Dungeons & Dragons Apologises For Problematic Racial Undertones In Past & Present Editions

Almost anyone who’s played a game or two of Dungeons & Dragons could instantly tell you that goblins, drow (a.k.a dark elves) and orcs are some of the evil races one might find in the fantasy tabletop role-playing game. Gaming groups probably even delighted in killing these fictional beings just because they fell under the “evil” section of the alignment chart in order to gain XP to level up.

But in 2020, maybe it’s time to revise that statement.

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That’s the question the game’s publisher Wizards of the Coast aims to address moving forward. Back in June, the company released a statement in response to the riots in the US at the time, stating that it will abolish the notion of inherently evil races and religions in celebration of “an array of ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and beliefs”.

For the current (5th) edition of D&D, WotC pledges to make amends to “errors in judgement” in descriptions that depict the likes of drow, orcs and goblins as inherently evil with future reprints of existing books such as the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide, and all other modules and supplements.

Already, it has presented the notion that race and alignment are mutually exclusive in recent supplements including Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, which was published in collaboration with popular D&D web series Critical Role. Also, this notion was supported in a Tweet made by Principal Rules Designer Jeremy Crawford made back in June:

Additionally, the company also took heed of the feedback of various members of the tabletop gaming community to rectify discriminatory depictions of various real-life ethnicities in earlier editions of the game.

To shed some light on the matter, the 1985 supplement, Oriental Adventures, presented fantasy versions of East Asian races such as the Chinese and Japanese in a faraway land known as Kara-Tur.

Oriental Adventures (1e, 1985)

As game designer and co-host of the Asians Represent Podcast, Daniel Kwan, pointed out in an interview with HuffPost, these depictions were, more often than not, discriminatory and stereotypical, often describing these races as “violent, and savage, uncivilised and in need of foreign saviours as objects of fetishisation”. Being designed by “three white men” (Gary Gygax, David “Zeb” Cook, and Francois Marcela-Froideval), Oriental Adventures, and later on its 2001 for the game’s 3rd edition, long encouraged bullying and name-calling against Asian players such as Kwan (who discussed it in his social media) over the years for its generally Western perception of East Asia.

Oriental Adventures (3e, 2001)

In response to such statements, and given the George Floyd riots that recently took place int he US, WotC finally went on social media to publicly apologise to anyone in the community who was hurt and/or discriminated against as a result of the racial and ethnic caricatures presented in older books.

To follow up on this, WotC recently included disclaimers to the digital versions of said content to educate, rather than perpetuate, anyone who used the following supplements of the company’s past faults. Here’s the full disclaimer as seen in the products (listed below):

We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

The above statement can be found in the following D&D supplements on DMsGuild and DriveThruRPG:

“‘Asian-themed’ content in the role-playing space, especially major titles, has been primarily created by white men,” Kwan explained. “Our main issue with these products is that they take beautiful and nuanced aspects of Asian cultures and combine them into pastiches that focus entirely on stereotypes.”

In light of what was discussed, it certainly bodes well for Wizards of the Coast to be self-aware and willing to repent for D&D‘s past errors. As Crawford pointed out in another interview with NPR, villains “will be villains because they have made villainous choices, not because they were born villainous.”

With all being said, D&D still remains one of the biggest entertainment avenues overall, especially in recent years, with the accessibility of 5th edition, combined with the meteoric rise in popularity of web streams such as Critical Role, Dimension 20 and Acquisitions Incorporated. With the discussion of race and cultural appropriation in the spotlight, the game aims to evolve yet again, this time for the sake of inclusivity and equality for all gamers.

Meanwhile, check out our handy guide on how to play D&D if you still have yet to pick it up!