How are people at your gaming table affected by some of the themes/depictions in the book? It’s an important thing to think about!

News: Posted February 18th, 2020 by Alina

^ 45 Comments to “Affected”

  1. Wildstag Says:

    I know I said it late in the thread for the last page, but I think a lot of this boils down to artist bias towards one end of the skin tone range than the other.

    Dwarves, throughout D&D history, are basically “majority lawful, and majority good”, with a specific evil subrace. And yet, when you look at the skin tone given in, say, the PHB and MM1 for 3.5, we get these quotes:

    “Dwarves’ skin is typically deep tan or light brown, and their eyes are dark. Their hair is usually black, gray, or brown, and worn long.”

    “Dwarves favor earth tones in their clothing and prefer simple and functional garb. The skin can be very dark, but it is always some shade of tan or brown. Hair color can be black, gray, or brown.”

    Elves are generally described as pale, but wild elves are described as “It has dark brown skin, pointed ears, and black hair”. Not the best example, since they get an Intelligence penalty, granted, but elves are “Usually chaotic good”, with only Wood Elves being treated otherwise (Usually neutral).

    Gnomes, according to the Races of Stone, PHB, and MM1 are described respectively as

    “Gnomes have dark skin, ranging from light tan to a deep, warm brown. They typically have blond, light brown, white, or silver hair.”

    “Their skin ranges from dark tan to woody brown, their hair is fair, and their eyes can be any shade of blue.”

    “Their skin color ranges from dark tan to woody brown, their hair is fair, and their eyes can be any shade of blue.”

    Given those descriptions, dwarves should be coded as PoC, and yet the artwork doesn’t seem to favor that. And I’m not saying “it’s wrong to feel like certain aspects of ttrpgs are subtly racist”, because in many ways they are. But I think that in some cases, these issues are overblown due to the way peripheral artists portray characters and not the publishing companies. It’s like with the whole “chainmail bikini” argument. It’s hard to find a WotC published characters that look that way.

    It all boils down to “what are the mindsets at the table” and “what are the mindsets of the artists”, because those are what puts an impression on people.

    TL;DR: even as far back as 3.5, half (or more) of the base races are described in non-white/pale/fair skin-tones. The art doesn’t really reflect that, but check the books.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 3:01 am
  2. Mensha Says:

    Love this strip. Never thought about it that way. I actually dont know a lot of colored people in the hobby. But i like to belive, here in germany its not much of an issue. But i really dont know for sure.
    Thanks for bringing it up!

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 3:16 am
  3. BJ Says:

    Wow, thank you very much for that eye-opening explanation!

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 4:11 am
  4. Dean Says:

    Even though I’m not a poc, for a long while now, I’ve been kind of uncomfortable with the idea of ‘evil races’ in fantasy. Like Abbie says, they’re just foreigners who it’s OK to kill.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 5:08 am
  5. Al Says:

    From memory, Labyrinth and Legend films did a good representation of demihuman skin colours

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 7:12 am
  6. Wanderer Says:

    Oof. I really hope she can reassure Joel a bit in the next page, or he’s likely to leave in order to avoid offending her or making her uncomfortable. It may seem silly, but telling us whitebread types about how horrible someone who looks like us has been to you, even unknowingly, tends to make us feel both as though we are being accused of wrongdoing ourselves, and that we should go in order to make you feel more comfortable. Heck, I started three times to write a post about how it wasn’t intended that way, how the authors didn’t intend it at all… and then I realized that that doesn’t matter. It never mattered. Because what’s important is how someone felt when a characteristic that related to them was used to identify the enemy in the game. Once that’s been established, nobody cares what the writer intended, if they even believe it in the first place. And it can never be fixed or made right, because it’s all feelings, and feelings are irrational by definition. The best you can hope for is to go away and leave them alone, so that you can avoid hurting them any more.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 7:39 am
  7. Apep Says:

    When Abbie gets serious, you know it’s a big deal.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 8:37 am
  8. larry putnam Says:

    In the Norse and Scott folklore both Drow and Dwarfs are dark in out look, not skin color, in fact it is stated that you had to careful in dealing with Elves becouse you could not tell a drow form a good elf by looks. The Irish called them Unseeile as apposed to the Seeile Elves. It is this fact that made dealing (along with touchy honor of Elves in general) that made elves dangerous.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 8:46 am
  9. Calvsie Says:

    “Perspective is powerful thing, get some”
    Wow… I appreciate how much web comics like Were Geek that bring to my attention things I may not be aware of that send the wrong message. Coding is something I am increasingly becoming aware that the way I have characterized races/aspects of my pathfinder games are problematic. ooh…

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 9:39 am
  10. Destro Says:

    So I realise this may not be recieved favourably, but it’s been bugging me and I want to bring it up. Drow aren’t black people: they’re photo negatives. Everyone gets hung up on the skin tone, and forgets the white hair and glowing red eyes. They’re evil because they’re opposite high elves, who are good.

