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5E WotC's Jeremy Crawford on D&D Races Going Forward

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On Twitter, Jeremy Crawford discussed the treatment of orcs, Vistani, drow and others in D&D, and how WotC plans to treat the idea of 'race' in D&D going forward. In recent products (Eberron and Wildemount), the mandatory evil alignment was dropped from orcs, as was the Intelligence penalty.


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@ThinkingDM Look at the treatment orcs received in Eberron and Exandria. Dropped the Intelligence debuff and the evil alignment, with a more acceptable narrative. It's a start, but there's a fair argument for gutting the entire race system.

The orcs of Eberron and Wildemount reflect where our hearts are and indicate where we’re heading.


@vorpaldicepress I hate to be "that guy", but what about Drow, Vistani, and the other troublesome races and cultures in Forgotten Realms (like the Gur, another Roma-inspired race)? Things don't change over night, but are these on the radar?

The drow, Vistani, and many other folk in the game are on our radar. The same spirit that motivated our portrayal of orcs in Eberron is animating our work on all these peoples.


@MileyMan1066 Good. These problems need to be addressed. The variant features UA could have a sequel that includes notes that could rectify some of the problems and help move 5e in a better direction.

Addressing these issues is vital to us. Eberron and Wildemount are the first of multiple books that will face these issues head on and will do so from multiple angles.


@mbriddell I'm happy to hear that you are taking a serious look at this. Do you feel that you can achieve this within the context of Forgotten Realms, given how establised that world's lore is, or would you need to establish a new setting to do this?

Thankfully, the core setting of D&D is the multiverse, with its multitude of worlds. We can tell so many different stories, with different perspectives, in each world. And when we return to a world like FR, stories can evolve. In short, even the older worlds can improve.


@SlyFlourish I could see gnolls being treated differently in other worlds, particularly when they’re a playable race. The idea that they’re spawned hyenas who fed on demon-touched rotten meat feels like they’re in a different class than drow, orcs, goblins and the like. Same with minotaurs.

Internally, we feel that the gnolls in the MM are mistyped. Given their story, they should be fiends, not humanoids. In contrast, the gnolls of Eberron are humanoids, a people with moral and cultural expansiveness.


@MikeyMan1066 I agree. Any creature with the Humanoid type should have the full capacity to be any alignmnet, i.e., they should have free will and souls. Gnolls... the way they are described, do not. Having them be minor demons would clear a lot of this up.

You just described our team's perspective exactly.


As a side-note, the term 'race' is starting to fall out of favor in tabletop RPGs (Pathfinder has "ancestry", and other games use terms like "heritage"); while he doesn't comment on that specifically, he doesn't use the word 'race' and instead refers to 'folks' and 'peoples'.
 
Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

the Jester

Legend
Youre conflating the existence of distinct species with the difficulty in some cases of assigning a species (due to biological closeness of two closely related species). The geonome of each species is distinct, even among closely related species (like Humans and Orangutans or Chimps).

That's not entirely true. There are what are known as "ring species". Imagine a large lake, with different populations of lizards living around it. Sometimes you have a situation where the population at 3 o'clock can breed with those at 1 through 5 o'clock, and the 5 o'clockers with those from 3 and 7, and so on, all the way around... but even though each population can breed with neighboring populations, and you can therefore see interbreeding between neighboring populations all the way around the lake, the lizard population at 3 cannot interbreed with those at 9. So even species can be a continuum rather than a distinct either-or situation.
 

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werecorpse

Adventurer
I like some of the 5e gnolls writeup. Some are fiends (the gnoll fang of Yeenoghu) others are not. The fiends are the ones who kill things for hyena to feed on to turn into humanoid gnolls. Once they feed and transform into humanoids (as opposed to beasts) they have that rapacious destruction drive. Evilish because of their desire and actions.
But I think an earlier iteration of the game (can’t recall which) said that for the most part alignment is in effect an indicator of most common behaviour but was not definitive of the behaviour of all of the species. This has always been the way I viewed it. So the common behaviour of a humanoid gnoll was to be motivated by greed hatred and bloodlust and be arbitrarily violent. But in as much as part of the game is about the battle between good and evil they could be different from the most common behaviour or they could start out that way and change.
So the humanoid gnolls grown from a hyena despite being tainted by the fiendish magic of their creation, are less driven by hatred etc and may be redeemed. I’m sure Yeenoghu would love them to all be fiends but they aren’t, they are humanoids. Their children even more so. That’s a good story. In my world angels fall and even some demons can be redeemed. Gnolls start off born of evil but they might end up heroes. Great story potential.
Having seen the write ups of devils motivation for the blood war (to save the universe from demons) and the way Duergar are written up as an escaped slave race that upon returning to the “good” dwarves were rejected I would say that WOTC is already part way down the path of races previously defined as evil might just be misunderstood. Like Thanos.
 



