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General Two underlying truths: D&D heritage and inclusivity

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.
But not all tropes are worth saving.

Let us take the "Damsel in Distress". Classic trope, the big brutish monster has kidnapped the beautiful and fair princess to be his bride, and she will marry one of you if you go and rescue her.

Is this trope really worth keeping around? Does it truly give us anything of value?



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

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).
Yeah, why bother including versions of orcs that no longer exist or are not DnD?

Tolkien's orcs were corrupted elves, a player might find that cool, but A) Tolkien's estate won't let DnD print that and B) It doesn't do you any good to know that if the DM is running a world where that isn't true.

Also, what does it help for them to know that orcs were inspired by ogres, but now they are separate things? I think you could really just cut that down to guidance on incorporating them. Because if I want to know the mythical history of orcs in folktale dating back to the greeks or beyond... I'll get a textbook written on the subject which will be much better researched and referenced that what a gaming company would be capable of doing.
 

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Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
How much of D&D tradition has already been excised from the game for various reasons? Level limits, THACO, ability adjustments by gender, race-as-class, varying XP charts . . . . today's 5E is pretty different from all prior editions, even with the design intent to carry forward what we love about D&D.

Orcs and drow as intrinsically evil races is pretty traditional for D&D, and for the fantasy genre it pulls from. It is comfort-food for some of us who like to escape from reality for a while by engaging in indiscriminate slaughter of the baddies.

But tradition always takes a back seat to improved inclusivity in my book. Just like the game ditched the misogyny of ability adjustments by gender, the game needs to ditch the racist tropes embedded in the way the concept of race is treated. The game will be the better for it, and we won't be losing very much.

We won't be losing evil orcs and evil drow, we'll be losing the idea that those entire races are defined by their evil and savagery. Just as humans aren't inherently evil, but yet have been behind ALL of the atrocities committed in the real world.

Even with orcs and drow losing their evil souls, there will be no shortage of cartoonishly evil villains to vanquish. We lose nothing, we gain much.

The more this circular discussion has dragged on, the more I'm convinced that some folks just fear change and will hold us back for no valid reason. And I'm happy that WotC and the industry will be leaving those folks behind. I'm sure most of them will adapt and continue playing the game anyways.

So tradition vs inclusivity? Screw tradition. At least when it is being clutched by those with myopic viewpoints who value their comfort food over the hurt and unwelcome caused to gamers of color.

This thread has had some good posts . . . but it's long past jumped the shark. I'm done.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I was unaware that Melniboneans were depicted as man hating dominatrixes in fetish costumes who worshipped a black widow spider. :erm:
The physical description of Melniboneans is elvish in nature. They were a race of evil, magically powerful elves who worshiped what amounted to demon gods. Sound familiar?
 

Mercurius

Legend
But not all tropes are worth saving.

Let us take the "Damsel in Distress". Classic trope, the big brutish monster has kidnapped the beautiful and fair princess to be his bride, and she will marry one of you if you go and rescue her.

Is this trope really worth keeping around? Does it truly give us anything of value?
The Damsel in Distress is only problematic if females are only depicted as damsels. Nothing wrong with damsels existing; I've known a few in my day. Women, like men, come in limitless variety.

Anyhow, there are other ways to read that basic story template. When you read it through the lens of critical theory, sure, it looks a certain way. But that's only one reading, one pespective, and ignores, for instance, mythological archetypes. My sense from engaging in these conversations is that most of those who interpret D&D tropes in a negative light are doing so solely from a particular lens, that of critical theory and its offspring. There are other meta-analytic perspectives to take that yield different interpretations (e.g. Jungian/Campbellian), or integral theory (e.g. Ken Wilber).

D&D, as a game, doesn't need to either embody critical theory ideas, nor mythic archetypes. It is a game, for fun, and it could be a fun campaign to rescue a damsel (or a dude).


Yeah, why bother including versions of orcs that no longer exist or are not DnD?

Tolkien's orcs were corrupted elves, a player might find that cool, but A) Tolkien's estate won't let DnD print that and B) It doesn't do you any good to know that if the DM is running a world where that isn't true.

Also, what does it help for them to know that orcs were inspired by ogres, but now they are separate things? I think you could really just cut that down to guidance on incorporating them. Because if I want to know the mythical history of orcs in folktale dating back to the greeks or beyond... I'll get a textbook written on the subject which will be much better researched and referenced that what a gaming company would be capable of doing.
Because one of the best parts of D&D is that it is a toolbox game: we get to create our own version of it. And because the history is interesting - the mythic roots, Tolkien's influence, Gygax's prototype, all the way up to the Mercer stuff.

Jazz isn't just what's happening now in Tokyo and Paris. It is Miles Davis and Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong; it is also early blues and slave songs and traditional African music. It is a tradition, with many branches and a historical development.

