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Saturday 31 December 2016

Classic Rant: 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 reactionary 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

(Originally January 15, 2014)


  1. Seems like an incapacity to imagine things, and feelings of being uncomfortable when you are forced to imagine or behave like someone from a different world/society. Which makes you wonder why these people are into roleplay in the first place. What's next? Actors saying they don't want to play characters in settings that don't align with their contemporary and (quite possible) fleeting ideological preferences?

    I may be seeing too much, but I note an undercurrent of fear in these people. Fear at the possibility that other societies worked perfectly fine without those " 21st century middle-class liberal west-coast values." The possibility that, perhaps, their vision of the world isn't really necessary or inevitable.

  2. Frisky: I think you've nailed it, but I'd like to add my hypothesis about why.

    They've abandoned any objective moral standards. It's all subjective now. You're a good person if you adopt the latest virtue-signals on Twitter before your friends do. You have to loudly insist that the latest virtue-signals are eternal verities you've always believed. (Remember when all the Lefties who used to snigger about "J. Edgar Hoover wearing a dress" suddenly discovered that trannies were an oppressed minority and they had always supported their right to use the women's bathroom?)

    Societies -- even fictional, imaginary ones -- which don't follow the Twitter-mob enthusiasms of the moment threaten their claims of virtue and worth. If being first to denounce the Outrage of the Day is meaningless, then "Progressives" aren't actually any better than the rest of us, and can only measure their worth by what they've actually done (i.e. nothing).

  3. What annoys me about discussions of virtue signaling in RPGs is that any character willing to go into dungeon looking for treasure is operating at the bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy - and when you're there you don't care about sex and gender identity, you care about where the next meal is coming from and where you can sleep for a couple hours without getting killed. So the whole concept has nothing to do with the game, it's an attention getting device for the player to the detriment of the game.
    Now I don't run pure medieval fantasy, as I know that in such a world life is nasty, brutish and short and lacks the dramatic scenes that give life to a RPG. I've had a number of players run characters of the opposite sex (yawn) and in nearly forty years of gaming (starting in Tekumel) I can't remember anyone asking if they could play a character of a particular skin tone - mainly because it has no effect on the game, unless the DM (me) wants to make the effort to give it one. If a player ever tells me they have a transgender character - my response will probably be along the line of 'and that makes what difference exactly to the hobgoblin with the axe about to brain you?'
    TSR published Empire of the Petal Throne before Greyhawk and Blackmoor, making it the oldest campaign setting

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

    I've known a few players that look/act more than a little like a Dwarf. Short, hairy, argumentative, and drunk yet I've not known anybody that actually wanted to play a Dwarf. Funny that.