D&D 5E Yes to factionalism. No to racism.

Yaarel

Mind Mage
The recent errata and Sage Advice continue the trend of removing stereotypical descriptions from the player races.

I like these updates.

For some others, these updates created a perception of the lore becoming more homogeneous and bland.

However, the stereotypes do not appear to be going away. Rather, they are reorganizing into a different mechanic of the game. Not the "race" mechanic, but the "faction" mechanic. An entire "race" cannot be a specific alignment, now. It cannot even "tend" toward a specific alignment. But an entire "faction" can be or tend toward a specific alignment.

We can see this in the drow lore updates. Now the Evil drow tradition characterizes the Lolth faction of "udadrow", specifically, rather than the entire drow (sub) race as a whole. This Lolth faction continues the objectionable content in full force, including racism, slavery, sexism, etcetera. However, as a faction rather than the entire race, the D&D tradition reincarnates into a mechanical category that is more accurate and more useful.

The description as a faction is more accurate, because a group of Lolth ideological extremists sounds plausible, whereas an entire race of freewill beings being monolithically Evil and homogeneous sounds impossible. Meanwhile, even the drow tradition across all editions has included non-Evil and non-Lolth possibilities. So the mechanics of factions is factually correct when describing the D&D tradition.

The description as a faction is more useful, because a single culture − any culture − is complex and comprises competing interest groups. A single faction can help articulate one flavorful point of view, while leaving room for other factions that espouse contrary points of view.



The best mechanics to describe a culture is a selection of prominent backgrounds. A "prominent" background might be a frequent one, such as Guild Artisan, whence Farmer or Merchant, is in certain cultures. Also, a "prominent" background might be a rare but prestigious one, such as Noble or Folk Hero are in certain cultures. A background might be broad and multipurpose, such as Sailor, or narrow and peculiar, such as a hypothetical Aevendrow Magical Tailor. Meanwhile, a broad background like Scholar or Soldier can be rewritten for the local culture of a specific city, such as its library system or city guard system. Together, a selection of say five backgrounds helps create a "feel" for what a particular culture is about. The culture might broadly sketch out a nation, or might articulate a local institution.

When describing a culture in more detail, factions are a great way to subdivide it. Indeed each faction might even have its own subfactions within it. A faction can offer its own selection of prominent backgrounds to characterize it.

Factions offer the D&D game a way to keep its cake and eat it too. Defacto, factions such as the udadrow of Lolth canonize gaming content that is stereotypical and offensive − and "colorful" and flavorful. But as a faction, it at least implies the existence of other factions. The mechanics of factions open up the genuine diversity within any culture.



Note the monster statblock. The statblock describes an "encounter", normally a combat encounter. It says little or nothing about an entire culture or an entire player race. For example, the orc statblock will probably say "any alignment", because it is a player race that has freewill. However within the orc monster entry, an "Eye of Gruumsh" statblock being a chaplain-like background for a specific religious war faction might well be "typically Evil", or even be required to be Evil in order to qualify for the position.

I suspect, the "colorful" descriptions for monsters will actually increase in the future because the mechanics now make such descriptions palatable − when understood as specific factions within a monster population. Meanwhile a monster statblock can be used to describe the member of a specific faction.



In sum, the current 5e trend seems to be: Yes to factionalism. No to racism.

The controversial traditions within D&D dont seem to be going away. Rather, they are relocating into factions, using the mechanics that are more accurate and useful.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I appreciate this post, and I would never advocate for racism, but I just can't get behind including more factions in D&D.

Let's face it- D&D already has a lot of math! And while I can math it out with the next guy, I don't think that adding more factions is a good idea. After all, a lot of people have trouble with factions. Not to mention some of us are older, and can't even remember the difference between a numerator and our religious denomination!

So I would definitely say- No to racism, and no to factions. Because I will always remember the words of my fifth grade teacher when she saw my math test- "You better marry upwards Snarf, because you're dumber than 4/3 of a box of rocks times 1/2 ... and you don't understand that."

...different times. Anyway, I don't use factions in my D&D games, because factions are hard, and Harpers suck.
 


HammerMan

Legend
In sum, the current 5e trend seems to be: Yes to factionalism. No to racism.

The controversial traditions within D&D dont seem to be going away. Rather, they are relocating into factions, using the mechanics that are more accurate and useful.
this is an interesting idea. Taken at face value it can lead to wonderful new rules flavor text and worlds...

