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D&D General Demihumans of Color and the Thermian Argument

Mirtek

Hero
That said, if I offended you in any way,
I am not. I just want to point that it's practically impossible to come up with any kind of trait or theme for demihumans that would not offend someone somwhere.

So practically the only solution would be "these are short, stocky humans, these are tall, thin humans, this are short humans, less stocky than those other short humans, etc." and then just say "beyond that there's no common theme/trait amon them, they are all just as different from each other as the normal humans".

No matter what trait you assign them and what reason you give for that trait, it will be viewed negative and give reason to complain.

Even a positive prejudice is just a prejudice at the end of the day.
 

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Fanaelialae

Legend
I am not. I just want to point that it's practically impossible to come up with any kind of trait or theme for demihumans that would not offend someone somwhere.

So practically the only solution would be "these are short, stocky humans, these are tall, thin humans, this are short humans, less stocky than those other short humans, etc." and then just say "beyond that there's no common theme/trait amon them, they are all just as different from each other as the normal humans".

No matter what trait you assign them and what reason you give for that trait, it will be viewed negative and give reason to complain.

Even a positive prejudice is just a prejudice at the end of the day.
I disagree. That seems a bit extreme. Equivalent to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
 

It's all silly. All of it. Both sides of the argument.

Representation matters, especially in the art of the game. The science behind melatonin and skin color is accurate until Inuit, Athabascan, and twenty other groups of humans are looked at. No doubt, evolution on a fantasy planet is a super fun thing to play using mental gymnastics. It's a past time many world builders do. And as much as millennia-environment matters, so does technology and mode of travel and diet.

And then there is magic and gods. Lots of gods. Could a god choose to make a race immune to evolution? Sure, why not. It's a fantasy world. Could a god choose to make a creature with just green skin? Sure.

I think one reason some people still enjoy the Tolkien ideal is this: The races are more like species. They are different. How? (And here is the punch) Some are actually better than others. But, in a game that insists everything is balanced and even, that opportunity does not exist.* Therefore, what we are left with is people arguing about diversity of halflings or elves, when it is incredibly apparent that both sides can be right. Want your elves in the desert to be shaped by the forces of nature? Go ahead. Give them darker skin. Want your elves to be born of divinity and immune to nature's effects? Go ahead, give them gold or silver or white or purple or black skin.

* There is a way around this in D&D. You could have the longer living races simply be a higher level; a product of their long lives. Hence, the average dwarf is 4th or 6th level. The elf is 10th or 12th. But, now I'm just being silly. ;)
 

By inhuman, I mean what is typical for a member of a given species is atypical (or impossible) for a typical human.

And see, particularly in the former case "atypical for humans" and "inhuman" seem pretty far apart.

I've also used the term nonhuman (and maybe others as well) so I think leaning on the idea that the terminology is "loaded" is a bit disingenuous. It's not like it's the only term I've used. I'm simply trying to convey the notion defined above without having to use an entire sentence. If you have a suggestion for a better term that encompasses the above, go ahead.

I'm not sure "nonhuman" is all that much better for the first two. Sometimes there's just not going to be a good abbreviated way to refer to something without confusion. Communication sometimes requires heavy lifting. Using "nonhuman" or "inhuman" to refer to things that could refer to human subsets is just asking for that. Even for the two where it was arguably appropriate, it implies a much more severe difference than is present.

When I hear "inhuman" I think of things like the Traveller 2300 aliens (which, notably, would be very difficult for someone to roleplay on any extended basis in many cases). After all, what you're talking about is well within the normal range of TV SF show alien depiction.
 

I think it can certainly be a bad thing if dwarves are meant to represent a real world group. Or even if one didn't intend it that way, but one of their players takes it to have that meaning.

A lot of it would depend on other elements of the depiction, I expect. There's a reason the new Master of Orion Gnolam don't look at all visually like the MOO2 ones; it removed an awful lot of odious implication.
 

