kind question about game hypothetical setting

Hi to everyone. I had always a doubts about “realistic”fantasy settings.

Imagine a fantasy world with the classic races A, B and C (Elves, Dwarves and Huma for ex.). Imagine a “realistic” fantasy world, in the sense that once some absurd premises -like magic- are set, the consequences should be logical and based on modern sciences like antropology, history etc,…

It is realistic to expect that a strong racial hate between  various races would be present. This means racial slavery, wars,…In the human history this happened for much less like the skin color.

In this context, except in the case of the  usual common enemy as metaplot, what could justify the fact that PCs of different races would be in the same team and staying together?

To better explin, for example. a in the 16th century a spanish tercio, a muslim scientis from maghreb and a black hunter from Congo and a japanese sailor would have never thought to stay together even for gold…..


42 responses to “kind question about game hypothetical setting”

  1. 1. The Silk Road trade must

    1. The Silk Road trade must have made strange fellow travelers at times 

    2. Heroic fiction is about the excptional peol, not the everyday folks

    3. If I wanted realism, why the hell am I playing make believe?

    OK, but to answer your question: You take fear (commen threat) and greed (gold) out of the running as motivators. How about love (humans are very horny), religious conviction (the gods command we work together), trade for mutual benefit (we've got grain, you've got gold and coal or wood).

    Interesting topic!

    • Exception or everyday folks

      Exception or everyday folks does not change so much. Colombo did not sail with Lin Pao. And make believe is very important in fantasy. Tolkien never put dwarves in armies of Gondor or Lorien. Fear is the common threat which I indicated in my post.but this is more applicable to big menaces, like Sauron, to remain with a ME example. Love could justify one PC, , not the suual 4 or 5 in a fantasy RPG party. Religion too seems strange since in our history this did not happen generally. Trade too justify to stay togetehr for the trade, not for a treasury hunt.

  2. Sharpening up the topic

    Let's set a few things as given in order to make the question you've asked even possible.

    • Different "races" (to use the gaming term) must overlap in region and lifestyle enough actually to interact. They aren't restricted to separate locations and do not consider one another absolutely foreign or alien.
    • Every location in the world has its own history of people living there, more people arriving, all of them interacting with others, especially in terms of others who contact them on a minor but ongoing basis.
    • Many locations have sub-groups of ethnicities or practices which are considered very important to the locals, perhaps much more important than differences with more foreign groups.
    • When people act in groups, typically some economic purpose can be identified, whether to protect something or to acquire it, and it's usually really important to them in terms of their local status and history. They may not think of it this way and they may not be acting on accurate information or views, but it's not hard to see when you look for it.
    • The "races" must have a long history of interactions, with many locations, events, mythological or religious interpretations, historical outcomes.

    If none of these apply, then your question isn't a question. It'd be answered by "no, they can't work together, they'll just fight," and the whole discussion is over. So let's proceed with those points in effect.

    My thought based on those points is that individuals and small groups are fully capable of defying or simply contradicting the general interactions of the groups their members come from. So you can find quite a bit of latitude for this elf and this dwarf, or even "the dwarves and elves in our group," to work together, or even to be friends, and even acknowledging their own prejudices (and not quite getting over them).

    Here's my only other thought of the moment. Racism, as a behavior, is highly adjustable. Here I'm following your requirement to use actual history and our understanding of society as my guides, and they show me that people are capable of overlooking any difference when it suits them, and also of claiming any difference is enough to make another person, or group, subhuman and "deserving" of discrimination. History is full of examples of a long-standing multi-ethnic, multi-religious society which breaks into warring factions under stress, at which point what used to be minor and overlapping differences are now taken to be hard-line barriers to recognizing one another as persons at all.

    In other words, racism isn't a function of how differently two people (or groups) look, act, or believe. It's a function of whether a person, or persons acting in a group, discriminate negatively against others. This gets triggered under very specific conditions, which we could investigate in discussion if you want. My point is that when people (again, typically acting as a group) do get "flipped" in this way, they very often invoke the concept of racism to do it. They can do it even when the other group hardly differs from them at all, perhaps only in terms of what hats they wear.

    All of which is to say that the kind of racism you're talking about in this question is certainly possible, even to be expected … but it's not to be straightforwardly expected to be fully present in every location, among any and all groups present, or in every individual.

    • some points

      Different "races" (to use the gaming term) must overlap in region and lifestyle enough actually to interact. They aren't restricted to separate locations   YES, there are border regions with wars and trades

      and do not consider one another absolutely foreign or alien.  Well, it depends from the meaning of absolutely. But historically if you consider just the crusades and how the Westerns and Arabs were considering each others you can see that they were quite foreign or alien….in this case would be the same with IN ADDITION some physical differences, which could be quite extreme. For example, how would be considered a race who live 10 times more than another???

      Many locations have sub-groups of ethnicities or practices which are considered very important to the locals, perhaps much more important than differences with more foreign groups.  YES you are more in competition with someone who lives near you


      When people act in groups, typically some economic purpose can be identified, whether to protect something or to acquire it, and it's usually really important to them in terms of their local status and history. They may not think of it this way and they may not be acting on accurate information or views, but it's not hard to see when you look for it.  YES like in human history


      The "races" must have a long history of interactions, with many locations, events, mythological or religious interpretations, historical outcomes. YES and sometimes the interpretation would be very different. FOr example the Sun for a people who live in temperate regions would be a benevolent force while for a people living in an arid desert an evil deity


      Every location in the world has its own history of people living there, more people arriving, all of them interacting with others, especially in terms of others who contact them on a minor but ongoing basis.  YES, like in human history 



      For example, we can imagine Europe Asia and Africa like in the 13th century. With the same history as we know. BUT  in Asia there are the Elves, in Muslim lands  Dwarves live, in Africa Humans  and in Europe Orks.With Elves living until 400 years, Dwarves in subterranean cities to repair from desert sun and so on.

      Basically our same historical world with in addition different races. I was not thinking to this but this is a good example.

