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D&D General Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes and Halflings of Color

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.

maxresdefault.jpg

Dara from the Netflix adaptation of Witcher as an example.

But for others DMs they have to work in something. Are Halflings and the others for example as widespread as Humans are in that campaign world, virtually living everywhere that Humans do? If so then yes. This would in many ways be the Shadowrun approach, which conceivably Shadowrun might be the first RPG where "metahumans" of different ethnicities are a canonical and established thing where a Dwarf could be from Shanghai and an Elf could be from Nairobi.

But there also could be something like for example, where at one time there were different cultures and ethnicities of Elves (not counting subraces) but they moved around a lot and mixed, such that there is no real distinct cultural differences in Elves anymore. A lot of times the assumption is that they somehow default to a European culture, though Eberron has an Elven culture that's sort of has a bit Arabic influences, and another that has African and other influences.

Now the idea of Elves, Dwarves and Halflings in D&D of course comes from Tolkien's work. Despite Elves and Dwarves having origins in Germanic myths, Elves as commonly depicted in fantasy are sort of the Aos Si of Celtic myths, and despite the fact that Tolkien tried to depict Dwarves as being Jewish they somehow commonly became Scottish (someone once joked what if Dwarves were Mexican). Halflings (as Hobbits) are mostly original to Tolkien's work but sort of represented the humble Englishman, and Gnomes were first mentioned in the Renaissance and somehow became a caricature of Jewish people. But despite all this, they are a core part of D&D's identity among the core assumptions about most D&D campaigns.

Some settings which attempt a deep-dive into certain Earth cultures assert that there are none of those core races in the setting (but there may be local alternatives), because there's no myths about such things and cultural purity would be more of the goal. And that's fine if it's the primary setting and focus of the campaign. But in a campaign that's a lot more international where there are various "expy's" various Earth cultures living on the same world and the PCs could be from anywhere, then this is where the question of "could gnomes be from over there too?" In terms of world-building it's likely easier just to have Gnomes there, with some sort of parallel culture to the region. They may be of the same subraces as Gnomes in the PHB, but there could be some sort of local Gnomish subrace for the region. Having a completely different race in place of Gnomes everywhere else, might be too much work for many. And if there are for example regional races like Hengeyokai to use an example, then why aren't they in other places?

So back the original point is that 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.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So back the original point is that 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.

Great idea!

I'd only add that the one difficulty with the other, older races (less so the Tieflings and Dragonborn) that used to be referred to as demi-humans is that while humans were a monolithic whole that you could customize as you want, the other races had specific subraces that often were differentiated by ... skin color.

Aka, the drow problem.
 

Bitbrain

Fully vaccinated!
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.

maxresdefault.jpg

Dara from the Netflix adaptation of Witcher as an example.

But for others DMs they have to work in something. Are Halflings and the others for example as widespread as Humans are in that campaign world, virtually living everywhere that Humans do? If so then yes. This would in many ways be the Shadowrun approach, which conceivably Shadowrun might be the first RPG where "metahumans" of different ethnicities are a canonical and established thing where a Dwarf could be from Shanghai and an Elf could be from Nairobi.

But there also could be something like for example, where at one time there were different cultures and ethnicities of Elves (not counting subraces) but they moved around a lot and mixed, such that there is no real distinct cultural differences in Elves anymore. A lot of times the assumption is that they somehow default to a European culture, though Eberron has an Elven culture that's sort of has a bit Arabic influences, and another that has African and other influences.

Now the idea of Elves, Dwarves and Halflings in D&D of course comes from Tolkien's work. Despite Elves and Dwarves having origins in Germanic myths, Elves as commonly depicted in fantasy are sort of the Aos Si of Celtic myths, and despite the fact that Tolkien tried to depict Dwarves as being Jewish they somehow commonly became Scottish (someone once joked what if Dwarves were Mexican). Halflings (as Hobbits) are mostly original to Tolkien's work but sort of represented the humble Englishman, and Gnomes were first mentioned in the Renaissance and somehow became a caricature of Jewish people. But despite all this, they are a core part of D&D's identity among the core assumptions about most D&D campaigns.

