Thursday, June 18, 2020

Loving D&D Enough to Hate It



Today, after several weeks of people clamoring for changes on Twitter, such as dropping the word "race" or angry that orcs and drow are portrayed as purely "evil", Wizards of the Coast's Jeremy Crawford issued a statement that addressed recent changes that had occurred and would continue to occur to address the issue.

You can find it here

I'm not going to lie and say this is anything my group and I have ever had trouble with, while some games we've played used orcs and drow as purely evil, I seriously doubt that any long-running groups are completely static in their approach.

The Monster Manual for ADnD 1st Edition was the first RPG book I ever read through. I had loved Clash of the Titans and therefore mythology and when I discovered a book full of monsters at my local B. Daltons I was blown away. It felt like I read through it for hours while my parents shopped the Mall the store was located in. Before we left the Mall, I asked my parents if I could buy the book and they offered to take me to a nearby toy store and I promptly forgot about it. The next time I was in B. Daltons the huge display at the front of the store for ADnD was gone and I didn't couldn't find them, maybe the Satanic Panic had it or maybe I was a kid and just fairly lazy.

I did get quite a few of the DnD bendy monsters and action figures and loyally watched the cartoon though. I wouldn't play my first game of ADnD until I was a Sophomore in College and that's when I found out my Mom was worried bout it because of the Satanic Panic craze (yes, I watched Mazes and Monsters and didn't really think much of it) and didn't want me to own that book so many years before.

When I began to DM ADnD 2E many of my adventures started with me flipping through the new Monstrous Manual hardcover and choosing a monster I thought was cool. I happened to love wyverns, hook horrors, and ogre magi and they appeared in my games quite a bit.

I've never assumed drow were evil because they were a matriarchy or orcs were evil because they might be inspired by the Mongels. I assumed they were monsters in DnD and were the "bad guys" that my players, the "good guys", would kill them to take their stuff. At the same time, if the players wanted to use diplomacy that was fine too. Drow might be evil, but they weren't stupid, in fact, one of the games I'm running right now has had the player's negotiate their way through a version of the Keep on the Borderlands.

My personal feeling is that if you look at a fictional creation and see within it a certain Human ethnicity then you have some serious problems and might be a racist. 

Since that is out of the way I'm going to drop some DnD publishing history. I think many of those who have voiced their displeasure with WotC's portrayals might not have been around for DnD 4th Edition. 4E's designers were willing to slaughter every sacred cow that didn't work and when a lot of us heard that we cheered as we geared up for its release.

One of those sacred cows was Alignment and another was expectations. Creatures might be known for a certain Alignment but that wasn't a hard rule at all. Gold Dragons could be Evil, Drow could be Good, Orcs could be Lawful Good. 4E wanted you to tread upon the established lore and tried to modernize DnD's tropes.

Drow might not worship Lolth, the world wasn't necessarily filled with magic item vendors, and Fighters got cool Powers too.

The Designers of 4E didn't want anyone to assume anything and that philosophy was reflected in R.A. Salvatore's novels from that period where Drizz't contemplated the fact that Race and Alignment were not linked after all and there might be plenty of other drow that wanted more out of life than to serve the Spider Queen and dwell in the Underdark. An Orc King united his people in the North and Drizz't didn't kill him. And do you want to know why? Because DnD 4E did not succeed.

Read that again, DnD 4th Edition and 4th Edition Essentials did not succeed and the plug was pulled on that edition and everyone who had either dispised or grew to despise 4E moved on to Pathfinder 1st Edition which did not choose to alter DnD's classic tropes.

I am certain that Alignment and Race were areas the 5th Edition Designers made sure to walk back as they developed the game. DnD 5E is a massive success and a cultural juggernaut right now, but during DnD Next that wasn't guaranteed. The development team was reduced to a skeleton crew and it very much felt like a last gasp effort that hit at just the right time. People loved that it was DnD again and embraced its roots.

What you need to understand is that Wizards of the Coast tried to be innovative and the fanbase left them high and dry. And now, as Nerd Culture always does, we have to persecute the thing we love to prove that we love something enough to hate it and we will not allow anyone who thinks otherwise to share that thing with us.

This is a game of make-believe with math and dice and if you lose sight of that then shame on you.

8 comments:

Doctor Futurity said...

Well said!

Itai Assaf Raizman-Greif said...

I've been running games for 30 years, I never played with alignments because I always felt it was a weird and counterintuitive idea, and I hated 4E because it was a board game and not a roleplaying game. Now I play 5E, it's my favorite edition of all the editions I've played, and I still play without any alignments.
So I disagree with your premise, it's well known that correlation does not imply causation.

