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D&D General Demihumans of Color and the Thermian Argument

squibbles

Adventurer
So @Kobold Avenger started an interesting thread about diversity in D&D--in fantasy worlds broadly, really--and the degree to which 'races' that are not humans ought to be more representative of IRL humankind than they tend to be. I wanted to reply to that thread with a long and pedantic post, but at about 5 pages in it meandered into a long comic tangent about Dwarven luchadors (you do you, folks) so I am starting a new thread instead. A brief recap of that OP (if it's not still on the front page):
Previously only Humans were ever shown as being non-European in D&D, and the other common core races of Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes and Halflings were always depicted as being "white" even if some published campaign settings have for example said that some Dwarves have brown skin or that Wood Elves are "bronze" colored. Now I pick those four in particular because they're the most human-like (not counting the hybrids) and they're a core part of D&D along with all the classes and alignment, it's generally assumed they're there unless the DM says they aren't.

So if a player wants to play an "Asian" Elf or a "African" Dwarf, I suspect most DMs in most campaigns would just let them be with very little questions. It doesn't necessarily need to be fully explained why that Elf or Dwarf is like that. Some people might just want to have character who might be like them, or might fit some image they have (or justification for a class/subclass with a lot of cultural baggage). I'm approaching this as a Person of Color, who is a minority in the western country I live in. So I care less about cultural purity, and more about representation.
[...]
overall I feel that Humans should not be the only race with diversity as its thing. Despite whatever the origins of Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes and Halflings, in core D&D they are now far removed from their mythological Earth origins, so they don't need to be locked in as exclusively European.

There are some pretty obvious practical ways to handle diversity--inviting players to be co-creators of the setting and the peoples that live in it, imagining settings that are diverse to begin with, or, in an established setting, having generally modern sensibilities about ethnic difference--but the elephant in the room whenever this topic comes up is that elves, dwarves, and what have you are imaginary. Their differences are constructed from nothing but pop culture, and they can be recreated as symbols for anything a prospective DM, author, or screenwriter wants.

Any argument about what they are/should be in any particular setting is, ultimately, a Thermian Argument or an ethics/politics argument. It's either:
  1. The tradition of description of elves in D&D (or other property) is that they are XYZ; elves need to have XYZ characteristic or they aren't really elves.
  2. Elves should inclusively represent diverse groups--thereby promoting equality/fairness--and should, therefore, be unbound by prior XYZ conventions.
This seems to me to be kind of silly. Why do we have an emotional stake in peoples that are imaginary? To the extent that we invent fantastical creatures to inhabit fantastical worlds, why do we need to police our tropes or replicate our historical baggage in microcosm? Either elves, symbolically, are just people (who arbitrarily live 1000 years), and there's no particularly compelling reason that they shouldn't look like anything that people look like. Or--alternately--elves are not symbolic of people, in which case they look like a specific thing that is purposively orthogonal to people and has no relevance to contemporary concerns.

Consider, for example, how little it matters what color the fur of a Tabaxi is. Tabaxi are about as anthropomorphic as it gets, but our diversity concerns are basically irrelevant to them. Consider also dragonborn, yuan-ti, hobgoblins, loxodons, and so on.

So, my thinking is that, unless elves, dwarves, halflings, and gnomes are different enough from humans that we don't care about their race-politics, they are symbolically just lumpy humans. And lumpy humans don't need a different color scheme. Moreover, we should be honest with ourselves that lumpy humans don't really add much to D&D/fantasy fiction beyond just... humans.


...FYI, my elves have four arms and camouflage patterned skin--they are a back-to-nature luddite sect of space aliens that used crystal tech to engineer themselves for arboreal fitness.
 

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Zardnaar

Legend
Doesn't bother me to much they're usually depicted as Caucasian because they originated in European folklore.

If they're from non European environment (or because magic) makes sense some will have different skin tones.

And pretty much anything makes Halflings and Gnomes more interesting good luck with that (I like Athasian Gnomes and Halflings).
 

DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
...FYI, my elves have four arms and camouflage patterned skin--they are a back-to-nature luddite sect of space aliens that used crystal tech to engineer themselves for arboreal fitness.

Antennae, like Insectare, and cow tails. They are insanely overconfident and reckless, by human standards, for their first couple of centuries... but as they age, they get much, much worse. The actual purpose of chromatic dragons, in the grand scheme of things, is to make sure that elves do not ever, ever, ever become gods.

I've never put much thought into what color their skin is, except that it isn't neon ROYGBIV like goblins are in that setting, or like elves are in most settings I have them.

EDIT: ON-TOPIC TAX: You make a solid point that the less humanlike a race is, the less we can superimpose human racial issues over them, the less concerned we are with the "diversity" of that race in fiction/mechanics. That's actually one of the reasons I so aggressively promote more inhuman lineages over the classic Tolkien Trio.
 

While I don't care about the skin color of demi-humans (they could be bright orange for all I care), I do feel that too many people look upon the original demi-humans as just "funny looking humans." They should have a culture and mentality completely alien to our own (humans), which helps disassociate them from any real world baggage that they may have started with. My examples:
  • Dwarves are so in tune with the earth, they can feel the difference between each type of metal and stone. Certain metals, particularly gold and mithral, evoke a joyful sensation within them unknown to others.
  • Elves have no concern for normal material wealth, concerned only with beauty. They only use them when they have to deal with the other races.
  • Gnomes are part of the ecology of small burrowing creatures, once having innate claws that have faded away. Most creatures see them as a type of large burrowing animal, rather than a humanoid.
  • Halflings have several senses that allow them to differentiate each ingredient of food & drink. By examining tilled earth, they can tell how long it lay fallow and the best type of crop to grow.
Half-breeds are a bit problematic, because it should be based on the two parent races. Half-Elves are always human-elf hybrids, and so really are "funny looking humans." Half-orc blood burns hot, usually with rage from their orc parentage, but this is incorporated with the other parentage, giving them a more intense version.
 

Dragonsbane

Proud Grognard
We have 8 varieties of elves in our game, and between them every skin color imaginable is there. Same with humans, we have 8 subraces based on real world mixes of regions. All have different cultures, looks, traditions... and one could play an elf raised by the asian subrace we use, great concept, elven samurai or ninja! We also use racial modifiers in our games, and while OOC we are a diverse and accepting group, IC there is racism between different races, even subraces.
 

Minigiant

Legend
I just think too many RPGs and their fans run other races as different versions of humans. This is the core to the color diversity issue to me. If you make them act like humans, they should look like more versions of human. If you make the demihumans very human, you then must justify their existence. Then you must line that up with why they look how they look.

That's why my elves don't have human skin tones when I DM. Their hair and skin are first pure white and both change color with the seasons and which deities they worship the most. Wood Elves are green. They grey when they get older because they mentally no longer care enough about the world to change color.
 

DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
I am 1,000% down with weirding up the standard PHB races instead of (or in addition to) adding more weird new races, but it feels like the community at large is pulling very passionately in the other direction-- they seem to be allowed to have abilities and, especially, sensory abilities that differ from humanity, but any suggestion that they're less capable or wholly incapable of something humans can do is met with (sometimes harsh) pushback.

Which gets really frustrating sometimes, and I know I'm not helping my situation or the discourse any by lashing back.

---

Last setting I had dwarves in-- which I shelved to avoid purely human racism-- they didn't have darkvision; they could innately tell the total mass and density of any object in their line of sight, roughly, and more precisely than scientific instruments at the current tech level (1870-1920) by touch. This is how they could live underground without artificial light, and this is what made them such canny merchants and miners. They also had heavily skewed sex ratios that I did some neat things with, culturally.

They also have the obsessive focus thing from Dark Sun.

My elves... in addition to being physically weird (think 2e insectare plus huldra), I took the "change sex at long rest" thing and ran with. Adult elves, by human standards, are insanely overconfident and reckless and instead of mellowing and maturing with age, they just get worse and worse until something kills them.

