Author Topic: D&D and Race  (Read 4327 times)

Cramulus

  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 22401
    • View Profile
    • Cramul.us
D&D and Race
« on: June 17, 2020, 03:18:36 pm »
D&D is slowly rethinking its assumptions about "race" -- which are largely derived from century-old literature and attitudes.

Let's take Orcs -- they're inherently evil and dumb. There's lots of evidence that Tolkein was caricaturizing Mongol warriors, focusing on details that Europeans found distasteful. Like when movie adaptors wanted to give orcs beaks, he was like "no no no, they have squinty eyes and broad, flat noses..." leaning on standard cultural descriptions of eastern invaders. These scary mongolian-adjacent evil-doers are the antagonists to the familar pastoral "shire" filled with quaint and adorable european farmers. Made perfect sense as antagonists in the old world. Today, they're a little harder to relate to.

It's one thing to have monsters like demons and vampires be "inherently evil", but it's another thing to describe humanoid races as having inherent built-in alignment. It doesn't make any sense in the real world, except for actual racists, who do think of "entire races" as inherently evil or dumb.

So, many RPGs are getting away from "race" and instead talking about "ancestry" or "peoples". Maybe you get +1 to bows because elven culture gave you a lot of practice -- not because elves have this in-born talent. Which follows how we're learning to talk about race in the real world. I much prefer the narrative that orcs have free will, and could choose to be good or evil -- but they tend to be evil because of specific factors in their world.



Here's a little snippet of Crawford tweets on this topic:

https://www.enworld.org/threads/wotcs-jeremy-crawford-on-d-d-races-going-forward.672716

Elder Iptuous

  • Professional Discordian and Physiognomist
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 5735
  • terribly tedious
    • View Profile
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2020, 03:32:38 pm »
Why is a distinction drawn between 'monsters' like demons and vampires, and the 'humanoid race' of orcs?
Would Tolkien not have said that they are, in fact, monsters due to their inherent evil?

minuspace

  • Neva Dun
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 3358
  • Love is the host, so...
    • View Profile
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2020, 03:42:28 pm »
Inherent evil? Well then let’s Magic the gathering illegal too, because I don’t like your ontology or identity politics. Also, monster as in the evil admixture of disparate things, ergo lost when applied reflexively to humans unless you were going for some MPD angle, buddy.

Nyborj the Priest

  • Rook of Eris
  • Known & Noted
  • **
  • Posts: 58
  • If you meet the Goddess on the road, high-five her
    • View Profile
    • my games
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2020, 03:46:59 pm »
Why is a distinction drawn between 'monsters' like demons and vampires, and the 'humanoid race' of orcs?
Would Tolkien not have said that they are, in fact, monsters due to their inherent evil?

Yeah, and setting them up so they're portrayable as unquestionably evil is part of the problem. One of the most potentially awful fantasy 'races' is zombies, if they're not done carefully (Discworld and iZombie get a pass.)

A friend of mine said that zombie fiction flourishes when the overbearing political mood is conservative and vampire fiction when it's liberal. Zombies = hordes of unwashed masses coming to take your stuff; vampires = glamorous men in formal suits and huge houses living off your blood.
I make silly games: http://versificator.itch.io

Cramulus

  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 22401
    • View Profile
    • Cramul.us
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2020, 04:02:29 pm »
Why is a distinction drawn between 'monsters' like demons and vampires, and the 'humanoid race' of orcs?
Would Tolkien not have said that they are, in fact, monsters due to their inherent evil?

yeah, classic high-fantasy sets up a tension between

People (ie elves, dwarves, halflings, civilized others we relate to)
and
Non-People (ie monsters)

And this serves the kinds of stories we tell in D&D -- it's fun to slay dragons, and we don't necessarily get anything from pondering the socio-economic forces that makes skeletons want to shoot us with bows. The world is dangerous, the ADVENTURE is about navigating those dangers.

