It's good. The biggest flaw of the work is its devotion to exhaustively developing tangential systems. As a work designed to introduce a new player who cut his teeth on 5th edition into the complexities of sandbox play it's very useful. There are moments of interest when they tease more creative results, such as the nature of the town or zone traits, but these are rare. It has solid ability to present what's actually going on in the design decisions made when developing a classic sandbox. Then again, if the whole concept is new the lack of novel or unique complications is a benefit.
You can move your finger in the tiniest way to instantly peruse this piece of work. But I came across this section, and realized that something that is clearly a misunderstanding is being taken as gospel. Let me quote.
This sounds reasonable and true, except it's not.
Since its inception in the ‘70s, the base game itself has had profound issues surrounding racism and the colonialist mindset. Fifth Edition has done little to mitigate these issues, and if anything, the West Marches only make the longstanding rot more visible.
This is an article that deals with colonialism, racism, sexism, violence, and other things that don't go particularly well with a morning coffee when you have a stressful day ahead at work.
I'm not trying to justify any inappropriate behavior. I was a counselor for 20 years working with native youth in rural low income communities, some of which are not reachable by road. I believe that all living people and quite a few animals possess infinite self-worth (in the Carl Rogers sense of worth) that is in no way related to any external, from income, to skin color, to education. I am aware of the many intersections of racism, bigotry, sexism, and systemic oppression for a wide variety of external features, and I believe in the equality and worth of all human beings.
I am just trying to stop well meaning people from repeating inaccurate sentiments.
Here are my points, I will explain each.
- The game itself is not in structure or design racist. It is by (possibly accidental) design a model for the experience of the arc of experience of human life, a game that makes the psychological experience of playing mirror the experience of coming of age.
- The game does not represent European Colonialism, certainly not from the years 400-1800+. One of the smartest people in the tabletop role-playing game field (who backed my Kickstarter!!) recently said Dungeons and Dragons could not have ever been created in Europe due to the mindset of the game. It is much more accurate to say that the game is about the experience of western exceptionalism and manifest destiny. Game-play revolves around civilizing wilderness, not conquering and exploiting existing civilization structures. ("The 'frontier' moves, and bold adventurers move with it"—1st edition DMG, page 91) It represents the spirit of manifest destiny (c. 1845), i.e. the belief that due to american's cultural and societal superiority that it was america's responsibility to raise humanity to the pinnacle of human achievement. This has been widely regarded as a bad move. This is not necessarily more moral, but it is more accurate.
- There is no rot within the game itself, only within the within the person where it occurs. This is not an argument of fact, but rather a statement that I respect the right of an individual to be responsible for their own actions, rather then attempting to control media or access. I am an artist and not an authoritarian. The arguments for freedom versus societal control are in the public record, and you likely have an opinion on it. This is the argument being made, and it is the argument I am responding to. You can play D&D without worrying about the state of your soul because there is no rot within it.
Game Structure and Racism
I am not courting outrage, I am not interested in proving some point for some external system of control. I am not attempting to promote any agenda but the truth.
Dungeons and Dragons is a game of fantasy adventure.
Fantastic creatures are stories and manifestations of ideas we have that represent our concerns or fears. I will list a few to illustrate my point. Werewolves are about fears of alcoholic behavior, giants are about our experiences of adults and our fears of them as children. a lich is a monster who denies your ability to achieve autonomy over your life, because the men before you refuse to die and make way for their children, vampires represent our fears and concerns over rape and death, zombies represent our fears of rampant consumerism and a loss of identity, the succubus is a metaphor for male fears in relationships, orcs are our fear of our memory of our ancient smarter, stronger, more athletic neanderthal companions, dragons literally represent sin as an obstacle to spiritual purity, most often greed.
This is not some hypothetical conjecture. Anxiety represented by nocturnal terrors is as old as humanity. They are literally our responses to fears and anxieties. There is a not insignificant body of work on this subject.
They are not representative of black people, natives, aborigines, or other indigenous peoples. In fact, making that claim, in and of itself seems quite spurious to me, because the way they are presented and used in the game is in no way representative of any of the historical interactions with native cultures.
