Do We Still Need "Race" in D&D?

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The term "race" is a staple of fantasy that is now out of sync with modern usage. With Pathfinder shifting from "race" to "ancestry" in its latest edition, it raises the question: should fantasy games still use it?


“Race” and Modern Parlance

We previously discussed the challenges of representing real-life cultures in a fantasy world, with African and Asian countries being just two examples. The discussion becomes more complicated with fantasy "races"—historically, race was believed to be determined by the geographic arrangement of populations. Fantasy gaming, which has its roots in fantasy literature, still uses the term “race” this way.

Co-creator of D&D Gary Gygax cited R.E. Howard's Conan series as an influence on D&D, which combines Lovecraftian elements with sword and sorcery. Howard's perceptions may have been a sign of the times he lived in, but it seems likely they influenced his stories. Robert B. Marks explains just how these stereotypes manifested in Conan's world:

The young, vibrant civilizations of the Hyborian Age, like Aquilonia and Nemedia, are white - the equivalent of Medieval Europe. Around them are older Asiatic civilizations like Stygia and Vendhya, ancient, decrepit, and living on borrowed time. To the northwest and the south are the barbarian lands - but only Asgard and Vanaheim are in any way Viking. The Black Kingdoms are filled with tribesmen evoking the early 20th century vision of darkest Africa, and the Cimmerians and Picts are a strange cross between the ancient Celts and Native Americans - and it is very clear that the barbarians and savages, and not any of the civilized people or races, will be the last ones standing.


Which leads us to the other major fantasy influence, author J.R.R. Tolkien. David M. Perry explains in an interview with Helen Young:

In Middle Earth, unlike reality, race is objectively real rather than socially constructed. There are species (elves, men, dwarves, etc.), but within those species there are races that conform to 19th-century race theory, in that their physical attributes (hair color, etc.) are associated with non-physical attributes that are both personal and cultural. There is also an explicit racial hierarchy which is, again, real in the world of the story.


The Angry GM elaborates on why race and culture were blended in Tolkien's works:

The thing is, in the Tolkienverse, at least, in the Lord of the Rings version of the Tolkienverse (because I can’t speak for what happened in the Cinnabon or whatever that other book was called), the races were all very insular and isolated. They didn’t deal with one another. Race and culture went hand in hand. If you were a wood elf, you were raised by wood elves and lived a thoroughly wood elf lifestyle until that whole One Ring issue made you hang out with humans and dwarves and halflings. That isolation was constantly thrust into the spotlight. Hell, it was a major issue in The Hobbit.


Given the prominence of race in fantasy, it's not surprising that D&D has continued the trend. That trend now seems out of sync with modern parlance; in 1951, the United Nations officially declared that the differences among humans were "insignificant in relation to the anthropological sameness among the peoples who are the human race."

“Race” and Game Design

Chris Van Dyke's essay on race back in 2008 explains how pervasive "race" is in D&D:

Anyone who has played D&D has spent a lot of time talking about race – “Racial Attributes,” “Racial Restrictions,” “Racial Bonuses.” Everyone knows that different races don’t get along – thanks to Tolkien, Dwarves and Elves tend to distrust each other, and even non-gamers know that Orcs and Goblins are, by their very nature, evil creatures. Race is one of the most important aspects of any fantasy role-playing game, and the belief that there are certain inherent genetic and social distinctions between different races is built into every level of most (if not all) Fantasy Role-Playing Games.


Racial characteristics in D&D have changed over time. Basic Dungeons & Dragons didn't distinguish between race and class for non-humans, such that one played a dwarf, elf, or halfling -- or a human fighter or cleric. The characteristics of race were so tightly intertwined that race and profession were considered one.

In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the changes became more nuanced, but not without some downsides on character advancement, particularly in allowing “demihumans” to multiclass but with level limits preventing them from exceeding humanity, who had unlimited potential (but could only dual-class).

