The problem with Evil races is not what you think

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Well, lets imagine it as an orc. What would an orc race have to be in order to avoid being deeply problematic? I would say that first we should dump the word 'race', lets call it a 'species', it is not a human, it is another species.
Tolkien's and similar use of 'race of men' vs. 'race of elves' or whatnot, seems to certainly be outweighed by the negative uses of the word's other definitions before and since. I'm tempted to suggest 'peoples' instead of 'races' for the humanoids, but then does that box out the centaurs and treants, for example. Sure, 'species'.

I would probably totally avoid the whole 'breeding with humans' thing entirely. If the issue ever comes up, then OK, maybe orcs and humans are in the same genus. Maybe they can create sterile offspring, or whatever. But why even go there?

Orcs are not inherently evil. There may well be an orc civilization which has standards and culture which the PCs will not approve of. OK, fine, so do cultures on the real Earth (and yes we label them as inferior to us, our bad). I mean, we have plenty of fictional models already out there, like Klingons, which are certainly not an 'evil race' or particularly 'primitive' etc. In fact, I think Star Trek did a fairly decent job, right? (I'm sure there are points where it might be criticized, I really haven't studied the topic). I mean, there are other non-D&D versions of orcs too, some of which are probably more acceptable.
I guess my question about Orcs and Elves and Klingons and Vulcans is, what's their purpose?

I don't know if I have words I want to put down for any of them but I think I can see a storytelling purpose for the humanoid animals (some flavors of lizardmen, kenku), the things from Faerie (some flavors of elves, some flavors of goblins), the things from the far realms and abberations (ilithid) and the undead (vampires and zombies), and the outsiders (angels and devils) that don't have to drift into problems.

But is the purpose of dwarves, halflings, and orcs (or Klingons and Vulcans) mostly to allow for a certain type of person to not be a human - often with a solid slop of some extreme stereotype thrown on? That is, to essentially be another race of humans? Does that work if the other race is "better" or doesn't overlap in too many ways at all - but fall flat if they are "lesser" or are portrayed as the other? If they're the same, do they just allow for stories about interactions between human groups, without needing one of them to be human (is that why they're used in Star Trek so much)? How important is that in a fantasy world?

Anyway, obviously they can't be INHERENTLY primitive, evil, stupid, aggressive, etc. That's really it. While this might create some problems for existing D&D settings and lore, it doesn't seem all that onerous to me. Now, creatures which are much less obviously humanoid, we can be less worried about. The example of 'parrots' is good, a bird people are much less evocative of humans, and as long as you avoid trying to carbon copy a human culture onto them, I am sure it should be fine. That leaves a LOT of design space open! Cat people, dog people, bird people, lizard people, snake people, insect people, etc. etc. etc. Just don't make the more anthro ones inherently negative AND associated with cultural traits we link to racist ideas.

It is all rather unfortunate. This would be a lot easier, except we're burdened with a nasty history. That's life.
Oh for a time machine and the hope that we would actually be better than our ancestors were in those same situations.
 
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I should add that my argument in the post upthread isn't that all animal people are racist. It's that the use of animal features applied to real world people by racists demonstrates that animal people in fiction can be racist. (I'll add this to my OP as an edit.)

Elsewhere in this thread I've made stronger arguments about what I think is racist in D&D, to do with correspondences with racist claims, and in some cases derivation from Tolkien, Howard, Lovecraft, and other cultural sources. Ultimately all of it comes from the (often unconscious and unexamined) absorption and reproduction of ideas in the wider culture.
Yes. And that social relationships within the implied or default dnd setting mimic colonialism, and I would say specifically nineteenth century settler colonialism. That is, these racial descriptions in dnd, as a set of cultural documents, don't make sense without the context of Euro-American imperialism.

The question of what gets inadvertently reproduced even among people mindful of those tropes is an interesting one. I'm assuming most of us run games in English, and many of us playing where we reside, which is to say, on stolen land. Which is to say, the development of this particular language of talking about otherness is fairly recent, and permeates our contemporary existence.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
CONTENT WARNING: VERY RACIST CLAIMS, IN QUOTATION

This post is about several different sorts of correspondences between "savage" humanoids in D&D 5e and racist ideas.

Savage and Civilised Races

Note the virtually identical terminology — D&D 5e's "civilized and savage" and "savage... races" compared with Gobineau's "savage races" and Darwin's "savage and civilised races."

D&D 5e Monster Manual (2014):
"Humanoids are the main peoples of the D&D world, both civilized and savage… far more savage and brutal, and almost uniformly evil, are the races of goblinoids (goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears), orcs, gnolls, lizardfolk, and kobolds."