      In fact I beg your pardon: Racism could not be the most correct word/question.

      Even if it is true that almost all cultures feel superiors to the others: for example in the Cinese Empire this happened towards Western culture until the 18th century

      In this setting, how to justify the classic party human cleric, elf mage, dwarf fighter and hobbit thief, to use a D&D1ed  image?

      Of course in all epochs there were travelers and merchants, like Marco Polo for example, but to remain stick to this example Marco Polo travelled to China and back with his uncle and his father (even if Venice was one of the more cosmopolite city of the world in that period)  


  3. Go back further in history

    I have just been studying the history of Rome (again). First, I'll note that "race" has heavy connotations of the race theory that allowed Europeans to justify conquering places where people looked substantially different from themselves. It was a social construct. In the empires of the classical and ancient world, appearance or skin color was not identified as a way of determining whether some group was inferior. Yes, they might be strange looking, but it was their barbaric ways that made them inferior. I say this because I think we can get lost thinking that "race" is some kind of universal concern throughout history.

    While differences in ethnicity could provoke conflict in, for example, the Roman world, the wider the empire spread and the more peoples became part of it, the less important these differences became. I believe this was also true of the Persian empire. At the same time, Romans outside Rome, I have read, maintained a dual sense of identity both their own ethnicity and that of Roman citizen.

    So we have historical evidence of societies where people from widely differing ethnicities and appearance would end up thinking of themselves as having common cause.

    While I agree that ethnic differences and seperation often lead to conflict and distrust, I don't agree that it is unrealistic to assert that different peoples might work together. By extension, I suggest can apply to a fantasy world where different humanoid species live together.

  4. about working together

    First, I'll note that "race" has heavy connotations of the race theory that allowed Europeans to justify conquering places

    Not historically correct. Same "theory" was developed by CHinese, Vietnamese, Mongols, Maya, Atzec and Zulu just to cite some examples.

    Another historically thing to consider is that in Human history existed many multi ethnic empires, but NEVER a multicultural state.

    What I am pointing is that in addition to cultural, religious and language differences ina  fantasy world there would be racial differences. if native americans were declared by catholic church as souless to justify the slavery and the Spanish and Brazilian conquest, at the beginning, just imagine the same thing with more the pointed ears.

    SO in term of game design how to justify a realistic multiracial party?

    Tolkien, who was an expert of celtic world and dreaw a "realistic" fantasy with his Middle Earth, uses the classic cosmic menaces who wants to enslave all world.

    But except this metaplot, what could be used? 

    • May I ask what the purpose of

      May I ask what the purpose of your original post is? You seem to already be determined that the answer is no.

    • I need to step in here as

      I need to step in here as moderator. I agree with Alan. It is hard to see what you are asking, and you are apparently not very interested in replies.

      In order to continue, please clarify what you are arguing against. To my knowledge, no one is saying, "Hey, all fantasy races should live in multicultural harmony, all the time!" It seems like a silly statement to me too, so I don't really see the point of debating against it. What, therefore, is the point of your post?

      Furthermore, you are being rude, by using an instructional and patronizing method of replying. This is not open to debate or defense. Please remember that you are here by invitation – mine – and that this is my site, subject to my standards of behavior (please see the sidebar). You are conversing with older, educated people, not with the usual internet rabble, and you might learn from us if you are willing.

      This is your chance to show us that you have an intellectual interest to discuss and are not merely another loudmouth who happens to own a role-playing game. Let's see how you do.

  5. I beg the pardon of everyone

    I beg the pardon of everyone because it was not my intention to appear rude at any time. And please I ask your kind patience for my poor English. In fact, I used that style of replying  to help myself with the language.
    I would like to thank  who replied too. Because all the answers which I received were  interesting (and for this reasons I wrote back in details). They helped me to understand better the point and to focus on the essence of the question enlarging at the same time the horizon of the reflection.. 
    And lastly let me say that I personally agree with almost all the comments which I read. I agree fully for example that a realistic fantasy setting, like in the human history, conflicts inside any race could be probably more vicious than the conflicts between different races. And so on.
    In synthesys, the scope of my original post was to to discuss of the impact of  different sentient humanoid races in a fantasy world, and answering to my original doubt which was:
    -In a "realistic"fantasy setting, how is possible to have a setting/metaplot which could justify  a player character party constituted by many different races, considering that in addition to the cultural, language, religious etc… differences, there would be the racial difference? (except the usual common enemy)-
    One interesting solution is what written by AlanRB, if I understood well. A multi ethnic empire. For example the empire of the dwarves of the Mountain X, could have inside his  army Elven cavalry or Orks gladiators like the legions of Rome had auxilia for cavalry, slingshot, archers and so on enlisted from various peoples of the empire.
    Do you think that there other setting/metaplots which can justify a multiracial party at game design level?
    Of course there is always the personal behaviour who can go against every racism, discrimination,…I could cite for example the friendship between the dwarf Gimli and the elf Legolas in the fiction, or the Rivona trial where together with Mandela  other white activists against the apartheid were condamned. But as a setting/metaplot for a generic fantasy multiracial  party I feel it  unrealistic (personal feeling of course). Of course collaborating together for temporary economic interests is realistic. If the port of the human city state Y is blocked bythe  elven corsair fleet Z, the dwarven enclave of the mountain X who uses that port  to export his goods will  not be happy and will side with humans. But i feel this  as a variation of the common enemy metaplot (forgive me for these not original and abused common fantasy topics) 
    Please note too that I found very interesting the consideration that  racism is in fact when a group discriminates negatively against another one, often  for very small and futile things. I cite to explain better  "" In other words, racism isn't a function of how differently two people (or groups) look, act, or believe. It's a function of whether a person, or persons acting in a group, discriminate negatively against others. This gets triggered under very specific conditions, which we could investigate in discussion  ""
    I never reflected about this and I started to think to many historical examples like the religious persecutions gainst heretics in the byzantine empire of the 6th century, or the activities of McCarthy and his followers during 50'. That's why I just started  to think that in a such "realistic" fantasy world the conflicts inside each race could be more blood demanding than the conflics between differerent races. 
    Please your opinions or additional considerations would be sincerely appreciated.
    • Awesome! Thanks for your

      Awesome! Thanks for your consideration. I'd like to make this topic a Monday Lab after the holidays and I'll make sure you're invited.