    This is not to say that I don’t get why someone could feel that way about them. There’s a lot of history around skin tone and persecution. But I also think it’s important to make a distiction between ‘intentionally racist’ and ‘unfortunate coincidence.’

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 10:39 am
  11. grinnorc Says:

    that…something i have experience. My first few were bad when i first moved to the states. thanks for putting them in art and words

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 11:44 am
  12. Anom Says:

    I never thought of Abbie as a person of color or black before. With it highlighted in these comics, I can see her hair is a bit of a curly style usually seen by African-American females in the USA. I hope to look back over the artwork in previous comics to see if the art detail is similar or not. (She usually wears hats, I think, so maybe that’s part of why I never noticed it.)

    Sarah’s boyfriend (forget his name at the moment) looked obviously dark-skinned, but I’ve never considered someone of Arab or Indian (or similar location) descent as a ‘person of color’. And at least his name denotes that ancestry.

    I realize this “not noticing” might be part of my own personal bias and unnoticed racism. I tend not to notice the race of webcomic personalities unless it comes up. (For example, it never occurred to me that Roy in The Order of the Stick was black until it was explicitly noted by the author. I always just thought he was tan from being outside fighting.)

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 11:57 am
  13. Onlineritter Says:

    Why bring politics into D&D? personaly, I play or GM to not handle all the RL stuff and just enjoy the atmosphere. Doesn’t matter what the bad guys or good guys are, as long as you have fun at the table and be whoever or whatever you want to be 🙂

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 12:58 pm
  14. Nep Says:

    Unintentionally racist is still racist.

    Glad you gave Abbie the opportunity to give a full explanation of why it matters.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 1:02 pm
  15. debolical Says:

    This was wonderful and insightful. I really appreciate all that was said here, and it needs to be a conversation that happens more often. Thank you for making this comic!

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 1:27 pm
  16. Kate Says:

    “Given those descriptions, dwarves should be coded as PoC, and yet the artwork doesn’t seem to favor that. And I’m not saying “it’s wrong to feel like certain aspects of ttrpgs are subtly racist”, because in many ways they are. But I think that in some cases, these issues are overblown due to the way peripheral artists portray characters and not the publishing companies. It’s like with the whole “chainmail bikini” argument. It’s hard to find a WotC published characters that look that way.”

    Wildstag, with the racial coding it’s not just peripheral artists. All of the main artistic depictions of the dwarven race in the core rulebooks since 3E have been pale, trending towards a red-haired “scottish” look. It doesn’t mean much to write that their skin is “always some shade of tan or brown” when it’s right next to a picture of a character that looks like it could be played by Ewan McGregor with a fake beard.

    3E dwarves:
    4E dwarves:
    5E dwarves:
    Bonus: Pathfinder dwarves:

    You tend to get better luck with subraces (Forgotten Realms gold dwarves tend to actually look brown) but the effect of that is to make it look like the pale dwarves are the default and brown dwarves are outliers – note that the most common dwarf subrace, shield dwarves, get the “tanned scotsman” styling.

    Keep in mind that even when a character is explicitly described as dark-skinned, a certain percentage of people will picture them as a tanned white person:

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 2:18 pm
  17. Incubi Says:

    I’m so Joel on this one, I didn’t see a problem and I did actually get very grumpy about the changeover when it happened in my larp societies. But honestly I don’t think I was grumpy because of the change, I was grumpy because I had never considered the issue at all. To my mind Drow black had no connection at all to any human skin tone, I never considered it racist and I felt like I was being accused of being racist because I didn’t like the change.
    But just because I hadn’t encountered it doesn’t mean there wasn’t a problem and once stopped being a grumpy ass and thought about it I saw the point and changed my opinion and I’m sure Joel will too.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 2:49 pm
  18. Thulcandran Says:

    I’d add that it’s never “just” the artists. If every – or most – artists is depicting dwarves, elves, and halflings as white, it’s because there’s a racist culture problem in the gaming world. If every DM at a convention is describing the baddies as “swarthy,” dear god do we have a racism problem. I learned that word wasn’t okay at 9.