In practice if they are still saying everyone (or even most) in Menzobaranzin is evil I think they are missing the forest for the trees.

One of the (dumb) arguments this is supposed to avoid is the slaughter and destroying of non combatants... so have a metropolis full of non combatants still labeled as all evil is still a bad move

imagine a faction called the BadWrongOrc tribe... is saying that not all orcs are born evil better if you can still genocide the BadWrongOrc tribe?
 

Oofta

Legend
The problem with factions is that they are setting specific. I have factions in my campaign world that follow Fenris (aka Fenrir depending on how you Anglicize it) the wolf. The highest honor is to become werewolves, and the truly powerful ones become far deadlier than your typical lycanthrope.

Which works great for me, makes no sense in FR. As far as monsters, I think we should go back to "often", "frequently" and so on for alignments. But that's been hashed to death.
 

HammerMan

Legend
Your personal definitions aside, it's just a matter of time.

'Factions' would require World building, and canon.

Race, subrace.
Background, culture?
Class, subclass.

That's how I could see it working, but perhaps replace culture for faction? Feels a bit video gamey to me though?
if all of those had REAL mechanical teeth I would love it...
 


Yaarel

Mind Mage
The problem with factions is that they are setting specific.
I consider the setting specificity of a faction to be a feature, not a bug.

What might be true in one setting, might not be true in an other setting. Each setting can feel very different, and can describe its own factions along with their corresponding backgrounds.

I have factions in my campaign world that follow Fenris (aka Fenrir depending on how you Anglicize it) the wolf. The highest honor is to become werewolves, and the truly powerful ones become far deadlier than your typical lycanthrope.

Which works great for me, makes no sense in FR. As far as monsters, I think we should go back to "often", "frequently" and so on for alignments. But that's been hashed to death.

Sounds great. A faction that makes werewolves prestigious makes sense. A background for this faction could even grant a noncombat magical feature that allows shapechanging into a wolf as an alternate form, by granting it as a known spell. Meanwhile, the skills can be Perception and Athletics, or so. I am also fine with a background granting a weapon proficiency, in this case a bite as a natural weapon (perhaps 1d6 piercing as an action or a offhand bonus action).
 

Bolares

Hero
I consider the setting specificity of a faction to be a feature, not a bug.

What might be true in one setting, might not be true in an other setting. Each setting can feel very different, and can describe its own factions along with their corresponding backgrounds.
Yes, but then you'd have to make a clear decision in the core books. You either go super generic, giving only ideas of factions, or you commit to a standard setting. The way 5e does FR, but in a multiverse, would be kind of bad if you go for factions...
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
'Factions' would require World building, and canon.

Race, subrace.
Background, culture?
Class, subclass.

That's how I could see it working, but perhaps replace culture for faction? Feels a bit video gamey to me though?

Generally, I view "culture" as follows.

culture = combat class + noncombat background



Note, I think it is ok if the "noncombat" background grants a pertinent weapon proficiency, such as a longbow for a Deer Hunter background or a spear for a Boar Hunter background, or a choice of spear, axe, or longbow for a town militia member.

Generally, the background is a mechanic that can represent many cultural institutions, via skills and tools. Some backgrounds even grant known spells that a caster can use spell slots for. Meanwhile, each background has a noncombat feature, what I call a "special asset", which can be almost anything, to put the finger on exactly what it is that the cultural background represents.

Background is a powerful and flexible mechanic to represent various possibilities that relate to cultures.
 

I appreciate this post, and I would never advocate for racism, but I just can't get behind including more factions in D&D.

Let's face it- D&D already has a lot of math! And while I can math it out with the next guy, I don't think that adding more factions is a good idea. After all, a lot of people have trouble with factions. Not to mention some of us are older, and can't even remember the difference between a numerator and our religious denomination!

So I would definitely say- No to racism, and no to factions. Because I will always remember the words of my fifth grade teacher when she saw my math test- "You better marry upwards Snarf, because you're dumber than 4/3 of a box of rocks times 1/2 ... and you don't understand that."

...different times. Anyway, I don't use factions in my D&D games, because factions are hard, and Harpers suck.