But, sure, some people just want to play the game. But why not provide a game that offers a variety of options?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I have exhibited little active "resistance" to changes in any meaningful way
"I remain unconvinced..."
"I remain disturbed..."
"...I started accepting the fact that a lot of this is inevitable..."
"Some folks on the "other side" ..., 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..."

I don't think I'm supposed to read any of this as agreement, am I? It sounds like disagreement, and meeting positions that will not yield. At the best is sounds like resignation. Pardon me if I read that as summing up to resistance.

But, if you feel even that is unwarranted, my apologies. Consider it retracted.

However, that still leaves the central question unanswered: Did you consider the possibility that this is what the designers actually want to do?
 

Mercurius

Legend
"I remain unconvinced..."
"I remain disturbed..."
"...I started accepting the fact that a lot of this is inevitable..."
"Some folks on the "other side" ..., 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..."

I don't think I'm supposed to read any of this as agreement, am I? It sounds like disagreement, and meeting positions that will not yield. At the best is sounds like resignation. Pardon me if I read that as summing up to resistance.

But, if you feel even that is unwarranted, my apologies. Consider it retracted.

However, that still leaves the central question unanswered: Did you consider the possibility that this is what the designers actually want to do?
So one must agree or they are resisting? I am not resisting change, I am resisting agreeing with something I don't agree with. And even "resistance" isn't right, because I will--and often do--change my perspective if there is a compelling reason to do so. I was trying to express to Oofta that I could disagree with an interpretation, but not resist actual changes.

I thought I answered you. First of all, I didn't suggest that the designers are being forced into anything. I don't know their thinking, but suspect it is a combination of factors, maybe including because they want to.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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.
I will say it again - Edgar Rice Burroughs. Barsoom. Black Martians.

Living in vast cavern complexes underground, virtually nobody knows they exist. Black skin. Feel they are supreme creatures. Slavers, manipulating the surface world. Putting questionable achievers through ordeals. Led by a high priestess a thousand years old.... the list of similarities goes on.

I expect anyone here who reads the first adventure in the home of the Black Martians would think, "Oh, this is where the drow come from."
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
I will say it again - Edgar Rice Burroughs. Barsoom. Black Martians.

Living in vast cavern complexes underground, virtually nobody knows they exist. Black skin. Feel they are supreme creatures. Slavers, manipulating the surface world. Putting questionable achievers through ordeals. Led by a high priestess a thousand years old.... the list of similarities goes on.

I expect anyone here who reads the first adventure in the home of the Black Martians would think, "Oh, this is where the drow come from."
What myths and literature do the drow race pull from in D&D?
  1. Svartalfar, Norse myth
  2. Melniboneans, "Elric of Melnibone" Michael Moorcock
  3. Black Martians, "John Carter of Mars" Edgar Rice Burroughs
  4. All of the Above!
I choose answer #4! Or do all three fantasy races (Drow, Melniboneans, Black Martians) all pull from the same mythic archetype?!?!

Actually, has anyone ever asked the guy who designed the drow race for its inclusion in the Field Folio all those decades ago?
 

The Damsel in Distress is only problematic if females are only depicted as damsels. Nothing wrong with damsels existing; I've known a few in my day. Women, like men, come in limitless variety.

Anyhow, there are other ways to read that basic story template. When you read it through the lens of critical theory, sure, it looks a certain way. But that's only one reading, one pespective, and ignores, for instance, mythological archetypes. My sense from engaging in these conversations is that most of those who interpret D&D tropes in a negative light are doing so solely from a particular lens, that of critical theory and its offspring. There are other meta-analytic perspectives to take that yield different interpretations (e.g. Jungian/Campbellian), or integral theory (e.g. Ken Wilber).

D&D, as a game, doesn't need to either embody critical theory ideas, nor mythic archetypes. It is a game, for fun, and it could be a fun campaign to rescue a damsel (or a dude).
I see you didn't read the story template very closely. Or, you find the myths of female disempowerment to be fine in the modern day.

For example, did you note that the end of the adventure involves the princess marrying one of the heroes? She didn't agree to that (implied by the fact it is one sentence which includes us being told she is kidnapped) so she is supposed to be just fine marrying the hero that rescued her?

And, why is it that the monster wants to marry her? In many myths it is simple. She is beautiful, therefore everyone wants to marry her. And she, as a woman, has no agency and will marry the good hero and not the ugly monster.

I'm sure Jung could have a very thorough psychological analysis of what this story says about the human condition. I'm also sure that my sister would call it a load of [insert your favorite expletives here] and not accept the princess being a gilded trophy being passed around.


And things you can do with that story, such as have the princess be unwilling to marry, are generally constructed as twists... but since they are more realistic in our modern society, presenting that as a twist "surprise, this woman doesn't want to marry a dude she literally just met" falls flat.

