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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

Janx

Hero
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.
Not in Hollywoodland. Picture this, what if we make the Klingons all honor focussed and stuff, like the Japanese, and get this, we twist that stereotype by making them be barbaric as well!
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Not in Hollywoodland. Picture this, what if we make the Klingons all honor focussed and stuff, like the Japanese, and get this, we twist that stereotype by making them be barbaric as well!
I don't buy that interpretation. There is only one who is really focused - Worf. This, in fact, is pretty constantly used as a specific contrast between him and his fellow Klingons. It sets him apart - which means the rest of the race doesn't fit the stereotype.
 

Derren

Hero
I don't buy that interpretation. There is only one who is really focused - Worf. This, in fact, is pretty constantly used as a specific contrast between him and his fellow Klingons. It sets him apart - which means the rest of the race doesn't fit the stereotype.
From the lore Janx is right. Klingon = Samurai.
That in the movies and TV they are displayed as barbarians and total pushovers is a different matter.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
From the lore Janx is right. Klingon = Samurai.
That in the movies and TV they are displayed as barbarians and total pushovers is a different matter.
What "lore" do you mean? Because the novels which lean this interpretation (like The Final Reflection - in which they are more like master tacticians than samurai) are non-canon, and haven't been read by many.

I don't give a hoot about lore that the general public doesn't even know about - what matters is what's on screen.
 

Derren

Hero
I don't give a hoot about lore that the general public doesn't even know about - what matters is what's on screen.
Even on screen Klingons are always referred to as honorable warriors and a lot of their rituals would fit with a Samurai society.
The Klingons shown on the other hand are displayed as barbarians incompetent fighters.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I either read r heard an interview abut this with someone. Was it Michael Dorn on Nerdist? I honestly can't remember, but whoever it was discussed at length the process of designing the new Klingons for TNG (and I recall the word "Samurai" being used a lot). I can't remember what they said, though, or who it was, or where I heard it, or if I heard or read it. Maybe I dreamed it.
 

MJS

First Post
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.



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.
Oh thats right, it was Rommies who were Commies. Right down to the grey uniforms. Although, I think TOS dealt more with Communism with alt human societies than with alien. But "Balance of Terror" is probably Romulans as Russia.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Really? The klingons are so japanese/barbarian rip-off they poop sushi. Bear in mind, we're talking TNG/DS9 era klingons.
It is very hard for me to compare the Klingons to the politely smiling Japanese... All they have in common in some way is a strict code of honor.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
The Romulans are much closer to the Soviets. Klingons are far too open, while the Romulans have the whole secret-thing going for them.
Wow Rommies and Soviets... my Romulan fanclub would cringe at that hehe.

Klingons are, as I have been told (not much knowledge of that era) very much like Czar-era Russians. Romulans we actually compare to historic Japanese with their own strict code of honor and seeing themselves as the superior race. I don't think anyone has compared them to Soviets. Th classic era ones got compered to Romans, because of their names and all.
 

Ace

Explorer
1st off,my face to face groups have been quite diverse (White, Black, Hispanic, Mixed Race, Asian) but as we are all geeks it rarely matters. We are the people of the D20 as it were

2nd Its not necessary to make D&D a political activity or for it to be politically correct.Many gamers are quite conservative for one and second,. we do this for fun and no other reason. Make it political sucks away the fun.

3rd The past wasn't that diverse in what we call diversity anyway. Yes there were people of different ethnicities in Europe(and not as invaders) even cities were homogeneous in ways that might shock people now. It was kind of diverse at the village level but its was normal for even adventurous people to go their whole life and see only people who looked at to a degree acted like them.If its what you group wants, thats perfectly OK .If you want something more akin to modernity thats fine too.

Last As long as no one is bothered anything thats fun is OK, your group. Your rules.
 

I am not comfortable with the description of any mortal, humanoid race as automatically, objectively evil - with the exception of the mind flayers. I have read "Bury Mt Heart at Wounded Knee" and the description of orcs in gaming literature is often too similar to the 19th century description of Indians for me to be amused by it. However, having flawed and biased characters in the game being racist is acceptable.
 