      Let's not stop the conversation here either. When I get the chance, I'll bring up two of the fantasy RPGs which were dedicated to the traditional framework you're using, but which try to address the issue of species/race in a way that makes "parties" work, Hahlmabrea and Arrowflight.

    • I didn’t mean to be so

      I didn’t mean to be so mysterious about Hahlmabrea and Arrowflight, especially since they are only two of the many texts we could examine about the issue. They stood out in my mind because their settings/situations are explicitly intended to be “multi-race fantasy party has adventures,” and each addresses in-setting racism in some open way.

      Anyway, Hahlmabrea’s setting explicitly places the action before the eventual development of the fantasy races we know. The implication is that some time later there will come some kind of tragic breakdown among the races, and orcs and trolls and kobolds will be considered monsters, but for now, although the fourteen character-races are diverse in capabilities, there exists a general social network in which they live together or nearby, and everyone considers everyone else to qualify for the status of “person.” The setting includes a pretty detailed set of social values that every character is expected to share, e.g., laws of hospitality.

      This may not pass your test of “realism” but I didn’t bring it up in order to refute you or to argue, merely to show that fantasy RPG authors have been examining the same ideas you raised. In this case, the idea is to have as diverse a party as possible without any setting-based mandate for them to be enemies … but also, interestingly and tragically, to acknowledge that ethnic/racial hatreds will shatter it all some day.

      The orcs and kobolds bear special attention. First, they are both visually much more ordinary-human in appearance than their monstrous forms in D&D-type fantasy, and the unstated implication is that they will become physically monstrous in the future. Second, they are kind of opposites in terms of how they relate to those implied futures.

      The orcs are rugged, handsome people noted for their boldness and seafaring, and pretty much indistinguishable from humans, i.e., nothing all like fantasy-race orcs. So they stand out as the most obvious “this alleged monster race are or were really people” example.

      The kobolds, on the other hand, are small (like the hobbits) and although fully humanoid and not monstrous, they are notably stupid and irresponsible, even called “handicapped” and openly dismissed as unwanted jerks by the text itself – a rather racist depiction, if you will. It is the only example of this among the player-character races; not even the trolls, who are pretty barbaric, are presented as unworthy of respect. So this is strange, for a game which is clearly aimed at diminishing the racist assumptions of “it’s OK to kill them” in fantasy role-playing, to have a race which is deemed essentially (I use that word carefully) undeserving of respect. Implied, perhaps, to deserve whatever badness they have coming to them in the future.

      Arrowflight presents a detailed high-medieval or early Renaissance type fantasy setting, based on a kingdom, really a small empire, which promotes inclusive social ideals and faces many challenges based on old hatreds and past wars. There’s a designated “bad” foreign society with a supremacist outlook and which worships evil dragons, and they’ve just assassinated the good emperor, so it’s not as if this whole portrait is subtle. Corvel is the bastion of Order and the world’s only real hope for a positive future, and it is in imminent danger.

      To play, you buy into the inclusiveness and must be willing to fight for it, i.e., to stand together with your comrades regardless of race. This would be pretty straightforward if all the races were equal, however exotic they might be. However, they aren’t, in one case.

      That case is the orcs. Unlike the other races, who are all related in one fashion or another (humans being mixed in with the rest, unusually for RPGs), the orcs were constructed long ago by magic as a slave-warrior race, and have endured a long history of slavery, rebellions, genocide against them, and only recent partial acceptance as fellow-men in this one kingdom.

      Here are some details. First, they look like the unusual depiction from early D&D, with the heads of pigs or boars. This depiction was not seen in fantasy art prior to these gaming texts, and it swiftly fell away in favor of a more “fantasy Hulk” appearance for orcs. So depicting them this way is a deliberate callback to that brief period. It also makes them stand out visually from the other races who are all quite humanoid, even the pixies.

      Second, they are acknowledged to be behaviorally limited and not-yet-ready for polite society, due either to innate capabilities or to their long history of brutalization, or both. The text explicitly refers to them as undergoing a “civilizing” process which the other races are not sure will be successful, but agree to because the only alternatives are genocide or horrific war. And get this:

      Many orcs now function quite adequately in urban society, taking jobs as blacksmiths, innkeepers, bodyguards, and professional athletes, and, of course, soldiers. The human and elf nobility have discovered the advantages of a well-trained, well-fed orc population, and will always try to exploit their ferocity on the battlefield. In peacetime, the civilized orc’s predilection for confrontation and physical conflict is often channeled into bounty hunting, combat instruction, or the Imperial Batara League [sports].

      I am not sure if the implications in American English are clear to anyone but a native speaker, but they are extensive and profound. I could write a whole essay on the phrase “quite adequately” all by itself.

      The orcs are obviously black Americans as perceived by many or most white Americans. This paragraph is about as pure an expression as one could ever find of the “tolerant” racism toward black Americans characteristic of middle-class U.S. liberalism. From this point of view, black people are indeed inferior or limited, but since “they can’t help it,” the rest of us (white people) should be tolerant and try not to make them feel bad, and try to help them “up” to join us. People with this outlook, which is very common and highly institutionalized, permit black people to be included as long as they “know their limitations” and are only participating under the careful eye of white mentors, in contexts that serve establishmentarian interests. Also, sacrificing their lives and bodies in dangerous sports and military action is considered heroically successful for them.

      It is so pointed and so clearly phrased – and again, unique to this race alone in the whole text – that I am tempted to think the authors are deliberately waving a red flag to the thinking reader, to point out that their idealized Kingdom of Corvel, champion society of Order, has a few internal blind spots and social problems of its own.

