Content of the article: "Navigating Ableism: How Would You Rule On It?"
Okay, fellow DMs. I've hit a road block with my group and want some perspective. Tl;dr at the bottom. I'm posting this as a thread instead of the mega thread because I think there is a broader discussion here as well.
I have this player, we'll call him Tyler. Tyler does not have any IRL physical disabilities. This is important. Ever since the combat wheelchair hit the twitterverse, he's been chomping at the bit to play a character with physical disabilities. I am not inherently opposed to this, I love the inclusivity the combat wheelchair represents, and I'm all for players being able to see themselves as heroes in a game. But…that's not what this is.
Tyler has consistently made characters that are visually unique both for the setting and for the established lore on his PC's races. Think Yuan-ti that is a normal bipedal humanoid but also with a monkey-like tail. That is a real example. He is constantly getting art commissioned of his PCs before they even appear in a session. He is all about the aesthetic.
Tyler initially approached me with a character that has had both legs and one arm amputated and has prosthetics. The leg prosthetics were to be shaped like dinosaur legs (we're playing ToA and the PC is a follower of Ubtao). This character at the time had no backstory as to how they afforded such prosthetics or even why they have them. After back and forth we pared it down to just the legs and more humanoid prosthetics because I couldn't see how a level 3 adventurer would be able to afford such custom ones but said if he got the gold in game we could talk. Backstory was that the PC had been on an expedition and been injured and the patron of the expedition had funded the prosthetics and I couldn't rationalize a patron paying for dino legs. Fine.
Throughout this conversation, I told Tyler to talk with the group about this and cautioned against "tourism" and playing a disability for aesthetics. Why? It bothers me and seems disrespectful to do so. If Tyler had started out with "I'd like to explore a PC with disabilities" I would have been much more comfortable, but this was clearly about the visuals. Tyler implied I was ableist for not immediately accepting his character. We resolved the issue (somewhat). I told Tyler he needs to take playing a character with prosthetics seriously and he said it he would. Time will tell if he meant it.
Enter Patrick, another player and the DM from our previous year+ long campaign. Patrick had the same tourism concerns I did. Additionally, Patrick's father is facing potential amputation of his lower leg, which Tyler knows. This news came after the new PC was proposed but before new PC was introduced. Tyler made no changes and I advised him to talk to the group about his PC.
New PC enters game, Patrick has concerns and mentions that he has concerns to discuss outside of game. Tyler messages me saying he is "concerned" about Patrick's questions and that he guesses "Patrick will come around."
I am already fed up with this new PC and the situation because Tyler thinks anyone who disagrees is ableist, Patrick thinks Tyler doing it for visuals is ableist (and his track record for doing things for the visual is well established), and Tyler fights every compromise.
I told Tyler and Patrick to talk it out and that's where I am at the moment.
My thoughts: it's just a game, but if something makes a player uncomfortable, they shouldn't have to "deal with it." We're adults and can compromise and be respectful of each other's boundaries. If Tyler were making this character to see himself in the game (aka he was similarly disabled in some fashion), I would support him 100%. But, he's not. And he's making someone with IRL connections to disability uncomfortable (Patrick's father is in his 70s and Patrick is currently his main caretaker).
My question: What would you do in my shoes? How do we as DMs navigate these waters?
Tl;dr: Tyler (player with history of making characters for aesthetics) insists on playing double amputee and sees opposition as ableism. DM (me) is uncomfortable with disability tourism and other player (Patrick) is dealing with his father possibly having a lower leg amputation and finds Tyler's character uncomfortable/distasteful.
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