With Fifth Edition, ability penalties and level caps have been removed, but racial bonuses and proficiencies still apply. The Angry GM explains why this is a problem:

In 5E, you choose a race and a class, but you also choose a background. And the background represents your formative education and socio-economic standing and all that other stuff that basically represents the environment in which you were raised. The racial abilities still haven’t changed even though there is now a really good place for “cultural racial abilities” to live. So, here’s where the oddity arises. An elf urchin will automatically be proficient with a longsword and longbow, two weapons that requires years of training to even become remotely talent with, but a human soldier does not get any automatic martial training. Obviously, in both cases, class will modify that. But in the life of your character, race happens first, then background, and only later on do you end up a member of a class. It’s very quirky.


Perhaps this is why Pathfinder decided to take a different approach to race by shifting to the term “ancestry”:

Beyond the narrative, there are many things that have changed, but mostly in the details of how the game works. You still pick a race, even though it is now called your ancestry. You still decide on your class—the rulebook includes all of the core classes from the First Edition Core Rulebook, plus the alchemist. You still select feats, but these now come from a greater variety of sources, such as your ancestry, your class, and your skills.


"Ancestry" is not just a replacement for the word “race.” It’s a fluid term that requires the player to make choices at character creation and as the character advances. This gives an opportunity to express human ethnicities in game terms, including half-elves and half-orcs, without forcing the “subrace” construct.

The Last Race

It seems likely that, from both a modern parlance and game design perspective, “race” as it is used today will fall out of favor in fantasy games. It’s just going to take time. Indigo Boock sums up the challenge:

Fantasy is a doubled edged sword. Every human culture has some form of fantasy, we all have some sort of immortal ethereal realm where our elven creatures dwell. There’s always this realm that transcends culture. Tolkien said, distinct from science fiction (which looks to the future), fantasy is to feel like one with the entire universe. Fantasy is real, deep human yearning. We look to it as escapism, whether we play D&D, or Skyrim, or you are like myself and write fantasy. There are unfortunately some old cultural tropes that need to be discarded, and it can be frustratingly slow to see those things phased out.


Here's hoping other role-playing games will follow Pathfinder's lead in how treats its fantasy people in future editions.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
 
Michael Tresca

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TrippyHippy

Adventurer
I've never seen Aragorn as a half-elf in any way. He's a human, though an exceptional one.

And I've never quite got my head around why Rangers get spell use of any kind, based on Aragorn; I always assumed that notion came from somewhere else. Aragorn/Strider heals with herbs, and magical herbs is a design space the game has for some reason always ignored. He can, however, use magic devices just fine (e.g. the palantir).
The way I read it is that not all spells are arcane or wizardly. Most of the Ranger spells, if you look at them, are really just one-shot effects. Rangers get to heal, call shots and survive in wilderness with the 'spells' they have. So, don't look at them as spells, just think of them of particularly mysterious, one shot effects that they can do using things like herbs anda general awareness.
 

Aldarc

Adventurer
I've never seen Aragorn as a half-elf in any way. He's a human, though an exceptional one.
Consider that elves and humans have different destinies in Tolkien. Humans are mortal and elves are immortal. The various known "half-elves" had to choose how they would be counted, as elves or humans. So for the most part, it was human or elf sort of scenario. We don't have that in D&D. Numenoreans - particularly those of the line of Elros - and their descendants, e.g. the Dunedain, largely exist in the space between elves and humans. They are "functionally human" for the purposes of Tolkien in that they are mortal, but they are also had much longer lives and incorporated a lot of elvish culture. They even had an almost charismatic presence. They are considered "high men." In terms of D&D, the Numenoreans are functionally half-elves, at least in the absence of an "Atlantean" or "High Human" ancestry.
 

pemerton

Legend
But those are because of his bloodline of the Numenorean kings. The Palantir responds to him because of that. The Athelas is more potent for him because of that. A lot of what is part of Aragorn is not because of any class we try to fit him into, but because of his blood and ancestry. He was taught how to use the stuff, but the ability to was already in him when he was born. For 5E, he would need a Wilderness Explorer sub-class of Fighter or Ranger, with no spells or animal companion, just skills and abilities. And even then, no one else could be the same as him without being his relative.
Class in D&D captures all this, though, because there is no other mechanical space for it to live.

