Wizards of the Coast — the company behind the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest role-playing game,” “Dungeons & Dragons” — has committed to stressing diversity and removing racially problematic language from its product line, and fans are holding the company to account for its promises.
“Dungeons & Dragons,” commonly known as D&D, is a game in which a group of players creates characters, rolls dice and navigates a story overseen by a Dungeon Master. Originally created in 1974, the game issued a fifth edition in 2014 that became its most popular, especially after livestreaming platforms such as Twitch and shows such as Netflix’s “Stranger Things” introduced D&D to new audiences.
The game’s newfound popularity, however, has also invited critiques. Critics have pointed out that when creating a character, D&D players must choose a “race” — such as an elf, dwarf or gnome — and that this usage of the word is technically a misnomer.
“‘Races’ in D&D are fundamentally different than our concept of‘races’ in the real world,” medievalist Paul B. Sturtevant told HuffPost.“In D&D,races are based in deep biological differences, whereas we know that in the real world, race is a social construct based upon arbitrary and superficial differences. Using the word ‘race’ in the game where they really mean something more like ‘species’ promotesracist ideas.”
In a 2017 article, Sturtevant wrote that D&D’s idea of “race” is a holdover from “The Lord of the Rings” and author J.R.R. Tolkien, who “conflat[ed] race, culture and ability.”
In his novel, Tolkien outlined “the ‘racial’ characteristics of men, of dwarves, of elves, of orcs,” Sturtevant wrote, adding that Tolkien “created the blueprint for the troubling relationship between race and fantasy that would govern twentieth-century fantasies.”
This blueprint has been dissected by academics such as Helen Young of Australia’s Deakin University, who writes about fantasy and race. In a 2017 interview with Pacific Standard, Young argued that Tolkien’s idea of race as a hard reality rather than a social construct was inherently racist, and while Tolkien may not have harbored extremist views personally, his work was filled with examples of “good” races with European cultural traits and “bad” races described through “orientalist stereotypes.”
A look at D&D’s “Player’s Handbook” and online resource database offers a glimpse at how modern fantasy has internalized Tolkien’s ideas about race.
Elves, for instance, are described as good and often depicted as white, except for a subset of the species known as “drow,” who are ebony-skinned, “more often evil than not” and occasionally called “dark elves.”
Half-orcs are similarly described as having “a tendency towards chaos” and “the most accomplished half-orcs are those with enough self-control to get by in a civilized land.”
In April, “orcs” began trending on social media after D&D players analyzed game guidelines to play as a full-blooded orc. They pointed out that the language describing orcs was laden with biological essentialism — the idea that certain traits are innate and unchangeable — and pointed to rules that gave orc characters lower intelligence, as well as sentences that said orcs could potentially be “domesticated” but would always have “blood lust flow[ing] just beneath the surface.”
James Mendez Hodes, a game designer and cultural consultant, wrote a comprehensive analysis of such language on his website. He pointed out thatTolkien, widely acknowledged as the creator of orcs, had initially described orcs in letters as “degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types.”
Subsequent fantasy media such as D&D have since described orcs with the same language used to denigrate nonwhite peoples of the real world, specifically those of Asian or Black ethnicity.
In a statement issued last week, Wizards of the Coast specifically addressed these concerns. The company said it would downplay biological essentialism in future releases and would also emphasize diverse hiring. The company added that one of its goals was to ensure that players would be able to “see positive reflections of themselves within our products, ... not just fantasy versions of northern Europeans.”
“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,” the statement said. “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. We recognize that to live our values, we have to do an even better job in handling these issues. If we make mistakes, our priority is to make things right.”
Wizards of the Coast went on to highlight recent releases that painted a more nuanced version of orcs and drow and emphasized that the company had revised “racially insensitive” language in “Curse of Strahd,” a D&D book that was released in 2016, and “Tomb of Annihilation,” released in 2017. The books feature the Vistani — an ethnic group rooted in tropes of the Roma people — and Chult, a jungle region vaguely inspired by parts of Africa. Previous versions of the books referred to the Vistani as drunks and called Chult a “savage” and “exotic” land.
D&D fans on social media reacted to Wizards of the Coast’s statement with a mixed response. Some were in favor of the changes; others called them “political.” Multiple voices argued that promises of respecting diversity rang hollow as the company has had an alleged problem with hiring game designers of color in the past.
Sturtevant, Young and Mendez Hodes greeted the announcement with a combination of cautious optimism and skepticism.
“I think this shift is a good start, but they must go further,” Sturtevantsaid. “It’s a problemthat [Wizards of the Coast] don’t seem to be getting rid of their use of the term ‘race’ altogether.”
Young echoed this sentiment. “Racism isn’t just negative stereotypes; it is also an underlying belief that a particular group of people have something inherently in common with each other and also that they are also inherently different from other groups,” she said.
“The change so that orcs and drow aren’t necessarily evil is superficial if that racist logic of inherent difference is still there,” Young said. She stressed that removing gameplay concepts such as orc characters starting with a lower intelligence would be a “much bigger step because it could remove the basic logic of race.” (Wizards of the Coast indicated in its statement that it would be moving towards this in future releases.)
“Hopefully the diverse hiring will be more than a token move,” Young added. “Employing people of color from different backgrounds and genuinely valuing everything that they bring will make the game more original, creative and interesting, as well as less racist.”
Mendez Hodes said it was vital to note that Wizards’ announcement followed years of advocacy and that many D&D fans of color who have criticized the game in the past were accused of “politicizing” it by other players who were unwilling to see characters such as orcs as anything more than disposable, evil enemies.
“For almost all of D&D’s history, systemically oppressive norms masquerading as harmless fun dominated both game content and community interactions,” Mendez Hodes told HuffPost. “What I most want changed are the [D&D] community’s oppressive power dynamics. Right now, being ourselves and expressing our preferences invites gatekeeping and vitriol from players whose fun relies on unexamined cruelty to a sapient Other.”
