Equality in D&D

A female fighter, a tiefling rogue, and a dragonborn walk into a bar. Nobody blinks an eye, and the bartender calmly serves the full-plate-armoured girl, the dude with a tail, and the walking talking lizard. Why? Because in D&D, they’re all just characters, just people in the word, and we as DMs and players have somehow created the most equal opportunity society in existence.

This wasn’t always the designers’ intent. 1st edition D&D had many rules for different ability caps for males and females, in addition to varying by race. Entire categories of creatures have been created with the intent of being nothing but irredeemable evil, such as orcs and dark elves.

Isolated from real-world concerns, issues such as racism were adjusted to cater for the fantasy setting. White and black teamed up on green. Dwarves and elves hate each other for no apparent reason, with people muttering about Tolkien when asked.

Players demanded equality. Ability score differences between males and females were some of the first to go, and racial differences in abilities and classes quickly followed. Every “evil” race from dark elves to orcs suddenly had players scrambling to use them as player characters, and DMs and players debated on whether these races were truly evil, or whether they were just people like humans with variable morals. Everyone in the party, regardless of their gender, skin colour, or unusual lack of tail, are suddenly all friends and equal in all things.

The key to understanding this is to understand why we play D&D at all. We play because we want to, because we want to enjoy ourselves. The entire world is constructed with this is mind. The world behaves how we want it to behave. Why would we burden ourselves with real-world issues if we don’t have to? Real world problems can act as inspiration for story, but we don’t feel obliged to include them. We want women to be truly equal, even beyond what would be physically possible in real life? Done. We want racism to simply not exist? It’s done. We want a tiefling to happily integrate with society? No problems. It is what we make it.

This has even become expected behaviour. Even in the darkest grittiest most realistic campaign, if you even suggested that males and females should have different stats, everyone will look at you funny. Skin colour is meaningless, and race in terms of elf, dwarf, etc is rarely a concern. A player in my game rocked up as a fire genasi: after initial fear and threatening of this “demon” it’s become simply a non-issue. A female player seduced a drow priestess and nobody batted an eyelid (although it’s worth noting that what happened afterwards made some of them uncomfortable, but it had nothing to do with the genders of the people involved, so no worries).

As a DM, regardless of whether I’m building a utopia or a post-apocalyptic nightmare, I don’t want problems or inequalities in my world except for those which I put there. I want my players to be able to leave all their real-world issues behind, and roleplay in world where they can be whoever they want to be, and everyone’s find with that. I wouldn’t have it other way.


About Duncan

Ellisthion is currently loving 5E D&D, whilst still running the original 1st Ed AD&D Temple of Elemental Evil. He's also spending way too much time playing Dota 2.
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  • Benjamin

    This is an excellent point which had come to my mind before. I’d even go further, I think that gamers outspokenness about rules being broken vs balanced speak volumes about what people really want out of life and, by extension, the politics that govern our lives. We live in a world of broken rules with an unbalanced class system. We live in 1e and we’re striving for 5e.

  • Naanomi

    I would note that extreme sexual dimorphism (ie: stat differences between genders, at the least) can be an interesting way of making fantasy races seem foreign and unusual; not because it is the norm but because it deviates from the norm. What is a society of goblins like if, in fact, every female is significantly and objectively smarter on average than every male? What does that dichotomy do to their outlooks and interactions with other races? Can that be an interesting idea to explore in a fantasy setting?

  • Gremmer

    Oh boy, another self-flagellating idiot who can’t help but equate orcs with black people.

    If you pretend race or orientation “doesn’t matter” (it usually does, especially to the people of that race or orientation) then everyone is literally the same.

    What are you worried about? Why are you so afraid of “sinning” by commiting fiction racism against races with a long history of conflict and immense cultural differences? This whole article implies people who do that are also the same in real life. I just have to wonder who you’re appealing to by writing trash like this.

    • Cuchulain

      I am left with the question, “Do you even read?”

      If you do, you come up with a completely different meaning than what I take from this article. Weird.

  • Sean Robert Meaney

    And if the bar keep looks at the first halfling through the door and says “we dont serve your kind here. You will have to leave.” it becomes the sort of place you might burn down as your party leaves town…