Author Topic: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?  (Read 1558 times)

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Offline EltonJ

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Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« on: December 20, 2021, 09:59:43 PM »
Are people not understanding the fantasy in Fantasy Roleplaying any more?

I looked at the Dark Elf thread, and I understand it was locked. What I mean is it's okay to have a race of villains in your own campaign setting.  It's a fantasy, something people make up.  When did someone's fantasies become political? I think people are confusing politics with fantasy.

Offline Cory Magel

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2021, 11:37:32 PM »
Don't know what you're referring to specifically, but I know what you're talking about in general.  And you are right, in recent years people are dragging politics into fiction, often on the topic of racism, and assigning intent where there is none... or at least no way to legitimately say they know for sure there was.  Unfortunately that is the nature of the pendulum that swings back and forth over time.  Any one of line of thinking becomes dominant you will often see an opposing faction rise up to push back against it to a degree that matches or surpasses the others extremism.

It's been done to Tolkien's work and, while I can't say I've dug into the topic extensively, what I have seen of that topic was doing something similar.  They claimed that because Tolkien used a certain real world race to represent a fantasy race that he was politically commenting on the real world race.  I've seen no real evidence of that.  I've seen Tolkien say that he DID use a real world race to represent a fantasy one, but I've seen nothing that would lead me to believe it was with ill intent.  It's extremely common for writers to base their fantasy races on real world ones.  Or, more accurately, I should say real world cultures or ethnicity.  'Race' simply isn't correct (and actually kind of annoys me that we still use it when discussing racism).
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Offline MisterK

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #2 on: December 21, 2021, 01:10:26 AM »
As long as
- you know what you're doing and the boundaries you have to maintain
- you don't try to preach your ideas as gospel

It's up to individual sensibilities. I mean, I can see why some people could be offended by how some fantasy species are depicted based on the colour of their skin, for instance - yes, it *is* fantasy, but the players are living in a world where those things happen in a bad way. You can have the same issue trying to introduce other sensitive topics (drug use, sexual abuse, blatant gender bias, child exploitation, you name it). Most "fantasy" cultural content is based on real world history one way or another (or reaction to it).

It's not what you talk about, it's how you talk about it and who you talk about it with that counts.

In a gaming group, you can have a quick preliminary session to set boundaries so that everyone is comfortable.

On an open forum, less so. Which means that you have to walk on eggshells.

Offline jdale

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #3 on: December 21, 2021, 11:53:31 AM »
Fantasy is informed by our beliefs about people. Tolkien even said: "I am historically minded. Middle-earth is not an imaginary world . . . The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary. The essentials of that abiding place are all there (at any rate for inhabitants of N.W. Europe), so naturally it feels familiar, even if a little glorified by the enchantment of distance in time."

I thought this was a pretty good literary/historical discussion about race concepts in Tolkien's work: http://dimitrafimi.com/2018/12/02/revisiting-race-in-tolkiens-legendarium-constructing-cultures-and-ideologies-in-an-imaginary-world/

In any case, if you want to understand the perspectives that are at work right now, which are having an impact in how newer RPG material is being written, rather than simply railing against their conclusions, I would recommend reading some of those perspectives. I found this blog to be very helpful in that regard: https://jamesmendezhodes.com/blog/2019/1/13/orcs-britons-and-the-martial-race-myth-part-i-a-species-built-for-racial-terror  and if you start with that one be sure to continue into the followup https://jamesmendezhodes.com/blog/2019/6/30/orcs-britons-and-the-martial-race-myth-part-ii-theyre-not-human  because it fills in some gaps that I, at least, thought were important.

And here's a good case in point from the creator of Frosthaven about how these perspectives were prompting some rethinking in their game: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/frosthaven/frosthaven/posts/3185807  (And he links the source I linked above.)

I don't feel a need to start a debate about it here, but understanding other perspectives should be a thing that roleplayers are good at. Different people will make different decisions based on that knowledge, which is fine, but I think it's better if those decisions are informed and not just kneejerk reactions.
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Offline EltonJ

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #4 on: December 21, 2021, 04:44:21 PM »
Would it be bad on ICE's part to make up a fantasy Africa?

Offline Hurin

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #5 on: December 21, 2021, 06:07:41 PM »
I don't think people have a problem with being inspired by our own world, or making a fantasy Africa. Where some people have problems are when a race or culture that is clearly inspired by their own (or by racist tropes about their own) is described as inherently evil or corrupt. Orcs and Drow in particular have for example been given physical feature which, when linked with the concept of inherent evil, seem to perpetuate racist stereotypes.