Why can a paladin heal with a touch? Why do the gods answer this person's prayers (cleric PC), but not this other person's (fighter PC)? Because of a noble and holy origin?

Why when this person calls desperately for help, late one night under the brooding stars, do the Old Ones answer and make a pact with him/her? Whereas this other person was never made the offer, and so never had the chance to become a warlock? Is it because of a stain on the former's soul? Or perhaps the alignment of the stars at the moment of her birth?

The idea that D&D classes are simply proxies for training is not really plausible if you want your game to have the capacity to pick up these pretty typical fantasy tropes.
 

Aldarc

Adventurer
[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION], from my limited understanding, a lot of that could also be covered in the Birthright setting.
 

pemerton

Legend
[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION], from my limited understanding, a lot of that could also be covered in the Birthright setting.
I don't know much about Birthright beyond that it exists (or once existed)!

I was thinking more in 4e/5e terms.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Stealing and modifying. Race is a protected class in WATERDEEP law (and many other CITY STATES) and laws exist that require classification or counting by it, which is why it is still used broadly in government. …
Elven Archer Guard, “you are under arrest Peter Parkerovick the Purple Paladin of Portaferry. For violation of 616 of the Waterdeep Anti-defamatory statues!”
Peter Parkerovick, “what did I do?”
Elven Archer Guard, “you made a joke against the Church of Tiamat!”
Peter Parkerovick, “So I said her CULTIST (monster manual 345) are wimps and go down in a round. (especially if they cute and gingers)!”
Elven Archer Guard, “That is a violation of 616. You should said NPC of a Vogue Religious Figure!”
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
The newer a religion or the smaller the number of followers, the more likely it will be called a cult, at least in the real world. Remember that at one time in history Christianity was just a cult.

And for those evil clergy, they are called cultists, maybe in homage to the cultists in Cthulhu.
I'm sure it was an homage to Cthulhu!

The word "cult" means a few different things in English.

-It can refer to something generic from the ancient world like "The cult of Osiris" which at the time was a normal religion. Usually these were pre-Christian religions that died out in Late Antiquity.
-It can also mean "new religion".
-Finally, and probably most notably these days, "cult" refers to an extremely tight-knit religious community that dominates the lives of its practitioners and is typically led by a charismatic leader. Whether the religious tradition they draw on is new or old isn't relevant. Westboro Baptist Church is rooted in Christianity but would qualify as a cult in this definition. Similarly, the Ultra-Orthodox Jews here in NYC may qualify.

The line can be a bit blurry, though, so I'd think of this more as an ideal type or family resemblance than something that can be checked with the rigor of mathematics. (I don't want to get into a nitpicking fest about this, although I guess... in addition to porn and spam, what is the internet for? Edit: Cat videos.)
 
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Eltab

Villager
Reply to something a few pages back:

The opposite of "recessive gene" is "dominant gene".

Blue eye color is a recessive gene but green eye color is dominant (in my family anyways; I'm the only one).
 
I'll restate my principal reasons, then:


I think those reasons are pretty clear. I don't see how you can say they're bad reasons. At best you can say they're reasons you don't care about because they don't affect you.

The last quoted sentence I'll ignore, as it's inanity speaks for itself.

Otherwise, "common sense" = "your own intuition". So this is another case of there being more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in your philosophy.
Your reasons are logically unsound and based on your emotions and your explanations are an example of leaps of logic intertwined with what seems to me attempts to claim the high ground.

Let me address HPL and REH. I am of the opinion that both were racists and that HPL was much more and that REH was more a product of his times. The danger of dividing the actual single human race into races can be clearly seen in REH stories where his characters discuss the white race. Conan, for example, has many non-white friends and acquaintances but there are frequent emotional appeals to the reader when he reacts the the potential danger of a white woman being raped by a non-white person and there is casual mention of the superior white race he belongs to. His stories are pretty even-handed except for the occasional jarring references to race. There is pretty good evidence that he was not well travelled and his county had few to no blacks in it, so most of his opinion was formed from reading books and absorbed from the Jim Crow South (Texas) he lived in. His stories are also excellent adventure stories and he solidly set the foundation for American Sword and Sorcery tales that lives even today.