    White gamers need to resist the impulse to try and isolate and explain away every microaggression and incident PoC (and women, and queer folks) experience in the Geeksphere. They are part of a pattern of exclusion and prejudice, of self-image of gamers as white, straight men, which companies and DMs still, for some d-mn reason, willingly cater to.

    I love the ruleset of D&D 3.5. But I am a (white) historian of Native North America and the lore and text on orcs and half orcs makes me deeply uncomfortable because, and I TRULY cannot stress this enough, it is LITERALLY IDENTICAL TO 19th-century descriptions of First Nations. Which were used in real frickin life to justify their wholesale slaughter. Which I STILL SEE PEOPLE QUOTE every time Native issues are in the news! My friend group has chosen to treat all source book lore as a biased primary source, but that’s a house rule created to solve a serious and deeply racist problem with the source material. If you really need another reason, besides it won’t harm your friends and neighbors, to shift your perception (though tbh that should be sufficient), I’ll say the games and plots we have that consider all D&D races as complex societies with their own political cultures have been far more interesting to play than, in the historic words of Belkar Bitterleaf, killing some people because they have green skin* and the player characters don’t.

    *btw – “it’s okay because no one has this actual skin color,” wrt jet black shadow OR purple OR green, is shifty as hell when the entire race/species is still coded as a cultural Other. Again – read some “pioneer” accounts with a 3.5 sourcebook next to you and then get back to me.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 3:30 pm
  19. Ferret Says:

    >So I realise this may not be recieved favourably, but it’s been bugging me and I want to bring it up. Drow aren’t black people: they’re photo negatives. Everyone gets hung up on the skin tone, and forgets the white hair and glowing red eyes. They’re evil because they’re opposite high elves, who are good.

    Interesting story, that’s actually also one of the in-universe theories for the creation of orcs in Middle Earth, that they were formerly elves who were corrupted into an evil form. And it’s still super racist, because it has its roots in a concept called “scientific racism” which posited that all the non-white races were just impure, degenerated forms of the true, pure human form of white. It’s worse with Tolkein because it was intentional (he explicitly, by his own admission coded the orcs after European perception of Asians) but it’s also a really bad look for drow because here you have the pure, good, higher being with pale skin and their cruel, evil, monstrous lower being with dark skin.

    >This is not to say that I don’t get why someone could feel that way about them. There’s a lot of history around skin tone and persecution. But I also think it’s important to make a distiction between ‘intentionally racist’ and ‘unfortunate coincidence.’

    No one’s arguing that, but the fact of the matter is that, especially with art, intent is actually irrelevant. What’s relevant is how the piece is perceived. I as the author might have a certain intention, but you as the reader have no way of knowing that intention except in the words I put on the page, and if they seem super racist, then they’re super racist, even if I had an entirely non-racist intent behind it.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 3:44 pm
  20. Eva Says:

    Oh Abbie, hon, I wish I could give you a hug right about now. ;_;

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 3:55 pm
  21. Wildstag Says:

    Kate, my comment about finding art that way in officially published books was more to my aside about chainmail bikinis, but that is an entirely separate argument.

    Dwarves and gnomes, given their description as dark-skinned it is disappointing to find the ubiquity of Northern-European-looking dwarves, and yes, it isn’t an issue of just “peripheral artists”. It’s hard to even justify the line about “dark skin” as “sun-burnt due to many years spent working under the sun” when their society is so often portrayed as primarily underground.

    Looking at novels and supplements, it’s hard to find a dwarf that’s actually portrayed like the race descriptions are actually representative of them. Races of Stone, which should have been an opportunity to match artwork with the description better, portrays paler dwarves than Tordek! When PHB2 has an image of four surface-dwelling dwarves, they all look European.

    So yeah, it is pretty weak an argument to say “the text says this, it’s peripheral artists that don’t do it right” when WotC couldn’t be bothered to hire artists that would portray dwarves in line with the sample text. But I wouldn’t say it’s just lip service either. The

    Thulcandran, I’m not certain where you’re finding lore on orcs in 3.5. Maybe in Forgotten Realms books? The Monster Manual 1 entry on them has three paragraphs of description that fits your take on them, but that’s all I can find in the core books. Orcs are kinda just left without expansion. I wouldn’t even really call that lore. Half-orcs are really the source of most orc descriptions. However, most descriptions of Half-orcs play up the cruelty of both their origin races toward their bastard lineage.