I understand that, and I agree that the stereotypes need to be addressed. What I don't like is the further measure Wizards of the Coast has adopted lately, namely, of entirely decoupling character race from stat bonuses. In the revised DnD rules, a Halfling can start the game with a greater racial Strength bonus than a Minotaur. Note I mean here not just a greater Strength bonus, but a greater racial strength bonus. That makes no sense to me.
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Offline EltonJ

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #6 on: December 21, 2021, 06:10:19 PM »
I don't think people have a problem with being inspired by our own world, or making a fantasy Africa. Where some people have problems are when a race or culture that is clearly inspired by their own (or by racist tropes about their own) is described as inherently evil or corrupt. Orcs and Drow in particular have for example been given physical feature which, when linked with their inherent evil, seem to perpetuate racist stereotypes.

I understand that and agree that the stereotypes need to be addressed. What I don't like is Wizards of the Coast's latest measures of decoupling character races from things like stat bonuses. In the revised DnD rules, a Halfling can start the game with a greater Strength bonus than a Minotaur. That makes no sense to me.

It doesn't make any sense to me, either.  And I'm going to buy the D&D brand.

Offline MisterK

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #7 on: December 22, 2021, 02:23:37 AM »
I understand that, and I agree that the stereotypes need to be addressed. What I don't like is the further measure Wizards of the Coast has adopted lately, namely, of entirely decoupling character race from stat bonuses. In the revised DnD rules, a Halfling can start the game with a greater racial Strength bonus than a Minotaur. Note I mean here not just a greater Strength bonus, but a greater racial strength bonus. That makes no sense to me.
This is one example of a good idea (cultural heritage) gone bad because other factors come into play. The cultural prevalence is OK when all races/species/ethnic groups have a similar morphological base. So it *might* be OK with various human ethnic groups, and half-elves, and half-orcs (and maybe even elves and orcs if you stretch it a bit). But minotaurs and halflings are not in the same morphological base and that should be taken into account - but then, it makes the character creation a bit more complex (new parameter, to be balanced with something else).

I was always interested in the old D&D Dragonlance Taladas minotaurs - strong and tough as minotaurs are because of their morphology, yet not stunted in other attributes because they had developed a complex, structured and organised culture, the kind of species you cannot balance easily, but that makes perfect sense : physical advantage because of morphology, mental advantage because of culture.

You can easily solve the problem by throwing balance out the window - give credit where credit's due, nothing more and nothing less. Don't try to artifically balance species just because of gameplay issues. Yes, Laan and Loari/Linaeri are dominant species when compared to Shay folk [Shadow World reference here] - that's written in the world description, why try to cancel it technically ? Just make sure the players know what they are doing and why, and understand the in-world consequences of their choices. If everyone wants to play a high elf, why not ? Sure, you get the high stat modifiers. You also get the reputation, the peer pressure, the cultural drive to excel at any cost, the appearance that makes you stick like a sore thumb in most environments, and the family feuds.

And once in a while, an all-Shay party, just country boys and girls who barely escaped the razing of their hamlet by your run-of-the-mill hill gark raid, will put the high-elf view in perspective.

But that kind of psychological balancing is not easy to do for generic systems.

Offline Cory Magel

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #8 on: December 22, 2021, 11:54:35 AM »
I would probably never blanket label an entire humanoid race as evil (it's kinda overdone regardless of if I think there's a social meaning behind it), but I would be separating the idea of True Evil (as an inherent property) from the interpretation of groups that consider each other enemies.

But on the topic of the Drow, I don't associate that with a race.  I associate it with the darkness and light as an universal concept throughout history, even back to times when no one even knew about other races.  Darkness has always been the boogeyman and it has nothing to do with skin color.  It has to do with the historical fear of darkness.  In darkness it's easier for things to sneak up on you.  No one ever says 'He was thrown into a well lit dungeon!' or 'We ventured into the musty and bright cave.'  When the moon blots out the sun ancient cultures would freak out.  When it's night time is often colder.  I'm sure I can come up with more, but I'm sure I've made my point.

Are there people who want to label it negatively?  Sure.  But just like when I was a kid the gangs didn't own or change the meaning of the colors blue and red.  They were still just blue and red to the vast majority of the world.  Rational people didn't think anyone wearing blue or red was a gang member.
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Offline OLF, i.e. Olf Le Fol

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #9 on: December 22, 2021, 12:56:54 PM »
jdale, thank you for your links, though I knew and read at least the articles by  James Mendez Hodes.

