Pathfinder developers discuss racial concerns: “We’ve fucked up in the past, we will fuck up again”


With Pathfinder heading towards the release of Bestiary 5 shortly, Paizo staff have defended the work they have done in the name of improved representation, while admitting that they still have a long way to go.

The Roll for Problematic Tumblr initially levelled criticism at Paizo’s Erik Mona, who posted an artwork preview of the ancient alien race, the Annunaki, from the upcoming Bestiary 5. They criticised the Annunaki’s inclusion and accused Paizo of”doubling down on the ‘ancient brown cultures couldn’t possibly accomplish things, so aliens must’ve done it’ trope”, expressing their disappointment that Paizo was yet to release a major book dealing with Pathfinder‘s African-analogue continent Garund.

Mona responded to the criticism on his own Tumblr, arguing that “There is no suggestion in the upcoming Bestiary 5 that the Annunaki have anything to do with Garundi or Mwangi or Keleshite cultures of Golarion.” Project Manager Jessica Price added that “This is a Bestiary monster from the rules hardcover line – that is, setting agnostic, presented independently without context within Golarion history. It’s intended to be, hey, you want a cool Assyrian-looking alien to drop into your campaign? Here it is. Which is the same way we use trolls and dire wolves and krakens.”

“There are no plans to start saying that the Anunnaki are the ones responsible for the Garundi founding the schools of arcane magic as they’re known in Golarion today or raising massive civilizations like Osirion, the Mwangi building empires on flying ships, Keleshite sophistication, Vudrani mastery of psychic magic, or any of the other great accomplishments of non-European-flavored peoples on Golarion,” explained Price. “They’re a bestiary monster, to be used in people’s own campaigns.”


Distant Shores

On the subject of more inclusiveness for non-Europeans, both Mona and Price pointed to the upcoming Distant Shores Campaign Setting book, as well as Heart of the Jungle, Osirion: Land of Pharaohs, Osirion: Legacy of Pharaohs, and Dark Markets: A Guide to Katapest.

“While these books are not perfect, they definitely cover the lands and peoples you seem to want us to cover,” said Mona. “We take great effort to include positive images and content tied to a variety of ethnicities. Our iconic characters, ambassadors of our game that appear in literally every book we publish, are drawn from a wide variety of cultures and ethnicities, as we believe it is crucial that all potential players feel welcome by the way we represent heroes in our books.”

Price added that “people who are interested in the Garundi and the Mwangi, the two largest civilizations of the African-inspired continent, or who are interested in the Keleshites (the occupants of the Middle Eastern-inspired empire of Kelesh), they’re getting a lot of love in the upcoming Inner Sea Races, where we spend many pages fleshing out the many human ethnicities of the Inner Sea Region (in addition to the non-human races of the area), and a third major civilization in southern Garund is getting its own chapter in Distant Shores. ”

“If Crystal has her way, that southern Garundi culture will continue to get air time, and if I have my way, the same will go for the Keleshites (who, I mean, not to be dismissive of other cultures, are objectively speaking the best culture on Golarion).”


On fucking up

“Heaven knows we’ve fucked up in the past,” concluded Price, “especially in regards to race, and we will fuck up again because there are a ton of ways to go wrong, but I think denying the ability of African- or Middle Eastern-inspired civilizations to build and discover cool shit without it being dictated to them by aliens has enough red flags that we’re going to attempt to avoid it.”

Roll for Problematic acknowledged Paizo’s responses and explained their position on this issue and broader representation for non-Europeans in a much longer post, saying that their passion comes out of “Paizo being both the largest and loudest ally of diversity in roleplaying games.”

“I don’t care nearly as much when regressive or negatively appropriative acts come from companies that are known for it—the content’s just as bad as what’s on the tin. But this specific post, of Paizo’s publisher showing pride in how skillfully an ancient culture’s legitimate accomplishments were filtered through a notoriously poor modern-day appropriation, felt so out of character that it’s concerning for the depictions of other societies that are on the roadmap.”

Discussions on the need for diverse representation are so important, and it’s great to see Paizo’s team engaging so directly with their fans on this issue.

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