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Character Creation Diversity in Gaming Art

diverse people play dungeons and dragons

This is being republished, the author is: TiMar Long from the University of Houston ([email protected]). You should really check out the full version which includes citations and charts here. Dice Bard is all about diversity at the table, and these findings back up what many people are already saying that not only are people not choosing racially diverse characters but it may be Wizards of the Coast not doing enough to promote diversity through their character art. Dice Bard’s printable miniatures seek to balance that out by providing racially diverse characters as well as male and female (and non-binary) heroes that anyone can relate to.

Popular abstract: The artwork for a role-playing game can be one of the most important aspects of the gaming experience. Artwork helps to give role-players an idea of what the world looks like in that game. It helps to inspire the kinds of characters players might want to create. Finally, art can serve as a method for determining what is and is not normal for a setting. Dungeons & Dragons was the first tabletop roleplaying game (RPG) created and as such serves as the foundation of the gaming hobby (Fine 1983; Tresca 2011; Peterson 2012). Is the artwork in Dungeons & Dragons racially imbalanced? How has the artwork changed since the beginning of the hobby? Wizards of the Coast is praised for the diversity of their new 5th Edition line, but is it truly diverse? This project seeks to find out by examining the artwork in the Players Handbook for each edition of the game. By using the theory of symbolic annihilation, I explore whether or not racial minorities are adequately represented in the artwork.

1. INTRODUCTION

The artwork for a role playing game can be one of the most important aspects of the gaming experience. Artwork helps to give role-players an idea of what the world looks like in that game. It helps to inspire the kinds of characters players might want to create. Finally, art can serve as a method for determining what is and is not normal for a setting. Dungeons & Dragons was the first tabletop roleplaying game (RPG) created and as such serves as the foundation of the gaming hobby (Fine 1983; Tresca 2011; Peterson 2012). Is the artwork in Dungeons & Dragons racially imbalanced? How has the artwork changed since the beginning of the hobby? Wizards of the Coast is praised for the diversity of their new 5th Edition line, but is it truly diverse? This project seeks to find out by examining the artwork in the Players Handbook for each edition of the game. By using the theory of symbolic annihilation, I explore whether or not racial minorities are adequately represented in the artwork. Dungeons & Dragons was chosen not only because it is the first role-playing game, but because it has experienced the most exposure to non-gamers. In addition to having produced a gaming line, Dungeons & Dragons has also appeared in novels, video games, TV shows, and movies. During the 1980s, it even made media headlines when conservative Christians feared that the game may introduce vulnerable kids to the occult (Schnoebelen 1989).1 This research thus seeks to fill a gap in the literature by using the theory of symbolic annihilation and applying it to roleplaying games in order to answer the question: is the artwork of Dungeons & Dragons racially imbalanced? It will also serve as a starting point for initiating a conversation on whether or not role-playing game books show equal representation for minorities. This research will help inform other scholars who seek to have discussions on race representation in roleplaying games. By creating a foundation from which future research can be done, it will also be possible to theorize about what representation in other games and settings might look like and thus be able to provide suggestions for game developers on how to increase diversity and representation within their own gaming products.

2. LITERATURE REVIEW

Mass media is the way in which many people learn their values and are socialized (Tuchman 78). Because of this socializing power, mass media can play a big role in the way people are influenced (Dubin 1987; Mou and Peng 2009). It is due to the mass media’s influence on the way people think and interpret their world that stereotypes within mass media can become dangerous and harmful (Mou and Peng 2009; Glascock and Schreck 2004). Negative portrayals have been linked to lower self-esteem in blacks (Glascock and Schreck 2004) and women (Glascock and Schreck 2004; McCabe, Fairchild, Grauerholz, Pescosolido, and Tope 2011; Tuchman 1978), but can also lock targeted groups into stereotyped roles and stigmas (Tuchman 1978).

