TableTop RolePlaying Game Groups Are Like the Coffee Shop Crowd.

A friend of mine once remarked that coffee shops tend to attract very strongly opinionated customers that fit into one of two camps. There were a lot of hardcore, Bible-thumpin, white, male Christians and a lot of LGBTQIA, artistic folx, non-Christians (at least here in Iowa.) I’m sure other places have a different perspective. The coffee shop I worked in had those lines running down the middle of the staff. The crowd did not mix well.

The #TTRPGCommunity is much the same way now. The kind of old guard, the guys who started the hobby and launched Dungeons & Dragons (old, cishet white guys) on the other side of the spectrum from openly LGBTQIA, BIPOC, female crowd. Somehow we all manage to share the same hobby.

Then, this happened on Twitter:

From the outside, it looks innocent enough.

Troll Lord Games makes some pretty cool retroclone games based on 2nd Ed AD&D. They make Castles & Crusades, Amazing Adventures, a wide host of retroclone games and advice for players or Game Masters. Their staff has been around the industry for a long time. Their company often gets lumped in with the Old School Renaissance/Revival/Re-whatever-it-is-this-week movement.

Whether this was done in response to something one of their employees posted earlier in the week or just as a friendly reminder, Troll Lord put this announcement out for their staff. Regardless of its intended audience, it was posted publicly on social media. “Oops,” in my opinion.

The #TTRPG crowd, regardless of what side of any issue one is on, can be extremely loud and opinionated. This one simple post has ignited a virtual inferno on Twitter and elsewhere in social media land. This whole thing comes back to what I’ve been saying for quite a while now. We just need to find a way to coexist and enjoy the hobby.

It wasn’t that long ago that I held similar views.

I’m sure if I dug back through the 465+ posts, mostly from 2022, I can probably find where I said something similar. “Leave your politics at home and just play the game” or “I don’t care what your politics are outside of the game as long as you don’t spout a bunch of crap at the table.”

Well, this year really opened my eyes even more to some of the various injustices and hateful things that exist in the real human world and our growing #TTRPG hobby. It’s difficult to describe because it’s not easy to approach from where I stand. I get identified as being an old, (presumed straight,) non-disabled white guy. (*Which is wrong, btw, for reasons I’ll cover elsewhere.) I get accused of being “woke.” To which I often say, “It’s Awakened, not Woke.”

I’ve been learning that we humans have been lied-to and manipulated for centuries. (*For real.) I’ve been rewiring a lot of the old programs for the last eight or nine years. 2022 taught me that more than ever we need to come together and stop all the hate. Not just in one hobby, but as a global community of human beings. If humans can’t get over small differences, how will they ever get over the big ones?

We’ve got to start being good to one another in the TTRPG sphere. If that means some bitter old Grognards are acting up at the Friendly Local Game Store, then they need to go back to someone’s basement and let the rest of us enjoy the game. I digress…

This is but one example of the uproar.

It’s not as simple as it was 40 years ago.

Looking at Troll Lord’s original post, it makes me question the integrity of the company and whether or not I would ever want to go to an event sponsored by Troll Lord such as Gary Con. (*For those who don’t know- Gary Con is an annual gaming convention held to honor Gary Gygax, one of the original creators of Dungeons & Dragons.) I mean, saying leave it at the door is all fine and dandy, except it means the bigots and other haters who have dominated the hobby for years also get a free pass on moral/ethical grounds. We’re right back to the coffee shop dilemma- everyone wants the same thing, but they don’t want to be in the presence of each other.

Back in the day when D&D, comics, boardgames, and card games were not popular, a lot of us nerds were marginalized. We were pretty far down on the proverbial social pecking order in school and elsewhere. Sometimes this made for strange bedfellows and overlaps with other subcultures such as the LGBTQIA crowd, BIPOC kids, differently physically or mentally abled, goths, artists, writers, actors, atheists and other random oddballs. I grew up in a predominantly white Christian small town in Iowa before the Internet was born and this was most definitely how it went.

We welcomed a lot of very diverse people into the hobby or just as friends. We would often band together out of common non-gaming interests or just because we were being bullied right along with the rest of the kids we knew. All the while we had larger parts of the local community looking at us sideways because last Sunday the Reverend said we were the devil’s kids with our books, dice and miniatures. Nothing brings people together like hate and fear because they don’t understand something.

No matter what Troll Lord intended, this is where we’re at now.

Wherever there is culture, there is counter culture. We can’t just be satisfied and agree to disagree. I truly wish Troll Lord hadn’t released this statement into the wild. It might have seemed innocuous enough when they wrote it. Unfortunately, it seems everything must be politicized these days. I think the thing that blows my mind even more is the two most vocal sides of this debate are diametrically opposed to one another and yet still manage to participate in the hobby.

