while we’re on the subject of our esteemed fantasy forefathers
Can we talk about what a heinously racist and misogynistic neckbeard Gary Gygax was for a minute? (father of D&D, for the non-nerds in the room)
Greyhawk is so so so so so SO fucked up. Not that other D&D settings didn’t have their own issues but I can’t even start with how fucked up Greyhawk is. That was where the Drow, my favorite fantasy race ever, got their ignoble start as the deranged product of every white man’s id: a chaotic evil race ruled by emasculating dominatrixes literally cursed into blackness. (Forgotten Realms did Elves much, much better including the Drow, but then they had to go and fuck it up with 4E and the HEINOUSLY problematic shit they pulled with the Eilistraeen Drow)
How about how in the oldest editions of D&D, female PCs automatically had to deduct points from the Strength stat. ‘Member that?
I mean Gygax was like the original neckbeard, he had a whole column devoted to mansplaining in Dragon Magazine. The man is a lion of fantasy gaming and I am grateful to him for creating a game I really really love and laying the foundation for pretty much every RPG ever (tabletop or video game) but…shit.
I won’t even touch Lovecraft and how black people are literally monsters in at least one of his stories, and how a lot of his shit was informed by race/miscegenation panic. I love Cthulhu as much as the next person but jesus people need to be aware of this shit.
And we wonder why the genre is so fucked up when these are the kinds of dudes perpetually being emulated by every hack author, game developer and filmmaker. I love fantasy as a genre, it is by far my favorite, but come the fuck on, people. The house was built on a landfill and people wonder why it smells?
The Forgotten Realms has more racism and misogyny than any other tabletop setting I’ve ever played in. Let’s not discuss how they portray Japanese/Chinese in Rokugan and the Africans (Chult).
Oh, and let’s not forget how virtually every female PC or NPC in D&D (or anything under Wizards) is oversexualized and basically all of the “femme fatales” are regulated to trading on their sexuality to get anything done (Ashemmi being one of them for a campaign I did called “The Rogues of Waterdeep”, she was sleeping with a Red Wizard of Thay and that’s pretty much all that was said of her in the books).
The Elves are pretty much the only thing I like about FR. Kara-Tur was pretty fucking terrible also (smdh at the white guy that thought, “HEY, ORIENTAL ADVENTURES WAS A GREAT IDEA, LET’S BRING IT BACK”) and the less said about Maztica the better. I like that you brought up Chult though, I love that Arthur Conan Doyle ~Darkest Africa~ bullshit (and by love I mean ACTIVELY LOATHE). What killed me about that was a) how the Fantasy Counterpart Egypt civilization had nothing to do with Chult at all (yet another example of the whitewashing/de-Africanization of Egypt) and b) in the first Neverwinter Nights, the SOLE black character in the entire game came from Chult and just had to have an ex-slavery backstory. I don’t even know what that fuckery was.
Ravenloft was also horrible. I’ll never forgive it for that “Van Richten’s Guide to the Vistani” book which is probably the most racist RPG supplement I’ve ever read that wasn’t published by White Wolf. It’s like they had a checklist of every gross stereotype about Romani people and couldn’t stop until they hit every bullet point.
I think Greyhawk sticks out in my mind as being worse than FR because a) it was the original D&D setting and so Ed Greenwood was really just building on what Gygax started and b) brown people did actually turn up in the supplemental materials. It’s one of those “do you prefer invisibility or blatant stereotyping” deals. :\
I remember my character Nadja always being mistaken for being from Chult when I’d play her in text-based RPGs (she was also the primary leader of the Rogues of Waterdeep). But when I actually researched Chult it made my blood boil. Like, it’s more of that “Tarzan in the jungle” type shit white people like to do. And of course, there isn’t much written up on it. I actually moved to Eberron for a while after that, but I was on a steampunk fix at the time, so it worked out.
Rokugan was the typical “samurai and ninjas are awesome” white people romanticizing. I actually can’t stand Greenwood. His writing style just bleeds of “trying so hard to sound poetic and pretentious”, and his fucking unstoppable Elminster.
I love D&D, I really do, but it’s built upon a foundation of white privilege and blatant erasure of POC and every other RPG simply followed suit, as well as the entire fantasy genre for that matter. I’m still mad off that Goddess Summoning series I read.
It’s something a lot of my white friends don’t understand when they get excited over shit in the game and I’m just like “-sigh-“. Sometimes, knowing the truth really fucking sucks.
Ed Greenwood is legitimately terrible as a writer and world builder and Elminister is just his self-insert tbh. The only decent FR shit was all written by other people (I loved Eric Boyd’s work on the pantheons). The Seven Sisters were basically just his spank fantasy and I love how the black one was always ignored…until they needed her to die. That entire plotline with Eilistraee was probably the most infuriating racist shit I have read in a long, long time. And I only got through book 1 of that literary abortion Lisa whatsherface wrote. Barely. Even summaries of the last book are enough to make me want to punch everyone involved.
I love D&D* as a ruleset but I Can’t with published settings anymore because they are conceived by and for white neckbeards with arrested development tbh.
*or, the unholy mix of 1st/2nd/3.5 I was running for a long time
And that’s why I don’t DM campaigns anymore:
1) The abomination that is 4e killed it for me. I was strictly 3.5.
2) The blatant racism and horrid writing (am I the only one who hates Salvatore and his stupid Gary Stu, Drizzt?). Although, I do like Paul Kemp and Elaine Cunningham’s published work in FR.
