• D&D and Inclusivity and Me

    by  • September 24, 2012 • Design & Art, News • 26 Comments

    D&D was my first role-playing game back when I was 11.  My interest in it has faded over the years but it still holds a special place of nostalgia in my heart. D&D Fifth Edition, as you probably know, is in development and Wizards of the Coast have directly asked for fan feedback on what to put in the game.

    I was reading this post by Anna Kreider and it reminded me that D&D artwork hasn’t moved on a great deal from the ol’ days.  There is still a glaring lack of people of colour and women are still portrayed more passively and sexually than the male characters and in lower numbers.  Of course Gaming as Women has been here before, as have Wizards of the Coast.  But we can always do better.

    After reading the Anna Kreider article and others, Josh Fox (full disclosure here, he is my partner and I co-write Black Armada with him) has launched a petition setting out clear goals for D&D to increase inclusivity in their artwork.  Since they asked for feedback, they might as well get some.

    The somewhat cheekily titled petition is: D&D should be for everyone, not just white men

    The main points of the petition are:

    1. We want to see artwork that reflects the diversity of the real world.
    2. As a minimum, 50% of people depicted should be female.
    3. As a minimum 20% should be non-white (in line with the population of the USA).
    4. Such characters should be portrayed as respectfully on average as white male characters – not just as submissive weaklings or semi-nude eye candy (e.g. chainmail bikinis).
    5. WotC should lose the text that describes demihuman races as exclusively pale-skinned.

    D&D is still the game that most people (at least in the US and UK) associate with role-playing and it has had a huge influence on the hobby as a whole. Even though I don’t really play anymore I still feel that it is relevant and important part of our culture.  D&D has an amazing opportunity to lead a change in the whole industry. This is our opportunity to ask for that change and I intend to take it.

    If you agree with the principle of greater inclusivity in our hobby then please go and sign it, support it and boost the signal where you can!

    Next Up – I’ll be writing about some of the arguments people have been making against signing the petition and why they aren’t all that compelling…



    I have been a feminist all my life and a gamer for 21 years. I have enjoyed all sort of gaming from LARP to tabletop but deep character role-playing is what really floats my boat. I live in London, England and when I am not blogging, knitting and role-playing I am grappling with the dastardly, dissertation of Doooom!


    26 Responses to D&D and Inclusivity and Me

    1. avatar
      September 24, 2012 at 17:50

      I’m always a bit uncomfortable when “50% female” is named as a minimum, rather than an overall target.

      I realise that we have a lot more leeway in shortchanging the hegemon than the marginalized, but I still don’t like the idea of entrenching new double-standards even as we tear down the old ones.

      Also: Why is the US population the benchmark, rather than the whole world’s population? D&D has players outside the US.

      I’m raising these points as minor quibbles with the petition, not full-blown objections to it; it’d still be a huge, huge positive step to see the petition’s tenets implemented in D&D.

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      • avatar
        September 24, 2012 at 19:12

        I don’t think that it is instituting a double-standard to ask for equal representation (which is less than census statistics). If we had said 50% male, do you think that would be different? Even if they only do the bare minimum, that’s an improvement.

        The base on the US population, as Frax said, is because D&D is a US based company.

        Frankly, I am not typically in support of representation requirements, however, I think that this petition should be seen as more of an inspiration to WoTC – we can only really force them with our dollars, and even then they’re able to deny it.

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    2. avatar
      September 24, 2012 at 18:25

      Hi Cythraul

      I am so pleased you broadly agree with the petition and I think we can agree that more women, more ethnic minorities and less sexist artwork will be a good thing.

      I will be tackling these two points in my next post on this as these are two of the arguments which have come up a multiple of times. I think that the FAQ on the petition answers the US population point. But I believe the % here was largely based on the fact that D&D originates in the US and is made by a US company for a primarily US audience so seems appropriate. The originator of the petition is from the UK.

      On the women 50% point – it just isn’t something I am worried about. Firstly I believe that the actual % of gender split in the world is 51% female, anyway but secondly I find it impossible to believe for even a second that on the back of this movement that the gender split in D&D will suddenly jump to 70% women. So picking up on this point always feels a bit like people criticising a split infinitive or a misspelling in the petition.

      • avatar
        September 24, 2012 at 18:46

        I’m looking forward to seeing your response to those points, as those are my only potential quibbles with the petition (and, as you said, they are quite minor indeed). Personally, I do think they should aim for 50% female art. Even if they fall a little short (say, 40%), it would be a huge improvement. It would be my preference to see them aim for at least 50% non-white as well (as falling significantly short of that mark would be an improvement as well).