the Jester

Legend
Whew. It's rare that I read an entire thread of this length, but this time I did. There's a lot going on in it- a lot of excellent discussion, full of nuance. The first thing I want to say here is that I appreciate all the heartfelt comments here, even those I don't agree with, and I hope that we can all keep it cool enough not to get this thread closed.

Okay, now a few of my opinions.

On the Term "Race": I agree that it probably entered D&D as a direct result of Tolkien's influence. I also agree that it is a bit problematic these days. I feel that "species" would be a better choice, though it does seem better for a sci fi game rather than fantasy; I think "heritage" and "ancestry" are pretty ugly and imprecise substitutes. Perhaps "lineage"? (My only gripe about that is that I have long used it to describe the ethnocultural subcategories of the various races in my game, e.g. my race is human and my lineage is Forinthian, or my race is elf and my lineage is Grugach, but I would be willing to sacrifice that for the sake of the improvement in terms that I think dumping "race" would bring).

On Ability Score Modifiers: So there are two related, but I think separate, issues here. The first concerns divisions within a species, especially within humans- e.g. the Birthright subraces (caveat: I never read BR, so I'm basing this on the posts in this thread). I think these are pretty darn problematic on their face, especially if you start throwing out penalties to mental stats for some groups of humans and not all groups of humans. That's got serious, and I think pretty unavoidable, racist overtones, and giving some groups of humans but not all groups of humans bonuses to their mental stats runs right into the same problem.

The second issue with ability score modifiers has to do with those applied to divisions between species- basically, what D&D has pretty much always done to differentiate nonhumans from humans. I'm totally fine with this- but I think it's very important to emphasize that these other species are not human. In fact, and I know that a whole lot of this thread has been dedicated to bashing the "-1 Int for orcs" modifier, I really miss racial penalties for nonhuman races (or, in modernized terminology, nonhuman species).

See, originally, humans had no modifiers, and the other races had bonuses and penalties to set them apart from humanity. The idea was basically to show that, for example, elves are simply more dexterous but less sturdy than humans on average, and that the most dexterous human was less dexterous than the most dexterous elf (and vice-versa vis-a-vis Con).

I'm firmly of the mind that saying that orcs should be able to be as smart as humans, and that humans should be able to be as strong as elves, is less like saying, "Russians should be able to be as smart as Englishmen", and more like saying, "alpacas should be able to be as smart as llamas". Now, I understand the historical elements of racism that this brings to mind, but I think it's a fundamentally different thing as long as we clearly define orcs and humans as different species.

There are a couple of things that make this a bit problematic in the way we depict orcs right now, but I think enhancing the difference between them as species can help. For example, 1e orcs were almost like the Gamorrans that guard Jaba's palace in Return of the Jedi- they were green-skinned, with pig-like faces, two traits that were clearly not human at all. Since then, they've been increasingly humanized in appearance, which just helped to make them more like racist caricatures of the "savage other", especially when their skin got less green and more gray (which is a lot closer to black or brown, you know). I'm not saying that this completely solves the issue, but I think it helps. And especially, it removes much of the "evil Slav" (or whatever) vibe of them. Compare this to Klingons in Star Trek- in TOS they were clearly Oriental in appearance, but in TNG and later series, they are developed into less human but more complex and relatable types who are sometimes even heroic figures.

I also think dehumanizing (in the sense of making less human) the other pc races would help to reduce the amount of racial caricaturing that they embody. This is one reason why I personally prefer dwarven women to have beards, and why in my campaign, non-elves tend to see all elves as female (because of the level of androgyny that is 'elvish standard') unless educated otherwise- it makes them less human.