    I don’t want to leave people with an impression of dismissiveness towards their points. The game publishers should hold their artists to the source material. The peripheral and third-party artists can pick up the slack where the publishers don’t. And moreso, the community of players can work at their tables to make less problematic descriptions of creatures.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 4:43 pm
  22. Vol Says:

    @larry putnam Scottich and Irish fae maybe, but dokkalfar are absolutely described as “blacker than pitch” in the Prose Edda, and are often considered to be interchangeable with dwarfs, who were also described as dark skinned. Dokkalfar also explicitly what Gygax used as inspiration for the drow.

    Honestly to me the issue is less that, one group of, the dark skinned elves were made generally evil than that the light skinned elves migrated to being “good” when they were originally more chaotic neutral in lore. Tricksters with often lethal or highly dangerous pranks at best, and woodland avengers at worst. Even the early DnD novels may have had them fighting against evil, but high elves were still also fairly xenophobic pricks who would kill/torture other races for perceived slights or trespassing. But as with Bilbo, Dakkon, and I’m sure many others the exceptions to the race slowly morphed into the norm and the high elves became paragons of good. Drow exceptions avoided that though, since they were always defined by their #notalldrow aspects.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 5:28 pm
  23. Thulcandran Says:

    Wildstag – I’m sorry, I’m at work and can’t access my 3.5 book right now, but you’re right that I was thinking of half orcs. With all due respect, the “crude drums and no appreciation of finer things” is the sentiment that struck me the hardest; I’ve read the same reasoning in justifications of genocide before. I want to say there’s more to it than that, because the implication (IIRC, unstated) is that the half-orcs’ lineage makes them unfit for human civilization. Again, this is rhetoric that’s been threaded into United States policy for generations.

    But I’ll be happy to dig up more examples when I get home.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 6:29 pm
  24. Blave Says:

    @Incubi I’m so Joel on this one and I’m black. Doesn’t really matter what color they are it’s still a whole race of irredeemably evil people. It’s still racist, but I wouldn’t really make a federal case out of it. If you want to role-play as a good Drow be my guest. A good DM can work with it.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 6:35 pm
  25. Thulcandran Says:

    Onlineritter: That’s sort of the point: a group of people sitting around playing white characters who kill non-white characters, is not ‘just’ political, it can be hurtful on a personal level. You might not perceive it as such, but that doesn’t mean others can just shut off how it makes them feel. The “atmosphere” that’s fun for you can be deeply hurtful to people who have to listen to folks they thought were friends hack and slash through a group of people with darker skin – who are therefore monsters in their narrative. Empathy is maybe a better word than political correctness here.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 6:38 pm
  26. Apep Says:

    @Destro: “Drow aren’t black people: they’re photo negatives. Everyone gets hung up on the skin tone, and forgets the white hair and glowing red eyes. They’re evil because they’re opposite high elves, who are good.”

    I get what you’re trying to say, but I feel it’s also worth pointing out that there’s some at best unintentional racism there, too. After all, if drow are just “photo-negatives” of “good” elves, that implicitly associates “good” with traits like fair skin and blue/green eyes, which is… yeah.

    @Onlineritter: “Why bring politics into D&D? personaly, I play or GM to not handle all the RL stuff and just enjoy the atmosphere. Doesn’t matter what the bad guys or good guys are, as long as you have fun at the table and be whoever or whatever you want to be”

    Not to be too blunt, but that kind of attitude speaks to having a certain degree of privilege. *You* are free to ignore issues like this because they don’t impact you in your daily life; other people aren’t so fortunate. This isn’t something they can avoid.

    (Full disclosure: I’m a straight, white, cis-male, so I have absolutely no first-hand experience with this kind of thing. But I do try to listen to those who do, and adjust my behavior accordingly.)

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 6:45 pm
  27. HousePet Says:

    I’ve honestly never paid any attention to the skin tone or other “racial” attributes of anyone in this comic. I’m not really interested in that sort of thing.

    Food from different cultural backgrounds is entirely different however. I give those my full attention.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 6:49 pm
  28. Frank C. Martinez IV Says:

    “Gee, it’s an artistic decision.” Going “all” the way back to 3.5… Got news, been that way (for me) since D&D Zero (yep, the books were printed on 8 1/2 x 11 and folded. Of course, it did a help a little that at the time, there were no drow. But even with b&w drawings, elves were light, and orcs were dark. “Fortunately” at the time, there were worse things?

