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General Two underlying truths: D&D heritage and inclusivity


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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Yeah, if you’re presenting slavery as good and justified, I’m thinking you’ve got a tough row to hoe.

You can have slave owning pc’s. Sure. Just don’t pretend that they are morally justified. They are evil.
As defined by 21st-century morals, yes. As defined by the setting those PCs are in their relative evil-ness or lack thereof depends on the underlying ethics, morals and premises of that setting; to which 21st-century morals might not apply at all.

Would you actually classify Roman society as good?
If I was a slave-owning Roman I most likely would.

From the viewpoint of the present day Roman society presents a mixed bag, trending evil. My point is that the viewpoint of the present day does not hold when viewed from within the fiction being presented; and that there's nothing wrong with setting an RPG in Empirical Rome with Romans as the "good guys" provided it's made clear that what's being presented is fiction and is not intended to reflect real-world morality.
 

Hussar

Legend
See, I was just told that I’m laser beam focusing on orcs and drow. But here is this sidebar about Rome.

Has tsr or WotC ever published a dnd Rome? As far as I know, I’m fifty years of publishing gaming material for DnD, they never have.

Maybe one of those 2e historical supplements?

But here we are AGAIN, discussing something that’s never happened, where there is no indication that it’s going to happen. All so we can avoid talking about stuff that DID happen and continues to happen.

And around and around we go.
 


Mercurius

Legend
With respect... go find us a fantasy novel that leaves the morals and ethics of the time it was written completely behind. Find an example already written that we are apt to know to display what you expect should happen, so we can discuss it in more than theoretical terms.
Again, I have never used such language (e.g. "completely behind"). I see no reason to discuss this idea, because it is not what I'm saying.
 

Mercurius

Legend
@Chaosmancer , could you clarify something for me? Is your main issue with the duergar a world-building issue? What you perceive as bad world-building that disturbs your suspension of belief? Or is it WotC's treatment of the duergar that you find "sickening?" That WotC is "victim-blaming" by essentially focusing on the evilness of duergar, despite the wrong done to them? Or some combination?

One thing that comes to mind is that just because a society tends towards a certain alignment doesn't mean that all individuals are of that alignment. Dwarves tend to be oriented toward good and law, but some are likely LN or LE, a bunch shades N, and even a few "hippy dwarves" being CG.

Another thing could be that there's likely a difference between canonical historical accounts perpetuated by the rulership, and what actually happened. Perhaps dwarven leadership doesn't want people to know the whole truth.

I also rather like the idea that this is a dark secret within dwarven society, a shameful episode with long-term repurcussions.
 

Curmudjinn

Explorer
See, I was just told that I’m laser beam focusing on orcs and drow. But here is this sidebar about Rome.

Has tsr or WotC ever published a dnd Rome? As far as I know, I’m fifty years of publishing gaming material for DnD, they never have.

Maybe one of those 2e historical supplements?

But here we are AGAIN, discussing something that’s never happened, where there is no indication that it’s going to happen. All so we can avoid talking about stuff that DID happen and continues to happen.

And around and around we go.
Ad&d 2e, Glory of Rome.
 



You might not have said it but others have, many times and not just here.

Much of the Satanic panic revolved around portrayal of immoral acts (e.g. demon summoning) in the D&D books made D&D itself immoral.

Also, even though your real-world self might think or say something about a world in which a Paladin kicks kids in the teeth just for fun, that doesn't and shouldn't stop an author from designing and presenting a setting where street children are considered chattel and have the same standing as stray dogs, and where the Paladin is in fact a hero to the people.

This gets messy.

What this means is that two authors could write the exact same story word for word, and the only thing that would determine which one was moral and which wasn't is the writers' intent, which may never be known.

The problem is more of failing to divorce, partly or fully, real-world considerations and setting considerations. In the setting an author is presenting, perhaps something we real people would consider evil is an accepted part of life, and those who do it (or do it best) are hailed as heroes and the goal of the commoners is to one day be just like those heroes.

