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5E _Are_ the Drow really a problematic race with regards to the recent diversity efforts by Wizards?

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thealmightyn

Explorer
The Drow are one of the prime examples -- alongside the Vistani and orcs -- brought up in discussions on why race is problematic in Dungeons & Dragons. Polygon recently posted an article about a DriveThruRPG supplement that seeks to solve that problem by adding the new vector of culture, similar in ways to how Pathfinder 2E dealt with the problem. The question I have is: isn't culture at the heart of the way the Drow are portrayed in Dungeons & Dragons (at least insofar as the Forgotten Realms is concerned)?

It seems to me like the Drow are evil because of their religion and culture, not because of any biological urge to be evil. Unlike with the Vistani and even, to a lesser degree, orcs, who would invariably have social interactions and relationships with members of many other races throughout their lives, the Drow have a xenophobic, isolated society in which everyone is indoctrinated at an early age to believe in the superiority of their people, is it surprising that they're pretty thoroughly evil?

On a broader note, I'm wondering how far the efforts to fix the problem of race are going to go. There's a lot of talk about those three prime peoples, but what about others? Will it just be orcs amongst the "monstrous humanoids" or will goblinoids, kobolds, ogres, and gnolls also get the same treatment? Will the Duergar and the Derro, two other evil Underdark-dwelling humanoid races also be addressed? Going even broader, is this going to focus only on creatures that are more or less analogous to us, creatures that are officially playable? Or will we start to see creatures like mind flayers, beholders, and chromatic dragons be updated as well?

This is not an attempt to sow conflict so hopefully we can keep this discussion civil. I'm hoping to hear a diverse array of insights from people on these things to perhaps illuminate trains of thought that I haven't yet boarded. And for transparency I'm coming at this from the viewpoint of a member of a race that many would likely consider a "privileged" minority so while I have dealt with some degree of racism in my life, I do not have anywhere near the insight into the problems we as a society are dealing with right now as many others unfortunately do.
 

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Mercurius

Legend
Just an FYI to @thealmightyn , this has been talked about extensively throughout various threads over the last few weeks, so if you don't get a big response, it might be because we're all starting to feel a bit of fatigue. That said, I'll share a few thoughts.

As someone who takes a very 'anything goes' approach, the only thing about drow that stands out as clearly problematic is the curse = dark skin part. Thankfully that has been removed from canon, as far as I can tell, though appeared as recently as 2001's Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.

Other elements that people have found problematic include:
  • Evil matriarchy, particularly relative to the lack of other (major) good/neutral matriarchies. Some have suggested that the description of drow is similar to sexist depictions of women.
  • dark skin = evil. Lots of variant takes on this, but the basic complaint is that the only dark skinned elven sub-race is evil.
  • Past depictions of drow with brown skin, thus more closely alluding to African heritage (a couple early pictures even had "mini fros").
  • Drow as BDSM analogues.

I personally don't find any of those all that problematic and/or easily remedied, or already remedied, but don't think some tweaking and clarification would be bad. My overall recommendations are:

1. Officially erase the "curse = dark skin" bit, perhaps writing it off as a rumor started by a particularly prejudicial elven historian.
2. Alter lore so that drow are descended from a matriarchal sub-race of elves who were/are dark-skinned (this kills two birds with one stone, the matriarchy one and the dark skin = evil one). Maybe a lost race that fled association with their evil cousins.
3. Leave the past in the past and clarify future depictions of drow as black or gray-scale skin color, and not brown (this has already mostly happened, with most of the mentioned depictions coming from the 80s).
4. Diversify drow, making non-matriarchal cities (I think there is one in FR?), ones that don't fetishize BDSM-like activities, etc.
 

MGibster

Hero
There's no objective way to determine whether something is problematic or not. It's kind of like porn, you know it when you see it. If someone says it's problematic then that's what they think. It's up to you whether or not you agree or wish to take additional action based on what others have told you.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Mod Note:

We closed hundreds of pages of threads that included this topic within fresh memory. I'm sorry, but it is too soon to revisit this argument. Thread closed.
 

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