Arthur de Gobineau, The Inequality of Races (1853):
"The savage races of to-day have always been savage, and we are right in concluding, by analogy, that they will continue to be so, until the day when they disappear."

Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871):
"The belief that there exists in man some close relation between the size of the brain and the development of the intellectual faculties is supported by the comparison of the skulls of savage and civilised races."

Devil Worship

The worship of evil gods, such as the orcish god Gruumsh, is very similar to devil worship.

Monster Manual:
"[Gnolls worship] the demon lord Yeenoghu."

Cotton Mather, The Glorious Works of Christ in America (1702):
"These parts were then covered with nations of barbarous Indians and infidels… whose whole religion was the most explicit sort of devil-worship."

Charles Wentworth Dilke, Greater Britain (1868):
"All Indian religion has the air of devil-worship, or worship of the destructive principle in some shape: the gods are drawn as grinning fiends, they are propitiated by infernal music, they are often worshipped with obscene and hideous rites."

William Benjamin Smith, The Color Line (1905):
"These "avenues" of the far-sighted African are nothing but the blind alleys of Voodooism and devil worship."

A Creed of Fear and Horror

Monster Manual:
"Maglubiyet… is the greater god of goblinoids… he is worshiped not out of adoration but fear."

Greater Britain:
"We must not forget that Hindooism is a creed of fear and horror, not of love."

Human Sacrifice

Monster Manual:

Gnolls celebrate their victories by performing demonic rituals and making blood offerings to Yeenoghu.​
Prisoners… are sacrificed to Semuanya, the lizardfolk god.​
When an orc slays an elf in Gruumsh's name and offers the corpse of its foe as a sacrifice to the god of slaughter, an aspect of the god might appear.​

John Lubbock, The Origin of Civilisation (1870):

The lowest races have no religion; when what may perhaps be in a sense called religion first appears, it differs essentially from ours; nay, it is not only different, but in some respects even opposite... The deities are evil, not good... they generally require bloody, and often rejoice in human, sacrifices.​

Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Color (1920):
"The native religions were usually sanguinary, demanding a prodigality of human sacrifices. The killings ordained by negro wizards and witch-doctors sometimes attained unbelievable proportions."

HP Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu (1928):

From a wide circle of ten scaffolds set up at regular intervals with the flame-girt monolith as a centre hung, head downward, the oddly marred bodies of the helpless squatters who had disappeared. It was inside this circle that the ring of worshippers jumped and roared... there must have been nearly a hundred mongrel celebrants in the throng.​

Robert E Howard, The Slithering Shadow (1933):

'A god must have his sacrifices. When I was a child in Stygia the people lived under the shadow of the priests. None ever knew when he or she would be seized and dragged to the altar…'​
'Such is not the custom of my people,' Conan growled.​

Cannibalism

Monster Manual:

Gnolls are feral humanoids that attack settlements along the frontiers and borderlands of civilization without warning, slaughtering their victims and devouring their flesh.​
Lizard folk are omnivorous, but they have a taste for humanoid flesh. Prisoners are often taken back to their camps to become the centerpieces of great feasts… Victims are... cooked and eaten by the tribe.​

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes (1912):
"And then began for the French officer the most terrifying experience which man can encounter upon earth—the reception of a white prisoner into a village of African cannibals."

Robert E Howard, Shadows in Zamboula (1935):
"Cannibalism was more than a perverted appetite with the black men of Darfar; it was an integral element of their ghastly cult."

Patrick Brantlinger, Taming Cannibals (2011):

The motif of the missionary as cannibal fare has been a staple of Western popular culture for centuries.​
Imaginary cannibals have been all too influential as a negative stereotype of non-Western Others and as an excuse for the extermination of those Others.​

Non-morality

Monster Manual:
"Lizardfolk have no notion of traditional morality, and they find the concepts of good and evil utterly alien."

The Color Line:
"It is more correct to say of the Negro that he is non-moral than immoral."
 
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willrali

Explorer
Yeah, as the years have gone by, I've come more and more to the view that there's simply no room for 'humanoids'. The problems just run too deep. The next game I run will be all humans, all the time. The enemies will either be humans or literal monsters of alien or demonic motivation that are impossible to play as characters.

I'm just tired of navigating the minefield of humanoid 'races' and all the baggage they bring.
 