It also comes down to how one reads one's fiction (or approaches one's RPGs), and how seriously one takes any of it. I rarely if ever read anything as if it was a morality play; instead I read it to immerse myself in the author's setting for the time I spend reading the book, ignoring real-world considerations due to being fully aware that real-world considerations may or may not have any overlap with the considerations of the book's setting. Same goes for playing RPGs.

Within the fiction, yes; as the relative goodness or badness is set by the conceits already presented in said fiction.

A reader can of course decide - and debate or discuss with others - whether that setting's conceits would be good or bad in reality, if said reader wants to bother.

You can bring real-world ethics in if you want, but why? Enjoy the fiction for what it is - fiction - and leave real-world ethics for the real world.

This is how I generally approach playing and-or DMing RPGs - that the fiction I'm presenting or playing within has little if any relation to reality, and so I can dial stuff up to eleven and do things I'd never be able (or allowed!) to do in reality. The only place reality intervenes is if something would be offensive to someone else at the table.

On reflection, maybe, and perhaps that was the author's intent. Perhaps it wasn't; and unless the author has otherwise stated his-her intent in writing that work we've no way of knowing which it is.
Okay, some of this moves into territories of satire and parody, which can be presented in a very different way. Or, in the case of Edgar Allen Poe, a writer who is trying to horrify us by doing the most terrible of things to women, because he in his own life lost many mother figures and we can interpret his actions and writings not as a destruction of women, but as the horror of the destruction of women.

And, it can be possible that we miss key context or details of the author's life and intent that make this hard to determine. It is possible to convey a lot with pacing, framing, word choice and point of view that is difficult to express or make examples of explicitly, but that people pick up on while reading.

But, by declaring a work cannot be compared with real-world ethics, that by using a "critical lens" we are making some sort of foul against the work, we lose a critical tool in determining a work's value. And works of art have value. And sometimes that value is high, and sometimes that value is low.

Of Mice and Men as we discussed earlier fails in it's message if we cannot step outside of the world it presents and think about the implications. As does works like "A Modest Proposal" whose very horrific and disturbing nature is the point of the work. The piece of literature loses all value, if we cannot and should not apply real world ethics to the proposal.

In fact, I would argue that more great works lose their value in the face of the loss of the applying Real World Ethics than anything else.

There is nuance and subtlety here, there are levels and counter-points to be sure, but the early presentations of Mercurius also included that argument that we should not judge a work of fiction that posits "what if the moon was made of cheese" on the basis of the moon not being made of cheese. Which seems to be a much more literalistic approach than an approach about Authorial intent and whether we are supposed to be horrified about the actions within a work or not.



As defined by 21st-century morals, yes. As defined by the setting those PCs are in their relative evil-ness or lack thereof depends on the underlying ethics, morals and premises of that setting; to which 21st-century morals might not apply at all.

If I was a slave-owning Roman I most likely would.

From the viewpoint of the present day Roman society presents a mixed bag, trending evil. My point is that the viewpoint of the present day does not hold when viewed from within the fiction being presented; and that there's nothing wrong with setting an RPG in Empirical Rome with Romans as the "good guys" provided it's made clear that what's being presented is fiction and is not intended to reflect real-world morality.
The problem here is that your players are not slave-owning Romans from 100 BCE. If you presented the players with an estate that included 100 slaves, a lot of your players might be very disturbed as suddenly becoming slave owners.

Or, if they were expected to watch and cheer as a hungry manticore tore apart civilians screaming for help, they might not be capable of being okay with that, like a Roman noble could have been.

And the more you try and sell "No, guys , you are supposed to be okay with this" in the text or at the table, the more they are going to start looking towards the other constant of Roman civilization. Civil War.





Another thing could be that there's likely a difference between canonical historical accounts perpetuated by the rulership, and what actually happened. Perhaps dwarven leadership doesn't want people to know the whole truth.

I also rather like the idea that this is a dark secret within dwarven society, a shameful episode with long-term repurcussions.
Breaking this out of order.

This is not the case. The book does not present this as a secret. This is something that is known to the world, to the dwarves and the their allies. Again, you can add to this lore, and by adding to it make it better, but as it is, it is not good.


