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Racism in RPGs, especially related to fantastic races

Is it ok to portray a fantasy race in a negatce way? And how varied are your gaming groups?

  • Yes, that's fine with me.

    Votes: 54 76.1%
  • Describing a whole race as evil, stupid etc is not ok

    Votes: 17 23.9%
  • I've played with people of different ethnic background most of the time

    Votes: 13 18.3%
  • I've played with people of different ethnic background some of the time

    Votes: 25 35.2%
  • I've played with people of different ethnic background only rarely

    Votes: 10 14.1%
  • I've played with people of predominately caucasian background

    Votes: 30 42.3%
  • I've played with people of predominately non-Caucasian background

    Votes: 1 1.4%
  • I usually play online and so wouldn't know most of the time.

    Votes: 2 2.8%

  • Total voters
    71

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
This discussion seems to be important as well, so here's the thread for it. Starting with a poll.

My own view? I view racism towards fantasy races as a bad thing unless the history of the setting gives a reason (as in orcs = demonspawn etc). That doesn't mean I am against racist PCs - I remember playing a racist elf (against basically all non-Sun Elves) once, and dwarves with an issue with elves are always fun to play. However, the stereotype of a race always described as evil without any other reason than them being different and the setting needing humanoid monsters is a nono for me. I would also not allow clearly racist PCs to be any good alignment.

In the real world, I have had quite a variety of players, and I can't remember the last time I had an all German-speaking round (may happen soon though). My most diverse group was 11 people with ancestry from Japan to Native Indian (yes, in Germany) with the really odd one out being a Tibetan. I have never run into comments like "wow black people play?" or the like, either. The guy who taught me and my friends how to play was Native Indian US army :cool: So it never occurred to me that the hobby was supposedly predominantly white until I got online a lot.

Oh ignore the typo... :mad: Didn't notice the cat killed 2 letters.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
So, I tend to group beings in a fantasy universe into two categories:

1) True Aliens: These beings don't really have any free will. They are acting out an inherent nature, and indeed in many cases are the embodiment of some idea. So they don't really have the capacity to change at all. If the alien is literally the incarnated spirit of murder or terror or decay, it can't really help being what it is and can't even really evaluate its own place in the universe. It's just acting out a principle. These beings can be irredeemably evil, and arguably the only way to get rid of them is rid the rest of the universe of the principle that they manifest. Slaying one, or more to the point banishing or exorcising one, doesn't really help except on a local scale. Hating a particular alien doesn't make you evil; it makes you sane. Hating the alien that incarnates pederasty is the exact same thing as hating pederasty. You can't see that about people, even a pederast. There is no level of evil a person or a people can stoop to that reduces them to this. It might reduce them to something that needs to face justice for its crimes, but it doesn't cause them to be 'not people' in the sense that an angel, slaad, or fiend is 'not people' and can't be related to people.

