Disclaimers & Dragons

Sometime over the last couple of days, Wizards of the Coast decided to put up the following disclaimer on all D&D products earlier than 5th edition, plus a few 5E items as well:

We recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website, does not reflect the values of the Dungeon & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

Setting aside the typos and grammatical errors of this hastily-done disclaimer, I can’t say I’m surprised that Wizards of the Coast has decided to bend the knee to the SJW crowd. They’ve been on a trajectory towards something like this for a while, courting the “social media influencer” crowd and the like, buying into the ludicrous idea that orcs are somehow “code” for black people, and other nonsense.

But more egregious is the implication that Wizards of the Coast somehow can control what its players should believe and say, that D&D is nothing more than a “franchise” over which they have total control. They’ve been edging towards this culture of control, too, by pushing “official” adventures at conventions and in game stores.

But by its very nature, Dungeons & Dragons has defied such centralization since its very inception. As Gygax himself wrote at the end of The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures (p. 36):

…everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you?

Even when he attempted to publish a more standardized, officially sanctioned version of the game in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the entrepreneurial spirit of the game refused to be stilled. Dragon magazine was stuffed with new classes, magic items, spells, and the like. Although there was the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting as a model, by far the vast majority of DMs created their own campaign worlds and their own rules variants, and few and far between were the campaigns (or even tournament games) that strictly followed “da rulez”.

There is no sexism in saying that the females of a race that doesn’t exist are not as strong as the males, or that they have magic powers that the males do not. There is no racism in saying that a race of creatures that is completely made up is ineffably and irredeemably evil. There is no “coded prejudice” in utilizing the tropes of mythology and fantasy literature that have existed for centuries.

The only people seeing such prejudices and hearing such dog whistles are the ones who are obsessed with finding fault in everything. Consumed by their own self-loathing and driven by a nihilistic world view where everything is “problematic”, modern society is irredeemably racist/classist/sexist/*ist, and so it must be torn down. Everything is politicized, and even a simple roleplaying game must actively conform to the Politically Correct attitude or be targeted.

Personally, I refuse to enter into the spirit of this disclaimer, and won’t be buying anything that has it attached. Wizards of the Coast does not speak for me, and they don’t speak for my Dungeons & Dragons game, either. I won’t let them do my imagining for me.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

43 thoughts on “Disclaimers & Dragons

  1. Jeez, talk about sensitive.

    Let me get this straight, you’re offended by the fact that WotC is saying it’s going to keep everything up even if some older stuff might offend people and is not consistent with current values?

    1. He’s not offended, he’s just tired of the P.C. pandering and the disingenuous corporate baloney and he is not alone. I for one am pretty certain that no orcs or drow will be offended by current or future WOTC product offerings but they are doing what they feel they need to do to protect themselves from lawsuits etc.

      And bravo Joe!

  2. Your use of “SJW” tells me all I need to know about your politics, and your apparent need to drag it into D&D. Yeah, people standing up for righteous causes is a source of mockery from the likes of you. Joe, I’m no longer supporting your products based on your right-wing politics. Your time is up in November. Sad!

    1. his ‘time is up’?
      plan on having Joe sent to a ‘reeducation camp’?
      dissent will not be tolerated anywhere even imagination
      unfortunately you are not on the road less travelled
      ask Harrison Bergeron

  3. It’s long past time that gamers of all stripes wake up to this realization – everything in popular culture will be remade in the image of our betters, the elite, leftist woke-scolds who look down upon our primitive, barbaric ways. Unless we stand up to them and fight back, our history… our traditions, will be destroyed – not unlike the tearing down of statues and burning of churches.

  4. I don’t even know if it’s worth pointing out that fixating on the drow/orc thing and using that as your lynchpin of anger completely minimizes all of the things contained within earlier stuff that is blatantly problematic.

    Isn’t your goal to grow the hobby? To get more people to join in and buy your product? There is a reason why older editions habe a certain stereotype of person who play those games—and all you are doing is proving the stereotype correct.

    You may not have a problem with how things were, but maybe you should talk to someone who isn’t white and get their perspective on things.

    So why is your goal? Do you want to grow your segment of the hobby, or do you want to be the old guy yelling and the kids for getting on his lawn and drive people away?

    And I realize that this isn’t an airport and I don’t need to announce my departure, but you are a business, and it’s worth letting you know that I won’t be spending my money at your establishment anymore.

    1. James- The flip side of course is that some folks who find the announcement (and the Orc/Drow one) not to our taste have stopped buying 5e products. This means there is now more cash in the budget to spend on OSR stuff…

    2. Hi, i am black, people equating black people to orcs are the rascists, cause they hear this negative description and they think black people not inhuman monster.