Now, I'm not saying that no character should ever be kidnapped or disempowered, sure, that can happen. But, taken as a whole, while a myth and story that survived for hundreds of years, it isn't something I think we really want at the table.




Because one of the best parts of D&D is that it is a toolbox game: we get to create our own version of it. And because the history is interesting - the mythic roots, Tolkien's influence, Gygax's prototype, all the way up to the Mercer stuff.

Jazz isn't just what's happening now in Tokyo and Paris. It is Miles Davis and Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong; it is also early blues and slave songs and traditional African music. It is a tradition, with many branches and a historical development.

But, sure, some people just want to play the game. But why not provide a game that offers a variety of options?
You seem to be missing the point.

Sure, the history is interesting. But if I by a Jazz CD by (googles) Joel Ross I don't really want a dissertation on how his sound was influenced by Billie Holiday. I want to listen to a CD by Joel Ross.

If I want to play DnD with orcs, I don't want to read about how Tolkien took and adapted the idea of ogres into orcs and what he based them on. I want to play DnD with orcs. And, while a "variety of options" sounds good. Options that include racist undertones and implications of sexual violence (with regards to half-orcs) aren't the kind of options I want presented in the game. They've existed for decades, I'm sure it was fun, but lets move on and do something else.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So one must agree or they are resisting?
I already apologized, and said you may consider it retracted. If that's not enough for you, sorry, I don't have anything else.

But, if you must - in a purely logical sense, yes. If you are presented with a suggestion or posit, and you say, "No..." you are resisting that suggestion or posit. You yourself mentioned finding people intractable. Does that not imply a mutual resistance of ideas?

First of all, I didn't suggest that the designers are being forced into anything. I don't know their thinking...
If artistic freedom is the real concern, what they are thinking should be the central question.
 

Raduin711

Adventurer
The Damsel in Distress is only problematic if females are only depicted as damsels. Nothing wrong with damsels existing; I've known a few in my day. Women, like men, come in limitless variety.
Consider the name of the trope: "Damsel" in distress. Not "Person" in distress. We call it "Damsel" in distress for a reason: because the person in need of rescued is, more often than not, a woman, often of value as a potential romantic partner.

A trope is a repeated motif. So if we say that "The Damsel in Distress is an acceptable trope", we are saying that it is okay to use women in this sort of way, repeatedly.

That's not to say that we can't ever present women as being vulnerable, or requiring help. But the notion of taking a female character and making her -once again- :rolleyes: the object of a man's quest to rescue and take as his romantic partner or for some other reward, is a tired and sexist story. If we find ourselves falling into that pattern, or resembling it too much, then maybe we should consider stopping and reversing course.
 
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Mercurius

Legend
I see you didn't read the story template very closely. Or, you find the myths of female disempowerment to be fine in the modern day.

For example, did you note that the end of the adventure involves the princess marrying one of the heroes? She didn't agree to that (implied by the fact it is one sentence which includes us being told she is kidnapped) so she is supposed to be just fine marrying the hero that rescued her?

And, why is it that the monster wants to marry her? In many myths it is simple. She is beautiful, therefore everyone wants to marry her. And she, as a woman, has no agency and will marry the good hero and not the ugly monster.

I'm sure Jung could have a very thorough psychological analysis of what this story says about the human condition. I'm also sure that my sister would call it a load of [insert your favorite expletives here] and not accept the princess being a gilded trophy being passed around.

And things you can do with that story, such as have the princess be unwilling to marry, are generally constructed as twists... but since they are more realistic in our modern society, presenting that as a twist "surprise, this woman doesn't want to marry a dude she literally just met" falls flat.

Now, I'm not saying that no character should ever be kidnapped or disempowered, sure, that can happen. But, taken as a whole, while a myth and story that survived for hundreds of years, it isn't something I think we really want at the table.
Again, nothing wrong with your damsel story if a given group wants to play out a classic fairy tale story. If they want to they can subvert it and make it a dude in distress, who marries the successful warrior woman. The problem only arises when it becomes the default mode, or implies that women must be helpless damsels.

Not sure what your sister has to do with this?

You seem to be missing the point.

Sure, the history is interesting. But if I by a Jazz CD by (googles) Joel Ross I don't really want a dissertation on how his sound was influenced by Billie Holiday. I want to listen to a CD by Joel Ross.

If I want to play DnD with orcs, I don't want to read about how Tolkien took and adapted the idea of ogres into orcs and what he based them on. I want to play DnD with orcs. And, while a "variety of options" sounds good. Options that include racist undertones and implications of sexual violence (with regards to half-orcs) aren't the kind of options I want presented in the game. They've existed for decades, I'm sure it was fun, but lets move on and do something else.
I get your point. We seemingly enjoy different things in a RPG book, maybe along fluff/crunch lines. But there's another aspect that I want to highlight: discussing the history provides context to understand how orcs have been depicted in a variety of ways and can be customized to your game.