These negative portrayals and the overall lack of representation were termed symbolic annihilation by Gaye Tuchman (1978). Tuchman used symbolic annihilation to explain how exclusion of women in media portrayals can lead to damaging effects both for women and men. Thus, under symbolic annihilation, the use of media can also influence the way we perceive racial minority groups, oftentimes influencing how we think and feel about non-dominant groups (Klein and Shiffman 2009). This overall process can also be dehumanizing, as Merskin (1998) states when discussing the portrayal of Native Americans in media. This dehumanizing effect can reduce minorities to a collection of tropes and stereotypes, which furthers harms how people receive and interact with them.

Role-playing games are a unique form of mass media in that in they are a group experience and are cocreated between the players and the game master (Tresca 2011). The fictional worlds created in gaming can serve as cultural representations (Fuist 2012) projecting the stereotypes, tropes, and expectations of those who play the game into them. While gaming may serve as a means to escape reality (Fine 1983; Nephew 2006) it can also serve as a space for alternate identity construction (Bowman 2010). These alternate identities can be a path for exploring different ideas, points of views, and experiences. Because of this, adequate racial minority representation becomes crucial in giving players a chance to explore and encounter ideas, concepts, and people that they may not have previously considered or encountered on their own.

3. METHODOLOGY

Dungeons & Dragons has been published by two gaming companies: first by TSR, where the game was created, then in 1997 by Wizards of the Coast, who are the current owners. For this study, I will be reviewing the artwork in the Players Handbook throughout the various editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Under TSR, the game had many reprints that would sometimes result in new artwork being commissioned. Only one book was chosen from each edition (see Table 1). In the case of the Wizards of the Coast run with Dungeons & Dragons, the artwork in the core books remains the same throughout the life of that edition. TSR was a different case, however, with reprints within an edition sometimes receiving a new set of artwork. Due to the difficulties of tracking down all variants from TSR’s run with Dungeons & Dragons, I opted to select one book from each edition that they published to code.

I only used the artwork that depicted human or demi-human characters. Demi-humans were the fantasy character races — such as dwarves, elves, and halflings — that resembled humans, but were based in fantasy literature or mythos. Artwork was excluded that was mostly landscape pictures or pictures in which the humanoid characters were non-descript and thus part of a bigger picture. In addition, artwork that depicted only the monster races was excluded, since monsters were not the focus of this study. The demi-human races were included due to their close ties and resemblance to baseline humans, including at times displaying the same level of racial diversity and, in some cases, the possibility of cross breeding, such as with half-orcs and half-elves. While there are racial overtones and concerns involved with the monster races, an examination of them is deserving of its own study and thus beyond the scope of this current article.

The characters were coded along five variables; sex, race, stereotype, heroics, and edition. The edition variable coded as the edition of the game from which the artwork in question came. Sex was broken down into four categories: male, female, unknown, and non-applicable. For the purpose of this study, sex is to be understood as the apparent biological differences between individuals. Unknown was used in instances where the character’s biological sex could not be determined; it is unknown if the artist purposely created sexually ambiguous characters.2 Non-applicable only applied to monster races that appeared in the artwork alongside humans and demi-humans.

Race was broken down into a total of 24 categories ranging from human races (black, white, Arabic, Native American, and East Asian) to fantasy demihumans (elves, dwarves, or halflings) to demi humans of color (such as black elves and dwarves). The stereotype variable measured whether the characters depicted were done so using tropes and stereotypes associated with their race. For example, the Asian human on page 140 of the 5th Edition book was drawn wearing samurai armor as opposed to more European fantasy based armor that most other characters wore. Thus, the Asian human was counted as a racial stereotype.3 Heroics were used to determine if the role of the character was heroic or villainous based on the context of the artwork, as player-characters are meant to be the heroes. Instances without an obvious villain character were coded as neutral.

Finally, each edition was compared to census data from the year closest to its publication. Symbolic annihilation was determined using a method similar to Klein and Shiffman (2009) in which they “consider a group to be underrepresented if its prevalence is less than half of that observed in the population at large, and we will consider it to be an example of symbolic annihilation if its prevalence is less than one quarter of that found in the society at large.” Thus, each edition was compared to the population census to the closest year of publication (see Table 2).

