[gaming] When inclusivity generates a monoculture instead of diversity


So, while it is understandable in preparation for the 50th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons to become even more inclusive of the wider gaming community, when this goal is pursued with religiously fanatical zeal, the community itself transforms into a monoculture instead of a diverse one.

We see that already in modern capital cities of Earth, they are blending into the same generic "big city monoculture". It is the rural villages across Earth that are diverse.

One of the challenges I see for Wizards of the Coast is creating an inclusive vanilla rules guide while leaving the door still open to diverse fantasy worlds in other books, some of which may be offensive to certain readers. Sadly, Wizards of the Coast itself is too afraid of rampaging online mobs to risk artistic creativity without censorship.

Hence, the very best thing about the OGL 1.0a debacle was the eventual capitulation by Wizards of the Coast with a public release of SRD 5.1 into Creative Commons.
This allows, Wizards of the Coast to retain plausible deniability whenever Third Party Publishers create truly innovative and artistic content that some consider offensive.


Teos Abadia (also known as Alphastream) has compiled a detailed list of before and after censorship of the original artistic expressions.


  • Savage foes changed to brutal, merciless, or ruthless.
  • Barbarian hordes changed to invading hordes.
  • References to civilized people and places removed.
  • Madness or insanity removed or changed to other words like chaos.
  • Usage of orcs as evil foes changed to other words like raiders.
  • Terms like dim-witted and other synonyms of low intelligence raced with words like incurious.
  • Language alterations surrounding gender.
  • Fat removed or changed to big.
  • Use of terms referring to slavery reduced or altered.
  • Use of dark when referring to evil changed to words like vile or dangerous.
I run a lot of Robert E. Howard's Conan, and able to distinguish the art from my own reality, so can quote the original literature without suffering a mental breakdown, despite that literature painting people of mixed heritage like myself in a negative light.

"Shadows over Zamboula" (originally "The Man-eaters of Zamboula) by Robert E. Howard (1935).
'Which proves what?' grunted the Cimmerian.
'Aram Baksh is a demon! Nay, in this accursed city which Stygians built and which Hyrkanians rule—where white, brown and black folk mingle together to produce hybrids of all unholy hues and breeds—who can tell who is a man, and who a demon in disguise? Aram Baksh is a demon in the form of a man! At night he assumes his true guise and carries his guests off into the desert where his fellow demons from the waste meet in conclave.'
'Why does he always carry off strangers?' asked Conan skeptically.
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I've been thinking about this a lot today, in light of the ruckus over Russel T. Davis' comments about Davros in Dr Who. In the end, I have come down to thinking that this might just be a simple clash of ethical frameworks. After all, in play where a group of people is called 'savage' or 'brutal' means virtually nothing. It's a descriptive word. So how do we view it?

[Warning - I'm no expert of ethical philosophy, but I did do a primer for it with my students, so this might be a little generalised.]

If you have an egoist view of ethics, you try to maximise your benefit and minimise your pain, regardless of the effect on other people. So, these would be the people who claim that as they are not offended, the minor change to their game is enough of a negative to outweigh their disregard for anyone else's feelings. After all, how they feel themselves is all that matters? (In this category I put the people who oppose such wording changes on the basis that they themselves see no reason to do it, even if they are part of the group that the changes are designed to not offend.)

If you have a utilitarian view of ethics, you look at it as a cost-benefit, looking for the greatest good for the greatest number. You might be of the view that changing the word creates a potential greater good for more people who might find the wording suspect, than it does cause grief for those that don't. Capitalism adds a different wrinkle to this, as you might suggest that the greatest good for the greatest people becomes limited to shareholders - or more generously, stakeholders.

If you have a deontological view of ethics, you look at matters through your duty to society as a whole. Whilst there are many ways to view this, the one I have always settled in is the golden rule - 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. So people make decisions here based on how they would feel if it was done to them. 'If someone used language that I didn't like, I would be upset, so I won't use language that I have been told would upset people.'

A rights based view of ethics considers things to be correct when someone has an established 'right' within society. You might argue that we have increasingly developed the 'right' not to be offended. Tension comes when others assert that they may have a 'right' to not have their games changed. In a case like this, rights based people might point towards the Equality Act to underpin our society's dominant right.

