RACISM IN ROLE-PLAYING GAMES!

Thirty-three years ago, as my friends and I sat at lunch discussing our latest scores on Pac-Man and Defender at the arcade – in the ancient of days, there was no Playstation, Wii, Gamecube or any other home game console (astounding to y’all yungins, I know) – I looked around and noticed that at every white table (yes, Caucasians sat separately from us – Chicago was, afterall, the most racially segregated city in the nation – it is now third most racially segregated) the male students were having a good time hurling plastic cubes (which I recognized as dice), pyramids and an array of other polyhedrons as they referred to books and charts and sheets of paper.
I alerted my friends to what was going on and – being the bold fellas we were – we sauntered over to a table and observed.

“What are y’all playing,” I asked.

No one answered. They were lost in what I discerned to be a battle that was taking place entirely in their minds, but was represented by the charts and sheets and books.

I asked again – “What are y’all playing?”

Role 1One of the guys, without looking up to acknowledge my presence, replied “Dungeons and Dragons”.

The name of the game sounded cool and being a fan of fantasy literature and of games – particularly wargames, such as Risk and games like Clue, in which you assume the role of a character – my interest was piqued, as were the interests of my friends. We stood watching the action, growing more interested in this strange, new game with every roll…with every declaration of a hit with a sword…with every spell cast and every lock picked. It was apparent that, within the world of Dungeons and Dragons, you could simulate anything with the game mechanics. I had to learn more!

After the session was done, my friends and I spoke to Phillip – the one the players referred to as “the Dungeon Master” and “DM” – and asked if we could play. Phillip agreed to teach us to play, but said he would only teach us “Basic D & D”, as “Advanced D & D” would be beyond our level of understanding. I felt an urge to punch Phillip in his ruddy face, but I hid my feelings and agreed to learn the game from him, determined that I would surpass him and would one day be a “Dungeon Master” without peer. Phillip agreed to meet us after school and left with a wave, saying “See ya later, Orc Clan!” My friends chuckled in ignorance. I did not. I had noticed the brutally inflicted upon an orc horde as the table of guys played and calling us orcs resonated as racist with me. My friends dismissed my suspicions. “Calm down, Farrakhan,” one snickered. “Yeah, Nat Turner,” another quipped.

“Just keep your eyes and ears open.” I said.

Role 5We met Phillip at the school’s library. We sat down and began making our characters. I chose to be a Fighting Man, as did my friend, Johnnie. My friend, Solomon chose to be a Cleric and my friend Reggie decided he’d be the Magic-User.

“At lunch, you guys had cooler classes to play,” I said.

“Yeah,” Phillip replied smugly. “That’s because we play Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. This is Basic.”
“When can you teach us the advanced game?” Solomon asked.
“Never!” Phillip shouted. “I told you, the advanced game is beyond your orcish capacity!”

I slammed my fist on the table and growled. “Call another one of us an orc again and I’ll beat your ass!”
The librarian peeked up from her desk.
“Sorry, ma’am.” I said.
The librarian went back to reading Wuthering Heights and I turned back to Phillip. “We will learn Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and I will be a better DM than your racist ass!” I hissed, trying to be as quiet as possible while getting my point across.

My friends and I tore up those lame characters and “chi-town pimped-walked” off, leaving Phillip red-faced, sweaty and shaking.
“How we gonna afford those Advanced D & D books? Solomon sighed. “I looked at the prices. They are twenty bucks each!”

I knew that we needed the three core books – Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual – I knew we were all broke and I knew our parents would be hard-pressed to spend sixty dollars on a game, but I knew – somehow – we would prevail.

I went home extolling the greatness of the game. How mathematical probability was generated with dice and even percent could be generated. My mother and sisters listened as I enthusiastically described Dungeons and Dragons to them. My family has always been supportive of my passions and – true to form – a week later, I had all three books in my hands. I devoured them, committing the rules to memory and my friends and I began to play an adventure I wrote. They loved it and thus began my three decades journey as a player, Gamemaster, collector, and now, creator of role-playing games.

