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


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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Hard to do skin tones well when most of the art was black ink on white paper.
Not really. Crosshatching, lines and dots have been used to depict grades of shading for centuries of B&W art in various media, including woodcuts and etchings. I’m a bit precocious in my skills, but I was doing that kind of stuff in 6th grade. It takes time, but it’s not outside of the realms of professional artists skillsets.

Here’s a panel from the Cerebus comic book, not even showing Gerhardt’s best inking job:
View attachment 1599683991980.jpeg

And in the color art? Well...D&D has had a whitewashing problem going back decades. It’s better than it was:
1453477009017-jpg.101952


...but there’s still work to be done.
 

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Voadam

Legend
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.
Minorities have generally been low on visual representation throughout D&D for humans and demihumans but a couple prominent images do come to mind.

2008 4e Player's Handbook Halfling entry:

1599680302898.png


2001 3.0 Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting Dwarf entry:

1599680415127.png
 
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Azzy

KMF DM
Please open your 1E Monster Manual and show me a color picture.
First, the Monster Manual is not the only D&D product—even in 1e, there were color covers and more (and that's not even bringing the covers of Dragon magazine into this). Also, there are other editions of D&D. If you're unfamiliar with all this art, I'd recommend Art & Arcana: A Visual History. Then there's what Danny said about commonly used techniques to depict shades of color in B&W art.
 


cbwjm

Legend
I wouldn't be surprised if there is little variation, particularly in earlier editions, due simply to the environment of the various campaign settings. Most are set in a European like area of the world with knights, and kings so artists use European imagery to create their art which generally means Europeans. Had DnD been set primarily in Africa right from the start using myths and legends from there for their nonhuman races, I'd expect to see less looking like Europeans and more looking like Africans.

I do agree with that Egyptian image being incredibly whitewashed, they should have looked at actual images from ancient Egypt for the skin tones used and at least gave them a copper skin tone, though if that's Osiris then he should be green.
 

Marandahir

Crown-Forester (he/him)
One way to do this would be to allow Dark Elves and other classically dark-skinned demi-humans to be a full-range of skin tones as well.

Record of Lodoss War OVA has pale-skinned, silver-haired Dark Elves (such as the one that gets his behind handed to him by Ashram at the Marmo camp) and brown-skinned, blond-haired Dark Elves (such as the most iconic Lodoss dark elf, Pirotess).

In that sense, Dark Elf doesn't literally mean darker-of-skinned (and might even mean pale-skinned, like the moon or like an underground creature with no need for melanin, a la Gollum or many cave-adapted animals!). Instead, it means Elf of Darkness - an Elf of the Underdark, or of the dark closed-canopy jungles of Xen'drik, or perhaps nocturnal Night Elves like in Warcraft. Even an elf borne in the Shadowfell like the Shadar-kai might be considered Dark Elves, as would elves of the Gloaming Court in the Feywild.

So Wildemount's Pallid Elves might be considered Dark Elves in that case, just as much as the Drow might be. Talking visuals, but doing this would require throwing out some of the elf ancestry statistics and reconciling them around this unified concept.

I could imagine that Sun elves (elves of light, high elves, etc) might be darker-skined than Moon elves (night elves, dark elves) due to their need for more melanin. Or they might both run the gamut depending on circumstances.

The important thing is pulling apart the threads of obvious-bad-guy-person from skin tone.

Ancestry features (genotypic inheritence) shouldn't necessarily correspond with phenotype, and these fantastical demi-humans should be divided in their ancestral inheritances on grounds other than what their skin looks like, imho.

Even The Elder Scrolls series has been moving in this direction: while in Arena, Daggerfall, and Morrowind they really stuck with gold-skinned High Elves, white-skinned Wood Elves, brown>teal-skinned Dark Elves, plus pale Nords, Bretons, Imperials and darkskinned Redguards, this just isn't the case since Skyrim, and even as far back as Oblivion allowed playing with the skin-tone shaders through a whole host of options for both human and elf groups. In Skyrim, there's actually not that much difference between the peoples of an individual grouping - you can have very darkskinned Bretons or High Elves, or light skinned Dark Elves or Redguards. Your High Elves can be gold skinned or they could be pale skinned like a wood elf. Your Wood elves could be brown skinned like bark or paler too. Redguard and Dark Elf do cover darker tones than the other human and elf peoples, and Orcs cover the whole gamut from Warcraft green to D&D grey & pink, but the idea is that skin tone and shading doesn't reflect your origin, and most Humans are mixed ancestry, just as many Elves are, too.
 