The issue, I think, comes from the way that certain monsters are coded as people. Especially because the things people say about Drow (for example) sometimes land pretty close to home for real-life people of color. In the Larp community, we're really struggling to undo generations of fantasy where "dark skin" is a signifier of a dark soul... Drow are not analogous to black people, but I've heard PoC say that they feel uncomfortable in spaces where the plot is focused on we white skinned heroes destroying those evil black-skinned elves. Especially when larpers get SUPER defensive about wearing black face makeup, and whitesplain"it's not racist, you are offended for no reason." I dunno, how many fantasy movies have black protagonists? (please don't mention Marlon Wayans in the D&D movie) Are we SURE that this has nothing to do with our Othering of marginalized people?




« Last Edit: June 17, 2020, 04:05:16 pm by Cramulus »

Cramulus

  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 22401
    • View Profile
    • Cramul.us
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2020, 04:04:39 pm »
and that's not to say you can't have orcs as antagonists

but maybe we should reserve "they're just inherently evil and it's a good person's duty to put them down" for things that explicitly aren't people.

Cramulus

  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 22401
    • View Profile
    • Cramul.us
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2020, 04:08:43 pm »
Zombies = hordes of unwashed masses coming to take your stuff; vampires = glamorous men in formal suits and huge houses living off your blood.

 :lol: never thought about the economics of zombie fic versus vampire fic but I think you're spot on

reminds me of John William Polidori's vampire fiction, which explicitly codes vampires to signify Lord Byron, Arch Fuckboy and Sexual Predator of Europe.



Elder Iptuous

  • Professional Discordian and Physiognomist
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 5735
  • terribly tedious
    • View Profile
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2020, 05:30:26 pm »
Hmm.
Some good points to chew on.
As far as orcs, I personally never thought of them as anything other than explicitly non-human monsters. Like goblins, bugbears, kobolds etc.  All humanoid but non human monsters.  On the other hand.... in d&d, we have half orcs.... which invited the discussion.

On the side of those resistant to racial political discourse, the orc thing is used as an example of senseless hand-wringing, and it seems to be a powerful message for them.  I wonder if it acts as a distraction from more immediate and meaningful debate than it actually helps.

I think I have a bias that RPGs were always an escape from the murkiness of real life.  It feels like an attack on a comfortable refuge to drag the shitstorm of real life conflict into it.

But it's no biggie, I suppose, since players cant really be held hostage to the whims of any publisher, just shamed.  And yknow...  grow some skin if I dont like it.

Junkenstein

  • Technically-Oriented & Horribly Mobile Crecy of Crab Lice.
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 8085
    • View Profile
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2020, 05:41:16 pm »
This could all get quite fun. The last couple of forgotten ewalms pulp crap I went through had a whole heap of "good" drow. The direct implications were pretty much the usual nature/nurture jazz with the explicit idea that all you need to do to be "good" is abandon you're culture and personality and just pretend really hard that you are good until you just are.

I'd love to see someone do a deep dig in this whole area because you know how touchy some fantasy fans are about, well, everything.

At the least it needs a rewrite of the Chris rock but. I love dark elves, love dark elves but I Hate drow. Drow always looking for some credit for shit they supposed to do anyway. Etc.
Nine naked Men just walking down the road will cause a heap of trouble for all concerned.

Cramulus

  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 22401
    • View Profile
    • Cramul.us
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #9 on: June 17, 2020, 05:52:29 pm »
Hmm.
Some good points to chew on.
As far as orcs, I personally never thought of them as anything other than explicitly non-human monsters. Like goblins, bugbears, kobolds etc.  All humanoid but non human monsters.  On the other hand.... in d&d, we have half orcs.... which invited the discussion.