I realized that most of the role-playing games on the market back then – and today – were played by, created by and written for the “Phillips” of the world. Non-Caucasian people were not a concern of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson when they created Dungeons and Dragons, other than the striking similarity between orcs and the negative stereotypes of people of African descent and the Willie Lynchesque handling of “non-white” races.

Role 6Let’s look at some characteristics and treatment of orcs and other non-human races in Dungeons and Dragons and tell me if I am just being paranoid.

First, let’s look at the magic users. While all the “white” races (yes, when we envision elves, dwarves, gnomes and even humans in Dungeons & Dragons, we see Caucasian people, don’t we?) have magicians, sorcerers and the like, orcish magic users are referred to as “witch doctors,” a derogatory term which is associated with traditional African healers and priests.

Now, let’s examine a quote from page 104 of the 1st edition of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The italicized emphasis is mine:

“Non-human troops, bugbears and humanoids, will be very difficult to handle. They will tend to fight amongst each other, fight with humans nearby – whether friendly or not, run from battle if they see troops on their own side retiring or retreating, and fall to looting at the first opportunity. Communications are also a great problem. If the master is strong and powerful and gives them cause to fear disobedience, it will be of some help in disciplining such troops. Likewise, if there are strong leaders within each body of such troops, threatening and driving them on, they will be more likely to obey. Weakness in leadership, or lack of officering (overseeing), will certainly cause these troops to become unruly and impossible to control”. Shaking your head yet? Let’s continue.

Here are descriptions of the Half-Orc, the progeny of an orc and a human parent (assumed to be from rape, as orcs are, without exception, evil, brutish things). Once again, the italicized emphasis is mine:
This one is from page 15 of the Players Handbook (1st Ed.). “Half-Orcs are boors. They are rude, crude, crass, and generally obnoxious. Because most are cowardly they tend to be bullies and cruel to the weak, but they will quickly knuckle under to the stronger. This does not mean that all half-orcs are horrid, only most of them. It neither means that they are necessarily stupid nor incapable. They will always seek to gain the upper hand and dominate those around them so as to be able to exercise their natural tendencies; half-orcs are greedy too. They can, of course, favor their human parent more than their orcish one.” Spoken like a true racist, but oh, it gets worse.

This is from the 3rd Edition, released in 2003: “The orc language has no alphabet and uses Dwarven script. Orc writing is found most often in graffiti. Half-orc characters receive a +2 modifier to strength and -2 modifiers to intelligence and charisma ability scores. Half-orcs prefer simple pleasures: feasting, singing, wrestling and wild dancing. They have no interest in refined pursuits such as high art and philosophy.” I know you are shaking your head now…and rightfully so!

This racism is further perpetuated visually – and quite viscerally – in film director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on the books by JRR Tolkien.

Role 2Peter Jackson’s 2002 film, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, opens with a scene of the Uruk-Hai (“Orcs”) running toward Isengaard with the hobbits Merry and Pippin. For those of you who have seen the film, you will remember that the Uruk-Hai are tall, black, and muscular with long coarse dreadlocks – an image that evokes stereotypical portrayals of black men. The racism was such in this film that at one point, Legolas the elf comments on how quickly the Uruk-Hai move. He says: “They run as if the very whips of their masters were behind them”.

Tolkien’s original language was actually much more neutral: “The Orcs have run before us, as if the very whips of Sauron were behind them”. This makes it apparent that Peter Jackson’s portrayal of the Uruk-Hai – and Legolas’ comment – was meant to hammer a metaphor into the viewer. For more on “Orcs” and how they represent people of African descent, please check out Racism in Role-Playing Games.

Recently, Naz Humphreys – a Brit of Pakistani heritage – stood in line for three hours in Hamilton, New Zealand, hoping to be hired as an extra in the new Hobbit movie. When she finally stood before the casting director, she was basically told that her skin was the wrong color.

