Dungeons and Dragons developers Wizards of the Coast will change how they describe and characterise fantasy races in future story modules. In a blog post last week, the publishers of the largest tabletop roleplaying game explained how some of their past characterisations have been racially insensitive and set forth a list of actions they’re taking to rectify this.
In the post, Wizards of the Coast explained that “some of the peoples in the game — orcs and drow being two of the prime examples — have been characterised as monstrous and evil, using descriptions that are painfully reminiscent of how real-world ethnic groups have been and continue to be denigrated.” Classic D&D settings describe orcs as “besital and savage,” bred for war and little else, while the elven drow are “utterly and irredeemably evil.” With their forthcoming adventuring guides, Wizards hopes to eliminate these absolutist and reductive descriptions.
To address these issues, Wizards is committed to improving how fantasy races will work in present books and upcoming releases. Highlights include working with people from specific marginalised communities to consult on depictions of their culture within D&D; issuing corrected reprints of books with harmful characterizations; working with sensitivity readers to ensure mistakes aren’t repeated; and expanding their hiring practices to ensure diverse talent on their team. The two latest books, Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, feature new characterizations of drow and orcs presenting them “in a new light’’ to make them “just as morally and culturally complex as other peoples.”
Most notably, Wizards teased a new product that will provide “a way for a player to customise their character’s origin, including the option to change the ability score increases that come from being an elf, a dwarf, or one of D&D’s many other playable folk.” Wizards hasn’t yet offered an explanation of what that means. Playable races with increased or decreased stats depending on that race’s lore — e.g., orcs with more strength but lesser intelligence — have been a core component of the game’s character creation since inception. While the ability to freely customise stats might allow for more player character diversity, some players feel that the change could erase the distinction between and thus the uniqueness of playable races. However, as with just about everything else in D&D, the change is optional. Players and their Game Masters can decide if they want to implement these new ways to play or to keep things as they’ve been.
More people are playing D&D than ever before, so it’s important the worlds these new characters inhabit and the races they play as reflect the same depth of humanity as the players themselves. The depiction of orcs as inherently bloodthirsty, ignorant, and brutish creatures has long been a sore point for me — a Black person whose people all the aforementioned stereotypes have been applied to — so I appreciate Wizards’ attempt to remedy this decades old characterisation with a soft reboot that essentially says ‘you know what, people aren’t a monolith.’ And again, this is all optional — players can choose to use this or keep on keeping on rolling for initiative whenever a drow crosses their path. But any rework that makes characters like a himbo orcish bard more common and, better yet, mechanically and lore supported, is good with me.