Gnomes, on the other hand, aren't brave. They're utterly fearless, but not driven by the same innate braggadocio that keeps most elves from seeing their third century. They don't know fear, they have little regard for pain, and the only thing keeping them from being sociopathic-- in human terms-- is their borderline telepathic ability to read people and a powerful drive to seek and spread joy. Gnomes know things, getting bardic knowledge and legend lore as racial abilities.
 

mhd

Explorer
They should have a culture and mentality completely alien to our own (humans), which helps disassociate them from any real world baggage that they may have started with
The problem is that it's very hard to come up with a mindset that both separates them from human cultures, while still being able to play them. Or at least play them with a decent enough sense of immersion.
Never mind that a lot of alien abilities often have some baggage of their own.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
The problem is that it's very hard to come up with a mindset that both separates them from human cultures, while still being able to play them. Or at least play them with a decent enough sense of immersion.
Never mind that a lot of alien abilities often have some baggage of their own.
As someone who likes to give their demihumans an inhuman mindset, I don't really see this as a problem. Only a fraction of my players over the years have deeply engaged with the lore to such a level. Often times, their characters were played as "funny looking humans". I use this as an opportunity to spotlight the distinction. NPCs will comment what an unusual elf/dwarf/whatever they are. More often than not, the player takes this as a compliment IME, because it makes them feel unique.

At the end of the day, while I make the setting, it's their character and they can play it as they like. If they want to be the most human-minded elf in the world, that's fine. The world will respond to them as such, and the game will be all the richer for it.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
We humans are playing the demi-humans. Thus all our demi-humans are not going to be truly alien, because everything these characters do is colored by how we humans play them. Everything these demi-humans are, how they behave, what is important to them... is always going to be in relation to humanity. It is impossible for it to be otherwise.

Vulcans are the epitome of logic. Why do we define them that way? Because we are comparing that species to how human beings are, and in the "scale of logic" humans are at one point and Vulcans comparatively are much moreso. Likewise... how typical dwarves are is in comparison to how we describe the typical human. If they are described as "gruff", it is because we know how gruff humans are, and dwarves are moreso. Elves are more "ethereal"? Yes, compared to humans. And when we play these races... we are affecting an attitude that is just further in a direction away from how we as humans might typically behave. But our behaviors are still human... they are just more stereotyped and over-emphasized.

So what this means is that yes... ALL aliens and fantasy races and such are portrayed as nothing more than funny-looking humans... because we as humans have no reference for anything else. All we have is our experience as human beings. Which means that every single non-human race we play in D&D (or any game) is going to be a representation of humanity in some form or fashion... and because we wish to play them, we are going to want to imbue them with our individual humanity-- including both attitudes and visual representation.

If elves are just a facet of humanity dialed up to 11... if you are Pakastani, why wouldn't you want to to have an elf that is dialed up to 11 that looks, feels, and embodies many of the traits that you have as a proud member of that nation? You desire to play an elf... thus you wish to layer the stereotypical elven traits upon your humanity. And why would anyone want to deny that experience for you?

Representation matters. Including in "almost-but-not-quite-humans".
 

mhd

Explorer
Only a fraction of my players over the years have deeply engaged with the lore to such a level. Often times, their characters were played as "funny looking humans". I use this as an opportunity to spotlight the distinction. NPCs will comment what an unusual elf/dwarf/whatever they are.
Sorry, I'm sure that's presented in a much better light at the table, but from here this sounds like the players are set up to fail and then reprimanded for not being deep enough into the lore. Where every PC is almonst inevitably a Drizzt (not even a Spock).

Why would we write this in the background of a setting like this then in the first place? Plausible deniability?
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
I feel the push for more self-representation in game alien races tend to make them even less alien. @DEFCON 1 mentionned that we already define other species by comparison to humans and that it's very difficult to roleplay anything else than "funny looking humans with a differentating trait". But the more alien species are described as closely resembling humans ("hello, I am a pakistani-looking elf") the more difficult it is to assign them non-human traits.

