D&D General Two underlying truths: D&D heritage and inclusivity

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
Thus, my suggestion that we toss "species" when we need to start talking about a fantasy world in which far too many things can interbreed for the Earth-term to apply.
To be fair, there are species that can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthalensis, Grizzly Bears and Polar Bears, Buffalo and Cows, and so on.

The real world's most common definition of species is broken, so I don't have any qualms against using species in D&D terms.
 

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Dire Bare

Legend
Okay, can we please agree that the term "species" in this context is at best vaguely suggestive/descriptive? Because the biological meaning we have for it really does not apply to D&D fantasy.
Yes, and if you aren't very specific about how you interpret it... who is to blame for that, hm?

There's a rhetorical technique (and logical fallacy) that is often called "bait-and-switch". Is it where one starts speaking using one definition or meaning of a term, but ends using a different one. When words are of questionable or uncertain meaning in the context in which they are used (like "species" in a fantasy world where dragons can interbreed with almost anything) it is extremely easy to bait-and-switch, often without even meaning to do so.

Thus, my suggestion that we toss "species" when we need to start talking about a fantasy world in which far too many things can interbreed for the Earth-term to apply. If the book uses the term, we should not plow forward as if that has all the meanings we can usually attach to it.

Species isn't a better, or worse, term than race or ancestry. It has a modern and/or sci-fi feel to it, but it isn't a poor word to use when describing the differences between elves, dwarves, and orcs.

IRL, are tigers and lions different species? Of course! Can they interbreed, giving us half-lion, half-tiger cubs? Yup, ligers, probably my favorite animal. Are ligers often sterile or unable to breed themselves? Yes, but not always . . . .

Fantasy creatures often interbreed in weird and magical ways that go way beyond anything possible IRL, of course. And I don't think it's necessary to try and get overly "scientific" when trying to differentiate different fantasy races/creatures . . . . but to say that elves, dwarves, humans, and orcs are all different species isn't really much different than saying they are different races or come from different ancestries. IMO, of course.

So, no, we can not all agree that the use of "species" is too vague or doesn't really apply to the fantasy world of D&D. At least, not more or less so than any of the other imperfect words we have available to use.
 



Oofta

Legend
Yes, and if you aren't very specific about how you interpret it... who is to blame for that, hm?

There's a rhetorical technique (and logical fallacy) that is often called "bait-and-switch". Is it where one starts speaking using one definition or meaning of a term, but ends using a different one. When words are of questionable or uncertain meaning in the context in which they are used (like "species" in a fantasy world where dragons can interbreed with almost anything) it is extremely easy to bait-and-switch, often without even meaning to do so.

Thus, my suggestion that we toss "species" when we need to start talking about a fantasy world in which far too many things can interbreed for the Earth-term to apply. If the book uses the term, we should not plow forward as if that has all the meanings we can usually attach to it.

I'm not sure the english language has a good word for it, or at least not one that works for everyone. I don't view orcs as humans. They were a race created by a god, they have no common ancestor with any other living creature. They can procreate with other races because of magic, same as dragons. Horses and humans might be able to have offspring depending on where centaurs came from in your campaign because "magic". ;)

I also think it can, and should, vary from campaign to campaign. On the one extreme orcs are no more human than dragons on the other they're humans that look funny. I don't think there's a right or wrong, even if I do agree that some of the lore could be changed.

So maybe species isn't the best word, but I don't know what else would be better unless you just make up a new word.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
I'm a bit confused by the orc discussion. In my understanding, a humanoid creature is one that is some what like a human (walks upright on 2 legs, with 2 arms), but it isn't a human. A monster can be humanoid for example. I always thought that is what orcs were: monsters that are humanoid in appearance, but still monsters.

There are a lot of different interpretations.

For example, earlier this year I was told that one way to tell warforged were actually alive and had souls was because they were humanoid. If they were something else they would not have souls and be okay to murder without care.