3) Most of the people who flock to my text-based campaigns are people looking for nothing more than their Mary Sue fantasies fulfilled (I always point out a disclaimer that my campaigns are mostly character-driven and that there is a higher probability of character death the longer you stay in).
Ed Greenwood sucked, and yet he’s hailed by neckbeards everywhere as a great writer. I’d put him right alongside Stephanie Meyer as far as writing and storytelling goes.
The Eilistraee plotline struck a nerve in me because it was basically more “we have to erase anyone who is not white somehow”. It happens in basically every fantasy book I’ve ever read. Even in a setting that is blatantly supposed to star POC (like a pseudo-Arabian or pseudo-African setting), somehow they manage to whitewash everything. It’s almost amazing how they do it.
I think Salvatore is a mediocre writer. There’s worse in the FR stable, like basically everyone involved with War of the Spider Queen barring the first two authors. But I won’t front, I fucking love the world building he did with Menzoberranzan and it was the basis for a lot of original work I did with the Drow. The box set in particular goes a long way to actually fleshing out the Drow as a race instead of leaving them as two dimensional Gygaxian caricatures whose sole purpose was loot distribution. Which, naturally, 4e went right the fuck back to. -_-
I like early Drizzt, as in Icewind Dale/Dark Elf Trilogy/Legacy of the Drow Drizzt. The minute he hit the surface in the Dark Elf Trilogy I totally lost interest in his story, because I didn’t particularly care about the Noble Suffering Darkie shit. I was always way more interested in his interactions with other Drow, tbh. The longer he stays on the surface interacting with other races the more problematic his character gets for me, because he starts looking a lot like a white dude’s fantasy of a POC hero—the only thing Drow about Drizzt is his coloring. Not that he didn’t already have problematic elements (Salvatore’s weird, almost Calvinist thing where Drizzt was ~born good~ as opposed to his sisters). But, like, he’s devoted to a human goddess, has nothing but awful things to say about his people, married a white human girl, pretty much the only people he hangs out with are all either human or always-coded-white races. The older I get, the more it disturbs me that the most prominent example of a Drow hero in all of FR and the one that is most emulated/beloved by fans is basically a walking Exceptional Other trope. It reminds me of the white people who love black people so long as we don’t threaten them too much and skeeves me out. And don’t get me started on those ghastly white-washing book covers from back in the day.
IMO Salvatore’s problem is that he unwittingly created a cash cow in Drizzt and the character quit being interesting like several series ago. Legacy of the Drow was the last one I read, just because Entreri was a good foil for him and it was so fucking slashy. The fanboys demand the formula so he just keeps churning out the same shit.
Holy shit thank you for saying that. Once Drizzt hit the surface I was like “NEXT!” because I could already see where it was going. The whole Exceptional Other trope kills me, because that is what he is, in addition to a Gary Stu. I don’t think Salvatore himself even likes Drizzt anymore, which is probably why he turned his focus to Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxle Baenre (I fucking love those two, but it seemed Entreri was taking the same turn Drizzt did so I let my infatuation die). Salvatore’s writing is almost elementary (the whole oculars and orbs as synonyms for ‘eyes’…him and Greenwood, I swear…)
In any case, the more I know, the less I seem inclined to read new fantasy series, and the more fantasy I do see with nothing but white-washing or fantasy worlds where POC don’t even exist unless they are servants or slaves, the less inclined I am to write. I stopped doing campaigns and people are asking me why; I tell them I’m burned out on trying to bring some color to the fantasy genre, but then I get that “exceptional other” shit foisted on me! Like, at Dragon*Con, it was so palpable. I was cool with the white geek girls as long as I didn’t shine too bright or become so unique that attention was diverted, and once it was, I became “That other bitch” in their eyes (the photo ops were proof enough, lord). It’s like they couldn’t stand that I’d dare to play POC in the Forgotten Realms setting that weren’t backdrops to their parade of Mary Sue mages, rogues, and rangers. Sorry, but Nadja is too much of a badass to be regulated to second fiddle to yet another white bitch casting Burning Hands and Magic Missiles.
It’s very frustrating in a unique way, because the racism here is so…interwoven with the fans of the genre.
Hahaha the “orbs for eyes” shit, I forgot Salvatore did that too since it’s been so long since I last read one of his books. I associate that shit with Richard Knaak, who’s even worse than Salvatore and might actually be the worst pro writer I’ve ever had the pain of reading. (He is generally known as the punching bag of the Warcraft fandom for his terrible WoW novels, but he previously committed some crimes against literature in Dragonlance.)
And I really feel what you’re saying about the whitewashing and the Exceptional Other bullshit. I hate that even in fantasy settings that on the surface supposedly appear to explore race to some degree, there is a) a distinct absence of actual POC unless they are the foreign/barbarian/Proud Warrior Race Guy culture (almost always from The Forbidding/Mysterious East) and/or b) the non-humans—and it’s always non-humans—who are chosen as the “stand-in”/code for POC are generally ignored because the story is humanocentric to begin with and they only show up for Very Special Episode moments to teach the humans life lessons or some shit. Or, worse yet, oppression/othering is framed in some really shitty/problematic metaphor ala Sookie Stackhouse’s vampires. Dragon Age is so fucking guilty of pretty much all of the above it’s ridiculous but tbh it’s really only the latest setting to do that. Which is why, as much as I generally love it, I side-eye the shit out of it.
I’m too stubborn to stop writing or engaging with it (sometimes I feel like one of those HGTV house remodeling shows except it’s for fantasy settings, lol) but I totally understand where you’re coming from.