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D&D 5E D&D Races: Evolution, Fantasy Stereotypes & Escapism

Authors and game designers are people from their time, and sometime even slightly ahead.
But writing don’t make miracle, those are still tainted with their own culture with its good and bad sides.
Tolkien reflect British culture of the 1920, Gygax reflect the USA in the 70.
And today the Wotc dev team reflect the culture of the 2020 era, which is more world wide.
But even so, in 2060 when people will look back at the 2020 DnD, they will have plenty of critics to make.
 

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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I'm not convinced as the body evidence is neither particularly deep or broad. If the major point of comparison is a few words used a few times it doesn't strike me as anything other than coincidence. Perhaps more importantly is that it has to wind back the clock a hundred years to find points of comparison to racist sentiment by a long deceased political movement. For finding real life stereotypes in other aspects of the game we don't have to make such giant leaps; Hobgoblins are in Samurai armor, Vistani do card readings in caravan settlements, etc. The amount of scrutiny we have to give to orcs to find references to racist views on black people is far, far greater than any of the other stereotype based fantasy races. It's too spurious for me to take it seriously.

Are you arguing that WotC shouldn't make it so that the default game settings is full of sentient creatures for the players to massacre (including non-combatants) and steal the land from and still consider themselves good? Or are you arguing that the quotes about orcs don't seem compelling to you?
 

For clarification - when I used tribe it wasn't to disclude states/governments/militaries/religions. I actually chose it as IMO it can reference any of those things.
Sure but the point is, in the vast majority of cases, they're "calling from inside the house". The brutality is inflicted by states/governments/militaries/religions who the person is, in theory, part of or allied with, so cannot easily be "othered". And indeed it's very often the case that the victims themselves are othered. You may recall a large war in the 1940s where particularly large-scale and ambitious massacres of civilian populations relied on othering those populations.
I think a good case can be made that without the othering going on that the kinds of bad tribes I described that they would end up being more prevalent.
I think that case would be extremely hard to make, actually, because so often othering is used to excuse the mass-slaughter of "inconvenient" people, and so many people and cultures have been labelled "bad tribes" (or whatever) and othered on that basis (not just in the modern day, note). In fact, most of the worst things that happened from 1800-1950 could probably solidly be laid at the feet of intentional "othering", and prior to that I think it's clearly at best a "double-edged sword". Sure, othering the Mongols probably made them easier to fight in some regards, but they were othering the hell of out the peoples they were conquering/slaughtering (most of them anyway, certainly Europeans and Chinese) too. It's not like it's this unidirectional thing. It's very often bidirectional, and when it isn't, it's very often a powerful group othering another far weaker group and it usually looks very like the powerful group's basic motivation is greed, not fear, whatever the on-paper excuse is.

I'm not saying it's not worth considering, but I do think you're failing to see how it's bidirectional, and a tool of conquest and slaughter by the powerful as much or perhaps more often than a defense mechanism for tribes in trouble (which is maybe where it started).

I think the only easy case to make here is that othering is a powerful tool if you want to start mass slaughters. Indeed, it may actually be a hard prerequisite.
 

JThursby

Adventurer
Are you arguing that WotC shouldn't make it so that the default game settings is full of sentient creatures for the players to massacre (including non-combatants) and steal the land from and still consider themselves good? Or are you arguing that the quotes about orcs don't seem compelling to you?
The latter. I don't know where you got the former.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
But, therein lies the biggest problem. Ok, sure, orcs are meant to be the most outright evil faction. Fair enough. That's not really an issue. The issue is that the language used to describe the "most evil faction" is very, very close (as in often word for word identical) as the language used to describe black people up into the twentieth century.
Didn't Rome also use similar language to describe most European "Barbarians"?

But let's say for the sake of discussion you are 100% correct above. Is it not acceptable in fantasy to explore non-human races that actually possess such negative characteristics in the fantasy world as opposed to reality where such negative characteristics are falsely applied to a human race?
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Sure but the point is, in the vast majority of cases, they're "calling from inside the house". The brutality is inflicted by states/governments/militaries/religions who the person is, in theory, part of or allied with, so cannot easily be "othered". And indeed it's very often the case that the victims themselves are othered. You may recall a large war in the 1940s where particularly large-scale and ambitious massacres of civilian populations relied on othering those populations.

I think that case would be extremely hard to make, actually, because so often othering is used to excuse the mass-slaughter of "inconvenient" people, and so many people and cultures have been labelled "bad tribes" (or whatever) and othered on that basis (not just in the modern day, note). In fact, most of the worst things that happened from 1800-1950 could probably solidly be laid at the feet of intentional "othering", and prior to that I think it's clearly at best a "double-edged sword". Sure, othering the Mongols probably made them easier to fight in some regards, but they were othering the hell of out the peoples they were conquering/slaughtering (most of them anyway, certainly Europeans and Chinese) too. It's not like it's this unidirectional thing. It's very often bidirectional, and when it isn't, it's very often a powerful group othering another far weaker group and it usually looks very like the powerful group's basic motivation is greed, not fear, whatever the on-paper excuse is.

I'm not saying it's not worth considering, but I do think you're failing to see how it's bidirectional, and a tool of conquest and slaughter by the powerful as much or perhaps more often than a defense mechanism for tribes in trouble (which is maybe where it started).

I think the only easy case to make here is that othering is a powerful tool if you want to start mass slaughters. Indeed, it may actually be a hard prerequisite.
IMO. Most othering ends up being bad and used for bad purposes - because most othering isn't true. And yes, that does often lead to very bad things, but all (or most all) tools can be used for good or evil.
 