@Chaosmancer , could you clarify something for me? Is your main issue with the duergar a world-building issue? What you perceive as bad world-building that disturbs your suspension of belief? Or is it WotC's treatment of the duergar that you find "sickening?" That WotC is "victim-blaming" by essentially focusing on the evilness of duergar, despite the wrong done to them? Or some combination?

One thing that comes to mind is that just because a society tends towards a certain alignment doesn't mean that all individuals are of that alignment. Dwarves tend to be oriented toward good and law, but some are likely LN or LE, a bunch shades N, and even a few "hippy dwarves" being CG.
A combination. Though I find your phrasing interesting.

I am not accusing WoTC of Victim Blaming, I am accusing them of writing a story where victim blaming is seen as okay. That is one part.

The second part is the world-building part, and this is nuanced and potentially small, but it is perfectly placed to trip me up and send the plates crashing to the ground.

First, this is presented as a factual, historical account. Not as a mythology. It has some myth elements, such as the tale of the Duergar leader going through the Nine Hells,

Moradin is LG. Dwarves are LG in general, so we may assume that their society is LG on the whole. So, while individuals might be different alignments, since no individual dwarves are named, we are supposed to use the default.

Moradin sends signs to the Duergar. Signs which are supposedly ignored. However, why did he send the signs to the Duergar only, and not other Dwarves? The other Dwarves could have mounted a rescue attempt. But, if Moradin sent the signs that means he was aware of the danger to his people.

This also means that at some point during their enslavement, Moradin abandons them. He stops sending signs. He does grant any of them Clerical Powers or Paladin powers. He does not send dwarves to try and free them.

The story mentions that their enslavement lasts for "Generations". For a human, a generation is about 20 years, about how long it takes us to mature. For a dwarf that would be 50 years. If we assume at least five generations, that means that they were enslaved at least 250 years. With no aid from their god.

Putting a pin in that, and turning to the other clans. They sent envoys after all. These envoys had noted that the stronghold was abandoned, and that there was no sign of disease, calamity or invasion. Now, this implies that they searched the stronghold. If they searched, would that not have revealed that all the mining tools were gone? The Duergar were mining with a single-minded purpose, leaving behind a trail of the dead. Would dwarves have not noticed the massive, single mine shaft that had corpses, and found the Duergar?

But, instead, they concluded that whatever happened (because they never learned their fate) that they disappeared due to laziness, greed and contempt for Moradin.

And, unpinning the Moradin side of the story, the priests of Moradin were the ones who labeled the clan as heretics. Now, this is a setting where the gods are real. Meaning that if Moradin did not agree that an entire clan of his dwarves were heretics, and felt they needed rescued, he would have sent signs and omens to the priests. But, he did not.

And the Duergar's defense of being lured into a trap was ignored.

Now, this was an entire clan of dwarves emerging from slavery. I'm going to posit that where ever they showed up, they showed up en mass. This was not a subtle homecoming, the society would have noticed. And likely, the hall were the Duergar made their case had a large crowd.

So, we have the dwarves (or at least a lot of them, not just a single ill-intented king or priest) and their god turning their backs on the Duergar.

But, in every depiction beyond this story, in every point of reference we get, the dwarves are pointed out as being good. Hard working, joyous, making works of beauty, patiently judging people by their actions. And the Duergar are presented as cruel, heartless, they hate joy, they hate trust, they hate and hate and hate.

So, I am supposed to dislike the Duergar. I am supposed to see them as evil. The escaped slaves, who spent centuries being tortured and were abandoned and labeled heretics by their brethren and their god. Labeled lazy and greedy, because they were psychically compelled to work themselves to death to deliver themselves into the chains of slavery.

And I can't do it. I can't see them as anything other than the victims of a petty god and ignorant or cruel brethren.
 

Curmudjinn

Explorer
And you are free to do that. Others want to play it, too, but in a different way. They don't want to be punished for playing another race.
How are they punished? That's asinine. The PHB isn't an edict from on high. It's not military doctrine. It's malleable, it's built to bend as you need for fun and fun alone. As D&D has forever been.
 