Janx

Hero
I either read r heard an interview abut this with someone. Was it Michael Dorn on Nerdist? I honestly can't remember, but whoever it was discussed at length the process of designing the new Klingons for TNG (and I recall the word "Samurai" being used a lot). I can't remember what they said, though, or who it was, or where I heard it, or if I heard or read it. Maybe I dreamed it.
I think another aspect to consider is Plans vs. Execution.

The Ferengi were originally planned to be the new big bad evil villain race. Then they filmed an episode and were patently ridiculous as villains. So they shifted to a more comic, larcenous role.

With Worf, the very earliest klingon episode in TNG (Heart of Glory if I recall), they had the whole honor and thing going on.

Later, with the introduction of the klingon intrigue and stuff for Worf's personal episodes, things morphed.

Perhaps Mongol Horde would be a better comparison. No doubt the klingons were the barbarians of ST. Once past the TOS, they got mixed with bushido/warrior code culture stuff from somewhere.
 
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Janx

Hero
I don't buy that interpretation. There is only one who is really focused - Worf. This, in fact, is pretty constantly used as a specific contrast between him and his fellow Klingons. It sets him apart - which means the rest of the race doesn't fit the stereotype.
You do have valid points (as always).

I consider Worf to be very close the ideal Klingon. In the sense that all Klingons claim to strive for the ideals we see in Worf. But they fail. Ironically, for Worf, he had no direct role model, so he established his character based on the ideals of Klingons, rather than actual experience.

Kind of like a kid with no father, learning about how to be a man from King Arthur stories.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don't think anyone has compared them to Soviets.
Cringe all you want, the reference is there from the start.

The first episode in which Romulans appeared was TOS: "Balance of Terror" - This title is a direct reference to the Cold War arms race between the USA and the Soviet Union. The phrase was coined by Lester Pearson in June 1955, "the balance of terror has replaced the balance of power," at the 10th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter.

The third episode in which they appear ("The Enterprise Incident") is again a pretty obvious play on US/Soviet Cold War spy games.

Anyone who doesn't compare the Romulans to the Soviets, to my mind, has failed to remember the historical context in which TOS was written.

In later portrayals, the "Tal Shiar" secret police are a pretty obvious analog of the real-world KGB. The Soviet Union reference was still alive, as Next Gen started airing in 1987, but the Soviet Union didn't fully dissolve until 1991. The tension between the Tal Shiar and the Romulan Military roughly mirrors what was going on in the Gorbachev-led USSR...

By the time DS9 rolls around, the Romulans have again followed the Soviet/Russian progression, and have become sometimes allies, sometimes adversaries in a politically complex world without clear superpowers.
 
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Janx

Hero
Just to bring the ST:Klingons back into scope for the topic (sorry for hijacking):

Consider Klingons in TOS to be akin to Orcs in D&D 1E era. Klingons are bad, kill Klingons.

Actual exposure to klingons is during episodes where we see them doing bad things. So you COULD interpret that Kirk is a racist who hates Klingons, but there's no ulterior motive for that. He doesn't need to justify violence against Klingons because they are Klingons. The Klingons are doing bad things, and he IS justified in stopping them, regardless of his feelings for them.

Additionally, as I'm re-watching TOS now (near the end of season 2 finally), while Kirk or some redshirt may at times a bit strongy (Klingon!), Kirk always acts with restraint despite any kneejerk pre-judice he might have. He effectively controls his base human nature to react negatively to the "outsiders" and choose better behavior.

Orcs in early D&D can be construed the same way. As long as we're not seeing Orc villages and babies being killed by Paladins, we're not making racist/pre-judicial judgements in the context of D&D. The party comes across a caravan being attack by Orc Raiders. What do they do? the decision has less to do with their race, than the unlawful activity going on.

Now in ST:TNG, we're shown Klingons in a different context (and in fact, direct animosity between humans and klingons is greatly diminished and instead is used to portray prejudicial behavior as a bad thing.