Humans are not known from their tolerance to other species. With the exception of a few pets that we adopt but impose a lifestyle onto anyway, we tend to either eat them or destroy them (and their habitat) for our convenience. An alien species could very well see demi-XYZ with the same view we image having sex with animal. And should have no more qualm at killing humans as we have qualm at killing a dangerous animal. Most of us wouldn't go out of our way to kill a bear -- though some do it for sports -- but most wouldn't balk at the idea of eliminating crocodiles from a settled area. If you're in a world where the elves are like that, where they justify the Wild Hunt as a fun sport and kidnapping human children to replace them with changeling like acquiring a pet, is it really important to have them "representative" of your ethnicity? Would it be even acceptable to have a pakistani-looking elf slaver race? (because, it's not slavery, it's owning a pet... Humans have dogs, don't they?) Of course, humans would say that they are sentient being, something the elves could very well not recognize as a good criterion for determining who you own and who you treat as equal). Wouldn't you want that alien elf NOT to resemble humans at all?

Instead we're entering a self-feeding loop: people want to play inhuman races (including clearly monstrous ones, like the Tolkien orcs or the Dark Elves) but they want to roleplay them as "funny looking human" (hence the conceit of "I am from Menzoberranzan, but I'm special) that is the transitional step, then everyone want to play them as human with stat bonuses, then as they are cleary recognized as human, people want to identify with them and self-insert in the setting (instead of aknowledging that they are playing a role, like an actor playing Hitler in a movie not being actually embracing Third Reich ideology) and then, ultimately, it becomes difficult from writers of a particular setting to assign inhuman mentality to inhuman species because of the way most of them are played. And since they are depicted as quasi-humans and not from another species, people will want to play them as humans... until the point when they are effectively funny looking humans in the lore, and we could make them humans altogether with just cultural differences without losing anything.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Sorry, I'm sure that's presented in a much better light at the table, but from here this sounds like the players are set up to fail and then reprimanded for not being deep enough into the lore. Where every PC is almonst inevitably a Drizzt (not even a Spock).

Why would we write this in the background of a setting like this then in the first place? Plausible deniability?
They're not set up to fail. Some players engage deeply with the lore and others don't. Those who don't will not receive a reprimand, but rather will be remarked upon as such: "Don't take this the wrong way, but you sir are the most peculiar elf I've ever had the delight of meeting!" I can't recall a single time a player of mine took something like that in a negative light. Quite the opposite, actually.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Instead we're entering a self-feeding loop: people want to play inhuman races (including clearly monstrous ones, like the Tolkien orcs or the Dark Elves) but they want to roleplay them as "funny looking human" (hence the conceit of "I am from Menzoberranzan, but I'm special) that is the transitional step, then everyone want to play them as human with stat bonuses, then as they are clearly recognized as human, people want to identify with them and self-insert in the setting (instead of aknowledging that they are playing a role, like an actor playing Hitler in a movie not being actually embracing Third Reich ideology) and then, ultimately, it becomes difficult from writers of a particular setting to assign inhuman mentality to inhuman species because of the way most of them are played. And since they are depicted as quasi-humans and not from another species, people will want to play them as humans... until the point when they are effectively funny looking humans in the lore, and we could make them humans altogether with just cultural differences without losing anything.
This is how it has always been since the game was invented. 99.99% of people play what they think is cool... not to get into the mindset of an alien creature and trying to give an accurate representation of what being that type of creature would be. This is a game first and foremost, not an acting exercise.