4. RESULTS

Over the lifetime of Dungeons & Dragons, people of color were depicted 4% of the time. By race, white humans appeared 38% of the time, while blacks, Asians, Native Americans, and Arabs were depicted 2%, 1%, .4% and .4% respectively. For comparison, elves represented 7% of the characters depicted while dwarves composed 6% and halflings 4%. Some of the demi-humans were able to gain parity and prominence equal to minorities in a much shorter time span. For example, tieflings, who were introduced as a playable race in 4th Edition, were depicted 2% of the time, comparable to blacks who were also depicted 2% of the time. Minorities were depicted in stereotyped fashion 43% of the time that they appeared in the artwork. Men of color were depicted more often than women of color.

Finally, minorities were depicted as heroic 7.6% of time, neutral 5% of the time, and as villains .5% of the time.

In Basic, all racial minorities were symbolically annihilated. In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition and 2nd Edition, blacks and Arabs were symbolically annihilated while Asians were not. No census data were available for Native Americans. In the Rules Cyclopedia, no minority groups were symbolically annihilated. In 3rd Edition, blacks, Arabs, and Native Americans were symbolically annihilated. For 4th Edition blacks, Arabs, Native Americans and whites were all symbolically annihilated. Symbolic annihilation for whites can be attributed to a large increase in the use of demi-humans, who made up 50% of the artwork. Finally, for 5th Edition, Asians and Native Americans were symbolically annihilated (see Appendix A for all tables).

5. DISCUSSION

This study helps to illustrate how Dungeons & Dragons has struggled with the representation of racial minority groups throughout the life of the game, although the levels to which various racial minority groups were represented shifted between editions. In some editions of the game, Asians struggled to be represented, while in others, Asians were depicted at a rate on par with their population in the United States. Shifting art directions created shifting trends in the artwork presented by Dungeons & Dragons. An example is 4th Edition’s attempt to be a more diverse game (Tresca 2011), resulting in the symbolic annihilation of even whites when the art direction attempted to diversify the game by including more demi-humans. In addition to symbolic annihilation, minorities in the artwork also received stereotyped portrayals. 43% of the time a minority was depicted, they were shown in a stereotyped fashion.

The depiction of demi-human races is also worth discussing. For the majority of Dungeon & Dragons’ run, the fantasy races displayed in the artwork were from Eurocentric sources, owing to the games roots in feudal fantasy and the works of Tolkien (Fine 1983; Van Dyke 2008; Tresca 2011; Peterson 2012). Elves, dwarves, and halflings that have Eurocentric/ white features are prominently depicted alongside their white human counterparts. Demi-humans of color are not featured as often as the whiter demihumans, like elves and dwarves. Half-orcs make their first appearance in 1st Edition AD&D and then are sparsely used. When used, they are portrayed as less civilized and more barbaric than the whiter demi-human races, often embodying many racial tropes used to degenerate blacks (Van Dyke 2008).

Many of the non-white demi-humans, such as tieflings and dragonborn, lack the same level of culture and civilization that are oftentimes found in the white demi-human races such as elves and dwarves. Furthermore, as of 5th Edition, the non-white demihumans were designated as an uncommon races, making them less numerous than the whiter demihuman races, the notable exception being the Drow who, despite being dark-skinned, have a culture and civilization all their own. The major difficulty with this singular representation of a demi-human race of color with a civilization all its own is that the Drow civilization is one based on slavery, subjugation, and matriarchally-based misandry. Thus, the Drow represent many evils against which white gamers games would feel compelled to fight wrapped up in the skin tone of a person of color. A full analysis of the Drow and their problematic depiction is deserving of its own separate study. Still, they are a notable exception that are, in the very least, worth mentioning.

The use of minorities and demi-humans supports what Hudson (2004) calls multicultural whiteness, a concept in which racial, cultural, and ethnic differences are moved into the general fabric of what it means to be white and, thus, American while obfuscating a history of racial and ethnic discrimination. In the same way various European ethnicities such as Jews and Irish were incorporated into the American culture and absorbed into whiteness while ignoring the history of racial discrimination that they experienced, minorities in fantasy settings are absorbed into white culture to represent human diversity while ignoring a history of racial discrimination, division, and separation. Additionally, demi-humans are incorporated into human kingdoms in the same way as a method to show how open and accepting humans — and thus whiteness — is.

