I played the original Dungeons & Dragons game in high school, back in the early 80s. I’ve been delighted to see it is experiencing a resurgence — and capturing my son's interest as well. A recent encounter made me love the game, and the company behind it, even more.
Beginning the Adventure
During the week of July 4, my spouse, son, and I went on a cruise from Seattle to Alaska with her family and my mom. Our son spent most of the time playing D&D with his cousin and some other kids they met on the boat. After the cruise, my spouse, son, mom, and I visited Seattle for a few days, staying at Marriott’s Springhill Suites in the suburb of Renton. We’d never been to that hotel before, but chose it for availability, reasonable price, and location near (but not too near) the airport.
Our son was less interested in the Space Needle than in finding a miniature elf wizard figurine for his D&D game. We perused a couple of Seattle’s many game shops, but to no avail. Little did we know that powerful magical forces were at work. . . .
Sitting in our hotel room, I launched Google Maps to find a nearby place to eat — and shrieked. By complete coincidence, Wizards of the Coast, the company that makes D&D, had its headquarters on the same block. I looked out the window. Across the parking lot, gleaming in the sun, was their building.
I quickly brought up the Wizards’ website (wizards.com) to see if they gave tours. Alas, no, but they did boast of a dragon named Mitzy in the lobby. We decided that we would at least go snap some photos with Mitzy.
Mitzy loomed on the left as we entered the reception area. Shelves along the walls held D&D books and sets for Magic the Gathering, the company’s trading card game. I explained to the receptionist, Angela, that my son and I were D&D players, and we couldn’t let the coincidence of our hotel location pass us by without a visit. Our son said that he’d just spent hours playing the game on our cruise. She seemed amenable to having us take some photos, so we did.
My mom noticed, however, that there was a line of D&D figurines along the reception desk. She asked Angela if she knew a nearby place to purchase them. (Wizards doesn’t sell things from its headquarters.) She said no, and then excused herself to head down the hall.
A few minutes later, she came back with a woman who introduced herself as Shelly, part of the D&D brand team. Shelly handed our son a bag full of D&D goodies — pencils, stickers, books, t-shirts, some polyhedral dice (every player’s key accessory), and a pre-release copy of the Starter Set for the long-awaited D&D Version 5, which wouldn’t officially come out until July 15. My son’s eyes got about three sizes bigger.
They went beyond just giving him corporate swag, however. Shelly told us that she had told the D&D product team in the back that there was a boy in the lobby looking for an elf wizard miniature. Since the team members were also long-time players, they each had extensive personal collections of figurines at their desks. One found an elf wizard for us — a gesture that touched us all.
Shelly also took a photo of our whole family with Mitzy, which we said would use on our family holiday card this year. We thanked her and Angela profusely before leaving.
As if that wasn’t good enough, later that day I went to the Wizards’ website to get the full Version 5 rules (which they’d just made available for free download) to read on the plane home. (My son had his head stuck in the shorter rulebook from the Starter Set.)
Lo and behold, the new rules urge players to: “Think about how your character does or does not conform to the broader culture’s expectations of sex, gender, and sexual behavior. . . . You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender.” For example, the rules say, some elves are made in the image of a god who is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic, and ”You could also play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide.”
Many of us LGBTQ players (and maybe even some straight, cis ones) have been bending our characters’ genders and sexual orientations for years, but it’s terrific to see the game officially embrace this.
I was surprised, therefore, to learn that Wizards' parent company, Hasbro, only scored a 25/100 on the most recent HRC Corporate Equality Index. (Competitor Mattel scored a 95.) Despite the lackluster score, its equal opportunity policy does include sexual orientation, and it has not participated in actions that would undermine LGBTQ equality, according to HRC. It seems to me, then, that it might be persuaded to improve its policies, especially if a subsidiary like Wizards is publicly embracing an inclusive view of gender and sexuality. It doesn’t take a D&D perception check to know that’s good business.
In the meantime, thanks to the Wizards of the Coast employees who made one 11-year-old elf wizard and his moms very happy.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.