Racists absolutely play D&D. I was, and this is the correct word, flabbergasted at the sheer Illinois Nazism of the Bledslaw clan. Refusing to join the KKK is not what I would consider an affirmative defense! So these racists have clearly decided to co-op and gratify themselves by being fucking horrid human beings.
To assume that this is what is coded in the work, misses both the literal and critical subtext, which is mythical threat to your survival and ability to flourish as a human being. To wit:
Under Preparation For the Game OD&D Volume 1
First, the referee must draw out. . . maps of the levels of his "underworld", people them with monsters of various horrid aspect, distribute treasures accordingly. . . When this task is completed the participants can then be allowed to make their first descent into the dungeons beneath the "huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses".
Under Character Alignment in Moldvay Basic D&D.
To a Chaotic creature, the individual is the most important of all things. Selfishness is the normal way of life, and the group is not important. Chaotics often act on sudden desires and whims. They cannot be trusted, and their behavior is hard to predict. They have a strong belief in the power of luck. Chaotic behavior is usually the same as behavior that could be called evil.Under Approaches to Playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's guide
Of the two approaches to hobby games today, one is best defined as the realism-simulation school and the other as the game school. AD&D is assuredly an adherent of the later school. It does not stress any realism . . . [i]t does little to attempt to simulate anything. It is first and foremost a game for the fun and enjoyment of those who seek to use imagination and creativity. . . In all cases, however, the reader should understand that AD&D is designed to be an amusing and diverting pastime, something which can fill a few hours or consume endless days as the participants desire, but in no case something to be taken too seriously. For fun, excitement and captivating fantasy, AD&D is Unsurpassed. As a realistic simulation of things from the realm of make-believe, or even as a reflection of medieval or ancient warfare or culture or society, it can be deemed only a dismal failure. Readers who seek the later must search elsewhereLet's assume you disregard both the structure of the early games, AND this snippet of the creators thoughts as he wrote the seminal work on running games, during the height of its first popularity.
Sure, neither the text nor his claims say he's racist, but that's just what a racist would say. Is the design or the text racist?
Under Alignment in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide
Thus, alignment describes the worldview of creatures and helps to define what their actions, reactions, and purposes will be. . . Good and Evil: Basically stated, the tenets of good are human rights, or in the case of AD&D, creature rights. Each creature is entitled to life, relative freedom and the prospect of happiness. Cruelty and suffering are undesirable. Evil, on the other hand, does not concern itself with rights or happiness; purpose is the determinant.He defines good as the protection of rights extended to all good creatures. Goodness is defined as the rights of thinking creatures-not just humans and humanoids, but all good creatures no matter their distance from the human form.
This is fundamentally opposed to racist and colonial thought. They are completely incompatible. Racist and colonialism require removing rights from creatures. It requires a perspective of military superiority, moral arrogance and a desire to exploit less lucky victims. This is not the attitude of most D&D players, who encounter a world they can never conquer or tame, and only through dint of their gumption can they survive in.
But the Natives!
There's this thought in society, of the wolf in sheep's clothing. A missing stair. A sociopath who lairs, and attempts to make himself seem respectable so he can continue his degenerate abuse or assault.
That's what strikes me as so odd about this claim, and leaves me wondering about the motives of the people making it, to say less of those that hear it and simply repeat it because they have not given it much thought.
From The Campaign in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide
After a few episodes of play, you and your campaign participants will be ready for the expansion of the milieu. The territory around the settlement—likely the "home" city or town of the adventurers, other nearby habitations, wilderness areas, and whatever else you determine is right for the area—should be sketch-mapped, and places likely to become settings for play actually done in detail. At this time is it probably that you will have to have a large scale map of the whole continent or sub-continent involved, with some rough outlines of the political divisions of the place, notes on predominant terrain features, indications of the distribution of creature types, and some plans as to what conflicts are likely to occur. In short, you will have to create the social and ecological parameters of a good part of a make-believe world. The more painstakingly this is done, the more "real" this creation will become. . .
