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General Two underlying truths: D&D heritage and inclusivity

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Well, everything we currently consider intelligent* on Earth is considered a person. Like seven billion of them. Quite a lot. Does it have much meaning here?

The point of caling something a "person" is to note that it ought to get a certain amount of basic respect, not be made to unnescesarily suffer, and be assumed to have some rights, so long as it holds up its own end of the social contract - life, liberty, and the purfuit of happineff, and such stuff.

You'd prefer that in our game worlds, intelligent beings... not generally get that?
D&D is quite a bit different from Earth. Here we are all human. There you have not just humans and humanoids, but dragons, mindflayers, githyanki, intelligent constructs and more. They are are going to think differently, quite a bit differently when it comes to aberrations, and have different social contracts. So which social contract do they have to hold up on their end in order to be a person? Human? Their own? If they hold up their own and the social contract is different, even opposite to the human social contract, are they people? Are they not people? Are they only people to themselves? If they're only people to themselves, then humans won't be people to them.

Have you thought through the ethical ramifications of that?
Sure. It's just a more complicated situation than just naming everything intelligent a person.
 

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Aldarc

Legend
Apparently orcs are “human enough” in their thinking that the game thinks that real world humans can play them without much fuss.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Apparently orcs are “human enough” in their thinking that the game thinks that real world humans can play them without much fuss.
I've played mind flayers and almost everything else, too. DM's have to play lots of different creatures, regardless of how oddly they think.
 

FaerieGodfather

Aberrant Druid
Supporter
*Not that we actually have a great definition of 'intelligent', but that's really a separate discussion.
A good practical definition of intelligence is whether or not the entity in question takes exception to its intelligence being questioned.

Far as I'm concerned, the first machine to pass the Turing Test is going to be the first machine that objects to failing one.
 

TaranTheWanderer

Adventurer
Admittedly one problem with drow in Eberron (from what I recall) is that they were created as a slave race for the Giants in the Elvish Civil War and they live in an off-brand Africa/South America. Or broadly speaking, an exotic Southern Hemisphere continent. So there is some potential (again, likely unintentional) racial coding.
Sadly, themes like slavery are part of D&D. If we remove anything that is remotely 'insensitive' to everyone, you will have nothing left for the PCs to fight against. So, is it a problem that there is a race (or species) of people enslaved? I don't think so but I think it's important that WotC and published adventures recognizes that this is something 'wrong' that the PCs should fight against. Participants at the table should also all be aware and on-board with whatever content is being used and, if anyone is uncomfortable, they change it or remove it. That is being inclusive.

I think it would be a bad move to remove all hints of controversy(not just slavery). Own it, acknowledge it and be respectful of people's feelings. Be clear that the company intends these themes are to be an obstacle to the PCs and not for a way for players to role play racist fantasies. I think people are going to do whatever they want at their own tables but WotC should be clear that they don't approve.

And this is where the tip-toe dance is going to take place. They will change the flavour of Orcs but, I feel the classic role of Orcs will just be shifted to Gnolls and many published adventures are going to have a difficult time publishing adventures that touch on any real-world issues. But maybe I'm being pessimistic. There's lots of creative people out there. I'm worried there's going to be a lot more taboo subjects from here on out which will affect what kinds of adventures we are going to get published.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
D&D is quite a bit different from Earth. Here we are all human. There you have not just humans and humanoids, but dragons, mindflayers, githyanki, intelligent constructs and more. They are are going to think differently, quite a bit differently when it comes to aberrations, and have different social contracts.
Maybe. But, I think you may be guessing that in the wrong direction. Barring some outright differences in cognitive ability we have no reason to believe exists in the fantasy world - humans and other thinking beings generalize very well. In the real world, we note that the more contact and exposure people have with different cultures, the more egalitarian they become about such, rather than less. Greater exposure leads to greater empathy and acceptance. No, it isn't a universal rule, but that's the trend.

The village of Phandalin has humans, elves, half-elves, dwarves, and halflings in it, with gnomes that come to visit and trade. So, if a member of a race nobody in Phandalin has ever seen (say, a githyanki) wanders in and starts talking rather than swinging a sword or spells around, "that's not a person" is not going to be the initial reaction. They already know that persons come in lots of forms, after all, and it is sensible to think they are going to assume personhood until proven otherwise.
 


Importantly. In D&D. Or in any fantastical setting. Just because something is intelligent does not mean they are by definition people. May very well be beyond people. And consider them insects. Or cattle.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Hypothetical monster time. Let's say I make a new monster, the Unitaur. Similar to a centaur they're a combination of horse and human except that they have a unicorn head and they're chaotic evil.