Humphreys, who is fairly short (under five feet tall), thought she’d make the perfect extra. Instead, one of the casting crew for the film told her and others at the audition: “We are looking for light-skinned people. I’m not trying to be… whatever. It’s just the brief. You’ve got to look like a hobbit.”

Role 7Humphreys told New Zealand’s Waikato Times that “It’s 2010 and I still can’t believe I’m being discriminated against because I have brown skin.”

Damned troublemaker!

Perhaps this is all Humphrey’s fault; after all, she obviously failed to read the casting call, which specified that applicants have “light skin tones”. Of course, this was not for a lead role or anything, it was for a position as an extra – as a hobbit running around some shire or another, or walking hand-in-hand with her (God forbid) “dark skin-toned” husband, or some other mundane act only noticed by your subconscious. But, how dare she start a Facebook group entitled Hire hobbits of all colours! Say no to Hobbit racism!. Facebook – in all their wisdom and righteousness – took that subversive group down.

Thank you, Facebook. I can only imagine the carnage that would have ensued had you not acted swiftly and decisively!

One Facebook group that Facebook – in all their wisdom and righteousness – did not take down provided the solution to all Humphrey’s tom-foolery: “For years J.R.R Tolkien has been called a Racist, because he created his books for mainly European children and created a mythology for English people. The Hobbits are based on White people, keep it that way and have some respect for Tolkien.”

See, problem solved.

Seriously, folks, it is absolutely ridiculous to have strict rules about depicting imaginary beings, in an imaginary world populated by…imaginary beings.

Role 8It is very important to remember, when creating any work of speculative fiction, that metaphor is powerful. Even though the world of your story may be extremely different from our “real” world, that story is being read by a reader, or watched by a fan, who dwells in the “real” world, so you must be aware of how race in your speculative fiction world might be interpreted through the lens of that reader or watcher.

Be aware of the metaphor you’re broadcasting if you make all of your evil people a certain complexion, and all your heroes a certain different complexion. Be aware of the metaphor in play if a rugged, ruddy-complexioned hero saves all the sepia-toned natives – a la Tarzan.

Earlier, I mentioned how we see the non-orc races of humans, dwarves, halflings (“hobbits”) and gnomes as “white”. Why? It is because the Caucasian image has been perpetuated as the face of fantasy – the characters…the settings…all very medieval…all very Anglo-Saxon, even if the hero is not “human”.

In nearly 100 illustrations that depict adventurers in the 1st Edition of the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide (both published in 1978), there are NO non-white adventurers. In the over 100 illustrations in the 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide (both published in 1989), there are NO non-white adventurers. In 80 illustrations spread over the combined 980 pages of the 3rd Edition Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, there is one (scantily clad) black woman and no black men. And finally, in the 4th Edition (2008), there is one black man. Thus, through four editions, over thirty eight years, and 1,691 pages, there is one non-Caucasian male and one non-Caucasian female!

Role 4The creative team that is producing Ki-Khanga™: The Sword & Soul Role-Playing Game say it is time for a long overdue change!
We are creating a unique table-top gaming experience that puts you in an alternate Africa, wherein magic still lives and wondrous and fearsome creatures still roam the savannah. Where Sumunguru and Sundiata Keita meet on the battlefield and you become Imaro, Changa, Mistress Oyabakin, or even Queen Nzingha.

Co-Creator, Milton J. Davis and I will release an anthology of stories, set in the world of Ki-Khanga, in mid-January, 2013. This book – chock full o’ amazing short stories –  will serve as a fundraiser to produce the game, which is currently in the final playtest phase all across the United States and in several other countries. We plan to release the game in the fall of 2013.

With over 2,000,000 people playing pen-and-paper role-playing games on a regular, monthly basis (based on 2000 market research – and the numbers are rapidly growing), it is estimated that 17% are non-white. We will increase those numbers and of those 17% already playing role-playing games, most will play Ki-Khanga™ and love it! Many of the 83% will become players of Ki-Khanga™ too.

