Rants and Raves

The Return of the Half-Orc: Representative Diversity

In 1989 a subtle but sudden change happened in D&D when half-orcs were suddenly no longer a playable character. Due to the “satanic panic” of the era, many tabletop RPG players were being condemned, games were being banned, people were having trouble with the law for simply sitting at a table and role-playing. So, to make the game seem less “satanic” and “devil-worshiping” and more “family-friendly”, TSR decided half-orcs had to go.

On April 9th, 2018, @LearningDnD published an article titled Top 10 Best D&D Twitter Accounts to Follow. It was a list full of white men. Though the majority (9/10), of the listed individuals are actually fantastic people who absolutely output amazing content on Twitter within the realm of the D&D community, they are an exclusive representation of who we are.

This is not to stay the individuals themselves are exclusive, not in the least. I am not lying when I say these are – mostly – great people. The fact that the list contained an individual who goes out of their way to spread negativity within our community is a different discussion all on its own and I will not be having that today as it is not the purpose of this particular conversation.

As this list was released and more began to read it, it was very obvious what this list was missing. Diversity. There immediate defense of “you choose the best of the best and if the top ten best all happen to be white men, that’s not your fault” began cropping up. Not only is this blatantly untrue as many equally ‘worthy’ women, LGBTQ2+, non-binary, transgender, POC individuals exist out there and output fantastic content, but it is also an exclusive, blinded way to look at our community.

I cannot say this enough about so many subjects I converse on. Representation matters. When you’re new to this community and all you see are white men filling up the “top 10” lists and the same faces splattered across your twitter feed or being asked as guests in podcasts, it can feel quite exclusive. This community then begins to display itself as a “No Girls/Enby/POC/Marginalised in any way Individuals Allowed”.

As the discussion quickly swelled around this post, I was pleased to note that the overwhelming response was “No. This is not okay.” Members from all corners of the community scrambled to come forward and create their own “Top 10” lists and share them with everyone. Some even posted them on their own blogs (RPG Casts Tess posted An [Actually Diverse] List of D&D Twitter Accounts to Follow, Halfling Gypsy made another somewhat satirical post titled Top 10 of things I found four seconds ago…, Allison (Ehloanna) also has been working on a document of individuals that has reached over a hundred people)

Lightly engaging in the discussion, I was thrilled, absolutely thrilled, to see people banning together in large numbers explaining that representation matters, inclusion matters, and lists like these were harmful to the community and not what anyone wanted. There was a great relief inside of myself as it was quickly noted that the majority of our community wants change. We don’t want to assimilate with grognards, we want to become something on our own. Something important. Something inclusive. Something vibrant and diverse.

It is with this that I had a very sudden realisation that with every moment of gatekeeping I have experienced, I’ve also experienced quadruple the moments of inclusion within the community. I’ve spoken with people who want to understand how they can be better or people who are going out of their way to concentrate their efforts on creating safe gaming environments, or people who stand up to allow their voices to lift up the quiet whispers of the long-oppressed.

What does this have to do with half-orcs at all? These playable character races were shunned, looked down upon, and considered evil abominations to the point where the publishers of D&D felt it prudent to remove them from the game so as to appear “more desirable” in play. But someone, somewhere, spoke up against that and eventually, this wrong was righted. It took a few years, but a supplement to 2e allowed half-orcs their glorious return and their inclusion of playable races within D&D. And it’s all because somebody said no. Somebody said enough is enough.

Just like how somebody is saying enough – we don’t want the same playable characters – we want diversity. We want minorities, we want visible representation, we want to see everyone and not the same persons over-and-over again.

What I’d like to hold onto from this seemingly small incident is that there aren’t just small whispers in the crowd saying “no” anymore, there are booming voices and raised fists demanding that marginalized folx be recognised and included. Are we completely there yet? Absolutely not. We have so much work to do together to make this the reality in our future, but I believe full-heartedly that it will be.

Below is one of my many Top 10 lists. I’ve been asked several times in the past few days who is on my Top 10 and it changes every single time because I can’t choose. I have 20-30 people on my “Top 10”. So here are a few who, at this very moment, is on the “Top 10 D&D Twitter Accounts” to follow list.

But ask me a moment later and it will be entirely different.

My Top 10

  1. @DevenRue
  2. @65thvictor
  3. @satinephoenix
  4. @Cyndancer
  5. @ChrisPerkinsDnD
  6. @katewelchhhh
  7. @mercyfuldm
  8. @JeremyECrawford
  9. @DeathByMage
  10. @HollyConrad

ETA: No, I am not comparing diverse individuals or marginalised folx to half-orcs or calling them “abominations” or any of that sort. Just comparing the situation that diversity of PCs were dwindled out to make the game bland and fit a status quo but players and creators alike spoke up against that for the betterment of the game to be more diverse and inclusive – even if it’s just of fantasy races. I am simply comparing the lack of diversity and the community response of it.
Image by Wizards of The Coast

4 thoughts on “The Return of the Half-Orc: Representative Diversity”

  1. Thanks for writing this! As a fan of half orcs, and a nonbinary queer person, I appreciate this!

    One note: could you change “transgendered” to “transgender”? Transgender is the correct term and I want to make sure your words come through without risk of anyone feeling hurt. 🙂

    Like

  2. I’ve been working on a similar article about a popular third party D&D website/tool that seems to think their programers, other staff, lead content director, and newly hired 3 person writing staff all need to be white males. (although I did recently find a photo that showed they have a woman on their staff, although they seem to be absent in more recent photos)

    Like

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