4 thoughts on “Blinded by the Roll: The Critical Fail of Disability in D&D”

  1. Great article! This is one of the reasons I prefer the GURPS system over DND – you are able to give your player character specific disabilities, like blindness, paranoia, or varying degrees of deafness as examples, and when you take one, you get more points to create a stronger character. It encourages creating characters with disabilities who are stronger in other areas and I find it gives me a lot more room to make unique and interesting PCs – all without having to create my own rules to handle it.

  2. One thing to keep in mind when discussing D&D is that it tries to support two different types of gameplay (and more, probably, but two are relevant); first is the telling of fantasy stories, and the second is the one where players are striving to have their characters succeed in adventurous tasks.

    For a game of drama or telling stories, there is little reason to not include disabilities, and no problems for including them. Burning wheel is an example of a game that does this reasonably well, I guess; one can buy various features for one’s character, and some disabilities are there side-by-side with other traits. A trait that affects play gives meta-level currency to the player, which they can use to succeed at rolls and eventually improve their character. Dungeon world would be another game where disabilities would be easy to introduce, as many disabilities do not prevent fantasy action set pieces. I do not know if Dungeon world addresses disabilities in any way; I do not remember anything in the rules, but maybe the art contains something?

    In games where players try to have their characters succeed, as a primary goal of play, disabilities are more difficult to handle. Many disabilities make adventuring significantly more difficult. If one wants to keep a level playing field among characters, either all of them have to be disabled in equally challenging ways, or there must be some trade-off (GURPS-style points, or receiving an extra feat for a flaw, etc.).
    Some such games do not assume a level playing field among players characters, and in such games players may indeed voluntarily play a disabled character, much like someone may choose to play a beggar when a knight would also be a possible character to play (and superior in most, though not all adventures).
    Many OSR (old school revival) groups do use rules for permanent or semi-permanent wounds, should character survive the situation where they receive the wounds. Some examples: https://deathanddismemberment.blogspot.dk/2014/11/d-on-death-dismemberment-tables.html

    Unfortunately, modern D&D is among games which do assume roughly equally capable player characters, and which does try to cater to players playing to succeed. As such, introducing disabilities for it is an interesting design challenge.

  3. I have to admit, I am really not sure where to begin in the unpacking of this article. I suppose first would be to say that, while it’s purely conjecture, I suspect the author has no physical disability, and that she has never actually played the game, and I don’t intend either of these suppositions to be accusations.

    The objective of role playing games is not, generally, to “create a character that reflects their own identity and reality.” I have, myself, played characters with a number of disabilities, both physical and mental, and I know many other players who can say the same. The mechanics of this, and most, role playing games makes this entirely within the realm of possibility, and there is little if anything discouraging players from doing so if they choose.

    The author addresses the artwork as if it were portraying negative stereotypes, but seems to have projected her own preconceptions upon them: The “old man” she points to is in fact a gnome, and doesn’t appear to be terribly old, and the dwarf who has been “blinded” is in fact, *wearing a blindfold* and therefore, by definition, blinded. Not *blind*, necessarily.
    And since she asks that the game be more visually inclusive, I’m curious what imagery she would choose, to represent someone who simply cannot hear, or someone who simply cannot see? Given that neither condition has an inherent visible attribute, she can only be assuming that all the colorful characters in other illustrations who do not have blindfolds or ear-horns are in fact, not in any way disabled.

    Merely some personal observations, and no disrespect to either the author, nor anyone with any sort of disability.

  4. As a physician who has been playing D&D for about 40 years I found your article to have some valid points that Wizards should address. I agree that the artwork mentioned is offensive and demeaning. I agree that there should be better mechanics to portray characters with disabilities and allow a player with disabilities to embrace rather than abandon an important aspect of their identity. Take the analogy of a player who, in their real existence, is physically weak. That player has the option to create his character in different ways. One is to could create an ultra strong fighter-type to explore what they could never actually do. Alternatively they could play a character who’s strength has little bearing on what they can achieve. Characters with disabilities should have similar options. Until these are available it is up to the DM to work with players to find ways to portray their desired character without disrupting game play.
    Back in the early 80’s a members of our gaming group was paraplegic. It is interesting, in retrospect, that none of us (all intelligent and socially aware) ever brought up the idea of playing a character with a disability. I don’t remember even considering the possibility. It shows that conversations like this are long overdue.
    That said, my current character is a blind bard with multiple personality disorder. I have to confess that 3 of the 5 members of our gaming group have been playing together for about 20 years, so we are not a typical group. We are also well accustomed to creating very atypical characters. Role playing is more important to us than having the most powerful party.
    There are existing ways to help compensate for disabilities and ways to role play around some of them, especially with the DM’s assistance. Deafness need not be overly limiting to a party. Other members can listen for dangers the character might have missed. Players can communicate with sign language or acquire a means for telepathy. A player lacking a limb can compensate for in may ways. Even complete paraplegia can be compensated for, especially if the player is willing to play a character relying primarily on mental attributes. The difficulty of mental illness will always be more of a role playing problem than one of game mechanics. Blindness poses some unique difficulties and I do not advise it for a beginning gaming group as I think it would add stresses that they do not have the experience to easily handle.
    My DM gave me a bonus on perception checks for hearing and smell and touch, all of which provide a benefit to my party. With a character such as a bard you can concentrate on a primarily supporting role and still aid the party while accurately portraying the disability. Playing a blind front line fighter type is more difficult. OK, my bard does that too, but it took a lot of thought and time working with the DM.
    There are also some game mechanics to help overcome some of the drawbacks of disabilities. Spells can be used to take away an enemy’s sight (or hearing or movement, etc) and turn the tables to give advantage to the character accustomed to their condition. Spells and magic items can be used to remove some of the hindrances the disability poses, just like technology does in the real world. To argue that this should not be necessary is like arguing that people with actual disabilities should not take advantage of technological aids that are available. Using a familiar (available to any character fairly early in the game) for periods of vision is helpful, though there are limitations to this. There is no reason you cannot have a trained companion animal that acts as service animal or even have your familiar play that role. These are only a few examples.
    In the end an experienced DM should be able to work with players to create and play a character with disabilities. Wizards should continue to strive to be more socially responsible. Removing offensive artwork is an easy first step.
    Tackling societal apathy and prejudices will be more difficult.

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