How do I know? Let’s just say I have checked my Knowledge (RPG) skill against a DC of 10 and rolled a natural 20 (those who know, know…those who don’t, soon will)!

About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link and Rite of Passage: Initiation. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika and contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. At present, Balogun is directing and fight choreographing the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk –a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the science fiction gangster saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika. He is also co-creator of the soon-to-be-released role-playing game, Ki-Khanga™: The Sword & Soul RPG. Balogun is Master Instructor of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute and Technical Director of Martial Ministries of America, a non-profit organization that serves at-risk youth. He is also a traditional African priest, actor and conflict resolution specialist, who works and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, his seven daughters and his son.

45 responses »

  1. Not a D & D player, but I know when I first watched Lord of the Rings I was thinking to myself–why are all of the dark people marching to Mordor. It’s not entirely unexpected that such a perspective might shape Tolkien’s original work, but I really thought that Peter Jackson could have and should have mixed it up.

    • Balogun says:

      Thanks for your comment, L.M.! I agree. Peter Jackson could have easily mixed it up without changing the story. The saga continues…

    • Dr. Curiosity says:

      Yep. A number of my friends – some from Māori and Samoan families – were less than pleased by the orcs all being brown and the heroes all being white. Tolkien’s story may be a product of its times, but that doesn’t mean we need to keep emulating and propagating this story over and over again.

    • Al Harron says:

      The thing is, there ARE darker-skinned people on the side of Good in Tolkien’s book: the people of Dol-Amroth and Pelargir are noted to be of darker skin than the Gondorians, and the Rohirrim ally with the Druedain, who are about as far from the “tall, blonde, pale” phenotype as you can get. Since the films were already taking considerable liberties with the source material in the name of making it more “accessible” to a modern cinema-going audience, I’m actually surprised Jackson didn’t go further.

      That said, my opinion on the matter of diversifying fantasy is not to change existing ones like LotR to be more inclusive, but to promote and celebrate new stories that were inclusive from the start. Inserting non-white ethnicities into established fantasy like Merlin is shallow tokenism and doesn’t address the root problem of fantasy being predominantly a whitewashed Medieval European landscape. Much better to do what you, Saunders, de Lint and others are doing, bringing Sword-and-Soul to a wider audience. Why bother being a token sidekick in Middle-earth, when you could be a legend in Nyumbani?

      • Balogun says:

        I absolutely agree. I do not seek to sit at a table where i have not been included. I seek to build my own table, share it with others and visit the home of others who welcome me and sit at theirs.

        Thanks, so much, for your feedback!

  2. I’m also not an RPG player but I have noticed these similar characteristics in all of the genre’s undertakings. It totally aligns with the “black” stereotypes of the “whites”. Just like your reply comment, “The saga continues…” This all rings so true.

  3. It’s amazing how racism is “built in” to so many things we take for granted; and especially science fiction. Excellent drop, Brother Balogun!

  4. Dr. Curiosity says:

    I didn’t grow up in the same racial context as Americans do, but with the benefit of hindsight and an adult awareness of the world around me… well, shit. It’s so obvious I wonder how I ever missed it. It also casts into a new light some of the comments I got when I was DMing back in high school, like “Hey wow, your orcs are smart and organised!” – I never saw any reason why they shouldn’t be competent defenders when their home was under attack by a bunch of gold-hungry marauders with swords and spells. Other people apparently had them lining up like so much cannon fodder, with no warrior instincts and the reasoning skills of a four-year-old. Just a few extra XP towards the next level, right?

