Racism in D&D is something that most campaigns have to deal with. Whether it is the stereotypes of orcs or goblins as a race being bad, or elves vs dwarves there is usually some form of racism.
Racism in D&D can be used to help us understand how it works in the real world. What discrimination is like, how we can change it, and stir us to action.
We have all had to deal with racist tropes in D&D and it is generally a terrible thing that we have accepted. But many parties do not accept it, and that is why racism can be used for good in D&D.
Reactions to racism in D&D
This is not just some political message, but something that we can use to help our fellow human being. If someone is discriminated against, D&D can give us a great playground to work out how to help others. Gain the courage to do so, and recognize when it happens.
Racism in D&D is something that should be talked about. In the real world it is a hard topic, and that hard topic should be translated into D&D. Why should it be translated into D&D?
You should have racism in D&D to help show players what it looks like, and do something about it.
In our real-world it may be much harder to see or even do something about racism, but in D&D we can almost always have an effect. It also teaches the negative side effects of racism on a personal level, and it really shows how people will react. There are a few different reactions to racism in D&D:
- The players do something about it and try to help the oppressed.
- The players acknowledge the system and work within what they can.
- Players profit off of the system.
These are the 3 main reactions to racism in D&D and they are a reflection of how people handle racism in our society. Some profit off of it, and others work within the system. Very few try to change it without overwhelming support, and that is why D&D is amazing.
D&D can help people realize that they can do something about racism. If players are not aware of it’s existence, then D&D can help players recognize racism and possibly stand up to it in real life.
This works for all kinds of discrimination and makes the players naturally want to stand up to injustices.
But how does racism work in D&D, and can it even compare to real world racism?
The appearance of racism in D&D
Billy the dwarf hates that prickly eared Lo’liania bababa or whatever! Who cares what his or her name is. She is a point eared thieving brat who is obviously up to no good!
This is an example of how racism is commonly portrayed and accepted in D&D. It can seem funny, but usually there is a root cause. The elves and dwarves had a miscommunication about how payment works due to cultural differences and had a war. Many died on both sides and they both believe that the other took advantage of them.
This is how in Lord of The Rings the elves and the dwarves hated each other, but there is a reason for why some races hate others in your world. Maybe orcs were barbarians and pillaged since they didn’t know any better. All orcs are therefore bad, and cannot be trusted. I mean, they are evil in the monster manuel so there is no real discussion right?
Being evil in D&D can take many forms. It could be because orcs are naturally evil, or because they are raised to be evil by their culture. Either way, orcs can overcome this and become better individuals. They are not all a lost cause or completely evil.
Racism in D&D is a bit more complicated since individuals are actually different races instead of different skin tones, but the similarities can be erily similar to racism in our real world.
A political kingdom in D&D generally has a favored type of citizen. There are poor and rich people after all. We can embark on political campaigns if we want and delve into this further, but if you want to learn more about political games then read this article.
The system can have minor bouts of racism in it. For example, halflings are not trusted because they will most likely steal things from you. This might actually be a true stereotype, but it doesn’t mean that all halflings do this. In fact, your players might find out that stereotypes are not to be trusted and that they should instead view individuals based on their own merits.
This is a nice learning experience that players can have and shows that there is more to the world at large than the players originally thought. This is a minor form of systemic racism, but you can go into more depth.
Certain races could be more likely to be charged for crimes or targeted by illegal organizations. Worse, they could be slaves.
Should you have slavery in D&D though?
We wrote an article to discuss that topic here so read that if you are interested, but slavery can be useful and educational.
There are many different ways to show that racism exists and to let the players deal with it, but what about for games that do not have racism?
There are some games that make it a point to make the world almost ideal in some ways. Sure, there are monsters and terrible things out there. People die every day in horrible manners, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be barbarians.
These societies are based in the standard medieval European settings, but they are a bit better. Better in the political sense where almost anyone can actually rise up and be something. It is honestly closer to the Renascence than medieval times with the quality of life in society. Some worlds take it even further and make social reforms that we haven’t even made in our world yet.
These worlds do not have racism in D&D. They make it a point to show that the world has moved past this point and is a much better place for it.
These worlds are rare since they don’t reflect reality and only show us what could be. The only time these worlds are usually viewed positively is in a one-shot since the world is not realistic and people don’t want to keep playing in it. These worlds can be very interesting to show what society would be like, but unfortunately we are not there yet to make most of these worlds sustainable.
But there is one question that we have not answered yet. What do we do with the players who still want to profit off of a racist system?
Using racism as profit
We do not want to be the moral police. If players decide that they want to profit off of racism in D&D they are free to do so, but there will be consequences. In our article on consequences we talk about how player actions will have an effect. And the effect of profiting from others isn’t going to be a good consequence.
In our real world there is already quite a few examples of how profiting off of racism isn’t great in the long run. You can probably think of a few off the top of your head, but if not here is a historical lesson.
Slavery existed and was used for us to view people as ‘other’ than ourselves. This does not just involve 1 group of people! Every race has had slaves in the past and almost everywhere slavery is abolished. The people who profited off of racism towards any group suffered the consequences and some even in their time died to slave revolts.
You may not want to kill your players, but they will have to deal with a lot of negative things. Players might experience a description that is too real for them and they change their ways.
You can do many different things, but using racism for profit should never be met with long term happiness. Show that it is an ugly thing and make the players pay for it in some way.
It is just like committing a crime. Treat it as such and they will only stick to using racism for profit if they are roleplaying an evil character, or if they are being adamant to not learn anything.
It is not our job to shove down political views. Racism is bad, we know that. Most people do. Don’t preach it, just try to let players see that it is bad from the consequences of their actions.
We do not want to be preachy when we use racism in D&D. We just want to make sure that players have an opportunity to experience something that is real. Players can learn from these interactions in game and actually get a grasp on what racism is.
Yes, racism in D&D can be used to help with racism in the real world like making players understand it and act when it is spotted, but it can also be a great world-building tool. You don’t have to get political or preachy with this. If players are trying to profit off of negative actions then they will suffer consequences. Karma exists in D&D and everything your players do will come back to them. Even if it was just actions, which is doubtful.
Racism in D&D is something that we shouldn’t shy away from. It can be a great tool to use in our games and possibly help others or the world at large. With these options available to us, racism in D&D can be used for good!
I hope that you consider to use racism in D&D (I know that sounds weird, but I stand by it if you read the article).
Until next time, this has been Wizo and keep rolling!