Tolkien and similar use of 'race of men' vs. 'race of elves' or whatnot, seems to certainly be outweighed by the negative uses of the words other definitions before and since. I'm tempted to suggest 'peoples' instead of 'races' for the humanoids, but then does that box out the centaurs and treants, for example. Sure, 'species'.
Yeah, there was a whole thread on what name to use a few months back. Various suggestions were made, but IMHO species is the clearest, other ones seem like they don't really get you far enough from the baggage of 'race'. People, folk, kind, kin, nation, etc. are all mostly tolerably clear, though some of them have other connotations that might not always fit, like implying a level of unification of culture or politics that is not justified in every setting. Species does sound a bit 'sciency' I guess, but there's some virtue in that, you have clearly made a statement as to the biological distinctness of each group. I guess you may be opening up the possibility of the can of worms which would be some people's sense of where on the cladogram to put each one, and if some of those locations imply some superiority or something, but at least you make people take a few more dubious leaps before they get to "I'm better than him."
I guess my question about Orcs and Elves and Klingons and Vulcans is, what's there purpose?

I don't know if I have words I want to put down for any of them but I think I can see a storytelling purpose for the humanoid animals (some flavors of lizardmen, kenku), the things from Faerie (some flavors of elves, some flavors of goblins), the things from the far realms and abberations (ilithid) and the undead (vampires and zombies), and the outsiders (angels and devils) that don't have to drift into problems.
I'm with you there.
But is the purpose of dwarves, halflings, and orcs (or Klingons and Vulcans) mostly to allow for a certain type of person to not be a human - often with a solid slop of some extreme stereotype thrown on? That is, to essentially be another race of humans? Does that work if the other race is "better" or doesn't overlap in too many ways at all - but fall flat if they are "lesser" or are portrayed as the other? If they're the same, do they just allow for stories about interactions between human groups, without needing one of them to be human (is that why they're used in Star Trek so much)? How important is that in a fantasy world?
Yeah, I mean, this is a good question, do we need orcs at all? Obviously the simple answer is 'no'. I mean, we can get by without them. If orcs have to be depicted in as much of a 3-dimensional nuanced way as humans, at some point is it really necessary to have them as a different species? I do think Star Trek wrestled with that a bit, Vulcans seemed a lot like supermen at first, but Spock was always depicted as being both superhuman, and at the same time in some ways unable to do things that were pretty easy for humans. So that leaves us with the IDEA of aliens, which is a thing in Sci Fi. I mean, the very idea of a cosmopolitan galaxy filled with different species says something IN AND OF ITSELF. Likewise, in a world-building sense, humanoids/demi-humans does say something. Plus it has folkloric/mythological significance. So, I think there is a reason to have 'orcs', at least as a general concept. Now, maybe the game could do with just 'elves' and 'dwarves', so to speak, and not hostile humanoid races, but I think basically by saying every species must be depicted in a nuanced way, that is what you would get, nobody is really an 'orc', they are just a species, like us, but different. So I could see building a world where you have demi-humans, but no humanoid monsters. Or the only ones are things like giants or something, which could have their own special creation story and be really very different from 'people'.
Oh for a time machine and the hope that we would actually be better than our ancestors were in those same situations.
Yeah, we'd like to think we would, but my money is against it, even for myself.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Hey, make orcs into the mortal descendants of literal and you have a fine rationale for an always evil non-nuanced species.

(IOW, what tieflings could have been.)

Of course, eventually, someone will want to play a Hellboy-inspired character and…
 

pemerton

Legend
When is something tripe and when is it a natural feeling story element?
I think the notion of a "natural feeling story element" is challenging in this context. Because when we're talking about received tropes, naturalness can be a manifestation of that received character.

Does the creature from the black lagoon need to have language and literature and science and live in a house to avoid tropes?
Speaking just for my part, I get a bit tired of framings/settings that treat agrarian and urban social and economic forms as the norm for humans, so that other forms of human life get framed as "primitive" and threats.

There is a complexity or a compounding, here, that results from the fact that RPGing, as an activity, is undertaken by people living in urban, literate societies. Which means it's easy to project that as a norm - so part of the "strangeness" of a creature is its distance from, or contrast with, those social forms.

A further compounding factor is the heritage of JRRT - The Shire is presented as, at one and the same time, an agrarian pre-industrial paradise and as having material plenty comparable to nineteenth or even twentieth century Britain. So familiar cultural elements - romanticised British villagers - are merged with a familiar material culture not in any sort of realistic fashion, but by authorial whim that reinforces the normative projection described in the previous paragraph.

