Impressions on the D&D Next Races Section

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 03 May 2013

Between hard things in my personal life such as finding out Jared has cancer and helping him with that and mixed feelings about D&D Next and old edition reprints, I've stayed away from reading the playtest updates for a few months. However, I had the opportunity the other night to read the 'Races' section in the April 11 version and there are a few things I noticed that I'd love to talk about.

One of the biggest things I noticed was the sub-races. In my experience, sub-races tended to come out in a later book, not the player's handbook. As such, they tended to provide a canonical version of the race that the others, such as wood elves, deviated from. In my experience, this tends to create reactions that there is a hierarchy or that one is superior to the other. My reaction to this presentation was that this made me feel like the world was much more diverse. Not only that, but that these races evolved to fit the places in the world they ended up in. It felt more natural to me.

Additionally, presenting sub races at the beginning provided a way to address some of the issues raised regarding innate versus culture. A fair number of traits are set by the race choice, but additional ones, including an ability score adjustment, are set by picking a sub-race. I'm not going to say it's perfect, nothing is, but I like it. This innate versus culture debate is also nicely (in my opinion) addressed by the use of traits versus cultural details. Now I know which things shouldn't vary between members of a race, at least not too much, and which things are based on their typical cultures.

However, while much of the descriptions helped me understand what it would be like to play a dwarf, halfling, elf, or human, the topics of sex and gender stood out to me a bit. In particular, it was one line about dwarves that brought this out to me. "Male dwarves value their beards highly and groom them very carefully." In one way, I liked a detail such as this. It's something a player, especially a new player, can riff on. Not sure how to role play a male dwarf? Just pretend to play with your beard every so often and get mad if someone jostles you while drinking your ale, especially if it all ends up in your beard.

But I also realized there was no mention of what female dwarves are like. So I reread it. The only thing we get is that "[m]ale dwarves are slightly taller and noticeably heavier than females." Hmmm. To be honest, I'm not liking this. That plays into gender bias a fair bit. Why would female dwarfs be more slender as a rule? That would make it harder for them to do things such as say, mine or battle. Does that mean when they were saying that dwarves are known for their skill in battle, they really meant just the male dwarves?

"Axe Fighter" © 2012 Sarah Carney"Axe Fighter" © 2012 Sarah Carney

More importantly, what does this sexual dimorphism add to the game? It's not just in the section on the dwarfs. With elves, the males are only marginally heavier than females. Why mention that at all? Elves typically are meant to be much more androgynous, why not just make that clear or at least, be silent on the issue? The humans and halflings also have a mention about male facial hair but no mention of women's grooming. Halflings also do not mention the differences in size, meaning it could be done with the other races as well.

What would I change? I'd take out the parts that say that males tend to be larger and/or heavier than females. I don't feel it adds anything to the game or to our understanding of the creatures. It's an unimportant detail, one that reinforces biases we already tend to have when it comes to sex and gender. I'd suggest pointing it out when it's different from the societal norm. For instance, if there was a race where the women tended to be larger than the men, that's when I'd point it out.

In addition, I would love to get rid of the noticeable weight difference between male and female dwarves. If people want to play a more slender female dwarf, they can do so, but I'll take my nice stout female dwarf please. I also liked that for the races, the entire height and weight range of the race was given.

I'm not sure what to do about the facial hair descriptions. On one hand, they do add to the game and make it easier for people to describe their characters. However, the absence of women in those descriptions to me reinforces a societal norm we have of the masculine default. That is, when we see a gender neutral description, we tend to picture a man in that role instead of a woman.

Two other things I noticed. I like that in the human section, the skin tone and hair colors start with the darker colors and goes to the lighter. To me, this helps break the blond white default presentation. However, I'm not sure it's a good idea to set adulthood at 15. The implications of that creep me out.

So those are some of my reactions to reading the Races section of the April 11th D&D Next Playtest. Given that, I'd like to say a few things regarding comments on this article.

  • I realize this is not the final text and it's also possible that they haven't done the sort of editing and changes that would address the points I bring up here.
  • Feelings are always valid and I think in cases like this, where they want reactions, arguing with the reactions is not productive. However, if you would like to share your own reactions to the parts I discuss, feel free to do so in the comments. Please keep your comments to the D&D materials or your feelings, not on the feelings of others.

I get the same feeling actually.

In my mind, Dwarf males and females both have beards. As you said, elves are androgynous. To me, these kind of details provide even more roleplaying fodder, while one sex being slightly heavier is just boring.

As far as the quirks (male dwarves value their beards, etc.) I'm fine with that, provided that they do the same for females. Being something of a fluff addict, I'd enjoy reading a page about how male dwarves might style their beards based on clan or profession, while female dwarves will (random examples) do something similar with their hair, or how young ladies from smithing clans will forge a small item for themselves (a ring, dagger, etc.) as part of an adulthood ceremony, and they pass those on to their daughters.

Anything like that just helps to add color to the tapestry can be a Good Thing(tm) provided it's done well and equally, if for no other reason (and there are *plenty* of good reasons!) than to not leave some players feeling shortchanged.

Sexual dimorphism? Not a big fan of it, basically for the reasons you stated above. It's a fantasy game, I think we (DMs and players) can handle a splash of non-human-norms with our PC races.

That aside, I'm still hoping that we see good armor on people. I run for my wife, two other women and a man. I felt like a lecher handing the ladies (amongst whom, only my wife had roleplayed before) books and telling them about the various classes.

