This happened in August of this year, and I haven't run a session of D&D since.
My D&D group has always been made up of a variety of different people with different beliefs. We've had Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Independents. We've had Protestants, Catholics, Atheists, Mormons, Quakers. We've had gay, straight, bi. We've had Caucasian, latino, black. You name the demographic and chances are we've had someone play in our group at some point that represents it.
This group has run almost continuously since 2000. That's right, nearly 20 years. I've DMmed for longer than that, but this club, this campaign world, has endured for that long. If my D&D campaign club was a living person, they'd be old enough to vote. In all that time, those differences between people has never once caused any significant drama.
And in August of 2018, That changed.
It began as a normal D&D game. The only thing that was out of the ordinary was that a new player (but very old friend) was joining us. He's Tony from the Blood in the Badlands campaign vignette series. Also present at this game were players who had been in the campaign longer, like Steve and Sam.
Well, we were in the pre-game social phase, when the frozen pizzas are in the oven and people who haven't seen each other in a while have a chance to socialize a bit, catch up, etc. before the actual game session begins. At one point, a more or less tense exchange got going, form our more leftist members on how Christians are so very privileged in this country. This came from Penny, Steve's wife. When I asked her for an example of this suppsed Christian privilege, the best example she coudl come up with was that Christians get 2 holidays per year where they get the day off.
Yeah, that was really her argument. Apparently Easter and Christmas are proof positive that Christians are the privileged class. Well I don't know about you, but I've never gotten a day off for Easter since it falls on a Sunday anyway (I understand some people do, but that's not a very powerful argument.) And Christmas is as much a secular holiday as any other, oh and many pagan systems celebrate it too as Yule.
So I made this point to Penny, who started becoming agitated. She'd already snapped at Sam for having the nerve to say "punching up" isn't justified. ("Punching up" is the idea that a less socially advantaged group is free to be critical or mocking toward a more socially advanced group and that's fair game, but "punching down" is bad. This is a philosphy most often used by leftsis to get away with their own version of discrimination and bigotry.)
At about this time I left the room to go get the pizzas out of the oven, and took Sam with me to help. While we were gone, something happened.
When we came back with the pizzas, Tony and Penny were involved in a very heated exchange over the current social problems in Europe arising from the sudden influx of Syrian refugees. In a nutshell, Tony was talking about how these wsocial problems needed to be addressed and remedied, and Penny was calling him a racist for saying these social problems were a result of these refugees.
Now, I want to point out here two things. One, Tony is no racist. I've known the man for 30 years now and I can tell you with full honesty and confidence that there's no racism in him. Two, Tony is very direct in his way of speaking. He isn't rude or undiplomatic, he just doesn't sugar coat things. Penny, by contrast, lives in the leftist, SJW bubble that just doesn't get any other point of view. Her kneejerk reaction to Tony's comments was to immediately go to the racist card.
Things were getting very heated, very fast, and before I could referee them back to their corners, Penny decided she would no longer sit and listen to Tony's "racism" and packed her stuff to leave. Tony, who is also quite a reasonable fellow, started trying to calm her down. He was apologetic (not that he owed her an apolgy, im my opinion), gentle, and managed to get her to stop at the door. The bickering continued at that point, with Tony sitting at the table and Penny by the door. It was like watching that video of Jordan Peterson debating Cathy Newman... where Peterson would make a point, then Newman would reapons with "So you're saying that..." and then proceed to utterly misrepresent and twist the argument. This was just like that.
After a minute of this, Steve got involved, telling his wife to either go or stay, but that her bahavior was embarassing him in front of his friends. Shortly after this, she calmed enough to rejoin us at the table, and was perfectly pleasant for the rest of the session. (Don't let that fool you. She was putting on an act. As far as she's concerned, Tony is a vicious racist, period, an will not hear any defense of him. I tried.)
Now, after that session, I realized I had a very serious problem. Penny can be a very nice person, but her contempt for Christianity and conservatism in general has always been hidden, but she'd occasionally let it peek out. The Christians and conservatives in our group are well aware of this, but we've always just let it slide to avoid exactly the sort of meltdown that happened on this fateful evening. The problem is that Penny isn't the only one in our group who thinks that way, and those who see things from her point of view are a tight knit group of friends who also hang out when not in my D&D campaign.
That meant this fire was gonna spread.
At the time, I was runing two concurrent D&D groups, each of which was about half and half between left and right wing thinkers. My fear was that this incident was going to spill over into the other group. This was going to come up again for sure, especially because I really enjoyed having Tony in my group. He and I hadn't played D&D in many years. Funny thing is, he isn't even a conservative. He's very centrist.
So I followed up with an E-mail conversation with Penny. I was hoping she'd at least acknowledge that she'd gone too far.
Nope. She sees herself as the victim. She doesn't want me to try and defend my friend, she doesn't want to discuss anything in detail, and she doesn't want to come to D&D games anymore if it means she has to triple check her words before speaking. (Which I can't believe she said unironically. This whole mess happened because someone else didn't triple check is words in fornt of HER.) That E-mail chain ended amicably between her and me, but I don't feel much better.
So I scrambled the reactor, as it were, to avoid a meltdown. I discontinued both of my D&D games until I could come up with a way to deal with all of this.
AFter I let thigs cool off for a few weeks, I sent out feelers to see where people stood as I started building a plan for resuming the gaming. The conservative guys alre all for restarting. Just gotta let them know when. For the most part, the same is true of the liberal players. Steve and Penny however, have given me a list of conditions under which they'll play again. I can't put them in the same group as Tony or Kyle (another player they've decided they don't like.) I should censor certain topics of conversation, and apparently (and this wasn't explicitly on the list but I am inferring it from the E-mail chain) Penny's views aren't to be challenged (although maybe that falls under the censorship requirement.
I *HATE* the idea that politics has infected my gaming club like this. I always felt that even though we m ay disagree on things, we all saw each other as people who all wanted the best for everyone in our country, just didn't see eye to eye on how to achieve it. What I've learned is that is NOT how some folks in the group think. At best, people like Penny see us as deluded peolple who do evil in the name of our God and need to be defeated. Well, I guess I should be grateful that she doesn't think we're evil.
Or maybe I just don't care anymore.
So I've decided to resume D&D in January, but I'm only going to invite people I know will get along. That includes Tony and Kyle. Put me in a position to choose between firends? I'm gonna pick the guy who has been my frien since 1988, when we bonded over the contents of the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook in gym class when I was but a high school freshman and he was a junior. There will *ALWAYS* be a seat at my table for Tony. And Kyle? He goes to my church. I've known him for *only* 20 years. I also have a couple other reasonable people in mind to invite.
As for the others... Well they're still friends and I don't want to just turn my back on them, but I don't trust Penny anymore, and they're closer friends with her than with me, for the most part, so I have no illusions about where they stand on this issue. They don't know the full truth about why I halted D&D. What I have been doing is talking to them about setting up a separate campaign which would meet quarterly, since runing two concurrent campaigns is more than I can handle right now. Thus far, feedback has been good, but I think it'll be a while before things feel normal again, if ever.
Has it really come to this?
"He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool."
"Don't take refuge in the false security of consensus."