One way to try and break down that normative projection can be to engage with a wide range of history and social science. Another, based on human experience rather than intellectual techniques, is to talk with someone who is an accomplished professional in a scientific field about her childhood eating with banana leaves and gourds (ie when her society had not undergone extensive processes of industrialisation and state formation, and hence - among other things - did not have a material culture that rested so heavily on factory production of crockery and cutlery). Breaking down that normative projection means breaking down the association between humanity - in its full meaning - and a certain sort of material and intellectual culture and social and economic organisation.

In D&D, given its standard processes of play and associated mechanical systems, I think this is not just about Orcs vs humans. It's also, for instance, about rules for AC.

To somewhat echo @AbdulAlhazred, there's no reason to think this should be easy.

Is it ok to just have the things the races do semi-logically follow from what the base species does?
If we're talking about animalian people, we get proud lionfolk and group-centred dogfolk and sneaky, slithery ratfolk. Maybe also tail-chasing catfolk, though they mightn't be a good fit for typical D&D.

If we get to non-mammalian animals, or even more obscure mammals like echidnas or pangolins, it's more obscure how we would project their apparent emotional lives (do frogs even have emotional lives?) onto animal people. But I think this is pretty different from what @Doug McCrae is discussing. D&D lizardfolk aren't created by trying to imagine, in some sci-fi-ish way, what an intelligent lizard might be like - for a start, there's no particular reason to think that an intelligent, humanoid, egg-laying reptile would be a gregarious animal. They're a version of a pulp trope - you could take the entries for lizardfolk and "tribesmen", swap the names, and not have anything that is being said about either group of people change.

I guess my question about Orcs and Elves and Klingons and Vulcans is, what's their purpose?

<snip>

But is the purpose of dwarves, halflings, and orcs (or Klingons and Vulcans) mostly to allow for a certain type of person to not be a human - often with a solid slop of some extreme stereotype thrown on? That is, to essentially be another race of humans?
My knowledge of Star Trek isn't that great - bits and pieces of the original TV series and original movies. On that basis, it seems to me that the purpose of Vulcans is to serve a storytelling function, about the relationship between human intelligence and human morality. This is done by having Vulcans be hyper-intelligent but lacking in the sorts of emotions that underpin particularity and permissible self-regard (as opposed to strict impersonality) in human morality.

I created a Burning Wheel character a few weeks ago, for a new campaign. The character is a Dark Elf in JRRT's sense - mechanically, in BW, this is expressed by having the standard Elvish Grief trait turn into Spite. Like all BW Elves, Dark Elves can sing magical songs - one of these can allow other Elves to turn their Grief to Spite as they realise the futility of hope. In certain circumstances, a Dark Elf can turn Spite back to Grief - this requires (inter alia) being forgiven by a (non-Dark) Elf whom the Dark Elf has hurt in the course of play. A Dark Elf may also, in the right circumstances, turn his/her Spite into Hatred - a trait normally possessed only by Orcs.

So besides some cool images, the function of Elves and Orcs is to give a certain sort of mechanical expression to these emotional aspects of the human experience - Grief at the suffering of human due to their "fallen" nature; Spite (or, less evocatively, extreme realism/pessimism) at the futility of continuing to struggle for genuine achievement or redemption; Hatred as a response to all the horrible experiences the world throws at us. (Dwarves, in BW, have Greed as their Emotional Attribute.)

There are also material cultures associated with these different "stock" (the BW term for D&D's "race") - Dwarven armour, Elven cloaks, Dark Elves dark metal weapons that long to draw blood, jagged Orcish blades and Orcish wolf-riders - but at least in my view, these are not foregrounded in the same way in BW as in D&D, and hence the pulp-y and racialised tropes do not predominate.

Of course that's my view and experience. Others might differ.
 

I think the notion of a "natural feeling story element" is challenging in this context. Because when we're talking about received tropes, naturalness can be a manifestation of that received character.

Speaking just for my part, I get a bit tired of framings/settings that treat agrarian and urban social and economic forms as the norm for humans, so that other forms of human life get framed as "primitive" and threats.