  5. You are right, there is no coded prejudice in the depiction of, for example, the indigenous populations of the Isle of Dread or the Isle of the Ape. The prejudice is overt.

  6. We disagree in one area. Those that see a human ethnicity in orcs or drow are fucking racists.

    The beauty of D&D and all RPGs is that it is a game of make-believe with math.

    The last few weeks has me thinking very seriously of doing something I’ve always wanted to do, run AD&D 1e and OD&D.

    As a vanity publisher that has products for the OSR and the DMsGuild I can tell you with no hesitation that my OSR work dramatically outsells the DMsGuild stuff and I get a better cut.

    I’m even contemplating how to start carrying POD versions of earlier D&D books in my stores.

    1. My old group went back to BECMI D&D, because our long term DM just felt it was smoother and easier to run for his game. Playing it again after many years, I realized the beauty and the simplicity of it. I believe there are some clones (not to mention the clones of AD&D, etc.). If I saw them in a store I’d buy them in a heartbeat.

  7. WotC could have told the “cancel culture club” that D&D doesn’t sound like the game for them and play something else…
    It’s what they tell everyone else who disagrees with them.

  8. “For three or more adults ages 10 and up”.
    Let’s be done with these social justice children and play games however we want as we always have.
    Wizards will find, soon enough, will reap the rewards of their capitulation.

  9. 40 years ago D&D faced invasion from witch hunters.
    Today it’s SJW zombies birthed by those who ruined MTV
    The witch hunters brought tales of vast cosmic forces battling over our very souls!
    The SJW doesn’t approve of the way they say you think.
    They don’t think highly of the way you dress either.
    It’s not enough to have A voice, they want to be the ONLY voice.
    So if you don’t want your property vandalized or organized group tantrums in your lobby you better bend the knee.
    A sad end to the greatest game without rules the world has ever seen.

  10. My sons – college age – said it best. By the ‘we must apologize for the moral inferiority or those who came before’ trend, it gives a generation that has built little on what they inherited from previous generations a feeling of moral superiority over those generations.

  11. Thank you (and those other Bloggers and OSR publishers) who have taken a stand against this insanity. As someone rightly pointed out, those who see people of color in make-believe monsters are the real racists.

    Orcs have more in common with the Vikings, the Mongols, and the Huns (as perceived by the Western Europeans whom D&D was based on). They are the monsters who raid, pillage, and destroy – the epitome of “chaos” (in the D&D sense). But nobody is linking orcs to Swedes or Hungarians…..

  12. Thanks for writing this.

    The atmosphere of intimidation is now overt. It’s more to do with bullying than anything else. And plenty of people suffering under the trauma of this bullying join the side of the accusers.

    At some point this too will pass.

  13. [forgive my english as it’s not my native language]

    Sorry I dont’ get the point.

    WotC disclaimer you quoted says they care about creating contents that value diversity and that some older stuff (which will not be removed) may present some prejudice that was spread in that time period society. There’s no mention to a censorship behavior or any content twisting, at least not from the line you quoted.

    I would suggest that any criticism should be made on actual stuff, otherwise it seems a deceptive way of leading the topic wherever you please.

    What i get from the rest of the WotC disclaimer you haven’t quoted, and the content they refer to (i hope you actually read that), is they are trying to fix some stereotyped side content on adventures like Curse of Strahd, which i’m pretty sure won’t affect your game experience but could probably be questioned (you didn’t), and encourage to characterize creatures beyond the flat fairy-tale conception that divides the world in either good or evil, without actually removing this stereotypes (they just make you consider more options or soften “boundaries”).

    Just to point out, this is what they were already doing far before this recent topic politicization. FR “literature” is filled (the majority of the content i’d say) with examples of good drow main characters (Drizzt, Liriel Baenre, Quilè Veladorn). Since 5th ed playable races have no longer ability score penalty of any kind, and alignment has no real effect on game mechanics at all. These things were well greeted from gamers for reasons that does not concern with what you may call “social justice wars”.

    So what is exactly that drives you mad? You are the only one who is gonna be sick because of this kind of enraged complaint, and at the same time this immotivate anger is hopelessly poisoning any chance of productive dialogue on the topic (if it may ever took place).

    1. I certainly can’t speak for others, but I would suggest an era that seems obsessed with constantly pointing out that people who lived in a different age and sometimes place than we do were morally inferior to us – which is the gist of what all this is about – is problematic at best. It’s essentially a form of Presentism, as if we should expect people who wrote material almost half a century ago to adhere to the latest developments in moral thinking today. It’s a sort of ‘fundamentalism for the modern’, and has as its biggest problem the fact that such constant and overt fixation with continually pointing out the sins of past sinners might just lead us to miss the manifold sins of our own time and in our own thinking.

