A few disclaimers, just to make sure we are all on the same page.
I am absolutely sure there is no more important thing we can do as role players and content creators than embracing diversity in everything we do. Not for the sake of diversity; that would be disingenuous and frankly completely misses the point. Cultivating relationships with people outside of your own paradigm, social groups, and comfort zone is easier than you think and makes your work better, as well as making the hobby and world a better place. That people resist the idea seems counter intuitive to me. There is literally no down side.
As a player and games master, as well as content creator, I love Dungeons & Dragons. Love it. Dungeons & Dragons was my first introduction to role playing games and without a doubt the best gift (outside of my little girl) I have ever received. In no universe do I want to see D&D or Wizards of the Coast suffer a loss of revenue or popularity. I just want more Spelljammer, dammit!
I am a straight white male. Middle aged. Played D&D since the early 80s. I have a beard and extra body fat, you know in case I am stranded at a convention with no cash. I won't lie or even disseminate on that fact because full disclosure let's you know my POV. In fact, because of my heritage the common setting shenanigans of fantasy (and to a lesser extent, science fiction) are my literal cultural wheelhouse. So you are stuck with me, though I encourage you to seek out the opinions of players of color and women and other gendered folks as well. I consider myself a Third Wave role player, which I will explain at the end.
A few days ago, not quite a week as of this writing, the folks at LearningD&D put out a top 10 list of twitter accounts to follow for D&D content. There was (and should have been) reaction concerning the idea that 90% of the list is white dudes. The other 10% was Wizards of the Coast itself, which frankly should be number one I would think? Now I am not going to cast aspersions on those who made the list; I do not know them, (still) do not follow them, and frankly have not noticed them as a voice and force in the D&D community. I could be wrong; after all I am not plugged into the community myself. I am a starving game developer with more projects than time. I am not an authority figure, just a member of the community who has an opinion on all of this. I guess the point is no one should feel attacked, I just happen to not agree with the list and feel it is indicative of a greater issue we are facing.
A couple things struck me however, in both the list itself and in the reaction to it. Most notable was that no one really wants to discuss the basic issue: Dungeons & Dragons itself. Dungeons & Dragons is without a doubt informed by an Anglo-Norman-Norse-Germanic cultural aesthetic. Both in how it is portrayed and the audience it was targeted at. This is not uncommon in fantasy and science fiction although that attitude is changing in those genres and in gaming itself. This time around 5th Edition D&D explicitly said that not only is everyone welcome, but you should try things from those other perspectives. Play the character you want.
This is good. No, fuck that. It is great. Like many people who play, although not explicitly or even implicitly gate keeping others not like me from playing, I was late coming to the party of adding my voice to calls for a more diverse community paradigm. I should have opened my mouth sooner. But although I encourage everyone to play and will teach anyone any time to play, I do not think we can say “let's be diverse” and then only talk about one game. I know D&D is the most popular game and I know the industry would be nowhere without it. I know I would be struggling in my own content without the OGL and the DM's Guild. As I said, I don't want D&D to go away; I just want to expand the conversation to other games because there is less cultural baggage involved with many of them.
As an example. Let's say someone who was a fan of the most popular fast food restaurant, we will call it Burger Place & Soda (I hope there is no such place or I might get sued) put out a top 10 list of food bloggers on twitter who were experts on BP&S cuisine. One of them was BP&S itself, three others were the burger meisters of BP&S, and one of the food bloggers... well has issues. All of them are meat eaters even though of late, BP&S, lead by the a fore mentioned Burger Meisters, had made a point of asking vegetarians, vegans, and people of faith who did not eat say, turkey, to come to their restaurant. I think that is great. The problem of course is that even though there are vegan fans of BP&S, not a single one of them made the top 10 list. Why? Well, because BP&S is a fucking meat palace, that is why. It is a house built on meat and even as it evolves, the central product will still be meat. Dungeons & Dragons, no matter how much narration and evolution this frankly beautiful game goes through, will still be firmly set in a faux Medieval Europe paradigm where people in metal armors, roided up on magic and super powers, murder their way through the landscape. Its a power fantasy.
And we (rightly) want to share this power fantasy with everyone, the same way we try and share democracy with everyone. I am not sure that approach really works as well as we think. I am as guilty as anyone on creating content with that power fantasy in mind. I am trying to adjust my world view as a designer and a games master, but I realize I will never truly do justice to other cultural world views. That is why we need diverse voices and diverse games. That is why the diversity conversation has to include the games themselves.
But Sean, D&D is my favorite game and anyway my advice covers...
Please, just stop. Wanna know how salty I get on my D&D? I still get angry about Magic Missile in AD&D1,2 and so on only being a 1d4+1 when in B/X it was 1d6+1. So don't tell me you are too damned loyal to D&D to look outside of it. Trying to shoehorn diverse play into a not all that diverse paradigm will only get you so far. I am not saying Don't Do It. I am saying, let's look for a solution to our diversity issues by tackling the ultimate RPG diversity issue: playing other games.
Over at EN World we (I am one of many user content generators) are doing articles on cultures outside of Europe. I call them the Journey To.. series. It is not perfect; I am still working on being a good content and review writer. Honing my skills as it were. But I think these articles are a great start and have sparked some interesting conversations. It involves thinking outside of the box, something I am told is a good skill to have.
At the end of the day diversity is difficult to embrace. I know it is from personal experience and just playing something that is non D&D won't solve all the issues. However, expanding your point of reference certainly will help you embrace other views and just playing a different RPG is the easiest way to do that.
1. Burger Place & Soda is not a real place, though Google did show me a number of Burgers and Sodas places with names close to it. Seriously? Also BP&S should be an rpg or Cartoon network show.
2. Third Wave role player. In my mind the first wave was 1974 to 1978. The second wave was 78 to 81 or so. So from 81 to 91 is what I consider Third Wave. /shrug. Your Wave May Vary.
3. I did not put a list of games for you to play, because I am not pimping a specific company, genre, or style. I am just saying go play other games.
4. Yes it IS 1d6+1. Go look it up.
Sean AKA The Dragon has been gaming or thinking about gaming for over thirty years. Game design is one of his greatest passions. He has ideas and is not afraid to talk about them.