2) People: People have to some extent a choice in the matter. In fact, the people in my universe call themselves the Free Peoples, because they are aware that they have choice and that this distinguishes them from literally everything else (which are referred to collectively as Servitors). Now, just because they are people, doesn't mean that they are human. They could have radically different biologies, cultures, and inclinations to the extent that they are also alien. My campaign has seven, and only seven kinds of Free Peoples. The most obvious choice of a stereotypical villain among the Free Peoples are the Goblins because well, they are ugly. Additionally many people in the world believe, without going into the elaborate back story why they believe this, that the Goblins are no longer counted as Free Peoples and are in fact now Servitors. The reason for this is that the most common definition of what it means to have free will among the people of Sartha is the freedom to choose your own god, and the people of Sartha believe that the Goblins have lost that ability. As a campaign level secret I will state here something I wouldn't normally state in game, and that is, those people are wrong. The Goblins remain a Free People. The fact that there are no good goblins doesn't mean that the Goblins are irredeemably evil or that they've lost their free will, and I have a whole campaign I'd like to do at one point around that.
However, none of the races of Free Peoples in my campaign is meant to be commentary on any real race in the real world. Idreth for example are defined by having collective racial memory; a trait not found in any real race. Elves are defined by living for centuries and having a real connection to nature; a trait not found in any real race. Indeed, even the ethnic groups of humanity aren't meant to be commentary on any real human ethnic group. Sure, the Drestrians can be loosely equated to the Germanic peoples, and the Concheeri to the Gaelic peoples, the Mokoheen to the Polynesians and so forth. But that's only because creating novel cultural traits for humanity is hard, and in any event some of these won't really fit in. Who are the Har? Jews? Doesn't really fit. Chinese? Fits pretty well, but skin color is all wrong. And if the Tumessi are Romany, then their history is totally and completely different than the history of the real Rom, and why are they the main inhabitants of the place most like The Holy Roman Empire (and not the Drestrians). Honestly, you could probably equate the whole bunch of them to the different ethnic groups of India (on of my main inspirations) and make closer matches. In short, I've really no interest in commenting on ethnicity or specific racial conflicts of the real world, and reading that into my text is putting something that comes from the reader and not me into the interpretation.
If you get all sensitive about the depiction of the ethnic groups or races in the text, you are missing the point. If one racial group is picked upon, I'm commenting as much about how high schoolers form into mutually exclusive cliques that deride the other social groups as I am about how humanity divides itself up. I'm not really interested or focused on one particular scale of man's inhumanity to his fellow man, but the appearance of division, strife, and persecution in my stories is meant to comment on all division, strife, and persecution regardless the scale - from the Down's syndrome kindergartener whose toys are smashed by neighborhood children to genocide at the scale of one stone age tribe killing off another and enslaving its surviving women to modern nation states committing democide against their own people. I see these as inseparable problems, and focusing on one portion of the picture misses the larger one. IF I wanted to comment on one particular racial conflict, I'd write historical fiction - not fantasy. I'm not a huge fan of simple analogies.
 

FickleGM

Explorer
I have some diversity in my gaming groups, but am perfectly fine with portraying imaginary races in a negative light, so long as it is being done to provide recognizable hero-fodder and not as a veiled statement regarding a real-world culture, gender or sexual orientation.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It seems to me that *lack* of racism is a pretty modern concept. Humans appear to be built to divide the world into "them" and "us", and it takes some cognitive work to avoid that tendency.

Using humans as a basis, I'd then not find anything wrong with having racism in a fantasy world. I'd even go with having mild racism in Good PCs - "Good" does not mean "perfect" in my worlds, and you can have a few blemishes but still qualify for the title. I would, however, prefer that the cultures not be too close or obvious an analog to real-world people and cultures. It is okay if the civilized townsfolk have a problem with fantasy barbaric orcs, for example. That way we can explore some of the topics and drives of real people, without so much risk of making statements ab out real-world people.
 


Mishihari Lord

First Post
Racism between fantasy racism doesn't even have to be based on "Race A is pure evil." Frex, in Tolkein elves and dwarves don't get along. It's not that they see each other as evil, it's just that they have such different personalities that they grate on each others' nerves.
 

Johnny3D3D

Adventurer
It seems to me that *lack* of racism is a pretty modern concept. Humans appear to be built to divide the world into "them" and "us", and it takes some cognitive work to avoid that tendency.

Using humans as a basis, I'd then not find anything wrong with having racism in a fantasy world. I'd even go with having mild racism in Good PCs - "Good" does not mean "perfect" in my worlds, and you can have a few blemishes but still qualify for the title. I would, however, prefer that the cultures not be too close or obvious an analog to real-world people and cultures. It is okay if the civilized townsfolk have a problem with fantasy barbaric orcs, for example. That way we can explore some of the topics and drives of real people, without so much risk of making statements ab out real-world people.
I quoted this because it basically sums up what I was going to say.


I'd only add that I often do not play games which have good and evil strictly defined in the same way that some d20 games have alignment. Usually, I play games in which there are far more shades of gray; character personality is often nuanced with things such as motivations, ambitions, emotions, and various other elements. Sometimes the hero has flaws and I'm ok with that. Sometimes the villain is actually a pretty ok guy in spite of the fact his goals are at odds with the players; I'm ok with that too.
 

Tequila Sunrise

First Post
I have some diversity in my gaming groups, but am perfectly fine with portraying imaginary races in a negative light, so long as it is being done to provide recognizable hero-fodder and not as a veiled statement regarding a real-world culture, gender or sexual orientation.
Same here.