Some settings which attempt a deep-dive into certain Earth cultures assert that there are none of those core races in the setting (but there may be local alternatives), because there's no myths about such things and cultural purity would be more of the goal. And that's fine if it's the primary setting and focus of the campaign. But in a campaign that's a lot more international where there are various "expy's" various Earth cultures living on the same world and the PCs could be from anywhere, then this is where the question of "could gnomes be from over there too?" In terms of world-building it's likely easier just to have Gnomes there, with some sort of parallel culture to the region. They may be of the same subraces as Gnomes in the PHB, but there could be some sort of local Gnomish subrace for the region. Having a completely different race in place of Gnomes everywhere else, might be too much work for many. And if there are for example regional races like Hengeyokai to use an example, then why aren't they in other places?

So back the original point is that 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.

In my Eberron game, the only people who look “white” are the ethnic Karrnathi humans, ethnic Aundairan humans, Bloodsail Elves, and Mror Dwarves.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
In general the closer you live to the equator, the darker your skin in my campaign no matter what humanoid species you are. There are exceptions to the rule - one set of clans that lives in the north has darker skin because they were forced out of their homeland centuries ago.

But TBH I regularly forget this when describing NPCs and it's only come up once with a PC.

I did once briefly consider having a clan of gnomes that had blue skin, but then I sobered up. ;)
 


Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I never played in Dark Sun, but just assumed that demi humans there were ethnic due to the climate. A quick google search reveals that's not the case, and they're almost all white. That's....disappointing and a miss from the TSR team when creating Dark Sun, and WoTC when continuing it.
 

aco175

Legend
FR does have gold dwarves that are dark skinned and drow elves which we all know about. I agree with your first point in that most DMs would simply allow them. In my games if a player wants a PC halfling from another land I would allow most anything similar to darker skin or more asian (ish).

Would any of this Earth-like races being applied to other fantasy races have a problem with becoming political, like what we were having with orcs and drow from a few weeks ago? I do not want to bring the big discussion up, but think it should be thought about first. I would think it is not a problem unless we start assigning bonuses and penalties based upon the other types of halflings or dwarves. Although gold dwarves may not be in 5e material.
 

Mercurius

Legend
I don't think that humans are "the only race with diversity as its thing," but that fantasy races tend to follow different types of diversity not analogous to Earth ethnicities, thus don't represent Earth human diversity.

A fantasy world, by its very nature, does not have to incorporate Earth analogues. From a world-building perspective, I like to focus on what makes sense in terms within the context of the world itself. Of course if you want to build a world in which there are, say, African dwarves and South Asian elves, I don't see why not. But it really depends upon the nature of the campaign setting. Is it a small and insular region in a northern or temperate climate? Is it a cosmopolitan city? A sub-tropical region? Etc.

In terms of skin color, most fantasy races are non-white, or have non-white sub-races. Gnomes are described as "tan or walnut brown" skinned. Dwarves range from "deep brown to a paler hue tinged with red," more commonly "tones of earth" and the gray-skinned duergar. Elves are "the normal human range" as well as "copper, bronze, and bluish white" and then, of course, the drow. Halfings are "tan to pale with a ruddy cast."

That said, the art doesn't seem to reflect the text, and most depictions of all four races--on memory--are more pale/white.
 

Would any of this Earth-like races being applied to other fantasy races have a problem with becoming political, like what we were having with orcs and drow from a few weeks ago?
There was an accusation that Asian/African/Etc Elves/Dwarves/Etc would be European colonialism forced on other cultures. I disagree with that statement considering how far they moved from their real world origins, and that I'm approaching this as a POC from a western country.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
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.

maxresdefault.jpg

Dara from the Netflix adaptation of Witcher as an example.

But for others DMs they have to work in something. Are Halflings and the others for example as widespread as Humans are in that campaign world, virtually living everywhere that Humans do? If so then yes. This would in many ways be the Shadowrun approach, which conceivably Shadowrun might be the first RPG where "metahumans" of different ethnicities are a canonical and established thing where a Dwarf could be from Shanghai and an Elf could be from Nairobi.