I don’t want to go too much deeper into into HPL. Some of his personal letters are quite vile. His stories are nowhere near the level of his personal beliefs (and I find that true of REH as well), but I think that is a reflection of the pulps being very commercial and, although quite base and titilatimg, still a mass market for of literature and needed to be more mainstream in beliefs being manifested, so the editors tones down most of the worst stories.

So you and I are in agreement that those two men were racist and that we do not want that type of racism in our RPG books. However, humans were pretty much the only race addressed in their stories. If you are looking for the non-humans, there is maybe serpent folk. There are no D&D style races at all. No elves and dwarfs and hobbits and thieflngs, etc. Every single race in D&D gets a bonus. It is against the design principle of D&D to assign stat drawbacks based on race. Sexes are treated as equal and the human race in D&D is treated as one race regardless of skin color and culture.

So, again, you are confusing the evil use of race as a concept in our world with the accurate use of a word as a rule in D&D. The word race is not bad at all, it is the theory that humans have races and that some or one is better than the others is the evil. To say that elves and humans are different races is not the same and to claim they are is confused logic. I don’t accept that emotional and confused logic is a good basis for change. It actually is harmful to act based on that. Although you reject intuition and common sense, intuition in particular is often logic being worked in the background.

Your conclusion that race in D&D is the same as the bad use of race when looking at humans is terrible logic, it is the same as wanting to ban race as in a contest of speed because it is used poorly in another context.

Is that clear enough?
 
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pemerton

Legend
you are confusing the evil use of race as a concept in our world with the accurate use of a word as a rule in D&D. The word race is not bad at all, it is the theory that humans have races and that some or one is better than the others is the evil. To say that elves and humans are different races is not the same and to claim they are is confused logic.
I don't think you read my reasons closely at all. I didn't say anything about elves. And I offered no complaint about the word "race" - in fact I said that it is a crucial but challenging concept in social explanation.

But when you refer to the accurate use of the word "race", what do you mean? Clearly not that.

I'm pretty sure I know what you mean: and that's why I would like some sort of change along the lines described by [MENTION=3285]talien[/MENTION] in the OP. Because I would like my family and friends to be able to engage with my hobby without having to wade their way through all this . . . residue . . . that I have to explain away, or apologise for, as legacy baggage of the fantasy tradition.
 

Aldarc

Adventurer
So, again, you are confusing the evil use of race as a concept in our world with the accurate use of a word as a rule in D&D. The word race is not bad at all, it is the theory that humans have races and that some or one is better than the others is the evil. To say that elves and humans are different races is not the same and to claim they are is confused logic. I don’t accept that emotional and confused logic is a good basis for change. It actually is harmful to act based on that. Although you reject intuition and common sense, intuition in particular is often logic being worked in the background.

Your conclusion that race in D&D is the same as the bad use of race when looking at humans is terrible logic, it is the same as wanting to ban race as in a contest of speed because it is used poorly in another context.

Is that clear enough?
Again, I would disagree that it is this a clear cut issue or that D&D uses this term accurately because while "races" in D&D and other FRPGs may be biologically/magically distinct from each other, D&D often draws inspiration from the culture of real life human peoples for flavoring the culture of these different FRPG "races." And that is a fairly major part of the problem, IMO.

Let's take World of Warcraft as an example, because it's a bit more transparent. If I understand your argument correctly, you would likely perceive the term "race" as the appropriate term for distinguishing between, for example, humans and trolls. But humans in Warcraft's world of Azeroth are not only predominately depicted as "white" - and probably 90-95 percent so in terms of its in-game NPCs - but also the predominate culture(s) for humans therein is positively pseudo-Medieval Western Europe. There are minimal human cultures depicted outside of the Pseudo-European "Seven Kingdoms" that comprise humanity. They are furthermore depicted as the miniaturized descendants of a people called the vrykul, who are basically Nordic half-giant viking warriors.