But, therein lies the biggest problem. Ok, sure, orcs are meant to be the most outright evil faction. Fair enough. That's not really an issue. The issue is that the language used to describe the "most evil faction" is very, very close (as in often word for word identical) as the language used to describe black people up into the twentieth century.

Orcs are evil isn't really a problem. Lots of things in D&D are evil. We don't worry that red dragons are evil after all.

Orcs are evil because they are just like black people (or at least, that's the language that was very often being used) is a problem.

Drow are evil is perfectly fine.

Drow are evil because they are matriarchal, hate men and mirror stereotypes of feminism as well as being literally white people colored black for their sins, is a problem.

The difficulty in these conversations is that people tend to focus on very narrow elements and not the bigger picture. Oh, well, it's okay because this part is okay doesn't really solve anything. And the conversations go round and round in circles because people refuse to accept the bigger picture.

((Note, @FrogReaver - I am not pointing at you for any of this. I'm using your comment as a jumping off point. I just reread what I wrote and it sounds accusatory and that is totally not what I'm going for here.))
This. It is well said.

But taken a step further, if 6e were to come out right now, and orcs and drow were to be removed, and the language for some other races were closely scrubbed, would groups still find problems?

That answer is yes. Yes, they will. And it will never end.

If we accept that, then maybe, just maybe, the D&D community can have a discussion rather than an argument.
 

Mind of tempest

(he/him)advocate for 5e psionics
Of course we can. The easiest way to do so is to simply use an extant humanoid race or just humans and apply a similar scenario with some fantasy spice.

One of my campaigns the main antagonists were modelled loosely on the East India Company who were essentially a megacorporation with a mercenary army, and the fantasy spice was various things including vampires (not at the top of the tree, they were actually being exploited too), Tiamat (it's a long story), corruption and where that didn't work magical mind-control, ill-advised "archaeology" (i.e. digging up things better left buried) and so on.

Obviously you could do more.

The trouble D&D tends to have is an unfortunate tendency to backslide into centering around countries run by absolute monarchs (or occasionally mysterious councils) who are somehow "good guys", and there the apparatus of power (the aristocracy, bureaucracy and so on) is not significantly bad either (there's the odd "bad apple" somehow not spoiling the barrel), rather than anything more complex or interesting.

Part of the issue is something I've literally never understood, not even since I first started playing back in 1989, which is that some groups are totally happy to slaughter "orcs" or "goblins", but get all, I dunno, pathetic when it comes to slaughtering equally-bad humans or demihumans. My main group has never suffered from this, and indeed most people I haven't played with IRL or even online don't, but it's clear there's some subset of D&D players who do. I think they're probably outdated though - I suspect the current bulk of D&D players is more concerned by what makes them baddies in terms of their actions rather than their origin. Honestly I think Taladas being my first setting just prevented this being even possibly an issue - when the raging horde of civilization-destroying barbarians are elves and half-elves, and minotaurs are running the most calm and orderly state out there (not perhaps the nicest, but toward the better end of the scale), and that's your first exposure to a full setting, it's hard to take the idea that enemies "need" to be orcs or whatever seriously.
all through your idea is excellent I meant more along the lines of a pure monster to other the great evil left in the world to make them articulated instead?

I have always wondered even in high magic settings why do we always get nothing but monarchies or couples not even the modern is more or less a republic but has a superfluous king/queen at its head?
 

But let's say for the sake of discussion you are 100% correct above. Is it not acceptable in fantasy to explore non-human races that actually possess such negative characteristics in the fantasy world as opposed to reality where such negative characteristics are falsely applied to a human race?
Define "acceptable".

Also, maybe ask yourself "Is this the right question?" because I would say it is not the right question. Is it like, legal, and probably within the bounds of morality and ethics to do what you describe? I would say yes. It might push the bounds of good taste and end up raising some uncomfortable questions, but sure, it's "acceptable" in the broadest sense of the word.

But WotC and for that matter any profit-making company that isn't harshly ideological isn't just looking at "acceptable", they're looking at "attractive", "reasonable", "in good taste", and so on. Is it likely that making a race of creatures that look like people (including "ugly people" or "pretty people"), live like people (born, grow, have kids, raise kids, die, etc.), talk like people, appear to have some sort of free will and so on, but have inherent negative characteristics, and thus "need to get genocided" likely to be "in good taste"? I would suggest no. We live in a post-Holocaust, post-slavery (mostly) society. It isn't 1500 or whatever. The idea of intentionally setting up a scenario so a sapient, human-like race needs to "get genocided", even if it's "true" in-setting that they do, is not going to sit well with people, and not going to cause people to admire the company involved.

So what might be "acceptable" at a specific table, is probably not going to work for say, WotC, because it's in bad taste (and it is), it's reminiscent of a lot of creepy-ass ideology that very very very very bad people had, and it's thus not likely to attractive to well, the sort of people a company which wants to exist long-term wants to attract. Sure, 8kun or whatever would probably absolutely adore it, and the worst depths of reddit, maybe, but y'all want those guys singing your praises? My feeling is you do not. And you could bluster and say "These 8kun jerks don't get it, it's not a metaphor, it's not about the Holocaust, it's about Very Bad Monster-People!", but that won't change anything except maybe some 8kun dude will get you SWAT'd.

The TLDR of it is that you could do that, but it would be in terrible terrible taste, and it would attract the "wrong" kind of people (alongside some perfectly reasonable ones I'm sure), and would be an absolute PR disaster. A small-press RPG which was exceptionally well-written and focused and had a specific market and vibe in mind might be able to pull it off without being a PR disaster or bait for internet extremists, but as a setting for D&D? Let alone for D&D in general? Not a good idea.
 

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