Of course, all of this is peppered with flaws. The egoist takes no consideration for the gravity of a harm done to another, regardless of the minor discomfort perceived by themselves. The utilitarian has to make judgement calls about the relative impacts, without useful data and can be seen as relatively arbitary. The deontologist's thoughts depend on what they consider their society, and how much they are willing to agree with the wider society's ideas. The right-based view falls apart when there are not established rights to point at, and by the attrition of just what a 'right' is? (And there is a wider discussion about the interplay of rights of responsibilities)

Due to this, the hot topic discussions we have in TTRPGs - Use of AI, safety tools and sensitivity changes to text - all have a basis in conflicting ethical bases. That's almost certainly why they are so heated, why there is rarely a concensus, and why we struggle to even talk coherently about them, as we just aren't working on the same playing field.
Excellent write up by Vodkashok, especially the last part that various ethical tribes may be working on different playing fields.

The one contradiction in Leftist academic circles that grinds my gears most is when the whole idea of respecting minority rights collapses on itself when a new minority, not originally envisaged, is suddenly discovered that challenges a previous Orthodoxy.

So for example, using the inappropriate, but fir the sake of discussion color-coded "white" identity, let us consider when rights activist who are white, then chose to champion "black" minority rights but also deliberately choose to victimize those other minorities within the "black" minority who deviate from what a "white" activist considers properly "black". This then begs the question, are black people one monoculture who must all bow down to what a white activist has wrongly been taught is blackness?

For example, I see this racist stereotype that black people do not have the mental fortitude to read Robert E. Howard's fiction without suffering some mental trauma, so mostly white publishers must protect those mentally weak black readers and sanitize the literature. Seriously, this protection is so racist itself. And I have been calling it out.
Imagine, I had to challenge Modiphus Entertainment for destroying the source literature of a product Modiphus claimed was Robert E. Howard's Conan. I had to showcase how you can bring the diversity of Dafari cannibals, a staple of Conan literature, without painting all Dafari as cannibals. The original Modiphus plan was to totally excise cannibals from existence. At that rate we will no longer have diverse literature but one monoculture of approved checkboxes. We see this plague now in Hollywood where the anthropological reality of a remote village is conflated and equated with a Metropolitan city.

Hence, I am happy the OGL debacle led to the 5e SRD entering Creative Commons outside WoTC control. It makrs sense for Wizards of the Coast to create a barren cultural landscape in the core rules in 2024 to pander to a particular "Demolition Man" monoculture of RPG Players, while leaving the door open for those courageous Third Party Publishers interested in creating a Dark Sun world revival in DnD5e for Players outside the dominant "Demolition Man" monoculture.
I like the deontological view summarized by the golden rule of foi unto others what you will accept done to you.

Interestingly too, an extremist modern zealotry challenges this view because those zealots claim there is some universal "absolute zero harm principle" in the universe, and you have no right to do any harm even if you can take it yourself and the other recipient is willing to receive it. These are the sort of ideological safety extremists (deluded Christians too who believe all life is God's) who banned duels between willing and trained participants. In the RPG scene, these are the people calling Dungeons and Dragons a murder simulator and want to eliminate all violent combat in game worlds too.

This is why Science Fiction is awesome, it postulates interesting philosophical evolutions of sentient species. The classic Star Trek Vulcan vs Romulan divide of what was originally one species.

Or Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones who walk away from Omelas" (definitely a must read this).

Jack Williamson's "With Folded Hands" is great satire of a "safety tool" Tyranny taken to extremes.
Inclusivity and Diversity are two different things.

You can be inclusive but not diverse.
You can be diverse but not inclusive.

For example, the business I currently work at is broadly inclusive (all the survey data and feedback suggests this is the case) but not diverse (80% male, predominantly from East Anglia).

My previous company was diverse (high twenties countries of origin, good gender balance, thirty odd languages spoken) but less inclusive (some clear culture gaps and groups present).

You can use diversity as a lever to move inclusion but it’s better to focus on both areas and put the right fixes in for the organisation.
I'd also like to suggest that Art and RPGs are different. Art is a product of mind, time, place and can be challenging, offensive, broad in its remit.

I don't like the racism in (the book) Dr.No but I will accept it to enjoy the story to a certain point. I don't need a modern author writing a James Bond novel to state the same racist drivel as accepted fact if they write one tomorrow, but I also understand the "unreliable witness" in fiction and that it can and indeed should include views I dislike.

RPGs are not Art. They are a collaborative framework in which people play/interact in a trusting roleplay. Roleplay is powerful, it allows us to disassociate and associate with peoples, views and actions we may never encounter. Anything can happen and be excused if the table collectively agree through some form of explicit or implicit consent.

It's therefore important that the framework, the systems and terminology, are neutral and appropriate to the people, time and culture. This is what we see with WOTC edits over time. I welcome it, I come from the T&T cosmopolitan tradition where orcs have been just as likely to drink in the local Tavern as elfs.

