Dungeons and Dragons is reconsidering what it means to be evil.
The classic role playing game's publisher, Wizards of the Coast, recently announced some changes it was making to the game in response to the ongoing protests over racism and police violence. While this includes editing some past racist descriptions, as well as adding more diverse writers, the game's designers are also making a fundamental change to the way certain playable characters are portrayed.
When you play Dungeons and Dragons — usually referred to as D&D -- one of the first steps is to create a character. They can be a human or an elf or a gnome or some other mythical creature. These classifications each come with their own backstories, as well as their own baggage. While it's generally up to you if your character is good or evil or somewhere in between, historically some of these characters were depicted in a villainous, monstrous light. Orcs were brutish savages. Drow (dark elves that live underground) were dark skinned and inherently evil.
"It is this thing lurking under the surface that really is painful for people who have faced those sorts of stereotypes in the real world," says Jeremy Crawford, the principal rules designer for D&D.
Lauren Frazier is game developer and a massive D&D fan. When she first started getting into the game, and was trying to encourage her Black friends to do the same, she got a certain amount of hesitance.
"It's hard to see yourself in any role playing D&D if you're a person of color — specifically Black and brown people," she says. "A lot of the characters that are black or brown or blue ... they're evil, they're very one dimensional. And D&D is a game about being yourself and being anyone you want to be."
Of course, any good game needs its villains.
"It's just they will be villains because they have made villainous choices, not because they were born villainous," says Crawford.
The announcement of these changes was met with mixed reviews by the fanbase. The world of tabletop role playing games — like many other communities — is currently figuring out its role in the broader dialogue about racism. Frazier approaches the changes with a cautious optimism, saying that one of the most important things Wizards of the Coast can do is bring on more diverse writers onto its roster.
"They have a staff that's going to read over things for sensitivity and that's great," she says. "But I think you can't polish that out at the last second. I think that the writing itself needs to come from a place of inclusivity and diverse ideas versus just the same stuff that they always write and then have someone go over it with a highlighter to try and fix the racism at the end."
This story was edited for radio and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
After months of speculation, the drugmaker Gilead Sciences has finally announced the price for remdesivir. That is their experimental COVID-19 drug. NPR pharmaceutical correspondent Sydney Lupkin is with us.
Hey there, Sydney.
SYDNEY LUPKIN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So the big reveal - what's it going to cost?
LUPKIN: So just to refresh our memories, remdesivir is an experimental, intravenous drug, and it's given to COVID-19 patients who are in the hospital. Even though we've been hearing about patients getting this drug in and out of studies for months, it actually isn't yet FDA approved, and it hasn't had a price. Gilead had committed to donating its initial supply. And now that that's about used up, it's announced a price. So it's going to be $520 per vial for most Americans with insurance. And there would be a lower price for certain government programs, and there are some unknowns. But outside of the U.S., the price for governments in developed countries would be about $390. And then for a five-day course of treatment, that comes out to more than $2,000 for those governments and a little bit more than $3,000 for private insurance.
KELLY: Which - well, give us some context here. That does not sound cheap. Is that a good deal? Is it a fair price?
LUPKIN: Yeah. I mean, that's a really good question. The reactions so far have been mixed. Some advocates and members of Congress are already saying the price is just way too high. They argue that taxpayers helped pay for remdesivir research and that that should result in a lower price, considering that, you know, we're in the middle of a pandemic. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat from Texas, has called the price outrageous.
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LLOYD DOGGETT: Without a taxpayer investment of $99 million, this drug would have been abandoned. It would be on the scrap heap of failures.
LUPKIN: But on the other hand, Gilead actually set the price for remdesivir lower than a lot of analysts expected. Some said Gilead showed a lot of restraint when it set this price because it could have charged more. One told me the remdesivir price offers a really great value considering the drug could keep patients out of the ICU, which costs tens of thousands of dollars.
KELLY: Right. That prompts the next thing I want to ask you, Sydney, because setting aside whatever it's going to cost, there have been all these questions about remdesivir and whether it works and how it compares to other treatments and cures in the pipeline. Where does that stand?
LUPKIN: So right now we know from an NIH-funded study that remdesivir can shorten patients' hospital stays by about four days, but we still don't know whether it has an effect on overall survival. So even though it's a good first drug, its benefits are still somewhat modest. Meanwhile, there is now a U.K. study that shows that another drug - a cheaper, generic steroid - has actually been shown to increase survival for COVID-19 patients. So overall, we know we're going to need other drugs beyond remdesivir. Craig Garthwaite, a health economist at Northwestern University, says companies developing newer, maybe better treatments will be paying close attention to remdesivir.
CRAIG GARTHWAITE: Gilead will make a good amount of money selling this product, and that's where the return that other people are going to be looking at - in the end, really, the other firms aren't necessarily looking at the price Gilead charges. What they're really looking at is, what is the payoff that they get on their investment?
LUPKIN: They want to know, will there be a reward for their risky investments? And at the announced price, Gilead is expected to make a profit.
KELLY: One last thing to ask you, which is, is there enough remdesivir? Is there enough supply to go around?
LUPKIN: Sure. So according to HHS, it has secured all of the remdesivir Gilead will manufacture in July and about 90% of its supply manufactured for the following two months through September. But there's still a limited amount of remdesivir. Since the FDA authorized remdesivir for emergency use in May, the federal government has been in charge of distribution around the country. And that rollout has had some problems with confusion over how the government was deciding where the remdesivir should go. Early on, some states and hospitals were wondering why they didn't get any. Now the government and state health departments will coordinate shipments directly to hospitals every two weeks, so we will see how that goes.
KELLY: All right. We'll see how that goes.
NPR's Sydney Lupkin - thanks, Sydney.
LUPKIN: You bet.
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