There is a complexity or a compounding, here, that results from the fact that RPGing, as an activity, is undertaken by people living in urban, literate societies. Which means it's easy to project that as a norm - so part of the "strangeness" of a creature is its distance from, or contrast with, those social forms.
Right, and here I think we all have to politely ask people with different cultural/social backgrounds to all give each other the same 'breathing room'. I think that sometimes is the gist of frustration with 'PC' ideas about gaming and race/culture. Not to absolve anyone of responsibility for how they depict things, but to be able to give and take. However, I do appreciate that our Western cultures have done a lot of 'giving' and not so much 'taking' in a sense, historically (or maybe we should call it taking instead of giving, either way).
In D&D, given its standard processes of play and associated mechanical systems, I think this is not just about Orcs vs humans. It's also, for instance, about rules for AC.
That is an interesting point which hadn't come up so far in any of this discussion. AC is an easy one to look at, you are 'better armored' the more metal you can drape on your body in D&D. I think many games follow a similar pattern. I don't think this is unrealistic necessarily, but clearly there are trade-offs, and different societies needn't be 'backwards' simply because they don't wear armor. Yet those characters would be harshly punished mechanically in a D&D game (certainly a classic D&D game, less so in 4e or 5e).
D&D lizardfolk aren't created by trying to imagine, in some sci-fi-ish way, what an intelligent lizard might be like - for a start, there's no particular reason to think that an intelligent, humanoid, egg-laying reptile would be a gregarious animal. They're a version of a pulp trope - you could take the entries for lizardfolk and "tribesmen", swap the names, and not have anything that is being said about either group of people change.
Right, Lizardmen (or nowadays folk) aren't about what an intelligent lizard race would be like. They are simply a recapitulation of old western tropes about 'primitive tribes', with the lizard part not carrying any significance at all except as an atmospheric detail.
My knowledge of Star Trek isn't that great - bits and pieces of the original TV series and original movies. On that basis, it seems to me that the purpose of Vulcans is to serve a storytelling function, about the relationship between human intelligence and human morality. This is done by having Vulcans be hyper-intelligent but lacking in the sorts of emotions that underpin particularity and permissible self-regard (as opposed to strict impersonality) in human morality.
I watched all the original series episodes a few months back. Spock is a pretty sophisticated character. For example when the 'space hippies' show up, he identifies closely with their philosophical stance and they respect him. He's controlled, and cool, in his outward appearance, but Vulcans are not depicted as emotionally challenged, more the opposite. Their instinctive nature is so strong that they were FORCED to become controlled, or else perish. The message as it relates to modern humanity is pretty transparent of course! The theme is extended to humans as well, with hints of a history in which civilization reached the very brink of annihilation before adopting more mature attitudes (and presumably the Vulcans helped, as they are said to have appeared at that time).

I mean, Star Trek has plenty of ludicrously stock trope aliens as well, though interestingly I think the original show was in some sense more enlightened in that regard than later series. The Klingons are bad guys, maybe even a bit evil by our standards (they threaten to torture Kirk and Spock once for example, and they systematically execute Organians who don't obey them). OTOH they keep to their agreements and seem to have their own cultural standards. The Romulans are the other race that shows up a few times. They are depicted as a militaristic society, but the individual characters are respectable and certainly don't seem to be depicted as 'inferior' or lacking in positive traits.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
Leftists? How about "folks who want people treated with respect".
So the gist of it is....
Because in the past some humans were falsely accused of being savage and evil, we cannot now have savage and evil make believe races in a roleplaying game.

First I will say that the past should never dictate what you can or cannot do today. It's either inherently right or wrong.

I'm not surprised that WoTC has gone the route they've gone. If I still played D&D, I don't and never played 5e, I would just tell my players to ignore all that stupid stuff and pretty much go with the implied world setting of prior years.

It's too bad. I think WoTC is listening to their employees, west coast leftists, and think they represent most of America. This is honestly a non-problem. If in fact this is the next thing we need to do on the road to racial equality then no problem exists in America as it relates to racism. Personally I don't think that is true and we should focus on real issues and not get sidetracked into stuff like this.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
If we're talking about animalian people, we get proud lionfolk and group-centred dogfolk and sneaky, slithery ratfolk. Maybe also tail-chasing catfolk, though they mightn't be a good fit for typical D&D.

If we get to non-mammalian animals, or even more obscure mammals like echidnas or pangolins, it's more obscure how we would project their apparent emotional lives (do frogs even have emotional lives?) onto animal people. But I think this is pretty different from what @Doug McCrae is discussing. D&D lizardfolk aren't created by trying to imagine, in some sci-fi-ish way, what an intelligent lizard might be like - for a start, there's no particular reason to think that an intelligent, humanoid, egg-laying reptile would be a gregarious animal. They're a version of a pulp trope - you could take the entries for lizardfolk and "tribesmen", swap the names, and not have anything that is being said about either group of people change.

Exactly. That was what I was trying to allude to with my "some flavors of lizardmen". I would be all in on a source book that took real life animals and humanoidized them with traits reflecting where they might end up. Even the house cat :)
 

So the gist of it is....
Because in the past some humans were falsely accused of being savage and evil, we cannot now have savage and evil make believe races in a roleplaying game.
Thanks for this post. We were in danger of having a complex and nuanced discussion of race and otherness in fantasy and sci-fi world building, but you've brought it back to an overly simplistic caricature of an argument. Well done.


