Racism in an RP setting: Part 1

The following post concerns a sensitive topic and may discuss unpleasant things in order to understand them better. This post is intended to analyse a trend in roleplaying games and provide some insights into what it may mean for the hobby.

Please keep it civil if you wish to comment.

Racism is still a much discussed topic these days.
In a time where terrorism and virtue signaling are rampant and the word ‘Nazi’ gets thrown about like its going out of style, it’s only natural for some people to get conflicted over the idea of excluding anyone and merely thinking about excluding someone (over prejudice) can get you branded as a social outcast.

So much so, that even with regards to fictional worlds, the idea is floating around that we must include our real life ideals into our games or risk being an outcast at the table.
Example given: In this vid (I normally find his advice to be top notch btw)

So how would that translate to fictional property and worlds?
Let’s break down what that would mean.

Our worlds are often populated by various races. Some are squat and green, some are tall and angelic, with all sorts of colors, features and even alignments. Even various native planes or worlds of existence.
The key part is that creators have gone through a lot of work to flesh these races out and give them a unique feel. To a point where most people will automatically make a stereotypical observation about the race in its entirety.

Mention ‘Dwarf’ and you think: Beer, stonework, oaths, beards, mountains, crafting, etc
Mention ‘Elf’ and you think: Tall, magic, bows, fair skin, pointed ears, good eyesight, forests, etc
Mention ‘Orc’ and you think: Green skin, all round nasty behavior, crude weaponry, rage, always looking for a fight, etc

Why is this? Well…we sort of grew up with them. These popular races are everywhere (You can thank J.R.R. Tolkien for that one).

Now, does this mean that every Dwarf is a stereotypical, axe wielding, beer chugging, Orc killing rune-smith? Of course not. In all societies there are outcasts, oddballs, runts of the litter or even exemplars of their kind, each with their own individual nuances. It’s only natural for this to occur.
But perhaps dwarven society runs deeper than brewing, crafting, killing goblins and other things that only trade or other interactions with the surface world would show. Most people in your world might not know that Dwarves actually have a deep-rooted tradition of song and poetry.  Or perhaps your char is the dwarven equivalent of Bilbo Baggins, who famously went against the grain of his people’s ways and went out to adventure. Only to become one of the most famous frigging Hobbits this side of Mount Doom. This can be a good thing and makes for an interesting spin on the norm. Allowing you to really flesh out your character.

Does this mean that it can only be a positive thing for your game to change everything up? Not necessarily. Imagine if in your game, all Hobgoblins were to give up their evil ways, release all slaves, and start spreading the word of a lawful good Deity. I mean, you could…and could even make for an interesting game. But why would you? Why would you change a race so drastically? A race that’s best known for being evil, militaristic and being slavers.
Why not rather make up another race instead?
This change is so drastic, that it messes up our entire perspective of a race on a fundamental level. Something familiar is now no longer recognizable. At which point you may as well have made another race entirely. And in a way, you have. (perhaps an adequate example is the Orc in different media and even the Japanese take on an Orc, being a demon pig man)

So why can stereotypes be a good thing then? Well, as mentioned before, its familiar. And this familiarity allows players to sink into a role and immerse themselves into their Character. (Again, I highlight that most races are written to feel unique and to have a certain disposition. It serves as a stepping stone for players to get a feel for their character.)
There is a reason why a player wants to be a Dwarf. Perhaps being a stoic old warrior, who has an axe to grind with a few Orcs, appeals to them. Perhaps the traditions and imagery taken from old Scandinavian myths is something he or she loves to get involved with.
If you were to take that away, well….they wouldn’t be the dwarves you know and love, now would they?

Now that we’ve taken stereotypes into account. I’d like to address preexisting animosity between races. Orcs and dwarves just do not get along. Why?
Cause they regularly fight over the same territory and riches. If you keep fighting someone for as long as you remember, you are going to hate them.
Especially when most of your family and kin can only recall how one of theirs was savagely tortured, killed and then eaten and this continues to happen on a daily basis. That all leads to some very understandable prejudice and even name calling.
Who here hasn’t heard someone call an elf (or Eldar) a ‘knife ear’?

If we look at settings like Shadowrun or even Warhammer 40K, racism is everywhere and with good cause in the latter. With so many Races fighting for control, survival, for the worship of their Gods or just for a “Roight ‘ol Scrap!”. It’s a part of every day life. There seldom is any situation for talk or setting aside differences. And if it does happen it’s usually not that well executed on the writers behalf or doesn’t tend to last that long. Stalemates aside, for two races that hate each other to suddenly work together usually involves a lot of Hollywood cheese, plot holes and possible cringe.

Roleplaying allows us to explore other walks of life. ‘You are playing a role’.
It doesn’t matter what or who you wish to be or how you act it out. As long as your GM gives the go ahead and it doesn’t ruin the game for the other players.
As a GM myself, I make it very clear at the start of every game what the setting will be and what the mindset of the general populace is. I even flat-out say that taboo has no place at my table. You are free to do what you want to do but expect that every action has a reaction. Some NPCs might not be as open-minded as you are.
The only golden rule you need at any table, is that you have fun and that you avoid being a dick to other players. (see? I’m actually quite fond of the guy.)

To give you an example of a PC being different from their race.
I’d like to refer to my Pathfinder PC, Krill the Swift. A Lawful Neutral Kobold Knight (Cavalier).
(link to come for char page)
Summary: He’s a kobold. Kobolds are at the bottom of the food chain. Despite that, they want to prove that Draconics (of which they believe they are a part of, confirmation is pending on that one) are superior to the other races, using any means necessary. Dragons are also the closest thing to living Gods a kobold can think of. This makes them act like massive dicks towards the other races.
Krill is of the same belief. He’s a kobold after all.
What makes Krill unique is that in pursuit of this ideal he is actively looking for a dragon to serve (doesn’t really matter which one), in the hopes that he may one day earn a dragons favor. Even going as far as to secretly dream about being considered an equal or even be a dragon himself.
Now, this has forced Krill to actually go out and look for one.
Leaving the safety of the burrow (and the numbers) his kin could provide, he is forced to interact with the races his kind despises as a substitute for numbers , taking on odd jobs and getting in their good graces (being less of a dick than what his kind usually are when in numbers) as a means of survival. Acceptance by these non Draconics is proving difficult for him from both sides perspective but he somewhat reluctantly agrees to it, since it effectively means his survival. He is shunned for being a kobold and still shares his notions of Draconic superiority but learns to displace such notions because there is more to gain in doing so.
This new mindset has led him to be Lawful Neutral and even on the way to share certain virtues in the eyes of his new ‘peers’. It also opens the door for him to more readily embrace the ideals of a possible good aligned Dragon overlord.
This mentality of group survival and usefulness has allowed me (as a player) to integrate my otherwise near vermin like (and racially prejudiced) PC into a group of more common (and taller) PC races, who could have otherwise just killed him off, for being a kobold. In other words, there is a clear and constant element of racism present in our group but we aren’t being dicks about it.

More on that in later posts. But for now, I hope to have given you some food for thought to improve your games.

I’m also happy to see a lot of positive feedback on this topic on other platforms. It only shows that we are adults and can handle such topics.

TL;DR: Do what you want, have fun and don’t be a dick at the table…

Happy gaming!




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