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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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Kannik

Adventurer
This is a good direction. And another great indication of why I've very much fallen out of favour using attribute modifiers on the different species/races/ancestries. For one, I'm finding it a boring way to differentiate between them (unique abilities or nifty options are much more compelling), for two, as attributes are so pivotal to a character's abilities over time that it ends up putting a damper on certain class/ancestry combinations.

But the biggest thing, as others have pointed out on this thread already, is that while perhaps the average Wookie is big and burly, just as we have amazing diversity of body types among humans, why wouldn't we have the same with Wookies? Especially as we are playing heroes, who are by and large out of the ordinary.

In addition, why do we assume that strength (or any other attribute, but strength is an easy one to grasp for an example) is strictly raw meat, that you are gifted with when squeezed out of the womb (or other birthing device for other ancestries)? Even with some pre-disposition, environment, training, interests, development, nourishment, and etc all affect how muscular someone might become. And even then, muscles alone are not the measure of someone's 'strength', especially in a gaming context where this strength is used to represent abilities such as to move, to fight, and a whole host of other full-body uses. Learning how best to use your body, how to link and root, how to efficiently use all your musculature, all of that, plays a much bigger role over one's effective strength than simple muscle mass. In many situations, a body builder with huge muscles could be much less effective and 'strong' than someone with great body control, high muscle recruitment (not just muscle size), proper structure, skilled use of gravity, momentum, and leverage (think rock climbing, for example), and so on.

So without any attribute bonuses, what's left when making a character to help choose an ancestry are more interestingly designed abilities/talents (which in turn allow for more creative and interesting PC capabilities and side uses) and, even better, the items that often draw us to our favourite fiction: culture, style, worldview, way of life, way of building things, and ways of dealing with things. In short: character. Each ancestry has a particular flavour, and if the world is developed to a certain depth, each species will have different races and or cultures, each with their own particular flavour. A much more exciting way to develop a character than "well, I want +2 INT." :)

(In some of our D&D games, we allow a player to choose both a mechanics 'race' and an RP 'race'. In world, you are fully your RP choice, but your character is built using the mechanics choice. I wrote a post about this here on enworld some years back, but in short, this has worked splendidly. Everyone not only feels like their ancestry choice, but even more so than the default game since the talents of the mechanics choice are brought into the fiction in very flavourful ways that reinforce RP of both of the ancestry and, even more importantly, the PC themselves).
 

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Fenris447

Explorer
If I may, here's an example of why I think racial stereotyping shouldn't be excluded from D&D. This happened in my game yesterday.

Long story short, my players' party were allied with soldiers from the main governing body to fight some oozes. The oozes came from experiments meant to end a threat posed by the "savages", of which orcs are included. The allied soldiers did not outright accuse the half-orc player, played by a Caucasian player who comes from a relatively privileged socioeconomic background. But there was some tension, especially when the topic came up.

One such solider began taking actions that, in that player's perspective, seemed to border on sabotage during the big boss fight. The player began to suspect that the soldier did not have the party's best interest at heart. So he started thinking about attacking him. If he attacked the soldier, he would be potentially proving the stereotypes against his own race to be true; he would risk furthering the perception of his people as savages. He had to weigh that potential versus possibly his own self-preservation.

The game got a white dude to think about that, which is pretty cool IMO.
 
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DND_Reborn

Legend
In order to have generically useful game mechanics: Yes.
Well, I don't quite agree with this, although I understand your reasoning. Having a sound baseline is important.

@Morrus can view PCs as heroic and exceptional by default if he wishes to, there is certainly nothing wrong with it. It is just as I pointed out, such views generally vary from table to table IMX.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
If I may, here's an example of why I think racial stereotyping shouldn't be excluded from D&D. This happened in my game yesterday.

Long story short, my players' party were allied with soldiers from the main governing body to fight some oozes. The oozes came from experiments meant to end a threat posed by the "savages", of which orcs are included. While the allied soldiers did not outright accuse the half-orc player, played by a Caucasian player who comes from a relatively privileged socioeconomic background.

One such solider began taking actions that, in that player's perspective, seemed to border on sabotage during the big boss fight. The player began to suspect that the soldier did not have the party's best interest at heart. So he started thinking about attacking him. If he attacked the soldier, he would be potentially proving the stereotypes against his own race to be true; he would risk furthering the perception of his people as savages. He had to weigh that potential versus possibly his own self-preservation.

The game got a white dude to think about that, which is pretty cool IMO.
Nice post, given the context of your session it IS cool the player actually had the awareness to think about it and how his actions would promote the stereotype and so he acted to overcome it for his character.

The problem with stereotyping is two-fold IMX:

1. it makes those stereotyped more likely to fall into the stereotype due to outside pressure and feelings of entrapment
2. it makes those viewing the stereotyping as it being acceptable.

