I’ve been watching a debate unroll (unravel?) on the Paizo messageboards on the subject of whether Pathfinder’s official world (the “Golarian” world) is “ethical” or not.

This all stems from a person who had been at a Pathfinder official gaming event where they had a poster up that was supposed to be advertising opportunities for adventurers in Golarion. The map was annotated with text suggesting that adventurers could find fame and fortune by going to different areas and performing different acts. Apparently the person found the Golarion map to be similar enough to our own world that he was able to identify potentially insensitive (or outright offensive) racist stereotypes in play. Here’s a generic Golarion map and below it a map of the modern world, done in similar style:



Now I don’t find the maps to be all that similar, but then again I’m not out looking for reasons to be offended either.

Still, the comments he made could be divorced from the map itself and examined on their own merits.

Basically his complaint is that the Pathfinder Golarion world perpetuates a colonial mindset with strong “European” (meaning “white”) powers dominating colonial (meaning “non-white”) populations. As if that isn’t alarming enough, the “non-white” populations are typically represented by gnolls (walking, talking hyenas), orcs (the racist implications of orcs have been well-documented in the media) and perhaps worst of all, a race of talking gorillas.

In other words, Pathfinder isn’t merely racist, it is dehumanizing non-white races in the worst way imaginable.

The comments are on both sides of the issue, with perhaps a majority defending Paizo and pointing out the great lengths Paizo and WotC have gone over the years to de-stigmatize racial choices (goblins can be lawful good paladins, and orcs are now among the most common character races chosen). But the bottom line to the whole thing is that there is something fundamentally racist about the entire pursuit of fantasy RPGs. Is there?

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