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 6:50 pm
  29. Necrisha Says:

    I really enjoy improv at my table and straight up dislike the idea of blanket racial profiling. There’s a couple I still do in some regard- (gnolls, Kou-toa, debating on Yaun-ti; but my version of Yaun-ti are blatant formerly Caucasian so…) I am considered fully Caucasian cis female- but I also come from a background where my mom’s side took refuge here from the second world war, and when my mom was tanned during the summer, she was often mistaken for having local Cree roots. So yeah- I build some encounters to murder-hobo specs, but keep a list of conversions for any attempt to run diplomatically. I also prefer to avoid stories that run the simple good vs evil anyways. And seriously downplay the importance of that element for more law vs chaos or nature vs civilization based stories.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 7:55 pm
  30. thebmatt Says:

    This is why, in my own campaign world, I don’t do sentient races as “always evil”. You can sub in good, lawful, or chaotic there. It’s not realistic, it’s not interesting, and I’d rather give myself AND my players more room to flesh out the characters we play with/encounter.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 8:15 pm
  31. Darl Says:

    Kinda surprised the Drizzt books haven’t been talked about much here. The story wouldn’t work if most characters in it didn’t perceive Drow as irredeemably evil outsiders, and part of what makes our heroes the good guys in those books is the fact that they can look past their prejudice towards Drow and see Drizzt for who he is as a person. The racism of and towards the Drow is an important part of the story. I think that aspect of the story was handled with reasonable tact, and anyone could read it and either learn something about other people’s struggles, or enjoy watching Drizzt be a hero despite having to also overcome the racism of others. Do Drow have to be specifically the color they are for that to work? No, of course not. But I also don’t think that the commentary in those books would be seen any differently if the Drow in it were purple, blue, or any other substitute color. People would still know the real world parallels and react to them as such. Likewise, if you include Drow in your game, I don’t think palette swapping them is really enough when racism is so core to their identity as published. If you don’t also put some other spin on them, there could still be people at your table that are uncomfortable with having a race of irredeemably evil humanoids at all, whatever their color. After all, what makes for a good story in reading books, a passive experience, doesn’t necessarily make for good experience playing actively at a table. What is most important is that you communicate with everyone at your table clearly, and understand where your players are coming from. Some of them may have loved the Drizzt books and think they’re great, and want Drow like you see there. That’s a perfectly normal response, and doesn’t make them a bad person. Some players might not like that depiction of Drow for the also valid and extremely well spoken reasons listed in the panels above. In the end, if you and your players all communicate with each other about their expectations, you can come up with something that works for your group. Maybe that means purple Drow, maybe that means less morally monolithic Drow, maybe that means no Drow, or any of hundreds of other options unique to each group. Whatever the outcome, the process of listening to each other, and finding out where people different from yourself are coming from, is a worthy exercise on its own and is something this hobby above others is good at encouraging. That dialogue itself will do more good than whatever change results from it, as necessary as that change may be. D&D is after all not the only media out there. More than just improving it to be an individually safe medium, it can do more and function to give a safe platform for these issues to be discussed, so that the people in it go from there and take what they learn elsewhere. Hm, this last bit is probably preaching to the choir, here. I may have rambled on a bit too long. Better cut myself off.

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 9:05 pm
  32. ozzi Says:

    Drow have never made sense truly to me. Subterranean species tend to lose melanin, having no need, or little, need for UV protection. However the colour coding of black = evil was established long before race relations became strained. Indeed there is evidence even the Egyptians subscribed to it based on the colouration of some of their typically less benign deities

    Posted February 19th, 2020 at 11:29 pm
  33. Jazz Says:

    Jazz from Germany as well. I am a WOC who enjoys gaming and a fair deal of LARP and yes, the same issues arrise here. We exist, we struggle with the stereotypes, we face the racism. Some of us give up because it is too hard to make people understand our issues, which is probably why you haven’t encountered many POC in pursuit of your hobby.

    Posted February 20th, 2020 at 2:47 am
  34. General Tekno Says:

    Solid comic indeed. I know in the game I play in, it’s generally been kept to us fighting nonsentient creatures or monsters. If we fight other humans and such they’re usually criminals. Part of this might be informed, mind, by the fact we have a kobold in the party, and in-universe there is some definite established racism towards his kind (though never to the point that it gets in the way.) Because he’s a kobold though he’s the type who will see intelligent non-humans as creatues to be reasoned with, and often in games we’ve played with this DM if someone’s intelligent and not evil/criminal, they can be reasoned with.