While it remains to be seen if Wizards of the Coast will truly make good on its aims, the company’s willingness to acknowledge its faults nevertheless gives Mendez Hodes hope.
“I know D&D’s creative team will err many more times on the way to fulfilling [its promises] — which is OK, if they acknowledge and iterate on their mistakes graciously rather than defensively,” he said. “To level up, D&D must highlight vulnerable players’ perspectives. Only when we may safely speak can they begin to listen.”
In the summer of 2020, the United States undertook the grand task of addressing systemic racism. The entertainment industry was a major part of this cultural shift; since entertainment is so visible, it’s easy for people to comment on its diversity.
Diversity in TV, music and movies is so important because of representation — people should be able to relate to who they see on their screens. And for many, the people on their screens are Dungeons & Dragons players. The classic tabletop role-playing game (shortened to TTRPG) is simple in concept: make up a character, assign them skills and get into a story. It is an incredibly popular game, and web shows that focus on it, called actual play shows, are even more popular.
As the entertainment industry further attempts to diversify, D&D creators and actual play shows have been leading the charge. The game itself is built for diversity, but beyond that, its creators have tried to make it even more inclusive. Most importantly, popular actual play shows have diversified both their players and their game masters.
A Game Built for Diversity
While mentions of D&D usually bring visions of dice and figurines, the most important phase of a game, character creation, doesn’t involve any of that. Unlike most tabletop games, TTRPGs have no preset list of characters. Each player creates a completely new character for each game they play.
Character creation is a deeply nuanced process that takes years of practice to do without a guide, but the most important parts are easy. First, players select the race of their character, which could be anything from human to orc, and even to dragon born. Second, players pick their character’s gender, which is entirely up to the player’s preference since skills in the game are not gendered. Lastly, players choose their class, which governs their character’s personality and skills; classes are general archetypes that define what a character can do.
Considering these three choices, there are countless options for a player to best optimize their character. What’s even better is that any character is just as effective as another, regardless of a player’s choices. The best example of this is in the “Dimension 20” episode “The Unsleeping City.”Pete Conlan is a transgender, former drug dealer-turned-sorcerer and is just as effective as Kingston Brown, a Black man who is both a nurse and a cleric.
The Wizards’ Continuing Work
The often uncredited heroes of Dungeons & Dragons are its creators, known as The Wizards of the Coast. These are the people that write the rules of the game and constantly update the content with new options for races and classes. When the entertainment industry began to work toward diversity, the Wizards revealed a new set of updates.
In a June 2020 announcement, the Wizards said, “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. That’s just not right, and it’s not something we believe in.”
For those unfamiliar with the game, this statement doesn’t seem to hold much water. However, it speaks volumes. Orcs and drows (also called night elves) are two races in the game that always seem to be villains. This categorization leads to what is essentially in-game racism — orc and drow characters are immediately distrusted because of these descriptors. By promising to abolish these in-game stereotypes, the Wizards show that they care about abolishing real stereotypes in those who play their game.
Game Masters Leading the Way
It is well-documented that a majority of D&D game masters, both in home games and actual play shows, are white men. Although many of these GMs have spoken out against systemic racism and their own privilege, the problem remains: D&D stories are often told from a white, male perspective.
In the summer of 2021, however, the two most popular actual play shows did something about this. Both “Critical Role” and “Dimension 20” announced that their summer seasons would be led by Aabria Iyengar. Dubbed the #SummerofAabria, these consecutive announcements offered great hope to the Dungeons & Dragons community. Fans loved seeing a Black woman tell stories at their favorite D&D tables.
#SummerofAabria is important because storytelling needs diverse voices. As evidenced by decades of D&D games, it’s easy to fall into a rut of stories that white men want to tell. How many games consist of warriors hunting down and killing a dragon? Aabria’s work in both seasons is successful in every regard: She offered unique and compelling stories while encouraging her players to delve into their emotions — a trait most games are lacking.
Diverse Casts and Inclusive Storytelling
Since everyone at the table is weaving the tale together, diverse casts ensure inclusive storytelling. Just like how a class is boring if only one type of author is featured, Dungeons & Dragons games should include complex and differing perspectives. By incorporating the different experiences represented at a diverse table, both the game master and the players have more material to work with in-game.
This is because characters are an extension of their players. The players’ experiences usually inspire character creation. For example, many a D&Der has created a character similar to their younger selves because they are experts in their source material, and also know how the character can develop.
Both “Dimension 20” and “Critical Role” have put diversity and inclusive storytelling into practice. “Dimension 20” has made a noticeable effort to diversify; the show’s most recent seasons feature transgender and queer players, more people of color than white people and more women than ever before. The most recent “Critical Role” summer season, “Exandria Unlimited,” featured both some familiar faces and newcomers Aimee Carrero, Robbie Daymond and Anjali Bhimani.
The Final Dungeon
With all these successes, there is still more work to be done. The main issue is clear; the shows that have had to become more diverse grew their audience without their new commitments. The actual play shows that were created by queer people, women or people of color severely lack the audiences that these shows gain so easily.
Others hope that diversity in actual plays will trickle down into home games and the Dungeons & Dragons community as a whole. How could the effectiveness of representation even be measured? For now, the most important thing the D&D community can do is amplify marginalized voices in their game that is already built to do so.
Psychology and Legal Studies
Jenna Nelson is a student at Scripps College studying psychology and law and how the two interact. Her hobbies include dancing, cooking and playing tabletop games.
D&D will change to address racism, but someone has already done the work
In June, Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast announced that it would take steps to address racist stereotypes in the world’s most popular role-playing game. But the problems go deeper than simply cleaning up the image of the black-skinned Drow and giving the Vistani — an analog for the Roma people — some dignity. That’s because the concept of race itself, as a game mechanic, is deeply flawed.
Wizards says it will implement changes this year to how race works in Dungeons & Dragons via a new, as-yet unannounced product. But another game designer has already found a way to address D&D’s race problems. In fact, the new zine published by Arcanist Press could serve as the way forward for the entire gaming industry.
In Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e, author and designer Eugene Marshall argues that the concept of race in 5th edition D&D isn’t just flawed, it’s bigoted. He’s a lot more gentle with his language, however. That’s likely because in addition to writing and designing RPG content for Arcanist and Sigil Entertainment, he’s also an associate professor of philosophy. One of his specialties is the philosophy of games. Marshall’s Ancestry & Culture reads more like a scholarly work than a run-of-the-mill splatbook. The only thing missing is footnotes and a proper bibliography.
From the introduction:
Scientists and philosophers who study race reject the concept of race as a biological fact that discretely individuates groups of people. Race is not a biological reality; rather, it is a social concept constructed and employed differently at different times in history and in different places in the world. It is not like eye color, but like citizenship: something that is based in social relations and concepts, not biology.
In other words, the concept of race as it has been used from at least the Enlightenment forward to the twentieth century is, frankly, bankrupt. This is not to say there is no such thing as ancestry, heritage, and genetic difference, of course. Indeed, our genetics are real, but they are a function of our individual ancestry, not our race. What folks call racial differences simply do not map cleanly onto anything in our biology as simplistic as the concept of race. What’s more, that concept in the real world has been used to justify historic atrocities.
Indeed, racists still use these bogus, faux-scientific justifications to support their prejudice. Because these harmful concepts have no place in our world, they need not be in the stories we tell with our friends either.
He then proceeds to lay out a flexible, highly adaptable system that effectively chops up the existing races in D&D, and then reassembles them on a latticework supporting both a narrative role-playing experience and balanced tactical gameplay. The framework goes to great lengths to respect everyone at the table.
Marshall’s system relies on divorcing “biological ancestry from cultural heritage.” When creating a character, players don’t choose a race. Instead, they choose the culture in which their character was raised and the ancestry of their parents. Stat bonuses — things like higher intelligence, constitution, or charisma — are derived from culture. Meanwhile, inherited traits — things like height, speed, and life span, and fantastical abilities like breath weapons or dark vision — are tied to ancestry.
In gameplay terms, Marshall’s design offloads the problematic issue of race in favor of expanded creativity and expression. In role-playing terms, it not only encourages but requires players to think long and hard about how their character relates to their own environment and to the family that raised them. It does that by embracing the concept of mixed ancestry.
Previously, 5th edition D&D’s Player’s Handbook only supported two races with mixed ancestries: half-elf and half-orc. Marshall’s system expands the possibilities exponentially:
A character can have an elven parent and a human parent, or a dwarven parent and a halfling parent. Other characters can have parents who themselves have mixed ancestry. The rules in this section provide mechanics to generate such mixed ancestries. Of course, almost all characters in a fantasy world probably have some degree of mixed ancestry. These rules are intended to allow players to make characters that have two primary ancestries, however, rather than one dominant one.
When players with mixed ancestries create their character sheet, they are free to pick and choose from the ancestral traits that they have available to them. A player with a dragonborn parent and an elven parent can breathe fire and see in the dark. They are also allowed more variability in areas like life span and speed.
My favorite part, however — and the section that very nearly brought me to tears — is what I’d like to call the diversity buff. Marshall, who again is better with words than I am, calls the perk “Diverse Cultural Traits”:
People of mixed ancestries are most often found in multicultural communities where elves, humans, dwarves, and halflings, among others, live together. Anyone of any ancestry can be found in such communities, which is one of the strengths of such cultures.
With Ancestry & Culture, diversity is no longer a bludgeon that Dungeon Masters beat their players over the head with. Marshall’s system is permissive, rather than restrictive. Diversity ascends from being merely a tool to cast orcs and drow as the “other.” Instead, it becomes a boon from which players can draw their own strength.
Diverse Cultural Traits grants players +2 to their charisma, because diversity is beautiful. They gain the character trait whereby they value personal freedom and creative expression. They have an inner strength whereby they have “neither love of leaders nor desire for followers.” They gain proficiency in two skills of their choice, and they can speak two extra languages that might be spoken in their community.
D&D spent decades codifying a ruleset that reinforces the racism already endemic in our culture, even when the rules of the game were revised across five editions and more than 40 years. The original RPG is the Ur-game, from which modern video games and even movies now flow. We have all been influenced by it. Ancestry & Culture works to upend that, while keeping the game that millions of people love to play around the world whole.
And it does it in 26 pages. The other 50 pages are full of adventures and other great stuff.
If you want to start changing how you play D&D right now, you can purchase Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e as a PDF for $9.95. Softcover copies run $14.95. You can also snag 61 Custom Ancestries & Cultures for an additional $9.95.
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e is available now. The zine was reviewed using a download code provided by Arcanist Press. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.
D&D Essentials Kit
Prices taken at time of publishing.
The Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit is “the single best introduction” to the fantasy role-playing game we’ve ever seen. The box includes everything you need to start playing D&D, including an introductory rulebook, a DM screen, a set of 11 dice, a handy set of cards for things players need to keep track of (initiative, magic items, etc.), and a brand-new adventure, Dragon of Icespire Peak.
Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast has acknowledged the existence of racist stereotypes in its sourcebooks, and pledged to make changes to ameliorate the issue.
In a blog post published on June 17 titled “Diversity and Dungeons & Dragons,” Wizards of the Coast said that depicting a diverse array of human beings — beyond “fantasy versions of northern Europeans” — is “one of the explicit design goals of 5th edition D&D.” The developers noted that while they want to feature characters “who represent an array of ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and beliefs,” the game still contains problematic depictions of fantasy races.
Among these races are the orcs, who are often characterized as a savage horde of creatures who lust for battle, and the drow, an evil dark-skinned subrace of elves who dwell in a subterranean matriarchy. Wizards of the Coast specifically addressed these two groups in laying out recent and future changes to D&D products:
We present orcs and drow in a new light in two of our most recent books, Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. In those books, orcs and drow are just as morally and culturally complex as other peoples. We will continue that approach in future books, portraying all the peoples of D&D in relatable ways and making it clear that they are as free as humans to decide who they are and what they do. [...]
