Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Discrimination in D&D Societies and Settings

Discrimination in D&D depends on the societies and the settings in which people are playing.
I list my expectations for historical settings and the default D&D setting.
Small changes in settings have a large impact on the diversity of settings.

In the previous post I talked about discrimination in D&D writing.
I looked into the player's handbooks for D&D 4E and found that some societies in the core books have different gender roles.
I want to see what impact a setting has on discrimination.

I approach this topic from a role playing perspective, if you play in a  dungeon-crawl or survival type adventure, this topic matters less.


table with key, feather and ink
Image courtesy of
There are almost an infinite number of settings for playing D&D.
There is the default setting, other published settings, historical settings, home brew settings, etc.

Suppose you want to play a female character in a historical setting.
In many historical settings, women aren't equal to men.
There are several ways to handle this, let's focus on these:
  • play the setting as is, with discrimination. This could lead to interesting role playing situations.
  • wipe away the discrimination from the setting.

The players ultimately decide in what setting they want to play.
So they should know which settings exist, what consequences these settings have on playing the game and then make a choice.

Other published settings should be handled in the core books so players know different possibilities.

The default setting is another matter, which I discuss in the next chapter.


Many things describe a setting, here I focus on societies in the setting.
A society is a group related to each other, mostly by territory.
I'd like to see more fluff about societies, not only for humans but also for dwarves, elves, etc.

There is already slavery, different races not getting along (elves vs. dwarves), brutal wars, genocides, necromancy, etc.
For me discrimination and conflict without emotional attachment for the players is ok.
So what about discrimination with emotional attachment?

Have fun, it's just a game


A society is a lot of people related to each other.
With all these relationships, there is a possibility of discrimination.

It's a valid opinion to just say "Have fun, it's just a game".
I actually agree. If players don't want to explore real-world social issues, they shouldn't have to.
I don't want to explore real-world social issues in the default setting.

That is why I feel real-world discrimination should be avoided, meaning:
  • male and female characters should be treated equally
  • other discriminated groups can also be added, for example:
    • questions during character creation
    • minor NPCs with their discrimination being just a small part of their identity.

Lack of women in Official Adventures

One of the reasons I started this series of posts is that I've always played in a male group and that the adventures we played had few female characters.

Let's focus on the gender balance in the official adventures our group played (minor spoilers):
  • Kobold Hall was our first adventure:
    This adventure has 5 NPCs all of which are male and stereotypes.
    For example: dwarven smith, old wizard.
  • Keep on the Shadowfell has 20 NPCs, 5 of which are female.
    The women are stereotypes: 2 priests, one flower seller and an inn owner.
    An interesting character is the 5th female which is a spy for the big bad.
  • Thunderspire Labyrinth has 29 NPCs, 6 of which are female.
    There are less stereotypes although priests are female, dwarven smiths and old sages are always male.

For comparison I looked at more recent adventures:
  • HS1 The Slaying Stone has a good gender balance and has even characters with disabilities.
  • Reavers of Harkenwold also has a good gender balance and even has older man and women who are active in the story.
I wish my first adventures were good quality adventures like that.

Next post I'll be looking at types of discrimination.

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