If a race is inherently violent/brutal/domineering/rapey, I've got no problem calling them evil. I've never gamed with anyone who didn't understand the difference between pretend evil races and real people who just happen to have different skin color. But I can understand people who feel that inherently evil races are an uncomfortable metaphor for real world racism, and I can understand that some people would rather reserve inherent evil for demons and devils.

To each their own.
 

MJS

First Post
Evil humanoids represent the evil of humankind. There are Orcs in the real world. There are vampires, trolls, and all manner of evil :):):):) in the real world. There is a Catoblepas on the corner of Broadway and Congress St.
But fantasy conceptions of evil do not point to any particular ethnic group. Orcs are not non-whites. The KKK are Orcs with an Evil God.

So, I have no problem with evil in a fantasy setting, indeed, it's needed. IMC, however, any humanoid can be any alignment, but in general, they follow the MM listing, because they were created by mythic Goddesses and Gods that also represent the strengths and weaknesses of humanity, and human attempts at conceptualizing reality - Law, Chaos, the Elements, etc. I do like mixing it up some, though, like a LE nation of High Elves, and rebels within it.

It's the same with Star Trek. Klingons aren't black Japanese people. They represent a warrior archetype which resounds with us all.

All of this doesn't mean that the effects of racism, and sexism, and homophobia, do not touch RPG's - they must - but because racism is :):):):):):):):), even if, say, Tolkien was hugely racist, the :):):):):):):):) backfires, and points at the perpetrator. It always does.

Fantasy is an escape, but it also mirrors. We adventure into the unknown, and confront monsters along the way, growing stronger, or being destroyed. While eating pizza. It's good.

Mod Note: Such language! Please note that our language filter is not an excuse to let loose with profanity. Please keep it civil and family-friendly in the future. Thanks. ~Umbran
 
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Fantasy races are fictional. Do what you want with them.

It is, of course, possible to explore the theme of racism in a fictional construct (e.g. "Planet of the Apes"), but there's no requirement to do so. And if you want to choose not to, but would rather declare "they're the bad guys", then so be it. I hear they make a satisfying thump when they fall down.
 

Dioltach

Adventurer
"Racism was not a problem on the Discworld, because -- what with trolls and dwarfs and so on -- speciesism was more interesting. Black and white lived in perfect harmony and ganged up on green." -- Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

Besides that quote, I have little to add, except that the basic RPG rule applies here: if it adds to your group's enjoyment, throw it in; if it detracts from the enjoyment, throw it out.
 

MrHemlocks

First Post
This discussion seems to be important as well, so here's the thread for it. Starting with a poll.

My own view? I view racism towards fantasy races as a bad thing unless the history of the setting gives a reason (as in orcs = demonspawn etc). That doesn't mean I am against racist PCs - I remember playing a racist elf (against basically all non-Sun Elves) once, and dwarves with an issue with elves are always fun to play. However, the stereotype of a race always described as evil without any other reason than them being different and the setting needing humanoid monsters is a nono for me. I would also not allow clearly racist PCs to be any good alignment.

In the real world, I have had quite a variety of players, and I can't remember the last time I had an all German-speaking round (may happen soon though). My most diverse group was 11 people with ancestry from Japan to Native Indian (yes, in Germany) with the really odd one out being a Tibetan. I have never run into comments like "wow black people play?" or the like, either. The guy who taught me and my friends how to play was Native Indian US army :cool: So it never occurred to me that the hobby was supposedly predominantly white until I got online a lot.

Oh ignore the typo... :mad: Didn't notice the cat killed 2 letters.
Oh, please not yet another one of these type of post. If you are white than I suggest move to South Africa for a bit and these liberal, egalitarian concerns, which you preach about under the guise/cover of a game forum, will cease... Getting tired of this 'types' of threads and than getting labeled as a 'bad' person if not agreeing with them. Problem is most gamers have no idea what the hell is really going on outside of the gaming table and away from their media controlled networks...:yawn: Sheep?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Oh, please not yet another one of these type of post. If you are white than I suggest move to South Africa for a bit and these liberal, egalitarian concerns,
Simply how many times do I have to tell you to cut this out? Warnings get ignored, and temp bans just bounce off, clearly; so I think it's time you left EN World, MrHemlocks. Jeez, dude, I hate it when people just keep pushing until I'm left without any other choice having exhausted every other course of action. Feel free to tell yourself it's for whatever reason makes it easier for you (censorship, political agendas, can't face teh trooof!, whatever takes your fancy - there's a standard menu to choose from), and I wish you well wherever you end up posting, but for everyone else: a reminder of the no politics rules, and a reminder not to try telling other people what sort of threads they're allowed to start.
 