I think it can certainly be a bad thing if dwarves are meant to represent a real world group. Or even if one didn't intend it that way, but one of their players takes it to have that meaning.
Thing is that the author is never the one that gets to decide this. If your work ends up being read as a negative real world stereotype and offends a group, then you'd better go back and check what you wrote even if you never intended that. Unless it's a group that you don't care about or even want to offend, like anchovy haters.
 

I have to admit, I do have some fairly strong expectations when someone comes to the table with a non-human race. Err, strong is probably the wrong word. But, I do expect it to be part of the portrayal of the character. If someone watching the game for a couple of sessions would have no idea what race a character is, then I get a bit shirty. As long as the player is making an honest attempt at it, I'm pretty content, regardless of quality. But, I've seen far too many players who played this or that race simply for the bonuses and it annoys me. I do consider it pretty bad play. Or, at the very least, not the kind of play I want to play with, if that's a better way of saying it.

Like I said, a little goes a long way. You don't need funny voices or anything like that. But, if you're playing a halfling (to use a somewhat abused example :D) then maybe mentioning having difficulty getting into a chair or stairs once in a while wouldn't kill you. Part of role play, to me, is portraying a character. If the portrayal is so lacking that someone watching doesn't even know that you're not human? Yeah, I'm not really down with playing with that person. It just sucks all the joy out of the game for me.

My basic feeling is that people have different levels of investment in how much they commit to characters, and its not my business to tell them what level that should be. There's nothing wrong with preferring to play with people with specific investment levels, but that's still different than expecting that level, to me.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
And see, particularly in the former case "atypical for humans" and "inhuman" seem pretty far apart.



I'm not sure "nonhuman" is all that much better for the first two. Sometimes there's just not going to be a good abbreviated way to refer to something without confusion. Communication sometimes requires heavy lifting. Using "nonhuman" or "inhuman" to refer to things that could refer to human subsets is just asking for that. Even for the two where it was arguably appropriate, it implies a much more severe difference than is present.

When I hear "inhuman" I think of things like the Traveller 2300 aliens (which, notably, would be very difficult for someone to roleplay on any extended basis in many cases). After all, what you're talking about is well within the normal range of TV SF show alien depiction.
Personally, I think that people can be reasonably expected to apprehend meaning from context.

If we're talking about inhuman mindsets in the context of D&D, it seems silly to assume that the intent is a mindset that isn't remotely human in any way, shape, or form. I am a human, so conceiving of such a mindset would fall somewhere between challenging and impossible.

By your criteria, I don't think a dog could be considered to have a nonhuman mind, which is clearly absurd. A dog's mind may have some similarities to ours, but in many ways it is quite different, and therefore is obviously nonhuman.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Thing is that the author is never the one that gets to decide this. If your work ends up being read as a negative real world stereotype and offends a group, then you'd better go back and check what you wrote even if you never intended that. Unless it's a group that you don't care about or even want to offend, like anchovy haters.
Absolutely.

Although no one's going to read my work except for my gaming group, and I'm confident that they won't draw any false comparisons that might offend them. I suppose I occasionally share my ideas on ENWorld, so you guys might get offended, but in that case I'd simply apologize (genuinely, I have no desire to offend anyone) and probably stop posting my ideas on ENWorld, to avoid offending anyone in the future.
 

Personally, I think that people can be reasonably expected to apprehend meaning from context.

If we're talking about inhuman mindsets in the context of D&D, it seems silly to assume that the intent is a mindset that isn't remotely human in any way, shape, or form. I am a human, so conceiving of such a mindset would fall somewhere between challenging and impossible.

Given I've seen people in related discussions largely suggest that even fantasy nonhumans should have extremely alien mindsets, I'm afraid I don't think context helps you much here.

By your criteria, I don't think a dog could be considered to have a nonhuman mind, which is clearly absurd. A dog's mind may have some similarities to ours, but in many ways it is quite different, and therefore is obviously nonhuman.