Later this year, we will release a product (not yet announced) that offers a way for a player to customize their character’s origin, including the option to change the ability score increases that come from being an elf, a dwarf, or one of D&D’s many other playable folk. This option emphasizes that each person in the game is an individual with capabilities all their own.
Wizards of the Coast also said it’s adjusting material that maligns or stereotypes real-world ethnic groups like the Roma. The company has revised the adventure Curse of Strahd, which includes a people known as the Vistani that “echoes some stereotypes associated with the Romani people in the real world.” In addition, the publisher said two future books will be written with a Romani consultant so as to characterize the Vistani “in a way that doesn’t rely on reductive tropes.”
Curse of Strahd was one of two adventures, the other being Tomb of Annihilation, in which the company changed “racially insensitive” text in recent reprintings. “We will continue this process, reviewing each book as it comes up for a reprint and fixing such errors where they are present,” said Wizards of the Coast.
Wizards of the Coast concluded by stating that it will work with a variety of “sensitivity readers” on future content and continue relying on “experts in various fields to help us identify our blind spots.” The publisher added that it is “seeking new, diverse talent to join our staff and our pool of freelance writers and artists.”
Dragons dungeons diversity and
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 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 inclusionin 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.”
The Dungeons & Dragons roundtables have been excellent, and they highlight the community-led efforts to make role-playing games more inclusive. Less great have been WotC’s revisions and updates to its old material. Curse of Strahd Revamped is an excellent example of this disconnect. During a Curse of Strahd campaign, players are helped and hindered by the Vistani. As written, the Vistani are itinerant people who live in elaborate wagons, wear bright clothing, enjoy drinking, and try to scam the players every chance they get. Most, but not all, work for Strahd, the campaign’s principal villain. The Vistani are a paper-thin Romani stereotype, and WotC promised to update Curse of Strahd with the help of a Romani consultant. So what did they change or remove?
The original publication included the sentence “Although they can seem lazy and irresponsible to outsiders, the Vistani are serious people, quick to act when their lives or traditions are threatened.” The revised edition removed the lines about laziness and irresponsibility. The revised edition also removed a single use of the word “vardo” to describe Vistani wagons, a direct reference to Romani.
That’s the bulk of the changes to the Vistani in the revised Curse of Strahd. Aside from a few lines pulled, their characterization is largely the same. They still lay curses on people, use a power called the “Evil Eye,” get drunk in scripted scenes, and attempt to con the players out of their fortune. A few overtly offensive lines were changed, but the Vistani remain much as they were—a thinly veiled Romani stereotype.
It would be hard to remove or update the Vistani as presented without completely rewriting the entire Curse of Strahd campaign. This is a problem that permeates much of Dungeons & Dragons. Stereotypes, regressive ideas about race and thoughtless caricatures are baked into the setting. WotC appears to be trying to change things, but it keeps stumbling, and it’s often the fans who pick up the pieces. Reddit and other online forums contain dozens of revisions of the Vistani and the half-orc race, and they revised the concept of race and ancestry in D&D entirely.
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e is a 70-page book of alternative rules written by D&D players that’s meant to pull the game away from racial essentialism. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, WtC’s new book that launches with alternatives to using race, opens with a page and a half that outlines new rules for using races. “The new supplemental rules in Tasha’s are nice in that they encourage more player choice and freedom in the character-creation process. However, players and DMs have been encouraged to change rules as they see fit for a long time in D&D publications—it’s the nature of the game,” Kwan says. “While players are now explicitly encouraged to swap ability score bonuses and languages in Tasha’s, this really doesn’t address the root problem—essentialism in how D&D races are portrayed. They simply tell players and DMs to ignore the problems without actually solving them.”
The view from inside the company isn’t great either. “I did some limited work for WotC on a project under the vast D&D umbrella in very early 2020. I cannot talk about the project directly or my experience in depth because of a strict NDA. What I will say is that, in my limited experience working with the company, my manager on that project fought for my ideas and listened to my critiques, and in fact wanted to work with me because of my prior criticisms of the company and its products,” Austin Walker says. Walker is the host of Waypoint Radio and Friends at the Table, a podcast where he plays tabletop role-playing games and discusses world-building with his good friends. “Legacy issues with D&D as a franchise and WotC as a company presented innate roadblocks towards addressing these problems, and I was often frustrated as I saw the limits of ‘reforming’ the franchise's relationship with race. Because of this, I would not choose to work with the company again in the near future.”
According to Walker, racial essentialism is built into D&D’s DNA, and its recent push for a racial reckoning is a long time coming. “Inside the space of nerd hobbies, D&D’s mainstreamification has come late,” Walker says.
Comic books are the basis for the biggest movie franchises in the world. Video games are a billion-dollar industry. Fantasy fiction like Game of Thrones dominates television. But tabletop role-playing games didn’t enter the mainstream until a few years ago. Stranger Things aired in 2016, and Critical Role, a web show where voice actors play D&D, began in 2015. These two shows, more than anything else, catapulted D&D into the mainstream. It still held on to a lot of baggage from its past when it broke big.
WotC is trying to make changes, but it often feels like lip service. Walker read the list of proposed changes and said to himself, “‘All of these are probably the right decisions, and also, I don’t think any of this is proactive or deep enough to address core fundamental problems and expectations,” he said. “It’s a difficult problem, I get it … I don’t think you can bowdlerize what was already there and say, ‘We’re gonna drop the slurs, we’re gonna make the yellow face a little less yellow.’ I don’t think you can remaster away racism. I think that’s a really difficult prospect, but it’s one that they should take head-on. But also, it’s hard to do that because you need people on the team who are as diverse as the world you want to represent.”
