The tabletop gaming community is getting more inclusive. With that come players in groups being open about issues that were not covered in D&D’s conception in 1974. What was once considered a hobby only for white men, the D&D community now sees a host of differing races and genders. But that doesn’t mean that our job is done and we can all pat ourselves on the back. Inclusion in games is still an issue that comes up regularly in the community. Many people still don’t feel accepted at the table. This can be due to either who they are as a person, or who they choose to play as a character. So how can you make sure you’re doing your part by making your game inclusive?
How to be Inclusive
Being inclusive doesn’t have to be difficult. All it takes is a certain amount of mindfulness. The first step is making sure we’re mindful of what we say and how we say it. If all of the tough characters in your story are men and all the people needing saving are women, it will probably put a bad taste in the mouths of your players. It’s tempting to put characteristics into “masculine” or “feminine” categories, but understand that those categories put people into boxes. Those boxes never accurately describe a person. Think of how you would feel if everyone thought that playing D&D made you a nerd? You might not consider yourself a nerd, and you certainly consider yourself more than just a nerd. That’s why it’s important to be considerate of the language we use, especially while gaming.
Another idea is to display plenty of images of counter-stereotyping. It can especially be a problem in D&D to rely on stereotypes: dwarfs like to drink, elves are haughty, humans hunger for war. But by subverting this in your narration and introduction of characters, you open up the possibilities for your players to do the same. Create admirable characters that are generally underrepresented in D&D. There’s no reason that a half-orc can’t be the headmaster for a school of magic. Challenge yourself and challenge your players with these subversions. After awhile, they won’t seem strange at all.
At the very least, inclusion involves being open and welcoming to anyone. It also ensures that everyone is going to feel safe and have opportunities to express themselves. In the past, D&D has been a hobby that encountered a lot of derision. Many of us know how hard it is to find people who want to play due to old stigmas. It would be entirely hypocritical of us to be unwelcoming to someone who is new to the game or different in some way. So say yes when people show interest. Be patient with their questions and gentle with your corrections. And if you feel that a person isn’t going to be a good fit with your group, be kind when you tell them it isn’t working out. There’s already enough garbage in the world; we don’t need D&D to be a contributor to that.
Find Out What Your Group is Comfortable With
It stands to reason that each member of your group will have different comfort levels. As a DM, it’s a good idea to get a feel for what your players will tolerate and what will alienate them.
Getting on the Same Page
Typically, we tend to game with friends, and friends are people that we feel we know well. But sometimes we might not know exactly what would make our friends uncomfortable. If you game with a bunch of strangers, it will probably be even more difficult to discern what would make individuals uncomfortable. If you go into a campaign without getting on the same page with your players, you might find later on that a certain situation their character was in was distressing for them as a person. When starting your campaign, ask your players if certain situations are completely off the table for them. The idea of D&D is to have fun. If a certain scenario brings up bad memories for a player, then it stops being fun. That’s also a good way to lose a good player. No one wants to feel uncomfortable when they came to have a good time.
When in Doubt, Ask
We often forget how easy it is to learn about other people just by asking. If you’re not sure how your players will feel about certain situations, you can bring them up before your gaming session. This doesn’t mean that you have to completely give away your plot. Be as general as you like, but be sure that you’re getting to the heart of the issue. For example, you can ask people how they would feel about certain sexual issues in your game. Some players might interpret that as broadly as relationships, sexual acts, or perhaps something more sinister. Use your best judgement in these cases. You can even ask your players one on one, independently from the group. You’ll be more likely to get honest answers from them. People often feel pressured to agree with the group even when they might be uncomfortable.
Adjustments Take Patience
There’s likely to be some growing pains when making an inclusive game. You may have players who have played the game for years and never considered a point of view different from their own. Even in the age of the internet, many people still aren’t exposed to differing points of view on issues of race, sexuality, or religion. But there’s no reason your group members, old and new, can’t learn things from each other. You’ll all just have to be patient with one another. If something offends your players, make sure they’re talking about why it’s offensive instead of just getting mad at another player. Communication is key, and as a DM it’s your job to facilitate these discussions. Growing as a human being is more important than clearing a dungeon. Take the time to let your players talk issues out.
Inclusive adjustments for players with disabilities will also take patience for players. Your players may not have any experience playing games with people with disabilities. Players may have concerns about the game slowing down or wading through communication issues. But think about it: isn’t it more important that a person gets an opportunity to play? How important is having a fast-paced game versus giving a person an opportunity to be included in a game?
Check Your Players
There is no reason that a player should ever be made to feel uncomfortable at the table. As the DM, it’s your responsibility to make sure your players don’t go too far. If a player voices that they feel uncomfortable by another player’s actions, it’s your job to step in and stop it. There’s a chance a player may accuse you of being the “fun police,” but someone’s fun should never be more important than someone else’s comfort. A big part of being inclusive is making sure all of your players are having fun. If a player has to listen to an overly involved description of rape or torture, that’s not necessarily going to be fun for them.
Being inclusive isn’t difficult at all. It should always start and stay a primary duty of a DM. Be welcoming and patient with new players. Challenge yourself and your players to think outside the box of normal stereotypes. Be sure to check with your players if they find any topics too taboo or uncomfortable to deal with. Some adjustments will take more time and patience than others, but the reward is that more people get to play the game you love. At the end of the day, getting more people into the hobby we enjoy is worth a little extra effort.