D&D 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'.
 

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FXR

Explorer
Cultures would probably be better than "races", and species is too dry a term ("peoples" or something might work better). Cultures makes more sense, though, because you don't have Elven weapon proficiencies from being born an elf, you have them from being trained by that culture. You (probably) don't have the Wood Elf vanish from being "born that way", but rather being trained that way. And so on.

Is it? Maybe, in some world, all elves gain a proficiency with elves as a divine gift from the god of elves. Either you're an elf and you get the proficiency or you're not and have to learn it by hard work.

Also, I don't understand how culture would give you darkvision.

Anyway, culture seem to downplay the genetic aspect, if any, of "races" (which might not be the best term).
 

Warpiglet

Adventurer
Personally I didn't know this, and totally agree with you on this. It does lead back to the point that the concept of orcs isn't racist (they're not born evil, they become evil when corrupted), but their depiction (looking like Mongols) is very racist.
It’s probably a good time to realize that even if there was unintended racist stuff in the subconscious of the author, not all of his ideas need to be jettisoned.

I have played for decades and assumed initially that orca were piglike (porcine?) in terms of their visages.

Monstrous compendium 2e art did not look like any known group. Surely 5e is its own thing.

I suspect the trick is to make sure heroes of all kinds are present rather than getting rid of fantasy hallmarks.

Most people I have encountered are fine with evil monsters as are most cultures folklore.

Let’s welcome more people to play. But I do not think the answer is to get rid of villains, particularly irredeemable ones.
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
Different historical periods. Mongols in Europe were a big nasty problem, guys. I remember their incursions, women and children crudely abused, young man killed, split apart by their horses. I myself almost died by their hands. Racist is not good, but the Mongols were really nasty.

Firstly, saying "Well back in the day they were really bad so that's why people were racist" is a weak excuse.

Secondly, how old are you if you were almost split apart by Mongolian horses? Wtf are you talking about?
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
It’s probably a good time to realize that even if there was unintended racist stuff in the subconscious of the author, not all of his ideas need to be jettisoned.

Let’s welcome more people to play. But I do not think the answer is to get rid of villains, particularly irredeemable ones.

People are clearly ignoring my point if they assume that me agreeing that "Tolkien making orcs look like Mongols" is wrong somehow equals "Get rid of all villains."

Obviously you can have villains, just don't make your entire race of evil creatures look/sound a lot like a real-life group of people.
 

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
Unfortunately, Species, from the biological point of view, describe people that are fecund and create individuals that are indefinitely fecund. So for this definition, an Orc and a Human or a Human and an Elf are of the same Species. Otherwise Race means a fenotypical group without biological significance, so even race is not good for our purposes. If we accept a common ancestry, we can say Species for Races saving the possibility of breeding. But then an Orc and an Halfling are not of the same Species.
Guys, the truth is that this is a game. Relax.
There is no completely accepted definition of species.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Species is too "science-y" a word. And brings in a whole debate about genetics and ethnic purity and a bunch of other nonsense that has no place in a place with kobolds and gnomes.

Species feels too sci-fi for me also, but the more I participate in this discussion the more I feel it is the best term to replace "race" with in D&D. However, "species" does NOT have connotations of ethnic purity or eugenics, the term with those connotations is "race". IRL, when we talk about different groups of humans, we don't use the term "species" both because it doesn't make sense scientifically but also because it's a relatively newer term. We use the terms race, culture, and ethnicity and not always perfectly at that.

For subrace, again it feels to sci-fi or modern for me, but I'm leaning heavily towards "ethnicity". So, in Dire Bare's future D&D, you would choose a species (elf, dwarf, orc, etc) and then an ethnicity (high elf, deep dwarf, lightfoot hin). No hard-coded stat adjustments at either level.

Most people are fine with the word "race" as it is used in fantasy. Its the depiction of some races people have a problem with, and why those depictions exist.