Sure, we’re hearing from the same bitter, old, white Grognard types that chime into every one of these online debates. They’re upset and offended at being called out, I guess by Troll Lord as much as the community. The folx that normally call out their bigoted, misogynistic, anti-LGBTQIA antics is also calling out Troll Lord.

“Oh no, the social justice warriors are after us.” they cry.

Meanwhile the social justice crowd is feeling extremely justified because the other side of the coin is playing right into their argument. Too bad we can’t write a game as dramatic as the stuff that plays out in and around the #ttrpgindustry.

Others are trying to take a more sensible approach.

I’ve said before in other articles that really no one cares what happens in someone’s private game held in a private location. Have a Session Zero, or don’t. Honestly, if you’ve been playing with the same 5-7 people for years, you might not need one. Which is fine because there are not TTRPG police that are going to come tell you that you’re doing it all wrong.

The problems erupt when we get into public spaces and public forums. Many convention goers that sound like former Hitler youth are now escorted from the premises. If people are paying to play or even just giving up their time to the hobby, they deserve a seat at the table free from fear, hate, and negativity around them. Everyone is welcome at the TTRPG table as long as they aren’t being turds toward their fellow human beings.

Of course, the you-go-your-way, I’ll-go-mine approach doesn’t work so well for everyone. My D&D group was divided right down the middle for years. We had a couple of very conservative Christian guys, myself and my wife, plus a lesbian couple. Needless to say we all knew what boundaries weren’t going to get crossed. But it doesn’t always work out that way and nowadays I’m pretty sure some people would have gotten booted out of the group.

I have some good friends and a family member who is Trans. I just found out about a year ago someone very close to me is trans. I’ve had trans friends for years but not a family member. It took a little time to adapt at first. I’d be pretty sore if someone showed up to my D&D game and openly hated on LGBTQIA folx while sitting at my table. I would be doing a serious disservice to my own family by letting a loudmouth bigot stick around.

People often forget TTRPGS are a great teaching tool.

We’ve talked about slavery in fantasy settings in the past. Paizo took a new approach to it in recent years and banned slavery from their products. Personally, I think it’s okay to discuss in game as long as we were cool with it in Session Zero. I have had fantasy RPG sessions in the past that dealt with genocide, war, and even the holocaust. A lot of us have used Nazis as bad guys in various games. That’s nothing new.

Would I do this for any random group off the street? No. That would be insensitive. Not because I like Nazis (* I DON’T!) but because you never know whose family might have experienced the Holocaust first hand. I can’t play psychologist any more than I can play lawyer or doctor for people in the real world. I can’t fix anything that happens outside of my gaming sessions. I can only do my best to be sensitive to the needs and wants of my players.

If that means we never talk about the icky stuff and maybe make friends with goblins and dragons, okay. If no one every kicks a puppy or knocks a wheelchair over in game, that’s cool if that’s what we wanted to do as a group. On the other hand, if one of my players who is in a wheelchair wants a character who is in a wheelchair, different gender, different sexuality from the player or whatever else they come up with? I’m not going to deny them. RPGs are a place to explore so much. Heck, I’ll do extra research to put in a storyline for a wheelchair using, asexual, polyamorous gnome. I’m not kidding.

I don’t think Troll Lord was bargaining for this fiasco.

They can run their business any way they want. It’s up to them. That’s cool.

I’ve already seen plenty of comments to the effect of “I’m never buying from them again.” I’ve also seen a good number of (mostly OSR) gamers backing Troll Lord Games. What I’m most concerned about is the divisive polarization in the community. What’s the best outcome here?

I have met some of the people from TLG, Necromancer and Frog God via social media and I honestly didn’t see this coming. Game company employees have families to take care of. No business wants to chase people away. I would love for Troll Lord to add more clarity at this point.These guys usually seem pretty cool. From a business standpoint they’ve always been generous and easy to get along with. That’s what makes this so confusing to me.

The fires were still burning on Twitter when I looked just now. More on this subject to come. Personally, I think all should be welcome at the gaming table so long as their presence will DO NO HARM. Let’s focus on that, maybe?

I would love to just get back to gaming. I love making characters, GM tables, dungeon rooms, and so on. But it’s in the spirit of the greatest and highest good of my players, especially the players from marginalized groups, to be shown consideration, kindness, understanding and given more time in the spotlight. I love making game content and I want to help all of my friends from all walks of life. Much love.

Happy New Year! if I don’t see you tomorrow morning. Have a great and safe holiday. I’ll be back with more excitement in 2023.

2023 might be the year of first contact.
Do we really want to show the ugly side of humans?