    Honestly, I kinda intentionally play my own character as one who has some anti-creature biases, in the vein of occasional put-downs or a “well he’s one of the good ones” vibe. Some of her arrogance might be her compensating, too – I have it in her backstory that she got bullied for being half-human as a kid (being a half-elf raised in a community of elves) so she’s actively done stuff like keep her ears covered if in elven communities. (While conversely she feels no such compunctions among polite company.)

    Skin tones and representation is something I definitely didn’t think much about or consider until adulthood though, I will say, and now that I do I definitely try to keep it in mind. What’s something I’m still not quite fully settled on is what the best way to approach skin tones is in a world where humans are oppressed, and the ruling species is very much privileged assholes. It’s the catch 22 of “I want to add some diversity to my characters but given I’m already reflecting real world sociopolitical things in my narrative as well as including biased POVs, will people read unintended messaging before the bias has been properly laid bare in the narrative?”

    Posted February 20th, 2020 at 3:42 am
  35. Orange Lantern Says:

    @ Mensha: Unfortunately it is very much a thing here in germany too. As everywhere you just don’t see it as a white person if you don’t actively look for it. On the upside, at least racism is not as institutionalized as it is in the US, but it’s still there in the minds of many people. It’s something we grew up with and don’t recognize as bad until we see why it is.

    Concerning the whole drow narrative: I have to admit, that was something that made me cringe too from the very beginning. And game buddies usually thought I was being hyper-sensitive or my usual leftist self. Thing is, I do love Drow. Dark Elves are best elves. But, c‘mon, you can’t condemn a whole people as evil on a genetic level.

    When DMing I always tried to take a more nuanced approach to the drow „evilness“ (or that of other „evil“ creatures, such as Goblins, for that matter). There was never such a thing as inborn evilness in my games, but the product of an evil and cruel society, built to secure the power base of a few individuals — in this case, the clergy of Lolth, which is doubly nice, because it allowed me to take a stab at religion too. 😉 You just have to look at real-life church to see how the evil spider religion might work.

    Most people living in this corrupt society are not inherently evil, but so used to its corrupting influence that they regard it as normal, even „good“, and have a hard time believing life could be different.
    I think, as a german, that should have been easy to relate to.

    Maybe I was just lucky with my players or this approach bore fruits, but my players always looked at other „races“ at people first, even when they’re enemies and forced to fight. It also shapes the way how you talk about your opponents, which is, IMHO, a nice life lesson too.

    Concerning skin tones: I always thought, Drow had different shades of skin colour, ranging from lighter to pitch black, just like other folks have too. That was never an exclusive decision for me.

    In my current (custom) fantasy games, I like to cast the Drow culturally more as tricksters and survivalists, (although that can be a harmful stereotype too), than straight-up unredeemable monsters. And sometimes their reputation is justified, sometimes very much not, putting player expectations on their head. Their reputation is way worse than they actually are, which is a testament to the racism of other people and their learned expectations. Works for me.

    Posted February 20th, 2020 at 7:03 am
  36. bbullock Says:

    People don’t tend to think about things that don’t directly affect them, and Joel’s attitude here is a very, very good representation of that.

    While the character can be arrogant and annoying, he isn’t ever really presented as a bad person, but like many, he has a hard time thinking outside his own viewpoint.

    Learning to do that is something that drives a desire for equality.

    Posted February 20th, 2020 at 10:10 am
  37. Grandmaster Funky Says:

    This is likely to be a controversial statement, but I actually think nationalist thought does have a place in RPGs. However, it does need to handled properly, something that many writers, artists, and whole companies have not done. The Drow of D&D only make sense in a fantastical setting. As stated above, living underground for many generations would actually result in the descendants losing melanin over time, making them actually “whiter” than their surface brethren. In addition, the “murder/rape” culture of the Drow would be a great hindrance to their success as a civilization, if it were not for their goddess Lolth. They are so unrealistic that their continued existence requires divine intervention. However, much of problem with “Dark” fantasy races is that many of these races were originally designed for allegorical works, AKA they were never meant to be nuanced in the first place. They were tropes and figures to teach life lessons and values to people. They were to be just as complex as the Road Runner.