How many people out here have had long philosophical arguments with themselves about how a truly "long-lived" species might behave? How would an 600 year old elf actually act? And how would you portray that at every game session, in every roleplay encounter, and in every combat? Why is this elf going out to "adventure" now, after 600 years, to team up with these insolent Humans who just can't sit still? Does that kind of stuff actually enter your mind on every decision you make when your wood elf rogue is leading your party members into some deadly dungeon? My guess is 99.99% of you do not. Instead, your experience is the same as most of us... your PC (whatever race it is) goes into the dungeon and kills stuff and takes their treasure. The exact same methodology players have had for over 40 years, whether they were playing humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, gnomes or whomever.

And with that methodology... it doesn't matter in the slightest what the color of skin your PC has. So if you want it to match your own regardless of the race... there's absolutely no reason for you not to be able to do it.
 

Shardstone

Hero
Publisher
Why do we need an emotional stake in imaginary people?

Because we people of color are sick and tired of seeing nothing but white people in Fantasy. White elves, white gnomes, white halflings, white dwarves, etc. And when you're white, it is whatever. But when you're not white, especially in today's racial climate (specifically in America), it sure makes the entire hobby seem a lot more alienating to see that you aren't represented in the vast majority of the art, and that your skin color never gets to be shared by anything as awesome or cool as elves.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
This is how it has always been since the game was invented. 99.99% of people play what they think is cool... not to get into the mindset of an alien creature and trying to give an accurate representation of what being that type of creature would be. This is a game first and foremost, not an acting exercise.

How many people out here have had long philosophical arguments with themselves about how a truly "long-lived" species might behave? How would an 600 year old elf actually act? And how would you portray that at every game session, in every roleplay encounter, and in every combat? Why is this elf going out to "adventure" now, after 600 years, to team up with these insolent Humans who just can't sit still? Does that kind of stuff actually enter your mind on every decision you make when your wood elf rogue is leading your party members into some deadly dungeon? My guess is 99.99% of you do not. Instead, your experience is the same as most of us... your PC (whatever race it is) goes into the dungeon and kills stuff and takes their treasure. The exact same methodology players have had for over 40 years, whether they were playing humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, gnomes or whomever.

And with that methodology... it doesn't matter in the slightest what the color of skin your PC has. So if you want it to match your own regardless of the race... there's absolutely no reason for you not to be able to do it.

There used to be articles in Dragon about things like that.

An elf could tell you about first hand knowledge of Elizabethan England, Fall of Constaninople, America's being "discovered".

Older Elves might remember the Mongols,the last land areas being reached by humans, the Crusades etc.

Depending on edition and subrace the oldest Elves might remember Rome, Jesus, rise of Islam etc.

Human scholar could just go and ask them what they witnessed.
 

Professor Murder

Adventurer
Woof.
It's a heavy topic. Most "Demihumans" in rpgs spring from Tolkien. As a result, most times, Dwarves, Elves, Halflings and Gnomes are pastiches of various European cultural tropes. As a result, they tend to be depicted as white. Gaming has long laboured under the spectre of being a "white man only" hobby. As a result, the natural inertia is to reinforce the white-centered narrative of how the humans and near human races are depicted. As such, there will be this persisting tendency to if not defend than to give a pass to the overwhelming whiteness of the setting. It is something the hobby will struggle to move past. Be mindful of when you find yourself siding with scoundrels. When you throw up your hands and say "I don't understand why anyone needs to play a black halfling," perhaps you are not doing so because you want to keep some people out of our hobby, but understand that: A) Said people may reasonable view it as you do not want to make space for them and B) Bigots rightly view your indifference as a win.

"But Prof! Are you saying I am being racist?"

Who knows. But you aren't doing any favors to those fighting racism in our hobby.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
So... The Thermian Argument is misplaced at best for 4 core reasons and dozens of more minor ones.