An offensive monster depiction:
They're described as being opposed to any form of law and order, always braying about freedom. They only form bonds with unitaurs of their own sex. When dealing with non-unitaurs the females hate all males. The males can can charm females and always trying to seduce the males. They only get together to perpetuate the species. Throw in some stuff about not believing in gender and attacking clerics of "good" religions first. All of this, of course, makes them chaotic evil.

That monster would be horrible, offensive in so many ways. But they obviously aren't humanoid, so for some it seems that they wouldn't qualify as a person. Would you not call out the bigotry in the depiction of unitaurs?

That is my point about what is offensive only applying to monsters that qualify as a "person".
 

Aldarc

Legend
Okay? But no one has really demonstrated or argued that fiends, for example, have similarly offensive racist rhetoric as we find with orcs. If you would like to make that argument, assuming you are genuinely presenting it in good faith, then the floor is yours to do so. I cede my time for you to cogently make that case.
 

TaranTheWanderer

Adventurer
Hypothetical monster time. Let's say I make a new monster, the Unitaur. Similar to a centaur they're a combination of horse and human except that they have a unicorn head and they're chaotic evil.

An offensive monster depiction:
They're described as being opposed to any form of law and order, always braying about freedom. They only form bonds with unitaurs of their own sex. When dealing with non-unitaurs the females hate all males. The males can can charm females and always trying to seduce the males. They only get together to perpetuate the species. Throw in some stuff about not believing in gender and attacking clerics of "good" religions first. All of this, of course, makes them chaotic evil.

That monster would be horrible, offensive in so many ways. But they obviously aren't humanoid, so for some it seems that they wouldn't qualify as a person. Would you not call out the bigotry in the depiction of unitaurs?

That is my point about what is offensive only applying to monsters that qualify as a "person".
I guess my question is, what about charming others and only mating with their own sex makes them chaotic evil? So, you are associating evil with homosexuality. Charming someone for the purpose of seducing them hearkens to putting reefers in people's drinks and rape culture. i imagine this species would be a no-go. not because of the question of their 'person-hood' but strictly because of the themes you are depicting.

Edit: if you didn't associate them with an alignment, you could probably get away with it. I mean, having a species like this, that speaks about gender differences isn't a bad idea but it's too easy to do it wrong.

Edit 2: I also feel I missed the point of your post.

edit 3: I wonder about the interpretation and use of Charm and Dominate spells. I mean, their use is revolved around manipulating people and putting them in a state of mind where they do things they would normally not do. The whole question of consent comes into play.
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Okay? But no one has really demonstrated or argued that fiends, for example, have similarly offensive racist rhetoric as we find with orcs. If you would like to make that argument, assuming you are genuinely presenting it in good faith, then the floor is yours to do so. I cede my time for you to cogently make that case.
I was just expressing my opinion that calling an orc a person IMHO does not make a difference. If the language and description is offensive, it's offensive.

I guess my question is, what about charming others and only mating with their own sex makes them chaotic evil? So, you are associating evil with homosexuality. Charming someone for the purpose of seducing them hearkens to putting reefers in people's drinks and rape culture. i imagine this species would be a no-go. not because of the question of their 'person-hood' but strictly because of the themes you are depicting.
I wouldn't call them evil, it's why I would call the CE label an issue. Many people feel LGBTQ people are "wrong". I could have thrown in many more bigoted ideas and descriptions but it was already bad enough. Sadly, I've known people who would find this monster hilarious simply because of the depictions as liberal homosexuals that are always attacking the "good" religions.

I think orcs get more scrutiny than other creatures listed in the MM because they're popular races to play due to World of Warcraft. I've had issues with the depiction of drow for a long time.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I was just expressing my opinion that calling an orc a person IMHO does not make a difference. If the language and description is offensive, it's offensive.
I agree to an extant that the problematic would be a problem regardless of label but I would say that a label of “humanoid” is a contributing factor to the problem. It impacts how we perceive and think about them. So their status as humanoids is important for understanding the problem. As others have discussed, part of the problem are how these are things interlinked in the final package presentation of orcs.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Aleena died for your sins.
Okay? But no one has really demonstrated or argued that fiends, for example, have similarly offensive racist rhetoric as we find with orcs. If you would like to make that argument, assuming you are genuinely presenting it in good faith, then the floor is yours to do so. I cede my time for you to cogently make that case.
To lightly tread on what I've observed over the last few hundred posts ....