I think the main problem with modern fantasy is that it has foremost its roots in Tolkien's works. And, well, as much as Tolkien may not have intended to be racist, he was a product of his society. When a white man who is part of a white colonial empire creates a world where the Holy Land (Valinor) is in the West, where the beings closest to the gods are tall, fair-skinned and with blond hair, whereas the "always evil" races allied with the incarnation of Satan, clearly named "Easterlings", are from the East, and are diminutive, black or with Asian traits, it's… hard not to wonder whether he was just "innocently" racist without realising it (as in "he didn't see such a POV as being racist"), rather than intentionally…
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Offline Cory Magel

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #10 on: December 22, 2021, 01:16:14 PM »
Maybe Scottish people don't like being portrayed as grumpy 'little people' that are often pre-occupied with rocks and precious metals.  I mean, it's pretty much the norm in fantasy that they have a Scottish accent.

If we're to assume that any association to any ethnicity has social commentary implications then we pretty much have to tell the creative world it's not allowed.  At all.  They'll have have to come up with their own, unique cultures.  Nothing throughout actual human history is acceptable.  Is that really where we need to go?  I don't think so.

It's largely small vocal groups that are making these things an issue and the media is latching on to it because it's one of the latest tabloid level topics that will get them ratings.  People love to watch a good fight unfortunately.  (And to clarify that, because some might need it, I'm not referring to the overarching problem of racism, I'm talking about taking the push back against it to a silly level).
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Offline OLF, i.e. Olf Le Fol

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #11 on: December 22, 2021, 02:37:56 PM »
Maybe Scottish people don't like being portrayed as grumpy 'little people' that are often pre-occupied with rocks and precious metals.  I mean, it's pretty much the norm in fantasy that they have a Scottish accent.
I think there's  a huge difference between being portrayed as "grumpy 'little people' that are often pre-occupied with rocks and precious metals" and "always evil barbaric people that may be assimilated to 'monsters' and, as such, may perfectly be killed"… I mean, a dozen orcs killed a few humans? How horrible! Let's eradicate the whole orc race! A few humans killed whole orc villages? Oh, they're such heroes!
As I said, it's IMO more about people, and even more writers, being byproducts of their environment, times… and audience. If I were a white man living in South Africa during the Apartheid and created a world around it, would I be racist whilst most of my peers, thus the public audience for whom I write, don't see anything wrong with it, least it to be "racist"? Would I even realise or even wonder about it?
I think the issue is more about realising the time period when Fantasy tropes were created, and adapting them to the modern world. For instance, not making orcs an "always evil" or "barbaric" race but show it a as merely a difference culture, with people equally able of good and evil, of arts, poetry and war, and, in truth, absolutely not different as people as the high elves.
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Offline Cory Magel

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #12 on: December 22, 2021, 03:17:04 PM »
I'm not entirely sure why I've grown up not giving a damn about what race someone is.  Partially my parents or upbringing, partially my friends, partially my environments growing up.  I find this topic interesting but often super frustrating because my rational brain tells me no human is inherently good, evil, dumb, smart, etc.  There are simply differing situations, experiences and cultures that shape that person... but I also understand that as a result of those things people can develop certain ignorance's or blind spots which they don't have as much control as we would like.  Making them unreasonable about those thing, but not in an intentional way.

In RM I've separated the Adolescence skills (which I call culture) from the Races because it seems dumb that an Elf raised by Dwarves wouldn't pick up... let's say blacksmithing rather than, let's say, archery.  I leave the stat modifiers alone, but I let players take pick one race and take another races background skills.

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think there's  a huge difference between being portrayed as "grumpy 'little people' that are often pre-occupied with rocks and precious metals" and "always evil barbaric people that may be assimilated to 'monsters' and, as such, may perfectly to be killed"
The basic concept or the nature of the idea and degree to which it's taken?  We're talking about blanket labeling/stereotyping.  Is there an 'acceptable' level of that?  Is it only bad if the fantasy race kills people or is 'evil'?  The writer of the article jdale links specifically comments that good stereotypes can be just as bad as bad ones.  If you ask society to put a line in the sand there will be a bunch of lines, not just one.

In regarding the article jdale links I pondered it a bit before replying regarding is specifically...
Quote
"So orcs are degenerate corruptions of the OG elves…"
He mentions this in passing, and really doesn't again, which leaves me thinking some of his own biased is bleeding into the very topic he's trying to address.