That doesn't solve the issue of the half-races, of course. But an explicit acknowledgement that, in D&D, it is much more possible for a much greater range of interbreeding between species to occur might go a long way here. Again, I take some of this from 1e- sylphs, which are winged air fairies, are a cross between aerial servants (a type of air elemental) and nymphs. Brownies are half-halfling and half-pixie. There's no reason you can't allow Xanth-like levels of interbreeding; perhaps centaurs are literally the offspring of humans and horses, and a chimera is literally a three-way cross between a goat, lion, and dragon. (We already have half-dragon pretty much everythings in 3e, along with many other examples of half-templates that allow for tons of weird mixed-species creatures.)

On Alignment for Humanoids: Once you emphasize the non-humanness of e.g. orcs, some of the issues with them being evil as a species fall away. But you don't need them to all be evil anyway! 3e made huge strides by de-emphasizing monolithic racial/species alignments, which I think was brilliant. And the old "often/usually/always" split, with the caveat that 'always' really meant 'almost always' anyhow, was a great way to show just how much of a species' alignment was inherent- a matter of genetics or divine direction (e.g. humanoid gnolls as depicted in 5e)- versus how much of it was cultural (e.g. goblins being 'often neutral evil').

Now, I love alignment, and I loved the way 3e made it mechanically important, but I really think it will continue to fade in importance over time in D&D. It seems like one of those concepts that has fallen out of favor, and I don't think it's likely to rise back up to prominence any time soon. So I wouldn't be surprised if it left stat blocks entirely and got consigned to a few notes in the descriptive lore in the Monster Manual in future. So you could see, in the orc entry, something like, "The standard pantheon of orcish gods is led by Gruumsh, a deity who emphasizes violence and bloodshed, and this attitude pervades many tribes of orcs, but others have fallen away from this god and his followers and taken up more peaceful or even pastoral existences".

Thinking of nonhumans as truly nonhuman instead of just analogous to "other humans" might go a long way to stripping out some of the racism from the way people would see them. I think. I hope. Because I really do see a place for goblins, orcs, gnolls, etc as the adversary in D&D; but I also really do see the problematic parts of the way they are depicted as subhuman, rather than or perhaps as well as nonhuman.

Anyway, I don't claim to have the answers. I'm spitballing here, based on how I do it in my campaign. I'm painfully aware that a lot of my approach is based on emphasizing existing old-edition lore in ways that reduce the racist overtones, and that I put a lot of emphasis on continuity of lore in my game- I run a homebrewed setting that has persisted since the early 90s, so there's a lot of baggage that exists simply because that's how I did it back then and have established that is how it is in my game for decades. And I definitely wasn't aware of the racist overtones of much of the way races were depicted for a lot of that time (gnomes as sort of Jewish racist stereotypes being perhaps the best example). So I definitely understand that my perspective here isn't necessarily the best (and certainly not the only) way to handle it. But I really think taking away ability modifiers based on race/species homogenizes the pc races/species, and I think that defeats the purpose of having different racial/species options.
 

pukunui

Hero
I like some of the 5e gnolls writeup. Some are fiends (the gnoll fang of Yeenoghu) others are not. The fiends are the ones who kill things for hyena to feed on to turn into humanoid gnolls. Once they feed and transform into humanoids (as opposed to beasts) they have that rapacious destruction drive. Evilish because of their desire and actions.
But I think an earlier iteration of the game (can’t recall which) said that for the most part alignment is in effect an indicator of most common behaviour but was not definitive of the behaviour of all of the species. This has always been the way I viewed it. So the common behaviour of a humanoid gnoll was to be motivated by greed hatred and bloodlust and be arbitrarily violent. But in as much as part of the game is about the battle between good and evil they could be different from the most common behaviour or they could start out that way and change.
So the humanoid gnolls grown from a hyena despite being tainted by the fiendish magic of their creation, are less driven by hatred etc and may be redeemed. I’m sure Yeenoghu would love them to all be fiends but they aren’t, they are humanoids. Their children even more so. That’s a good story. In my world angels fall and even some demons can be redeemed. Gnolls start off born of evil but they might end up heroes. Great story potential.
Having seen the write ups of devils motivation for the blood war (to save the universe from demons) and the way Duergar are written up as an escaped slave race that upon returning to the “good” dwarves were rejected I would say that WOTC is already part way down the path of races previously defined as evil might just be misunderstood. Like Thanos.
For what it's worth, there are two gnolls in Out of the Abyss who buck the trend.