But there also could be something like for example, where at one time there were different cultures and ethnicities of Elves (not counting subraces) but they moved around a lot and mixed, such that there is no real distinct cultural differences in Elves anymore. A lot of times the assumption is that they somehow default to a European culture, though Eberron has an Elven culture that's sort of has a bit Arabic influences, and another that has African and other influences.

Now the idea of Elves, Dwarves and Halflings in D&D of course comes from Tolkien's work. Despite Elves and Dwarves having origins in Germanic myths, Elves as commonly depicted in fantasy are sort of the Aos Si of Celtic myths, and despite the fact that Tolkien tried to depict Dwarves as being Jewish they somehow commonly became Scottish (someone once joked what if Dwarves were Mexican). Halflings (as Hobbits) are mostly original to Tolkien's work but sort of represented the humble Englishman, and Gnomes were first mentioned in the Renaissance and somehow became a caricature of Jewish people. But despite all this, they are a core part of D&D's identity among the core assumptions about most D&D campaigns.

Some settings which attempt a deep-dive into certain Earth cultures assert that there are none of those core races in the setting (but there may be local alternatives), because there's no myths about such things and cultural purity would be more of the goal. And that's fine if it's the primary setting and focus of the campaign. But in a campaign that's a lot more international where there are various "expy's" various Earth cultures living on the same world and the PCs could be from anywhere, then this is where the question of "could gnomes be from over there too?" In terms of world-building it's likely easier just to have Gnomes there, with some sort of parallel culture to the region. They may be of the same subraces as Gnomes in the PHB, but there could be some sort of local Gnomish subrace for the region. Having a completely different race in place of Gnomes everywhere else, might be too much work for many. And if there are for example regional races like Hengeyokai to use an example, then why aren't they in other places?

So back the original point is that 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.

Ok.
At the table this is all easy enough to do.

But several concerns art wise;
1) So long as the Drow are depicted as BLACK vs whatever shade you'd make a POC Elf. There should be a distinct difference between the unnatural shade of Drow black & even the blackest normal skin tone. This is a Drow vs this is a POC Elf. Same for any other race that has a specificly colored sub-group.

2) Other than specific recurring characters who'll have a set appearance, for general art of random people/scenres? MIX IT UP. Imagine the wildly varied art styles of the 1e days. It all showed D&D.... Now imagine that with different skin tones.

3) That said, every scene does not need to be a visual rainbow just "because".
 
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Thakazum

Explorer
Random anecdote: The original Atlantis Trilogy (aka Arcanum) by Bard Games had some dwarves with dark skin and dreadlocks. They weren't the only dwarves and they were in Gondwana. I loved it as a kid who is-not-exactly-white but I could see it as a problem because of the very real African Pygmy tribes. I am not sure if that was good (more diverse) or bad (stereotypes).
 

I like the elves of Norse sources, with solar tropes. So the sky-blue eyes and sun-gold hair and cloud-white skin, are important for skyey flavor.

At the same time, it is just as easy to have sky-blue skin, cloud-white hair, and sun-gold eyes, and still keep true to the sunray tropes.

Also, any skyey color is possible, including orange and red and purple sunsets. Even rainbow emerald green is possible on occasion.

Also, I feel solar eclipse tropes of solid black skin, the white-gold hair of the solar halo, plus an aura of starry sky is cool.

There is lots of room for varying the complexion of a character, and still stay true to the sunshine themes.
 

the Jester

Legend
The various nonhuman races in my campaign all have a variety of skin tones and lineages/subraces/cultures, though not all of them are similar to the human range. Elves in my game are more likely to be green or blue than they are to be black or pink like a human. Given the recent discussion about diversity in D&D, I think I'm going to start playing up just how nonhuman some of my nonhumans are.
 

That said, the art doesn't seem to reflect the text, and most depictions of all four races--on memory--are more pale/white.
I think this is the primary disconnect. The descriptions of non-humans are generally different than any human ethnicity, and they should be. They are a completely different species with their own ethnic differences (the sub-races). The problem is the artwork being done by people with only a passing familiarity with these descriptions, inserting their own preconceptions instead. I've seen it repeatedly in RPGs, CCGs, boardgames, and even religious artwork.
 