Quote
"...kinda like how Mongoloids, Negroids, and other people of color are corrupt, degenerate versions of the noble white Caucasoids whom they resent."
Yes. Like that. He creates an unflattering version of both, not just one.

Quote
Now that description of orcs which starts this piece, which comes from Tolkien’s Letter #210, makes more sense. When he writes “Mongol-types,” he straight-up tells us he made the Mongol terror and the Mongoloid stereotype into an entire species.
Does he? Or is this just the writers own biased assigning that belief?

Now, Tolkien creates a corrupted version of something, then gave it physical attributes of 'mongol-types'.  Do we know Tolkien was racist?  Are there people who know him well that can say that's true?  Are there people who he displayed such behavior towards?  Do we have any writings where he admits any of this?  I don't think there are or is.

Quote
The Orcs are definitely stated to be corruptions of the 'human' form seen in Elves and Men. They are (or were) squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes: in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types.
The only part of this quote that I, personally, feel is a bit questionable is the 'least lovely' part.  What does he mean by that?  I don't really know and neither does anyone who he didn't tell if he had a dislike for them or not.

We know that people are a culmination of their knowledge and that knowledge is shaped by their teachers and their own experiences.  So it is possible Tolkien was using his own knowledge based on his upbringing and experiences and making an biased choice.  But it's also possible he just needed a baseline source to work from.

I know someone that I never considered racist, who was held at gunpoint when their store was robbed by a black man.  That person admitted after that they they are now a little afraid of black people as a result of this incident (and that this bothers them).  I've never asked it, but I'm curious what the answer would be if I asked that person; "If a white person had held you up, would you be afraid of white people?".   I would guess (possibly incorrectly) the answer would likely be 'no' weather they realize it or not.  So... are they racist?  Kinda hard to answer in a way without being in their own head.  Pretty sure a psychiatrist would just say it's a primal reaction... like if you eat something right before you throw up you tend to have a hard time eating that thing again.  Heck, maybe they'd just be afraid all the time because they're surround by white people all the time.

Tolkien creates a corrupted version of something, then gave it physical attributes of 'mongol-types'.  Is that racist?  At it's core, I don't think so.  Is the 'least lovely' comment racist?  The general belief might be, but we don't know that that is his personal belief.

So... like I asked before.  Do we just tell the world no fantasy race can be based on a real world race?  That seems pretty unrealistic.
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Offline MisterK

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #13 on: December 23, 2021, 01:45:41 AM »
So... like I asked before.  Do we just tell the world no fantasy race can be based on a real world race?  That seems pretty unrealistic.
Oh, it's not that. It's just that
- you don't create actual stereotypes
- you don't create absolutes

And then you're fine.

All orcs are not bloodthirsty raiders who revel in pillage, rape, and slaughter (in that order). This is the opinion of the human farmers who live uncomfortably close to the orc clans that raid their settlements, and *some* orcs have engaged in pillage, rape and slaughter (more pillage than rape and slaughter). And then, you find a reason why those orcs would raid the settlements : religion ? lack of resources ? old grudge that degenerated into interspecies hatred ? the human farmers have come a couple of centuries ago to colonise new lands and, in the process, defile ancient grounds where the orcs were laying their deceased to rest ? the orcs are being controlled by someone who wants the human farmers to leave the lands (one way or another) for some personal reason ? one of the orc chiefs is deluded and believes the only way orcs can become a real power is by taking human slaves and begetting halfbreeds that will have the best traits of both races ? orcs are themselves being pushed by other raiders ?

Instead of having a stereotype (orcs are evil), you create a viewpoint, and then you work out the chains of causality.

Offline Grinnen Baeritt

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #14 on: December 23, 2021, 03:11:48 AM »
Personally, I think it is more that people are having trouble with reality.

I've always been opposed to the idea that because *some* people are different that makes it somehow wrong to define a class, race, ethnicity, or musical tastes as a "defined group", and that "group" do not then share the same similar attitudes and "interests"... for me it's simply statistics. The real "Problem" starts when people start believing that a possible minority actually reflects the majority... and that impacts on the attitude that it's an impossibility to have a view/attitude that is "different" from a perceived norm.

Therefore it might be ok, to say that "Santa is old, male, overweight, bearded, pale skinned...and says Ho, ho ho!" since that's the generally accepted view and one held by the majority of a specific population who believe of the existence of said being. But not OK to deny that it's a possibility to accept that Santa, is actually just a figment of the imagination, only brought into the consciousness of the majority for purposes of crass consumerism and that, for some strange reason, seems to be female, young, attractive, with the perchant for singing "All I want is Christmas.." .     