“No More Evil Races”
Other people of color have come away from working with WotC with a bad taste in their mouth. Orion Black was a freelancer who worked on contract for WotC from November 2019 until the summer of 2020. Like Walker, Black had a bad experience. Contractors at WotC are generally renewed in blocks. Even though they’d worked on several projects, they knew toward the end of summer that they weren’t coming back.
In a June meeting, Black says they watched someone else pitch a project they had created. “It was the most infuriating thing,” Black says. “It was so surreal because all of the ideas that I came up with I’d talked about extensively with other people. I had made documents. Jeremy Crawford [D&D’s lead designer] starts talking about a new product they’re coming out with, and it’s almost word-for-word stuff from my email.”
Watching their idea get pitched in a meeting was devastating. “That was one of the key things I was using to try to keep my job,” Black says. “The thing I thought was my ticket gets thrown back in my face as something that’s very valuable to them and they want to move forward with it, but I get left behind and sent back to poverty. That broke me.”
Black had been toying with the idea of releasing a statement about their time at WotC, but didn’t want to burn bridges. After the meeting, Black decided not to stay silent. They released a statement on July 4, 2020 detailing their unpleasant experience. WotC apologized in a Tweet.
Black said they were often approached by leadership to help them make revisions to problematic content. “Everybody would nod and say ‘that’s cool,’” Black says. “And leadership didn’t write it down. That’s how everything worked. It was very much ‘Oh, that’s nice,’ and they’d walk away.”
“My worst example was the half-orcs,” says Black. “If you read the half-orc section from The Player’s Handbook, it uses language that is nearly one to one with language specifically used against inbreeding between black people and people of color. It sounds like I’m reading something about a black and white person from 1945.”
“Their human blood gives them an edge over their full-blooded orc rivals,” The Player’s Handbook says of the half-orcs. “Half-orcs’ grayish pigmentation, sloping foreheads, jutting jaws, prominent teeth, and towering builds make their orcish heritage plain for all to see.”
D&D is full of these stereotypes. As Walker said, The Monster Manual, Curse of Strahd, and Tomb Of Annihilation—even in their revised forms—are full of thinly veiled racial stereotypes. “Stereotypes are an act of creating category-level knowledge based on our desires for simplicity and to differentiate individuals from different categories in our mind,” Kwan says. “However, these practices can distort perceptions and create biases regarding the real-world counterparts to these fantasy creations.”
According to Walker, these stereotypes create a shortcut for drama and conflict in a D&D game. “The procedures that you undertake while playing a game help to create meaning,” he says. “Content and aesthetic do that too, but we can not underestimate the degree to which the verbs a player uses—the way in which they are incentivized to perform certain behaviors both through reward structures, but also just through the availability of action—produces meaning.”
“D&D fifth edition is a game about killing people,” he says. “I believe that to address the question of evil races, you need to revisit that as a core design element. Because dungeon masters around the world want a reason to kick in the door and kill people. That design requires antagonists for whom the solution of killing makes sense. When you have an evil race, that’s very easy to do. I don’t know that putting out a side book that says, ‘Oh, there’s no more evil races,’ is going to change the play.”
Teenage Power Fantasies Left to Fester
Black says that working on D&D was like attempting to make changes to a fundamentalist religion. “On a business level, Jeremy Crawford and Chris Perkins [D&D’s senior story designer] make all the decisions,” they say. “Those two praise this god of D&D, and the image they have of this god is very specific and they can not anger this god. Anything they can change, they have to work through their concept of faith and do some mental gymnastics.”
Crawford is gay and has fought to make sure men are represented in varied forms in D&D’s books. “This doesn’t interfere with the doctrine of D&D,” Black says. “It doesn’t interfere with the lore, because nothing that exists already has been changed. You’re not saying ‘no’ to anything that existed prior.”
Black says that Perkins and Crawford, in the real world, are ethical people who know right from wrong. “They know that things in D&D, if you take them out of that specific context, are wrong,” they say. “But because it’s inside of D&D, they will not touch it. Because, in that world, that’s the way things are, and it has to be right because it’s the deity’s world.”
Black, like Walker, identified the rules and structure of D&D as fundamental to the problem. “There is this rule structure that is for this white cis shitty guy, a power fantasy that is connected directly to the stereotypes that are a problem,” they say. “They exist so that this white guy, who thinks he’s not a jock, can look at every race and gender group in their high school, draw them into a character, and go ‘I rule this world.’ And that’s what really hasn't changed. They think that even changing the things that are wrong would be an affront to that. That singular thing is so important, even though they continue to drift farther and farther away from that type of thinking. It’s weird as hell.”
For people who love D&D but want it to change, promises to look at the alignment system and rework “evil races” often feel like one step forward and two steps back. The issue is complicated and fraught. It’s tied into a history of racial stereotypes and nerd power fantasies. But the conversions are happening, and the change is often led by the community. “I think more thought needs to be put into how we communicate the behavior of monsters, ‘races,’ and more,” Kwan says. “Belief systems and cultures are complex, as are the behavior of creatures in nature! While I welcome the effort that Wizards is making, I think it’s also important for them to introduce new ways of characterizing the entities that players encounter in their stories.”
The loudest voices criticizing D&D right now are doing it out of love. They don’t want to see it destroyed, they want it to change with the times. “If what I say has any impact on changing the things that I fought so hard for, that got ignored or pushed aside, if that can go away just a little bit, it’ll be worth it,” Black says.
Walker thinks D&D is an important entry point for tabletop role-playing but hopes it will push people to seek out other forms. “D&D crossed over, but role-playing games didn’t,” he said. “The space is incredibly vibrant right now. It’s better than it’s ever been. To its credit, part of that is that D&D is a great entryway into the hobby for many people. I just wish more people looked outside of it to see what the solutions for those problems were.”
Wizards of the Coast declined to provide any comment on this story and pointed me to its blog posts on the subject.
Correction 01/04/21 3:00pm EST: This story has been updated to clarify that while D&D Beyond distributes content owned by Wizard of the Coast, the site itself is not owned or managed by WoTC.