How are they punished? That's asinine. The PHB isn't an edict from on high. It's not military doctrine. It's malleable, it's built to bend as you need for fun and fun alone. As D&D has forever been.
Assuming that they are talking about half-orcs and orcs, I would assume that, say, someone who is of a mixed heritage might feel a little attacked reading "though their human blood moderates the impact of their orcish heritage" and seeing right next to that a dark-skinned figure. Or reading "The most accomplished half-orcs are those with enough self-control to get by in a civilized land" Or the fact that the book is very clear that if you aren't in an evil orc tribe, you live in the slums of cities, scrabbling to survive (read: poor)

All of that could be pretty off-putting to someone who is very aware of the discrimination they might face in the real world.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Thanks for the clarifying response, @Chaosmancer - I have a better grasp as to your position, I think. I have literally not once taken a bit of canon and left it un-tweaked, so this sort of thing doesn't bother me. I take the basic idea and adapt it to my campaign world. Or not.

I don't think I did anything with the duergar in my last active campaign setting, but if I were I'd probably go with the "dirty dwarven secret" angle and build it up from there. I've always imagined mountain dwarves as somewhat rigid, xenophobic and even puritanical, looking down on hill dwarves and shunning duergar; more LN, with shades of LG (I can imagine an order within their society, perhaps revering Berronar, who seek reunification with the duergar). I'd probably keep the duergar as mostly evil, but on the LE-LN spectrum, with some justification as they were shut out of dwarven society and twisted by mind flayer influence. Broken, in a way. Maybe hill dwarves were turned off by what the mountain dwarves did and separated; I've always seem them as less xenophobic and more friendly to non-dwarves. Maybe they have have a tenuous truce with the duergar. Just riffing.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Okay, some of this moves into territories of satire and parody, which can be presented in a very different way. Or, in the case of Edgar Allen Poe, a writer who is trying to horrify us by doing the most terrible of things to women, because he in his own life lost many mother figures and we can interpret his actions and writings not as a destruction of women, but as the horror of the destruction of women.

And, it can be possible that we miss key context or details of the author's life and intent that make this hard to determine. It is possible to convey a lot with pacing, framing, word choice and point of view that is difficult to express or make examples of explicitly, but that people pick up on while reading.

But, by declaring a work cannot be compared with real-world ethics, that by using a "critical lens" we are making some sort of foul against the work, we lose a critical tool in determining a work's value. And works of art have value. And sometimes that value is high, and sometimes that value is low.

Of Mice and Men as we discussed earlier fails in it's message if we cannot step outside of the world it presents and think about the implications. As does works like "A Modest Proposal" whose very horrific and disturbing nature is the point of the work. The piece of literature loses all value, if we cannot and should not apply real world ethics to the proposal.

In fact, I would argue that more great works lose their value in the face of the loss of the applying Real World Ethics than anything else.
Fair enough.

However, I for one am not approaching my RPGing with anything near such highbrow aspirations. :) I'm neither seeking nor expecting to find any 'great works' in a D&D game, and if I did my first response might be "how and why did that get in here?". When I sit down to play a character for an evening I'm not after a morality play, nor any sort of studied commentary on society be it modern or of some other age, nor any mirror in which to reflect anything.

That sort of thing takes it all far too seriously, and is IMO best left to the classroom, the critic's chair, or the sociologists' club (or theologists' maybe).

The problem here is that your players are not slave-owning Romans from 100 BCE. If you presented the players with an estate that included 100 slaves, a lot of your players might be very disturbed as suddenly becoming slave owners.
The players aren't, but the characters they play might be; and those characters may well be considered quite Good within their society and setting.

One of my own major characters these days is Roman to the core - and being me, naturally I've dialled her up to eleven. She's never owned slaves, but the operative word there is 'yet': slavery is an accepted part of her culture and ownership of at least a few slaves is somewhat expected among the upper class, who she fully intends to become one of. (her way-out-there career goal is Empress, but that's gonna take a long time to achieve! :) ) As such, sooner or later she's almost certainly going to have to hit the slave market even though she herself would see slave ownership as something of a nuisance, nt to mention an in-her-view unnecessary expense.

But note that none of this has anything to do with my own morality in real life. I can and do divorce the in-game morality of my character and her setting from real-world morality, and then just play her into doing what she would naturally do within that game's setting.

