Gygax develops them after their initial appearance.
I was unaware that Melniboneans were depicted as man hating dominatrixes in fetish costumes who worshipped a black widow spider. :erm:

Same generally goes for the Norse inspirations.

Drow are problematic for so many more reasons than skin color.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Here's another really good article on the situation, I don't think it's been linked in this thread yet, but if I missed it, apologies.

One of the folks interviewed in the article makes the very good point that D&D fans who are complaining that these changes are political and are upset they may be losing their one-dimensional disposable enemies are engaging in gatekeeping, which is something we have way too much of in our community.
I just read through it and it is a terribly one-sided article, not providing any nuances of those questioning the changes.

Furthermore, it is subtly--but crucially--inaccurate with regards to Tolkien, quoting the infamous "Mongol-types" using the plural letters, and saying nothing about how Tolkien repeatedly said that they weren't based on any real-world people.
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
So in other words, your goal in your argumentation is to create a false dilemma in which you frame the argument of your opponents in an all or nothing sort of position - dare they be hypocrites - in the hopes of maintaining monsters as written? Does that sum this up succinctly?
No, it means that as much as I repeat "fix the wording and images" and propose alternatives, including a logical supernatural reason for groups of orcs to be evil outside of culture, people keep saying that having a humanoid race being evil is racist. I think "you can still have evil orcs if they come from a certain region/follow a certain religion" has just as many (if not more explicit) ties to real world bigotry and prejudice.

It means I'm tired of talking to a brick wall so I may as well be honest about it. I'm sure there are some people that fall in a middle ground, but I couldn't tell that by the postings.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
So, thousands of pages in, you are still missing the point?

The issue was never that orcs are evil. Or that any particular race is evil. That's never actually been the problem. Races in D&D can be evil. No one wants to take away the concept of evil creatures.

It's kinda funny. You recognize the issue "specific wording or imagery that is problematic" but, for some bizarre reason then take that a hundred steps further to "taking away the concept of evil creatures". :erm:
Now I'm seriously confused.

People relate orcs to real world people in a way I don't. Fair enough. If the issue is that orcs are a racist depiction of PoC then change the depiction of orcs.

Pages and pages have been written on not only what is a person, but why having evil humanoids is wrong but evil fiends and aberrations is perfectly okay.

But it all comes back to: I don't just admit that you're right in every way "I just don't get it".
 

It could be that when HP Lovecraft was writing about the terrible alien horror of amorphous, tentacled things with lots of eyes, it was an unconscious metaphor for his fear of non-white people. I'll let him get away with that one. He concealed the metaphor sufficiently well.
Considering the vast array of other racist, homophobic and generally just icky things in Lovecraft's writing? I don't think the tentacled horrors were his secret fears.

(seriously, a lot of his writing is just... really hard to read as a modern person)
 

Mercurius

Legend
@Oofta , humor me while I share where I've come to with regards to the issue.

I remain unconvinced with the idea that orcs perpetuate racism, or the problematic nature of orcs, hobgoblins and drow. When I started engaging in these discussions, I plead the Fifth on Vistani, because I knew little about them, having never been a huge fan of Ravenloft, but now think there is a more obvious real-world connection that makes sense to address (though I personally have no problem with them as a fantasy race, and as a general rule don't get offended easily, especially not by fantasy ideas).

I remain disturbed by the inability or unwillingness exhibited by some to understand different views, except as an extreme caricature that is "part of the problem." I am also worried about a culture-wide tendency to confuse and conflate issues (e.g. fantasy ideas = real world issues, or ideological vs. instutitional racism), and am quite leery of anything smacking of censorship, even in the subtler guise of de-platforming and cancellation. I have defended, and will continue to defend, artistic freedom, and the idea that fantasy is a venue to explore ideas, even controversial ones. And so forth.

That said, some days ago I started accepting the fact that a lot of this is inevitable. There are a number of people in the gaming community--of unknown percentage, but sizeable enough to have a loud voice--that want these changes, and find some of D&D's depictions to be offensive. I don't agree with their interpretation (for the most part), but I also feel like some acquiesence is called for, which is why I have presented suggestions as to how changes can be made that mostly add to the game, rather than subtract from it. Some folks on the "other side" have agreed with those suggestions, while others have ignored them, seemingly feeling that no compromise or alternate approaches are acceptable. I don't think there is anything I can do about this kind of intractability, but don't lose sleep over it. I can only hope that WotC realizes that the community includes a wide range of ideological and philosophical perspectives, and won't cater to the most extreme voices (on whatever side).

At this point, I feel that even if I don't agree with certain changes, not only is it inevitable, but seemingly enough people want them that it makes sense...to an extent, at least. I can always play the game that I want to play (always have, including non-evil orcs and pale-skinned drow!), and think that even a small number of people feeling that the game is more inclusive is worth what, in the end, will mostly be cosmetic changes.

I am not writing this to try to get you to stop defending your position--I firmly believe that you have every right to do so. I'm just sharing my own experience, and why--even though I agree with a lot of what you are saying in a philosophical sense--I accept the described changes, and have moved on to advocating for a "big tent" D&D.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
... and am quite leery of anything smacking of censorship, even in the subtler guise of de-platforming and cancellation. I have defended, and will continue to defend, artistic freedom, and the idea that fantasy is a venue to explore ideas, even controversial ones. And so forth.
So, an interesting point arises here.

Have you considered what the designers at WotC want?

If you are so much about artistic freedom, has it occurred to you that the artists at WotC might, in fact, be using the moment to make changes they actually, personally want to make? Did you consider it possible that your resistance was getting in the way of their artistic expression, that you were at risk of becoming the censor?