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Meet the More Digital, and More Diverse, Dungeons & Dragons
Last summer, as government after government closed public life—then their borders—like cascading dominoes, Eric St. Pierre realised he’d need to find a new job.
He’d always loved Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), the collaborative storytelling game. Once the province of nerds in basements, D&D is now—thanks to streaming, a new and easier-to-understand set of rules, and online play platforms—a digital phenomenon.
In D&D, players create characters—sorcerers, thieves, bards—and embark on a shared choose-your-own-adventure. One person, the Dungeon Master (DM) or game master, guides the narrative as it unfolds, describing the topography players traverse, and dreaming up creative challenges for them to encounter.
The game’s official publisher, Wizards of the Coast, a division of Hasbro, regularly releases new scripts for these adventures. Some DMs, as well as thousands of independent writers and creators, create their own.
When co-creators Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published the first D&D rulebooks in 1974, they promote the game as cheap and easy. “It is relatively simple to set up a fantasy campaign, and better still, it will cost almost nothing,” Gygax wrote.
But, spurred in part by digital changes to how we gather and game, D&D has changed beyond what Gygax and Arneson perhaps first envisioned. Today it is an expanding and lucrative global pastime: An official Wizards press release described 2019 as D&D’s “best year ever,” estimating the game had 40 million fans worldwide, including a long list of celebrity enthusiasts. Many fans come from regions beyond its historical US stronghold.
“We’re seeing our playerbase increase strongly in Europe and other regions as well, and that’s very much in our thoughts as we make future plans,” Wizards said in a written statement.
When the pandemic struck, many gamers folded up their in-person gaming tables, but that doesn’t mean they stopped playing. Instead, they flocked to specialised online platforms that let distanced friends recreate the experience of in-person play. Many offer features—maps, voice chat, real-time dice rolling—specifically intended to ease a role player’s isolation, and that speak to an emerging change in the D&D landscape. More often now, players discover and learn the game online, opening new opportunities for fans, companies and creators, while challenging assumptions about who plays D&D and how.
“D&D reached new heights in the early stages of the pandemic, as people were looking for games to play at home and ways of staying connected with their friends during times of social distancing,” said Wizards in a written statement. “As players adapted to playing remotely, there was enormous growth in the usage of tools that facilitate online D&D play.”
Roll20, among the most famous of these online tools, was Kickstarted in 2012 on the promise that it would focus on “storytelling and camaraderie rather than gameplay mechanics.”
An August 2020 post on the Roll20 blog noted that the platform saw “unprecedented growth across nearly every game system” over the most recent quarter, with many people “staying connected during this time by playing games together.”
The Rise of the Pro DM
Seeking inspiration for his new career, Eric browsed platforms like Tabletop Wizard, which lists more than 37.000 people looking for games. He realised what an enormous demand there is for the game, and how digital tools might help him meet it. Thus his fledgling career as a digital DM was born.
Some DMs charge for games, but it’s rarely a full-time gig, and it’s often in person. In a 2019 Bloomberg article, writer Mary Pilon profiled a pro DM who mixed potions and marked maps in his kitchen. She described the job as “the perfect side hustle.”
But what about people making it a main hustle? The first time Eric listed a paid game on Roll20, in mid-2020, nobody bit. Realising he'd need to step up his marketing, he trimmed his beard, put on makeup, and took a professional profile photo. He updated his Roll20 profile copy with specifics about his decades of experience, and set his price at $10/seat for a 4-hour session.
Within 15 minutes, it sold out. He ran two campaigns a week for two months, then raised his prices to $20/session and upped it to 4 campaigns a week.
That money is reinvested in the experience. Eric has taken improv and voice acting lessons to create different accents and voices for the various characters players encounter while journeying. He wrote backstories for 135 non-player characters, all of whom interact in an elaborate linked world.
Like his characters, his players come from everywhere: Alabama to Alaska, Dubai to Sweden. They work on Wall Street and at Walmart. And though a few groups knew each other beforehand, in a reversal of the days when a game required a friend group to play together, most people who find themselves at Eric's tables are “signing up for the games themselves.”
The appeal of these games, Eric says, is how they touch on universal ideas of right and wrong, heroism and villainy. “What are the primal fears of human culture?” he asks. He helps players craft characters and storylines that speak to their own out-of-game anxieties. For example, one player he described is using the game to curb his impulsiveness.
In 2021, Eric upped his campaigns to 5 to 6 per week—“a pretty nice level of income” in his part of Texas, he remarks.
Over the past few months, several aspiring DMs have sought him out for advice, many finding him via online forums like reddit.
“A lot of people are trying it and not being successful,” he says. “People get this in their head that they’re going to succeed because GMing is easy. No—GMing is a lot of emotional investment.” (Eric prefers the term “Game Master” to “Dungeon Master because of the “potential negative connotation related to dungeons”, and because he runs other games besides D&D.)
While it isn’t easy, Eric sees enormous demand for good, professional DMs, as well as for services that offer “matchmaking” for players and DMs. He envisions DMing as a job he can do for decades: Not long ago, he got a 10-year business license. His professional outlook reflects both the possibilities of the digital future and the precariousness of growing old in the United States: “You gotta have something you can do as an income because Social Security is not going to cover everything. I can talk to people even when I’m 70.”
Diversity finds D&D
The game’s fanbase isn’t just bigger than before; it’s more diverse. For many fans, D&D isn’t just a game, but a way to reflect on society. One such fan is Ashley Warren, editor of the Uncaged anthology.
Ashley loved fantasy as a kid, but didn’t play D&D until she was an adult. While paging through the official guide to D&D monsters, she noticed how many female monsters were harpies, medusas, hags—“creepy old women,” she laments.
Medusa, in particular, appealed to her. In legend, Medusa was a priestess raped by Poseidon, transformed into a snake-headed creature by Athena, eventually beheaded by the hero Perseus. A survivor of sexual violence, Medusa often appears as a villain in stories, a characterisation that D&D’s official material does nothing to challenge (its official manual lists four versions of a Medusa, all evil.)