1) Flesh as we know it doesn't have a myriad of different colors across the spectrum. Feathers, Scales, Chitin, and Hair can have an array of different colors due to the way different chemical compounds suspended in a thin piece of keratin can reflect and refract light, but having those chemicals in flesh to a density that alters the tone of flesh is either damaging or extremely unusual in the requirements to get it to stay a given color. Take Sjorgen's Syndrome or "Papa Smurf" Syndrome. Dry mucosal tissues and eyes, nerve damage, swollen glands, brain fog, dental issues, and chronic coughing. Meanwhile Lycopenemia, orange-red skin from ingesting too much red foods, requires a constant continued intake of red foods to keep your skin that unusual color but has no long term side effects except looking weird. If a creature has Flesh as we understand it (Skin, dermal tissues, fat, muscle, blood) it's gonna be somewhere on a scale from albino to hypermelanistic with very few outlying options caused primarily by environmental interactions.

2) Unless your D&D world has a drastically different surface environment than Earth (And pretty much every D&D Setting is just Earth with Different Geography) where humans, dogs, monkeys, deer, and foxes have "Evolved" in the same way as on Earth, there's no significant environmental expectation for Purple six-armed elves with a single eye in their forehead.

3) The Gods are generally the ones creating all the player races rather than actual evolution. Which, y'know, -explains- why the worlds are all earth-like and have dogs and foxes and otters and bears and stuff.

4) You're trying to use a discussion of Alien Life to discount the possibility of players enjoying an environment where they have representations of themselves in a fantasy setting. Like. Maybe you enjoy a situation where you can flick on a TV Screen or pop open a Fantasy Novel and be abjectly certain that SOMEONE on that screen or in that narrative is gonna look like or be like you in enough ways for you to envision yourself in that role, but it ain't that way for the rest of us most of the time. And using infantilizing speech such as "This seems to me to be kind of silly. Why do we have an emotional stake in peoples that are imaginary?" is just the cherry on top for the dismissive ice-cream sundae.

People crave representation. That's all. Enjoy your settings where you get into ridiculously wild crazy stuff. Lots of people will. But that's massively irrelevant to the actual question of people wanting to play characters who are like themselves.
 

So @Kobold Avenger started an interesting thread about diversity in D&D--in fantasy worlds broadly, really--and the degree to which 'races' that are not humans ought to be more representative of IRL humankind than they tend to be. I wanted to reply to that thread with a long and pedantic post, but at about 5 pages in it meandered into a long comic tangent about Dwarven luchadors (you do you, folks) so I am starting a new thread instead. A brief recap of that OP (if it's not still on the front page):


There are some pretty obvious practical ways to handle diversity--inviting players to be co-creators of the setting and the peoples that live in it, imagining settings that are diverse to begin with, or, in an established setting, having generally modern sensibilities about ethnic difference--but the elephant in the room whenever this topic comes up is that elves, dwarves, and what have you are imaginary. Their differences are constructed from nothing but pop culture, and they can be recreated as symbols for anything a prospective DM, author, or screenwriter wants.

Any argument about what they are/should be in any particular setting is, ultimately, a Thermian Argument or an ethics/politics argument. It's either:
  1. The tradition of description of elves in D&D (or other property) is that they are XYZ; elves need to have XYZ characteristic or they aren't really elves.
  2. Elves should inclusively represent diverse groups--thereby promoting equality/fairness--and should, therefore, be unbound by prior XYZ conventions.
This seems to me to be kind of silly. Why do we have an emotional stake in peoples that are imaginary? To the extent that we invent fantastical creatures to inhabit fantastical worlds, why do we need to police our tropes or replicate our historical baggage in microcosm? Either elves, symbolically, are just people (who arbitrarily live 1000 years), and there's no particularly compelling reason that they shouldn't look like anything that people look like. Or--alternately--elves are not symbolic of people, in which case they look like a specific thing that is purposively orthogonal to people and has no relevance to contemporary concerns.

Consider, for example, how little it matters what color the fur of a Tabaxi is. Tabaxi are about as anthropomorphic as it gets, but our diversity concerns are basically irrelevant to them. Consider also dragonborn, yuan-ti, hobgoblins, loxodons, and so on.