      It’s hard to say,  though. On the one hand, if you take the text’s actual description of the orcs’ innate capabilities at face value, then this basically racist (“tolerant” or not) outlook is justified – i.e., the orcs aren’t ready, and need tolerance and help to get there/here eventually. On the other, as I might be inclined to do, the orcs may find this outlook to be unnecessarily patronizing and actually operating to keep them marginalized (and incidentally kept at high-risk), rather than helping them. In that case, the Corvel culture’s sense of superiority and mission as the champions of Order is what needs “help,” not the orcs.

  6. Post scriptum. 

    Post scriptum. 

    I do not understand why even if I left the subject empty as for site rule it is automatically filled by the system


    • Oh! That’s because the site

      Oh! That's because the site rule is no longer necessary. It was intended to apply only to replies to posts anyway. When you begin a topic in the comments, give it a title. I'll fix the site rules to match the new formatting.

      Also, to be clear about the site construction, when you reply to someone, sometimes you will not see a "reply" button. That is OK. Just scroll up to the previous comment which contains that button and reply using that. After a little practice you'll see how it results in very readable, understandable discussions.

  7. Dear Mr.Edwards

    Dear Mr.Edwards

    thanks for your kind reply. I personally agree too that an additional contributions would be interesting. Also, since I did not know Hahlmabrea and Arrowflight  I will read them (I can say nothing before of course). I am always curious to know new rpgs and to experiement new things.

    Please let me add 4 considerations to yours which perhaps could be interesting.

    1-another setting/metaplot  to keep realistically together a multiracial party could be the theme of the Ship. The PCs are the crew of a ship. This happened in the history. Just it would be limited to only the coastal peoples and not an all world, unless the ship can fly! One example could be the crew of a ship of Zion in a Matrix setting, like the films btw. 

    2-as you could read from the example above, the coerency of a multiracial party is not only limited to a fantasy world. I sticked to that example because this started my reflections and doubts, BUT  it is the same in lot of other games/settings. For example in Traveller putting relistically together a Solomani federation Human, an Imperial Vilani Human, an Aslan, a Vargr, a Zhodani human and a K'ree is "realistically" almost impossible, unless to use again the cosmic menace supervillain/plot who wants to destroy the galaxy. Another example, I feel, could be Shahida, where putting (not as antagonist) and Israelian cooperating character in the story is not so easy. But this last game about this issue has an interesting solution. And this leads me to the next point

    3-many rpgs from the last 20 years, especially the ones labelled narattivist and/or modern and/or forge (but not only!) operate strong restrictions of the possible PCs (if compared with the rpgs of the 70'). For example in Vampire all PCs are vampires, which was before only a small minor monster of D&D or some hooror rpg. Fot what I humbly know this rpg design began with Ars Magica where the  PCs are only mages and all the rest are grogs moved by the same player who own a mage. The final consequences of this tendence of game design are the games where even the classic association 1 player=1 character (min) evaporates leaving a group of players managing all the story itself. This is what happens I think with the story now and Shahida (as indicated above). And this of course avoid the concern about the realism in the setting, since moves the needs of realism from setting to the single story itself. In this logic and in the same example is possible to introduce an Israelian pacifist aginst the intervention of his governement and its management of the refugee camps of Shabra and Shatila. But of course not in every story and I stop here because entering in  dramatic recent events and because I never plaied to Shahida unfortunately (only read). Just I limit myself to make a comparison with classic literature. The difference between Shahida and D&D in the management of the story, is quite similar to the difference between the  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the Finnegan's wake. And with this I arrive to the last final personal considerattion.

    4-to this reflection I am emotionally bound since developed from a personal real experience: one game to a pbta rpg which was my most horrible experience in 37 years of rpg games and which started an harassement from a group of people arrived to death phrases towards me posted publicly in internet. I agree fully with what posted above by Ron Edwards about the personal approach to racism and discrimination. One logic consequnece, since more I like to experiemtn in gaming, is to try to play sometimes something different from a resticted range of possibilities for PCs. For example if the PCs must be all teenagers in a school, could be interesting to play sometimes one teacher of that school (adult, even old) to try to explore different paths of the story. But this means too that it is not possible in this case to follow strictly the rules of the manual and an hypotethical rule 0 on the sport should be applied.  However  a mantra which I listened in recent years from some players fond of "modern and narrative" games are that rules can never be changed, because rules matter. But this last point, which is the result of my witnessing direct experience, starts to be  far from the original doubt which I asked at the beginning. So I prefer to stop here.

    Thanks for the patience, please forgive my rants (and English mistakes) above and receive my best Wishes of Merry Christmas to you and your families



  8. Dear Mr. Edwards,

    Dear Mr. Edwards,

    about your invitation to the Monday lab I would like to thank you very much.

    I just humbly highlight my poor limits in English and my ignorance of Hahlmabrea and Arrowflight