The definition of body shape is one that I have never seen (after all, demons and devils would then be humanoid)
 

Dire Bare

Legend
All the more reason to not use it here. It isn't like broken words help us understand more clearly right?
The word species doesn't quite work, you are right. But what word is better? The term race is problematic, and the other words tossed around aren't bad, they just don't really solve the problem (ancestry, heritage, etc). None of them seem to be more clear or precise when talking about fantasy races.

I don't know if folks using the term "species" interchangeably with "race" in D&D is that much of a problem, it doesn't make things more clear, but it doesn't make things less clear or problematic. IMO.
 

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
All the more reason to not use it here. It isn't like broken words help us understand more clearly right?
The definition of race is also broken. I just think species is more accurate than race.

My point is, the fact that species normally means "two populations of creatures that can't interbreed and produce fertile offspring" shouldn't be the thing that blocks us from using species instead of race.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I don't remember which ancient philosopher it was, but they made a claim that I think applies here. "Man is the measure of all things"

We, as humans, cannot create a race of people that use language, tools, and housing without making them a mirror of ourselves. We just can't, because we are the only thing we have ever encountered that does those things.

Sure we can. We cannot think like an alien, but we can imagine things that are different from how we think and approximate those. Those are races that are not a mirror of ourselves. They are not human.

And, every single time in history someone has said "but those aren't really people" they've been wrong.

Yes, because they were talking about real humans. Anyone referring to any real human as not a person is terribly wrong. When speaking about things in the game that aren't human, though, they are correct.

I also want to point this out. You never have a race "born with" or "forced by a god" to have good traits. Orcs are just born violent and savage, but no race is just born kind-hearted and merciful. Something to consider.

Devas, Archons, Planetars, Solars, Djinni and a few others. There aren't very many and WotC removed some of the formerly good monsters from the books. You don't see many such races and saw the removal by WotC not because of race, but rather because many DMs don't really use good creatures all that often. The game needs antagonists more than allies and they have space concerns. They want to put in things DMs will use more in order to make money.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Species isn't a better, or worse, term than race or ancestry. It has a modern and/or sci-fi feel to it, but it isn't a poor word to use when describing the differences between elves, dwarves, and orcs.

With respect, is is a poor word. Aside form how people think it means things it doesn't, we are using the word as if it should have sociological meanings and moral implications.

For tens of thousands of years, modern humans, Homo Sapiens sapiens, have been the only known sentient, sapient, language using species on our planet. It is only recently that we have considered the issue of creatures like dolphins, and that tis largley ignored by the public. In English, the words "people" and "humans" are effectively synonymous. Our language does not actually have a word for "those who are people, but not humans".

So, for us, "they are a different species" means a great deal. It carries with it a strong connotation of otherness - to the point where "dehumanizing" is a basic tactic to make something morally acceptable. Make it not-human, and that means you can treat it like an animal.

That... should not be the case in a world that has a score or more people who are so different, but still people.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
There are a lot of different interpretations.

For example, earlier this year I was told that one way to tell warforged were actually alive and had souls was because they were humanoid. If they were something else they would not have souls and be okay to murder without care.

The definition of body shape is one that I have never seen (after all, demons and devils would then be humanoid)
Demons and devils, and many other monstrous D&D creatures, ARE humanoid . . . . in the sense that they are human-shaped. Well, most of them are, anyways. But that isn't the way D&D uses the term humanoid, so they aren't classed that way in the game.

The idea that something has to be human-shaped to have a soul and to be considered a person . . . . ick. Don't like. D&D doesn't treat things that way, and I'd be weirded out by a DM that did in their home game.

IRL, one of the reasons why we have underestimated the intelligence of many animal species is that they are so differently shaped than we are. The more we learn about animal intelligence, the more narrow the gap between what separates us as "human" from the rest of the animals becomes.