This normalization of whiteness extends beyond fantasy settings and Dungeons & Dragons. White Wolf’s World of Darkness, as an example, incorporates a similar pattern as well. While vampires, werewolves, and mages — among their many supernatural groups — can come from any ethnicity, many of the games’ various supernatural organizations and mythos are based on American or European conceptions of horror elements. Vampire: the Masquerade is based on Western concepts of the vampire mythos. Many of the clans are European in origin and structure. While some may hail from minority groups, they tend to help support the idea of diversity as opposed to providing a unique perspective born from the experience of a minority group. In Werewolf: the Apocalypse, the mythos of the setting is based on Western concepts of earth and spirit worship. While the game features tribes that are non-European in nature and origin, they too are normalized into the behavior and institutions of the European/American counterparts who were mostly white. While Mage: the Ascension featured many magical traditions that were non-European in origin, the prevailing structure of the game and setting’s magical understanding were based on European understandings of magic. This does not remove diversity per se, but it does normalize it against a more universal whiteness.

6. CONCLUSION

Diversity is a difficult topic. When considering what elements we add to games, we must also make sure that we do not fall prey to tokenism and cultural appropriation. As Shawl (2004) points out, portraying other cultures and minority group it is important to pay attention to things like the “setting, dialogue, action, and a host of other elements above and beyond character.” Furthermore, Shawl (2009) explains how research into different minority and ethnic groups is required to create a more diverse and inclusive set of games: not limited to just books, but also including interviewing, experiencing different cultures, and immersing oneself in these different cultures to gain deeper insights into their practices. It is important to move beyond just simply placing people of color into gaming settings. Publishers should strive to incorporate them into the gaming world itself, allowing their unique cultural contributions to be felt within the setting as opposed to being just window dressing. Furthermore, care must be given so that non-white representations are not relegated to inferior status within the setting. This is true even among fantasy settings that feature non-white demi-humans, who often lack the same cultural advancements and contributions that the white humans and demi-humans bring to their settings. However, this article is not to say that no progress has been made in diversity in gaming. 5th Edition Dungeon and Dragons showed positive signs of growth in the realm of diversity (see Appendix). Paizo, the makers of Pathfinder, regularly hold discussions about diversity within their setting and solicit feedback from their players about how they are progressing with their goal of providing a diverse gaming experience. Furthermore, while the World of Darkness has made missteps in reinforcing multicultural whiteness and cultural appropriation, the game still strives to provide a diverse array of characters within their settings and games.

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D&D Introduced Magic Emails… or Howlers….

In the upcoming Waterdeep – Dragon Heist you will now have the ability to use what Comicbook is calling “Magic Emails” and we like. While exploring the famed City of Splendors you can hop into a magic shop and purchase a these paper birds, which are magically imbued with the ability to fly off with your message and will find the recipient to deliver whatever you want to say.

Being shot down is a slight concern as they do only have an AC of 13 and 1 hit point. Don’t worry about security, these fine craftspeople have you taken care of as the bird will disintigrate into ash if anyone else tries to read it first or if it’s shot out of the air.

If you’re a bard planning on sending your publisher a manuscript of your latest novel, this isn’t going to be the best method of delivery, however. Each scroll can only accept up to 50 words, and once it’s completed you whisper the name of the recipient and it folds itself up and flies off. This is nice, as if there was a DEX check for the creation of the origami bird I would fail miserably.

Of course, you could always use “Sending” which has an unlimited distance… but why fill up your 3rd level spell slots with “Sending” when you could be writing little paper bird notes? I think it’s cute. You should too. I’m probably also going to house rule that you can just yell up to 5 words into it and upon receipt the bird will turn into a howler and recite the message before burning up in a flash before the horrified recipient.

You can pick up Waterdeep – Dragon Heist on September 18th so that you are ready for talk like a pirate day on the 19th with some great sea-faring adventures to play in. Also remember that when you play Waterdeep you should probably get a set of sexy Deep Sea Abalone Blue Brown Swirl Dice.