Offline Aspire2Hope

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #15 on: December 23, 2021, 05:32:45 AM »
Be more WOKE :)

To be honest though if the skin colour of your evil race offends you or your players so much just change the skin colour. If the cultural/racial trait can be assigned to a cultural stereotype and is obviously based on a real-world example linked to that, then its poor writing and as a GM you should ditch it and rework the ideas.

Offline Hurin

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #16 on: December 23, 2021, 09:16:06 AM »
Be more WOKE :)

To be honest though if the skin colour of your evil race offends you or your players so much just change the skin colour.

Shadow World already kind of does this by making the 'Dark' part of its elves refer to their penchant for evil rather than their skin color.
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Offline MisterK

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #17 on: December 23, 2021, 10:58:49 AM »
Be more WOKE :)

To be honest though if the skin colour of your evil race offends you or your players so much just change the skin colour.
Shadow World already kind of does this by making the 'Dark' part of its elves refer to their penchant for evil rather than their skin color.
Yeah, but even then, it errs by forgetting to indicate how it is that Dyari are "dark" while the Loari, for instance, are not. It's as if some species were assigned "darkness" just because. If I assign the culture of, say, Skystone or Plasidar as being immoral and more than a bit sadistic on the average, I'd like to have a reason for it beyond "I need clear-cut opponents that my PCs can hack at without moral quandaries".

Especially since it is so easy to do - for Plasidar, the pirate lords basically define the rules of play, so ruthlessness is an easy path to power and recognition and pleasing the pirate princes is much better for one's continued health than trying to lecture them about morals; and Skystone is both an isolated and recluse culture, with more than a bit of paranoia versus all foreigners and a cultural superiority complex, plus the official cults do not preach tolerance and the benefit of the masses as virtues - once again, the cultural bias flows from the top. It still gives the "Dyari are bastards" vibe, but you now have the controls to determine how it manifests, what the deviations are likely to be, how prevalent it is, and how it can influence other peoples' opinion of the Dyari (Skystone being basically off-the-map and only having contact with Ton-Bor, their actions are unlikely to define how Dyari are perceived in the surrounding region. On the other hand, Plasidar Dyari are very active pirates and slavers, and reviled for it. As such, most people in the Melurian Straits will assimilate Dyari with ruthless pirates ready to enslave anyone weak enough to be capture).

As I said above, it's not the what that counts, it's the why.

Offline pantsorama

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #18 on: December 23, 2021, 11:44:55 AM »
So right off the bat, the thread is based off a Strawman.  Not sure if it it intentional or not, but the premise that "people having trouble with Fantasy" is just false.  It is clearly not the issue people are having.  As Grinnen Baeritt pointed out, it is more likely that the opposite is true.  people are denying real world effects of popular culture because they can't handle the implications.

Next, the problem some people are having is the conflating a culture or even a person with a race.    This reification is at the heart of stereotyping.  It is also a narrative perpetuated by various racists.  This is the concept of Race is Destiny or Genetic Essentialism.  The idea that you know most or all about a person if you know their race is essentially at the heart of endemic structuralized racism.  Even if you apply "positive" traits to a race it still is reductionist, and dehumanizing.  And it is reinforcing a false narrative that is easily used for very nefarious purposes.

In other words, ascribing personality traits to all members of a face - fantasy or not - is putting forth a really bad idea as unquestionable truth about people.  Don't do it.

Offline Aspire2Hope

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Re: Are people having trouble with Fantasy?
« Reply #19 on: December 24, 2021, 05:12:27 AM »
Be more WOKE :)

To be honest though if the skin colour of your evil race offends you or your players so much just change the skin colour.
Shadow World already kind of does this by making the 'Dark' part of its elves refer to their penchant for evil rather than their skin color.
Yeah, but even then, it errs by forgetting to indicate how it is that Dyari are "dark" while the Loari, for instance, are not. It's as if some species were assigned "darkness" just because. If I assign the culture of, say, Skystone or Plasidar as being immoral and more than a bit sadistic on the average, I'd like to have a reason for it beyond "I need clear-cut opponents that my PCs can hack at without moral quandaries".

This is unfortunately the trope of fantasy novels and it should be said the cause of many a war (just or not). Depending on the style of game/players gives you an idea of how erm nuanced (that's not a verb but it is now) your ascribing traits should be.

Terry Pratchett has much to say on the subject

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things. - Jingo