Yeah, the text in the Player's Handbook describes all sorts of skin colors. The artwork usually doesn't, for whatever reason (on a tangentially related note, I remember reading comments from someone at Paizo expressing irritation that the tiefling artwork they often get from their artists matches the D&D tiefling despite Pathfinder not using that design as the default, so I guess artists are largely copying what they've already seen).

Regarding drow, I personally prefer the blue depictions Pathfinder defaults to and even D&D itself has used on occassion (such as on the cover of 3.5's Drow of the Underdark).
 

This would in many ways be the Shadowrun approach, which conceivably Shadowrun might be the first RPG where "metahumans" of different ethnicities are a canonical and established thing where a Dwarf could be from Shanghai and an Elf could be from Nairobi.
Of course, Shadowrun also has regional meta-variants, which are tied to specific ethnicities. While trolls are found everywhere in the world, the cyclops variant of troll is only ever of Mediterranean descent, while the fomorian variant of troll is only native to the British Isles.
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.
Are you equating "core D&D" to a specific setting, such as The Forgotten Realms? Because that one has always been on the extreme ends of published settings. It doesn't really make a fair point for comparison.

Personally, I place much greater weight in homebrew settings, and those aren't always quite so removed from mythological Earth.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
Regarding drow, I personally prefer the blue depictions Pathfinder defaults to and even D&D itself has used on occassion (such as on the cover of 3.5's Drow of the Underdark).

You know that's not meant to show Drow having bluish skin, right?
That's a combination of a light source from the pictures left+ the fact that it's very hard to do solid black (& have it look good). Especially on dark backgrounds.
It's why you often see black things depicted with blue highlights.
 

J-H

Adventurer
I think this is the primary disconnect. The descriptions of non-humans are generally different than any human ethnicity, and they should be. They are a completely different species with their own ethnic differences (the sub-races). The problem is the artwork being done by people with only a passing familiarity with these descriptions, inserting their own preconceptions instead. I've seen it repeatedly in RPGs, CCGs, boardgames, and even religious artwork.
Old fourth-hand anecdote that may not be true: When Baldur's Gate II was sent out for Voice Acting work, the initial voice work that was done for "Elves" all came back sounding like "Keebler Elves." This was pre-movie LOTR and I guess whatever studio was recording for VA failed to adequately clarify which type of elf was being discussed.

In D&D, of course, Keebler Elves would be gnomes or halflings.

I usually assume skin color based on names, because we (usually accurately) stereotype certain names as belonging to specific cultures and ethnicities. Thor the barbarian is probably a big white dude, Nkwame the barbarian is probably a big black dude, Tai Ming is probably a big Asiatic dude, Rajadeet is probably a big South Asian dude, and Nguloc-phuo is probably a big(or maybe wiry?) Vietnamese-looking dude.

It would help a lot if D&D moved away from "Generic European stereotype mash-up." These days, "Generic Mesoamerican" or "Generic African" is likely to get all sorts of REEEEEEEE if the author doesn't look like he's descended from people who lived in the area being written about... so doing anything like that carries a lot of risk. Too many people with too many chips on their shoulders and no grace.
 

TheSword

Legend
I’m inspired by Rafe Judkins, Show Runner for the new Wheel of Time TV series. When asked about the diverse cast he said...

“As much as possible, our cast should look like America will in a few hundred years -- a beautiful mix of white, brown, black and everything in between.”

I don’t expect people from a European country to be monotonously white in this century, so I don’t really see why cultures in the Forgotten Realms or any other campaign setting should be any different. Most have existed for tens of thousands of years longer than known human civilizations in this world.

Any character can be any color. Simple. The PHB does an excellent job of demonstrating it. I don’t see the need to complicate it any more than this.
 
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I have a strong background in Shadowrun (1989), so I've pretty much always given the non-human races different geo-ethnicities. "Asian" equivalent Elves, Dwarves, etc. "Black" Halflings, Hobbits, etc. Just whatever real or imaginary ethnicity I can come up with gets used on every race, assuming that race has any business breeding at a given location (which is almost always unless there's a specific reason a region removes a race).
 

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