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Voadam

Legend
I wouldn't be surprised if there is little variation, particularly in earlier editions, due simply to the environment of the various campaign settings. Most are set in a European like area of the world with knights, and kings so artists use European imagery to create their art which generally means Europeans. Had DnD been set primarily in Africa right from the start using myths and legends from there for their nonhuman races, I'd expect to see less looking like Europeans and more looking like Africans.
For the demi-humans I believe it is because they started off as nabbed from Tolkien where dwarves are Jewish Vikings, Halflings are little English farmers and gentlemen, and elves are Cate Blanchett templated. So not a lot of color in the base stock there. This gets compounded by the fact that Tolkien/Monster Manual demihumans already have fairly defined white ethnic subsets broken out for them (high/wood/mountain/wild elves, hill/mountain dwarves, hairfoot/stout/tallfellow haflings). Throw them into Greyhawk and you get an innovation and subversion, the partially norse Dokkalfar inspired dark elves being literally black skinned to get the ball rolling in the 70s with the GD series. Oriental Adventures gets hairy Asian dwarven Korobokuru in the 80s and Forgotten Realms then has a hinted at southern dwarf population in its 1e campaign setting, who later get revealed as the dark skinned gold dwarves.

For the most part the settings start out as mostly fantasy Europe standard with demihumans thrown in, sometimes with a little renaming for the setting. Greyhawk innovates drow and duergar, FR starts with the Monster Manual/PH/Tolkien base and then starts to expand with more everything. Even in Dragonlance, where they put Black Humans explicitly into the setting, demihumans were still just mostly renaming the base White D&D demihumans (Qualinesti/Silvanesti/Kagonesti Elves, Kender Haflings) without messing around with ethnicity beyond blue aquatic elves and skinny hobbits.
 

It's not D&D, but my dearest friend and I roleplay orally--aka, storytelling, where we narrate what happens and do dialogue for the characters. We have elves, and different "races" of elves (I guess you would call them subraces). They live in different areas, and have different cultures (though they do have commonalities in their cultures that mark it as "elven"), and speak various dialects of elvish. Their skin color varies.

In D&D, there are probably several ways you could approach a non-human species having different skin tones. To continue to use elves as an example, you could have it vary by region, but have their culture all be similar (I do think that each species has a culture), or you could have it vary by, for lack of a better way of saying this, ethnicity, not unlike humans.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
I care about what races I put in the game, I don't care what colour the players describe then as and they can work with me to write their culture in, at least up to a point. No aquatic stuff on Athas for example.
 





Marandahir

Crown-Forester (he/him)
For the demi-humans I believe it is because they started off as nabbed from Tolkien where dwarves are Jewish Vikings, Halflings are little English farmers and gentlemen, and elves are Cate Blanchett templated. So not a lot of color in the base stock there. This gets compounded by the fact that Tolkien/Monster Manual demihumans already have fairly defined white ethnic subsets broken out for them (high/wood/mountain/wild elves, hill/mountain dwarves, hairfoot/stout/tallfellow haflings). Throw them into Greyhawk and you get an innovation and subversion, the partially norse Dokkalfar inspired dark elves being literally black skinned to get the ball rolling in the 70s with the GD series. Oriental Adventures gets hairy Asian dwarven Korobokuru in the 80s and Forgotten Realms then has a hinted at southern dwarf population in its 1e campaign setting, who later get revealed as the dark skinned gold dwarves.

For the most part the settings start out as mostly fantasy Europe standard with demihumans thrown in, sometimes with a little renaming for the setting. Greyhawk innovates drow and duergar, FR starts with the Monster Manual/PH/Tolkien base and then starts to expand with more everything. Even in Dragonlance, where they put Black Humans explicitly into the setting, demihumans were still just mostly renaming the base White D&D demihumans (Qualinesti/Silvanesti/Kagonesti Elves, Kender Haflings) without messing around with ethnicity beyond blue aquatic elves and skinny hobbits.

As others have cited before, Harfoots like Sam are said to be darker of skin. I love Sean Astin's portrayal, but the character was miscast.

