Thursday, October 18, 2012

Discrimination in D&D 4E Writing

I want more diversity in the D&D games I play in, mostly after reading about sexist art in D&D.
Although diversity can fixed by the DM, it's a lot easier if the core books and adventures fully support it, as a good example to new and experienced DMs.

a black pawn among white
Image courtesy of

Gender discrimination or sexism is often complained about, especially in art. You can find excellent articles on that subject at Sexism in Fantasy and Gender Stereotyping, both by Sarah Darkmagic.

I focus on narrative, storytelling and characters in the D&D world.
This includes backgrounds, NPCs, societies and their culture, etc. Discrimination in art often translates to discrimination in written text, but this not always the case.

An article about discrimination is a sensitive subject.
Not only because of its controversial nature but also because it's easy to insult people or coming across as wanting to force my views on D&D.

Forcing world views

I don't want to force my views on what D&D should be.
However, if I play D&D, it comes with a packaged world view.
So different setting should exist for different people.

However, the core books and core adventures come with a world view.
For example, sexist art promotes a certain view on women.

There are several reasons I think more diversity in D&D is justified:
  • Discriminated groups in the real world usually have it harder than young white heterosexual able males. The benefits for discriminated groups are greater than the discomfort of the target demographic.
  • Discriminated groups also exist in the D&D setting itself, even if they haven't been mentioned so far.
    D&D has drawn concepts from cultures all over the world, diversity is a concept that has every right to be in there as well.
  • Many people won't notice changes for diversity, discriminated groups are usually minorities (except for women), so the number of changes would be minimal.
  • Most popular fiction nowadays contains a lot of discriminated groups as primary or secondary characters.

My goal is to make D&D inclusive to as many players as possible, although that takes some out of their comfort zone.


Stereotypes are offensive to people to whom the stereotype applies.
For example: males work and make the decisions while females take take of housework and child care.

Let me stress: It isn't wrong for people to act like a stereotype.
It's ok for women to do housework or for males to work.
I'm uncomfortable with a stereotype because it it seems like the stereotype is the normal way.

Many people operate on the information they have about a subject, and if all they have is stereotypical information this reinforces the stereotype.

That is why Rule Zero, the DM fixes it, won't work.
DMs work with the information they have, which is often stereotypical information.
That is why it's best if the problem is fixed in the core material.

Gender Neutral Language

D&D books are written using gender neutral Language.

This means that "A Dragonborn seeks adventure to prove his worth" is replaced by "Dragonborn seek adventure to prove their worth".
This may seem like a superficial change but the first sentence addresses males while the second sentence is inclusive and addresses both males and females.

Backgrounds in Player's Handbooks

Here I'm going to focus on the material in the Player's Handbooks.

There are backgrounds for a mix of male and female characters.
Gender stereotypes seem absent from the backgrounds.
Some societies like Goliaths promote gender stereotypes (female in nurturing role, male goes hunting).

There is a decent coverage of both male and female background in player's handbook 1 and 2.
Player's handbook 3 does it better by providing gender neutral language.

Some races like Shardmind are genderless, even if they emulate gendered races.
Wilden are a genderless race.

The next post in the series will be on discrimination in societies and settings.

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