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's all about 5E D&D at the moment, but has at times has played every edition from 1E AD&D through to 5E, plus Star Wars: Saga Edition, Paranoia, and more. He DMs a lot, and tends to make overly-complicated campaigns and characters.
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