I've stereotyped people before and have been stereotyped myself (I am certain most of us have at some point in our lives). It is frustrating to say the least to feel you have to prove yourself to others that they are wrong to stereotype you.

To be honest, I have noticed myself to be more prejudice over cultures than races really. It is something I try to keep in mind constantly so I don't judge others. The issue I have with it, is while I will do everything I can to respect others and their choices and desires, etc., I find, too often, that those people end up not respecting mine and because of the other affronts they have suffered, are thinking only of themselves and their people. That makes it much more difficult for me to be concerned with them, unfortunately.
 


CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I like Crawford's ideas. Especially in light of current events, I feel that race in D&D is long overdue for an overhaul.

Not long ago, there was a thread about "things we miss in other editions" or something along those lines, and I remember that I wrote about how I missed the old racial penalties and favored classes of 3rd Edition. I wrote that I wished the game developers had kept those rules, because I liked the versatility and challenges they brought to the character creation "mini-game."

But recent events in my home country (and indeed, around the world) have brought certain things to light for me, things that I should have seen a lot sooner. I've since changed my mind, and I can see that it was the right call.

Renaming race to "ancestry" would be more appropriate, I think. And it would be more accurate too, since there are so many "half-" races (and more are added every year). It used to just be half-elves and half-orcs, but now we have half-lycanthropes (aka Shifters), half-devils, half-elementals...

If this is done properly, we could see a much larger variety of player options. For example, let's say every character gets a number of ancestry options at character creation. For the sake of discussion, let's make it 6.

A straight-up elf would choose their six favorite Elf Ancestry traits; and a straight-up dwarf would choose their six favorite Dwarf Ancestry traits. A character from both ancestries would choose 2 of their favorite Elf Ancestry traits (like Keen Senses and +1 Dex), and 4 of their favorite Dwarf Ancestry traits (maybe Darkvision, +1 Con, Stonecutting, and Poison Resistance).

"What, never seen a pointy-eared dwarf before? Hrmph. My mother was a dwarf, and my dad was an elf, if you must know. Family reunions were very rare, and always fun."
 


Doug McCrae

Legend
My personal opinion is that if you look at a fantasy race or heritage or ancestry and see a Human Ethnic Group you probably have some issues to work out.

"I do think of the 'Dwarves' like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue" - JRR Tolkien, letter to Naomi Mitchison 8 December 1955.

"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.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
I haven't used racial ability score modifiers in years. At most, I give players a couple of points to allocate as they see fit regardless of the character's race or ancestry. If the favor text says that minotaurs are tough and strong and elves are quick and clever, great. Let the player decide whether to follow or play against those tropes with their characters. No need to change the MM entries; they easily maintain the baselines.

And in all cases, I treat the cultural information provided in the core books as heasay. History has shown how pervasive a single account can be when shaping a culture's understanding of other cultures, and how entwined cultural mores of race and gender play into those understandings. A traveler from a patriarchal surface society who encounters underground elves led by capable female priests and generals may well return to the surface with outlandish tales fetishizing and exaggerating the experience. And absent real or contrary data, of course the history books depict drow as dark-skinned matriarchal BDSM models. It doesn't mean that's how they have to behave when your PCs encounter them.

There is no such thing as an objective record, and treating the core material - especially the monster lore! - as expressly subjective in nature makes all of it much easier to navigate and deal with on a worldbuilding and campaign level.
 

KidSnide

Adventurer
If I may, here's an example of why I think racial stereotyping shouldn't be excluded from D&D. This happened in my game yesterday.

I don't see this as an attempt to remove racial stereotyping from the game. (And - in particular - I'm quite sure that WotC isn't sending commandos to your house to police the content of your game.)

Instead, I see this as a necessary effort to revise the parts of D&D that reinforce racist ideas in the real world. Should we use the term "race" to describe species-like differences in abilities and culture? Definitely not. Should the evil versions of cultures be populated by exclusively dark-skinned characters? Also, no. Should the descriptions of monsters evoke real-life racist tropes? As much as possible, no.

Part of the message of the protests and the accompanying scholarship (at least in my understanding) is that the passive acceptance of racist tropes is itself a form of a racism. That doesn't make anyone evil for having happy played D&D for decades without grappling with those tropes. But it does make it necessary for the folks like Jeremy who do have control over D&D's contribution to the greater culture to change it so that its effect in this world is to promote racial justice instead of simply accepting the status quo.

Will that address the most important problems of racial inequality? Definitely not. But it's the part that it's WotC's hands, so it's the part that they should address.

-KS
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
How about this

Humanoids use humanoid morality and logic. They have free will and can make culture of any alignment.

Giants use giant morality and logic. They have free will and can make culture of the alignment based on their place on the ordning.