Consider - Crawford was one of the designers of Blue Rose, which had inclusivity of gender and sexuality as one of its notable themes. Do you expect that he somehow wasn't going to carry that forward, now when he's a lead designer and managing editor on D&D?
 
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Voadam

Adventurer
I was unaware that Melniboneans were depicted as man hating dominatrixes in fetish costumes who worshipped a black widow spider. :erm:
;)
An ancient race of feyish not-human but human-like decadent slaver overlords who wielded magical power, had torture concerts, and worshiped Chaos Lords. Melniboneans do not have to stretch very far to get to Drow. Switch to man-hating spider Lolth as the Chaos Lord, give them the already established elvish black skin from G3, some weird underdark radiation items, and run with it.

I may be influenced from a D&D campaign where the Melniboneans were the fair-skinned Drowesti elves but I see them as fitting well as a prime candidate for a strong influence on the Drow portrayal in D1-3.
 
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Mercurius

Legend
So, an interesting point arises here.

Have you considered what the designers at WotC want?

If you are so much about artistic freedom, has it occurred to you that the artists at WotC might, in fact, be using the moment to make changes they actually, personally want to make? Did you consider it possible that your resistance was getting in the way of their artistic expression, that you were at risk of becoming the censor?

Consider - Crawford was one of the designers of Blue Rose, which had inclusivity of gender and sexuality as one of its notable themes. Do you expect that he somehow wasn't going to carry that forward, now when he's a lead designer and managing editor on D&D?
I have exhibited little active "resistance" to changes in any meaningful way, except in engaging in these conversations and advocating for finding a way to preserve D&D tradition within the context of whatever changes occur. And I started this thread not out of resistance, but trying to be inclusive of people with different perspectives.

And just to be clear: I have no issue with inclusivity of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or any kind of diversity - including ideological and philosophical. My experience is that many who focus on the first three forms (et al) of diversity I mentioned often do so at the expense of the latter two. I am interested in both groupings, and will advocate for the latter two (ideological and philosophical, or together, "perspectival") when I feel that it is being glossed over or ignored.

based upon your post here, I am not sure whether you have read any of my previous posts in this thread, but If you look over some of my suggestions, nowhere is there any kind of censorship or limiting of artistic freedom. I have said, again and again, that I think the best way forward is a "big tent" approach: don't take away old, traditional ideas, just add and expand them. Take, for instance, this post from a couple days ago in this thread, where I suggested an approach to orcs that I think is a best-of-both worlds. I'm not sure how that repressents any kind of resistance or censoring.
 

I have exhibited little active "resistance" to changes in any meaningful way, except in engaging in these conversations and advocating for finding a way to preserve D&D tradition within the context of whatever changes occur. And I started this thread not out of resistance, but trying to be inclusive of people with different perspectives.

And just to be clear: I have no issue with inclusivity of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or any kind of diversity - including ideological and philosophical. My experience is that many who focus on the first three forms (et al) of diversity I mentioned often do so at the expense of the latter two. I am interested in both groupings, and will advocate for the latter two (ideological and philosophical, or together, "perspectival") when I feel that it is being glossed over or ignored.

based upon your post here, I am not sure whether you have read any of my previous posts in this thread, but If you look over some of my suggestions, nowhere is there any kind of censorship or limiting of artistic freedom. I have said, again and again, that I think the best way forward is a "big tent" approach: don't take away old, traditional ideas, just add and expand them. Take, for instance, this post from a couple days ago in this thread, where I suggested an approach to orcs that I think is a best-of-both worlds. I'm not sure how that repressents any kind of resistance or censoring.
The problem I see with your repeated calls for "tradition" is that the traditional materials aren't going anywhere. The old books still exist, increasingly in digital formats that will last for ages to come.

What we are changing is the descriptions and state of the game going forward, to make people feel more welcome. Which, other than slippery slope fears that we would soon be playing "carebears hug about feelings" seems like a good thing. None of the old stuff is lost, but we move forward with new stuff instead.
 

Mercurius

Legend
The problem I see with your repeated calls for "tradition" is that the traditional materials aren't going anywhere. The old books still exist, increasingly in digital formats that will last for ages to come.

What we are changing is the descriptions and state of the game going forward, to make people feel more welcome. Which, other than slippery slope fears that we would soon be playing "carebears hug about feelings" seems like a good thing. None of the old stuff is lost, but we move forward with new stuff instead.
I love new stuff, and am always a proponent of a more "progressive" approach to D&D. New worlds, styles, themes, rather than endless retreads and updates. And, as I just said in the post you quoted, I fully support making some changes to faciliate people feeling more inclusive.

But I don't see how a "big tent" approach to D&D--that includes but expands older tropes--is a bad thing. D&D has had may flavors over the years, both with editions and different settings. I'm of a mind that all such flavors should be incorporated within a "big tent" edition, from Gygaxian to Mercerian.

Here's a example of what I mean, reposted from up-thread:

...which is why I say expand the definition, but don't cancel evil orcs as a supported option. My current suggestion would be greater depth for the orc, but one that adds rather than subtracts. Like so:

  • Discussion of the variety of depictions of orcs in fantasy literature and gaming, from mythic origins (ogre/Latin Orcus), to Tolkien, different flavors of D&D, etc.
  • Emphasize the "customize to your preference" approach.
  • Provide examples of different depictions, from Gygaxian pig-men to standard D&D brutes to more recent treatments (Eberron, Wildemount).
  • Provide guidance on incorporating orcs as a PC race.
Is there aything that you disagree with in that quote?

I also said a couple posts ago that I can play D&D however I want to, no matter what WotC does--so the "they're not taking your books away" critique doesn't really apply to what I'm saying. But I do hope to see a diverse range and treatment of monsters and such in future books, including traditional variants (e.g. evil orc brutes).
 

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

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