September 12, 2012

Dungeons and dragons, armour and underwear

Filed under: links,things I read on the internet,things Rhiannon does not like — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 11:43 am

Image from WitchbladeRoleplaying games (RPGs) are one of the most popular ways to experiment with your own stories. Unlike most computer games they are designed to be customisable. You can choose your character, your race, your skills, your weapons and your future. Playing in a group of people with a games master (GM) your characters explore a fantasy world.

But unfortunately for girls and women the fantasy worlds of roleplaying seem to share some of the worst characteristics of this one. This fantasy space is a male fantasy in which the men are armoured and the women go to battle in their underwear. For people of colour fantasy worlds are even more problematic. The glamourous “good” races like elves are typically described as whitefolk and it’s ugly conniving “bad” races like orcs and goblins who have skin tones of darker hues.

What’s worse is that many female roleplayers think there’s nothing wrong with this. One woman writes:

“Think about all of the fantasy, sci-fi, and comic book images of characters. The guys look tough and the girls look sexy. That’s how it is, and that’s how it should be.” – Misty

image by FernacularThat’s how it is, for sure. But it’s not how things should be. If toughness is the province of one gender and sexiness the other everyone is impoverished. Imagine if the boot was on the other foot. What if the women got the armour and the men the armour: could Batman take himself seriously in the outfit Fernacular has sketched? (See more reimaginings here)

And if the sexism argument doesn’t move you what about the racism one? Are you comfortable with people of colour being portrayed as brutish monsters and white people as civilised high races? No, I didn’t think so.

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is one of the most successful roleplaying franchises and the company that produces the game guides, Wizards of the Coast, is preparing for a new edition. A friend of mine has launched a petition to be sent to their CEO asking for artwork which reflects the diversity of the real world.

You can sign the petition here: D&D should be for everyone, not just white men.


  1. I completely agree on the RPG front, even though I don’t play. Just because you’re a woman, doesn’t mean you can’t be a gamer…

    In other news, any chance of explaining what the change to the text in the Void trilogy is? I own the Hex books already, and didn’t want to shell out for a new copy, but if it has to be…

    Comment by Fern — September 12, 2012 @ 9:29 pm

  2. Hiya

    Thanks so much for signal boosting the petition.

    I love the batman picture – not seen that one before :)


    Comment by Becky — September 13, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

  3. Fern, It’s a very small textual change to VOID from Hex. There’s a point where Raven is talking about Kalden and I’ve reverted to the original draft, a change from an editorial softening of the original text.

    Comment by Rhiannon Lassiter — September 14, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

  4. [...] author Rhiannon Lassiter posted about it on her [...]

    Pingback by Petition roundup | Black Armada — September 30, 2012 @ 8:24 pm

  5. I completely agree, but unfortunately it’s not just a symptom of the universe, D&D universe that is of course, but it’s a symptom of the fantasy art genres that get used by such printed material’s publishers too.

    I’ve heard the argument of ‘Well that’s how it’s always been done. It’s how Frazetta used to do it…’ etc, etc. As though any of it is acceptable because it’s always been that way.

    Change cam only come if people are willing to change, but it seems that many are comfortable with such a complete lack of equality enough to sustain it, and it’s not just the majority (white males) but it’s also quite a few women who tow the same line about it always having been done this way. They don’t seem to feel that because we’ve moved on morally and in so many ways from Victorian times, for a reason, that certain attitudes need to move along too, so we can evolve to a better state of equality and share things in life more equally.

    D&D is not a sexual fantasy for guys, it’s far more, and far better if they allow it be, as you’ve touched on in your blog entry above. Attitudes need to improve to match the whole idea of us having morally evolved and distanced from such base behaviours as our ancestors put up with and would propagate, and that we should have left behind lifetimes ago.

    Comment by Ruth — October 26, 2012 @ 12:28 pm

  6. First, what you do not get about RPG’s in general, and D&D specifically, is that every individual D&D game, from those played inside people’s homes to those played in hobby shops, are all unique. The basic material published by game cmpanies are merely a starting point and players are encouraged to customize thier personal games and put thier own flavor on it. The point being that you get out what you put in it. Just because a popular meme is the skimpy women/bulky guys, do not condemn the entire game/genre. (Side point, the image you have on this page isn’t even from any D&D material. It a the main character from Top Cow’s ‘Witchblade’ comic book.)

    Second, have you even looked at any official material for D&D at all? While the first publications in the 70′s did feature such images as barely clad wmen, the immediate outcry from women and other groups forced them to change and for the most part it has stayed that way. With a few exceptions, the source books contain few if any such images. If anything, the armor of women is more bad ass than the men’s. And those exceptions are more to do with story/background elements.