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Janx

Hero
Seriously, some linked Klingons to Japanese? First time I hear that. Around here they tend to be compared to Czar-era Russians.
Really? The klingons are so japanese/barbarian rip-off they poop sushi. Bear in mind, we're talking TNG/DS9 era klingons.

I never heard of them being compared to russians ever.
 

saskganesh

First Post
Next time I play, I'll be sure to measure everyone's skulls, so we can determine what race they are. I'm sure that will lead to better poll results.
 

Janx

Hero
Racism in the real world is bad.

If the party is "good", I expect to not have any PCs act like members of the KKK.

As GM, I may have a blatantly racist race to act as the obvious racist jerks/evil race that you can kill (like Orcs).

I might make a rivalry between "good races" that might show some NPCs acting like jerks, but not out outright villains. An elven shopkeep who "doesn't serve your kind" might be an example (and that's as far as it goes, so he's a jerk exercising his rights as a shop owner, not a terrorist). In such situations, I may shift such jerk personalities based on player behavior. In a Disney moment, the heroic party of Dwarves may just change his mind through their selfless actions despite his jerky treatment toward them.

In a PC party, I might accept two PCs begrudgingly working together (because of their race's background), but I won't accept it being used to justify jerky behavior amongst the party. There's saying your PCs don't like each other, then there's actively disrupting another player's fun. That would be the line.

In general play, this kind of thing doesn't come up. Races with Evil in the alignment description gets portrayed as evil (justifying the alignment description), and the party is legally free to kill them in most situations because they all are caught in the act of being evil.

Stuff without evil in the alignment tends to be nice or not based on their personality or the PCs reputation, rather than the PCs races.

I avoid certain gender issues. I avoid certain racial issues. It's just not what we're there to game for
 

MJS

First Post
Really? The klingons are so japanese/barbarian rip-off they poop sushi. Bear in mind, we're talking TNG/DS9 era klingons.

I never heard of them being compared to russians ever.
The Russian thing relates to TOS era, height of the Cold War. TOS was exploring issues of Communism, but I don't recall it in the early Klingons. But any enemy of the Federation would likely be though of as Commies back then to some people.
Star Trek is a slight deviation, as it conciously deals with human issues, whereas D&D's brushing up against racism and sexism is more a systemic/cultural, and not usually the stuff of adventure or topic of a module.
TrekBBS is a fine forum if you've any interest in this topic in Star Trek. Occasionally you even get production crew or writers posting there.
 

Janx

Hero
The Russian thing relates to TOS era, height of the Cold War. TOS was exploring issues of Communism, but I don't recall it in the early Klingons. But any enemy of the Federation would likely be though of as Commies back then to some people.
Star Trek is a slight deviation, as it conciously deals with human issues, whereas D&D's brushing up against racism and sexism is more a systemic/cultural, and not usually the stuff of adventure or topic of a module.
TrekBBS is a fine forum if you've any interest in this topic in Star Trek. Occasionally you even get production crew or writers posting there.
Good point. I think it's hard to see the TOS klingons as anything but humans in faux chainmail shirts. They struck me more as a Mongolian Horde stereotype. Overall, they were too loosely defined back then. ST3 & TNG seemed to rectify that by remaking them.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Really? The klingons are so japanese/barbarian rip-off they poop sushi.
I don't see that at all. The modern "Japanese" and "barbarian" archetypes/stereotypes are kind of mutually exclusive. Sure, Klingons are about honor, but they are also about barely restrained anger, rather than personal discipline. Worf, specifically, may be like a Samurai, but not the rest of the Klingons.

I never heard of them being compared to russians ever.
The Klingons? No. The Romulans are much closer to the Soviets. Klingons are far too open, while the Romulans have the whole secret-thing going for them.
 

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