In contrast, trolls in Warcraft are depicted as primitive and barbaric savages. Their culture(s), themes, and aesthetics draw heavily upon Afro-Caribbean and Mesoamerican cultures. They practice voodoo, worship loas, ritual sacrifice of sentient humanoids, and are occasionally cannibals. They live in ruined ancient cities and straw huts. Their empires, kingdoms, tribes and people, etc. are depicted as in a state of constant decline, decadence, and degeneracy. And elves are treated as a more highly evolved form of troll that was "uplifted" by magic into a more civilized form. (And ancient elf society had a more Greco-Roman with sprinkling of Celto-Norse aesthetic.) And the history in Warcraft is often framed in terms of "Isn't it great that elves and humans defeated trolls in all these various points in history and took their lands?" Ouch.

I strongly suspect that you can see a lot of the red flags flying around how Warcraft presents "race." I know that Warcraft is not D&D, but Warcraft was a FRPG that grew out of the FRPG milieu that D&D established and built. (And you can even see points where Warcraft drew inspiration from various D&D settings and such.) The problem is not just an issue of whether the term "race" is accurate to describe distinct and significant biological differences between peoples or species. It's also how distinct human cultures - that were often historically relegated into a hierarchical racial schema of inferiority and superiority - are frequently mapped onto FRPG "races" to varying degrees in a wide assortment of FRPG settings. And you can most definitely see this in a variety of stereotypes that people impose on their "D&D races" and even the cultures of the "monster races" of D&D. I would say that it is the racist legacy we have inherited - that we are still trying to disassociate ourselves from - that ties race to culture and culture to race that forms the core problem of "race" in D&D. Not whether distinct species exist in D&D, but, rather, how often inadvertant racism plays out through the various "races" of D&D in terms of how real human cultures are mapped onto D&D races where those distinct biological differences exist. This is a much larger problem than the issue of using the term "race" or not, but the terminology nevertheless plays a role in this larger issue that I thankfully believe that the FRPG, on the whole, is increasingly recognizing and slowly working to correct to varying degrees of success.
 
I don't think you read my reasons closely at all. I didn't say anything about elves. And I offered no complaint about the word "race" - in fact I said that it is a crucial but challenging concept in social explanation.

But when you refer to the accurate use of the word "race", what do you mean? Clearly not that.

I'm pretty sure I know what you mean: and that's why I would like some sort of change along the lines described by @talien in the OP. Because I would like my family and friends to be able to engage with my hobby without having to wade their way through all this . . . residue . . . that I have to explain away, or apologise for, as legacy baggage of the fantasy tradition.
No, I read your comments and I simply reject your conclusion.

If there is residue (which I think is an imaginary emotional construct in your own mind) of the fantasy tradition, you will have to go back to pretty much the dawn of human history. There is no bright line where things written in the current centuries invented the base concepts and tropes.

Millions of people happily engage in the hobby using existing or previous rules and in my over 3 decades the only mainstream D&D rule I have ever had to apologize for (and which my group never used) was the old stat limits on women.

So consider that I have carefully considered the ideas you have put forth and I reject them. I don't say that you don't feel something, but I do suggest that you reexamine the source of this emotion as you are not applying your reason well to it. There is no modern day racism in 5e races or the use of the term race.

I have lived in several different countries in my life, including in one where there is actual government control and propaganda. I am slowly despairing at the way that people miss the warnings of 1984 and Animal Farm (or the movie Brazil to be more modern).
 
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Again, I would disagree that it is this a clear cut issue or that D&D uses this term accurately because while "races" in D&D and other FRPGs may be biologically/magically distinct from each other, D&D often draws inspiration from the culture of real life human peoples for flavoring the culture of these different FRPG "races." And that is a fairly major part of the problem, IMO.

Let's take World of Warcraft as an example, because it's a bit more transparent. If I understand your argument correctly, you would likely perceive the term "race" as the appropriate term for distinguishing between, for example, humans and trolls. But humans in Warcraft's world of Azeroth are not only predominately depicted as "white" - and probably 90-95 percent so in terms of its in-game NPCs - but also the predominate culture(s) for humans therein is positively pseudo-Medieval Western Europe. There are minimal human cultures depicted outside of the Pseudo-European "Seven Kingdoms" that comprise humanity. They are furthermore depicted as the miniaturized descendants of a people called the vrykul, who are basically Nordic half-giant viking warriors.