Cross Planes said...

@Itai Assaf Raizman-Greif, I respect that you disagree with me and acknowledge your experiences. My point about Alignments is that 4th Edition also made it loud and clear that no "cow is sacred" meaning that Races and Monsters didn't have hard and fast alignments which is something that seems to bother those objecting to drow and orcs in 5E. It wasn't this one decisioin but so many of those "sacred cows" being changed helped cause 4e to fail.

5E wasn't sure thing. The D&D team was reduced to a skeleton crew and after watching a portion of their market share dump them for Pathfinder or the OSR, they decided to use the lessons they learned about game balance from 4E and used more "old school" langauage terminology and themes. 5E could've been the end of D&D as we know it. But it was pretty well designed and Critical Role happened and being a Geek became Chic. Do you know the problem when something is chic? Awful people are attracted to it or the idea of it. Meanwhile, Awful Geeks began to realize that they loved D&D enough to Hate it to prove they were chicer than the asshats and they are now clamoring for changes to the game that when they were first tried were part of the reason the project didn't succeed.

Guess what? I don't use Alignment either, but I'm not associating made up races with human ethnic groups or comparing drow or orc culture to the Mongols or people of color.

And I'll reiterate this one more time: If you look at a race in D&D and see a human ethnic group you are a fucking racist.

Itai Assaf Raizman-Greif said...

OK, let's see if I can understand your position better. Because you seemed to be saying "associating alignment and behavior with race is what helped 5E succeed". But you list a whole bushel of reasons why 5E succeeded; and 4E changed so many things, slaughtered so many sacred cows, not sure you can say just one element is the cause of its failure.

Unknown said...

Things like race/alignment tropes are not remotely why 4e failed. There are alot of reasons that 4e failed, but this specific aspect was not one that was voiced at the time of 4e or until now.

4e made drastic alterations to the stat system, they released an unfinished version (and by the time the "essentials" stuff came out, it was too late), the digital tabletop was a huge element, yet got shelved (due to its own complications, but partially due to the unfinished system thing), and it changes core mechanical aspects and terminology that made some people feel it borrowed too much from video games that were inspired originally by D&D in the first place.

It would have been more successful if it were released with a different name, such as "D&D Tactics"... It would have been more successful if the original game looked like Essentials... As I said, many reasons, but alignment and racial assumptions was definitely not one of those things.

Cross Planes said...

@Itai and Unknow, This is really simple. The 4E team didn't think there were any "Sacred cows". One of those changes was changing the Alignments and empowering the DM to ignore assumptions about the lore of D&D.

4E failed. Part of it was the lack of VTT, the poor math, a large section of the player base that didn't want to invest in a new edition/didn't like the changes, and abandoning the OGL and the GSL as a poor replacement.

Essentials was too little too late and the OSR appealed to other members of the market.

Alignment was not the reason 4E failed, but it was a change that the 5E designers specifically rolled back to the previous D&D lore.

I'd imagine most of the current players don't realize that.

5E is the way it is because the Designers were trying to align D&D's lore back to editions prior to 4E.
In other words, Drow, Orcs, and Gnolls were by default evil humanoids. They made that change because 4E failed along with many, many, many other mechanics that were brought back from older D&D editions.

Further, D&D had never released an edition were the mechanics were open to the community and the previous edition could be supported without WotC suing them into oblivion the way TSR did. The fact that the OGL was abandoned provoked some of 3.X's biggest supporters to continue to serve the audience that felt abandoned by WotC.


Raging Owlbear said...

Your side trek into 4e is a bit of a non-sequitur. Alignment in 3.x was already loosey goosey. IIRC, Orcs were listed as “Usually Chaotic Evil”. WotC had already taken steps away from racial essentialism in 3rd Edition Monster Manual which undercuts your premise that it had anything to do with a reaction to 4e.

Cross Planes said...

Marty, I completely disagree. For instance this is quoted from Wizards Presents Worlds & Monsters which was a preview for 4E:
"“Good” and “Evil” Mean More: Being aligned toward good means being a champion who actively fights for what is right, not merely someone who supports such ideals. Being good is a defense against evil, never a vulnerability to evil. Like- wise, evil is more than just bad thoughts. Most average people aren’t aligned one way or the other. You can’t use magic to know whether or not a creature is evil or good: You must judge it by its actions or know its nature (demons, for example, are always evil)."

Alignment was altered significantly as written for 4E and it was walked back for 5E.

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