One is Kurr, a fang of Yeenoghu who has "succumbed to a form of madness that quells his feral demeanor. He's lost his appetite for carnage and is overcome with guilt for all of the creatures he has slain." (A good start, although unfortunately it's because he's gone 'mad'. Cure him of his 'madness', and he goes right back to being a typical gnoll.)

The other is Gash, a gnoll who has changed his mindset after being captured and tortured by minotaurs. Hmm. Although the minotaurs are expecting him to deceitfully lead others to them, if the PCs "show pity or kindness, Gash becomes confused, as he has never experienced such things." If they befriend him with a successful Persuasion check, he will join the party as a loyal follower / guide. Although the reason for his change in outlook is unpleasant, it does appear to be permanent (unlike Kurr's above).

Make of that what you will!
 

Coroc

Hero
The discussion is certainly justified especially in times like these. If it helps people wake up to the RL racist problems that almost every nation has, and no, it is not limited to US and BLM and it is not even limited to black people, think about how you might get called "gringo" in Latin America, then I am fine with it.

On the other side my opinion is: Do something in real life to combat racism, do not be hurt by fluff of a hypothetic D&D game world - and it is nothing more than that - although some of the roots of its fictional lore might have come from RL racial stereotypes.

It is not the word that hurts most in the end, it is the bullet or other form of physical violence. Surely both must be rectified, but with priorities, and I do not see that getting D&D involved - other than to make aware some of the possible contradictions in game to RL correct behavior - does help a lot.
 

Libramarian

Adventurer
I like intelligent monsters that are nevertheless irredeemably evil precisely because they don't exist IRL, and are therefore weird. I'm quite confident their appeal to me has nothing to do with old-timey racial slurs and stereotypes.

I guess I could do without evil "races", as long as we're still allowed to have intelligent but irredeemably evil solitary monsters.
 

jsnead

Villager
Remove races. Call them ancestries.
Why? Obviously, the term race needs to go, but there's an equally obvious replacement - species. A gnoll, orc, elf, or dwarf are all different species from humans and from one another. The fact that some of them can produce offspring does not negate this fact - lions and tigers are also different species and can interbreed.
 

An old joke in the D&D Spanish fandom, at least decades ago, was to find a gay elf was easy, but to find a straight male elf was impossible. (I know today that type of humor isn't tolerated).

You should remember two thousands years ago the Latins (Mediterraneans, darker skin but still Caucasians), the Roman empire, were the supreme power and the blonde-haired and blue-eyed from the North of Europe were the barbarians, the third world. And the conflicts between Normans and Saxjons in the old Robin Hood's stories, but who cares about this now?

* Not always the orcs are the evil guys. There is a novel (I am afair not translated into English language) where the main female character is an orc princess (and she is so pretty she could become a future Disney princess). The Spanish title is "Linderiun tesarien racem: la invasion de los sombríos" (the invasion of the shadowfolk).





* Have you though anytime in the future the cybercaliphate, cyberpapacy from TORG could become politically incorrect in the same way todays any things from TV sitcoms of previous decades wouldn't be allowed today?
 


There are a couple of things that make this a bit problematic in the way we depict orcs right now, but I think enhancing the difference between them as species can help. For example, 1e orcs were almost like the Gamorrans that guard Jaba's palace in Return of the Jedi- they were green-skinned, with pig-like faces, two traits that were clearly not human at all. Since then, they've been increasingly humanized in appearance, which just helped to make them more like racist caricatures of the "savage other", especially when their skin got less green and more gray (which is a lot closer to black or brown, you know). I'm not saying that this completely solves the issue, but I think it helps. And especially, it removes much of the "evil Slav" (or whatever) vibe of them. Compare this to Klingons in Star Trek- in TOS they were clearly Oriental in appearance, but in TNG and later series, they are developed into less human but more complex and relatable types who are sometimes even heroic figures.
You may have put a finger on one source of the tension here. Different people are reading "orc" from different perspectives. If we come across a depiction of orcs in the classic "purpose-bred by evil creators to wage war and violence" mode, from a historical-political perspective, we might find that in some ways this resembles racist lies used to justify violence against real-world people. But from a speculative perspective, we might instead see this as posing unusual questions and conflicts to explore. Both camps are responding to the same fact -- that what is being presented in the fiction is not true in reality -- but coming to wildly different conclusions about it. Why?