        The other side of this issue, which I don’t think I’ve seen anyone address particularly well, is the artists’ side of the issue. Since I am an artist myself, I will speak from my own experience. I am a white male, and I learned to draw by drawing people who look like me (mirror modeling). As a result, I am more comfortable drawing/painting white males than females or minorities – in part because I am afraid that I will accidentally over-exaggerate features or get skin tones wrong and offend someone. Because of this fear, I will generally default to a white male figure unless a brief specifies something different or I know that something else is more appropriate to the overall piece. I think a survey of the artists employed by WoTC and many of the major publishers will show that the population of fantasy and sci-fi illustrators is disproportionately white and male. While I cannot reliably generalize my own experience and shortcomings to all the artists in the field of fantasy illustration, I would not be surprised if similar problems were a part of the issue we all have here (lack of appropriate representation). Finding and encouraging a greater diversity of artists could help overcome the deficit of positive minority and female representation in art.

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        • avatar
          September 24, 2012 at 19:15


          I agree that the requirements for non-whites could be higher, as well.

          There is something to be said for getting a greater diversity of artists, which is definitely something that needs a focus. However, I think that white male artists can definitely learn how to draw females and minorities – it just involves asking for input from people as you do your work. There can be a lot gained by collaboration with others in this instance.

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        • avatar
          September 24, 2012 at 19:53

          That is a very interesting point you raise IceBob about diversity of artist and I definitely think that (in itself) would be a very cool thing for them to do!

      • avatar
        September 27, 2012 at 16:45

        Thank you for your reply; I’m looking forward to the further posts on this topic. Again, these are nitpicks. They’re nitpicks I raise because these points bug me, but in terms of the petition’s practical effect, they’re not even close to being big enough issues to, oh, prevent me from signing it.

        I agree with you that a sudden jump to mostly-or-entirely female characters in the artwork is something that’s realistically not going to happen. I nonetheless find the language off-putting. It plays into the adversarial dynamic that people tend to infer in any kind of anti-oppression or inclusivity discussion – “What do we care if the men get shortchanged?” Again, with men being the hegemons in our society, the idea of this little move “shortchanging” us is laughable – but we still feel it, and still react to it.

        If I, someone who supports the petition’s goals, am responding negatively to the “at a minimum” phrasing, what makes you think people who’re actively resistant to it will respond better?

        (I’m someone who usually randomizes gender when creating characters, trusting Almighty Probability to sort it out in the long term.)

        As to the “primarily US audience”, what you’re saying is it’s important to include people from all groups and backgrounds – as long as they’re Americans.

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        • avatar
          September 29, 2012 at 02:04

          Cythraul, thanks for the comment.

          Personally, I think that it’s likely that many people who negatively respond to the wording are unlikely to sign in the first place (you appear to be an exception, which is good). It’s not adversarial to ask that companies start matching up with the demographics – and that’s what is being asked. It is often a knee-jerk response to think that trying to include minorities is somehow trying to punish or exclude majorities, but that’s not the intent here.

          In regards to your last statement – no, that’s not what the petition is trying to do. Wizards of the Coast is a U.S.-based company. Do you think it is appropriate, when we’re talking about the risk of adversarial dynamics, to write to a U.S. company that typically advertises in the U.S. and say “We want you to match the demographics of China” or “We want you to match the demographics of Spain”. You could ask them to match worldwide demographics, but the numbers would be complicated and also might end up even more skewed.

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    3. avatar
      September 24, 2012 at 22:13

      This may be a stupid thing to have to add, but you might want to specify that the non-white representation is 20% skin tones that exist in our world. It seems to me they do a better job representing blue skinned, orange skinned, black with white hair, and especially green skinned people than they do representing non-white real skin toned people.

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    4. avatar
      September 25, 2012 at 00:21

      It would be especially useful to get some non-white demihuman art. IME, even when a game has decent representation of non-white humans, it rarely shows elves, dwarves, halflings, etc. as anything but white. I wrote a post on my blog about my attempt to find images of brown-skinned elves and dwarves, and how rare they were: http://retiredadventurer.blogspot.ca/2012/02/non-white-demihumans.html

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      • avatar
        September 25, 2012 at 04:07

        That’s a really interesting point. I had never thought about that before – thanks for pointing it out!

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      • avatar
        September 25, 2012 at 22:09

        I once had a running argument over several game sessions with two other players. I’d made a dwarf who hailed from the desert regions of the world and told the GM that the character would be darker skinned. The GM had no issues with this but two players constantly snarked that I was “just” tanned. That the dwarf was white wherever the sun wouldn’t reach her skin.

        Every time they’d do that, I’d respond with a firm no, she was actually not white. They couldn’t accept it. Dwarves are all white-skinned folk and claiming anything else was wrong and not allowed.

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        • avatar
          September 25, 2012 at 22:17

          Wow that is crap Finaira! If the GM is fine with it then what gives other players the right to define what your character looks like!

        • avatar
          September 26, 2012 at 00:35

          That is totally idiotic!

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        • avatar
          September 26, 2012 at 01:37

          Brutal. That’d drive me nuts.