Or, if they were expected to watch and cheer as a hungry manticore tore apart civilians screaming for help, they might not be capable of being okay with that, like a Roman noble could have been.

And the more you try and sell "No, guys , you are supposed to be okay with this" in the text or at the table, the more they are going to start looking towards the other constant of Roman civilization. Civil War.
I don't often (as in, pretty much never) have to say this to players as IME they're pretty good at doing this on their own: when playing the game, leave the real world behind. It'll still be there at the end of the session. :)
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Assuming that they are talking about half-orcs and orcs, I would assume that, say, someone who is of a mixed heritage might feel a little attacked reading "though their human blood moderates the impact of their orcish heritage" and seeing right next to that a dark-skinned figure. Or reading "The most accomplished half-orcs are those with enough self-control to get by in a civilized land" Or the fact that the book is very clear that if you aren't in an evil orc tribe, you live in the slums of cities, scrabbling to survive (read: poor)

All of that could be pretty off-putting to someone who is very aware of the discrimination they might face in the real world.
The entry on half orcs is one of those areas I think the concept is okay except that it's poorly phrased and worded. First, it does make clear that the base assumption is that Gruumsh has a supernatural influence on orcs. That the evil god whispers in their dreams to influence them. More on that later on down.

But then they get to the part of describing where they live:
Whether proving themselves among rough barbarian tribes or scrabbling to survive in the slums of larger cities, half-orcs get by on their physical might, their endurance, and the sheer determination they inherit from their human ancestry.​
When I first read that I thought okay - they're just showing two extremes. That no matter where they are, they can still be successful.

Then I noticed the title "Tribes and Slums". That the "sheer determination" is from their human ancestry. Hmm. So I think this is a clear example where I personally don't have an issue with the concept but think the wording could and should be changed.

Instead of "Tribes and Slums" why not just "Living among humans"?

Instead of the positive aspects being inherited from their human ancestry, why not from their mixed heritage? Also throw in a third option where they become pillars of the community because of their passion and drive. I get the whole "not feeling like they belong" which is similar to half elves. It appeals to people who feel like they've never fit in anywhere, which is probably more common than people realize.

Last, but not least, going back to the supernatural influence of Gruumsh. I think this could be expanded upon (along with other wording changes) in the orc section as a part of the reason the default alignment is CE. Leave it up to the DM and the campaign exactly how much influence Gruumsh has, or whether that influence could be somehow broken.
 


TaranTheWanderer

Adventurer
The problem here is that your players are not slave-owning Romans from 100 BCE. If you presented the players with an estate that included 100 slaves, a lot of your players might be very disturbed as suddenly becoming slave owners.

Or, if they were expected to watch and cheer as a hungry manticore tore apart civilians screaming for help, they might not be capable of being okay with that, like a Roman noble could have been.

And the more you try and sell "No, guys , you are supposed to be okay with this" in the text or at the table, the more they are going to start looking towards the other constant of Roman civilization. Civil War.
Some players would be fine and some players wouldn't. The question is whether WotC should be able to make a setting like that without criticism and let those who want to play it play and those who don't choose not to buy it.


First, this is presented as a factual, historical account. Not as a mythology. It has some myth elements, such as the tale of the Duergar leader going through the Nine Hells,

....

And I can't do it. I can't see them as anything other than the victims of a petty god and ignorant or cruel brethren.
Not all content is built for everyone. But should it? I think things that aren't setting specific should have broader appeal and should be more inclusive but how do they do it? To me, that's the larger issue.

The narrator in the Druegar story could be biased or ignorant of facts which means the account is biased and why some of the story is missing. That is a legitimate story-telling technique to create suspense or irony etc...

But since we are talking about RPGs and not Novels, I think the issue is the judgement put on the Druegar ("They are evil selfish etc..") Can they be evil independent of the history presented? If so, What makes them so? If there's story-bits missing meant to portray them as evil, then having that info is important or, inform the DM of the intent so they can fill the gaps for their own campaign.

If WotC is ridding races of their alignment, it would be easy to take that judgment away from the description and just include the facts. You could still call them greedy and selfish and violent and players might make the next jump to 'evil' on their own. Either in character or out.