1. I don't think that there is much debate about whether there has been racist rhetoric / imagery associated with, for example, orcs and drow.
Of course, some people will debate anything, but I don't think there is any serious good-faith debate about this.

2. I think that there is some, marginal, question as to whether or not those historical issues continue into the present, and to what extent.
This is the "yes, Tolkien might have said some bad things, and there might be some use of racist language and imagery regarding orcs today, and there might be questionable issues about some drow artwork and why underground dwellers are black, but we mostly avoid those racist tropes today." I don't think that's a great argument, but I can understand it.

3. From there, we get what a lot of people are discussing and/or arguing about. The specific issue of racist stereotypes (from Orcs, to Drow, to Hobgoblins, to Vistani, and so on) is generalized to a "no evil humanoids, they are all people."

It's the leap from (2) to (3) that is confusing to some people. I think I've sussed out the following positions:

A. Definitional. If it says humanoid, that means you are a person. Fin.

B. Aspirtational. Like real life, or Star Trek, personhood is just a matter of intelligence, and it's wrong to label anything intelligent as evil. Just because something wants to eat your brain doesn't make it evil, it just means it had a different, brains-are-yummy, society than you do. Maybe you're the evil one for not offering up your yummy, yummy brain?

C. Fantastical. This is not real life, and orcs, goblins, and mind flayers are not real. For that matter, demons, devils, and absolute alignments aren't real. It makes just as much sense to have an "evil but sentient race" like an orc as it does to have mind flayers and magic and spells, because of deities, or magic, or fantasy reasons.

Weirdly, even though (A) and (C) probably generate the most heat fighting, they are the most closely alike in that they are both just defining the problem away. (A) by saying D&D can arbitrarily define what creatures matter and don't matter by slapping a "humanoid" label on them, and (C) by saying that it's all fantasy, and therefore since alignments don't really exist, it doesn't really matter if some things are just eeeee-vil.

(B) seems like the most realistic one, but would also require ditching a fair amount of traditional D&D tropes (I would think).

This has given me a lot to think about, but it would seem that the issue goes far beyond merely racist rhetoric around orcs. As far as I know, there has never been a tradition of racist rhetoric around kobolds, or xvarts, or any of the other traditional evil-aligned humanoids monsters, and yet they are all part of the change.

But maybe I am misunderstanding the nature of the problem?
 

I gave my definition of what a person is. The only obfuscation I see going on is this insistence that racism can only apply to intelligent monsters in the MM that classify as "a person" while saying others are not people because of their shape or other fluff.

If it's wrong to have a racist description of one monster then it should be wrong to have that similarly racist verbiage used about any intelligent monster no matter what the physical description of that monster is.

It has nothing to do with whether the depiction of orcs needs to be altered. Y'all keep talking about subtlety and nuance but when anyone tries to discuss any tangential subtlety or nuance the dreaded all caps come out.
Ok, let us dig into this a little bit.

What other intelligent monster in the monster manual is considered "brutish and low"?

We've acknowledged that goblinoids are problematic (or at least, I have) and that gnolls are going back to full monster roots with their "only born from slaughter" aesthetic which works for them, because they've never inter-bred with anything. And, double word score, those people who want playable gnolls and having a rich gnoll culture, tend to build societies which are interesting and diverse enough without the racial stereotyping. So win-win on official lore and omakes.

What racial coding can we find with Psychic Fish? I can't think of any stereotypes that falls under. Psychic Squid-faced monstrosity? Again, I can't think of any stereotypes they are fulfilling.

So, we can talk about them, but other than "killing people is bad" we actually can't get anywhere with them. And that gets into questions like whether or not you should kill bandits on the road too. Which is an entirely different discussion about morality within DnD and has nothing to do with racial language.


I was just expressing my opinion that calling an orc a person IMHO does not make a difference. If the language and description is offensive, it's offensive.
Oh, well, yeah. if you are going to be blatantly offensive, than something is offensive. But, the nuance comes in with associations.

Saying that all crocodiles are cannibals isn't offensive, they are creatures that eat anything.
Saying that all Pacific Islanders are cannibals, that would be offensive. Not only is it not true, but it plays into stereotypes that are harmful to their culture.

Making a race of bipedal crocodile people, who live on islands in the vast ocean, practice elaborate tattooing, and have Cargo Cults... well, why they share visual similarities with crocs, it is clear you are making a reference to a certain group of people, so making them cannibals would be problematic.



To lightly tread on what I've observed over the last few hundred posts ....