    • A Monday Lab or continuing

      A Monday Lab or continuing discussion on the topic of “race” and ethnicity in RPGs is one that I would relish.
      I’m in agreement with people like John Powell and Ron who do not see the initial formulation of the problem as particularly daunting. If the characters are all curious, adventuring types (which is the default of the traditional RPG), then they would naturally be more inclined to fall in with characters different from themselves. Coming up with some type of metaplot device (fear, desire, inquisitiveness, profit, etc.) to motivate them to bond together does not seem that difficult. Of course, without a metaplot device, there’s no need to go on an adventure in the first place.
      But, from their inception, fantasy RPGs have had a problem with race and ethnicity. You can see this problem in the visuals of the books and in the colonial narratives that they tell. The very idea that race should be a key defining category of character development was one that was initially accepted without much question by the hobby. At least when I was first playing D&D, I never heard anyone questioning those assumptions about race. When race came up as an issue, it was usually to ask whether other races could be used as player-character categories or it was to help us to define who our party should be attacking.
      There are now RPGs which are taking on this issue in a more reflective and complex way. I just worked through a 10-session playtest of Robert Bohl’s Demihumans, and it was an illuminating experience. The game does not assume that different classes of characters (troll, orc, halfling, gnome, etc.) will automatically work together, and my players were keen to explore the friction and suspicion between those groups. But the game also features humans as an ever-present nemesis: Magic is on the decline, and the “demihumans” are forced to live in enclaves and ghettos. So even though gnomes may be suspicious of orcs, those groups also have a vested interest in trying to work out some tenuous alliances to deal with the human threat.
      And I’ve also started reading through Spire by Grant Howitt and Chris Taylor. The game is described at “a roleplaying game about desperate revolutionary dark elves caught up in a secret war against the high elves, or aelfir, who rule the towering city of Spire . . . The world of Spire is a brutal one, and players can expect to see their characters suffer at the hands of their oppressors, or their rivals; bodily harm, psychological scarring and reprisals against their allies are commonplace.” It seems pretty clear that Spire is self-aware of some of the unexamined political implications that have operated behind creations like the drow, and are using the game to probe into those assumptions. 
      Outside of fantasy rpgs, there are scenarios and games  like Harlem Unbound and Orun which are bringing a more diverse and critical eye to other rpg genres.
      Thinking about fantasy rpgs today, the more interesting question for me is, how can we put together a diverse band of adventurers and then do something that will not reinforce racist, colonialist, and prejudicial sentiments?
      Here would be an interesting experiment: Take some module or scenario from the early days of TTRPGs and run the module with a group of characters who are becoming aware of the narrow attitudes of the fantasy world they inhabit. For extra kick, the GM might work to give some personality and individuality to the self-aware or humanoid NPCs and “monsters.”
    • Thinking about the early

      Thinking about the early fantasy RPGs.

      By about 1979, the most common ones seem to have been D&D (naturally), Tunnels and Trolls, Empire of the Petal Throne, Chivalry & Sorcery, Runequest and The Fantasy Trip.

      Most of the others were relatively obscure.

      Of these, EPT and Runequest stand out as distinct from the D&D model of "race". However, neither had a lot of supplementary material back in those days, leading to at least some players tending to fall back into the D&D orbit.

      Tunnels and Trolls seems to have been more interested in non-human PCs, especially after the publication of its sister game, Monsters! Monsters! I don't know how much the latter influenced the play of the "main" game. While the degree of whimsy present in T&T probably didn't encourage much serious contemplation, the idea of playing a Goblin, say, was supported by published materials. So while it wasn't really different from D&D in terms of its approach to "race" there was a little more to it.

      I'm not all that familiar with TFT. I suspect it was broadly D&D-like too.

      Chivalry & Sorcery was something else again. It put social class right up front, while managing to be so mechanically clumsy as to discourage actually doing anything with it. Its approach to race was similar, if my memory hasn't let me down.

      So the idea of playing these early games while interrogating the implications of "race" could be made extra interesting by trying it with different games.

  9. Did Fantasy Races take the place of human cultural stereotypes?

    I've heard it said that, in fantasy fiction, elves, dwarves, etc. took the place of cultural stereotypes in the late twentieth century. What we see in adventure fiction of the early twentieth century is visits to exotic human cultures as the source of wonder. An example might be Robert Howard's Hyborea, where the groups were always humans–some based on stereotypes of africans, some of roman, some of egyptian. (Burrough's Mars seems to be an early antithesis of this.) I'm not as well read in the middle 20th Century fantasy, so I can't comment on that. I recall the Poul Anderson wrote about the Fae. But the advent of Tolkein seems to have tipped the balance for the majority of fantasy from exotic human cultures to exotic fantasy "races." 

    I wonder how much being an elf or a dwarf was an easier touchstone for early roleplaying than "roman" or "egyption" or "Assyrian."

    • Historical and fantasy

      Historical and fantasy wargaming were closely connected. Both Chainmail (US) and the Wargames Research Group Ancients Rules (UK) contained "Fantasy Supplements" prior to the publication of D&D. (Not much prior in the second case.) In neither case would you expect to have players having any problem with imagining being '"roman" or "egyption" or "Assyrian."'.

      In both cases the "fantasy" being presented was heavily influenced by Tolkien despite not being limited to him.

      Fantasy RPGing was very heavily Tolkien-shaped from the beginning.

  10. Very interesting the comments

    Very interesting the comments of the 2 Alans

    Please do you remember where did you read that in fantasy fiction, elves, dwarves, etc. took the place of cultural stereotypes in the late twentieth century?

    And thank to have raised the social difference point. My original question in term of coherency of game design is exactly applicable to that too.

    Of course a always possible solution is the suspension of the disbelieve, like in front of the show of  a stage magician, which was probably what was one basically by all the first RPGs of the 70's for example

  11. Framing the question carefully

    This comment is intended to focus the discussion on the main points raised in the post, and to keep us from getting distracted by other questions, which although they are important, are definitely different, already receiving attention elsewhere(s), and way too likely to overwhelm the primary question.

    Specifically: we’re addressing in-fiction prejudice and hostilities among the fantasy races, in the context of party play. The relevant games must include this profile:

    • Player-characters include a variety of fictional races as explicit options
    • Fictional races are different enough to warrant separate presentations and include significant historical, cultural, or geographic narratives in the setting (i.e.,they seem to be taken "seriously" as topics, or presented as viable fictional entities rather than merely conventions)
    • Play requires concerted, cooperative action against real danger, prioritizing group success most or all of the time
    • Success is probably monetary gain and/or significant status gain, and failure is probably death; if either is not the case, something equivalent can be identified 

    I’ll use 5th edition Tunnels & Trolls (1979) as an example to show how I’d like to avoid confusion, at two levels. Because it only meets three of the above four points, I hope to show that it’s not eligible to include.

    • There are six player-character races (called “kindreds” in the game) to choose from: dwarves, elves, humans, hobbits, leprechauns, and fairies.
    • They differ profoundly in their alterations of the rolled characteristic values, and slightly in terms of their character-class options. No other restrictions apply (e.g. level limits, permitted spells).
    • The game includes no, zip, zero setting context for any of the races. Specifications that even hint at any are tightly tied to mechanics (e.g. leprechaun magic must be treated as rogues’) or are notably casual.
    • The relevant variables for playing the game include character death, leveling-up, and wealth, and combat is constructed and strategized as a group action, not as atomic individual actions.

