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

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
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.

I did and still do. The 1990s art was simply a reflection of expectation of what sold to a typical D&D gamer at the time, even though the setting itself was neutral on whether it could be inspired by European, African, Asian, or some other real-life area. And, at the time, it sold big. You'd have to search a bit to find non-white European art in D&D at any point prior much less any artistic depictions of females who weren't big-breasted, athletic, and scantily clad. So, I wouldn't label it a Dark Sun miss. The books didn't say one way or another, even if the artists did. A generation later, target audiences have diversified, and I expect if released again the art would catch up.
 

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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
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.

(Emphasis mine.)

There’s that annoying disconnect. That‘s definitely a failure of art direction and editing.
 

In my opinion, there's a difference between what you allow players to do, and the worldbuilding that goes with it.

If a player wants to play an Elf, an Orc, a Halfing, etc. of any ethnicity, real or fictional, there's really no reason to say no. You simply go for it, no questions asked.

That being said, explaining where the player character comes from may require a little more work. The GM could determine where some of the major ethnicities mostly come from, which could add a little local color to the campaign setting. An American-style, all-diversity, all the time melting pot may work in major cities, but it's not necessarily the best option in smaller towns or rural areas. In other words, there may be towns full of brown-skinned Gnomes out there, and some areas where they're seldom seen. Heterogeneity makes fictional world more interesting.
 

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.

I'm aware that's a trick artists use, but Pathfinder 1E drow from what I've seen are nearly universally depicted with a blue skin tone, and the Pathfinder 2E art makes them look light blue. Its ubiquity leads me to believe Pathfinder's art direction wants to avoid depicting black drow, perhaps especially because in the Lost Omens setting elves can transform into drow if they are evil enough.

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Bluish drow illustrations are nearly non-existent in D&D.

BTW blue is also my favorite color so I don't mind blue drow one bit.
 

KentDT

Explorer
Of course, the man who invented Hobbits (. . . I mean Halflings) described the "by far most numerous . . . and representative variety," the Harfoots, as being brown of skin. This description is found in the prologue to the Lord of the Rings. In the book itself, he described Sam's "brown hands". He also noted how other types were fairer, which implies both skin tone and hair color (this probably applied to both Pippin and Merry as representatives of the Took and Brandybuck families, respectively).
So, despite what the racists in Hollywood and elsewhere have shown us, there is plenty of reason to follow Tolkien's lead and make Halflings, at least, with a diversity of skin tones, with brown being the most common.
 


ChaosOS

Legend
I'll also note that Eberron canonically doesn't correlate Khorvaire nationality with skin tone - all humans are fairly recent immigrants to the continent, so there hasn't been time for that evolutionary shift. But yes, as a setting it's done a much better job of trying to grab that diversity, and I think that Rising from the Last War: Chapter 1 did a good job.
 

I'll also note that Eberron canonically doesn't correlate Khorvaire nationality with skin tone - all humans are fairly recent immigrants to the continent, so there hasn't been time for that evolutionary shift. But yes, as a setting it's done a much better job of trying to grab that diversity, and I think that Rising from the Last War: Chapter 1 did a good job.

Is it still canon in 5e Eberron, to use any Elf stats (Drow, High, Wood) for any Eberron Elf?
 

Reynard

Legend
Most fantasy worlds have fantastically long histories. That is plenty of time for populations to shift by everything from conquest to peaceful migration to magical displacement. Ethnic diversity even among a relatively insular population ("Little SHire" on the outskirts of the city, or whatever) would not be especially surprising. New the end, Egypt was an extremely old civilization and had plenty of ethnic diversity, just as a real world analogue.

There is no downside to art direction and editorial guidance that support and encourage diversity. As a form of entertainment, RPGs should be as inclusive and welcoming as possible, and a wall of muscle bound white dudes and hawt white chicks in itty bitty chainmail bikinis creates an unwelcoming environment. (By the way, I am not against a little cheese and beefcake art, but it shouldn't be the only style of character art; some people like to be sexy and others don't).

All that said, I think it is best if D&D and secondary world RPGs in general avoid analog cultures, whether it's Scots dwarfs or Native American Elves. Not only do those cultures tend to get a stereotypical treatment, but it's boring an uncreative. I love Howard, too, but he admits in his own writing that he did the cultural stereotype mash out of sheer laziness. We don't need another Known World or Maztica. There's more creativity in the gaming industry than all of Hollywood combined. We can make up some pretty cool stuff without resorting to not-Japan and the like.
 

Hard to do skin tones well when most of the art was black ink on white paper.

Even 5E does this, though.

Most fantasy worlds have fantastically long histories. That is plenty of time for populations to shift by everything from conquest to peaceful migration to magical displacement. Ethnic diversity even among a relatively insular population ("Little SHire" on the outskirts of the city, or whatever) would not be especially surprising. New the end, Egypt was an extremely old civilization and had plenty of ethnic diversity, just as a real world analogue.