    Coming out of my teens, I started playing Shadowrun – a cyberpunk setting with fantasy elements like magic and races like elves, dwarves, orcs and trolls. Tensions are written into the setting, with the various “metahuman” minorities often experiencing racism from the human majority (and in some cases, vice-versa; in a few areas, humans aren’t the ones with the privilege). I appreciate that Shadowrun’s writers didn’t ignore those tensions, and include plenty of characters that don’t play to the stereotypes. On the other hand, they’ve still got some issues inherited from their fantasy-race “standards”: for gameplay reasons, increased maximum physical capabilities are balanced out by limitations in some mental stats, for example.

    Most recently, I’ve been working on a Steampunk computer game/setting with a few colleagues over in America. We’re trying to do it right: recognising that the early 20th Century world our timeline diverged from expanded far beyond those Steampunk staples of Victorian England and the Wild West. The world is full of nations and cultures that exist in their own right, rather than simply being exotic destinations for white adventurers to plunder.

    Now, while we have a knowledgeable and conscientious writing team, it’s still possible that we may get a few things wrong along the way. We’re proceeding with research and due respect all the same: trying to do justice to our world’s cultures, rather than merely appropriating aesthetics and stories for our own uses.

    I’m definitely looking forward to reading and seeing more about Ki-Khanga. It sounds like something that is long overdue in roleplaying games!

    • Balogun says:

      Thank you, so much, for your comments! I look forward to your steampunk game and wish you much success!

      • srtorris says:

        Ah, let me share an experience, if I may? I’d happened upon a website that featured podcasts of books. Of course, the first thing I did was check for books done by/or starring African-American or African characters. You see, in these situations, there seems to be an abundance of Asian (ie Chinese Martial Arts or Japanese Anime) characters so I did search for my “other” Brothas and Sistas. And I wasn’t looking for the typical “street” novels or “Bitch-You-KNOW-That’s-MY-Man!” novels either. Not that there’s anything wrong w/them, I just wasn’t looking for that.

        After putting in any number of keywords, I actually longed for a “trappin” or “hustler” podcast. All I’d found was a 1950s-esque courtroom drama and sad to say, it was poorly done. Maybe it was the guy’s equipment, maybe something happened in the upload but it was bad.

        I tried my hand at some of the other podcasts that were offered and came across one that featured a dwarf who was in his time and land but jumped through a portal and ended up in THIS time. I would tell you more but I didn’t make it through the first chapter of the podcast. The dwarf was escaping and outwitting some very stupid “Blackorcs”. Yes, that’s what I’d heard – “Blackorcs”, who apparently are a lot dumber than regular Orcs, so was my opinion. I’d just finished reading the first two books in the LOTR trilogy, smdh the whole time, the LOTR movie had come out and Peter Jackson stayed true to the books (funny enough, the cartoon Orcs looked more reptilian than like Black folks) and I was all too tired. The podcast gave the option of leaving a comment and I did. I wasn’t rude or “loud” as I explained to the of the story he’d shared that I felt it amazing that dark, low-brow, knuckle dragging Blackorcs and villains like them would put off some people, like I was, especially when “light” green or “Light” Brown or “grey” villains with keen features always seem to have a perspicacity wide nosed thick lipped villains don’t. Of course I was attacked by others leaving comments (the author kind of listened more like brushed me off) angry that I would play the “race card” since one of the guys doing the voiceover in the podcast was African-American. And you know it’s not racist when an African-American is involved! Ha HAAAA!

    • srtorris says:

      I think we can do the Victorian Era, Western/Cowboy side of Steampunk, we just have to open our eyes. Here in America, they ignore large chunks of its history. You look at Hollywood and you think these brave people who traveled West were all Caucasian and they did all the work. Not true. There were some people who took slaves on those covered wagon trails, who do you think cleared away the brush and help build the houses and such. The Wild West was in California was founded by runaway slaves and ex-slaves. And not only did Africans have a tremendous impact on European history (hell, Shakespeare including Blacks in his plays – pre Victorian Era) the North was replete w/educated free Blacks who were property owners and intellectual Blacks as well.