    I submit that “race” in T&T is primarily a matter of strategizing, i.e., maximizing the play-potential of whatever you rolled. It has no other baked-in content and fictional “racial diversity” can be black-boxed just as easily as “why we are even going into this dungeon” for this game. I mean, there isn’t even a town or location, it’s just “town” played in the abstract.

    In this game, there’s no setting or out-of-dungeon play. You go into the dungeon to try to beat it, and you have lots of playable races to provide various tactical spins on a notably risky roll. The races are fun in terms of imaginative color and the trappings of pop fantasy, aided in great part by Liz Danforth’s beautiful illustrations. But their only content, fictionally, arises from whatever reinforcement of that color and those trappings that you personally feel like providing during play.

    Therefore the game simply shrugs at the question of in-fiction prejudices and hostilities. It doesn’t care, no matter what “realism” you want to throw at it. Bringing up that question to the extent of affecting play simply means you’re a dumb-ass T&T player whose characters are about to die a lot more than mine will.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying the question is bad. I’m saying we have to understand which games and which purposes of play are relevant for examining it. T&T isn’t one of them. This example also lets me point out that “traditional” and “old-school” are not meaningful terms for this issue, as nothing can possibly be either of those more than 5th-edition T&T.

    Now for the other level of discussion, to show that author attitude and general racism-as-text aren’t our topics at all. We are straightforwardly shelving any of the following:

    • Attitudes or values held by the authors as evidenced by the fictional content
    • The complicated mis-use of the word “race” in role-playing texts, itself compounding the misuse (or simple wrongness) of the word in ordinary speech
    • Species as a concept and biological phenomenon
    • Concerns or debates regarding multiculturalism, political correctness, and sectors of gamers

    I will briefly point out that T&T does lend itself to author/text racism-analysis of this kind, and at another site or topic would be a nice vein of ore to mine. It includes several details which were almost certainly intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but range from dubious taste to outright gross: the mind-control spell called Yassa Massa, the listing of a monster called Black Hobbits (with no explanation or description), and a couple other things. They usually get mentioned in tandem with the prevalence of rape in one of the solo adventure books, Beyond the Silvered Pane, which also includes illustrations of brutish-looking Black Hobbits that might be non-white.

    I hope you can see that these two whole schools of questions (in-fiction prejudices and hostilities; author and text prejudices and unconsidered outlooks) are independent of one another, and that we can focus on the one I’ve specified.

  12. Some suggestions.

    The last game I played taht meets the criteria was Dungeons and Dragons 3.5. I no longer have the books to refer to, so I can only relay on my memory. If I recall correctly, interracial hostilities between the races that players could play were downplayed. I recall textual representations that portrayed Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, and Humans all living in a thriving town. I think 3e justt glossed over the question of why all these races got along.

    (I'll use the word "race" as that's what most game texts use.)

    Contrast this with AD&D 1st ed, which I believe had a matrix of interracial attitudes. When I played that game, players would make nominal nods towards, say, the hostility between elves and dwarves, but it was never anything that could threaten the success or saffety of the party. Did this matrix show up in 3.5? I don't remember. I think in AD&D and earlier versions, we were just supposed to rely on texts, like Lord of the Rings, outside the game text, for ideas about how the species got along.

    A game I never played, but knew of second hand, was Shadowrun — it's setting is William Gibson meets Urban Fantasy, with elves and dwarves, etc. integrated into a futuristic setting of competing monopolistic companies. I recall that the "races" were actually originally humans that were distored when magic entered the game's world.

    I wonder if anyone knows more about how this setting worked? Was there a justification for why races would work toegether? Was there any detailing of interracial conflict?

    • Regarding your comparison

      Regarding your comparison between first-edition AD&D and third edition D&D:

      Yes, the earlier version alluded to the historical antipathies or attitudes among the nonhuman races, phrased in such a way that you were playing "right" at least to nod to them in play.

      The nonhuman races included extremely structured class options and level caps. It's summarized in the PHB tables, let's see …

      • Humans can be any class (cleric, druid, fighter, ranger, paladin, magic-user, illusionist, thief, assassin, or monk, and have no level limits; they cannot multiclass
      • Dwarves can be fighters (to level 7-9 depending on strength), thieves (unlimited), or assassins (to level 9); they may also multiclass as fighter/thief; NPCs can be clerics capped at level 8
      • Elves can be fighters (to level 5-7 depending on strength), magic-users (to level 9-11 depending on intelligence), thieves (unlimited), or assassins (to level 10); they may also multiclass as fighter/thief, fighter/magic-user, magic-user/thief, or fighter/magic-user/thief; NPCs can be clerics capped at level 7
      • Gnomes can be fighters (to level 5-6 depending on strength), illusionists (to level 5-7 depending on intelligence), thieves (unlimited), or assassins (to level 8); they may also multiclass as fighter/thief, fighter/illusionist, magic-user/thief, or fighter/magic-user; NPCs can be clerics capped at level 7
      • Half-elves can be clerics (to level 5), druids (unlimited), fighters (to level 6-8 depending on strength), rangers (capped as fighters), magic-users (to level 6-8 depending on intelligence), thieves (unlimited), or assassins (to level 11); they may also multiclass as any two of their permitted classes
      • Halflings can be fighters (to level 4-6 depending on strength) or thieves (unlimited); they may also multiclass as fighter/thief; NPCs can be druids capped at level 6
      • Half-orcs can be clerics (to level 4), fighters (to level 10), thieves (to level 6-8 depending on dexterity), or assassins (unlimited); they may also multiclass as any two of their permitted classes

      To flip that around, fighters are the most available class (any race), and paladins and monks are the least (humans only)

      Note that this is very, very different from the preceding version [Holmes, 1977] or the later parallel version [Moldvay/Mentzer, 1981/83/85], which also have restrictions and caps but are much simpler.