The 5E PHB describes human characters as possibly displaying certain traits that indicate elf or orc ancestors. I thought that was a neat detail.

Plus over in the Exandria setting its apparently possible for elves and dwarves to have children, though the child is always either an elf or a dwarf with very minor signs of the other race (the dwarves and elves of Tal'Dorei hate each other and come from prejudiced societies, but over in Wildemount there's a society of elves and dwarves living together). It could be that most races in Exandria can have children with one another and that half-elves and half-orcs are anomalies in expressing traits from both parents equally.
 
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TheSword

Legend
Further to my Wheel of Time example I’m just working back through the books now. I’d forgotten how cool some of the concepts are from a diversity perspective.

In comparison to Ravenloft’s ham fisted approach to Vistani, Jordan’s travelling folk are far far more nuanced. Seeking the song, formal and ultra-peaceful - following the way of the leaf. Nevertheless distrusted and accused of being thieves and untrustworthy by villagers suspicious of anyone not from the area. The stereotypes are there but turned on their head by the truth of the story that shows a far more positive view of travelling folk (though they have their own flaws and aren’t cookie cutter). Perrin’s scenes with the them are some of my favourite.

They also have a twist that brings a tear to my eye every time I read it... “Ten thousand... linking arms and singing, trying to remind a madman of who they were and who he had been, trying to turn them with their bodies and a song.” Taking them from merely interesting to pretty damn awesome.

Goosebumps for anyone who has read it.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
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.

It's not just preconceptions - it's also art background. If the artists are predominantly white and get the most practice illustrating faces like their own (I'm not knocking them - the most convenient model to work with for facial structure and skin tone is probably a mirror), that's where their skills are going to lie. Doing a good job of illustrating faces with different structure and tone without making it look like caricature takes practice and technique that needs be deliberately developed. Good representation of people of color in RPG art takes more than painting a different skin tone on an otherwise European-looking character.
 

As a DM, I can't imagine telling a player that they can't play a character with a specific skin tone. Nor would I feel the need for there be any sort of in-world justification. It just is. After all, the native dwarves of Chult are mostly albinos; the grounds for requiring any sort of rationale would be shaky at best.
 

Is it still canon in 5e Eberron, to use any Elf stats (Drow, High, Wood) for any Eberron Elf?
No. Drow are definitely distinct: they were created by the giants from normal elves. Aereni elves are High elves, Tairnadal are Wood elves. Khovairan elves can be either, and elves with the Dragonmark are mechanically a separate subrace.

Of note is that the tairnadal elf illustration has dark brown skin.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
C'mon, doesn't D&D take enough flak as it is? I haven't seen the Cauldron yet, but I'm sure it makes great strides toward diversifying D&D's former whiteness.

I treat my races as, well, races, which are about as uniform as eggs at the farmer's market (some blue ones show up). So I wouldn't expect to see different races of humans or different races of orcs - but there are always exceptions.

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,
Technically, the non-humans are the same species as humans are because they can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. It is a problem, yes, if the art doesn't line up with the text, but I think it's a bigger problem to have rules that assign qualities based on how a character looks.

+1 for point-buy or ala carte systems!
 

No. Drow are definitely distinct: they were created by the giants from normal elves. Aereni elves are High elves, Tairnadal are Wood elves. Khovairan elves can be either, and elves with the Dragonmark are mechanically a separate subrace.

Of note is that the tairnadal elf illustration has dark brown skin.
I realize that.

I meant, can you, for example, use the Wood Elf stats (Wis, fast speed, etc) to build an Eberron Drow character?
 

Bitbrain

ORC (Open RPG) horde ally
I realize that.

I meant, can you, for example, use the Wood Elf stats (Wis, fast speed, etc) to build an Eberron Drow character?

Officially? Probably not.

Me personally? I see nothing wrong with it.

To be fair though, I rework the racial ability scores for every race and sub-race in my campaigns, to better fit how I see them within each setting.
 

DnD Warlord

Adventurer
My first D&D game I DMed... I had brow and middle eastern liking dwarves and elves and gnomes and haflings... I was a teen and just assumed all the races had all the range of humans.

bu the time 3e had come around I even had drow being purple skinned (as seen in a lot of art) so a black elf didn’t ever get mistook for a drow. I was well into my 20’s before the first time I heard someone (and it was at gen con) say elves could only be white...
 

Tonguez

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

The wild gnomes imc paint their skins with blue woad, they are also eusocial with one breeding female in a clan of around 100.

as to OP there were a whole slew of race colour threads up a month ago. Thecconcensus was diversity is good but in fantasy every colour can be represented including purple humans, grey elves and scoria red dwarfs
 
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ChaosOS

Legend
I realize that.

I meant, can you, for example, use the Wood Elf stats (Wis, fast speed, etc) to build an Eberron Drow character?

Drow are still kept separate, although I know Keith feels they're problematically underdeveloped and would like a chance to revisit them. Canonically per Rising the distinction between wood & high elves is more firm, but Keith heavily disagrees with that editorial decision.
 

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