Diversity in Dungeons & Dragons
Behind the scenes in the Nerdarchy writers’ chat group, there’s been some discussion about creating a repository of pre-generated character builds for our readers, new players, or maybe even for Dungeon Masters to have on hand to pass out for their games. One of the chief requirements we decided on (if we end up doing it) is to make sure that we’re “woke” about character options. While I’m not a fan of the actual term, I fully agree with the sentiment. I’m a strong proponent of diversity. People can easily turn their backs on something because they don’t feel they can identify with anything in it. Not having something they can connect to is very isolating. This is more than understandable. It’s very human for us to want to feel like what we do is reflective of who we are. As a society, I believe we don’t do as good of a job as we can to be inclusive, but I can’t control society. What we can do is to be more inclusive in our everyday lives, and including as much diversity as we can in Tabletop RPGs is one way we can do it.
Why am I putting so much focus on this? After all, I already talked about using Tabletop RPGs for social empathy last week. I’m not here to retread that subject. That case has been tried. This is a discussion about broadening player and GM experiences through inclusion. Not just including more from our personal cultures, but about perspectives outside of our own. Even if you aren’t looking to expand your worldview, creating an inclusive world with more diversity makes it a more robust and vibrant game. New experiences with different cultures means every encounter is an opportunity to be fresh and exciting.
The same can also be said for players. Creating diverse characters opens up new options for players. Different life experiences for the character can be a big difference. You can play the same character with a different culture, orientation, or condition, and it’ll be like playing an entirely different character. Giving a character a bipolar disorder, as an example, will greatly affect their social interactions, as well as change their reactions in battle.
It doesn’t have to end there. Your world-building process can be much more diverse. You can create new race dynamics, or even upset the balance of your game world. There’s no reason why humans have to be the dominant race, or the most common. There’s no reason why all High Elves have to operate under similar cultures. Consider a very wide variety of cultures. Game of Thrones is a great example of that. Each of the houses of the Seven Kingdoms in the show have vastly different cultures, often being almost unrecognizably different from each other, and that’s not including peoples like the Free Folk, the Dothraki, or the Free Cities.
Within any culture, there exists different classes of people, sub-cultures, and a number of minority classes. There are also outcasts and the repressed, those who have no voice of their own, and those who are defenseless. Including those experiences, as a player or a GM, as a part of the larger world that we already experience fleshes out an otherwise flat world. It creates an inclusive environment for current players, as well as future ones. It also provides opportunities for everyone to inhabit characters’ experiences based on a grander scale. Even if you are playing a noble character, being confronted by the inequalities of the lives of people that your noble family have affected will create deeply truthful exchanges.
Of course, diversity isn’t by nature negative. It can be a very positive force. Wildly diverse backgrounds coming together will create equally truthful exchanges. Players can learn from each other, and learn to empathize with each other. They can come together through the trials of a quest to form a bond that wouldn’t be as strong if they started out with the same view in life because they wouldn’t have a need to tend a relationship together.
Finally, it’s my opinion that Tabletop RPGs aren’t built on the company, or the system, or the movies, or the cartoons, or the video games. They’re built on the players. We players are what make the hobby what it is. The more inclusive we are, even in our own basements with no one new at the table, the more we can begin to accumulativly create a bigger audience and a much more diverse one. If we exemplify the hobby through the decisions we make, the thing that makes Tabletop RPGs so awesome, that everyone is free to try anything, how we project the hobby will shine through in the small moments. We won’t notice them, but others will. An off-hand comment, or maybe a quick glimpse of a game being ran, is all it takes for people to pass judgement. In those moments, if how we commit to a fuller, more truthful experience, that maximizes how much people can connect to it, and that is what’s going to draw more people to the hobby.
Have fun, and stay nerdy.
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