      I commend you all for opening up the map and shining the true light on the continent of Africa but in America, Africa’s progeny was making tremendous strides even w/Jim Crow and segregation. And that was no small feat, I gotta say. Thanks again for your work.

      • Balogun says:

        Thanks for your comments!
        It is important that we tell ALL of our stories – from Africa, throughout the diaspora and beyond – in all genres of fiction and in non-fiction.

  5. [...] and the racial issues I dealt – and continue to deal – with in role-playing, check out http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/racism-in-role-playing/) and during this time, I have read – and heard – several stories about players who have gone [...]

  6. [...] The words ‘Fantasy Fiction’, more often than not, evoke images of faraway 14th Century (or earlier) kingdoms. Misty lands of green shires, towering castles, fire-breathing dragons, unicorns, orcs and busty wenches in chainmail bras. These images become even more powerful when played out in the mind in a Pen & Paper Role-Playing Game (for more on role-playing games, please check out http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/06/10/the-psychology-of-role-playing-games-and-the-crazy-folks-who-play-them/ and http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/01/19/racism-in-role-playing/). [...]

  7. James Nelson says:

    Just watched the entire LoTR trilogy last month for the first time since I saw it in theaters. The racial overtones weren’t apparent to me when I originally saw it, guess I was just pleased someone finally decided to treat the fantasy genre with some long overdue respect. Watching it at home, it really became incredibly obvious that LoTR is the ultimate white male fantasy film. I don’t think people even noticed that Jackson even used similar scenes that Griffith used in Birth of a Nation, with the close-ups of incredibly clean blonde children huddling in the caverns of Helms Deep with their mothers, whilst the men fought the invading horde topside. Not saying Jackson intentionally was invoking those images, but they are certainly there.

    Regardless, it really strengthened my determination to produce films that made other ethnicities equally heroic onscreen. Right now we’re in pre-production on a steampunk film set in the mid-1800’s, after hearing from the umpteen time from people who supposedly should know better that there were no Blacks living in England at this time. It doesn’t take a lot of research to prove them wrong. Obviously, many Caucasians don’t know their history very well either, because there are quite a few high profile Blacks living in England during the Victorian era that any person would have known had you mentioned them, yet these people never show up in films.

    I was told when I informed someone that my protagonist was an expatriat-Black-American living in England that “there weren’t a [lot] of blacks in England at the time” to which I responded, if there was one, then my story has historical integrity since I didn’t have to make it up. Films made by whites have forever focused stories around the one white person in a foreign culture since the beginnings of film, why should other groups be exempt from doing the same?

  8. [...] A diverse writer and wearer of many hats, Balogun is the author of several short stories in the genres of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction and of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the science fiction gangster saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika. He is also co-creator – with author, Milton Davis – of the soon-to-be-released role-playing game, Ki-Khanga™: The Sword & Soul RPG. [...]

  9. [...] Heroic Fantasy shrugs its shoulders and screams “Who gives a crap?” as it openly embraces its racism and feminism. Jungle-residing cannibals, mysterious and treacherous “Orientals” and sexually [...]

  10. [...] time spent playing role-playing games, reading comic books and storytelling during my childhood and teen years were crucial, formative [...]

  11. I can’t help but agree with your view on D&D and racial prejudice. I still remember the (shamefully bitter) reactions of the local gaming community, when a non-caucasian actress was cast as an elf in the first D&D movie. I’m not an active gamer any more, just a reader, but I’m looking forward to reading your book.

  12. periklisb says:

    I can’t help but agree with your view on D&D and racial prejudice. I still remember the (shamefully bitter) reactions of the local gaming community, when a non-caucasian actress was cast as an elf in the first D&D movie. I’m not an active gamer any more, just a reader, but I’m looking forward to reading your book.

    • Balogun says:

      Wow! I didn’t know that about the D&D movie. It doesn’t surprise me, however. I will research that and see if I can interview that actress.
      Thanks, so much, for your comment!