      I can't be troubled to look up the unholy mess that is second edition AD&D and its plethora of setting-based versions. Someone else's problem. I do know it's full of race/class restrictions and level caps too.

      Third edition has the same races as first-edition AD&D, and a different array of classes (fighter, barbarian, bard, cleric, druid, monk, paladin, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, wizard). The relationship of the variables is entirely "free" by comparison: any race can be any class, all classes level-up at the same experience-point rate, and there are no level caps. I confess that shocked me a little when I encountered it.




    • To build on the above points

      To build on the above points (both yours and mine), first-edition AD&D is perhaps unique in embracing intra-party conflict. The textual "setting" descriptions of race histories and preferences nod in that direction, but more important is alignment as restricted by class.

      • Druids must be true neutral [one bit of phrasing suggests they are the only class permitted to have this alignment, but play-culture universally ignores that]
      • Paladins must be lawful good
      • Rangers must be lawful good, neutral good, or chaotic good
      • Thieves may be anything but lawful good or chaotic good
      • Assassins must be lawful evil, neutral evil, or chaotic evil
      • Monks must be lawful good, lawful neutral, or lawful evil

      Compare that chart with the one above, especially insofar as thief is the only class that most nonhumans can truly excel in, and also that half-orcs are unlimited in level as assassins. You'll see that racial diversity in a party exacerbates already built-in conflicts among the highly specialized classes (especially paladin/assassin, but there are many others).

      The purpose of the intra-party conflict feature has always seemed clear to me, to the point that I'd be disappointed to play this edition without seeing it jump to front-and-center status. Contrary to the majority of advice I've heard and read, I think it makes for better and more interesting strategic play from the standpoint of game theory (real game theory, not RPG-talk), given that party members have some situation-based reason to work together, as well as facing dangers that pretty much demand that the party has as much firepower as the various differing classes can bring.


    • Non-adversarial play isn’t an

      Non-adversarial play isn't an inherent part of roleplaying. It's a historical accident driven by the logistical problems of running a large group.

      Conflict between players would be a "normal" result of play that wasn't driven by the need for a small group of players to work together.

      "Don't split the party" is toxic.

    • Alan (b not BR), I’m

      Alan (b not BR), I'm commenting here to make sure that we're communicating properly. I am not sure whether you comment was intended to agree or to disagree with mine, but as I see it, they are saying similar things. Let me know if you want that amended or clarified.

    • Sorry about the delay, but

      Sorry about the delay, but yes, I agree with Ron, although I was coming at things from a different perspective.

  13. new

    I agree with you that in the usual generic fantasy rpg, especially if from 70s or 80s the setting is a generally a copy of the human history and races are de facto different classes (or professionas) and all of us probably chosed one race or anotehr one to maximize a power  or a skills. 

    It is interesting that you have highlighted that in AD&D 1 ed there were the alignments and a matrix defining the guidelines of the relationships between races.

    I remembered only when AlanRB posted. It was from that time that with my group we decided to not apply hte alignments because "realistically"  impossile.

    A paladin can not stay together with a dark "chaotic evil" mage, not even to loot treasuries from the tombs of the darven kings  To enter in a life or death extreme combat situation a minimum of trust af your fellow would be necessary (or anyway this is what happened in the armies of all the civilizations during all history ) for what I know.

    AD&D (and all the sons and cousins) is not a "realistic" rpg. Arrowhead too (I found it and I read it fast) this week) .

    Please consider always in the equation "game design" and "realism", together with the different races, because in fact from your points and examples I understand that the essence of all is the presence of all 3 simultaneously. 

    Instead in the majority of RPG games there are only 2 of them.

    Happy New Year


    • What does “realistic” mean? I

      What does "realistic" mean? I think this is an important point to address. Without a standard, your question cannot be answered.

      How will we know when something is "realistic" by your standard? 

    • questioner,


      Building on AlanRB's question a bit, I find lots of "real" game experiences, literary examples, and historical equivalents where the paladin and the evil mage (or similar) work together. Ron points to game theory, where we learn that in mathematical models of strategic interaction between rational decision-makers, "trust" is just one of many variables. Then there's the fact that non-rational decisions are certainly an option, too.

      At least for a while. In the sometimes hobby-standard ideal of "we're going to play exactly these characters doing stuff together for a long, LONG time, no matter what happens as play develops" … no, the paladin and evil mage may not fit together there, at least not unless one/both of the characters change. But there are plenty of games that do NOT have that ideal, and some that are very interested in seeing characters change – or at least interested in seeing what happens when they won't/don't.

      Now, I generally do not prefer play with something like both a paladin and an evil mage in the party, but "realism" isn't why, and outside of some very particular definition of realism-in-RPGs, I don't think it makes sense as a reason. Maybe your answer to AlanRB will be a particular realism-definition that does have it make sense, but I'm pretty sure it's NOT what I'd care about/call "realism" for my RPG play.

      Hope that's sensible/useful – Happy New Year to you as well!

    • for GordonC

      Kind questions for Gordon C
      1-Please could you cite some literary examples and historical equivalents where the paladin and the evil mage (or similar) work together?
      2-Also please could you explain better what is for you realism in a fantasy RPG?
      I can tell what is for me. It is a concept applicable to setting. Accepting some impossible axiom (like Dragona exist and Magic exists) and some peculiar inference rules (like Magic is based on names) every other elements should be a logic consequence based on science and history as we know.
      For example in the example above if Dragons make magic this mean that they need to speak a language.
      But I am very interested in different points of view from mine. 
    • Hi questioner,

      Hi questioner,

      I'm a little worried about an endless discussion of examples that aren't "close enough" for one or both of us, but to give some sense … For literary examples, appologies for the focus on U.S./English language stories/media:

      –In some Arthurian tales, Mordred is both a known/prophesied enemy of Arthur and a member of the Round Table.
      –Buffy the Vampire Slayer works with vampires (Angel, Spike, others) a lot.
      –From the website, consider the "Token Evil Teammate", "Enemy Mine", "Friendly Enemy" or … other related story tropes. Not all the examples are closely similar to paladin/evil mage, but many are close enough for me.

