In RPGs, "inclusion" generally refers to the effect of practices we put in place to ensure all players have an equal opportunity to participate in the game. In this guide, we won’t go over the historical fact that people with disabilities and other marginalized groups (such as women, minorities, and LGBTQ players) have been excluded from the hobby because of who they are; that's a treatise for a different game manual.
What matters for our purposes is that we're aware that some people exist at the margins and need our help to ensure there are seats at the table for them. What we do with that fact depends on who we have at our table, and whether they need help. Below are some pointers to assist you in that decision.
Remember: in a game where true power lies in the imagination, creativity knows no body.
Making your game accessible to players with disabilities starts with a willingness to listen to them. It isn't difficult to accommodate such players, especially if you ask them what they need.
There are tons of great resources in the wild that can help educate you about accessibility in gaming that this game master's guide is ill-equipped to provide. The most extensive resource out there is the Fate Accessibility Toolkit, which not only provides a primer to accessibility in gaming, but advice on how to play characters with disabilities or depict disabilities as a GM.
Keeping an Open Door Policy
Nobody should be afraid to bring up issues about the game with you privately or at the table. As the GM, you've been empowered to make fiat decisions with respect to the rules. The players trust you to take them on the adventure that comports with the premise they agreed to in session zero.
While you're not responsible for managing people's mental health during the adventure, you are responsible for running a game that your table enjoys playing, so you have to be open to receiving criticism about how things are going, even if you don't agree with it.
Because of your position of authority, players will naturally look to you to resolve interpersonal conflict at the table. They may come to you privately if another player is making them uncomfortable at the table, and you should hear them out. This is not because they're incapable of standing up for themselves, but because most of the other game-related conflicts at the table get resolved by you as a matter of course. And while it isn't your job to teach players how to behave like adults in a group setting, you have the power to decide who plays at your table. What you don't bother to address says as much about what you do.
Safety tools are about mitigating the effects of bleed. Inclusion is about generating empathy at the table by creating equal opportunity for players to participate in the game.
Building a community around your game helps with both safety and inclusion. If there is a place where players can socialize with each other outside the game, it will make it easier for them to separate the player from the character by spending more time with the player. Remote tables can benefit from virtual spaces like Discord communities, and physical tables can benefit from the occasional non-game outing that brings players together for an out-of-character adventure. It also doesn't hurt to allow players to stick around after the game if they want to decompress and chat about the experience.
Using Inclusive Language
This one can ruffle feathers across the political spectrum, so allow me to be frank about it, in the spirit of the writers' room. On one end of the spectrum, there are tables that are unwilling to consider using inclusive language because they think it's ineffective, oppressive, and sanctimonious, and as a result will end up harming players who are too afraid to speak up. On the other end, there are tables so obsessed with inclusive language that they miss the forest for the trees, and end up stifling speech and creativity altogether.
You don't want to be either type of table. You want to find a happy medium that works for you.
Inclusivity vs. Political Correctness
There are a lot of definitions as to what exactly "inclusive language" means. On the one hand, it's about trying to avoid language that alienates people. This used to be called "political correctness." In social justice circles, the term is defined as language that's about affirming identity, not avoiding offense.
Either way, the point of using inclusive language is to express empathy for the people at your table. That's the most important thing to keep in mind, whatever you decide it means.
The Writers Room vs. Inclusive Language
No doubt, the writers' room mentality we discussed in the section on safety tools may seem at odds with the use of inclusive language at the table. Roleplaying is an act of improvisation, and so we don't want to worry how we’re perceived before we say anything, if we're to act with genuine spontaneity. Just like in writing, if you start editing yourself as you're trying to get the words on paper, you will get nowhere fast.
This is where the safe space of the writers room can protect us.
We accept in advance that we're going to stumble over words, say stuff that won't be safe-for-work, and offend people at the table—and that's OK, because we agree in the writers room that everyone brings their experience to bear. Whereas in other situations activists will argue it's not their responsibility to educate you about inclusivity, in the writers room, the social contract is such that it's everyone's responsibility to do so.
After all, inclusive language moves from being about avoiding offense to affirming identity when it is internalized by the speaker. And what better place to learn the language than in a non-judgmental space of the writers room?
Inclusivity Tips for GMs
Below is a handful of advice for GM regarding diversity and inclusion when running and designing adventures.
Don't Assume A Content Rating for Your Table
If you're worried about what sort of language people will feel uncomfortable with at the table, figure that stuff out in session zero. Lines and Veils can help, and so can an anonymous survey.
Be mindful of your depictions in the fantasy
It's OK if all your dark elves have naturally grayish skin or all your orcs are violent cannibals. But do they all have to sound like British imperialists? Can some of them have cultural practices inspired by real-world cultures? Do the orcs hate the Oxford comma despite their viciousness? Sometimes it's just fun to do the unexpected. What if the beefy tribal leader were a squat, old, bodybuilding seeress? What if the lich had the sensibilities of Jonathan Van Ness in life? In writing, we've been biased as a culture to assume someone is caucasian if race is not mentioned. The same holds true in roleplaying games, so go wild painting the world all the colors.
USe Diverse Visuals
We're not trying to reach some quantitative racial equilibrium in the presentation of visuals, but with the advent of AI art generators, it's super easy to depict diverse NPCs. You can even use a list of ethnicities from around the world as wildcards to surprise yourself when generating NPCs this way.
Ask people what language they want you to use
When you're not sure what language someone wants you to use, just ask them what they prefer. RPGs aren't seminars with tens of strangers in a conference room or stiff academic settings where the wrong word uttered will suck all the air out of the room. There is no need to single people out or coerce them into social rituals in order to suss out salient details about the minorities in the room. So how do you get pronouns right or determine if a person with a disability prefers "person-first" or "identify-first" language? You get to know them privately. You ask them what they prefer. There's no shame in asking, and if your curiosity gets you in trouble when you have good intentions, that's not a problem of your making.
Bring something new to the trope, or turn it on its head
Remember, the only difference between a stereotype and a trope is that the former is harmful to the peoples it depicts. If you find yourself reaching for a stereotype, try to invert its harmfulness. Let's try Americans as an example. The stereotype outside the United States is that we're uneducated, obese, gun-toting workaholics that wear cowboy boots and speak loud and insensitively. Your fantasy trope of the American might still be an obese cowboy, but he's lightning fast with his revolvers as a result of training at his grandfather's ranch, where safety and restraint were key values. Maybe he's also half-Black but White-passing, and as a result of his traveling the world after growing up at the ranch, he picked up all sorts of worldly knowledge that the magical academies don't recognize as valid. You play him as loud and insensitive, but he means well and grows on you.
DEPICT NPCS AS WELL-ROUNDED PEOPLE, NOT CARDBOARD CUTOUTS
This one is obvious but worth reiterating: depict NPCs as well-rounded people. Every NPC fears something. Every NPC is either estranged from or enmeshed in a framework of culture or family. Every NPC has an ethnicity, sexuality, sex, and gender. Even the barkeep and the town guard. It doesn't take a lot of work to jot down these facts about them. You can even make random tables to help you if you need to make a decision on the fly.