As for the second paragraph, this highlights the differences expressed in this thread and drawing a connection between orcs and racism. I can't speak for everyone, but I think the vast majority of those arguing for the inclusion of "traditional orcs" don't agree with that interpretation and want an option for such orcs. The Big Tent honors both sides (if we must use sides). It says: "here are a variety of orcs; orcs are like people, they can be good or bad and everything in-between. We'll give you some options for a bit of each, so you can decide how they are in your world."
 

Mercurius

Legend
Consider the name of the trope: "Damsel" in distress. Not "Person" in distress. We call it "Damsel" in distress for a reason: because the person in need of rescued is, more often than not, a woman, often of value as a potential romantic partner.

A trope is a repeated motif. So if we say that "The Damsel in Distress is an acceptable trope", we are saying that it is okay to use women in this sort of way, repeatedly.

That's not to say that we can't ever present women as being vulnerable, or requiring help. But the notion of taking a female character and making her -once again- :rolleyes: the object of a man's quest to rescue and take as his romantic partner or for some other reward, is a tired and sexist story. If we find ourselves falling into that pattern, or resembling it too much, then maybe we should consider stopping and reversing course.
So we basically agree. Thankfully this isn't often used in D&D adventures, at least to my knowledge.
 

Mercurius

Legend
I already apologized, and said you may consider it retracted. If that's not enough for you, sorry, I don't have anything else.

But, if you must - in a purely logical sense, yes. If you are presented with a suggestion or posit, and you say, "No..." you are resisting that suggestion or posit. You yourself mentioned finding people intractable. Does that not imply a mutual resistance of ideas?

If artistic freedom is the real concern, what they are thinking should be the central question.
I'm not asking for further apology, I'm clarifying what I said.

What suggestion do you think that I am resisting? And how are you differentiating it from disagreement?

I would suggest that resistance implies not understanding what they are resisting, whereas disagreement implies that one has at least some understanding, but has a different perspective, for whatever reason.
 

Hussar

Legend
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".
Look who started the "what is a person" sidebar and your confusion should evaporate. No one arguing for changing the definitions of orcs and drow to remove the racist stuff is arguing that having evil humanoids is wrong. That's a straw man that has been invented whole cloth.

So, yeah, you do get it. "Change the depiction of orcs" is all people actually want. All that other stuff that has taken up pages and pages of threads like this? That's the creation of folks that want to stop any changes to the game.

;)
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.
Yeah, other than the depraved bit, I'm not really seeing it. And, frankly, if that's all drow were, then there wouldn't be an issue. The color of drow isn't why drow are being changed. Or, at least, that's not the main issue. The main issue for drow is that they are such a caricature of feminism and incredibly misogynistic. It's not even subtle about it. That they are black skinned on top just adds a bit of extra zest to the mess.
 



Doug McCrae

Legend
Actually, has anyone ever asked the guy who designed the drow race for its inclusion in the Field Folio all those decades ago?
Col_Pladoh said:
Drow: A listing in the Funk & Wagnall's Unexpurgated Dictionary, and no other source at all. I wanted a most unusual race as the main power in the Underdark, so used the reference to "dark elves" from the dictionary to create the Drow. (And nary a one has crow's feet).
Source
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
@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.
I don't know how I can be much clearer. I think some of the wording and imagery around orcs (and a few other humanoids) can and should be changed. Period. On the other hand, I think having the option of some black and white, good and evil is important to the game. Also give people the option of everything being morally gray and mushy like the real world or options for in between.

I think certain monsters being evil for supernatural or mythical reasons is better than limiting certain creatures are evil based on a specific culture and religion. If you do the latter it starts sounding a lot like "those [insert religion] from [insert region] are all evil, radical terrorists". Again, if that's what you want it should be an option, I just don't think it should be the only option.

Somebody mentioned Eberron's orcs as an example of a "good" depiction. I looked at it and thought "Just like that stereotype of Latinos. Passionate, dedicated to family and church but not very industrious (e.g. lazy)." Most races in D&D end up starting out with a caricature of some aspect of real world people because we can only describe non human creatures from our frame of reference.

But I also have a bad habit of trying to respond to people who address me or ask questions which means the wheels on the bus go round and round pretty much forever. Have a good one.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Somebody mentioned Eberron's orcs as an example of a "good" depiction. I looked at it and thought "Just like that stereotype of Latinos. Passionate, dedicated to family and church but not very industrious (e.g. lazy)."
This seems to say more about your own prejudices than it does about Eberron’s orcs. I’m not sure if I have heard Gaming Latinxs point to Eberron’s orcs as an example of racist rhetoric or that they share any cultural resemblances. Some I’m curious how you made the leap to how orcs in Eberron are described and Latinx peoples.
 

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

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