There are many FREE peoples in Middle-earth who arguably could and should have been depicted as darker of skin, including much of the population of Gondor (The subjects of the Númenórean Realms-in-Exile were quite mixed descent, and there's an argument to be made that Númenóreans themselves looked altogether more like Egyptians or at least olive-toned like much of the Mediterreanean coastal peoples than the white northern Europeans they've been shown as often). Don't get me wrong - the 2nd House of the Edáin (House of Hador) SHOULD be blond and fair of skin, and this carries over to SOME Númenóreans and definitely to the Men of Rhovannion and their descendants (the Lake-Men, the Wood-Men, the Éothéod of the Upper Anduin, and thereby the Rohirrim). But the House of Béor (1st House) was darker of hair and appearance, yet we treat them as if they're also super pale, when that's just not in the text. In fact, Beren Erchamion, the most famousest of Line of Béor, is contrasted against the silvery arms and shadowy hair of Lúthien Tinúviel, suggesting that his dark hair was not as contrasting against his skin as Lúthien's was against her.

Tolkien also did not have Cate Blanchett to work with when he wrote the book. Galadriel was based on Mary, mother of Jesus (Tolkien's words) - though there are also elements of the more complicated and perilous Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legend in her; see the throughline from Tolkien's Breton/Kernow Arthurian Lay of Aotrou and Itroun to the discussion of Galadriel in the Unfinished Tales.

In any case, Tolkien's elves were largely rooted in Germanic and Celtic faerie tales - there's a direct throughline from the Peter Pan-esque Tingfang Warbler and the Victorian-era pixies of The Cottage of Lost Play in the Book of Lost Tales and the taller Álfar/Vanir/Túatha Dé/Tylwyth Teg-like residents and the Elves of the final books. This is why Elves are mainly white in Tolkien, because he saw them as the Pre-Germanic peoples of the British Isles (Insular Celts and their forebears) from the perspective of putting together an Anglo-Saxon-Jutish mythology for Great Britain. He was never attempting to tell a fantasy story for the whole world, just trying to right the single injustice of the loss of the English mythological tradition. He certainly wouldn't approve of D&D lifting his free peoples of Middle-earth straight from the pages for repurposing, just as he didn't understand the appeal of his books in America audiences (though he happily took the money, because he needed it and was willing to compromise these principles for the sake of putting his children through school).

Finally, while Dwarves are very clearly inspired by the Israelites and European Jews in The Hobbit in the sense that they're a people with a promised kingdom that they're in exile from, and speak a Hebrew-inspired language, and have many of the visual stereotypes of the racist caricatures made of Jewish people in Europe, these belie the development of the Dwarven people in Tolkien's mythology. In the beginning, they were scarcely more than a inserted Svartálfar/Dvrgr from the Norse Sagas - down to their villainous role in the earliest stories he wrote of them. The Hebrew-based grammatical structure Tolkien used for Khudzul is a late-Lord of the Rings creation; even in The Hobbit, the Dwarf-runes were just Anglo-Saxon runes transliterating modern English for ease of cypher. The Hobbit began Tolkien's shift on the dwarves as a narrative tool away from antagonistic to interesting and complex culture, one that Tolkien literally went on a journey with Bilbo from discomfort and rancor in the beginning (where their instrument summoning and musical choices is almost more reflecting of Corriag from The Mabinogion than anything from Snórri!) to saying goodbye to dear friends, welcoming the survivors always for tea should they be passing through the Shire. There's an argument to be made that The Hobbit is in many ways about building up those stereotypes to begin with and then dismantling them over the course of a journey on the road, much as any good war story might (you latch onto bad character traits of your fellows-in-arms at the beginning of the march, but by the end you're the best of friends and realise those were YOUR projections, not their inherent bad character). We see that the Dwarves are no less greedy in their disposition than the Elves of Mirkwood or the Men of Lake-town, and the three peoples nearly come to blows over it, but all put aside those differences because of a common threat in the Goblins and Wolves.

Tolkien certainly was drawing upon those visual characteristics - WHICH SHARE RACIST TONES - because he was drawing on the visual and literary history of Nordic Dvrgr and was using them as shorthand. I would argue that he was drawing on depictions in the history that had long applied dwarven iconography in a racist manner to Jewish members of the community. But by the time Tolkien was linking Hebrew with Khudzul, he had abandoned the idea of a villainous, greedy Dwarven people. In his letters he always spoke fondly and in defense of the the Jewish people. It IS true that by his Later Silmarillion, he had long since linked the peoples in his mind, and the creation story of the Dwarves in the published mythology is not too far removed from the Akeidat Yitzhak (the Binding of Isaac). These are present perhaps more in the final Lord of the Rings Appendices, Unfinished Tales, and Silmarillion texts, but are less present directly in the more dwarf-relevant Hobbit. We're just intimately familiar with the comparison due to adaptations which have drawn on the scope of the people from the peripheral texts.

