Racism I Can Do Without: Low-hanging fruit for the white ally

OK, Ramanan S pointed out to me that we have not had significant discussions of race in tabletop roleplaying games since The Thing last year. I take that as an indicator of the chilling effect, but nonetheless it’s not a good excuse. We need to talk, and even more so we need to act.

This is not a post to examine the root causes and come up with an overarching plan to eliminate racism, tokenism, erasure, etc. I can’t be the one to tell you all about race problems in the tabletop gaming community. I’m not on the receiving end, and my white privilege means I will, by definition, not be able to see all the instances.

But there are some things that are obvious enough that we can see them, and react to them, as white allies and tabletop gamers. I can speak about what I do see, and what I can do about it. 

What we can see

  • Invisibility; lack of representation in game content, game art, and among creators.
  • Cultural appropriation and misrepresentation.
  • Tokenism.
  • Tropes, cliches, prejudice, and racist shit.
  • Evil fantasy “races” and invitations to genocide; moral clarity at the cost of binary thinking.

And you know, I was going to have a nice demonstration with citations for each of these, but screw it, let’s apply first aid and we’ll deal with the demonstration that the patient is bleeding later. Yes, in subsequent posts I will look at these in clinical detail, provide examples, and explain why they are Not Good.

But for now I will assume that you are a reader of good faith, and particularly a white person who wants to start somewhere and is looking for concrete ways to help with the problem. It’s not going to be sufficient and it won’t earn you a merit badge, but it is necessary. It’s a starting point.

What we can do

I’m going to throw a bunch of bullet point suggestions within an individual’s reach. I will continue to write on these issues and I will revisit in future posts. If you genuinely don’t understand and want me to explain my thoughts more in depth, ask.

All gamers

Keep informed, listen to what POC reviewers, podcasters, bloggers, vloggers, etc., say on the topic (see sources below.) Don’t pick just one to represent all POCs, and don’t shop for only the ones that agree with what you already think.

For the love of dog, please do not treat us to your impersonations of Jamaican gangsters, Jewish grandmothers, or Chinese criminal masterminds, nor to your aesthetic comparisons of women from various ethnic groups. That shit is just not funny.

If a person of colour sits at your game table, don’t treat them like they come from another planet, nor with excessive familiarity. They’re not here to validate you, they want to have a fun game for a few hours.

Ask your favourite publisher to include more diversity, especially during the recruitment of stretch goal authors for Kickstarter funding campaigns—when your requests have the most leverage.

Talk about your favourite game-related items that promote diversity and especially BY diverse creators; post reviews on your blog, on publisher sites, on DriveThruRPG, on Amazon, on RPG.net, on RPGGeek, on YouTube, etc..

Read and view fiction that explores diversity, so you will not only support it in other media, but get ideas for characters and stories you can bring back to the game table.


Respectfully design and portray PCs from your setting’s minorities, especially if they are based on real-world groups.

Don’t ignore the cultural differences, but don’t make them all that a character is “about”; members of a cultural or ethnic group don’t have a hive mind.


Respectfully design and portray your settings minorities, especially if they are based on real-world groups.

Take the time to evaluate sourcebooks and other source materials you plan to use in your game, and don’t use “It doesn’t bother ME” as your criterion.

Give adversaries reasonable motives, especially if they are from a “race” the PCs can’t belong to. Don’t assume that race IS the motive.

Publishers, creative directors, project managers

Learn about writing diversity into your games, for example from the Writing the Other online class.

Reach out to fledgling authors who bring diversity; don’t wait for them to knock on your door.

Read new game material they produce, invite them to contribute to your projects.

Start slowly with manageable chunks, pair newcomers with your more experienced writers and designers, debrief and make course corrections, help develop good professional habits.

Hire diverse artists and commission diverse art.

Pay people a fair price and pay on acceptance, not on publication.

In short

I’m asking you to do what you can at the individual level: everyone, get informed; players, better PC portrayal; GMs, create better campaigns and settings; publishers, increase diversity on your writing, design, and art team.

Some sources

Here are some links to writers and artists of colour. Some post thoughts on game-related topics, some are promoting their creations, some talk about more general geek pursuits that intersect with tabletop gaming and provide context. They don’t all agree with one another, nor do I agree with everything every one of them writes. Duh, that’s the whole point of listening to many voices.

There are great conversations to follow on Google+, but you have to identify people you want to follow, perhaps from one of the sources just listed, and approach people’s virtual doorstep respectfully.

If you are a person of colour and would like to add a link, contact me.

One thought on “Racism I Can Do Without: Low-hanging fruit for the white ally

  1. Can we start by mentioning how messed-up it is that fantasy RPG fans use the word “race” to mean “species?” Especially when you combine it with some of the stuff that goes on in those games.

    Also, Ryuutama and Maid are pretty great RPGs (for completely different reasons). The Japanese TRPG scene in general is a lot more diverse and creative than here in North America — at least on the level of bookstore shelves — because Dungeons & Dragons never became the One True Game over there.

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