D&D isn't sci-fi (although it carries plenty of sci-fi themes and tropes), but a classic sci-fi exploration is humanity encountering beings very different from us, differently shaped for starters, that are just as intelligent and sapient as we are. This is something I would prefer to carry over into my D&D fantasy game.

Are dragons people? They aren't humanoid by any definition. Do they have souls? Can we kill them and take their stuff just because they are dragons? In my ideal D&D campaign, dragons can still make interesting antagonists if they are in fact considered "people" just like the humanoid races. It just makes dealing with them ethically more challenging and requiring more thought, on both sides of the DM screen.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Yeah, that's kind of the point. Get rid of racial norms in D&D, and make the races more open. Gnomes can be evil villains, goblins can be heroes. Orcs can be civilized and intelligent, while Halflings can be selfish and awful.
I don't think the lawful/chaotic stuff has to go, but the evil/good definitely does.
I personally find differing racial norms far more interesting than human with pointed ears, human, short human, stocky human probably with beard, dragonish breath weapon Human, etc.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
With respect, is is a poor word. Aside form how people think it means things it doesn't, we are using the word as if it should have sociological meanings and moral implications.

For tens of thousands of years, modern humans, Homo Sapiens sapiens, have been the only known sentient, sapient, language using species on our planet. It is only recently that we have considered the issue of creatures like dolphins, and that tis largley ignored by the public. In English, the words "people" and "humans" are effectively synonymous. Our language does not actually have a word for "those who are people, but not humans".

So, for us, "they are a different species" means a great deal. It carries with it a strong connotation of otherness - to the point where "dehumanizing" is a basic tactic to make something morally acceptable. Make it not-human, and that means you can treat it like an animal.

That... should not be the case in a world that has a score or more people who are so different, but still people.

Maybe it's because I read sci-fi literature and games almost as much as I do fantasy literature . . . I'm currently on a Star Trek re-watch kick . . . where this connotation of "species" doesn't hold water for me. IRL, you're right, we don't really have experience with non-human, sentient species. Even with our improved understanding of animal intelligence we rarely consider dolphins, apes, and other creatures as equals or even sentient/sapient. But the idea of non-human, sentient species isn't a foreign one to mainstream culture now that sci-fi is such a huge part of almost everyone's media diet.

Does designating orcs as an entirely different species "other" them, differentiate them, from humans? To a degree, yes, that's almost certainly the point. But not necessarily in a way meant to demean or carry forward racist tropes about other peoples. To me, the term "race" plays into that more so, as historically we have tried to differentiate human groups based on the nebulous concept of race with the purpose of othering and dehumanizing them.

When I think of orcs and elves as different species, as something other than human, I do so in the sci-fi sense. That being different and other does not make them lesser or not-people.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Yes, because they were talking about real humans. Anyone referring to any real human as not a person is terribly wrong. When speaking about things in the game that aren't human, though, they are correct.

See, you need to read my post more carefully.

"every single time in history someone has said "but those aren't really people" they've been wrong."

I didn't say "they aren't human", I said they weren't people. Responding with "they are definitely correct, these are not humans" makes it sounds like you think that anyone who isn't human isn't a person. So, you might want to reevaluate your response there.



Devas, Archons, Planetars, Solars, Djinni and a few others. There aren't very many and WotC removed some of the formerly good monsters from the books. You don't see many such races and saw the removal by WotC not because of race, but rather because many DMs don't really use good creatures all that often. The game needs antagonists more than allies and they have space concerns. They want to put in things DMs will use more in order to make money

Guess I left myself open to that by saying "created" didn't I?

Orcs were "created" by Gruumsh, but they still give birth and are mortals. None of those creatures you just listed are born, grow old, and die. They are all extraplanar entities. Not mortal races, which is what I was referring to.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
See, you need to read my post more carefully.

"every single time in history someone has said "but those aren't really people" they've been wrong."

I didn't say "they aren't human", I said they weren't people. Responding with "they are definitely correct, these are not humans" makes it sounds like you think that anyone who isn't human isn't a person. So, you might want to reevaluate your response there.