Dwarves certainly weren't Viking-like - that's more of a Peter Jacksonism, especially once John Rhys Davies decided to give Gímli a Scotsman accent (remember that the history of Scotland is a history of conquest and integration - the Albidosi (Prethin/Picts/Northern Brythonic peoples), the Old North Cumbrians, the Roman garrison men between the Walls, the Dal Riáta Ulstermen, Viking petty kingdoms, and finally Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman encroachment and integration into the United Kingdom).

I'm not saying Tolkien wasn't racist - he had a lot of unconscious biases that bear out throughout the texts, and these should be addressed. But we shouldn't lay the problems of D&D So White at Tolkien's feet necessarily. Rankin/Bass, Bakshi, and Jackson all have depicted in their films a Middle-earth FAR more white than Tolkien did with his prose.
 
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Reynard

Legend
I wouldn't be surprised if there is little variation, particularly in earlier editions, due simply to the environment of the various campaign settings. Most are set in a European like area of the world with knights, and kings so artists use European imagery to create their art which generally means Europeans. Had DnD been set primarily in Africa right from the start using myths and legends from there for their nonhuman races, I'd expect to see less looking like Europeans and more looking like Africans.

I do agree with that Egyptian image being incredibly whitewashed, they should have looked at actual images from ancient Egypt for the skin tones used and at least gave them a copper skin tone, though if that's Osiris then he should be green.
For most of its life, D&D took inspiration not from the history and cultures of Earth, but from the portrayals of that history and those cultures in popular media. Seeing white Egyptians and goblin witch doctors alike is based on the casually racist depictions of non European peoples in the pulps, films, comics, and novels and other entertainment that has informed D&D. And recursively, D&D contributed to that same cycle by becoming a strong force in fantasy art and low brow literature itself.
 

GreenTengu

Adventurer
I cannot possibly express just how utterly sick to death I am of people demanding elves of every single color under the rainbow super optimized to be the best at every single class in the game. Like-- seriously-- I wonder sometimes why other races even exist in the game as everyone always wants a new kind of super elite, the ultimate best elf for every single possible niche.

Just... why? Why does there need to be dozens upon dozens upon dozens of breeds of elves? Why do they have to be the absolute best at everything? Why do we need some flawless super master race that makes everyone look like naughty word in comparison? How does that remotely make any fictional world better?

So in addition the white elves and pink elves and brown elves and blue elves and gold elves and green elves and purple elves-- we are to have black elves as well?

Meanwhile a dwarf is a dwarf is a dwarf regardless of setting and a halfling is just a small human with a limited personality set. Goblins, Orcs and such are just empty, soulless bags of hitpoints that drop treasure if you hit them enough.

And you just can't pull anything interesting out of all world mythology or create anything new? Its always got to be another god damn elf?

I so very much wish there were an official D&D setting where the rainbow of ubermensch elves were entirely extinct and room was made for a myriad of flawed and interesting races to actually breath and make an actual impact upon the setting.

I am all for more racial inclusion-- but you just had to start with elves, didn't you? I cannot be alone in this-- I am so god damn sick of elves.
 

TheSword

Legend
I cannot possibly express just how utterly sick to death I am of people demanding elves of every single color under the rainbow super optimized to be the best at every single class in the game. Like-- seriously-- I wonder sometimes why other races even exist in the game as everyone always wants a new kind of super elite, the ultimate best elf for every single possible niche.

Just... why? Why does there need to be dozens upon dozens upon dozens of breeds of elves? Why do they have to be the absolute best at everything? Why do we need some flawless super master race that makes everyone look like naughty word in comparison? How does that remotely make any fictional world better?

So in addition the white elves and pink elves and brown elves and blue elves and gold elves and green elves and purple elves-- we are to have black elves as well?

Meanwhile a dwarf is a dwarf is a dwarf regardless of setting and a halfling is just a small human with a limited personality set. Goblins, Orcs and such are just empty, soulless bags of hitpoints that drop treasure if you hit them enough.

And you just can't pull anything interesting out of all world mythology or create anything new? Its always got to be another god damn elf?

I so very much wish there were an official D&D setting where the rainbow of ubermensch elves were entirely extinct and room was made for a myriad of flawed and interesting races to actually breath and make an actual impact upon the setting.

I am all for more racial inclusion-- but you just had to start with elves, didn't you? I cannot be alone in this-- I am so god damn sick of elves.
FAD7B718-8A45-4FB0-9E5C-F1204019D529.jpeg
 

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