Representing Disability in D&D

There is a lot of talk in the D&D world about representation and inclusion. One of the things WOTC have been trying to address in their recent publications is racial stereotyping and determinism (See the racial variation rules in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, and reportedly the updated races in the upcoming Mordenkainen’s Fiendish Folio). The artwork has moved on a very long way from the impractically-scantily-clad women adventurers of the 80s and now includes male, female and non-binary characters of diverse ethnicities all appropriately dressed, and there are characters clearly of all sexual preferences.

But there is one group of people who are still not represented in the official publications – those living with disabilities.

The Combat Wheelchair

It first came to my attention a year and a half ago in July 2020 with Sara Thompson’s Combat Wheelchair, and inspired my article “Want – I want to be normal”. Sara, @mustangsart, goes by the name “A Dislocating DM” on Twitter, is a disabled and chronically ill person and developed the wheelchair because it would allow someone like her to go out on adventures without her brittle bones causing disaster.

The Combat Wheelchair raised the profile of disability in D&D. Matt Mercer featured it on Critical Role and Dungeons and Diversity have brought out a range of miniatures using it. But it only represents a certain group of disabilities.

But now there are various other initiatives addressing different disabilities.

D&D Disability

D&D Disability is run by Anna Holden to coordinate and produce disability mechanics, supplements, and content for D&D and other table-top role-playing games. From their web site:
“We have a lot of content planned, from mechanics for a variety of disabilities, supplements to go along with those, and other content such as mobility aid stats and even service dog stats/mechanics! Our goal is to create the mechanics and things needed for everyone to be able to see and create themselves in their characters. …

“Every piece is carefully researched for authenticity and realism, and we consult with other disabled individuals for each project. For disabilities that we don’t have – we find and work with people with those disabilities to make sure they are accurately represented. Dozens of people read every work before it goes public to make sure it’s easy to follow and well balanced.”

The resources published there (at time of writing – early February 2022) so far seem to focus on invisible disabilities – ADHD, Autism, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic Pain, POTS, and Sensory Processing Disorder, along with a generic system for Stress. They give D&D mechanics to reproduce these disabilities – for example, Chronic Fatigue has tables of how well you sleep and the effect that has, what your pain level is that day (and what disadvantages, if any, that causes), how exhausted you are, and what strategies you can use to manage the pain.

They also have various aids, both physical and medical – Joint braces, painkillers, a medical bracelet that advertises a person’s condition even if they’re unconscious, a message pebble to allow a non-verbal character to cast the Message cantrip, stim items to accompany the Autism mechanics. Also the Channel Pain Feat, allowing characters to pass their pain on to others as part of an attack. They also have various disabled NPCs using these mechanics.

If you want to support them, they have a Patreon, which at higher levels allows you to get involved with their work and see early drafts.

Limitless Heroics

WyrmWorks publishing are working on Limitless Heroics: Better worlds via Dice and Disabilities, and it has just successfully funded on Kickstarter, smashing through its target and hitting all of the stretch goals.

This sounds like a monumental work. They claim 450 or more disability traits, and their preview doc lists a huge number of different traits and random tables for generating characters and NPCs with disabilities, from how many disabilities the character has to where the disabilities manifest to the actual types of disability.

There are no mechanics in the preview doc, nor even really any descriptions, but now the Kickstarter has finished they will be getting to work in earnest. They say each condition will have descriptions and full game mechanics, plus assistive options, magical assistance and real world examples. A bit disappointingly, even their single condition example, blindness, just has the descriptive bits and no mechanics, so it’s difficult to judge, but you can at least see their format.

They are due to release in September 2022, but backers will receive early copies. If you missed the Kickstarter, sign up via their web site inclusiverpg.com to get notified for when they are available more generally.

The book will use a dyslexia and screen reader friendly format, plus an indexed audio version for the visually impaired and free random generators to quickly generate character symptoms and more assistive magic items. All the writers, editors and disabilities, neurodivergence, and/or mental or chronic illness, and the variety of art styles intentionally reflects the diversity of experiences and expressions of these conditions.

This looks like it will be a massive contribution to the D&D Disability conversation…once it actually appears. But at the moment they’re holding their cards close to their chest.

Domenech’s Ability Restorers

So we have D&D Disability with a few neurological conditions with mechanics now, all available free, and Limitless Heroics with loads and loads of conditions later in the year.

Next week I intend to continue Meurtle’s visit to Domenech’s Ability Restorers and start to look at mechanics for limb loss along with some prosthetics which can help.

Do you know of anyone else developing D&D Disability mechanics? I will use this post as the basis of a page on my site, so please let me know and I will add them.

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