Saturday, November 3, 2012

Types of Character Discriminations in D&D

In my opinion, D&D needs more diversity and I cover different types of discrimination and practical ways to improve diversity.
I'm only going to cover types of discrimination that I've got something useful to say about: gender, age, disability and sexual orientation.

In the previous post I talked about discrimination in Societies and settings.

One way of handling stereotypes is to make plot twists of them.
PCs and players expect NPCs to act a certain because of what they know of them.
For example, intelligent and civilized barbarians, lawful thieves, charismatic wizards, etc.

NPCs that defy stereotypes about discrimination shouldn't be defined by it.
For example: when I read about blind people, their entire personality shouldn't be based on their blindness.

If you want to know why I think that, read the story of the blind, lesbian girl.
Otherwise, you can skip that and go directly to gender discrimination.

The Story of the Blind Lesbian Girl

Butterfly with torn wing
Butterfly with torn wing by howard_roark on Flickr

A few years ago, I was on a summer camp with a girl who couldn't see and was attracted to women.
When the group went walking we wanted her to come with us.
I volunteered to escort her and ended up looking where she was walking so she wouldn't trip over something.
She found it very amusing when I tripped over something because I wasn't paying attention where I was going.
I enjoyed those walks, we talked about the weather, the things the group did, etc.

At the end of the camp, I heard some people say "That poor girl, she is blind and a lesbian".

My picture of her was as someone I could have a nice talk with.
Taking pity at her blindness or sexuality was strange to me as she didn't let those aspects of her life define who she was. Hearing people talk like that made it sound like they were talking about an object or a sad story, not a person. They didn't consider her ability to handle things or the people around her.

To me she was just another person on summer camp, not some stereotype of a blind lesbian girl.


When I go through an adventure, I expect a decent gender balance in it.
Not all NPCs need to be male.

I don't like to see all female NPCs in stereotypical roles.
In stereotypical gender roles, women are being nurturing, supportive, needing protection and emotional.

Males are also upheld to certain gender roles, usually ambitious, analytical, competitive and in a leadership position. I'd like to see more diversity for both genders.

As a male writer I tend to create male NPCs.
If I'm aware of this habit I can change it to include female NPCs.
In my antagonists section, up to now most antagonists are men.


smiling old woman
"Beautiful old lady" by Sukanto Debnath on Flickr
A character sheet mentions age.
Adventurers are usually young, on the account that older people are weaker or more passive.

Elder people are often absent from adventures. If they are present they are often stereotypes: passive, detached from the world, not in good health, set in their ways, etc.

I like to see backgrounds for elder characters.
They can still be mentors, sages or retired city guards while being active in the world as healthy adventurers.
Character backgrounds are often focused on birth and events that led characters to leave their ancestral home when they were young.

More elder NPCs are welcome, preferably not in a stereotypical role.

Children are often absent in adventures.
If they are present, they don't have a meaningful role.
I'm not proposing that children fight, but that monsters take advantage of people often ignoring children.
For example, a child could be an undead monstrosity in disguise.


Characters with disabilities are mostly absent from adventures I've read.
Magic may cure disabilities, but it isn't often stated what the limits on healing are.
Besides, people could grow up without access to magical healing.
Many fictional works with advanced healing have characters with disabilities.

In a world with magic there might be ways to help characters with disabilities.
Deafened or Blinded: familiars for wizards, beasts for rangers
Mobility: Floating Disc ritual or a mount

And even without magical help those characters could be impressive.
Wizards without sight can shoot a fireball at enemies.

I'd like to see an option for disability in the player's handbooks, similar to gender.
I wouldn't link it to any mechanics, as that isn't done for gender or ethnicity.
Disabilities would just be a part of a character, not define it.

I created an antagonist, a Dwarven Wizard with limited mobility.
In retrospect, I used stereotypes and made his disability define him.
When the PCs first saw him, they took pity on him and thought he was a prisoner.
Things rapidly changed when they started talking with him.

I'd like to see more NPCs with disabilities which aren't stereotypes:
Either portraying them as heroes or as pitiful victims who need fixing.
Or as people whose other senses are enhanced to near super-power levels.
People with disabilities are often made bitter, twisted villains.

I also created NPCs with mental disabilities with a lot of stereotypes.
I portrayed them as possibly violent and having character flaws leading to their mental disabilities.
Their mental disabilities seemed like a lifelong condition instead of something they can recover from.
My apologies if I offended someone with my ignorance.
Like I wrote before, awareness of these issues is key.

Sexual Orientation

gay nerds united t-shirt
"My players Thursday night" by Benimoto on Flickr

Families are sometimes included in adventures.
These are typical families, man with woman and children.
If typical families and their relationships are present, I want to see more variety in relationships. For example: people with a different sexual orientation living together.
This means I view sexual orientation as a relationship, instead of focusing on the sexual aspect.

Unlike other discriminations, sexual orientation is harder to portray in images.
Women, older people, people with disabilities can be portrayed. Sexual orientation is harder to portray without offending people.

Character creation should ask a question about sexual orientation along with age and gender.

NPCs of an alternative sexual orientation could be added to adventures, but I'd suggest doing it subtle and without stereotypes.
So not all NPCs should be masculine lesbians, effeminate homosexuals or promiscuous bisexuals.

For example: A female paladin lost her partner to an evil overlord and wants revenge.
Or the PCs need to rescue 2 elder men living together.

Gay characters in art will take a longer while to get used to, that is why introducing them in written text is easier, if done well.

There aren't many posts that discuss sexual orientation in D&D, but I think it's worth discussing.

Next post I'll write my conclusions and practical suggestions.

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