DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is the oldest and most popular tabletop role-playing game in the world. As its popularity has soared, so has its player base. It’s a game that was dominated by white dudes for decades and, because of that, it’s got some baggage. Some of its concepts—evil races, descriptions of orcs and half-orcs that mirror racist dnd races stereotypes, and the concept of racial disadvantages—don’t make sense anymore in a modern context. The game's publisher, Wizards of the Coast (WotC), knows that and is trying to move Dungeons & Dragons into the future. But many of its efforts seem half-hearted, and a lot of the work of making Dungeons & Dragons more inclusive has fallen to its fans.
“Throughout the 50-year history of D&D, 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,” Wizards of the Coast said in a blog post in June. “That’s just not right, and it’s not something we believe in.”
In its post, WotC detailed the changes it planned to make to Dungeons & Dragons. This included overhauling the way its books talked about orcs, drow, and other “evil” races, updating past books like Curse of Strahd with an eye to removing racially charged language and stereotypes, releasing new rules that deemphasize racial negatives during character construction, hiring sensitivity readers, and hiring a more diverse pool of freelance writers and artists.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Half-Measures
WotC is five months into its quest to diversify Dungeons & Dragons, and the results are a mixed bag. On November 17, WotC released Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything—a book of rules that has new spells, new items, new character classes, and the much-teased rules that allow players to customize their character’s origin. Curse of Strahd was stealth-edited on D&D Beyond, and republished as Curse of Strahd Revamped. WotC has hosted several roundtable discussions among fans and community leaders about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the tabletop role-playing space.
Much of this is good work, especially the roundtable discussions. The Daniel Kwan-led panel dissecting the harm Asian racial stereotypes perpetuated by modules published under the Oriental Adventures label is particularly good. “Assuming positive intent, Oriental Adventures and similar products aren’t written with racist or malicious intent, but rather through the misguided appreciation of cultural tropes,” Kwan says. “The resulting content lacks nuance, context, and can be harmful when used to create an ‘other’ in a product that was originally designed to serve as an escapist fantasy for white people.”