The same could be done for a Roman-themed setting. Present the facts, make no judgments, present the people's belief systems as fact without calling anyone good or evil. Let that be up to the players. Maybe they'll end up playing captured gladiators fighting against the roman Imperialism or maybe they'll play nobles wanting to topple the government ("Et tu Brute?"). Or maybe they'll be part of the system conquering lands for the glory of Rome.

Any sandbox setting will allow for that.
 

Fair enough.

However, I for one am not approaching my RPGing with anything near such highbrow aspirations. :) I'm neither seeking nor expecting to find any 'great works' in a D&D game, and if I did my first response might be "how and why did that get in here?". When I sit down to play a character for an evening I'm not after a morality play, nor any sort of studied commentary on society be it modern or of some other age, nor any mirror in which to reflect anything.

That sort of thing takes it all far too seriously, and is IMO best left to the classroom, the critic's chair, or the sociologists' club (or theologists' maybe).

The players aren't, but the characters they play might be; and those characters may well be considered quite Good within their society and setting.

One of my own major characters these days is Roman to the core - and being me, naturally I've dialled her up to eleven. She's never owned slaves, but the operative word there is 'yet': slavery is an accepted part of her culture and ownership of at least a few slaves is somewhat expected among the upper class, who she fully intends to become one of. (her way-out-there career goal is Empress, but that's gonna take a long time to achieve! :) ) As such, sooner or later she's almost certainly going to have to hit the slave market even though she herself would see slave ownership as something of a nuisance, nt to mention an in-her-view unnecessary expense.

But note that none of this has anything to do with my own morality in real life. I can and do divorce the in-game morality of my character and her setting from real-world morality, and then just play her into doing what she would naturally do within that game's setting.

I don't often (as in, pretty much never) have to say this to players as IME they're pretty good at doing this on their own: when playing the game, leave the real world behind. It'll still be there at the end of the session. :)
I'm glad you and your players have no problem disconnecting completely from reality, but not everyone can. And not everyone can do so for the same issues, some of them hit too close, and hurt too much.

And while you might not look to the game for any commentary or mirror, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And that it isn't a problem for them. You immediately disagreed with my statement about the players being uncomfortable being slavers by telling me that the players aren't slavers, but the characters are.

I've got a character who is helping to rebuild a society after the collapse of the world. Lot of decisions to be made, lot of resources to divy up (he is acting as the town's Quartermaster as well as the chef and Lord). However, do you know what I end up doing as I'm thinking and planning? I think in terms of "I"

"I need to figure out how to deal with the sewer monsters". "I need to remember to check on the progress of the Tower", "I need to-"

I don't think I'm special or weird, so I imagine that when your players would be gifted a hundred slaves, they do the same thing. They think of the situation in terms of "I". And I can imagine a lot of people who would not be comfortable thinking that way.



Some players would be fine and some players wouldn't. The question is whether WotC should be able to make a setting like that without criticism and let those who want to play it play and those who don't choose not to buy it.
Well, considering that Lanefan proposed the setting as The Roman Empire, but they are the good guys and we don't consider their excesses problematic... I'd say no. WoTC should not be able to make a setting that glorifies the economic and social good of slavery and war.

Can they make "Fantasy Rome warts and all because people are people"? Sure. That's not all that hard to do.


Not all content is built for everyone. But should it? I think things that aren't setting specific should have broader appeal and should be more inclusive but how do they do it? To me, that's the larger issue.

The narrator in the Druegar story could be biased or ignorant of facts which means the account is biased and why some of the story is missing. That is a legitimate story-telling technique to create suspense or irony etc...
Stopping you right here. Because the narrator of the Duergar story is.... the omniscient view of WoTC presenting the objective facts. Unreliable narrators are great, but that is not what is happening here, because this isn't a narrator at all, but the game designer telling us the real story.

We can change it, we can add an unreliable narrator and make this something else, but that is not what we have.



And, to respond to the rest of your post, presenting just the observable facts and a few reasonings is a good solution, but presenting everything with no value judgements is hard and I've yet to see them do so, which makes me wonder if they even can.
 

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