If you don't like WotC's direction, stop paying for their books

I played a lot of 2e RL. It was a lot more “grown up” in that it explored real life problems like bigotry, gaslighting, stalking, abusive relationships, predatory sexual behavior, religious zealotry, intolerance, totalitarianism, slavery, etc. it didn’t glorify these things or celebrate them. It made them bad and oppressive. They were the things that put the dread in the Domain of Dread. These were the things that heroic npcs characters worked against.

I’lol use the big one that seemed to get the RL retcon started. The Vistani in 2e were insular and outsiders. However, it was very clear that the negative stereotypes were based in the ignorance, jealousy and malice of the land-bound peasants or lords. They were almost universally helpful once you befriended them and got to see what their culture was really like, cutting through the negative stereotypes spewed by bigoted locals. It’s a real life experience that has been explored in films and literature again and again … cultures may vary, but people are people and general want the same things, value the same ideals, etc. A protagonist finding out that the things he was warned about are actually interesting, engaging, incredible or more righteous that the bumpkins doing the warning is a story I think anyone can identify with.

In fact, the Vistani were kind of like the Schindlers of Ravenloft. They knew they were in a terrible and dreadful land, that their position was precarious, but in a few ways privileged (strong magic, free movement, etc) and they still tried to help often doomed heroes, risking the small bit of privilege they had, to do what good they could here and there. There were a few despised and evil groups of Vistani, but they were reviled by the nation as a whole and it was clear they were not the norm. This was another humanizing factor as it showed they weren’t just some homogenized hive mind.

The Vistani portrayal in CoS was unacceptable. Making every single vistani a drunken swindler was crap. They even made the one Vistani who helped actually not be a Vistani. My guess is that the writer was going for a “in new extra miserable RL (now with 10x the misery! 24/7!) even the Vistani have beaten down” type of thing. They missed the mark by a mile. It needed correction.

But now you have Vistani treated as basically the Ice Cream Man, who’s wagons arrive bringing joy and receiving warm welcomes from the locals. The issue is you haven’t just changed the Vistani, who honestly deserve this kind of welcome in the old 2e version of their people, but you’ve changed the locals. Gone are the overly superstitious, insular and unwelcoming locals who turn away anything different, foreign, or new. They live in constant fear of horrible death but oh! here comes a caravan of strangers with secretive and powerful magic. Let’s welcome them with open arms! It makes no sense from a world building sense.

Think of many of the classic (or not so classic) horror stories. How would “Dracula” have been different if Jonathan Harker warmly greeted and embraced by the locals before heading up to the castle? Think of the numerous “record scratch” moments of outsider heroes entering a bar. For example, how would not so classic American Werewolf in London have progressed if upon entering the Slaughtered Lamb, the boys were warmly received and warned against heading out?

Then we get to the Great Darklord Purge. This guy is a hypnotist who manipulates people? His theme is that not all BBEG are physically powereful and that poisoned words in the right ear can cause far more bloodshed and chaos than spa strong arm? Nope. That might offend people who have been manipulated. This woman is a noble femme fatale who poisons people at a whim show the destructive and horrible power of an aristocracy that is above the law? Nope. Negative connotations for women. This guy is basically RL Stalin/Hitler who runs a totalitarian regime that can kill anyone for any reason and where people are literally branded to show they are property of the state? Nope. That could upset people who lived under oppressive regimes or alienate people who like totalitarianism. This guy is a mummy? Nope. It could offend Egyptian people who no longer believe in mummification, the reason for doing it, or the religion it was based on. This guy is based on King Lear, helplessly watching his squabbling offspring destroy his once United nation and it’s based on a warring states type medieval Japanese culture. Scrap it. It’s “derivative” (some one let Kurosawa know). And so on and so on.

Then we move on to the lands. Some of the changes are changes for change sake. Let’s look at Kartakass. It was a domain that was based on the dichotomy of beautiful scenic “Olde Worlde” alpine villages, wild flower filled meadows, verdant forests by day, terrifying hunting grounds of beasts driven by primeval hunger, fearing neither man nor fire, by night. Part of the horror was that it was just so picturesque during the day… the homes were fairytale cute with flower boxes and painted shutters, the people were beautiful and they loved singing and celebrating. However, when the sun hung low and the moon went up, there was a stark change - people huddled at home and locked everything down tight. Songs gave way to hushed prayers to make it thru the night. The big hearted blacksmith that belted out a friendly tune with the party bard at the tavern earlier has locked up his home tight and no amount of banging, begging or screaming from that bard is going to get him to open it.

Now Kartakass is a realm where the horror is based on not getting enough likes or followers on the equivalent of your social media account. Oh no! You haven’t been chosen for Kartakass’s Got Talent? The horror! Why?

Trying to sanitize the setting out of concern that these things could trigger players is detrimental to the setting. If you are turned off by an oppressive setting full of bad stuff, you should probably avoid oppressive settings full of bad stuff. I have a family member who served in Vietnam. He had a rough time with films about the war. He chose not to see Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Platoon or Full Metal Jacket. He didn’t expect or insist combat sequences be removed. The writers and directors didn’t need to consider that when telling the story. If seeing portrayals of the Holocaust is problematic for someone, I can understand why they would want to avoid seeing it on a big screen. However, that doesn’t lead me to say we should cut the Holocaust out of Schindler’s List, Band of Brothers, and Life is Beautiful because that someone should be able to see those movies and not feel uncomfortable.

I’ve posted several times about people wanting different things from DnD- some want a whimsical, fun game, some want a serious, deep campaign. Some want grim realism with all it ugliness while others want a safe space to avoid all that. All of that is ok and it’s great that DND offers that. However, certain setting lend themselves to certain types of games and others don’t. Want a low tech, low magic game? You should probably avoid Ebberon. Ravenloft doesn’t lend itself to being a safe space. Part of the dread comes from the lack of safety, the low level hostility toward outsiders and ignorant superstition by the masses.

/r/dndnext Thread Parent