So, my thinking is that, unless elves, dwarves, halflings, and gnomes are different enough from humans that we don't care about their race-politics, they are symbolically just lumpy humans. And lumpy humans don't need a different color scheme. Moreover, we should be honest with ourselves that lumpy humans don't really add much to D&D/fantasy fiction beyond just... humans.


...FYI, my elves have four arms and camouflage patterned skin--they are a back-to-nature luddite sect of space aliens that used crystal tech to engineer themselves for arboreal fitness.
I think that the intent of the thread is that in (generally pre 5e) D&D art, most of the human-like races were depicted as "white" - Which satisfies neither of your conditions.

If Elves, Dwarves, Halflings and Gnomes are all non-human enough that human diversity concerns no longer apply, then there is no particular reason why most of their skin colours would all be the same as a specific ethnicity of humans.

If Elves, Dwarves, Halflings and Gnomes are all human enough that human diversity concerns do apply, then they should show that diversity, rather than all the illustrations defaulting to the same shade as a single ethnicity of humans.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
So... The Thermian Argument is misplaced at best for 4 core reasons and dozens of more minor ones.

1) Flesh as we know it doesn't have a myriad of different colors across the spectrum. Feathers, Scales, Chitin, and Hair can have an array of different colors due to the way different chemical compounds suspended in a thin piece of keratin can reflect and refract light, but having those chemicals in flesh to a density that alters the tone of flesh is either damaging or extremely unusual in the requirements to get it to stay a given color. Take Sjorgen's Syndrome or "Papa Smurf" Syndrome. Dry mucosal tissues and eyes, nerve damage, swollen glands, brain fog, dental issues, and chronic coughing. Meanwhile Lycopenemia, orange-red skin from ingesting too much red foods, requires a constant continued intake of red foods to keep your skin that unusual color but has no long term side effects except looking weird. If a creature has Flesh as we understand it (Skin, dermal tissues, fat, muscle, blood) it's gonna be somewhere on a scale from albino to hypermelanistic with very few outlying options caused primarily by environmental interactions.

2) Unless your D&D world has a drastically different surface environment than Earth (And pretty much every D&D Setting is just Earth with Different Geography) where humans, dogs, monkeys, deer, and foxes have "Evolved" in the same way as on Earth, there's no significant environmental expectation for Purple six-armed elves with a single eye in their forehead.

3) The Gods are generally the ones creating all the player races rather than actual evolution. Which, y'know, -explains- why the worlds are all earth-like and have dogs and foxes and otters and bears and stuff.

4) You're trying to use a discussion of Alien Life to discount the possibility of players enjoying an environment where they have representations of themselves in a fantasy setting. Like. Maybe you enjoy a situation where you can flick on a TV Screen or pop open a Fantasy Novel and be abjectly certain that SOMEONE on that screen or in that narrative is gonna look like or be like you in enough ways for you to envision yourself in that role, but it ain't that way for the rest of us most of the time. And using infantilizing speech such as "This seems to me to be kind of silly. Why do we have an emotional stake in peoples that are imaginary?" is just the cherry on top for the dismissive ice-cream sundae.

People crave representation. That's all. Enjoy your settings where you get into ridiculously wild crazy stuff. Lots of people will. But that's massively irrelevant to the actual question of people wanting to play characters who are like themselves.

Generally I don't care to much it has to be vaguely plausible though unless it's not a vaguely humanoid species.

Current campaign Drow. One player played a kobold one is looking at a mountain dwarf.

Previous game was Caribbean. Anything skin tone from America's, Africa, Europe was fine. I may have said no to a Samurai or something but it never came up.

Previous to that was Nuria Natal (not Egypt). Everyone was not white apart from that one guy who wanted a not Viking and Midgard has that as an option so I allowed it.

Generally I prefer somewhat locals vs far off lands but somewhat far off is plausible so I usually allow that.

The player pick the theme though and 80% of then tend to roll with it and pick the spotlighted options..

Midgard doesn't have Drow and elves are Uber rare so I wasn't allowing either I Nuria Natal but they have a not Egyptian Dwarf which is cool.
 

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