It's so weird though, when you really get down to it. Like in the Birthright D&D setting (in which the PCs rule one or more kingdoms), Goblins have kingdoms, a caste system, an economy, politics... many goblins are open to diplomacy. When the shit hits the fan, goblins may even team up with you against the more demonic foes. So what makes them monsters? The fact that they hate humans and elves? Well there's also a nation of Elves that are completely hostile to humans and dwarves -- and they are a much bigger threat to humanity than goblins. Why are they considered people, but the goblins are not? on some level, isn't it "one looks like us, the other doesn't"?


One of the things I think is powerful about aspirational fantasy like D&D is that it puts you in this seat where you're thinking about what it means to be a hero, to do the right thing (okay not all campaigns are about that, but the typical D&D game involves fighting evil and saving innocents). A lot of people talk about being a teenager who was empowered by fantasy, it helped them explore ideas and discover themselves. So I think the fiction's values are important.

And not all fantasy has to be allegorical -- but storytelling/myth making naturally bundles up our current values and makes a statement about it. Tolkein's opinions about this are well known - he insists that his books are not about World War I, but universal human values. Frodo must walk into the Mordor of our hearts or whatever.

And to that end - the idea that "some people are just evil and that makes it okay to kill them" is not a great story for the year 2020.


« Last Edit: June 17, 2020, 05:56:26 pm by Cramulus »

altered

  • Reluctant Mad Prophet of Mushussu Qudmu
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 2274
  • Beggar-Knight of Eris Militant
    • View Profile
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2020, 06:35:14 pm »
I refuse to engage this shit in detail but most modern depictions of orcs are explicitly Black or Indigenous coded, especially Warcraft orcs, and POC getting into tabletop games for the first time with their new leftist friends are running full-stop into “this stuff that’s black/indigenous coded in the media I know is suddenly PURE EVIL”

The older tabletop nerds here no doubt see Warcraft as the interloper, but Warcraft has more pop culture impact and is now the default for interpreting certain things. Orcs weren’t pop culture outside of lotr (where they were anti-Asian yeah) until WoW happened and got as insanely huge as it did

So that’s why this is happening and why “well I only ever thought of them as monsters” doesnt fucking matter, thank you thank you I will not answer questions go fucking google
“I am that worst of all type of criminal...I cannot bring myself to do what you tell me, because you told me.”

“Ever watch that famous war movie? That’s how it’ll be.”
“Which one?”
“The one where everybody dies.”
— Blood Standard, Laird Barron

Remember the fall of Yin Tu.

Cain

  • Alea iacta est
  • Chekha
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 64279
    • View Profile
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #11 on: June 17, 2020, 06:47:47 pm »
When it comes to anything that is shown as a sentient race, I'm uncomfortable with framing them as evil in terms of their origins, rather than their actions.

Lets look at orcs, for example. Are orcs evil because they are orcs? Or are orcs "evil" because they follow a nomadic/raider lifestyle, which pits them against established settlements and pastoral groups? That then raises questions. What about orcs raised outside of that culture? Or orcs that reject raiding in favour of a similar settled, pastoral lifestyle? Why are orcs even raiding in the first place?

As some of you know, I'm DMing an Elder Scrolls themed RPG at the moment and if there is one thing the Elder Scrolls is great for, it's ignoring the idea that certain groups are inherently "evil". Hell, I'd say TES Orcs are far more sympathetic than Bretons, despite Bretons thinking of them like D&D Orcs in many cases. The Elder Scrolls doesn't flinch away from looking at the racism and religious bigotries that can drive conflict, but it's also quite good at making it clear that these are bigotries with little realistic basis. Why do the Orcs have a brutish clan culture, for example? Well probably because anytime an Orc leader tries to build up their civilisation, the Bretons come and burn it down. And "city orcs" are often treated with so much appalling racism they rarely ever integrate into Breton culture. So they go to the frozen wilds of Wrothgar, join the clans and...

(ignore the terrible writing of Reachmen and Maormer who, although at least portrayed as "human/elf" cultures, are also portrayed as unremittingly evil and antagonistic)

Even daedra are not inherently "evil", it's just they come from a place where they cannot die and time doesn't exist, and as a result their morality is abstract and strange and they don't place much value on creatures from the Mundus as anything beyond entertainment or tools as a consequence.

