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Author Topic: " Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"  (Read 8514 times)

ArrozConLeche

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« on: August 19, 2019, 01:39:11 PM »
Sorry, but if you have time to worry about and analyze this "problem", you're not only an idiot, but you're privileged as fuck.

Enjoy the laugh!

https://old.reddit.com/r/mattcolville/comments/cld48j/decolonizing_dd_is_your_game_problematic/

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So the most recent episode of the fantastic podcast Behold Her was a very interesting conversation about decolonizing D&D. For those who may not know, "decolonizing" is the process of removing of certain racially/culturally insensitive tropes and ideologies from your content. While not necessarily malicious, there are definitely aspects of Western Fantasy that are remnants of the very ingrained "white/first world" superiority that our culture operated on for centuries. While there are a couple subtopics within "decolonizing" I'd like to talk about, the first and foremost is that the idea of purely evil races is inherently problematic.

 
Here's the first sentence from the description of Orcs in the Monster Manual:

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Orcs are savage raiders and pillagers with stooped postures, low foreheads, and piggish faces with prominent lower canines that resemble tusks.

 

Oof, well right off the bat "savage" was a word commonly used to describe non-white cultures. You need only to crack open an Edgar Rice Burroughs story or watch a John Wayne movie to see that. "Stooped postures" and "low foreheads" are evocative of primates/neanderthals, which were the same features applied to black people when it was considered "scientific fact" that they were "less evolved" than white people.

 

Here's the second sentence in the Goblin section from the Monster Manual:
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"Individually weak, goblins gather in large- sometimes overwhelming- numbers. They crave power and regularly abuse whatever authority they obtain."


This terrifying sentiment is so common among white supremacists that in the 60s some black political groups actually opposed birth control and abortion for fear it would lead to black genocide.

 

I know what you're thinking: "but that's the monster manual, it's written to play up how scary they are." Okay, well let's look at the Half-Elf in the Player's Handbook for a pretty positive example:

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"Walking in two worlds but truly belonging to neither, half-elves combine what some say are the best qualities of their elf and human parents: human curiosity, inventiveness, and ambition tempered by the refined senses, love of nature, and artistic tastes of the elves…' 'Many half-elves, unable to fit into either society, choose lives of solitary wandering or join with other misfits and outcasts in the adventuring life."


 

Now I'm as white as wonder-bread, but to me that seems like a pretty nuanced and accurate representation of what it's like to be of mixed race. Let's compare this to the entry for the Half-Orc though:

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"Some half-ogres rise to become proud chiefs of orc tribes, their human blood giving them an edge over their full-blooded orc rivaIs. Some venture into the world to prove their worth among humans and other more civilized races. Many of these become adventurers, achieving greatness for their mighty deeds and notoriety for their barbaric customs and savage fury."


 

Huh… so your choices as a half-orc are to use your "superior blood" to take over other orcs or become famous for not just your adventures, but your "barbaric customs and savage fury." Not only is this a pretty problematic representation for mixed-race people, but it's distinctly less nuanced. One might even argue it's bad writing.

 

Now as with all criticism of fiction, we must account for the inevitable response of "but they justify it in the backstory." In the Monster Manual, it's explained that the Orcs are the creation of the god Gruumsh who could not find a domain of his own and so created orcs to take from and destroy other races. The Yuan-Ti are humans transformed into snake people (or sneople) because they were fanatical about being as close to their serpent gods as possible. Their philosophy that there is virtue in detachment from emotion and of clear, focused thought leads them to be pragmatic and "manipulative." Every Yuan-Ti is a fanatic and is committed to the process of attaining power, under the belief that a sufficiently strong individual can devour and replace one of the gods. Goblinoids, Kobolds, Lizardfolk, and Kenku don't receive such explanations, but it doesn't matter! Most players won't ever learn this backstory, so the perception matters just as much as the lore and the perception is that they're "savages."

 

Now D&D has perfectly legitimate purely chaotic and evil monsters/races, such as Fiends, Fey, Beholders, Mindflayers, Ogres, Troglodytes, and all flavors of Undead. The difference is that these creatures either don't have a society and if they do, it's distinctly more alien (like with the Mindflayers). So, it's not like we need these other races, which are playable characters via mixed races or expansion rules, treated in such a simplistic way.

 

Now that's not to say you can't have orcs and goblins be evil in your campaign/setting, but you should ask yourself the question "Why?" Why is it that this group is more "chaotic" or "evil" than other groups? In the real world that's an incredibly complex and fascinating question, so there should be no shortage of interesting takes you can have. No matter if you decide to leave these races as they are or change their standing entirely, you should make it clear to yourself and to your players that these are generalizations. If there can be good and evil elves, so too can there be good and evil kobolds.

 

Decolonizing D&D isn't just about monster races though, it's about re-examining the history of D&D and the base assumptions players have because of that history. As Colville has cited many times, D&D is heavily influenced by sword and sorcery pulp fiction, especially the Conan series. Now for me to say that stories written between the 30s and the 70s are racist, sexist, or homophobic isn't exactly new ground, but to cover our bases I'll link to two articles (here and here) and two books for good measure (here and here).