I agree that probably most white gamers are fine with how D&D uses the term "race" . . . . but that doesn't mean it's not problematic. I agree that IRL, the concept of race isn't always used in a racist manner . . . . but it nonetheless has its origins in racist thinking and continues to be too easily used in that manner. Most social scientists that I know (my undergrad years) would happily erase the word and concept from modern use IRL.
 

The images are not very grotesque are they? Sinister, yes!
These were the exact images I was expecting....

Drow can still be Demon Worshipping Dark Elves, but not all Dark Elves are Drow.

No one was playing a Drow PC in the original modules....times changed.

Here are some quotes from Robert e Howard’s Solomon Kane stories....

Robert E Howard was notoriously a white man with a strongly repressed homosexuality. All the fantasy history is rich of examples of this kind of latent racism even from Tolkien. It's a pulp literature written by white men for white men. It is normal that D&D has some of this topos in itself. And is good to correct this.
Just trying not to fall into ridicolousness with an excess of zeal whorty of a better cause.
 

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
Actually, you're not - you're both "caucasians", race-wise. Americans misuse "caucasian" to mean "white" thanks to racist usage early in the 20th century, but an anthropological and archaeological sense, it refers to a particular population wave. Europeans, Indians, Arabic, Semitic and Persian peoples and so on are all "caucasian". Genetically, those groups are somewhat more similar to each other than they are to other groups, too, generally speaking.

Races are nonsense anyway, but if you're going to claim the "caucasian" race, let's at least get as close to a scientific meaning as possible. Many American "caucasians" have significant Native American and other non-"caucasian" (by any meaning of the term) ancestry too, complicating matters.

Cultures would probably be better than "races", and species is too dry a term ("peoples" or something might work better). Cultures makes more sense, though, because you don't have Elven weapon proficiencies from being born an elf, you have them from being trained by that culture. You (probably) don't have the Wood Elf vanish from being "born that way", but rather being trained that way. And so on.
Sorry, I guess I mean white, not caucasian. That is the first I have heard of that, thanks for the correction.

Races aren't complete nonsense, though. Sure, it doesn't really mean a whole ton, but people of Tibet have different genes that let them live at higher altitudes than I have. Different races can have different features, though it isn't true all of the time, or even most of it.
 




Doug McCrae

Legend
@Urriak Uruk @Ruin Explorer I quoted the relevant Tolkien letter upthread in post #90 and will repeat it here.

"The Orcs are definitely stated to be corruptions of the 'human' form seen in Elves and Men. They are (or were) squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes: in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types." - JRR Tolkien, letter to Forrest J. Ackerman June 1958.

Some further relevant quotations, all from The Lord of the Rings, bold emphasis mine:

"In one of the windows he caught a glimpse of a sallow face with sly, slanting eyes; but it vanished at once.
‘So that’s where that southerner is hiding!’ he thought. ‘He looks more than half like a goblin.'"

"A grim dark band, four score at least of large, swart, slant-eyed Orcs with great bows and short broad-bladed swords."

"There were four goblin-soldiers of greater stature, swart, slant-eyed, with thick legs and large hands. They were armed with short broad-bladed swords, not with the curved scimitars usual with Orcs; and they had bows of yew, in length and shape like the bows of Men."

"Those evileyed-blackhanded-bowlegged-flint-hearted-clawfingered-foulbellied-bloodthirsty, morimaite-sincahonda, hoom, well, since you are hasty folk and their full name is as long as years of torment, those vermin of orcs"

"But there were some others that were horrible: man-high, but with goblin-faces, sallow, leering, squint-eyed. Do you know, they reminded me at once of that Southerner at Bree; only he was not so obviously orc-like as most of these were."

"They were disturbed to see half a dozen large ill-favoured Men lounging against the inn-wall; they were squint-eyed and sallow-faced.
‘Like that friend of Bill Ferny’s at Bree,’ said Sam.
‘Like many that I saw at Isengard,’ muttered Merry."
 


AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
Biological Species is an accepted and standard definition related to fecundity, but if you look closer even this definition has problems. natura non facit saltus
The concept of a species being a group of creatures biologically close enough to interbreed is not a great definition. We could breed with Neanderthals, but they were definitely a different species. Same with Denisovans, and many other earlier hominids.

There are species that have subspecies that can interbreed with each other, except 2 specific subspecies. If they can't interbreed, they should be different species, but they can interbreed with every other subspecies of that species.

It is probably the most accepted definition of species, but is very flawed.

There is no perfect definition, but that definition is very imperfect. By this definition, sure Half Orcs are the same species as Humans, and so are Elves, Orcs, and many other races. So are Giants. Halflings are apparently the same species as dwarves, and dwarves are the same species as humans, but Humans to date aren't the same species as Halflings by this definition.
 


The concept of a species being a group of creatures biologically close enough to interbreed is not a great definition. We could breed with Neanderthals, but they were definitely a different species. Same with Denisovans, and many other earlier hominids.

There are species that have subspecies that can interbreed with each other, except 2 specific subspecies. If they can't interbreed, they should be different species, but they can interbreed with every other subspecies of that species.

It is probably the most accepted definition of species, but is very flawed.

There is no perfect definition, but that definition is very imperfect. By this definition, sure Half Orcs are the same species as Humans, and so are Elves, Orcs, and many other races. So are Giants. Halflings are apparently the same species as dwarves, and dwarves are the same species as humans, but Humans to date aren't the same species as Halflings by this definition.
There is only one species: HEROES
 

Warpiglet

Adventurer
No, I hear you. I do not think the villains look like any cultural group of humans in particular.

Some may have a feature in common. You have light or dark skin I suppose. However the inky black of a moonless night and green gray is not a hue I have encountered.

What Tolkien spoke of is his inspiration I guess but we have diverged from that at least as far as art and descriptions in the text are concerned.

I am not unsympathetic to the importance of art. I have a game (boardgames) that depicts a real world cultural group on the cover that I am not comfortable with. It’s a wargame with battles related to colonies.

Should my neighbor or friend see it, I would be mortified. In fact, I wonder if I should get rid of it. I might. It’s buried and my kids have not accessed it which is probably for the best. Saying that I probably should get rid of it.

I do not have that feeling with any of my D&D monster manuals.

Just not seeing much similarity.

The broader issue is should we change the games depictions or terminology. I am weighing out what others say.

Some argue that there should be no undeniably bad guys—with connection to race (i.e. goblins, orcs trolls?).

I’d prefer some clear and obvious bad guys to lean on for narrative purposes and frankly convenience.



People are clearly ignoring my point if they assume that me agreeing that "Tolkien making orcs look like Mongols" is wrong somehow equals "Get rid of all villains."

Obviously you can have villains, just don't make your entire race of evil creatures look/sound a lot like a real-life group of people.
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
Species feels too sci-fi for me also, but the more I participate in this discussion the more I feel it is the best term to replace "race" with in D&D. However, "species" does NOT have connotations of ethnic purity or eugenics, the term with those connotations is "race". IRL, when we talk about different groups of humans, we don't use the term "species" both because it doesn't make sense scientifically but also because it's a relatively newer term. We use the terms race, culture, and ethnicity and not always perfectly at that.

For subrace, again it feels to sci-fi or modern for me, but I'm leaning heavily towards "ethnicity". So, in Dire Bare's future D&D, you would choose a species (elf, dwarf, orc, etc) and then an ethnicity (high elf, deep dwarf, lightfoot hin). No hard-coded stat adjustments at either level.



I agree that probably most white gamers are fine with how D&D uses the term "race" . . . . but that doesn't mean it's not problematic. I agree that IRL, the concept of race isn't always used in a racist manner . . . . but it nonetheless has its origins in racist thinking and continues to be too easily used in that manner. Most social scientists that I know (my undergrad years) would happily erase the word and concept from modern use IRL.

If we must ditch the word race, I'd prefer "ancestry." This product already leads with the concept;

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