Race in D&D

Racial bioessentialism is a core design crutch for Dungeons & Dragons. Across fifty years of tabletop roleplaying games, multiple novels, supplements, and additional tie-ins, D&D has continually established monolithic culture building as part of its lore. The alignment charts that Gary Gygax (and many designers) focused on as a method of easy-to-understand character building did not help matters; entire races were designated as Evil using this alignment chart, and Gygax himself can be seen in many old forum posts defending this monolithic, bioessentialist perspective.


And even if WotC did change from the word race to the word species, Isa said, that would still be a problem, “because there would still be a lot of racial coding.”

Racial coding is when language used to describe something that is seemingly race-neutral (in this case, literal fantasy) imitates stereotypes associated with racism without a direct one-to-one association. Racial coding allows for subtle racism because it allows people to be racist in ‘safe’ ways that can be dismissed by pointing at the race-neutral stand-in. There are many ways in which Dungeons & Dragons unintentionally encourages racism through racial coding.

Orcs are the easiest example. When Tolkien represented them in Lord of the Rings, they were described as “degraded and repulsive versions” of “Mongol-types,” which in his era referred broadly to Asian peoples. When Gygax reinterpreted them for D&D, he used racially coded language that tied orcs to Indigenous and Black stereotypes, and that interpretation hasn’t changed much in fifty years. So when Noir got his hands on One D&D, the orcs were the first thing he looked at. “It’s no secret that the orc has become the poster child for everything that’s wrong with race in D&D,” Noir said. “I thought that if they could just get this race right, they might be on the right path.”


Chris Nammour, a lifelong roleplayer, described how people often codify racial dynamics onto their fantasy unintentionally. “[I’ll ask players] what does an elf sound like? What’s their accent? And people say, Oh, well, they sound British, and dwarves sound Scottish and so on,” he says. “It’s always associating historically heroic races with Western and Northern European traits. And then my immediate response to that is what accent does an orc have?” The responses, he noted, are not ‘they sound British.’


Dickey and Isa specifically pointed out that by creating a codified experience of race, Dungeons & Dragons encourages players to roleplay out racial dynamics in their game. If elves and dwarves hate each other in the lore, the game is expecting that conflict to be a part of your game. By giving GMs tools to address the inter-racial conflict presented by fantasy lore, D&D is creating a world that models these conflicts. By racializing language, it further divides the characters based on arbitrary, non-cultural skills. There is no place in the new One D&D that this issue is more clear than in how the rules define mechanics for mixed race characters.


Folksonomies: fantasy stereotypes race racism racial coding

/hobbies and interests/games/role playing games (0.882970)
/society/racism (0.827878)
/hobbies and interests/magic and illusion (0.572492)

Race (0.967539): dbpedia_resource
Dungeons & Dragons (0.897537): dbpedia_resource
Role-playing game (0.826507): dbpedia_resource
Miscegenation (0.802170): dbpedia_resource
Racism (0.755594): dbpedia_resource
Multiracial (0.580376): dbpedia_resource
Sauron (0.559586): dbpedia_resource

 Why Race Is Still A Problem In Dungeons & Dragons
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  Codega, Linda (2022-09-20), Why Race Is Still A Problem In Dungeons & Dragons, io9, Retrieved on 2022-09-20
  • Source Material [gizmodo.com]
  • Folksonomies: culture fantasy bias race racism