Diversity in Unchained Heroes


ogre01aRecently, diversity in gaming has been a hot topic among many different blogs, making me think about it quite a bit. Diversity in regards to gender, sex, skin color, culture, and religion had very little hand in creating Unchained Heroes. Now, after reflection on this topic, I am wondering if it should have had more importance. Besides wanting to have more women in my artwork and as main characters, I didn’t really think about any of the other measures of diversity in a game. Is this a good thing? My knee jerk reaction would be yes; I despise discrimination of people based on their differences of all sorts, so it never occurred to me to promote diversity to combat that. On second thought, that was naive of me. Just because among my friends and family we don’t make in issue of them, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be thinking of them and promoting the opposite mentality.

Why Now?

Why I am talking about this now? Because without diversity, life is boring. I also have a long standing theory that unless you talk about something it doesn’t become “real.” When you take a thought and make it a reality, whether by word or by action, you now have made it into something actionable. The more times you make it a reality, the more you make it normal. At some point, people won’t be shocked about people having different sexual preferences, when they are defying gender roles, they act with a different religious compass, or they look a shade different that you. Those things will just be common place and not worthy of comment. This commentary about Unchained Heroes is my contribution to that future state.

The State of Diversity

Diversity is RPGs is a topic that has been hashed over many times before.  What is diversity, though? We haven’t defined that yet. I would define it as accounting for the gamut of human experiences, interactions, feelings, appearances, mental states, and cultures. These areas are what makes the world so rich and full of life. The common argument in RPGs is that we have a multitude of races to play and by this alone, they contribute to diversity. That is a good start, but it is not nearly enough. The very word “race” is not necessarily a wise choice of words. Species is probably more accurate, especially for Unchained Heroes, since each race, while sexually compatible, is not reproductively compatible–with Ogres being the only exception. There are no such things as half-dwarves, half-elves, or half-orcs in the Floating Realms. If there are, it is because “a wizard did it” and it is not from world design.

Species is one thing, but what about the visual representations of diversity in Unchained Heroes? When I commissioned the art for Unchained Heroes, it ended up with a lot of people of Caucasian appearance, was this deliberate? No, not by any means; it was unconsciously done. In my quest to fill the pages with great art, I didn’t consciously direct my artists towards diversity except in a few cases. I feel this was a disservice and will be remedied in the future. I imagine future supplements to be so much more diverse and full of flavor as I commission pieces that expand the visual universe–halfling female Paladin, you are coming to the world of Unchained Heroes, you just don’t know it yet.

Comments on my Path

My neglect to consciously include the larger slice of humanity made some of my most unique and amazing characters seem vanilla when they should have been celebrated. The Ogres, a poster child for diversity, should have been showcased and embraced. This shape-changing, culturally unfettered, and incredibly interesting race throws out all the social norms that many of the world’s societies hold to so dearly. Do they have a government? Only if they feel like it; I could have explored that in depth. Do they have a family structure? Yes, but not with ties like we know them, so what impact would that have on their society? Do they stake out territory? No, property is inconsequential for most(until they feel it isn’t), so what does that make them think of other economically focused cultures? You say they are a shapechangers, so what does that mean in their life? Think about the ramifications of having complete control of your appearance down to the last detail and a culture that strives to test the limits of their experiences. Would sex, gender, skin color, or a even a humanoid appearance be important anymore? I postulate it wouldn’t. They can look like blobs of gelatinous goo if they wanted. As globs, does that put more importance on the person?

I didn’t showcase their diversity or the diversity of experiences for any of the characters in Unchained Heroes enough. We have 7 Races of Cerebrals, Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Humans, Halflings, and Ogres with more on the way. Iconic characters needed to be pulled from all these Races and not just of Caucasian appearance. That is just one thing of many that I need to tip my hat to Pathfinder for doing; they are excellent at that aspect of game development. I, on the other hand, am a fledgling that must learn from their example. Wizards, with 5th Edition, is doing a great job on this as well. Their artwork clearly reflects that they understood this from the very beginning.

Lessons Learned

Diversity is an important part of the human experience. The more cultures, people, and views you are exposed to, the better you can empathize and tell the story of human life.  I have realized this for some time in my life, but never thought that I could have attached it to game design, storytelling, or writing until recently. Mark Twain says it best in Mark Twain: The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It when he wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Even when the world you live in is a Fantasy one, diversity counts.

Making diversity count will be an ongoing and conscious effort for me as I continue to roll out stories, adventures, and products for the Unchained Heroes world setting. It is not just about putting out a good product, it is about putting out an interesting product and an inspiring product. I personally get a lot more inspiration when I see a half-orc female gunslinger covered head to toe in gear than I do looking at a human male paladin wearing shiny full-plate. It also gives me more to talk about, describe, and imagine in my game universe. I know now that I want a lot more of that and I will work towards making that a reality.

And so, to new adventures in diversity for Unchained Heroes, I say, “Full Speed ahead.”

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