I think your observations are valid and valuable. With inclusiveness for previous editions as a stated design goal, I don't think it's too big a stretch to inclusiveness for all players.

I wish Dwarven women had beards, like they did in the old days.

I'm for dwarven women with beards too! Part of my long-standing objection with Ed Greenwood's reversal on dwarven women not having beards is that it makes them second class. While I get that dwarves could easily be misogynistic (frat party and dwarves seem so similar), very little in canon points that way. Instead, they are a perfect race to have great racial equality. In a culture where your beard is a big deal, having the women have beards makes that really ring true - and sets them apart. We can even provide the option - some women shave, and give a cultural reason for that.

Elves are also similar. Androgyny is woven into the canon of their origin, so why not have it be fully represented? With buff wood elves players have lots of ability to deviate if they so choose to, but the standard can be very equal.

I can see halflings and gnomes having a more traditional "homestead" differentiation in their roles, but I'm okay with ditching that too.

One thing I was curious about was your statement about adulthood at 15. What are the implications that worry you?

We tend to tie a lot of things to adulthood, some of which can get icky.

For instance, one way of looking at adulthood is looking purely at when you get to decide to leave home and become an adventurer. For a number of reasons, an age younger than 18 can be pretty interesting there. You get to come of age as it is in an environment that lets you experiment and try a bunch of different things.

On the other hand, my first thought when I saw 15 was "Does this mean that we'll have young brides? Are players going to think it's ok to hit on the 16 year old bar maid?" That's the problem I see. While boys that young aren't seen as prime when it comes to sex, marriage, and having kids, girls often are. We live in a real world with countdown clocks for girls like Natalie Portman. I don't think I want to play in a world where the countdown is to the 15th birthday.

While I understand what creeps you out, and I understand this is a fantasy game, It was very common in the middle ages to get married young. This was not necessarily a creepy child bride thing, but an economic one. The sooner you get your child married off, the more resources you would have for family. Also people matured faster because there tended to be more responsibilities placed on children back then. And one last thing is that you tended to live shorter lives back then.

Please stop with the psuedo-historical "facts."

While it sometimes was common among the nobility since they cared most about producing an heir, it wasn't necessarily common in general. It was also incredibly counter-productive, even then they knew that very young brides had greater difficulties with childbirth.

Jeff Rients once had a post about how "historical accuracy" shouldn't be more important than, "make sure everyone is comfortable and has fun playing a game." I had never heard of the Hajnal line before, that's really interesting.

Your link proves my psuedo-historical facts. Europe is not the only place in the middle ages. In fact, it stated that this also varied in regions inside the Hajnal line. But the most significant quote from your article is "The region's late marriage pattern has received considerable scholarly attention in part because it appears to be unique; it has not been found in any other part of the world prior to the Twentieth Century."

I'd suggest reading it again.

Class differences played a great role in when a couple could marry; the wealthier that a couple was, the likelier that they were to marry earlier. Noblewomen and gentlewomen married early, but they were a small minority;[16] a thousand marriage certificates issued by the archdiocese of Canterbury between 1619 and 1660 show that only one bride was aged thirteen years, four were fifteen, twelve were sixteen, seventeen were seventeen, and the other 966 of the brides were aged nineteen years or older when they married for the first time. The church stipulated that both the bride and groom must be at least 21 years of age to marry without the consent of their families; the most common ages of marriage were 22 for women, 24 for men; the median ages were 22.75 for women and 25.5 for men; the average ages were 24 years for women and nearly 28 years for men. The youngest brides were nobility and gentry.[17]

That was from 1619 to 1660.

Which I did study for awhile. This was for the region inside the line. and was for a specific range of years. The middle ages stretched over a long period of time. As we got closer to the 20th century the age was more in line with what we see today. My genealogy ties into royalty and have links back to this time period where Edward "Longshanks" King of England married a 13 year old when he was way older, which I find very creepy. I guess I don't see what is wrong with two 16 year olds getting married and starting a life together back then, in modern time I don't think most kids that age are mature enough to survive even though they are probably more educated.

Personally, I don't really GM sexual encounters in my game as that would creep me out. I focus on adventure/mystery/treasure hunting/saving the world type of games. There may be the occasional romance, and marriage but that is as far as I would go.

I think you are confusing a few things.

The ages you generally speak of are related to the age of consent rules/laws rather than actual customs of the time. That's why looking at that church's records are so important. It's much more likely that the average woman and man married at an older age than it is for the average woman to marry at age 13. Imagine for a moment that people in the future looked at our age of consent laws and tried to say that meant most people today married at that age.

Nobility had different needs and pressures than most of the people. There was a need of an heir, for one. I also wouldn't be surprised if diseases such as syphilis also played into this. For the lower classes, large families would not necessarily have been as desirable. A common way of limiting family size during that time period was to delay marriage until they were older.

Additionally, it was still creepy! Your explanations didn't make it any less creepy. All the did was point out that women during that time period were more often treated like property than they were human beings.

I agree, that women have been treated badly in the past (and by some these days). I don't think this type of mentality should be portrayed in games. I think there are fundamental differences between the genders and should equally be addressed in the documentation. Describing male Dwarves as generally a little huskier than females doesn't seem to me that female Dwarves are any less important. I would like to see more information on female Dwarves and why some wear beards and others choose not to.

Yes it does imply that the female dwarves are lesser, because dwarven society is built around mining and battle.

Yeah. I'm not going to allow comments in my space that try to say that women can't open jars. I'm fucking done with that bullshit. Congrats on being part of the reason why women don't want to play D&D,

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