  13. Jessica Burde says:

    I wish you were wrong. I really do. And I’m looking forward to learning more about Ki-Khanga.

    On personal level, I am nervous about including non-Caucasian characters in my work. I am racially blind – and I definitely mean that in a bad way! I am unaware of the issues, I am unaware of the history, and I damn well know that I am carrying around stereotypes and prejudice without being ware of them either! One of the reasons I love this blog is it is helping me learn about some of the stuff I know I don’t know. In the mean time, I know that if I include non-Caucasian characters in my stories, I am going to be perpetuating some stereotypes and prejudice, just because I don’t know how not to (if that makes sense). I still write non-Caucasian characters. I’d much rather risk being offensive accidentally and including diversity then blatantly exclude more than half the human race. But I’m still not comfortable.

    Damn, I’m babbling today. But since I am babbling and dumped all that out – if you can direct me to some other resources that can further my education, I’d much appreciate it.

  14. James Nelson says:

    I found the photo from Conan II amusing. Having read much of the correspondence between R.E.H. and others it’s quite evident that Howard was a racist; however you do find more depictions of other ethnicities in his Conan stories, protagonists and antagonists than you do in the works of Tolkien. Funny because the LoTR “film” apologists claim it’s perfectly okay and correct not to have any races other than white in the films since Tolkien has made middle-earth a fantasy representation of Europe, while Technically one could argue that Howard’s Hyborian Age could be about that same mythical time period. The Gaels, ancestors of the Irish and Highland Scotch, descended from pure-blooded Cimmerian clans, so it’s evident Howard was writing about Europe as well. I just in the mind of Jackson film fans Middle Earth exists in a world where Moors, or their fictional counterparts never discovered it; nor was there any trade between different cultures since “man” only appears to have been considered one culture [or at least the noble ones]. Funny that if Sauron could influence “men” from some place else, and people knew about them, they never had any contact? [And no if this is explained in the Samarillion, I honestly don’t care, because I shouldn’t have to read the research someone did for a book, to figure out the story I’ve just seen.}

  15. [...] and Dragons back in 1981, my greatest love became fantasy. Forced into game-mastering due to the racism of the white students who refused to teach Black students to play, or treated us like “orcs” when they did teach us, [...]

  16. Anselmo Salvatierra says:

    Hi.

    FYI:
    There was another D20/OGL product that I thought it was pretty nice – worth looking for: Atlas Game’s Nyambe setting.

    AS

  17. Greg says:

    As an aspiring Fantasy author, I have discussions about prejudice in Fantasy with my friends all the time. It popped up again just this Saturday when I was hanging out at with a couple of my friends at an Art Show.

    There’s a real problem that Fantasy’s origins are predominantly white and male. I have trouble writing and being a fan of a genre where the seminal work is really all about racism (Lord of the Rings).

    Robert Jordan follows this up in the mid-90s with sexist fantasy, where women and men use different type of magic and are just plain different from each other. (at least he has a nearly 50% female cast as a result of trying to drive home this point)

    I love these two franchises dearly, and guiltily, but it seems to me that part of Fantasy’s schtick is addressing prejudice, either by affirming or denying its value. I want to be in the camp that denies prejudice’s value. And yet my first novel was summed up by a friend as “Kung Fu and Vikings”. It’s impossible to not have characters comment on how different my pseudo-Chinese protagonist looks. I’m hoping I can handle it decently enough that I don’t turn out to be an accidental racist.

    I’ve always felt uncomfortable with High Fantasy’s reliance on subhumanization to justify a Total War scenario. We’re not supposed to feel bad about the slaughter of Orcs and Trollocs? The real life implications, that some things just need purging, makes me pretty queasy…

    Besides that, I’m unsure if war should ever be glorified like that. It should be depicted as the grim, bloody, hellish mess that it is.

    This post is amazing. Following this blog from now on.

