Wizards of the Coast apologizes for and removes racist elements of Spelljammer

The hadozee as presented in the first printing of Spelljammer: Adventures in Space
(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)
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In August, Wizards of the Coast published Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, an updated version of a Dungeons & Dragons setting released in the 1980s that blends science fiction with fantasy. This week, its description of flying monkey-people called hadozee was criticized online (opens in new tab) for resembling various racist stereotypes. Portrayals of Black people as monkeys or apes have a long history (opens in new tab) and are the source of things like the monkey chanting (opens in new tab) regularly directed at Black players during football and cricket matches around the world, so similarities between the hadozee and aspects of real-world bigotry were bound to be closely scrutinized.

Wizards of the Coast, which previously announced its intent to move D&D away from racial stereotypes by doing away with biological essentialism, removing text that echoes real-world stereotypes, and working with sensitivity readers, has now apologized (opens in new tab). The full text of its statement is below: 

We wanted to acknowledge and own the inclusion of offensive material within our recent Spelljammer: Adventures in Space content. We failed you, our players and our fans, and we are truly sorry.

The campaign includes a people called Hadozee which first appeared in 1982. Regrettably, not all portions of the content relating to the Hadozee were properly vetted before appearing in our most recent release. As we continue to learn and grow through every situation, we recognize that to live our values, we have to do better.

Throughout the 50-year history of Dungeons & Dragons, some of the characters in the game have been monstrous and evil, using descriptions that are painfully reminiscent of how real-world groups have been and continue to be denigrated. We understand the urgency of changing how we work to better ensure a more inclusive game.

Effective immediately, we will remove the offensive content about Hadozee in our digital versions – and these will no longer be included in future reprints of the book. Our priority is to make things right when we make mistakes. In addition, we’ve initiated a thorough internal review of the situation and will take the necessary actions as a result of that review.

We are eternally grateful for the ongoing dialog with the D&D community, and we look forward to introducing new, engaging and inclusive content to D&D for generations to come. D&D teaches that diversity is strength, for only a diverse group of adventurers can overcome the many challenges a D&D story presents. In that spirit, we are committed to making D&D as welcome and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

The revised Spelljammer text removes a description of the hadozees' progenitors as "timid" mammals. It also deletes their origin as uplifted experiments created by a wizard to make enhanced warriors, who were then liberated by the wizard's apprentices. The removed backstory's unfortunate similarity to white savior myths of missionaries lifting Black people out of "savagery", and of slaves depending on outsiders to free them, seem like a consequence of drawing inspiration from the rebooted Planet of the Apes movies. (Spelljammer also includes analoges of other science fiction media like the vulcans from Star Trek and energy vampires from Lifeforce.)

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Some of the criticism of the hadozee on Twitter (opens in new tab) conflated their new incarnation with information from a fan wiki summarizing their treatment in previous editions of D&D, in which they were described as "fang-baring, and snarling" as well as happily working for elves, despite the elves not respecting them. This portrayal was already absent from the recent Spelljammer book, however, having been replaced by the story of their origin as liberated experiments. The new Spelljammer also ignores problematic parts of the original background like the aperusa (a race of travelers inspired by the Romani people), and a series of racially motivated conflicts called the Unhuman Wars.

An updated version of D&D's core rules is currently being playtested. Among the changes so far are allowing players to choose which ability scores to add bonuses to during character creation rather than having them being tied to their choice of race, and replacing the entries for half-elves and half-orcs with rules that let you play the child of any two kinds of humanoid. 

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games (opens in new tab). He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun (opens in new tab), The Big Issue, GamesRadar (opens in new tab), Zam (opens in new tab), Glixel (opens in new tab), Five Out of Ten Magazine (opens in new tab), and Playboy.com (opens in new tab), whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.