One possible answer that springs to mind is that fantasy lies in a gray area between historical and speculative fiction. If we come across a SF story set in the distant future that presents us with a population of genetic super-soldiers purpose-bred by evil creators to wage war and violence, I think the speculative perspective on this is going to be the dominant one and the general reception is not going to be "problematic". On the other hand, if we come across a work of historical fiction that presents as true some racist lie about some real-world people, I don't think very many readers would find that acceptable even with an explanation like "It's just a what-if story!" And a fantasy world with orcs falls in between these two extremes. It resembles historical fiction enough that some readers read the orcs as stand-ins for real-world peoples, but it's also distinct enough from historical fiction that other readers read the orcs as speculative elements.
 



As for the second part, yep, not fully knowing a context or history behind some positions/stances can be enough. If you want a private explanation and an indepth discourse on the Marked Land and what forced a Lawful Good society to adopt such extreme measure, I will be happy to oblige.

If a Lawful Good society was forced to embrace slaughter of POW's and genocide as tools, it ceases to be a Lawful Good society.
 

Coroc

Hero
You may have put a finger on one source of the tension here. Different people are reading "orc" from different perspectives. If we come across a depiction of orcs in the classic "purpose-bred by evil creators to wage war and violence" mode, from a historical-political perspective, we might find that in some ways this resembles racist lies used to justify violence against real-world people. But from a speculative perspective, we might instead see this as posing unusual questions and conflicts to explore. Both camps are responding to the same fact -- that what is being presented in the fiction is not true in reality -- but coming to wildly different conclusions about it. Why?

One possible answer that springs to mind is that fantasy lies in a gray area between historical and speculative fiction. If we come across a SF story set in the distant future that presents us with a population of genetic super-soldiers purpose-bred by evil creators to wage war and violence, I think the speculative perspective on this is going to be the dominant one and the general reception is not going to be "problematic". On the other hand, if we come across a work of historical fiction that presents as true some racist lie about some real-world people, I don't think very many readers would find that acceptable even with an explanation like "It's just a what-if story!" And a fantasy world with orcs falls in between these two extremes. It resembles historical fiction enough that some readers read the orcs as stand-ins for real-world peoples, but it's also distinct enough from historical fiction that other readers read the orcs as speculative elements.

The orcs in Tolkiens work, were they even born? I mean if you look at the scene where Saruman witnesses the "birth" of this Orog out of a bubble inside the earth (in the movie), is this applicable only to the magic process of creating an Orog, or does this "birth" method apply to all orcs in Middle earth? Do they even have females or young? I cannot recall that atm tbh.

If they are kind of "artificial living constructs" like your clone warriors, then a different perspective or even categorizing them with stereotype evil might be in order.

I read some thread long ago, I cannot remember if it was this forum or some blog, it was about a different in-game moral dilemma, but I think it fits perfectly into this discussion as well: What would your players do if they raided some Orc camp and encountered noncombatants aka females and young Orcs - eventually, but they could be combatants as well - but then what about Orc babies? Are the players going to exterminate these also?
In other words: Are these fantasy Orcs rather like "vermin" to the dwarves , elves and humans, or would a higher standard apply to them, because they are humanoids?
 

As I said in an other post, the setting determines the view point that should be adopted. In my Greyhawk campaign, all orcs (and humanoids described as evil in the MM of all editions) are evil to the core. An exception might come into play but it would not be viewed as something that could happen on a regular basis. On the other side of the spectrum, in my Eberron campaign, I had an orc paladin of the Silver Flame. Lawful good and viewed as a champion of goodness.

Many factors can change what is good and what is evil. Yes there are basic things that are accepted as defining for the concepts. But these quickly go down the drain when faced with annihilation.
Edit: correction and deletion of additional letters that appeared in some words...
 
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The orcs in Tolkiens work, were they even born? I mean if you look at the scene where Saruman witnesses the "birth" of this Orog out of a bubble inside the earth (in the movie), is this applicable only to the magic process of creating an Orog, or does this "birth" method apply to all orcs in Middle earth? Do they even have females or young? I cannot recall that atm tbh.
I believe that scene was added to the movie in an attempt to achieve precisely this effect of making the orcs more monster than human. Tolkien himself doesn't go into the details, partially because they are unavoidably squicky and he was very very anti-squick, and partially because he doesn't seem to have ever made up his mind about them, but he does say that orcs were "bred" by the various dark lords, which implies the normal reproduction process to me.
 



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