Come with me for a second.
So, I’m putting together a new D&D campaign. It’s got everything D&D usually has: orcs, elves, dwarves, dragons, etc., etc. Violence, destiny, romance, epic quests, magic swords, fireballs, and all that good stuff.
In this campaign, though, you can only play one of two classes: Fighter or Wizard
I know that seems arbitrary, but hey, those are the classics, right? If you look back at 1e D&D, there were three classes, Fighting Man, Priest, and Magic-User. Combine those second two into a single class, and you basically get the Fighter and the Wizard.
Oh, and ability scores are rolled straight down the line. None of this “assign as desired” business. We’re old-school. 3d6, straight down the line.
What? Didn’t get a high strength or a high intelligence? Not my problem. You can play a less effective character. Just pick the path with the lesser bad score. The one you resemble *better,* so maybe your character could at least *pass* as a competent fighter or ok wizard. Like a high Dex or high Con Fighter could be useful, and a Wizard with high Wisdom and high Charisma? Fine.
What, you rolled a 16 Dex and an 18 Cha? Um, well, I don’t know what to tell you. No rogues in my game.
15 Con and 17 Wis? No, no clerics either.
No, no, no, let me be clear: No other classes. They’re just distractions. Bastardizations of the core concepts.
I mean, maybe that’s ok. Maybe you like Wizards or you like Fighters. I mean, in a world of only Wizards and Fighters, if you’re a Wizard or Fighter (preferably a decent one), that’s probably cool.
Here are a few more things about the setting:
Culturally-speaking, the only acceptable Wizard school is Evocation, and anyone who picks a different school is considered a lesser Wizard. If you aren’t great with evocation spells or, worse, can’t cast them at all, people WILL shame you. A lot.
Same with Fighters and Battlemaster. NPCs will constantly rag on you about what tricks and feats you can pull off in battle.
Certain races are assumed to be one but not the other. For instance, in this particular setting, most people assume halflings are wizards because they don’t think they have the strength to be fighters. A halfling fighter is generally considered pretty weird. Most people laugh at elven fighters, telling them to stop dressing like strength characters, and most people assume half-orcs aren’t intelligent enough to be wizards.
Also, you can play an Eldritch Knight, but every NPC in the game will get confused and attack you on sight. (You get pretty much the same result from taking any class features or subclasses not in the PHB.)
Sounds fun, right?
I agree. That’s super fun. In fact, all of the D&D I run is going to use this, from now on. (I wonder if I can petition WotC to make this the case with all their game books?)
Wait a second, hold up, where are you going? You don’t want to play in my game?
What if I were to tell you that you didn’t have a choice? Because this is D&D 6e, when the only choices in the game will be fighters and wizards–no other classes. No other options. Just those things.
Why are you frustrated?
(Hold onto that frustration, by the way. It’s gonna be important.)
This is just the way it’s always been: fighting men and magic-users.
Because when you boil it down, isn’t it really just those two? It’s Conan vs. the bad guy cultist of the week. It’s the 12 members of the Fellowship of the Ring plus Gandalf. It’s a guy who solves problems physically, and a gal who solves problems with magic. A girl with a sword vs. a boy with a wand. The male fist and the female somatic component.
Guys and gals? Boys and girls? Male and female?
(Hold up, when did we start talking about that?)
But you know, now that you bring it up, this does seem a little like the gender binary. I mean, if you live in a world of fighters and wizards, and you’re a fighter or a wizard, I suppose that’s cool. In much the same way, if you live in a world of men and women only, and you’re a man (as I am) or a woman, that’s fine, right?
Remember that frustration you were holding onto a minute ago?
IMAGINE IF THAT WAS YOUR WHOLE LIFE.
Imagine if you aren’t a man or a woman, or if you have the stats/equipment for one but you identify as the other, trying to navigate this world, where you have to be one or the other… and most of the time, your choice is made FOR YOU, based not on what you say or how you act but HOW YOU LOOK.
About 1% of human beings are intersex, that is, possessing characteristics commonly associated with male and female genders; intersex people are much more difficult to characterize as male or female, and it’d be silly to even try. 1% is same percentage of people who have green eyes, but we don’t run up to green-eyed people, shake them, and scream “there are only brown and blue eyes!”
No, I’m not trolling you. I’m not trying to upset you. I’m trying to open up your perspective by attaching it to something that’s deeply relevant to all of us–D&D. Gaming. This is a sacred thing we’ve been doing, some of us for decades. You have an emotional connection to it, just like I do. You love it, you value it, and of course you feel uncomfortable when it’s perverted. You argue, you rant, or you walk away.
But in the real world, trans people, enby people–they don’t have those options. If they argue, they get hated on. If they rant, they get attacked. And they can’t walk away.
And they shouldn’t have to. They have every right to live in this world that you or I do–just as all of us have every right to play the games we love.
So maybe next time someone talks about trans rights or fighting transphobia, or about we should be more respectful with gendered language, think about the frustration and irritation you felt reading through this.
Because limitations are shitty, and life is too short to be limited like this.