      1. I agree with you, but from what I read WotC Disclaimer is NOT rejecting its past content (which is still there), but claiming they have taken a different path (and that’s not a recent turn from what I know). The only action I acknowledge they did on past material are a couple of fixes on playable adventures’ secondary characters that probably will make the content enjoyable for a part of the audience while not impacting on the adventure lore at all.

        1. I still feel it has no business being done. There is a self-righteous presumptuousness about it all. If it wasn’t part of the greater movement we’re seeing in the ‘anything and everything Western before 2019 needs to go’ wave we’re seeing, it would be problematic enough. Add to that, and there are major problems with this line of thinking. If they want to make changes, or feel they must, then do so. But don’t wave a flag and make a moral proclamation about it.

      2. @Dave G.,

        I think that we should distinguish between people and things.

        The belief that *people* of the past was somehow morally inferior to us is obviously wrong. But I think that we should all agree that, generally speaking and some exceptions apart, society has always evolved to an improvement from an ethical perspective (for example with respect to human rights).

        There is nothing strange neither offensive, I think, in stating that specific *things done* in the past and/or specific *concepts thought* in the past are “morally inferior” from modern perspective. Slavery, women discrimination, human sacrifices, religious wars, and much more. Condemning these things is *not* the same as condemning *people* living in ages when these things were accepted.

        1. There should be no reason to put down disclaimers about the attitudes, thinking or even failings of the people of the past, unless we do for ourselves first. Or have disclaimers that are well rounded. You know, the ones that say ‘Just a note, but the original D&D was published in a cultural context that did not have regular debates about arming school teachers due to the ongoing problem of students mass murdering each other in our schools since, well, that didn’t happen in 1974.’ Something like that. As it is, we’re making a lot of headway on ‘we’re sorry and need to apologize for the inferior values and thinking of those old timers who weren’t to the high moral ground that we are today.’ If I was convinced we deserved to claim the moral high ground necessary for such an attitude, I’d still balk at such presumptuous disclaimers. Given the state of things in our current generation, I’d say it’s even more problematic.

  14. (I tried to post this before but I did not see it in the “awaiting modification” status, so I try again, by splitting it into multiple sections. I apologize for the double posting.)

    === PART 1

    In my humble opinion it would be nice to mitigate the general tone of the discussion.
    I understand that in US the situation is much more polarized and tense than in EU. But I think that trying to avoid using accusations when not strictly necessary, and seeing accusations where they are not strictly explicit, would help.
    I do not see how that disclaimer implies that WotC will “control what its players should believe and say”. And the term “franchise”, by itself, simply refers to a set of products on sale that are connected: nothing so bad.

  15. === PART 2

    I am not a native English speaker, but the concept expressed in the disclaimer, as far as I understand, is:
    1) there are D&D books written many years ago
    2) these books are written with a different approach and attention with respect to these written today, because at the time the culture and the sensitivity of people was different
    3) if somebody feels hurt for any reason by any part of these books, WotC informs him that:
    3a) the current approach of WotC is different and aims to be as inclusive as possible
    3b) at the same time, WotC chosen not to modify / “wash” legacy books

    Points (1) and (2) are simply objective. Point (3) is a corporate strategy, and everyone is free to agree or disagree with it.
    But no one is forced to do anything / to think anything based on the disclaimer (of course).

  16. === PART 3

    About the various prejudice categories applied to fantasy / mythological races I tend to agree with you, but the disclaimer does not refer explicitly to them. Also, I believe that a non-accusation stance (by both sides) would be helpful.
    I mean: it is wrong to apply the various “…ism” labels to anyone using fantasy tropes in a certain way; but it is equally wrong to label as “obsessed”, “nihilistic”, “sjw” and so on anyone who, for a reason or another, feels discomfortable with a certain fantasy depiction: I believe that we should try to understand his feeling, instead.

    I am sorry but I feel that the language and tones that you used at the end of your article are not very helpful in this sense. Maybe it is a reaction to an opposite and equally wrong excess by the other side, but I do not see this kind of tones in the disclaimer itself.
    Wherever there is a conflict there are extremists on both sides. I am sure that you are not between them. But if you focus your critiques on the extremists of the other side like they are the only other party involved, the risk is that it appears that you paint the other side, as a whole, as extremist.
    Not all people who appreciates the WotC disclaimer are obsessed, politicized people listening to “dog whistles”. Likewise, not all people who dislikes the disclaimer are “racists” or other kinds of “…ists”.
    Instead of mutual accusation, mutual understanding should be the key. From this perspective, I am afraid that the disclaimer seems more balanced and moderate than your post.

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