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Dungeons & Dragons 5E removes racist Hadozee depiction from Spelljammer, apologises for “offensive material”

“We’ve initiated a thorough internal review of the situation and will take the necessary actions as a result of that review.”

Artwork for the Spelljammer: Adventures in Space release for 5E
Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

Dungeons & Dragons maker Wizards of the Coast has issued a formal apology for the inclusion of lore and artwork in Spelljammer: Adventures in Space criticised as racist and insensitive.

The company published the apology in the late hours of September 2nd following several days of discussion and criticism of how the recent Spelljammer sourcebook for Dungeons & Dragons 5E draws uncomfortable parallels to real-world enslaved peoples in their depiction of the gliding simians.

As pointed out by several people online last week, the original text provided an origin for the Hadozee that begins with a wizard magically uplifting them to sapience in order to sell them as warrior slaves. He was stopped by his apprentices, apparently “fond” of the enslaved Hadozee, who orchestrated their freedom.

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Critics noted how closely this origin cleaves to the historical experience of Africans sold into slavery throughout North and South America, including their later acculturation as second-class citizens within a white ruling class. Established Hadozee lore from earlier Spelljammer editions stretching back to 1982 - left intact and unchanged by the new book - said the modern Hadozee love elves and often work for them on elven ships, where they are often referred to pejoratively as “deck apes”.

Other comments called attention to a piece of artwork in Spelljammer: Adventures in Space that evoked the racist tradition of minstrel shows, in which white actors wearing blackface would portray vastly exaggerated stereotypes of Black slaves for humour.

Both the illustration and several paragraphs detailing the Hadozee's backstory have been removed from the digital version of the book on D&D Beyond. Wizards of the Coast said future printings of Spelljammer: Adventures in Space will reflect this change, and the company apologised by saying: “We failed you, our players and our fans, and we are truly sorry.”

In the statement, Wizards of the Coast claimed “not all portions of the content relating to the Hadozee were properly vetted”, adding that it had “initiated a thorough internal review of the situation and will take the necessary actions as a result of that review”.

Many fans and players will likely find this promise frustrating given the company made a grand statement just over two years ago to fundamentally change Dungeons & Dragons’ approach to race as both a character mechanic and part of the game’s worldbuilding.

Though long-time rules guru Jeremy Crawford later said these changes would take several years to officially implement, books such as Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduced early and disappointing stabs at an overhauled character race system that removed ability score modifiers, alignment restrictions and other elements long criticised for easily masking real-world racism and biological essentialism. The first playtest document for the recently unveiled next generation of Dungeons & Dragons - currently codenamed One D&D - continued this work by focusing on a proposed approach to character origins that consist of race, background and language.

Some of those who called out the racist Hadozee depiction asked why no cultural consultants were hired to consult on a setting with explicit slavery and plenty of allusions to real-world colonial time periods (none of the Spelljammer books list consultants in their credits). Others postulated that either no sensitivity readers were brought on to the project, or else Wizards of the Coast chose to ignore them.

Such processes might be addressed in the “thorough internal review” Wizards cited in its apology, but heavy scepticism is understandable given the company’s apparent inaction over the last two years. Having to publicly force accountability from a massively profitable company, only to have it drop on the Friday night before a holiday weekend is a distant cry from progress. Dicebreaker reached out to Wizards of the Coast for comment but did not receive a reply.

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