    All that said, just because the writers and artists failed in the adaption of these mythological beings into relatable does not mean that their works can not be useful. I found that ask the simple questions of “why?” and “what would make me act in this way?” Drow are allegedly elves of a type. Elves being ancient beings, possibly the oldest civilization, will have acquired much to be proud of. However, the Drow are an elven civilization that was founded by a the Elven equivalents of Ed Gein and Aileen Wournos (AKA psychopaths) whose civilization only continues to function because of abyssal intervention by their patron deity Lolth. Here is an idea, what if the majority of leaders of the Drow know their civilization is f!@$ed up but have not found a way to change it without dooming everyone? This would allow for the drow to, as a whole, remain “always chaotic evil” but by force and not choice. As to Orcs, the other major “other” often utilized in fantasy, I have actually found that coding them as First Nations as useful because it can explain some of their behavior. However, you cannot divorce their historical context. Often there seems to be equal parts Hun, Mongol, and First Nation mixed improperly into Orcs. All three of those groups existed at different times in different places, all of which were important to their culture and history. Simply mixing superficial elements does not work in the long run. Huns were oppressed by the Later Romans, the Mongols were suppressed by Chinese dynasties, and the First Nations were constantly pushed out by western settlers. Entire books have been written on these conflicts, but suffice to say all six of these cultures were radically different for their own reasons. Roman=/=Chinese=/=Settler.

    When utilizing “always evil” civilizations and peoples remember “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and “Statistics mean nothing to an individual.” Just because a civilization is, in aggregate, evil does not mean that each member is evil. As a WASP, I have to come to terms with the fact that it was people who looked a lot like me that conducted many of the atrocities of history, often against PoC for being an “other.”

    Posted February 20th, 2020 at 10:34 am
  38. Direke Says:

    When I run a campaign, I usually discuss the matter of race in D&D standards and if anyone decides to play a Drow, I usually discuss it with them and let them decide on the skin tone and alignment of their character (within reason). The only time I stick to the old stereotypes is when the theme of the campaign explores discrimination and/or the group chooses to follow the stereotypes (Most play surface Elves, Humans, or a homebrew race that I approve for the campaign).

    Personally, I enjoy running a Drow character. However, I tend to have my Drow be albino and usually Chaotic Evil.

    Posted February 20th, 2020 at 1:23 pm
  39. Zachary Leubner Says:

    This explanation is why I find the alignment, old mythology extremely tiring. It isn’t welcoming. Race, religion, sex, gender, ethnicity does determine evil/good. There is so much complexity that the old tropes need to be retired.

    Even though I never experienced it personally from a racial prospect not being a POC, sexuality, yeah that has definitely made me feel like I was evil, wrong. But I did witness it in how on the playground some would say don’t play with ‘them’ or ‘they’re bad kids’ and it was always kids of color.

    Thank you Alina for being open about this. Thank you. You help make this so understandable. Much love and support!

    Posted February 20th, 2020 at 1:24 pm
  40. Halosty Says:

    Currently I am running two campaigns.
    Both have the drow (or their counterparts) split into two main groups, one from a more recent move away from Lolth and the other from a much longer split. Obviously they have their own sub-factions as well, but they have some ‘more good’ and ‘more evil’.
    The large island/small continent that one of the campaigns is taking place on is split between two countries of ‘good’ humanoids and the orc and goblinoids. However, the players have been discovering that what they have been told about the orc country is mostly lies. While many of the orcs are likely evil, it is not necessarily any more than some of the current leadership of their own nation. In addtion, they have recently disguised themselves to retrieve a magical item from the orc country, and found they have farmers and cities and everything one would expect. Because let’s face it, even if they *were* all evil, you can’t have an entire nation of significant size based solely off of raiding others like traditional orcs and goblins are stylized to be (though of course, if campaigns take place in humans lands and such, they would generally only meet those interested in raiding, because the rest of the races would be off back home doing the stuff required to make a nation continue existing)
    Anyway, I don’t have that much point except to point out that even in D&D humans have wildly different cultures, and all the other races should as well- and in D&D some groups will definitely be devoted to evil deities, but unless they literally die without the connection to an evil deity, no whole race would stay that way for more than a generation at best.