Hat tip to Christian Hoffer from Comicbook.

 

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Best Dice For Druids

If you are looking for druid dice, here are some of our best dice for you:

Circle of Dreams Dice

Druids who are members of the Circle of Dreams are often associated with the Feywild. Dream Druids look to the natural world and good fey to use magic to bring joy. So in the dice to represent them you will want earth tones and dice that bring joy to those who look at them.

Rainbow Circle of Dreams Druid Dice Our Rainbow Dice would show the love and compassion while also be colourful and flamboyant much like the fey Dream Druids are so closely tied to. We really love these pride dice and we always love an excuse to show them off, but we also really feel that they would be the first set of dice a dream druid would grab.

If you want something a little less flashy but still fey, maybe you should consider our fantastic translucent dice, in particular our translucent green dice.

Translucent Green Circle of Dreams Dice

The translucent green circle of dreams dice would be an ideal candidate for any person with a strong connection to the feywild. In the light the green refracts giving a glow to the surface below it. It represents the natural colours of the Feywild while also embracing the magic.  From a mechanical perspective we really love translucent dice because they have the highest level of QC, we can see through them and throw them out if there are any imperfections.

Circle of the Land Dice

The Circle of the Land is made up of mystics and sages who safeguard ancient knowledge and rites through a vast oral tradition. These druids meet within sacred circles of trees or standing stones to whisper primal secrets in Druidic. The circle’s wisest members preside as the chief Priests of communities that hold to the Old Faith and serve as advisors to the rulers of those folk. As a member of this circle, your magic is influenced by the land where you were initiated into the circle’s mysterious rites.

For your Circle of Land dice what you want dice that show age and speak to wisdom.

Circle of the Land Druid Dice, blue Abalone

Our Deep Sea Abalone dice give the feeling of mysticism blended with wisdom. It’s like looking out over a magical ocean twisting in upon itself. These blue druid dice have brown swirled and cracked into it. These are also my personal favourite sub $20 dice that we offer. If you are an ocean druid, or a druid with a close association with water then there is no other choice for you than these.

You can go a different direction, however, and get our Scanlan’s Dream and ACE dice. Purple being such a magical colour with the swirls of grey mixed into them make this a dice that feels aged and magical. Whenever I bring these dice out in front of new people they always pick them up and look at them they are just so beautiful.

Circle of the Moon Dice

Druids of the Circle of the Moon are fierce guardians of the wilds. Their order gathers under the full moon to share news and trade warnings, They haunt the deepest parts of the wilderness, where they might go for weeks on end before crossing paths with another humanoid creature, let alone another druid.

Druid Dice Moon Druid 5e Black Translucent Swirls Dice

For  Circle of the Moon Druid Dice you are going to want to select something bestial and changing, our Black Translucent Swirls dice really do the job here. They are dark, mysterious, and the swirls can easily symbolize the changing nature of wild shape that is such a critical part of the Moon Druid. I personally find these dice to have the most underrated photos, it’s very hard to capture just how fantastic the swirls look against the transparent resin around them.

The beautiful thing about dice for Circle of the Moon druids are their changing shape makes them compatible with so many of our dice, you can go brighter you can go darker you can get sparkles you can get spacey. Be the dice you want to see in the world.

Water Ashari Dice - Blue and Black Moon Druid Dice

Still dark and mysterious, another great option for your moon druid is Water Ashari Blue and Black Marbled Swirl Dice. These beautiful dice also swirl and writhe but with sold blue inking the black dice. These are incredibly pretty dice and would be perfect for any Circle of the Moon druid who needed a set of dice to represent more water creatures (Orca Druid!?).  The gold inking of the numbers really allow them to pop so if you need high contrast dice that are easier to read these also fit that bill too.

Circle of the Shepherd Dice

Coming out of Unearthed Arcana the Circle of the Shepherd is a great circle for all the animal lovers, getting to conjure spirit guides and creates to help you along your journey. Druids who are members of the Circle of the Shepherd typically commune with the spirits of beasts, and stand as their protector in a society that views animals as things to own and control. These druids typically enjoy being around animals more than they enjoy being around other humanoids. Staying far from the cities and populas areas tend to create the idea that these druids are hermits to those who see them.