I'm not surprised that WoTC has gone the route they've gone. If I still played D&D, I don't and never played 5e, I would just tell my players to ignore all that stupid stuff and pretty much go with the implied world setting of prior years.
To the extent that anyone mentioned wotc, it's to point out how their materials, especially 5e, are replete with racial stereotypes drawn from recent history
It's too bad. I think WoTC is listening to their employees, west coast leftists, and think they represent most of America. This is honestly a non-problem. If in fact this is the next thing we need to do on the road to racial equality then no problem exists in America as it relates to racism.
There are more places in the world than just America

Personally I don't think that is true and we should focus on real issues and not get sidetracked into stuff like this.
So, I assume you do a lot of work in your local community supporting racial justice?
 



To be fair, I did mention their article, Diversity and Dungeons & Dragons, upthread. It was an important announcement imo and caused a huge amount of debate on ENWorld at the time.
Right. I think they are possibly still a little behind the curve on a few things, and the way they slipped with 5e in general (back a few years now, but still) has maybe put them a little on their back foot. Still, clearly the desire is there and they've been saying pretty much the right things.

Really I don't envy them all that much. You have a very hidebound community of D&D fans who seem rather unhappy with a lot of changes which smack of modernized approaches to RPGs. And at the same time you have a heritage game who's material is practically seething with potential to offend practically anyone who isn't 'anglo' if they are in the mood to be offended. Its kind of a rock and a hard place, and I'd work some fire into that analogy if I could... lol.
 

Right. I think they are possibly still a little behind the curve on a few things, and the way they slipped with 5e in general (back a few years now, but still) has maybe put them a little on their back foot. Still, clearly the desire is there and they've been saying pretty much the right things.

Really I don't envy them all that much. You have a very hidebound community of D&D fans who seem rather unhappy with a lot of changes which smack of modernized approaches to RPGs. And at the same time you have a heritage game who's material is practically seething with potential to offend practically anyone who isn't 'anglo' if they are in the mood to be offended. Its kind of a rock and a hard place, and I'd work some fire into that analogy if I could... lol.
There was a little controversy recently because of the way they edited pocgamer's entry in Candlekeep mysteries. Aside from cutting crucial chunks of the adventure, making it (according to reviews) sort of unplayable, they described a group of Grippli as "primitive" where the author didn't use that term. From what I saw on Reddit and other places, in general the 5e community didn't think any of that was a big problem. But to me, it indicates that the company is involving poc creators but only in a limited and token way. And I want Kim Mohan (who edited that adventure) to explain, using his own words, why an author and some readers might not want him inserting that word in a description of a group of humanoid beings. I'm not sure he could.
 

Ixal

Hero
There was a little controversy recently because of the way they edited pocgamer's entry in Candlekeep mysteries. Aside from cutting crucial chunks of the adventure, making it (according to reviews) sort of unplayable, they described a group of Grippli as "primitive" where the author didn't use that term. From what I saw on Reddit and other places, in general the 5e community didn't think any of that was a big problem. But to me, it indicates that the company is involving poc creators but only in a limited and token way. And I want Kim Mohan (who edited that adventure) to explain, using his own words, why an author and some readers might not want him inserting that word in a description of a group of humanoid beings. I'm not sure he could.
So is 'primitive' a forbidden word now? Even though it only describes the level of technological development in relation to someone else?
And PoC creators are no guarantee for quality, so I am not sure what the cutting has to do with it.
 
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So is 'primitive' now a forbidden word? Even though it only describes the level of technological development in relation to someone else?
And PoC creators are no guarantee for quality, so I am not sure what the cutting has to do with it.
The idea of technological development, in which there are some more 'advanced' groups and some more 'backward' groups, with progress coming in a linear process, was a fundamental aspect of european colonialism and its ideology. It is what justified an imperialism that would conquer so as to "improve." In the scenario, the PCs have to protect a group of "primitive" Grippli, and so have a relation to them to mimics colonial relationships. (I'm surprised that this response is coming up in this thread, because you can find extensive, concrete examples of these kind of parallels between dnd game material and real world colonialism, as well as long discussions of how and why it matters, upthread).

Nothing is "forbidden." But the writer in question has an entire website considering the above dynamic, and so for an editor to introduce that element into his story without telling the creator is quite disrespectful (and the writer objected to its inclusion). Pertinent to the topic of this thread, the writer also included Yuan-ti of different moral persuasions, and this was largely cut and reduced to the adventure being another "kill the evil humanoid monsters."

