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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Putting "RPG Inclusivity" Into Context

We had an interesting discussion over at theRPGsite about "Inclusivity" in RPGs.  Some people get annoyed at what they perceive as the inclusion of "token" inclusive characters in published settings or adventures, particularly characters that seem totally out of place with the perceived society or values of the setting (as one poster put it, more or less, the problem is when you have characters running around in a medieval fantasy setting that seem to have 21st century middle-class liberal west-coast values).  Of course, others also get annoyed at the absence of these same characters.

Now, lately the "refugee crisis" of posters from rpgnet looking to be able to have actual conversations rather than politically-correct-hugbox environments has reached such a fever pitch that we have actual (notorious) rpgnet moderators coming along to write in the free atmosphere of theRPGsite; and I found myself in the amusing position of largely agreeing with a post on this subject by the infamous Modclique member "Future Villain Band", who I believe had some less-than-flattering things to say about me and theRPGsite in the past and yet now has found himself a 168-post-and-counting homestead there.  He pointed out, perhaps expecting disagreement, that it was just as annoying to him to see a setting where there are magical luxuries the real medieval-world didn't have, a presumption of potential female adventurers, and yet for totally arbitrary reasons women couldn't be guards; or where magic (including transformation magic) is plentiful and yet its somehow unheard of to see a transgender character.

Well, as for me, I absolutely agree. Shit, if the setting is one where magic to change your gender is relatively easy, I would think the setting would then all but DEMAND that being a normal thing.

As for sexism, yes, the setting designer should shit or get off the pot: either make it clear that women are equal in the setting or explain why they aren't.
I would almost be equally not-ok with the idea of a world where everything closely follows medieval historical models yet for some reason all women are accepted as equals and get to be half of the king's guard and are regularly taken seriously in positions of power without any explanation; as I would be with a world where society is nothing like medieval historical models and yet for some reason there are no women in the king's guard just because.... the only thing that pisses me off slightly more about the former than the latter is that the latter is just a violation of logic while the former is a violation of both logic and a set-up that actually happened historically (and thus feels like blatant politically-correct historical revisionism).

The bigger issue is that the self-styled champions of inclusivity are usually obsessed with two points that have little to do with their alleged concerns for social justice:  first, they want to paint a picture of regular gamers (and ESPECIALLY OSR/Old-Schoolers) as reactionist dinosaurs who will refuse to play in a setting that isn't all white-heterosexual-males all the time.  Second, they will try to crusade to just cut-and-paste often ridiculously tokenized concepts not so much out of any kind of concern for creating any kind of meaningful 'equality' as much as out of a desire to "punish" those evil OSR-gamers, or to confirm their prejudices about regular gamers by noting their protests while patting themselves on the back as to how much more evolved they are; never understanding that the main 'protest' from the vast majority of regular gamers isn't "we don't want women, minorities or LBGT characters in our D&D!" but rather "what is being done makes no fucking sense".

So in rebuttal, I present to you a little OSR game I wrote called Arrows of Indra. No white guys in it at all. But what it DOES explicitly have is transgendered people in it (there's even one on the cover!).

But hey, before that there was Al-qadim, Rokugan, Kara-Tur, and Tekumel. The first three were very amateurish in the cultural portrayal, and the last too weird to be popular, but each of these featured no-white-guys; in settings that were socially and internally consistent. And the last of these was like the SECOND RPG SETTING EVER (if you count Blackmoor and Greyhawk as having been the same thing at first, which it pretty well was).

The idea that Old-school gamers only want to, or need to, or ever did only play characters that "look" like them is ridiculous.


Currently Smoking: Raleigh Volcano + Brebbia No. 7


  1. Transgender characters and magic... Hmmm... You know what? A character who knew from a young age that something was "wrong" with him and sought the supposedly cursed magic item like the Belt of Sex Change (you know, the one from Baldur's Gate), only to find it and accept the "curse" would be interesting. She'd most probably be scarily competent too.

  2. There's actually someone like that in fiction, at least. The character of Lord Fanny from Grant Morrision's Invisibles is a trans-female witch who meets the scarily competent definition very easily. Very, very cool character.

    I always thought that if magic is change in accordance with will, that a character who had the sheer willpower to radically change themselves through gender reassignment would be one VERY powerful mage. (Which is incidentally, the reason I've always allowed and encouraged cyborg spellcasters in cross-genre games like Rifts and Shadowrun, as what's more of a change in accordance with your will than becoming an 8 ft tall steel war-machine?)