1. I don't think that there is much debate about whether there has been racist rhetoric / imagery associated with, for example, orcs and drow.
Of course, some people will debate anything, but I don't think there is any serious good-faith debate about this.

2. I think that there is some, marginal, question as to whether or not those historical issues continue into the present, and to what extent.
This is the "yes, Tolkien might have said some bad things, and there might be some use of racist language and imagery regarding orcs today, and there might be questionable issues about some drow artwork and why underground dwellers are black, but we mostly avoid those racist tropes today." I don't think that's a great argument, but I can understand it.

3. From there, we get what a lot of people are discussing and/or arguing about. The specific issue of racist stereotypes (from Orcs, to Drow, to Hobgoblins, to Vistani, and so on) is generalized to a "no evil humanoids, they are all people."

It's the leap from (2) to (3) that is confusing to some people. I think I've sussed out the following positions:

A. Definitional. If it says humanoid, that means you are a person. Fin.

B. Aspirtational. Like real life, or Star Trek, personhood is just a matter of intelligence, and it's wrong to label anything intelligent as evil. Just because something wants to eat your brain doesn't make it evil, it just means it had a different, brains-are-yummy, society than you do. Maybe you're the evil one for not offering up your yummy, yummy brain?

C. Fantastical. This is not real life, and orcs, goblins, and mind flayers are not real. For that matter, demons, devils, and absolute alignments aren't real. It makes just as much sense to have an "evil but sentient race" like an orc as it does to have mind flayers and magic and spells, because of deities, or magic, or fantasy reasons.

Weirdly, even though (A) and (C) probably generate the most heat fighting, they are the most closely alike in that they are both just defining the problem away. (A) by saying D&D can arbitrarily define what creatures matter and don't matter by slapping a "humanoid" label on them, and (C) by saying that it's all fantasy, and therefore since alignments don't really exist, it doesn't really matter if some things are just eeeee-vil.

(B) seems like the most realistic one, but would also require ditching a fair amount of traditional D&D tropes (I would think).

This has given me a lot to think about, but it would seem that the issue goes far beyond merely racist rhetoric around orcs. As far as I know, there has never been a tradition of racist rhetoric around kobolds, or xvarts, or any of the other traditional evil-aligned humanoids monsters, and yet they are all part of the change.

But maybe I am misunderstanding the nature of the problem?

I bolded the assertion, and I think if that is the problem people are having (and from the likes I think it might be) then there is a lot of confusion being thrown around.

The issue with it, that I see, is that it ends up side-stepping a few things. After all, we don't have an issue with evil societies or evil groups. No one here is advocating for the removal of the Zhentarim or the Red Wizards of Thay, right? And I think if you were playing in a game where those groups were prominent, telling you players that a traveling group of soldiers is flying the flag of Zhemtarim is going to be an immediate sign of "those are the bad guys"

The thing is, that the Zhentarim are not the whole of an intelligent race. They are a sub-set with ideas and plans that make them antagonists.


So, if it isn't no evil people ever (which I don't think anyone thought, but I'm building a baseline) then what is the problem?

Evil from Birth.

An orc in the classical sense never has to make any decisions. From the moment of conception til they die, they are just evil. And that is the problem. That leads to it being perfectly okay to slaughter infants in their cribs, because those infants are evil already.

And this is why I don't see the gnolls or mindflayers as the same sort of thing. A gnoll is literally a monstrous man-eating hyena that walks on two legs. They started life as an innocent hyena pup, but through dark magic and consumption of a corpse slaughtered by a gnoll, they were twisted into something else.

Mindflayers used to be good people, until a parasitic, mindless worm was inserted into their head, ate most of their brain, and forcibly morphed them into a brain-washed drone of the mindflayer hive. In fact, stopping the "birth" of a mindflayer would be a good thing, because it saves the life of the person they were about to kill.

Excepting demons, who are literally formed from evil energy, and races like orcs and goblins, you can trace back to an origin point where they were not evil. And that is the problem with classical orcs and goblins. By being born evil, they literally have no choice, they cannot choose to be better, so slaughtering them wholesale is the only possible answer. And I have a problem with that.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
As far as the evil from birth, that's why I proposed having a supernatural explanation that transforms them at a certain point if it's an issue for people. Kind of like the orc version of a Bat Mitzvah except marking the point where they're bound to Gruumsh instead of just entering adulthood. I also don't understand the gnoll thing. The first, original gnolls were hyenas but those are long dead*. Every living gnoll was born evil according to the lore in the MM.