No, it's quite simple, and effective. Let's imagine a bunch of NPCs, each belonging to their own factions. Now draw their relationships. For example: Jean is shorter than Brutus but taller than Imhotep. Imhotep is taller than Jean, but shorter than Lord Scotland. Lord Scotland is twice the height of Jean and Brutus combined but only one-tenth of the height of Millsy. Millsy is at a constant height of x − y. If Jean stands exactly one nautical mile away from Lord Scotland, how tall is Imhotep? Through the application of maths, a solution can be arrived at. The answer is that Imhotep is invisible.
 

Scribe

Hero
Generally, I view "culture" as follows.

culture = combat class + noncombat background



Note, I think it is ok if the "noncombat" background grants a pertinent weapon proficiency, such as a longbow for a Deer Hunter background or a spear for a Boar Hunter background, or a choice of spear, axe, or longbow for a town militia member.

Generally, the background is a mechanic that can represent many cultural institutions, via skills and tools. Some backgrounds even grant known spells that a caster can use spell slots for. Meanwhile, each background has a noncombat feature, what I call a "special asset", which can be almost anything, to put the finger on exactly what it is that the cultural background represents.

Background is a powerful and flexible mechanic to represent various possibilities that relate to cultures.
Yeah I remember that from the last time you did this. Class is still not Culture. ;)

Culture is about where you are from, your traditions. Its not your Job (Class) and it doesnt even need to be your prior training (Background).

I'm Canadian by Culture.

I'm not IT/Software Developer by Culture.
I'm IT Trained by Background.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Yeah I remember that from the last time you did this. Class is still not Culture. ;)

Culture is about where you are from, your traditions. Its not your Job (Class) and it doesnt even need to be your prior training (Background).

I'm Canadian by Culture.

I'm not IT/Software Developer by Culture.
I'm IT Trained by Background.

I am puzzled by this fancy debate over culture and background. Are you evil and can I kill you and take your stuff?
 


Scribe

Hero
I am puzzled by this fancy debate over culture and background. Are you evil and can I kill you and take your stuff?
If I'm playing my Paladin, I would be flagged as such. Depending on where you sit on the whole 'Charm Spells' debate, my Enchanter may also fall under your blade. ;)

@Scribe I suppose this makes me a Human Engineer (Civil) with the Southern USA background.

Southern USA Culture! :p

For me, it would be

Human (Null Pointer), IT Professional (DBA), Canadian (IT Training)
Race (Subrace), Class (Subclass), Culture (Background)

At least thats my current view on things.
 

Bolares

Hero
Yeah I remember that from the last time you did this. Class is still not Culture. ;)

Culture is about where you are from, your traditions. Its not your Job (Class) and it doesnt even need to be your prior training (Background).

I'm Canadian by Culture.

I'm not IT/Software Developer by Culture.
I'm IT Trained by Background.
Let's go back to how Eberron does it (I'm really trying to make you buy it). It's a post war world, with a very cosmopolitan "main" continent. In it, nation (or culture, they are kind of interchangeable) is waaay more important than race. Being born on Breland will dictate your upbringing and some traits that come with it then being an elf, human or dwarf. But some more insular or closed off to foreigners nations have more close ties to race (Elves from Aerenal, Humans from Sarlonna, Halflings from the Talenta Plains...)
 

Scribe

Hero
Let's go back to how Eberron does it (I'm really trying to make you buy it). It's a post war world, with a very cosmopolitan "main" continent. In it, nation (or culture, they are kind of interchangeable) is waaay more important than race. Being born on Breland will dictate your upbringing and some traits that come with it then being an elf, human or dwarf. But some more insular or closed off to foreigners nations have more close ties to race (Elves from Aerenal, Humans from Sarlonna, Halflings from the Talenta Plains...)
Yeah, and I get that.

I still prefer how things were in older platforms. I want weapon training that is tied to a race, because I love items, and I love that items can be uniquely tied to a race.

Not that other races couldnt learn, but I'm in the 'make races distinct at all costs' camp. ASI, Language, Size, Weapon Proficiency. All the things! ;)
 


Bolares

Hero
I want weapon training that is tied to a race
Valenar Elves are the only ones that get double scimitars in Eberron, even in 5e....

Talenta halfings have the tangat (and another weapon that I don't remember now, both of them are reskins in5e because the weapon table sucks).

Drow have boomerangs...
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Storm in tea cup for me. New campaign the Drow are probably gonna be good aligned and the normal elves are extinct (genocide).

There may be some undead elves around but for whatever reason they're not around atm.
 

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