I get maybe not everyone wants to go in as deep on their worldbuilding or gaming. I like getting all sociological and political and my players seem to enjoy it as well. But reframing back onto actions, rather than inherent traits, is a good rule of thumb regardless.

Junkenstein

  • Technically-Oriented & Horribly Mobile Crecy of Crab Lice.
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 8085
    • View Profile
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #12 on: June 17, 2020, 07:09:05 pm »
On the other end of the scale to TES, there's a whole heap of crap like that thing Varg wrote in jail. When people remember about that kind of stuff they're going to be pissed. With a couple of accusations we could have #notallfantasyfans going by the end of summer.
Nine naked Men just walking down the road will cause a heap of trouble for all concerned.

Doktor Howl

  • Slayer of Spam Bots
  • One-Armed Jizz Moppers
  • Deserved It
  • **
  • Posts: 36629
  • Horrible Bastard
    • View Profile
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2020, 07:33:20 pm »
Thing is, most of the appeal to D&D for a lot of people is it lets you enjoy a simplification in a complex world.

Orcs are evil because muhaha, same as chromatic dragons, etc.  So you handle them in simple ways, and problem sorted.  Then on Monday, you go back to that complex world where nothing is clear cut.
Molon Lube

Cain

  • Alea iacta est
  • Chekha
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 64279
    • View Profile
Re: D&D and Race
« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2020, 09:51:43 pm »
True, simplification is sometimes better. But slavers and cultists into human sacrifice are usually pretty non-complex (he says, thinking about his group who have done work for Great House Dres, the biggest slavers in Tamriel, before now). Or people who were given a chance to back down and refused, like the raiding orcs ate the last envoy sent to speak with them. Boom, problem solved.

Quote from: Cramulus
The issue, I think, comes from the way that certain monsters are coded as people. Especially because the things people say about Drow (for example) sometimes land pretty close to home for real-life people of color. In the Larp community, we're really struggling to undo generations of fantasy where "dark skin" is a signifier of a dark soul... Drow are not analogous to black people, but I've heard PoC say that they feel uncomfortable in spaces where the plot is focused on we white skinned heroes destroying those evil black-skinned elves. Especially when larpers get SUPER defensive about wearing black face makeup, and whitesplain"it's not racist, you are offended for no reason." I dunno, how many fantasy movies have black protagonists? (please don't mention Marlon Wayans in the D&D movie) Are we SURE that this has nothing to do with our Othering of marginalized people?

One of the things I like the most about the Malazan series, other than when all the ridiculous subplots come crashing into each other, is that it rails hard against this trope. The Malazans, as a multi-nation empire, have people of every possible race serving under their banner and, due to being situated in what could generously be called the tropics (don't talk to Erikson about maps, or timelines) is a lot of the characters are of Dal Honese extraction. Dal Hon would be roughly equivalent to the Zulu, in terms of environment and skin tone. A large subset of characters also come from the unnamed subcontinent called Seven Cities, which has so many Arabic overtones as to be ridiculous at times. Kalam and Quick Ben, two of the more noted characters from that region, are also described as very dark-skinned, but there are others, like Lostara Yil, who tend to be lighter but still quite tanned in comparison to non Dal Honese.

Metaphysically, Darkness is the first Hold, in elemental opposition to Chaos. The original inhabitants of the Hold of Darkness, the Tiste Andii, are among the more noble characters in the setting, perhaps personified by their leader, Anomander Rake. And though their intentions are often vague and saying too much would be spoilery, the rulers of the Warren of Shadow, Ammanas and Cotillion, are far from evil in a metaphysical sense, despite all the "shadow" associations that rulership of that plane grants them. If anything, light is evil in this setting, because the notions of purity that are associated with it breed zealousness, arrogance and distaste for outsiders.