Who’s a hero, and who’s a villain? Who gets to decide? Ashley put out a Tweet asking whether people would be interested in D&D adventures that put so-called monsters at the centre of their own stories. She was inundated with enthusiastic reptiles from artists and writers.
In the hit movie "Pirates of the Caribbean," the pirate captain Barbossa famously says, “The Pirate’s Code is more what you’d call guidelines, than actual rules.” The same could be said of D&D’s official source material. Players and DMs were always encouraged—in fact, often required—to write their own stories to supplement official offerings. Under Wizards of the Coast’s Open Game License, independent creators can sell these materials legally.
In 2016, perhaps to capitalise on the rising popularity and reach of these independent offerings, Wizards teamed up with OneBookshelf—a linked group of sites for community-created gaming content—to launch the DMs Guild. In exchange for the right to use a wider set of Wizards’ intellectual property, authors give a 20 percent cut of their sales to Wizards, and another 30 percent to OneBookshelf. Most offerings are priced between $2 and $20.
In just four years, DMs Guild became a vibrant marketplace, a one-stop shop for many DMs. According to Lysa Penrose, brand manager for DMs Guild, 5-10 new adventures are added daily, making it “a very active platform.” (For Wizards, the platform is also a way to scout new writing talent, and many have “gone on to work with on official D&D products,” the company stated.)
Ashley’s first volume of Uncaged was published on DMs Guild in June 2019. It quickly sold more than 5.000 copies, a sales milestone that fewer than half of a percent of the site’s titles have reached. In Uncaged’s pages, fans find adventures that retell the stories of hags, banshees, sphinxes, and—of course—Medusa.
Uncaged also became a gathering place for independent writers and creators. New projects were born on the sidelines. Some of these offshoots called themselves “the ‘Un’ projects,” says Caroline Amaba, a developer and designer who answered the call.
In a Discord chat for Uncaged fans and writers, Caroline met Jacky Leung, who, inspired by Uncaged, launched Unbreakable, a series of new adventures in Asian settings.
At that point, D&D’s primary attempt to represent Asians was the continent of Kara-Tur, whose mythology—like the menu at a generic pan-Asian restaurant in the American suburbs—was loosely based on several Asian cultures. The official adventure book, Oriental Adventures for D&D Third Edition, was written in 2001.Jacky found both efforts severely lacking.
“Kara-Tur has a lot of problems and aspects that need to be redone,” he says. Instead of waiting on official change, Jacky, Caroline and their co-creator Jazz Eisinger took matters into their own hands, opting to create adventures that reflected the mythologies and experiences of Asian players, written by and for them. What he initially envisioned as a one-off adventure swiftly snowballed into an “Own Voices” series.
Shareef Jackson, a STEM educator and cast member on the Wizards of the Coast-sponsored D&D podcast Rivals of Waterdeep, praised the book as an essential resource for those who want to play Asian characters but avoid terms like “exotic” and “Oriental,” which pepper past official texts. “If you want to build characters with Asian backgrounds, this is how you do it right.”
In March, Jacky was furloughed because of the pandemic. In August, he switched to writing and editing game content full-time.
“It was a difficult choice because I never planned it this way,” he says. “Times are weird.” His main income is royalties from work published through DMs Guild and elsewhere.
No matter how you slice it, writing independent adventures for D&D is not a fast way to get rich. Jacky, Caroline and Jazz have an elaborate table to determine who gets royalties from Unbreakable. Royalties are divided into shares, and distributed based upon how much work people did: the smallest amount is a quarter share. They list Unbreakable on a related site, rather than DMs Guild, to keep the 20 percent of sales that would otherwise go to Wizards of the Coast.
“A lot of us have some kind of beef with Wizards,” says Caroline. Jacky elaborates: despite calls from Asian creators and players, Wizards still offers Oriental Adventures. (The listingdoes have a disclaimer: “Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”)
Caroline has no plans to leave her day job as a software engineer, but says Unbreakable offers an outlet for her pent-up creativity, and provides access to a community she didn’t know was there. “Uncaged spurred this mini-renaissance between the indie RPG community.”
What's race got to do with it?
In mid-2020, independent creators received even greater visibility. Racial equity protests in the US shined a harsh spotlight on generations of injustice, including in D&D.
When players create a D&D character, one of the first choices they make is the character’s “race.” Options include dwarves, humans, elves and orcs. Each has “Racial Traits,” such as increased charisma or dexterity, echoing Western fantasy stereotypes—elves are graceful and dexterous, while dwarves are cunning and hardy. These racial bonuses affect gameplay: A more dexterous character will be better at certain tasks.
The idea of racial determination sits poorly with an increasingly diverse player base.
“The traits tied to race need to go,” says Shareef. “You can keep traits, but they should be aligned to the experience of the characters.”
For Shareef, correcting racial stereotypes within the game is linked with correcting stereotypes outside it. The Rivals of Waterdeep podcast, sponsored by Wizards of the Coast, features a diverse cast in a space where well-known streamers—like the cast of mega-hit D&D podcast Critical Role—are white, or at the very least, limited in diversity. He’d love for D&D to be a bigger part of his professional life, but says there’s a “glass ceiling,” shaped in part by fan perception.
“When it comes to being able to make a living off of just D&D, there still is an expectation that you look and act a certain way,” he says. Thus, many diverse projects risk getting put into an “other D&D” category, he says.
But that might be changing.
In August 2020, philosophy professor and gamer Eugene Marshall released an independent book that did what Shareef asked—allow players to decouple race and ability entirely. Eugene called it Ancestry & Culture—An Alternative to Race in 5E.
Ancestry & Culture replaces Racial Traits with bonuses that come from ancestry—some version of genetics and heritage—and culture, the environment and society in which a character is raised.