Beasts use animal morality and logic. If intelligent, they still act like beasts just smart.

Fey use fey morality and logic. Their will and culture is bound to their lord. Their logic is weird but still logical. Their culture is warped reflections of those of humanoids. Only fey with no master like a hag or royal fey, has free will.

Fiendd use fiendish morality and logic. Their will is tied to their alignment and their morality barely exist. Their cultures are always stolen and corrupted from others. LE devils are always LE. CE demons will always revert to CE. NE Yugoloths never stay from NE.

Celestials use the morality and logic of the gods. Their brains are always in tune with the god their serve.

Aberrations use use alien morality and logic. It is too alien to anyone but them and their kin. Attempting to understand them is a foolish sacrifice of one's mind.

Therefore you make Orcs humanoids, fiends, or giants in your world and have them follow their group's mindset. Gnolls would be humaniods or fiends depending on how you use them. Just be brave and use the right group.

Make you big dumb orcs giant wit ++STR +CON -2 INT and you noble orcs humanoids. with the +STR, +CON.
 
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"Heritage" is a great word.

If I exercise, I will become stronger. If I dont exercise, I will become weaker.

Strength is a freewill choice influenced by my cultural expectations, including my parents and peers.

Every ability includes both nature and nurture.

Instead of "race", I prefer "heritage" because it encompasses all the factors of ones origins, both biological and cultural. And here "culture" includes the subculture of growing up in an immigrant or an eccentric family.
 

I'm not sure why this needs new books to address. Fix it in errata and subsequent printings. Even the Vistani in CoS could be addressed via flavor.

I can see why the Vistani and groups like them are fun for designers, but it's possible to have a troupe of magical folks -- heck, any group of actual bards in 5E would qualify -- without having that be baked into their ethnicity.

The problem with different human ethnicities being portrayed in fantasy literature is when those ethnicities are basically lifted from an Earth like one, only with fantasy flavor.

The Vistani (for example) are riddled with Romani and Irish Traveller stereotypes. Including many negative ones. The Mulan in Faerun as well (plus everything in Maztica and how it stereotyped Indigenous American cultures, or the Arabian sourcebook and how it stereotyped Islam and Arabic cultures). There are fantasy analogies to Mongols, East Asian cultures and more.

It's problematic at the least. Imagine having a certain human ethnicity, lifted from a real world human ethnicity (with the serial numbers filed off) and given 'favoured class: Barbarian' for example? The unavoidable implication there is that the real world human ethnicity is naturally drawn to barbaric tendencies, and that such qualities are inherent features of certain ethnic groups.

It used to be even worse with certain human ethnicities given inherent ability score modifiers based on that ethnicity. Which is all kinds of wrong.

The science on race and ethnicity (among humans) is clear that 'race' is a subjective social construct (and not an objective biological one). That being true, then when an author starts to attribute traits or qualities to a particular ethnic group, all you're seeing is one giant racial stereotype through the eyes of that author. When the ethnic group in question is simply a real world ethnic group in everything other than name, than you have some serious problems arising.

Even when the 'race' does not mirror a real world peoples (Gnolls or Orcs), assigning them inherent traits creates similar issues in relation to the assumptions on race behind that assignment.

Im glad they explicitly made Orcs not inherently evil. I've also long maintained an identical stance to that of Crawfords stance on Gnolls (a repudiation of the decision to make them inherently evil). It was a huge mistake giving them this as an inherent quality, and they're the only species I know of that has this quality attached (heck, even outsiders, celestials and fiends can change alignment).

Im glad they see it as a huge mistake as well.
 

G

Guest 6801328

Guest
We're talking about player characters though. So why not have a halfling that's as strong as the minotaur, if that's the player's vision? Why have the rules prevent that character choice? PCs are heroes!

Yes. A given race may statistically have high or low dexterity or intelligence or whatever, but statistics applies to groups, not individuals. And PCs are unusual by definition. (Unless, of course, you have a game world in which "adventurer" is the most common profession, and peasants are the strange ones. "Why would ya dig in tha dirt, laddie, when there's treasure for tha takin' out there?")
 


Religion/politics
On a side note, the Supreme Court today just ruled that it is illegal to discriminate against gays and trandgenders anywhere in the USA.
 

Envisioner

Explorer
I wonder what the Venn Diagram looks like for those who were all angry about Idris Elba as Heimdall.

In the original Norse Eddas, Heimdall was very specifically described as "the whitest of the gods". I don't overwhelmingly care, Idris is an amazing actor and I'm always glad to see him, but it is ironic that they specifically picked Heimdall as the role for him to play, showing that they either didn't know about the mythlore or intentionally wanted to ignore/subvert/override it.
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
I find this interesting, thanks everyone.

But why is a gnoll being evil problematic? Why can't we have a species that walks upright be mostly or almost entirely evil?
 

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