I think there's a big gap between "has some traits based on having different senses or cultural differences" and "has radically different biology in multiple important ways", so no, I can't agree with your premise in this paragraph. Most nonhumans in fantasy are humanoids with not radically different diets or environmental tolerances or general social structures. There's quite a bit of difference between that and what you'd expect from a dog, even one with human levels of intelligence.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Given I've seen people in related discussions largely suggest that even fantasy nonhumans should have extremely alien mindsets, I'm afraid I don't think context helps you much here.



I think there's a big gap between "has some traits based on having different senses or cultural differences" and "has radically different biology in multiple important ways", so no, I can't agree with your premise in this paragraph. Most nonhumans in fantasy are humanoids with not radically different diets or environmental tolerances or general social structures. There's quite a bit of difference between that and what you'd expect from a dog, even one with human levels of intelligence.
I don't think that many people (anyone?) have been suggesting that the elves and dwarves in the PHB are particularly nonhuman. We've been saying that we like to modify them to make them nonhuman.

Here's one from one of my actual campaigns, for example. The actual write up is fairly long, but I'll try to summarize it as best I can.

I changed elves so that they were (literally) the seeds of enormous world trees. The world trees basically ate some humanoids and used them as a template to create mobile seeds. Many of these elves were cautious. Rather than embracing YOLO, they perceived their humanoid form as a sort of pre-life. They were still waiting to be truly born. They were carnivorous, because the world trees become one with local vegetation (they literally are the forest) and to most elves being served veggies was akin to their mother's finger on a plate. They were also asexual, technically capable of reproducing sexually, but finding the idea of it disgusting. They saw themselves as having more in common with plants than animals, and looked forward to the day when they could (literally) set down roots. However, some did set out into the world, because if they remained near their parent, they would simply become one with their parent tree. If they wanted to become a true world tree, they needed to find their own lands to set roots in (and, hopefully, also protectors for when this time came). While there were elves in the world that ate their veggies and had sex, they were quite atypical for elves.

If what is considered typical for humans is atypical for these elves (specifically with regard to the species as a whole, rather than individual cultures), then I think that clearly demonstrates a nonhuman mindset. Even if an atypical member of that species might resemble a typical human mindset.

Regardless, I don't see a significant likelihood of this line of discussion going anywhere useful, so I will probably not respond further regarding this topic.
 


Wereserpent

Explorer
I would let a player play an elf or halfling etc. of whatever color they want. I do not see the big deal as we are playing to have fun in the first place so my players having fun means I have fun. Same thing goes for LGBT characters.
 

slobster

Hero
I would let a player play an elf or halfling etc. of whatever color they want. I do not see the big deal as we are playing to have fun in the first place so my players having fun means I have fun. Same thing goes for LGBT characters.
I don't let players portray straight characters in my games. Nothing against that, I just don't like people injecting politics into my gametime.

/s or whatever people need to know that I'm kidding. ;)
 

I think there's a big gap between "has some traits based on having different senses or cultural differences" and "has radically different biology in multiple important ways", so no, I can't agree with your premise in this paragraph. Most nonhumans in fantasy are humanoids with not radically different diets or environmental tolerances or general social structures. There's quite a bit of difference between that and what you'd expect from a dog, even one with human levels of intelligence.

An ape or a monkey then, instead of a dog.

Or perhaps a dog vs a cat
 

Honestly, I can't help feel that most of these connections and implications people are seeing aren't really there. A lot of this conversation feels like it's only one step removed from the Manson Family's claims that the song Helter Skelter contained secret orders telling them to jumpstart the end of the world
 

An ape or a monkey then, instead of a dog.

Or perhaps a dog vs a cat


I'm not actually convinced an evolved ape would automatically be different enough from a human that the typical TV alien doesn't cover the job.

As for an intelligent dog versus an intelligent cat, that gets into imponderables, because there are some very catlike dogs and doglike cats, so there's some serious elements of nurture versus nature there.
 

Honestly, I can't help feel that most of these connections and implications people are seeing aren't really there. A lot of this conversation feels like it's only one step removed from the Manson Family's claims that the song Helter Skelter contained secret orders telling them to jumpstart the end of the world

In the end, with things like this, if enough people see it, whether its "there" in any objective sense is almost irrelevant.
 

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