LEGACY SOCIAL MECHANICS AND CONTEMPORARY DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
Alignment x Reaction x Asymmetry x Faction PDF
summer I wrote a series of threads about the ways that certain legacy
rules, often disfavored in Contemporary Traditional rulesets like
Dungeons & Dragons' 5th Edition work to mitigate tendencies towards
racial essentialism (the idea that a people is defined by a specific
character - laziness, rigid adherence to duty, inscrutable cunning,
religiosity etc) and colonial fantasy (fantasy that replicates and
uncritically includes elements of colonialism) within the game. The
issues are concerning for many players who are put off by the Good v.
Evil and the assumption that the goal of Dungeons & Dragons
adventures is the slaughter of various humanoid "races" such as Orcs.
Colonialist and even genocidal themes are certainly present in early
editions of the game, and Gygax himself spoke in support of the idea
that humanoids in Dungeons & Dragons could be understood as a
metaphor indigenous people and that the proper form of play was to
massacre them in the manner of colonial conquest.
obviously not something that most people want to emulate or bring into
their games, and it comes up in the context of modern Dungeons &
Dragons because despite overt gestures towards a more inclusive game,
Wizard's of the Cost continues to use humanoids that are sometimes
described in terms that echo colonialist stereotypes of non-white
peoples. This oversight is compounded by the way that 5th edition
elevates combat as a solution to most obstacles, humanoid 'monsters'
included, and designates most many 'races' of humanoids as wholly,
irredeemably, cosmically evil.
I see and acknowledge these
trends in various of Dungeons & Dragons, along with the distasteful
beliefs of Gygax and many other early creators, but I I don't believe
that a game of Dungeons & Dragons must be a colonial or
exterminationist fantasy. From long play it seems to me that many of
the solutions to these issues are found within the older rules in the
places that they step away from simple, linear, heroic narratives and
towards interrogating the morality of Fantasy adventure by offering the
players themselves choices. The mechanics to do this existed in early
Dungeons & Dragons, the way the game offers players the chance to
take stances and imagine actions at odds with their own morality - to
weigh what evil looks like and contemplate how expedience can lead to
wrongdoing, even within the simple structures of fantasy adventure
gaming, is one of the types of play unique to and attractive about
These mechanics are: Reaction Rolls/Morale, Asymmetrical Encounters and Faction Intrigue.
Beyond any desire not to include disturbing, uncritical echos of colonial history and subjugation in ones game,
or even for hobbyists who reject this argument (please still consider
it and remember that you might not see what isn't a threat to you)these
mechanics are fun and support a specific play experience. They encourage more complex roleplay, player
planning and non-combat solutions to obstacles. With these chnages
classic social mechanics and design principles make for a better open
world games, and generally promote player engagement with the setting
because role play and negotiation themselves become paths to mechanical
success, combat becomes more risky and 'fluff' or 'lore' become useful
for understanding NPC/Monster motivations and goals.
Recently, Wizard's of the Coast seems to have adopted some of these
principles - emphasizing, if not providing mechanics for, parleying with
monsters in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything and giving various humanoid factions goals and values beyond "Be Evil" in Rime of the Frostmaiden. Morale rules (complex and and a bit of an afterthought) have always existed in 5th Edition's Dungeon Master's Guide
but they are rarely if ever mentioned. These are positive signs, both
that Wizard's is taking concerns about representation and themes in its
game seriously and that the company open to play styles beyond linear
story arcs in support of tactical combat.
attached a PDF of my thoughts on these legacy social mechanics: how
they work, what they accomplish and how they can be implemented.
Alignment x Reaction x Asymmetry x Faction
Thanks to Warren D. of I Cast Light for the compilation and editing of these threads.