      In history, I can point at just about any representative/paralimentary system where parties often find themselves having to ally with previous (and often future)-enemies. For a military focus (again, U.S. centered), we've got future enemies U.S.A. and Soviet Russia allied in WW II. Or, getting down to the squad level, and remembering the "fantasy Vietnam" label early D&D sometimes gets, there's the unpleasant realilty of "fragging" (intentional friendly fire deaths, usually by enlisted men on an officer). If the hatred within-squad was enough to trigger murder sometimes, I'd say there were plenty of other times when mutual antagonism on the level of paladin vs. evil mage was present but didn't (quite?) errupt in violence.

      As far as "realism" in fantasy (or any) RPG play … that's a bit difficult. I abandoned the idea of  "realism" as an important stand-alone feature of an RPG setting a LONG time ago. I strive for an overall consistency in what I present to other players when I'm in charge of setting-stuff, and expect/look for the same when others are in charge, but … I grew tired of arguing about the right "logic consequence based on science and history as we know" decades ago. If we're all interested in what we've created/are creating, and are paying attention to plausabilty-within-the-context, it seems like the result often feels MORE real that if we spent hours and hours considering/debating what's "realistic". Any particular arc of game play is always just a subset of what's possible within the rules/setting established/proposed, anyway – I'd rather focus on the particulars (e.g., how do we have this paladin and this evil mage together in this particular game, in a way that will be fun?) than even try to provide a "for any situation" solution.

      Again, personally, it's pretty rare that I'd think "paladin and evil mage together" is enough fun to be worth putting in the effort, but – it has happened. Hope that's at least a LITTLE like what you were asking for.

      Ron –

      I assume it's questioner you were inviting to join you in a spoken dialogue on realism – I expect talking to me about how I DON'T really look at realism would be less useful.

    • I’d like to have a spoken

      I'd like to have a spoken dialogue with you about realism as you see it and have experienced it in play. It'd be a good addition to the Seminar section here. Send me a message using the Contact form (above) if you're interested!

  14. new

    Post Scriptum

    Based on my previous post, it should be clear that I agree fully with the last viewpoint of Alanb

    And this EVEN if I detest to split a party. I do not find it funny and nice and I lose my desire to play to a RPG if I have to fight or querral with my fellow players. 

    But it is not realistic that a lawful good paladin will not clash with a chaotic evil assassin….. 

    • It’s been a while so it’s

      It's been a while so it's hard for me to remember what I was thinking…

      From memory, though, I was thinking along the lines that the idea that an RPG simply involved a group of characters working together to achieve a common goal was actually something of an artefact which was absent in early RPGs and the source games they were derived from.

      That is, "the party" wasn't originally a thing. In the early games and proto-games, such groups were temporary coalitions, not permanent alliances.

      Logistically, of course, having all the PCs working together in an ongoing basis is much easier.

      I could speculate/rant about what a game where that wasn't the case would be like. My first impression would be that it would take things back away from "roleplaying" and towards something more like a board game. Of course there is no reason for an RPG to not involve characters whose goals are not entirely compatible, but a campaign involving such characters would tend to end up with "winners" and "losers".

  15. technical problem

    for Ron Edwards and/or admins of site

    Yesterday It was impossible to post the message above for a DNS problem.

    I had Google dns server and opera browser

    Changing dns server solved the issue

  16. for Gordon C

    Thanks very interestingyour point about the concept of realism. In fact, reflecting on it it is strictly linked to consistency. 

    Your post reminded me why i saw only one episode of buffy and penny dreadful. I had a strong feeling of inconsistency/unrealism and for this reason I did not like. Just an immediate first glance sensation. of course it is possible to suspend the disbelieving like in frotnt of a stage magician, but it is difficult for me in front of a fantasy/science-fiction setting.

    I do not understand well why you cite Mordred. I am very curious because for what I remind Mordred was son of Arthur and his sister, so racially was "pure". I knew that he was prophetized in some legend as the new King deer who had to kill the old one, this was studied a lot by Frazer in the Golden Bought. But I do not understand how this is related.

    In fact, I was invited for a a discussion about racism connected with the realism of setting, not the the theme of realism itself (the theme for me is fascinating anyway) 

    • Yeah, the “paladin vs. evil

      Yeah, the "paladin vs. evil mage" disconnects from the fantasy-race issue, but in terms of "realism", I see no difference between the many ways they can work together in history, literature, and games and the way human-cultures or fantasy-races can. Given the at best confusing, often incorrect, and maybe sometimes approaching evil way fantasy race is used in most RPG texts, I guess it's understandable that issues will arise. But getting people who are NOT all the same "purity" (a useage/word that's considered pretty racist in U.S. english when connected to race, in case you didn't know) to work together seems to me an utterly normal, realistic subject in our world and the stories we tell. Not simple, trivial, or easy, so a game that tries to make THAT true would annoy me. Unless maybe it were cast in a Utopian manner …

      On Mordred, I just wanted to point at a maybe-well-known example where a fundamental disagreement between characters (that eventually leads to war and murder in most versions) didn't keep them from "adventuring" together – for a while, anyway.

    • for Gordon C

      thanks for the clarif about Mordred. I understand now. Yes you are right.

      And in fact the topic moved with the contribution of everyone from conflicts for differences based on races to conflicts for strong cultural differences. This for game design setting create problems or realism for parties (in general, not the single one of course) built on strong differences, which is a normal standard in fantastic rpgs (to be more powerful too!!!)

      Until now I read many interesting considerations and I clarifiedsome of my thoughts in my por empty mind. So I pick the occasion to thank anyone and please post additional thoughts if you have.


  17. new

    very interesting I appreciated especially the cartesian approach of the analys. That approach reminded me an exposition which I saw some years ago at the Musée du quai Branly.

    Could I post the link on social in case other people would be interested?

    • The link to my comment would

      The link to my comment would be best, rather than the direct YouTube link. Thanks!

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