 

Let's just say even a cursory look at D&D's history will reveal some... cultural insensitivity. Any mainstream D&D campaign setting has to contend with the fact that sometimes DMs and Players want to play in a non-Western setting, that they want to be Samurai or Arabian Knights. Obviously TSR/WotC wasn't going to create a dozen discrete settings, so we ended up with the current geography of the Forgotten Realms. While pretty much all the action happens on the continent of Faerûn, and specifically the European-styled "Western Faerûn," in previous editions there were also the continents of Zakhara, Kara-Tur, and Maztica. Zakhara is the home of the Al-Qadim campaign setting, a very Hollywood version of "Arabic cultures." Kara-Tur is the fantasy analogue of medieval Eastern Asian, established by the classically named "Oriental Adventures." Maztica, the most subtly named of all of them, is a vaguely Aztec-based region.

 

Nowadays you don't have to leave Faerûn, as now these cultures have their own regions adjacent to the Western Faerûn. The Chultan Peninsula is vaguely afro-cultural, Calimsham is our new Ottoman/Arabic analogue, and Mulhorand is distinctly inspired by ancient Egypt. It's kinda surprising that even in 5e we still have these attempts at non-european environments done with such broad brushstrokes. Tomb of Annihilation got a lot of heat for its very generic incorporation of African cultures. Representation, while well-meaning, is just stereotyping without authenticity and nuance.

 

This is a lot less explicit these days, but there's a general air of "conquest" or "white savior complex" to adventures that take place outside of the Sword Coast. Since most likely your character is going to be from Western Faerun and you'll be traveling to these lands, like in Tomb of Annihilation, your character is positioned as this superior hero who saves these helpless people or, even worse, overthrows an evil ruler (thus saving them from themselves). You could argue this isn't inherently problematic, but when coupled with the scenario of European-based characters entering a distinctly non-European culture, it plays into long-standing narratives that have depicted non-white cultures as lesser-than.

 

To finish off in a way that's specifically relevant to this subreddit, I want to say that I love Strongholds & Followers. I think Colville's use of the mechanics in his games are appropriately nuanced and political, but I also worry that the very concept plays into a "conquest" narrative that could reveal itself in other peoples games. Establishing a stronghold to "tame the wilderness" or to declare a war on another nation becomes distinctly more problematic when that wilderness is already occupied by orcs/goblins or when that nation is a mono-racial faction. Perhaps it's just me, but that feels eerily similar to literal colonization or "frontier-taming" (ala the Wild West).

 

Now we all like killing monsters and letting loose, but I think most campaigns would benefit from some examination and interrogation of who it is you're killing and why that's justified. I'm not asking for WotC to re-release the Monster Manual and I'm not demanding people stop fighting orcs, I'm just looking to have a conversation about this topic and hopefully inspire some critical thinking.

 

… so yeah. Thoughts?

Ratman_tf

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2019, 01:55:45 PM »
Quote
Now we all like killing monsters and letting loose, but I think most campaigns would benefit from some examination and interrogation of who it is you're killing and why that's justified. I'm not asking for WotC to re-release the Monster Manual and I'm not demanding people stop fighting orcs, I'm just looking to have a conversation about this topic and hopefully inspire some critical thinking.

… so yeah. Thoughts?


My thoughts are that the concept of decolonization is a way for white progressive activists to control and monopolize conversation. This reddit post is a great example of that.
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Razor 007

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2019, 01:59:12 PM »
Oh my.....
I need you to roll a perception check.....

deadDMwalking

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2019, 02:27:08 PM »
I think games are more interesting when every monster has at least the slightest possible chance of being redeemed.  

That doesn't mean I don't slaughter my share of well-meaning people that happen to be on the wrong side of my adventure (there was a time where we ended up slaughtering most of the city guard in the name of the 'greater good'), but it doesn't mean that I don't sometimes like to play at solving more complex social problems and building empires.
When I say objectively, I mean 'subjectively'.  When I say literally, I mean 'figuratively'.  
And when I say that you are a horse's ass, I mean that the objective truth is that you are a literal horse's ass.

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Brendan

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2019, 02:45:03 PM »
Quote from: Ratman_tf;1100059
My thoughts are that the concept of decolonization is a way for white progressive activists to control and monopolize conversation. This reddit post is a great example of that.

Zing!

Brendan

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #5 on: August 19, 2019, 02:51:59 PM »
Quote from: deadDMwalking;1100068
I think games are more interesting when every monster has at least the slightest possible chance of being redeemed.  

Hmm.  I have nothing against this per se, but I think the idea of an irredeemable monster type is more threatening and uncomfortable to modern "current year" sensibilities, especially if that monster isn't pretty, civilized, or likeable.

Brad

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2019, 02:53:56 PM »
Quote from: Brendan;1100077
Hmm.  I have nothing against this per se, but I think the idea of an irredeemable monster type is more threatening and uncomfortable to modern "current year" sensibilities, especially if that monster isn't pretty, civilized, or likeable.