In contrast, trolls in Warcraft are depicted as primitive and barbaric savages. Their culture(s), themes, and aesthetics draw heavily upon Afro-Caribbean and Mesoamerican cultures. They practice voodoo, worship loas, ritual sacrifice of sentient humanoids, and are occasionally cannibals. They live in ruined ancient cities and straw huts. Their empires, kingdoms, tribes and people, etc. are depicted as in a state of constant decline, decadence, and degeneracy. And elves are treated as a more highly evolved form of troll that was "uplifted" by magic into a more civilized form. (And ancient elf society had a more Greco-Roman with sprinkling of Celto-Norse aesthetic.) And the history in Warcraft is often framed in terms of "Isn't it great that elves and humans defeated trolls in all these various points in history and took their lands?" Ouch.

I strongly suspect that you can see a lot of the red flags flying around how Warcraft presents "race." I know that Warcraft is not D&D, but Warcraft was a FRPG that grew out of the FRPG milieu that D&D established and built. (And you can even see points where Warcraft drew inspiration from various D&D settings and such.) The problem is not just an issue of whether the term "race" is accurate to describe distinct and significant biological differences between peoples or species. It's also how distinct human cultures - that were often historically relegated into a hierarchical racial schema of inferiority and superiority - are frequently mapped onto FRPG "races" to varying degrees in a wide assortment of FRPG settings. And you can most definitely see this in a variety of stereotypes that people impose on their "D&D races" and even the cultures of the "monster races" of D&D. I would say that it is the racist legacy we have inherited - that we are still trying to disassociate ourselves from - that ties race to culture and culture to race that forms the core problem of "race" in D&D. Not whether distinct species exist in D&D, but, rather, how often inadvertant racism plays out through the various "races" of D&D in terms of how real human cultures are mapped onto D&D races where those distinct biological differences exist. This is a much larger problem than the issue of using the term "race" or not, but the terminology nevertheless plays a role in this larger issue that I thankfully believe that the FRPG, on the whole, is increasingly recognizing and slowly working to correct to varying degrees of success.
I don't play Warcraft, I have not since the early RTS game. The only MMO I spent real time in was Eve Online where I ran a large and successful and mean pirate alliance.

I don't think there is a need to change a good use of race in 5e D&D because, maybe (as I don't know Warcraft), another game does it poorly.

I think this is a false struggle and topic. There is real racism that matters that can be fought. I have done it in the best way I know, which is hiring well as senior management based on talent, not where people are from or their gender, and in raising my children to reject racism (I seem to have spawned 3 left leaning fighters for social justice, but I struggle to see why that is a bad thing even if I am more conservative). I do know that illogical leaps and conclusions are dangerous. If other games get it wrong, the game that got it right does not have to change.
 

james501

Villager
The last quoted sentence I'll ignore, as it's inanity speaks for itself.

Otherwise, "common sense" = "your own intuition". So this is another case of there being more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in your philosophy.
I had explained my reasoning about "common sense", dunn owhy you didnt include it.
But here we go again :

"race" in the real world is used to seperate humans.
"race" in fantasy is used in a different context to separate species. Humans in fantasy are a single race.
Different context is important.


Also no, my last sentence isnt "insanity".
Quite the opposite actually. To determine something is offensive you must see evidence of people actually getting offended.
When fantasy has used such terminology for long time without anyone caring or demanding it changed, and non-white people still play it, it is evident it isnt the problem it is made out to be.
 
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james501

Villager
In contrast, trolls in Warcraft are depicted as primitive and barbaric savages. Their culture(s), themes, and aesthetics draw heavily upon Afro-Caribbean and Mesoamerican cultures. They practice voodoo, worship loas, ritual sacrifice of sentient humanoids, and are occasionally cannibals. They live in ruined ancient cities and straw huts. Their empires, kingdoms, tribes and people, etc. are depicted as in a state of constant decline, decadence, and degeneracy. And elves are treated as a more highly evolved form of troll that was "uplifted" by magic into a more civilized form. (And ancient elf society had a more Greco-Roman with sprinkling of Celto-Norse aesthetic.) And the history in Warcraft is often framed in terms of "Isn't it great that elves and humans defeated trolls in all these various points in history and took their lands?" Ouch.
The humans and elves didnt quite take their lands. The humasn certainly didnt as they lived in their own ones. The Elves founded their capital, uknowingly, upon an ancient buried Troll city which did anger the Troll,s but the region the Elves colonised wanst inhabited itself.