It avoids the baby Hitler dilemma. Well, except that if you could go back in time why not just slip some birth control into Hitler's mother's tea starting about 10 months before Hitler was born. Stopping the pregnancy in the first place seems a lot more ethical to me.

*Or are they? Are there still primordial gnolls, the progenitors of the species still around exerting evil influence on their descendants. :unsure:
 

Snarf Zagyg

Aleena died for your sins.
I bolded the assertion, and I think if that is the problem people are having (and from the likes I think it might be) then there is a lot of confusion being thrown around.

The issue with it, that I see, is that it ends up side-stepping a few things. After all, we don't have an issue with evil societies or evil groups. No one here is advocating for the removal of the Zhentarim or the Red Wizards of Thay, right? And I think if you were playing in a game where those groups were prominent, telling you players that a traveling group of soldiers is flying the flag of Zhemtarim is going to be an immediate sign of "those are the bad guys"

The thing is, that the Zhentarim are not the whole of an intelligent race. They are a sub-set with ideas and plans that make them antagonists.


So, if it isn't no evil people ever (which I don't think anyone thought, but I'm building a baseline) then what is the problem?

Evil from Birth.

An orc in the classical sense never has to make any decisions. From the moment of conception til they die, they are just evil. And that is the problem. That leads to it being perfectly okay to slaughter infants in their cribs, because those infants are evil already.

And this is why I don't see the gnolls or mindflayers as the same sort of thing. A gnoll is literally a monstrous man-eating hyena that walks on two legs. They started life as an innocent hyena pup, but through dark magic and consumption of a corpse slaughtered by a gnoll, they were twisted into something else.

Mindflayers used to be good people, until a parasitic, mindless worm was inserted into their head, ate most of their brain, and forcibly morphed them into a brain-washed drone of the mindflayer hive. In fact, stopping the "birth" of a mindflayer would be a good thing, because it saves the life of the person they were about to kill.

Excepting demons, who are literally formed from evil energy, and races like orcs and goblins, you can trace back to an origin point where they were not evil. And that is the problem with classical orcs and goblins. By being born evil, they literally have no choice, they cannot choose to be better, so slaughtering them wholesale is the only possible answer. And I have a problem with that.
Honestly, I think you are sidestepping the issue completely (from my point of view) using definitional rhetoric.

Why are aboleths evil? Mind flayers? Dragons?

Ettercaps?

Meenlocks?

What about medusa? We are playing into both human-centric and (TBH, I am not trolling) misongynistic rhetoric with medusa that has long been repeated.

The poor Yeti? Or Harpy? What about a Beholder?

I could keep going, but you should get the idea. And it's not just "classical orcs and goblins," it orcs, goblins, yuan-ti, wererats, xvarts, nagpas, meazels, kuo toa, kobolds, grung (WHO WILL THINK OF THE GRUNG!) ...

the Githyanki, the Duregar, Bullywugs, and so on.

Again, if you want to make the aspirational argument (every intelligent creature can, unless possessed etc., make choices), that's fine! But there are a LOT of creatures to be changed.

Which, again, may be fine. I'm not sure. The game is changing, and I think that's a good thing. But I'm pretty sure @Dire Bare already pointed this out some time ago.
 

Hypothetical monster time. Let's say I make a new monster, the Unitaur. Similar to a centaur they're a combination of horse and human except that they have a unicorn head and they're chaotic evil.

An offensive monster depiction:
They're described as being opposed to any form of law and order, always braying about freedom. They only form bonds with unitaurs of their own sex. When dealing with non-unitaurs the females hate all males. The males can can charm females and always trying to seduce the males. They only get together to perpetuate the species. Throw in some stuff about not believing in gender and attacking clerics of "good" religions first. All of this, of course, makes them chaotic evil.

That monster would be horrible, offensive in so many ways. But they obviously aren't humanoid, so for some it seems that they wouldn't qualify as a person. Would you not call out the bigotry in the depiction of unitaurs?

That is my point about what is offensive only applying to monsters that qualify as a "person".
It may contain offensive themes, but it doesn't really pertain to this discussion: As far as I'm aware the description is unlikely to be hurtful to a particular persecuted demographic. While the write-up is unpleasant, it doesn't seem to code for the way a particular group has been historically and still is referred to.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
It may contain offensive themes, but it doesn't really pertain to this discussion: As far as I'm aware the description is unlikely to be hurtful to a particular persecuted demographic. While the write-up is unpleasant, it doesn't seem to code for the way a particular group has been historically and still is referred to.
Seriously? LGBTQ people haven't been discriminated against?
 


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