Roll for initiative and save vs. poison, because this month, Mike and Casey enter the Dread Lich’s tomb with game designer Ryan Chaddock, and Chris Walker of BJ Shea’s Geek Nation to unearth that oldest of fantasy role-playing games, Dungeons & Dragons!
We look into the game’s nearly forty year history, its current relevance, its many attempts to branch out in other media, and the laughable debunked claims that the game was responsible for murderous Satanic cults in the suburbs of the 1980s!
“End Credits to the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series” by Johnny Douglas
“Theme to the Dungeons & Dragons movie” by Justin Caine Burnett
Previously titled: “Nerd Karaoke”
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The Elfish Gene? Really? I remember buying that book and putting it down after the first chapter because of the contempt it seemed to direct at D&D and nerds. The tone seemed to me to be from the perspective of someone that ‘grew up’ and was now going to tell you about this subculture with all of the venom they could muster. Based on what you said, I suppose I misinterpreted it.
That aside, I find the Low Point comment about racism in D&D interesting. Certainly the point about the early game stands as racist (and sexist), but I’m not so sure with the latter versions of the game (3.0 and on.)
Firstly, if anything, one would have to clarify that D&D would have to be a mix of racism and speciesism; since humans, elves, and orcs can all interbreed (as evidenced by half-elves and half-orcs) then they constitute a single species and differences/discriminations between them would be racism. This meta-human species is separate from the other sapient species in the game (evidenced by the lack of half-dwarves, half-halflings, etc. in a setting that specifies half-elves and half-orcs) so this would be speciesism. Regardless of either, I’m not really sure that the concept of racism, in the since of societal discrimination, really applies. Racism is typically the assumption of a generalization, positive or (more typically) negative, about a person based on phenotypical variations. While I certainly don’t think there is justification for differences in mental attributes, I can see average differences in general heartiness, especially between species, having statistical values, dwarves being an example here. Being opposed to racism, or speciesism for that matter, isn’t opposing the idea that there are differences between people, which is simply silly; it is opposing the idea that such differences matter or that they mean something about the person. A person with darker skin than me has a very real advantage over me in stronger solar radiation conditions but that difference means nothing about either of our characters.
There is a further matter that is confusing this issue; in D&D the word ‘race’ takes on a different meaning than in the real world as there are concrete significant differences between ‘races.’ In the real world the concept of ‘race’ is wholly artificial, meaning something closer to ethnicity since the significant differences are cultural. It almost seems to me that a Equivocation fallacy is happening here.
Lastly, as a small aside point, it seems to me that Pathfinder took somewhat of a more ecumenical attitude, at least with the half-orc. Instead of previous attribute bonuses making all half-orcs stronger than humans and dumber than humans, the half-orc simply has the same floating +2 attribute bonus that humans do.
I may be misremembering the Elfish Gene, but I never took the attitude in the book as anything malicious. It has, after all, been a few years since I’ve read the book, and I am going from memory. That, and I found it’s description of the D&D crowd frighteningly close to the one that I was gaming with in my adolescence.
On the other hand with the question of fantasy racism, it’s not just the notion that some races are good, bad or barred from certain professions. I think it can be expanded to a discussion of the essentialism that “all dwarves are grumpy warriors with axes and beards” and “all elves are pretty, agile and magical” that pops up in a lot of fiction where multiple sentient species co-exist.
I know that the purpose in the writing is to use different cultures as a metaphor, but it probably doesn’t help that every Vulcan we’ve seen on Star Trek has been a scientist, that every Klingon has been a warrior. And with the Ferengi, all but one has been either a pirate or a merchant.
I do like breaking down that barrier. I’d rather see the post-3 Ed. notion of “wizards are RARE among dwarves,” rather than simply making them a homogonous group.
Also when we do “Low Point” it isn’t necessary for it to be an issue that hasn’t been solved. When I ask my panelists this, I keep the question as open as possible. I do want answers that surprise me.
Thanks for listening!
Fair points. I do have to say that the racial alignments always bothered me, especially the ‘always’ variety, but we typically ignored them. While the alignment aspects in the D&D setting are concrete forces, racial alignment trends still seem nonsensical with the possible exception of outsiders.
As for the stereotypes, I agree with you, although I can also see a partial explanation if you look at the cultural aspect. In Mayan culture, for example, you would have been hard-pressed to find professional ice-fishers, due to geographical limitations in this example but also culturation trends. It is an imperfect analogy, but to apply it to dwarves, I would say in a group that primarily lives underground, knowledge of mining (and the subsequently necessary black smithing knowledge) would be highly emphasized out of necessity, therefore it would be widely spread. Furthermore, dwarven culture traditionally distrusts arcane magic so it seems reasonable that such a culture would produce few wizards. This cultural aspect is reinforced by the dwarven resistance to magic; presumably if they are resistant to magical energy then manipulating it would present difficulties. As a real world pseudo-example, I live in Kentucky and every person I’ve met from outside Kentucky seems to think I know a great deal about horses.
I would have to say that I find the Star Trek stereotypes you mentioned more disturbing than the ones in D&D.
As an aside, are you no longer doing Ask An Atheist? I noticed you aren’t really on anymore aside from an occasional call-in, which is disheartening as I thought you were a near-perfect compliment to Sam.
I am still on Ask an Atheist, though not as frequently as I used to be. Last year I stepped down as a show producer to move on to projects like “Radio vs. the Martians!” and “Mike and Pol Save the Universe!”
I needed a change. I could feel my nerd muscles atrophying, and wanted to use what I had learned on AaA to flex them.
I still do appear on the show, but not as frequently as I used to. I’m on as an semi-regular guest, occasional caller and a sometimes-content provider.
Currently, I’m scheduled to be on the show twice a month. But I do appreciate the compliment. I still like working with Sam a great deal and think we do have great on-air chemistry.
Conversely, maybe I’m being too easy on Pathfinder as I just bought there Advanced Race Guide.
You forgot to mention Jack Vance . Gygax I think acknowledge his debt to the author. Perhaps I’m oversensitive because Vance is my favourite author and seems so relatively unsung in the mainstream.
Everyone always forgets Jack Vance… 🙁