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"Decolonizing D&D"

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
Over on Twitter, there is a rather fascinating discussion about "Decolonizing D&D" - that is to say, how to give non-European fantasy counterpart cultures a greater role and treat them with more respect.


And let's face it, there are many such instances in RPG settings where the portrayal of such cultures is deeply problematic. Take the Mesoamerican "Maztica" region for the Forgotten Realms - it has a lot of fun ideas, but in the novel trilogy the natives largely being pushed by external forces - they are either enemies to be conquered, or victims to be saved, instead of people with their own agency. Even the main villains turned out to have been from Faerun all along!

So to me, it boils down to portrayal. Merely including cultures representing regions outside of Europe in a setting is not enough - they should also be portrayed as a vibrant culture with as many factions and as much diversity as the culture(s) the PCs hail from. They should not just be wait around for the PCs to swoop in and be impressed by their might, but have their own plots and schemes that have nothing to do with them. While the story of the campaign revolves around the PCs, the world should not.

Basically, the PCs might expect to swoop in and play the role of European explorers and/or conquerors who get all the gold and rescue damsels for [MPAA rating]-appropriate rewards, but they should quickly sense that they have just wandered into the Mesoamerican equivalent of A Game of Thrones... and they don't know the rules.
 

Caduceus

Not the rod of Asclepius
Validated User
I think you would have to get rid of "good guy" cultures to make this work. Maybe governments could be better or worse actors, but not cultures as a whole. Having domestic controversies detailed in each country could help. Maybe one place is lurching towards constitutional monarchy, another has two main authorities, the crown and the church, which are at odds. Just show each society struggling within itself about some larger issues rather than just talking about conflict with other countries.
 

Watcherwithin

Registered User
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Absolutely no races of primitive chaotic evil humanoids. Especially not to the extent of the orcs in the purportedly progressive 5th edition.
 

Lord Raziere

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Banned
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Absolutely no races of primitive chaotic evil humanoids. Especially not to the extent of the orcs in the purportedly progressive 5th edition.
Pretty much! you can't decolonize DnD without addressing the "always evil race" elephant in the room. from there its just usual socio-political stuff to flesh everything out.
 

Fabius Maximus

Registered User
Validated User
Absolutely no races of primitive chaotic evil humanoids. Especially not to the extent of the orcs in the purportedly progressive 5th edition.
Ultimately, you need to get rid of alignment, IMO, especially racial alignments.Even saying "not all individuals of X" are evil, then flat out states that the majority of X are evil.

I'd say, look at Exalted 3E, they have some very good examples of writing cultures that aren't based on your typical western tropes and are in opposition to teh colonial power, yet giving them plenty of agency and interest.

But I think there's a simple question you could ask that helps keep you on the right track:

"If the adventure/campaign, never involves outsiders, at all, have you created a complex and morally nuanced enough setting that it loses nothing." If a setting needs outsiders to be intersting, it has problems.

Also, I'd argue, and this really applies to D&D, you need to get rid of the "kill things for XP" because that provides a tremendous incentive for DM's and players alike to look for a culture that hey can slot into "kill for XP, Guilt-free."
 

Constructman

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Ultimately, you need to get rid of alignment, IMO, especially racial alignments.Even saying "not all individuals of X" are evil, then flat out states that the majority of X are evil.

...

"If the adventure/campaign, never involves outsiders, at all, have you created a complex and morally nuanced enough setting that it loses nothing." If a setting needs outsiders to be intersting, it has problems.
This is something I've been conflicted on, because one of my dreams is to run a Planescape campaign focused on travel across the Great Wheel. In that setting, unless the campaign is hyper-focused on Sigil and its politics, there's gonna be a lot of Outsiders because, well, you're kinda barging into their homes.

I really don't like baked-in alignments for creatures on the Material Plane. But once you start going multiplanar, I don't know how to reconcile this with my love for the Great Wheel, because alignment is pretty much hard-coded into the universe as a fundamental force equivalent to the Four Elements. Even when considering the caveat that mortal belief has a huge effect on the ecology of the Outer Planes, it still only leads to turning alignment from a prescription to a chicken-egg problem rather than offering a way to excise it without breaking the setting.
 

Lord Raziere

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Banned
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This is something I've been conflicted on, because one of my dreams is to run a Planescape campaign focused on travel across the Great Wheel. In that setting, unless the campaign is hyper-focused on Sigil and its politics, there's gonna be a lot of Outsiders because, well, you're kinda barging into their homes.