    Posted February 20th, 2020 at 1:47 pm
  41. Meadblondie Says:

    what really hurts about seeing Abbie down like this is the fact that they have gamed and been pretty close friends for years, and nothing of this ever came up or more like she never trusted some of this circle enough to talk about incidents like that con back then and how it hurts… 🙁 our bumblebee Abbie who is usually not afraid to speak her mind even if it has less than pleasant concequences… that hit home.;_;

    Posted February 20th, 2020 at 2:39 pm
  42. Curtis Adams Says:

    This is why I can’t enjoy reading Tolkien anymore. I get to the bits about swarthy untrustworthy Southrons and Easterlings with evil in their hearts and I have to go read something else. I feel embarrassed I didn’t see it when I was younger.

    Posted February 20th, 2020 at 7:55 pm
  43. Thorfinn Says:

    Much of the problems probably stems from RPG mythology being largely based on Northern European, primarily Germanic folklore. And to those peoples (English, Dutch, Flemish, Germans, Scandinavians) dark and negative were thoroughly associated, not because of racism (at the time these myths arose they hardly were aware of darkskinned people being a thing that really existed), but because everything negative in their world was dark – the winter night, the grave, the fallow fields of winter (on the other hand I’ve seen speculations that the reason it was so easy to make common sailors of the 17th/18th century participate in the slave trade was, that those myths had conditioned them to think that darkskinned people must necessarily be some kind of devilspawn).
    This, I should note, is NOT meant to cast aspersions on the way people of colour experience these things – just to say that I doubt there were any racist intentions behind the way the original RPG worlds were set up.

    Posted February 20th, 2020 at 8:05 pm
  44. The Auld Grump Says:

    In the very first campaign I ran – circa 1976, but this would have been about a year in, so 1977 – I had the cause of emnity between the orcs and humans simply be war – not good vs. evil, but land and resources.

    At one point the PCs murdred an unarmed, unamored orc on the road – AND CARRIED HIS HEAD IN AS A TROPHY, only to discover that there was a peace treaty in effect – and were surprised when they were tried and convicted for murder, while the orc mother was explaining to her kids that ‘Daddy isn’t coming home’.

    Then complained that I wasn’t playing fair, since everyone knows orcs are evil…. then shut up when I reminded them that the orc was traveling on the road, in full view, and had taken no aggressive action.

    This was before the term Murder Hobo was invented, but I am still proud of that moment.

    This did not prevent me from being surprised when I saw the Mantic Forge Fathers for Deadzone – a full third of them are black. Two others are dark skinned.

    Surprised, but pleased – they looked like a gang (work gang, not gangster gang) of rough neck miners.

    In my current after school game, the PCs are friends with a goblin klobasnek seller, and are investigating his disappearance. “Here, taste! You will taste, you will like, and you will buy more, later!”

    But then the captain of their precinct is a beholder, so….

    Posted February 20th, 2020 at 10:54 pm
  45. Vipor Says:

    I am glad Abbie touched on this. As a white dm it is important to hear the other side of the discussion that just my own mind.

    though I honestly don’t see how many can run with this race is pure evil, this race is pure good. In my world everybody can be good, evil or combination off no matter the race. Besides, good and evil is just a matter of perception. Stealing a bread is bad. Stealing a bread to save a starving child is decent. Stealing a bread from a rich greedy person who won’t even miss the bread to save the starving child is good.

    For me, while I envision the drow characters, wether pc, npc or enemy having true black skin, I don’t discribe how they look like. I don’t discribe any of the beings in my worlds by skin and or hair color. Unless it is really needed. As in I will mention the scale colors of dragonborns when the players are looking for a specific one without knowing the person. But won’t if they are just an npc living their life in the background.
    If my players really ask how the group of bandits look like then they will learn it is a mix of color and races. As bandits tend to be. You honestly can’t start a bandit group to steal from the rich to survive and be picky about who joins you. If they can fight and follow orders, they are in. If they try to murder their allies in their sleep than they will be killed. Skin color doesn’t change is someone is an ass or not.

    What did unnerve me at one point was a talk I had with one of my players. He is a PoC. When I mentioned that my campaigns have smart monsters and any race, wether lore listed as monster or not, can be reasoned with.
    He mentioned that he would not talk with goblins cause they are monsters that are pure evil so they would need to be killed or enslaved.
    I pointed out that us white people used that logic a long time ago as well and that the present day people don’t look back kindly on those times.
    He did change his view on monsters after that. He is already planning or trying to talk to any goblin camp they come up on to find out why they do what to do and find diplomatic answers.

    Posted February 28th, 2020 at 2:22 pm