Because it says True Evil is a thing, and that undermines postmodern idealism. Can't have that.

Alexander Kalinowski

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #7 on: August 19, 2019, 02:57:01 PM »
One day it will dawn on these liberals that the classical fantasy genre is inherently euro-centric and they will turn against it entirely. To no avail.
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Melan

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #8 on: August 19, 2019, 03:11:14 PM »
Please go away and play other games, then. Problem solved.

GeekyBugle

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #9 on: August 19, 2019, 03:23:23 PM »
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Oof, well right off the bat "savage" was a word commonly used to describe non-white cultures.

And the first to read any description of Orcs and think of real world, non-white people is the only racist.

Not gonna read their BS but do they also compare Goblins with Jews? because that's another favorite of the white progressive.
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GeekyBugle

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #10 on: August 19, 2019, 03:27:35 PM »
Quote from: deadDMwalking;1100068
I think games are more interesting when every monster has at least the slightest possible chance of being redeemed.  

That doesn't mean I don't slaughter my share of well-meaning people that happen to be on the wrong side of my adventure (there was a time where we ended up slaughtering most of the city guard in the name of the 'greater good'), but it doesn't mean that I don't sometimes like to play at solving more complex social problems and building empires.

Therefore not a monster.

In my table Orcs, Goblins and the like are Evil, there are no demi this or that, because different species can't crossbreed. Only game I ever played that has a truly grey morality is CP2013/2020, especially as I play it, where you're a poor sap trying to survive and maybe make it big and have to work withing the boundaries set by the megacorps. So you are kinda evil sometimes, kinda good sometimes, and most of the time just trying to get by.
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GeekyBugle

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2019, 03:28:20 PM »
Quote from: Melan;1100084
Please go away and play other games, then. Problem solved.

Exactly, we need a little gate keeping, at least in our tables.
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trechriron

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2019, 03:48:05 PM »
I'm still waiting for the decolonized fantasy setting that replaces the D&D default setting that proves once and for all it's the best. People have tried. There are a handful of non-traditional settings out there. None of them really took off though. They remain less popular compared to D&D. Is that because everyone is a horrible racist who prefers colonized racist tropes? Probably not. I'm guessing that most people who play D&D are in fact not racists and don't approach their games with the stark "white adventurers vs. minority monsters" dichotomy front and center.

With all the actual racism and sexism in our society why do we need to seek out make-believe racist ephera in every nook and cranny of our existence?
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deadDMwalking

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2019, 03:53:30 PM »
Quote from: GeekyBugle;1100091
Exactly, we need a little gate keeping, at least in our tables.

You can choose who you invite to game with, but it's not your responsibility to choose who does or does not participate in the hobby.  If you don't want to have discussions with them, nobody is forcing you to.  

The quoted post from the reddit is asking to examine an aspect of the game - who is 'kill on sight' and what that means for the game.  Maybe there's a better way; maybe thinking about it is worthwhile.  

One valid criticism of a lot of 'evil' is that they don't do anything that the good guys don't do; there is team ugly and team pretty, and basically they treat each other the same if they're in charge.  When I want my players to know who the bad guy is, I want him to do something deplorable.  In a TV show, you let the bad guy kick a puppy (or kill John Wick's dog) so it's clear that he is a bad guy and nobody has to feel guilty about taking him out.  From my perspective, that's the LEAST you can do in your games.  If the bad guys do bad things, you don't have to ever worry about whether you're the bad guy because you're kicking down his door and taking all his booty.
When I say objectively, I mean 'subjectively'.  When I say literally, I mean 'figuratively'.  
And when I say that you are a horse's ass, I mean that the objective truth is that you are a literal horse's ass.

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all. - Peter Drucker

GeekyBugle

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" Decolonizing D&D: Is your game problematic?"
« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2019, 04:05:26 PM »
Quote from: deadDMwalking;1100099
You can choose who you invite to game with, but it's not your responsibility to choose who does or does not participate in the hobby.  If you don't want to have discussions with them, nobody is forcing you to.  

The quoted post from the reddit is asking to examine an aspect of the game - who is 'kill on sight' and what that means for the game.  Maybe there's a better way; maybe thinking about it is worthwhile.  

One valid criticism of a lot of 'evil' is that they don't do anything that the good guys don't do; there is team ugly and team pretty, and basically they treat each other the same if they're in charge.  When I want my players to know who the bad guy is, I want him to do something deplorable.  In a TV show, you let the bad guy kick a puppy (or kill John Wick's dog) so it's clear that he is a bad guy and nobody has to feel guilty about taking him out.  From my perspective, that's the LEAST you can do in your games.  If the bad guys do bad things, you don't have to ever worry about whether you're the bad guy because you're kicking down his door and taking all his booty.

Nice strawman you got there, I clearly said in our tables, and anybody who thinks they can dictate who can or can't play RPGs is a moron and usually a leftist.
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