The question of editing relates to wotc's corporate dynamics, so I can't speak to that. However, it seems that large portions of this adventure were cut without the author being made aware, even before he did press for them, and that other writers got more space for their adventures and were more clued-in to the process. As a writer and a person of color, this kind of experience resonated with me, even if it is just a result of wotc's sloppy editing process.
 

Ixal

Hero
The idea of technological development, in which there are some more 'advanced' groups and some more 'backward' groups, with progress coming in a linear process, was a fundamental aspect of european colonialism and its ideology. It is what justified an imperialism that would conquer so as to "improve." In the scenario, the PCs have to protect a group of "primitive" Grippli, and so have a relation to them to mimics colonial relationships. (I'm surprised that this response is coming up in this thread, because you can find extensive, concrete examples of these kind of parallels between dnd game material and real world colonialism, as well as long discussions of how and why it matters, upthread).

Nothing is "forbidden." But the writer in question has an entire website considering the above dynamic, and so for an editor to introduce that element into his story without telling the creator is quite disrespectful (and the writer objected to its inclusion). Pertinent to the topic of this thread, the writer also included Yuan-ti of different moral persuasions, and this was largely cut and reduced to the adventure being another "kill the evil humanoid monsters."

The question of editing relates to wotc's corporate dynamics, so I can't speak to that. However, it seems that large portions of this adventure were cut without the author being made aware, even before he did press for them, and that other writers got more space for their adventures and were more clued-in to the process. As a writer and a person of color, this kind of experience resonated with me, even if it is just a result of wotc's sloppy editing process.
Technological development might not be strictly linear, but many advances build up on each other, so it is quite valid to identify people who have not invented, discovered or are using many critical developments and thus their technological capabilities being rather low in comparison as primitive. That has nothing to do with colonial relations.
 
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So is 'primitive' a forbidden word now? Even though it only describes the level of technological development in relation to someone else?
And PoC creators are no guarantee for quality, so I am not sure what the cutting has to do with it.
Who decides what is 'primitive'? I mean, take some people who live by hunting and gathering. They have a toolkit, right? The technology which makes up that toolkit has been developed over a, literally, immeasurable length of time. Like, we cannot even say "technology started here." So is it more primitive than your average group of Americans living in Seattle? Most of our tech is maybe 100 years old, 200, 500, even the oldest of our technologies are what, 12,000 years old (going back to the first urban constructions). How can you call anything more primitive than something else? I mean, OK, maybe there are situations where you can, if some people are, say, refugees from a fallen civilization and they had to go reinvent stone axes from scratch. I don't think that's normally the case for any D&D cultures though.

There are DEFINITELY better words to be used than 'primitive', it is simply inaccurate, and communicates the, probably erroneous, idea that the PCs tools and things are going to automatically be superior to those of a group of beings which has probably existed in their home environment for centuries, millennia, or possibly even much longer than that.

OTOH there is no doubt that, say, 18th Century British had things like steel and guns that Native Americans lacked. However, I would note that the what those Native Americans made from that steel was versions of their own tools, which the English found to be quite handy (witness all the steel tomahawks they made)! Nor did Native Americans find firearms all that handy, except as a way to fight said English/Americans (or each other sometimes). So, it isn't clear that an objective evaluation would conclude that one group's tech was definitively superior to the others. When they came together, the result was some sort of fusion.

Finally, I think it is fair to say that often one group has a superiority in terms of the operational means available to it. So Native Americans were not making steel, certainly not guns whereas in principle the British could potentially make tomahawks. However, making a stone tomahawk was still not a skill that British people had, any more than Native Americans were able to smelt iron. Either one could learn the other's skills, but Britain had operational means to do things like mass produce goods. Is this 'higher technology'? I mean, its kind of hard to say, that technology, in its most modern form, seems to be destroying the Earth. Maybe we were the ones who needed to learn something? Pity we didn't.

The ultimate point is, these sorts of highly judgmental words and statements are very subjective, very context dependent, and generally close people's minds to ideas that they might actually want to let in. It seems like there might be better ways to phrase things.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
CONTENT WARNING: VERY RACIST CLAIMS, IN QUOTATION

This post is about the way race determines morality in AD&D 1e (1977-1979) and D&D 5e (2014), and the correspondence with scientific racism.