Since that would clearly be ridiculous, you knew what I meant and posted something that really didn't need to be said anyway.
 

Mercule

Adventurer
What does "brutal-savage-evil" give us anyways? What value are we getting.
...
But, now we get to the kicker. The truly beautiful part of this. What happens to orcs not raised in Orc society?
...
I also want to point this out. You never have a race "born with" or "forced by a god" to have good traits. Orcs are just born violent and savage, but no race is just born kind-hearted and merciful. Something to consider.
I snipped a lot, but I left what I think are the major turning points.

What does it get us? Moral plot immunity. Orcs (or whatever) are bad because they are. We don't have to wring hands about whether we should parley or just kill them. Orcs are bad because those are the metaphysical laws of that universe. Orcs raised in a human society may learn to pretend better than other orcs, but they're still inherently evil in a way that can't be changed. And, there aren't immutably good races because they would serve no story value.

That doesn't mean that orcs must be irredeemably evil in every D&D setting. If you want a lot of gray and moral quandary, where every time you raid an orc lair, you need to wring hands about whether you should have negotiated or tried to "redeem" the orc brutes, then you should, by all means, do so. There is nothing wrong with that.

But, it's also not BadWrongFun to have orcs be low-level toons that don't provoke any soul searching when you kill them. They aren't a real-world race and, really, they don't have any particular similarities to any real-world race. They're nothing more than an embodiment of all the brutish nastiness that exists. The real world concept of racism is literally impossible to apply to them, in this form, and it would be nonsensical to try.

I enjoy Greyhawk and play it as irredeemable orcs. I love Eberron and the nuanced orcs. My preference is probably the morally gray because I'm really not into the whole murder-hobo schtick. But, D&D really is geared towards murder-hobos, so having a race that was made up just to be mooks makes a heck of a lot of sense, especially when you talk about defaults.

I'm really curious who is not feeling "included" by a made up, non-human species being imagined as being hardwired for traits that are considered evil. The whole conversation just seems... strange. Why is it more than a shoulder shrug?
 

Mercule

Adventurer
"every single time in history someone has said "but those aren't really people" they've been wrong."
You are aware that every single orc is a figment of somebody's imagination, right? There are no orcs. There have never been orcs. There never will be orcs. They're made up for the specific purpose of giving made up people someone to kill without feeling bad about it.
 

Hussar

Legend
My question is this: Do you think that orcs are just going to get replaced by another race, like goblins or demons or undead or gnolls? If so, doesn't it mean the issue still stands? Or do you think it is possible for some kind of compromise?

I don't know. I also don't care. Let's fix the problem in front of us and not worry about "what about it's" that may or may not ever happen. Saying, "We can't change this because, down the road, it might become a problem" is a cop out and frankly, pretty presumptuous that the people complaining won't ever be satisfied.
 

Hussar

Legend
The problem I've always had with "if orcs are raised outside of they're culture they're nice" is that it smacks even more of colonialism. Teach those savages to be civilized by forcing our religion and culture on them.

So what if the effects of Gruumsh is more explicit? It's literally a "curse of war" and when an orc hits adolescence they are coerced into being a weapon for Gruumsh? Someone raised in the culture would probably see it as a blessing, someone raised outside of the culture can try to fight it off. If there's a large enough population of orcs that has rejected Gruumsh, they may have special rituals to help fight the curse.

Again, it's about having my (evil orc) cake and eating it too while adding in something that could be an interesting twist.

I could see that working rather well @Oofta. You could present "Gruumsh infected" (for lack of a better term) orcs as not the baseline of orc. The problem isn't that orcs are evil or anything, but, rather this parasitic demonic being is infecting them and twisting them into being weapons for Gruumsh. The baseline orc is pretty displays all sorts of behavior, from good to evil.

Yes, that's the nuance that I think people are looking for.
 

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