I really don't like baked-in alignments for creatures on the Material Plane. But once you start going multiplanar, I don't know how to reconcile this with my love for the Great Wheel, because alignment is pretty much hard-coded into the universe as a fundamental force equivalent to the Four Elements. Even when considering the caveat that mortal belief has a huge effect on the ecology of the Outer Planes, it still only leads to turning alignment from a prescription to a chicken-egg problem rather than offering a way to excise it without breaking the setting.
See what I'd do is, decouple Sigil and Planescape from normal DnD cosmology. make a separate city that fulfills the same role but without Planescape physics, then have Planescape become its own setting even more. like, I'd split off Planescape fully into its own thing, with its own rule set and so on.

also I don't think they were referring to the capital O-outsiders as a rule construct just.....y'know foreign people in general.
 

Elph

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Ultimately, you need to get rid of alignment, IMO, especially racial alignments.Even saying "not all individuals of X" are evil, then flat out states that the majority of X are evil.
One of the problems with evil alignments is that the concept has drifted considerably from its origins. We currently have a great Let's Read of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide by F Felix on the front page. The thread's section on alignment does a great job of explaining that for Gygax, all of the nine alignments represent existing strains of fairly mainstream human thought. Neutral Evil people, for example, don't kick puppies and eat babies for breakfast, they simply hold that "seeking to promote weal for all actually brings woe to the truly deserving." That's like... a paraphrase of the current right-wing mantra of "equality of opportunity does not mean equality of outcome." One poster even commented that they don't like this take on alignment because it seems like it's "trying to make evil, well, not evil." For modern sensibilities, Gygax's definition of evil doesn't seem evil enough.

Gygax was always clear that in his game, the greatest heroes and the worst monsters were all humans. For him, pegging orc alignment as "Lawful Evil" or whatever wasn't an indication of some irrevocable taint on their souls that allowed the good guys to gleefully slaughter them all without guilt. However, people react strongly to the label "evil," and even during 1st Edition AD&D, designers such as Lenard Lakofka were of the opinion that players shouldn't be allowed to play evil characters. By the time 2nd Edition AD&D rolled around, the Player's Handbook cautioned that "there are several reasons why it is not a good idea" to choose an evil alignment. AFAIK, it was 3rd Edition that introduced the language of "usually alignment X" and "always alignment X," further strengthening the idea that some "races" were just born bad and there was nothing you could do about it. That wasn't true for the Gygaxian take on alignment -- even when the original drow writeup simply said "Alignment: Chaotic Evil," the very first adventure that introduced the drow to the world included non-evil drow, years before Drizzt Do'Urden was even a twinkle in R. A. Salvatore's eye.

Long story short: Only the very extremes of the original alignment chart corresponded with what current D&D thinks of as alignments. To be labeled evil in 1E AD&D was an indication of common and even understandable human thought, not the mark of a sadist who would be better off dead. Maybe the real problem, then, is that "good" and "evil" aren't the right words to use for what alignments try to represent. This article, for instance, tries to tease out the positive and negative qualities of every alignment, ultimately abandoning the old labels in favor of more neutral ones.
 

Leonaru

Taxidermic Owlbear
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I don't see this being backed up by any of the D&D material. The giants in Against the Giants are there to be killed. The evil slavers in Scourge of the Slave Lords are just that: evil. I don't see much nuance in the antagonists of Shrine of the Kuo-Toa or Vault of the Drow either. And I'm pretty sure among the worst monsters in Gygax's modules are A spider godess, a demi-lich, a vampire (Drelnza), and a demon (Zuggtmoy).

As for the article: it's a good alternative to the existing alignment system, but it doesn't line up with D&D monster alignment. Take Neutral and Lawful Evil, for example, now "Achievement and Power" and "Power and Security". How does that work for all those evil humanoids? I don't see them sticking to that at all. They are just evil because they steal stuff and kill people. Half of them like eating humans. They are evil because they do things that we consider to be evil.
 

NobodyImportant

Registered User
Validated User
Gygax was always clear that in his game, the greatest heroes and the worst monsters were all humans. For him, pegging orc alignment as "Lawful Evil" or whatever wasn't an indication of some irrevocable taint on their souls that allowed the good guys to gleefully slaughter them all without guilt.
I’m desperately in need of a source on that one.
 
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