Racial Determinism in D&D

In the AD&D 1e Dungeon Masters Guide (1979), morality seems to be determined by race. Subsequent publications, starting with Roger Moore's article Half-orcs in Dragon #62 (1982), repudiated this until D&D 5e brought back racial determinism, and made it more explicit than it had ever been before. However in 2020, WotC radically changed direction again.

AD&D 1e DMG:

Half-Orcs are boors. They are rude, crude, crass, and generally obnoxious. Because most are cowardly they tend to be bullies and cruel to the weak, but they will quickly knuckle under to the stronger. This does not mean that all half-orcs are horrid, only most of them... They will always seek to gain the upper hand and dominate those around them so as to be able to exercise their natural tendencies; half-orcs are greedy too. They can, of course, favor their human parent more than their orcish one.​

This passage suggests that boorishness, rudeness, bullying and so forth are orcish "natural tendencies". When a half-orc does not have these personality traits it is because it favours its human parent.

Roger Moore, writing in Dragon #62, offered an environmental explanation for orcish evil: "Orcs are like this because of the influence of their deities… and because of their own past. Sages have uncovered much evidence showing that orcs developed in regions generally hostile to life; survival was difficult." By "influence of their deities", Moore meant religious instruction — "This attitude is reinforced in their religious ceremonies."

In AD&D 1e Unearthed Arcana (1985), not only could PC drow and duergar be of any alignment, it was indicated that even for NPCs the listed alignment was only a tendency (emphasis mine):

Drow are generally evil and chaotic in nature, though player characters are not required to be so.​
While the majority of the members of this sub-race are of lawful evil alignment (with neutral tendencies), player characters who are gray dwarves may be of any alignment.​

The AD&D 2e Complete Book of Humanoids (1993) took a similar approach to Unearthed Arcana but expanded it to include a greater number of monstrous races.

More precision was provided by the D&D 3e Monster Manual (2000) with the introduction of the alignment modifying categories Always, Usually, and Often. But even a monster listed as, for example, Always Chaotic Evil, such as a demon, had the possibility of redemption: "It is possible for individuals to change alignment, but such individuals are either unique or one-in-a-million exceptions."

In D&D 5e the idea that alignment is unchangeable returned, and was made more explicit than it had been in AD&D 1e. D&D 5e Player's Handbook (2014):

The evil deities who created other races, though, made those races to serve them. Those races have strong inborn tendencies that match the nature of their gods. Most orcs share the violent, savage nature of the orc god, Gruumsh and are thus inclined toward evil. Even if an orc chooses a good alignment, it struggles against its innate tendencies for its entire life. (Even half-orcs feel the lingering pull of the orc god's influence.)​

D&D 5e Volo's Guide to Monsters (2016):

No matter how domesticated an orc might seem, its blood lust flows just beneath the surface. With its instinctive love of battle and its desire to prove its strength, an orc trying to live within the confines of civilization is faced with a difficult task.​

In 2020 WotC radically changed its position with the announcement, Diversity and Dungeons & Dragons: "Orcs and drow are just as morally and culturally complex as other peoples." In Candlekeep Mysteries (2021), monster alignments were removed altogether.

Scientific Racism

Francisco Bethencourt, Racisms (2013):

The 1840s and 1850s presented a turning point in which scientific research on the variety of human beings became much more assertive, ideologically aggressive, and politically engaged. I call this new development scientific racialism, as it presented a scientific effort to justify and reify divisions as well as hierarchies of races, supposed to be innate, immutable, and perpetual.​

Josiah C Nott, Types of Mankind (1854):

Whether an original diversity of races be admitted or not, the permanence of existing physical types will not be questioned by any Archaeologist or Naturalist of the present day. Nor, by such competent arbitrators, can the consequent permanence of moral and intellectual peculiarities of types be denied.​
History affords no evidence that education, or any influence of civilization that may be brought to bear on races of inferior organization, can radically change their physical, nor, consequently, their moral, characters.​

Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Color (1920):

Each race-type, formed ages ago, and "set" by millenniums of isolation and inbreeding, is a stubbornly persistent entity. Each type possesses a special set of characters: not merely the physical characters visible to the naked eye, but moral, intellectual, and spiritual characters as well. All these characters are transmitted substantially unchanged from generation to generation.​

Robert Wald Sussman, The Myth of Race (2014):

Glayde Whitney (1939– 2002)… was a geneticist at Florida State University… He claimed that just as "Pit Bulls raised by Cocker Spaniels grow up to be Pit Bulls," so "blacks will be blacks." No matter what their environmental circumstances, he believed, they display "evidence of maladjustment." No attempt to improve the cognitive skills or morals of African Americans would succeed.​
 
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