Circle of the Shepherd Unicorn Poop Dice

Firs of all, you can embody the spirit of the unicorn with this class… and if you are going to go full unicorn, you need to get Unicorn Poop Blue and Purple Swirl Dice.

Unicorn Spirit The unicorn spirit lends its protection to those nearby. You and your allies gain advantage on all ability checks made to detect creatures in the spirit’s aura. In addition, if you cast a spell with a spell slot that restores hit points to anyone inside or outside the aura, each creature of your choice in the aura also regains hit points equal to your druid level.

Many of our brown and earthy dice would be great choices for the shepherd dice. The great thing about our store is you can always just search by colour, for instance here are our brown dice, here are our green dice, and here are our blue dice.

Circle of Spores Dice

Druids of the Circle of Spores find beauty in decay. They see within mold and other fungi the  ability to transform lifeless material into  abundant, albeit somewhat strange, life. These druids believe that life and death are portions of a grand cycle, with one leading to the other and then back again. Death is not the end of life, but instead a change of state that sees life shift into a new form.

Druids of this circle have a complex  relationship with the undead. Unlike most other druids, they see nothing inherently wrong with undeath, which they consider to be a companion to life and death. However, these druids believe that the natural cycle is healthiest when each segment of it is vibrant and changing. Undead that seek to replace all life with undeath, or avoid passing to a final rest, violate the cycle and must be thwarted.

Unearthed Arcana

I’ve never played one of these and until writing this article I didn’t even know they existed but I am kinda in love with the Circle of Spores druid. However, I have so many dice suggestions for this circle, but I’ll limit it to two:

Circle of Spores Glow In The Dark Green DiceTo start with our pale green glow in the dark dice are just the perfect match for this, not only do they thrive in the darkness like the fungus these druids worship but they are the right colour the right feel and honestly there is no reason you should be reading this anymore. These are the perfect dice for your druid.  What’s great about these dice is they also glow really easily, when the room is dim you will still see them just a little brighter than the rest of your dice. We love them and you should love them too.

Black Spore Dice, moss and fungus dnd dice

If you’re not into glowing dice or you just want to get a second set (because there is no reason you shouldn’t be buying the glow in the dark dice for the circle of spores), you should consider the Goblins Blood Green and Black Swirl Dice. While we named this “Goblin’s Blood” you can easily see this as the green grass being taken over by the black blight creeping through the life ready to strangle it and devour it as is part of the circle of life.

As I said before there are so many great druid dice for the Circle of Spores there is the Forged Copper Swirl Dice and Sun Tree Yellow and Green Marbled Swirl Dice maybe even the Heart of the Tiefling Black and Red Swirl Dice. Seriously, I’m so ready to play this.

Circle of Twilight Dice

If the Circle of Spores is all about bringing back the dead and embracing the undead then they will have an enemy of the Circle of Twilight. The Circle of Twilight is all about ensuring the dead stay dead.

The best Circle of Spores dice are clearly the pale green glow in the dark, but you are a healer and while you also work in darkness perhaps a glowing purple dice is more your direction. This is not as cut and dry as the other, but I thought I would provide the contrast to the spores with the glow in the dark purple. These, like the translucent swirl dice, are really hard to photograph well… they look much better in real life than they do in photos, I am happy to have a set of these in my personal collection (another reason these are getting added here).

If that isn’t your direction, what about a set of flat black dice? These dice are beautiful and also incredibly affordable. They are one of our most popular solid opaque dice and the reason for it is clear, they are high contrast dice for readability and also look good and make perfect gifts if you are trying to buy a lot of dice for a lot of people.

That’s it… this article started with me thinking “alright I’ll say ‘here are your druid dice’ and then link to a few green dice and call it good” but then as I learned more and more about all the circles I realized they all deserved to be called out and you needed to know what dice went best with them.

Have other thoughts? That’s great leave a comment or better yet tell us about it on Twitter @DiceBard, on Facebook /DiceBard, or Instagram @DiceBard.