So in D&D now-ish, if you've got Orcs being portrayed as "just another society with a dental problem" then you're also not likely using them as the villainous foil for the PCs to unleash justice upon.
 


Janx

Hero
Cringe all you want, the reference is there from the start.

The first episode in which Romulans appeared was TOS: "Balance of Terror" - This title is a direct reference to the Cold War arms race between the USA and the Soviet Union. The phrase was coined by Lester Pearson in June 1955, "the balance of terror has replaced the balance of power," at the 10th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter.

The third episode in which they appear ("The Enterprise Incident") is again a pretty obvious play on US/Soviet Cold War spy games.

Anyone who doesn't compare the Romulans to the Soviets, to my mind, has failed to remember the historical context in which TOS was written.

In later portrayals, the "Tal Shiar" secret police are a pretty obvious analog of the real-world KGB. The Soviet Union reference was still alive, as Next Gen started airing in 1987, but the Soviet Union didn't fully dissolve until 1991. The tension between the Tal Shiar and the Romulan Military roughly mirrors what was going on in the Gorbachev-led USSR...

By the time DS9 rolls around, the Romulans have again followed the Soviet/Russian progression, and have become sometimes allies, sometimes adversaries in a politically complex world without clear superpowers.
Yup. If nothing else, the Romulans were another Mashup. Romanesque culture (titles, etc), Soviet era issues.

In some ways, I would consider that the default Hollywood standard procedure. Take 2 things and merge them together to create the new alien race/culture/situation.

In this way, you can tell a Hunt for Red October story in the guise of "they're aliens". The Romulans are so roman, you can't be accused of mocking the russian culture. Yet the behavior and situations were exactly what the Soviets were involved in.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
The first episode in which Romulans appeared was TOS: "Balance of Terror" - This title is a direct reference to the Cold War arms race between the USA and the Soviet Union. The phrase was coined by Lester Pearson in June 1955, "the balance of terror has replaced the balance of power," at the 10th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter.

The third episode in which they appear ("The Enterprise Incident") is again a pretty obvious play on US/Soviet Cold War spy games.
Ah yeah, might explain why the German titles were weirder than usual. Generally the German translations sucked big time though including changing names so that's probably why in our German-based fandom things are seen slightly different

The original German title was "Spock suspected."

I know all the episodes, including the one never aired in Germany, in English by now, of course, never made the connection though. But I'm a cold war kid, references to spies and such seemed natural enough, and we really didn't see the Romulans that often before TNG came around.

Seriously, I thought the classic Rommies looked like wearing their night clothes at all times, but same reference could be made to all the uniforms, especially the Federation uniforms.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Actual exposure to klingons is during episodes where we see them doing bad things. So you COULD interpret that Kirk is a racist who hates Klingons, but there's no ulterior motive for that. He doesn't need to justify violence against Klingons because they are Klingons. The Klingons are doing bad things, and he IS justified in stopping them, regardless of his feelings for them.


Orcs in early D&D can be construed the same way. As long as we're not seeing Orc villages and babies being killed by Paladins, we're not making racist/pre-judicial judgements in the context of D&D. The party comes across a caravan being attack by Orc Raiders. What do they do? the decision has less to do with their race, than the unlawful activity going on.
Kirk didn't hate the Klingons until they killed David, he disliked them but was able to work with them just fine when they weren't totally stupid about it (Day of the Dove - which was, funny enough, called Balance of Power in German).

As for the orcs, definitely true. But as a GM I'd not ever describe orcs as only raiders. I would place as many of them in reasonable positions, even if they are mostly working as guards and not as farmers, than I'd place them as raiders. Everything else would feel totally wrong to me.
 

Janx

Hero
...and cheese graters on their foreheads. Don't forget those.
yeah, my wife had never heard of "forehead aliens" before when I had to explain why the aliens on DS9 had goofy stuff on their head. From TNG on up, that was ST's go-to method for making new aliens.

Probably economical, and generally looked better than TOS aliens, but as it became over-used as a strategy it became a running joke.
 

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