I don't think we need to sanitise books, but I think that we choose whether to read them. I think that to choose a framework to roleplay in it's appropriate to keep it modern. They are not the same things.

Plus I can buy the old RPG editions on DTRPG or I own them and I can read HPL or REH on my Kindle.
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Firstly, if we consider theater an art form and literature an art form, so are role playing games. Obviously, you can incorporate modern language and mannerisms, but those in no way make an original older expression of the art any less acceptable, because, remember art is not about only modernist representations of the human journey but a diversity of all human expression.

And I too totally agree that when language changes, you need new books to follow follow suit to remain easily accessible to the masses. This is what Martin Luther gifted us indirectly, but the German people specifically, and what got further boosted by Guttenberg's press to make The Holy Bible ubiquitous in various local languages. Even the renowned King James' Bible too got antiquated as the English language itself changed, it new versions do not invaluable the KJV.

Sadly, it is both narcissistic and delusion for modern activist authors to view all human history through their own narrow 21st century lens, and then out do even Chairman Mao in sanitizing all art and history that deviates from some central Thought Policing.

Hence, why I took issue when Modiphus marketed us Robert E. Howard's Conan, then attempted to whitewash it by mostly white authors on the misguided Colonialist presumption that black people were too mentally fragile to read Robert E. Howard's Conan in its original form when incorporated in role playing games.
By the way, improvisation rap battles that inspired Eminem (Marshall Bruce Mathers) are too a form of art, and yes, those often get offensive and personal, and yes, Eminem is white but has sparesly and out of mutual respect used "nig" within the confines of his artistic performance, but not as a face-to-face insult against a black rapper.

"So I'm bringing my nig' Proof for backup when I sing at my gig".
Clearly, the issue here is that we have some people in Group A saying 'these things cause me great offense, because of their depiction of people like me in Group A' and some people from Group A saying 'these things do not cause me any offense, even if they are relevant to Group A' - with an extension being a smaller group who say 'Even thinking that, as a member of Group A, I might be offended by these things is, in itself, offensive!'

So what to do?

An Egoist would look at this and say 'Well, I'll do what I want to do, regardless.' and may or may not make any changes, depending on how they feel. I don't think we see much of that. A Utilitarian might look at the size of the relative camps within Group A and side with the largest one, to cause the least harm*. I think this is probably where we see a lot of companies planting their ethical flag? A Deontologist might well try to find a third way between all the offense, or non-offense. Or they might lean into the idea of social duty and the predominant paradigm that offensive language should be neutralised (which is arguable, as the third group shows). I think this is probably where we see a lot of the online supporters of this action - they're seeking to minimise offence caused. The rights based view might look at the established rights in society, whether explicit or implied, to not be offended on the grounds of Group A defining feature. Again, the latter group who are offended by the idea of being protected from offence cause issues here.

Another way of looking at it might be as a values based construct - where people are judged by a set of shared or implied values. So 'Don't be offensive to Group A' would fit in here. 'Listen to people from Group A first' or even the old idea of autonomous determination ('It is not for me to determine whether someone from Group A is offended, it is for them to decide and me to take that lead')

Which I suppose leads to the conclusion that there is no Group A. There is Group A1, A2 and A3 - all with differing opinions, some of which are contradictory.

Which leads us back to our Utilitarian point - do that which fucks off the least number of people.

Arguably, however, that is very close to 'maximise our profit' which many companies are shy of coming out and admitting is their modus operandi, so they mask their actions in other 'higher' ethical stances, when they are really seeking the least grief possible.

And that's why we can't have nice things!


* it also strikes me after posting, that the Utilitarian stance may also have a segmentation leaning too - where a company might make a decision that doesn't minimise harm, but does secure them the backing of a particular segment who are angered by the original stance. Edgy RPG companies doing this to stick it to the libs etc.
I respect your opinion that RPGs are art.
My opinion is that they are not and IMHO it is when people think they are that many problems occur: adventure as script; GM as auteur; RPG books that are beautiful to look at but functionality poor; fanfic.

Neil's arguments are also valuable and insightful. I am not devaluing them, indeed I think they are very interesting.
It is true that some Players consider role playing games just "experiments and simulations in statistical mathematics" and the rules are just parameters for conducting the mathematical experiments with randomizers in the form of plastic dice mostly.
I think whether you think that RPGs are art or not very much depends on how you define art.

For me, while some RPG components are clearly art (artwork being the obvious example), I don't regard the playing of an RPG as art.

(Sorry, I don't have much to contribute to the other discussion.)
Some life goals for the 2024 Dungeon Master's Guide.
To extend Dungeons and Dragons inclusivity to cultures with ancestor worship.