Also the specific Trolls that they waged war with, the Amani, although still retain Loa and other elements, dont have a very distinct real life counterpart. They resemble neither Mesoamericans (which are the Zandalari, and have become allies in the new Xpac), nor Afro-Carribean (the Darkspear, who arent cannibals, dont sacrifice sentients and werent ever "evil" or enemies).


Also, European cultures are similarly portrayed as enemies :

The Ogres are an expy of the Roman Empire.
The Vrykul obviously are vikings.
The Forsaken (not enemies per ser, but portrayed as immoral and ruthless) draw from Gothic Architecture.
 
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Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
Let me address HPL and REH. I am of the opinion that both were racists and that HPL was much more and that REH was more a product of his times.
I agree about REH. I think he's much more an example of "product of his times." He might even be somewhat more open-minded than many of his background and era given that Conan "had black friends" and there are a number of independent female characters in the stories. Neither are things a hardcore racist/sexist of the time would countenance at all.

HPL... yeah, no question about his private beliefs being noxiously racist, even for his era.

I think that is a reflection of the pulps being very commercial and, although quite base and titilatimg, still a mass market for of literature and needed to be more mainstream in beliefs being manifested, so the editors tones down most of the worst stories.
That's true. In addition, in some respects there's a 1930s version of social justice or at least open-minded aspect to some of these stories that has often been forgotten. The pulps had authors such as Catherine Louise C. L. Moore, who wrote Jirel of Joiry, one of the first notable heroines who ruled lands in her own name and was a clearly competent warrior as well. Certainly there was to superhero comic books like Superman and, even more notably, Wonder Woman. By the 1960s, the X-Men had a pretty clear agenda to anyone paying attention.
 

TheCosmicKid

Adventurer
I agree about REH. I think he's much more an example of "product of his times." He might even be somewhat more open-minded than many of his background and era given that Conan "had black friends" and there are a number of independent female characters in the stories. Neither are things a hardcore racist/sexist of the time would countenance at all.
In addition, there's a pretty obvious divide in the REH canon between stories he wrote for a quick paycheck and stories he wrote because he wanted to, and the former deal in cheap stereotypes and flat female characters while the latter show some interest in asking questions about race and culture and gender. Much like Tolkien, nobody is gonna accuse Howard of being a 21st-Century progressive, but he had an active mind and an interest in the subject, when he had the freedom to exercise it.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
"race" in the real world is used to seperate humans.
"race" in fantasy is used in a different context to separate species. Humans in fantasy are a single race.
Different context is important.
Agreed, 100%

When fantasy has used such terminology for long time without anyone caring or demanding it changed, and non-white people still play it, it is evident it isnt the problem it is made out to be.
This doesn’t exactly track. Minorities are still engaged with genre fiction and the other entertainment derived therefrom in very small numbers, despite the measurable shift in American demographics. The dearth of complaints may be less of a testimony to the issue than the lack of participation.

Put differently, the reason you may not see the complaints is because minorities are still staying away in droves. That the USA is now @72% white, but roleplaying is closer to 90%+ indicates there is a lag in participation. Why would this be? It could be a simple whiff of unwelcoming culture in the hobby, either from the words used or the players themselves. Or both.

It isn’t clear, one way or the other.

As hinted before, the fact that I can shrug this stuff off and continue to play despite the issues is no indication as to how others will react. Upthread I mentioned I only knew 2 other black gamers. I forgot one.

I have a cousin who lives a couple blocks from me, and he’s about half my age. I haven’t heard him peep about the issue. But we rarely discuss race issues in general. But I do know he’s an enthusiastic gamer in what appears to be a diverse and really cool bunch of kids.
 
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