It is no exaggeration to state that the fantasy world builds itself, almost as if the milieu actually takes on a life and reality of its own. . . Similarly, the geography and history you assign to the world will suddenly begin to shape the character of states and peoples. Details of former events will become obvious from mere outlines of the past course of things.
and from Territory Development by Player Characters in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide
When player characters reach upper levels and decide to establish a stronghold and rule a territory, you must have fairly detailed information on hand to enable this to take place. You must have a large scale map which shows areas where this is possible, a detailed cultural and social treatment of the area and those which bound it, and you must have some extensive information available as to who and what lives in the area to be claimed and held by the player characters. . . . The player character and his henchmen and various retainers must now go to the construction site, explore and map it, and have construction commence. . . Once these territories become settled and populations abound (relatively speaking) they can be used as centers for activity—good or evil or whatever.
It does not appear that the author of the game nor the structure of the game take any sort of stance on what should happen during play. It's explicitly a game, where there are threats to civilization, people you must interact with, and allies you must make happy.The people claiming that it's racist because you invade the homes of the natives and kill them and take their things is more a reflection of how they choose to play the game and not an expectation within the text. (Modules about such being a reflection of their author, and not some inherit racism in design)
My players put up with the alcoholic ogres because they were willing to pay the costs, they didn't kill them to a man. A contract was negotiated with the frost giant lich, and peace was signed by the orc tribes (in a game where you might portray them in the role of noble savage, itself a racist caricature, instead of as a malignant force upon the existence of man.)
It's even within the rules of the game. Monsters give very little experience, and you are better off finding a superior solution than fighting to gain the reward. Real success comes from solving the encounter creatively using your wits, strength, and will just like mythological heroes.
It is outlined as a game, and given to player driven complexity. If you want to deal with those issues (orcs are natives on the land with wives and children) or not (orcs are representative of malignant evil) you have the choice. People have been dealing with this exact choice (the orc baby choice) and being blindsided to the fact that it's a choice for, well, as far back as the 70's. To claim that the game itself decides what you must do isn't supported.
But the Patriarchy!
I mean, I'm not making any kind of claim of purity. The game is astoundingly sexist. "race" and "Half-X" are racist vestiges of a dark time in America when the air was filled with lead. The game at times has had people produce art that is filled with stereotypical racist representations. It has had middle Americans tackle the task of writing about other cultures when Americans were still beating natives for speaking their own language in Alaska in the early 1980's. Could we get supplements for non-white non-human societies that aren't shallow?
I fail to see how the behavior of racists is somehow uniquely objectionable in role-playing, when the medium seems unrelated to the bigotry. There's a whole genera of slightly conservative military fiction that glorifies the subjection of the universe. If your argument is that it's racist because some people who played it are racist, that point flows to you, because it's a truism. Not a statement about the text. One could certainly start to make cottage industry arguments for papers about how D&D is akin to sexual violence because it models combat which involves weapon penetrating human bodies like the penis does for the sex act. But my daughter has after school activities and I don't have the time, so could you not?
But the racism that's talked about above is not in the core structure of the text, unless someone classifies another person as a monster. The text explicitly doesn't.
This doesn't mean we don't need to do the work of making sure our games are not cliches that rely on stereotypical racist, warlike, western tropes.
The game is about fighting fantasy monsters—monsters which represent our fears and anxieties, coming up with solutions to complex situations with creativity and panache, so that you can secure an ability for your character to flourish. It is the modern hunt for the grail. The knight doesn't face the dragon to remove a monster, he does so to purify his soul from sin.
To complain that a group of monsters are 'evil' is to be upset that the aliens in Independence day were all bad guys, the Persians were represented as monsters to the greeks in 300, and the Chitauri were cut down by the thousands by the Avengers. Maybe you'd like to make the argument that is a problem, which sure. Maybe. But it's got f-$& all to do with Dungeons & Dragons.
Gaining control of a wilderness means not only clearing out malignant evils that desire nothing but the destruction of the world, but also meeting locals, managing contentious neighbors, and learning ancient history, giving you the opportunity to found your own better world.
So, now you know. Don't be a stranger.
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