Dungeons & Dead-Ends: How mixed messaging starts fantasy wars

Dungeons & Dragons is an institution that will soon enough be celebrating 50 years as indisputably one of the most influential and successful games ever created. Those decades have seen the game change constantly, with various rulesets and permutations spurring an endless back-and-forth among fans about when it’s “best” or what represents the “true” D&D experience. The answer on an individual level is, of course, whatever edition you prefer. But change has always been a part of D&D and an important factor in why it’s still such a vibrant and successful fantasy universe.

The current Dungeons & Dragons design team announced last year that it would be looking at some of the ideas baked-in to D&D’s lore and, essentially, excising material such as racial stereotypes. This was possibly prompted by 2016’s Curse of Strahd campaign, which got criticism for the Vistani, a group built on Romani tropes that had been in D&D since the 1983’s landmark Ravenloft module. Times had changed, and D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast subsequently addressed the controversy by revising parts of Curse of Strahd in 2020.

Sage Advice is an occasional column by D&D principal rules designer Jeremy Crawford, in which he explains various changes and why the design team made them. A recent column called “Book Updates” attracted a lot of negative attention, with some folks upset that WotC is scrubbing old lore and racial alignment for what they see as no good reason.

(Image credit: Esther Derksen via Getty Images)

This blowup has the above context of WotC becoming increasingly wary about historical aspects of D&D that folks in 2021 view quite differently. A particularly fraught hotspot is the idea that races are inherently evil, because of the implications this has for real-life racial stereotypes: For example, the idea that the black-skinned drow are all inherently cruel and evil.

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