Please note: The Usual Disclaimer applies as always, with a twist.
This post is about the RPGs Equal Combat trope. There's nothing wrong with enjoying combat-heavy games. I do too. And I realise there's an irony in me, an upper-middle class white man writing this. But...
I attended Dragonmeet this weekend just gone, with my wife as a neutral, outside observer. I've been in and around this community since forever, but I wanted an outside perspective on something I've been growing to think for a while. Her thoughts echoed my own, so I decided it was time I wrote it down.
There's a lot of discussion in the community at the moment about representation and creating an environment that's less off-putting to people who aren't white males. At Dragonmeet, I'd estimate that ~98% of attendees were white, and ~85%+ were men. Yes, there's PoC and women in the community, but they're a minority and always have been, and if we want that to change, we may have a serious problem.
We've long been a bit of the world with a bit of a problem in how we incorporate anyone who's not white and male in our stories. The majority of superheros are white men. The MCU is so full of white men, that it's yet to have a film with a female lead, and its first with a black man is coming six years after the first with aliens (Thor), five after the first team-up (The Avengers) and three after we got a film with a tree and a raccoon as serious supporting characters. Have a look at this list, then have a think about who's the lead, and who's secondary.
- Iron Man
- The Incredible Hulk
- Iron Man 2
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Marvel's The Avengers
- Iron Man 3
- Thor: The Dark World
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Captain America: Civil War
- Doctor Strange
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Thor: Ragnarok
But that's just films. We're living in a world full of drow and orcs and tieflings and all sorts of creatures of all colours and sexual persuasions, right?
An Uncomfortable Thought
Over time, WotC has been working to make the source books a more inclusive place, with better depictions of women and non-western non-white cultures. However...
At its core, D&D is a murder-spree simulator. I did a bit of digging around the stats for Critical Role. 3/4 of all episodes have the group murdering people, with the average number of sentient beings killed per episode with combat standing at 10.
It makes sense why - D&D comes from a background of dungeon crawls with miniatures, where players wander around and murder monsters to get loot. And for all that it's come a long way since then, the bones still show through. And it's not just D&D. Most tabletop RPGs, like the comics we read and the films we watch, are predicated around a fairly simple concept:
There's bad guys in the world, and the way we save it is by murdering them
Maybe that's a problem. We can fix the artwork and the language we use as much as we want, and they're laudable goals and absolutely need to happen and to continue. But perhaps we need to de-optimise the systems we're pushing out if we want to bring other types people in, in order to change the perception those people have of the hobby.
Before You Get Shouty...
Yes, I know this isn't something that's universal to all RPGs. There's DramaSystem, Dead Inside, Primetime Adventures, Threadbare and so on. There's lots of systems out there that people are creating, mostly in the indie sector (my own to-be-released one included), that either avert or subvert the idea that combat should be the point of tabletop RPGs.
However, with D&D, Pathfinder, Cypher System and their ilk being the bulk of what's out there being played and showcased on YouTube and in blogs, I don't wonder that the hobby often comes across still as mostly white men who didn't grow up, wanting to go around and kill things with big swords. What we have, is a problem deeper than surface wounds. We've got something that's, in its core, is actively going to put off more people than it welcomes.
If we want to grow the hobby, it needs to lose that image, which means it needs to start off by becoming something where that's mostly not the case.
Solving The Problem
I'm not saying "don't play D&D" or anything else that's combat heavy. I love a game of Dark Heresy or D&D or Numenera as much as the next geek. But this community needs to start putting out far more content, in systems, worlds, podcasts, YouTube series and all the other media we produce, that's more diverse and more welcoming, if we're going to see substantial change, whilst also making changes to make the current environment less hostile to people who aren't like us.
So here's my commitment - for every post related to something combat based I put up here, I'm going to post another about something that's not built to encourage role-playing murder as how to save the world.
What will you do?
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