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Wizards of the Coast is addressing racist stereotypes in Dungeons & Dragons

Changes to the drow and orcs, and more diverse hiring

Dungeons and Dragons Tomb of Annihilation cover artwork
The cover of Tomb of Annihilation.
Image: Wizards of the Coast
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast has acknowledged the existence of racist stereotypes in its sourcebooks, and pledged to make changes to ameliorate the issue.

In a blog post published on June 17 titled “Diversity and Dungeons & Dragons,” Wizards of the Coast said that depicting a diverse array of human beings — beyond “fantasy versions of northern Europeans” — is “one of the explicit design goals of 5th edition D&D.” The developers noted that while they want to feature characters “who represent an array of ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and beliefs,” the game still contains problematic depictions of fantasy races.

Among these races are the orcs, who are often characterized as a savage horde of creatures who lust for battle, and the drow, an evil dark-skinned subrace of elves who dwell in a subterranean matriarchy. Wizards of the Coast specifically addressed these two groups in laying out recent and future changes to D&D products:

We present orcs and drow in a new light in two of our most recent books, Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. In those books, orcs and drow are just as morally and culturally complex as other peoples. We will continue that approach in future books, portraying all the peoples of D&D in relatable ways and making it clear that they are as free as humans to decide who they are and what they do. [...]

Later this year, we will release a product (not yet announced) that offers a way for a player to customize their character’s origin, including the option to change the ability score increases that come from being an elf, a dwarf, or one of D&D’s many other playable folk. This option emphasizes that each person in the game is an individual with capabilities all their own.

Wizards of the Coast also said it’s adjusting material that maligns or stereotypes real-world ethnic groups like the Roma. The company has revised the adventure Curse of Strahd, which includes a people known as the Vistani that “echoes some stereotypes associated with the Romani people in the real world.” In addition, the publisher said two future books will be written with a Romani consultant so as to characterize the Vistani “in a way that doesn’t rely on reductive tropes.”

Curse of Strahd was one of two adventures, the other being Tomb of Annihilation, in which the company changed “racially insensitive” text in recent reprintings. “We will continue this process, reviewing each book as it comes up for a reprint and fixing such errors where they are present,” said Wizards of the Coast.

Wizards of the Coast concluded by stating that it will work with a variety of “sensitivity readers” on future content and continue relying on “experts in various fields to help us identify our blind spots.” The publisher added that it is “seeking new, diverse talent to join our staff and our pool of freelance writers and artists.”

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