Racial discrimination is insidious and can easily become systemic and ambient in a culture without active participation and vigilance in dismantling it. With the continued protests against police brutality and the Black Lives Matter Movement at the forefront of activists’ minds and efforts, many companies are making conscious and deliberate assessments of their work culture and their products in an effort to be aware of how they may have been racially insensitive both presently and in the past.
Wizards of the Coast, in particular, has been scanning their various IPs for any semblances of racism and made great efforts to rectify racial insensitivities in their trading card game Magic: The Gathering. Soon after, WotC reviewed their (in)famous tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, and found evidence of more derisive and dangerous perspectives that they are proactively choosing to dissolve both through updates of the game and the direction they are taking it in moving forward.
In an article entitled “Diversity and Dungeons & Dragons,” the Wizards of the Coast D&D team recognized proactive changes need to be made and transparency and inclusivity with D&D’s audience about the reasons for said changes also need to be at the forefront, stating,
“Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is strength, for only a diverse group of adventurers can overcome the many challenges a D&D story presents. In that spirit, making D&D as welcoming and inclusive as possible has moved to the forefront of our priorities over the last six years. We’d like to share with you what we’ve been doing, and what we plan to do in the future to address legacy D&D content that does not reflect who we are today.”
If you’ve ever played D&D, you know that this is very true. You’ll be hard-pressed to move through a campaign with no healer or no one who can take a hit. However, historically, there have been playable races that are mechanically crafted by the game itself to be more suited for certain types of classes and playstyles due to certain racial bonuses, which all dances around a slippery slope of racial profiling and stereotyping. Elves’ racial ability bonuses falling only among dexterity, wisdom, and intellect while a half-orc’s being in strength and constitution showcase this subtle weighting towards one race being “more agile, wise, and intelligent” than another.
Perhaps worst of all is the bonus to the human race, that is, +1 to all ability scores, which suggests that humans are somehow more proficient naturally in everything than all of the other races in D&D. “We want everyone to feel at home around the game table and to see positive reflections of themselves within our products. ‘Human’ in D&D means everyone, not just fantasy versions of northern Europeans, and the D&D community is now more diverse than it’s ever been.”
Despite there being more diversity than ever, the team did realize they need to adjust how ability scores are allocated because of the above reasoning, so one of the upcoming changes will be a customization option for players to alter their character’s origin and choose abilities to increase to better reflect the vast variety of talents and skills that every race is able to foster. “This option emphasizes that each person in the game is an individual with capabilities all their own.”
The team recognized that in the course of D&D’s 50-year history, “some of the peoples in the game—orcs and drow being two of the prime examples—have been characterized as monstrous and evil, using descriptions that are painfully reminiscent of how real-world ethnic groups have been and continue to be denigrated.”
They note, “that’s just not right, and it’s not something we believe in. Despite our conscious efforts to the contrary, we have allowed some of those old descriptions to reappear in the game.”
WotC outlined the changes they will roll out through the year and beyond, and in addition to the ability score changes, they have already worked to depict the aforementioned drow and orcs as “just as morally and culturally complex as other peoples” in their two most recent books, Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. The team is also working with a Romani consultant to change the stereotypical and reductive depictions of the Vistani people in the game who are based on the real-world Romanis, removing racially insensitive text from prior books in subsequent reprints, incorporating sensitivity readers to review their content in an effort to catch the team’s blind spots, and proactively seeking out new and diverse people to join their team as writers, artists, and staff.
The team is definitely working to create a more inclusive, diverse, and respectful environment free of racism for their team and their players, and with the scope that D&D reaches and the sanctuary it provides for many people, this is important work that they are doing. “This part of our work will never end. We know that every day someone finds the courage to voice their truth, and we’re here to listen. We are eternally grateful for the ongoing dialog with the D&D community, and we look forward to continuing to improve D&D for generations to come.”