A while ago, there was an enormous hue and cry amongst the D&D community because the latest edition of the Player’s Handbook dared to include a black woman as the exemplar for Human in the entries of playable species. Yes, I know, canonically, it’s “races” but that’s part of the thing I’m here to talk about. There were also the far more recent tantrums held over the Battle Chair made so that people could play physically disabled adventurers and still… you know… be adventurers.
Change doesn’t come easily to certain sections of the nerdy set. Yet here am I, a member of the nerdy set, proposing more change to the nerdiest game in the world.
I was yesterday old when I discovered that the use of a certain word for a Litch’s Physical Soul Repository was (a) a real life thing still in use, and (b) highly offensive to the cultural group who use that real-life thing. Obviously, a little more sensitivity and understanding could go around. Let’s do some imagining for a second.
Imagine, just for the space of this exercise, that Wizards of the Coast decided to search-and-replace that particular word from what it is now to… say… Reliquary. Imagine the outrage. Imagine the offense. Imagine the vast swathes of Catholics who play suddenly thinking, I don’t feel comfortable with something from my faith being portrayed as an object of evil. Imagine players leaving the game because of it.
That’s what we’re doing to extant and would-be Jewish players when we use the word phylactery to describe the object a Litch uses to hide their soul in.
I am not for an instant suggesting that we actually do that. The purpose of this particular thinkpiece is to attempt an improvement that is inclusive rather than alienating. And I’m assuming that the Male WASP section of D&D players are already planning to go off about how the SJW’s are ruining things for everyone because of this.
Personally, I don’t understand how getting more people to play the world’s nerdiest game is ruining it. Perhaps one of y’all can mansplain it to me. I jest. You want your private club to remain private and exclusive and your thing and you don’t like the concept of sharing. Let’s move on.
Narratively and in folklore, the word reliquary makes more sense. We already have a vast swathe of legends and lore about how The Big Bad is immortal because… Because they removed their heart and placed it (deep breath) inside an egg that’s in a duck that swims in a lake that’s on an island in a river inside a fortress that’s on the top of a mountain that’s in the furthest possible corner of the Earth. And oh yes, it’s guarded by a Dragon. Reliquaries as they exist are already little shrines containing the blood or body parts of the departed. They even have supernatural powers. Yay?
BUT replacing phylactery with reliquary in D&D is culturally insensitive and alienating one religious/ethnic group for another. Which, and let’s make this abundantly clear for the slow learners still reading this, is a BAD THING. Okay? Okay.
I was pondering palimpsest as an alternative word. It’s obscure enough that a large volume of people won’t even know what it is. It even sounds vaguely infectious. For those who want to know – a palimpsest is a book that’s had the original writing scraped/bleached out of the vellum so that later scribes could write something (allegedly) more important on the page. For example, some ancient mathematics and engineering have been found in an ancient copy of the Bible that was also a palimpsest. Obviously, “more important” is relative.
It covers a lot of bases. It implies that something potentially worthwhile has been destroyed in the making thereof. It’s already old and fragile because no players in the modern era write on vellum any more(I presume. Never underestimate the potential for art and nerditry combos amongst the D&D crowd). It also requires delicate handling and special light to even try to recover what once was there. Once lost, it’s lost forever.
Ironically, using palimpsest might actually cause more outrage than phylactery. You may all roll your eyes. I know I just did. So now what?
Well, this is a game of imagination so my best idea is to make something up. Don’t use anyone else’s culture or language at all and come up with something that has the same function, but none of the cultural/racist baggage.
So I looked up a couple of words in Esperanto. The OG conlang that was invented to promote harmony and understanding around the globe. Specifically, I looked up soul and box in Esperanto. Because that’s what the Litch’s Soul Repository is. A Soul Box.
The Esperanto for soul is animo. Their word for box is skatolo. Way too much for the average DM to try after a long night of rules lawyering with the Well Actually player who keeps trying to nudge things in their favour and nobody else’s. Okay, so what about a portmanteu of two made-up words in a made-up language?
I cooked up skanimatol but it could easily be skanimaty if you want to keep that terminal Y. Pronounced ska-NEEM-ah-tol or ska-NEEM-ah-tee depending on which one you like.
I welcome all other culturally sensitive suggestions and expect my cheque from Wizards of the Coast to be in the mail. (lol)
ADDENDUM: I just found out that the “educational” post about this topic was a troll post by some idiot pretending to be Jewish for the sake of stirring shit. GOD DAMN IT. Consider this a thought exercise on how to reform a problematic thing without causing more problems, then.