    • Balogun says:

      Your observations are spot on. I believe that if we research a culture in-depth and with respect, we can create a character from that culture that is not a billboard for the stereotypes of that culture. Thanks, so much, for your feedback!

  18. Frank Lazar says:

    On a more positive note, I’d like you all to meet Pathfinder’s Iconic Paladin, Seelah.
    http://www.pathfinderwiki.com/wiki/Seelah A dark skinned woman of Katepesh descent. She has a backstory worthy of Peter Parker and is one of the original iconic characters of Pathfinder a game that carries on the D+D 3.5 mantle and actually now surpasses Wizard’s D+D in sales.

  19. I look forward to Ki-Khanga. I’ll have to keep my eye open for it. The anglo-centric and white-washed European fantasy trope was, at best, dated 30 years ago. The genre has long been in need of diversification.
    To this day, the Nyambe book from Atlas Games a decade or so was my all-time favorite d20 setting book for that very reason.

  20. Vancouverois says:

    I’m afraid I’m coming to way too late, but – what do you think of Ursula K Le Guin’s series of Earthsea books? The original books, NOT the TV series, which was widely criticized for many failings, not least of which was how they bleached the characters…

  21. SongCoyote says:

    This was an excellent article, and really brought home some complaints I’ve had over the years about gaming in general and D&D in particular. I’ve even played characters of other genders and non-white appearance (while doing my best not to descend into cultural appropriation, though I’m sure I’ve failed sometimes) and to my great fortune have rarely been given trouble about it. Of course, I am aware that I live in a very liberal bubble here in the San Francisco Bay Area but even so….

    Anyway, I love the idea of Ki-Khanga and will gladly play it if the system works for me (I am sure the world-building will). I was raised with one racist parent, and between that and some specific bad experiences growing up I struggle with the thoughts and reactions that have been instilled in me on an ongoing basis. I don’t know that I’ll ever really understand or overcome that, but I’ll do my best to consume fantasy carefully and consciously and consider these sorts of things when choosing my entertainments.

    At least the pony fiction I’ve been reading a lot of lately manages to avoid this sort of thing. No comfort to those suffering, but it’s a bastion of peace to some extent, anyway. Now if I could just get some of the bronies to get over themselves….

    Thanks for the great post, and good luck with your game development!

    Light and laughter,
    SongCoyote

  22. Would it be possible to do a follow up article for current players with suggestions on how to mitigate the inherent racism in the many editions of D&D which are still currently being played? Is it ok to play a dark skinned person if you are not a dark skinned person? Could you create stats for a race of light skinned orcs? What about Drow Elves? They always sounded a bit racist to me….and I thought Orcs were green ? Also, BTW, I was told in high school by my boyfriend that I couldn’t play D&D because I’m a girl…. but we’ve come a long way from then. Also, I’m sorry about the shitty RPG group you first discovered, and I’m glad you decided to explore RPGs in spite of your experience with those players. It’s a fun game to play!

    • Balogun says:

      Thanks, for your feedback!
      It is okay to play any complexion of character your heart desires.
      I am glad that YOU continued to explore RPGs after such sexist treatment! In high school I only knew two young women who played DnD – probably because most were treated like you were.

  23. Are you a fan of Order of the Stick? I really admire the way the artist just casually depicts humans, elves, dwarves and halflings with all sorts of skin tones. Simultaneously, he explores racism and bigotry using different humanoid races as an analogy – great stuff

  24. […] Chris would give me that 1920s Dieselfunk look I wanted. From working with Chris before on art for Ki-Khanga: The Sword and Soul Role-Playing Game, I also knew he is a master of creating creatures and I needed a vampire and a monstrous race of […]

  25. […] The role-playing game-style CYOA books, which use stats and sometimes even dice, similar to Dungeons and Dragons, seem to be aimed at high school-aged readers and older, most Choose Your Own Adventure-type books seem to be aimed at children between the ages of 10 and 13, though there has been a series for adults and there is presently a series for preschoolers. […]

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