In February 2020, he put the book on Kickstarter, seeking $300 to commission art for the cover. He raised over $7000. The book became a phenomenon, selling thousands of copies on DMs Guild and earning accolades. Charlie Hall, who covers tabletop roleplaying for gaming site Polygon, wrote that the book “could serve as the way forward for the entire gaming industry,” suggesting how wide-reaching this particular challenge is, and how eager people are to find a solution.
It’s not just indie creators changing the rules; Wizards has taken note, too. In 2020, it released a new rule book that gave players even more options for customising characters’ origins. In January 2021, Wizards went further still, releasing early playtesting materials that suggest future D&D books will follow Eugene’s lead. These updated official rules will separate a character’s language, alignment and abilities from race, giving players a choice when it comes to qualities that are “purely cultural.”
Such changes are welcome for Manila-based Pam Punzalan, who served as a sensitivity reader on Ancestry & Culture. Sensitivity reading is a better-known practice among indie publishers, but it’s crossing into official use. In a June 2020 blog post about race in the game, Wizards of the Coast said it is “incorporating sensitivity readers into our creative process.”
When Eugene emailed, Pam had never worked as a sensitivity reader before. It was a “shot in the dark,” she says. Friends told her it was “critically analysing a text” to figure out “whether these ideas are harmful or discursively sound or what,” something Pam knew how to do.
When the pandemic struck, she scaled down her real estate work to focus on narrative design and sensitivity reading full-time, in response to demand from clients outside the Philippines. The exchange rate works in her favour. “I can get what I like and still pay the bills,” she says.
Perhaps because she works across cultural and geographic boundaries so often, she has a wide perspective of what D&D is today. It would be a mistake, she cautions, to see the fandom as a single monocultural “family.” Pam is part of an expanding network of Twitch and Discord channels for Southeast Asian gamers and creators, where she sees enormous frustration, as well as love for D&D.
“You have creators who have lost faith in Wizards of the Coast because they feel ignored or underrepresented … and then you have the other side of gamers, players and community organisers who feel there’s a lot of emotional resonance that D&D can provide because it was the gateway drug for a lot of us,” she says. These two sides are not mutually exclusive.
Projects like Ancestry & Culture boosted Pam’s profile. Many of the most successful projects in today’s gaming scene got an early boost on Kickstarter: The Critical Role team used it to raise money for an animated series, while Roll20 and Ancestry & Culture secured key initial funding. But creating a Kickstarter project is only available to people in a handful of countries, many in North America and Europe. In addition to living in the right jurisdiction, project creators must have a bank account, an address, and a government-issued ID to create projects and receive funds.
These requirements—which depend on things like local tax and banking laws, as well as global interest—divide creators but also encourage global collaborations.
“Kickstarters have a very hallowed position for a Southeast Asian designer, mainly because we have no access to Kickstarter, so there’s no way for a personal designer to go on their own steam and create a project where they have full control,” Pam says.
The creators of Unbreakable, too, have global payment limitations and possibilities on their minds. They talk of one day creating a publishing entity around their series, accessible to people regardless of banking regulations or country. They point to platforms like itch.io, an indie game marketplace that has become a popular site for RPG and video game creators outside of the United States and Europe. While D&D may have served as a gateway to the game, fans and players’ creativity and connection now go far beyond one game’s borders.
“We want to provide that platform, help supply to a broader global market, and cater to our Asian fanbase. That’s who we’re here for,” Caroline says.
In a time when the pandemic has changed how so many connect with people, she perhaps cuts to the heart of storytelling’s original purpose when she says, “We’re telling these stories for each other.”
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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. We recognize that doing this isn’t about getting to a place where we can rest on our laurels but continuing to head in the right direction. We feel that being transparent about it is the best way to let our community help us to continue to calibrate our efforts.
One of the explicit design goals of 5th edition D&D is to depict humanity in all its beautiful diversity by depicting characters who represent an array of ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and beliefs. 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.
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. 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. We recognize that to live our values, we have to do an even better job in handling these issues. If we make mistakes, our priority is to make things right.
Here’s what we’re doing to improve:
- We present orcs and drow in a new light in two of our most recent books, Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Explorer's Guide to Wildemount. In those books, orcs and drow are just as morally and culturally complex as other peoples. We will continue that approach in future books, portraying all the peoples of D&D in relatable ways and making it clear that they are as free as humans to decide who they are and what they do.
- When every D&D book is reprinted, we have an opportunity to correct errors that we or the broader D&D community discovered in that book. Each year, we use those opportunities to fix a variety of things, including errors in judgment. In recent reprintings of Tomb of Annihilation and Curse of Strahd, for example, we changed text that was racially insensitive. Those reprints have already been printed and will be available in the months ahead. We will continue this process, reviewing each book as it comes up for a reprint and fixing such errors where they are present.
- Later this year, we will release a product (not yet announced) that offers a way for a player to customize their character’s origin, including the option to change the ability score increases that come from being an elf, a dwarf, or one of D&D's many other playable folk. This option emphasizes that each person in the game is an individual with capabilities all their own.
- Curse of Strahd included a people known as the Vistani and featured the Vistani heroine Ezmerelda. Regrettably, their depiction echoes some stereotypes associated with the Romani people in the real world. To rectify that, we’ve not only made changes to Curse of Strahd, but in two upcoming books, we will also show—working with a Romani consultant—the Vistani in a way that doesn’t rely on reductive tropes.
- We've received valuable insights from sensitivity readers on two of our recent books. We are incorporating sensitivity readers into our creative process, and we will continue to reach out to experts in various fields to help us identify our blind spots.
- We're proactively seeking new, diverse talent to join our staff and our pool of freelance writers and artists. We’ve brought in contributors who reflect the beautiful diversity of the D&D community to work on books coming out in 2021. We're going to invest even more in this approach and add a broad range of new voices to join the chorus of D&D storytelling.
And we will continue to listen to you all. We created 5th edition in conversation with the D&D community. It's a conversation that continues to this day. That's at the heart of our work—listening to the community, learning what brings you joy, and doing everything we can to provide it in every one of our books.
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.