    Also, your assertion of discrimination is false. Again, if you ahd actually looked at any source material, it is very obvious. The most popular setting for the game, Forgotten Realms, has a wide variety of cultures that mirror our own. There are regional themes based on African, Mezo-American, Oriental, Arabian, and Egyptian cultures. And even other races are not all “white.” Each has variations based on region and culture.

    So my question is…did you even do research? Or did you just get on your high horse and decide to just post your opinion, doing a 5-minute web search until you found pictures to support your views? Now, I know this is an old post and I’m not even sure that this blog is still monitored. But I felt the need to post. Gamers have already had to deal with demonic/satanic/occult stgmas and we don’t need false claims of racism and sexism from the PC crowd

    Comment by Aytros — June 3, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

  7. Hi Atros, I’m approving this post even though it’s quite hostile because you’ve taken the trouble to write a thoughtful comment. If you reply again, please try to be friendly or I’ll have to block you.

    First off, this isn’t my petition, it came from some friends at Black Armada ( so its they who did the research. They’re a lot more into D&D than I am. I do play RPGs but I write my own games more than I play other people’s systems. That said, the examples I’ve seen do appear discriminatory to me. If you have some examples of women-positive RPGs then please do link to them. I know lots of people who’d be interested in seeing them. I like that you said the armour of women is more bad ass. :) Any examples you can give of that?

    On the pictures, I did do a pretty brief search for the Witchblade one. I’d recently seen the feminised Batman one and liked the concept of redressing men in the kind of costumes women would be given. They’re apposite for sexism in graphic art – if not specifically for D&D. You got me there.

    I wouldn’t want to ‘demonise’ gamers because I game myself, so I hope this helps to reassure you. However, I almost didn’t approve your post because of your reference to the “PC crowd”. In my experience people who refer to things being PC are often not very respectful of other people’s opinions and feel that everything is just fine as it is and that discrimination either doesn’t exist or shouldn’t be seen as a problem. I hope those are not your views so I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt – which is a kinder attitude than you took to my post!

    Finally, since this is an old post, how did you end up at my blog? I’d be curious to know what kind of search term or link brought you here.

    Comment by Rhiannon Lassiter — June 4, 2013 @ 10:03 am

  8. I do apologize if I seemed harsh. Being a longtime gamer, and the recipient of unjust criticism, which more often than not comes from poor research, myself, I admit I get a little testy when it comes to this sort of thing. Please accept my apology if my tone was less than civil.

    Unfortunately I cannot provide links to pictures on the internet as there are not many for actual illustrations from any official source material. BUt I can mention examples. From just the Player’s Handbook (v3.5) alone the class illustrations for the Druid, Monk, Paladin, Rogue, and Wizard are all women. Most, excluding the wizard only, are fully dressed in an outfit appropriate for their class. Now, the wizard is a little less covered but still a far cry from the “bikini armor.” Everything ‘naughty’ is fully covered and only stomach shoulers and parts of her legs showing. That is just the basic book. Now I will not deny that the clothing and armor for women doesn’t accentuate the form of the character they are depicted on. They aren’t shapeless and leave no doubt that it is a woman you are looking at. But it is nothing like the old Conan illustrations.

    As for how I stumbled across this page…just a simple internet search for “dungeons and dragons.”

    Comment by Aytros — June 6, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

  9. Dungeons and Dragons is a game of imagination. My friends and I tend only to use the rules for the numbers side of the game while the rest is in our heads. If men want a sexy game let them have. Likewise if women want one, go for it. I could care less about the arguments that this game is racist or sexist. The ones making the worlds in the end are the people at the table, not the art in the rule books. My outlook has always been that if it offends you don’t support it with money.

    When my friends and I play the skin tone of a person in game doesn’t immediately represent their alignment. We have black, white, brown, blue, grey, green and pretty much any other color you can dream up folks. Their alignment is determined partially by class and partially by the individuals actions. We’ve had half orcs as noble as any knight of the realm and light skinned humans or elves that are the scum of the earth. It goes both ways and this idea that all of us who enjoy the pretty pictures in the books are just sexist or racist is just as offensive to me as their presence is to someone like you.

    TLDR: D&D is fun for me and I wanted to rant about the idiocy of this argument. If you want something better in your eyes change the way you play rather than whine and moan about how others choose to enjoy their sessions. You could also go and make something better than dungeons and dragons to cater to likeminded individuals. I don’t want to be told how to enjoy my fantasy experience by anyone and I’m sure you don’t either. There also was basically that batman picture already done with the movie 300 or pretty much any dark sun campaign.

    Comment by TopSword — January 21, 2015 @ 12:20 pm

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