The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Where are the Other Races?

I remember when Star Trek Voyager was not yet out, and there were only two things people brought up when they wanted to criticize that show:

  • The Captain was a woman.
  • The Vulcan was black.

I can understand where those who were against having a black Vulcan were coming from – I was in fact one of them – but the rationale behind this position is hugely flawed. Basically they said that it made no sense to have black Vulcans because because that would be attributing a human racial group to an alien species.

Don't want Vulcan's to immitate human racial groups? Should have said something in the 60s.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that ignores the fact the Vulcans already had been associated with a human racial group – Caucasians. If you are going to make another species look just like some members of our species, then its logical to think they could look like other members of our species.

The reason I bring this up today though isn’t to talk about Vulcans, or Trek or even bumpy headed aliens. I bring this up because D&D largely suffers from the same attitude that makes many Star Trek aliens look like white people.

Elf, Dwarves, Halflings and Gnomes are all staples of D&D. They are the good races. They are so important we don’t refer to them as humanoids, but rather as demi-humans. They also are predominantly white. I don’t think I have ever seen a picture of a dwarf or a gnome that was not clearly Caucasian. In recent years I have seen a few rare pictures of Halflings that are not white, but still they are overwhelmingly one color. Elves have the Drow but they aren’t really a good analogy for any human racial group. (And would you want them to be considering they are, as a race, evil?)

So you could argue that all these races grew out of European folklore, but I don’t think that particularly excuses anything. We are playing this game today, not two hundred years ago. One would think we could all bring to the table an attitude of openness and acceptance. I hope that the lack of non-white demi-humans is merely an oversight, and that at some point soon Wizards can start showing a bit more variance in their art.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

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November 4, 2010 - Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. Additionally, almost all demi-humans are portrayed as monolithic cultures. The differences in culture we see in our world between people of the same skin color can be immense.

    Comment by Joseph Browning | November 4, 2010 | Reply

  2. Just a few random points:

    The original series Trek Vulcans were not precisely Caucasian/white, they had makeup on, it just isn’t as obvious on film. Same thing happened with Data in Next Generation, he was gold, but on camera he looked merely pale. (As for Tuvok, I’m more bothered that he is a male Vulcan whose name starts with a T than the fact his skin is not Spock-like. A little cultural detail the writers overlooked, I guess.)

    Read the race descriptions of the Forgotten Realms sometime (going all the way back to the original 1st edition set). The elves are not white, they come in all kinds of colors (blue, copper, etc.) Perhaps the artists made them look white, but the books described them very distinctly of different skin and hair colors, and their cultures were varied as well.

    Wizards of the Coast depicts characters of various races and colors quite regularly in art. I remember it from 3rd edition D&D, and have seen it in flipping through 4th edition books. Yes, there are black elves in artwork, and I do not mean Drow!

    Maybe you aren’t looking in the right places if you think this is a real problem?

    And from the comments:

    Joseph, the different demihuman races have, way back to the earliest games and editions, been described as having different cultures as well. Not sure where this perception of it not being so comes from. Writers have gone to great lengths (and wrote many splatbooks) to show how different the demihuman subraces were in cultural details.

    Comment by Jack Colby | November 4, 2010 | Reply

    • Interesting info about trek; I am at best a casual fan, so many things slip by me.

      With regards to WotC art, I will agree that sometimes they dipict demi-humans as minorities, but it is by far the exception. Taking the 3.5 PHB as an example, in a quick count I found 22 pictures of caucasian demi-humans, 10 pictures of demi-humans that either weren’t equivelent to a human race or you couldn’t tell what their human equivelent race was, and a whopping 2 pictures that featured demi-humans that clearly were not caucasian.

      With regards to your last point, I think the biggest reason that many gamers tend to ignore the sources you are talking about is that TSR and Wizards themselves ignore those sources. As already mentioned artwork is very damming of them. But further to that, when in text do they ever reference the racial groups of dwarves, gnomes and halflings? I can’t remember ever seeing in an NPC description that included text about his subspecies. (outside of splat books that introduced said subspecies) More over, the differences frequently seem like splitting hairs and not real cultural/racial differences.

      Comment by The Red DM | November 4, 2010 | Reply

  3. Am I the only one who caught the pun,”then its logical to think they could look like other members of our species”?

    Comment by Tourq | November 9, 2010 | Reply

  4. […] Racism Though I won’t deny there are certain types of racism in D&D, in another way it is really limited. Basically, all the good races are incredibly […]

    Pingback by 6 Ways D&D is not Like Medival Times « The Red Box Blog | November 15, 2010 | Reply


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