          I had a much less extreme experience when pitching the Dawnlands, my homebrew Openquest setting, to some buddies of mine. The first question I got when I was explaining the setting was “So where are the white people?” and when I explained that there weren’t any, the guys decided it was an “Eastern” setting and everyone wanted to play ninjas and kung-fu masters (the closest parallel to the Dawnlands, and it’s a loose one, is central Asia from northern Siberia to the Gobi).

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        • avatar
          September 28, 2012 at 13:57


          Well, I had that once, too, with someone I played Deathwatch/Dark Heresy with for a short time. One of my Space Marines is afro-american style black (found a character image I liked, which was black, his SM order recruits from whereever and people in Warhammer come in all kinds of skin colors, not all of them even realistic) who insisted I was doing it wrong because, yeah, only ‘tanned’ people apply to Space Marines for some reason (despite a ton of fluff that contrradicts this). Asked him if he was a Nazi, which at least shut him up, but wasn’t very nice. He deserved it though. In the end, the guy ho draggend him in had quite some things to apologise for, which included demanding we play a game around tentacle rape (no kidding).

          Seriously, some people.

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      • avatar
        September 28, 2012 at 14:03

        I agree. While it would feel very forced to introduce American demographics into all demihuman races across the board, there definitly should be black, yellow, or at least somehow ethnic dwarf, elf, halfling and … whatever cultures. Applies less and less the more demi the demihuman is, of course; afro-lizardmen are ridiculous, naturally.

        One game that does this reasonably well, at least in more modern art, is Shadowrun, though it’s demiumans are actually more like human mutants anyway.

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        • avatar
          October 4, 2012 at 03:44

          I actually did a break down of the art in the Shadowrun 4A core book (using my super scientific classification of what the ethnicity/gender everyone appeared to be). I would bet that it’s much better than the industry in general, but still not great. Overall, of the pictures where the gender is discernible 24% are women. There is a distinct lack of female orks, dwarf, and trolls (a total of 5 out of 64). In the human and elves women make up 35% of the pictures. I’ll let someone else decide whether or not the presentation is respectful.

          Race is somewhat better. 16% of the humanoids whose race was identifiable are non-white (though this number may be high, because several pictures are vague and have lighter colored skin and could have been Asian, White or Hispanic. I erred on the side of putting them in the indistinguishable category). The numbers are pretty close to modern Seattle and since the game is set there in the future the higher portion of Asian characters makes sense. For most of the orks and trolls the race is unclear because a lot of artists draw them green and scaly or lumpy, but there is at least one ork that is clearly black. There is also a hispanic elf, an asian elf, and a black elf and a couple other non-white characters that could be either elf or human (for most artists the difference seems to simply be the ears).

          There’s also notably few picture of dwarves, despite being one of the games main “metatypes”, 6 total.

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          • avatar
            October 5, 2012 at 11:04

            Ah, nice. Had a skim myself and got about the same numbers.

            what’S refreshing is the absence (or near absence) of improperly sexified clothes on women – chainmail bras or two strips and a thong combat uniforms, or every last female wearing skinsuits, as seems the norm in fantasy illustrations and other modern scifi games (Cthulhutech, I’m looking at you!).

            Metatypes in Shadowrun – particularily females of the nonhuman kinds – are a point of contention and have been for a long time. At least they exist now. I personally trace this to comics industry standards, where ‘deformed’ women are a very big no-go. Pity, I may add, and I hope the upcoming SR Online game will help even this out.

            Racially, I always had the feeling they kept to American standard, more or less, though I miss the prominence of Native American-ish people prevalent in earlier iterations of the setting (where most of North America is run by Natives again).

            Also, for reference, human/metahuman demographics are about:

            Human 60%
            Orc 15%
            Elf 12%
            Troll 6%
            Dwarf 5%
            Other 1%

            in most settings (variations apply, but that is, to my remembrance, the global standard). Other being vampires, dragons, centaurs, sprites and spirits and things.

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    5. avatar
      September 25, 2012 at 22:18

      Interesting blog post, Pseudoephedrine! Thanks for the link.

      • avatar
        September 26, 2012 at 01:50

        Glad you like it. Best of luck with the petition, I think it’s a great cause!

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    6. avatar
      September 28, 2012 at 04:47

      I really feel weird about this, but the more I read this post, the more I realize that D&D, for me, has been a tradition I have always wanted to internalize, always wanted to feel natural in, but I can’t.

      And I guess not just D&D, but sword-and-sorcery in general. It’s always felt alien or externally-imposed, not just in a flavor and representation kind of way, but basic, structural things. Things like how clerics and religions are represented to how off the assumed medieval fantasy setting feels (trying to shoehorn “other cultures” always felt weird at best and offensive at worst IMO).

      I mean, I think this is a pretty good movement, but… sigh. The worst part is that I actually have very little idea what would make an acceptable replacement to D&D to me that wouldn’t make me feel alienated and trying to adopt a series of traditions that never really felt… familiar.

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