D&D to remove inherently evil races

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Shir'le E. Illios
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D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Shir'le E. Illios »

With all the stuff that's going on in the real world right now, companies everywhere seem to drive towards more inclusivity and diversity and get rid of potentially harmful depictions. As such Wizards of the Coast too have been looking at how some races are depicted. And it looks like they're changing it so that some of the races that have been traditionally depicted as inherently evil will be shown to be more diverse.
Throughout the 50-year history of D&D, some of the peoples in the game—orcs and drow being two of the prime examples—have been characterized as monstrous and evil, using descriptions that are painfully reminiscent of how real-world ethnic groups have been and continue to be denigrated. That’s just not right, and it’s not something we believe in. Despite our conscious efforts to the contrary, we have allowed some of those old descriptions to reappear in the game. We recognize that to live our values, we have to do an even better job in handling these issues. If we make mistakes, our priority is to make things right.

Here’s what we’re doing to improve:
  • We present orcs and drow in a new light in two of our most recent books, Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Explorer's Guide to Wildemount. In those books, orcs and drow are just as morally and culturally complex as other peoples. We will continue that approach in future books, portraying all the peoples of D&D in relatable ways and making it clear that they are as free as humans to decide who they are and what they do.
Drow are morally complex and can be something other than pure evil? Who would've thought!

Honestly, I'm not sure what this will mean exactly. I don't really expect Lolthian society to change that much, but perhaps they'll show more drow living in that society who are suffering under the oppression of the ruling elite or such. Either way, this does feel like a victory and hopefully we'll see a more diverse range of morality in the drow.

Other things that they're changing is that they're addressing some harmful stereotypes and, perhaps most interestingly, they're looking at changing how racial bonuses work by giving players the option to change which bonuses players take. This too seems like a good thing to me. More variety is good.

Either way, you can read Wizards of the Coast's full message here.

Interesting times indeed.


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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Irennan »

I get where they're coming from--there was a huge discussion last month over Twitter and Reddit, pointing out how WotC's worldbuilding was full of harmful clichés. Long story short, WotC found themselves in a sticky situation, which they TOTALLY brought on themselves.

Eilistraee brings an awesome culture, and she *could* make the difference, but WotC has shat on her at every opportunity for more than a decade, even while bringing her back. At this point It's pretty irrelevant to say "not all are evil", when your only non-evil drow culture amounts to <1% of the whole (Eilistraee with her few thousands of followers as a lesser goddess), and when the rest are labeled as "unique, super special, super rare outcasts". It's also bad worldbuilding, quite frankly. Lolth's society falls apart as soon as you start looking into it, yet, with most of its people being utterly miserable, it went through 12k years with absolutely 0 significant changes. And after millennia of that misery, >90% of the drow are still "evil", because only an extremely narrow % has even thought of abandoning her in favor of literally anything else, or just simply lost faith, or became disilluded, or w/e. The early 2e portrayals, when Ed was involved (and Ed has only about 50% of drow under Lolth in his FR), tried to introduce more dissent, but the later sources surely don't.

Then there are WotC's choices when they transitioned 3e->4e (and the grossly smearing misportrayal of Eilistraee that came with it, which *intentionally*--yes, intentionally, their goal was to get people to dislike Eilistraee, according to Erik Scott de Bie--made even the "good" drow no longer good, but merely self-righteous in being violent, warlike, crass, uncompassionate, abusive, *extremely* misandrist, while calling themselves "good"), or that infamous article about drow mothers getting orgasms when their kids eat each other in the womb, and about newborns being possessed by homicidal instincts, or 5e being so friggin' passive aggressive in regards of Eilistraee, Vhaeraun, etc...

Even in 2e, they say "the light-skinned elves are the good guys and don't get cursed. Even though they genocided a whole nation of good Eilistraean dark elves, and exterminated A LOT of dark elves before with the Sundering. However, those pesky dark elves are bad because a group of them turned to dark deities, and must all get cursed by the good-guy, light-skinned god that makes their skin even darker to reflect their dark hearts" which is a VERY questionable narrative choice. Late 3e also added "oh, and don't forget that the dark skinned elves ALL have demon blood... except a handful, who now get their less dark skin (which they never had, because they were *born* drow) back, because they're good! The rest of the race, however, is irrelevant, because they're unwilling and to be cast down". Keeping shit like this in 2020 is inviting career suicide for a company that has tried to keep a woke facade like WotC (and yes, it's a facade, because there are A LOT of reports that paint WotC as plagued by racism, intolerance, and nepotism).

Seriously, the D&D treatment of the dark elves amounts to "the iconic dark skinned elves and the only matriarchy we highlight are all about masturbating to people being tortured, puppies being kicked, and kittens being eaten, under the pretense of survival of the fittest. They would be danger to everyone, but thankfully the light-skinned good guys kicked their butt and sent them underground." WotC dug their own hole with their idiotic and childish treatment of the drow over the years, and I'm glad it's blowing up in their faces. They have to ve thankful that most D&D people aren't even aware of how f***ed up the evolution of the drow narrative is, or they would be under even stronger pressure now.

Now, all of this wouldn't even be that hard to fix. An obvious first step could be giving Eilistraee RELEVANCE. Not <1%, which is retarded, but at very least Ed's numbers (22%). Eilistraee founded a whole culture, she's the patroness of what once was the greatest hub of arts, culture, and magic of Faerun. She's been by the drow side since forever. She fought by their side, even when they hurt her, she strove to empower them to find their own path and rediscover the beauty and joy they were denied. She also always strove to build a place for the drow in the world, in harmony with the other races. After friggin' millennia, it's utter stupidity to still claime "hurr, less than 1%, hurr"...

Another step would be painting the Lolthite commoners as mostly nutral, introducing dissent and disillusion towards Lolth, some resistance too (and I mean, commoners have been totally miserable for millennia, they are indeed just people who struggle to stay alive--even Gygax's version didn'thave the commoners as evi, IIRC). If they really NEED to keep the Lolthite society as dumb as it is, they can paint it as a fascist theocracy that crushes its people, so that plotlines about freeing the drow can beomce mainsteram, with the involvement of many factions, including Eilistraee ofc. They could un-retcon Vhaeraun and bring him back to be his actual self (rather than the new and improved 5e version of him as "lolth's swift and obedient bodyguard who made a vow of silence or whatever"--which was pure idiocy and 100% redundant with Selvetarm), and take Ed's new lore about his stance becoming more neutral and establish other settlements on the surface. Have Bregan d'Aerthe do something similar (I mean, they already are, but I mean something open to more than operatives), and more of that.

However, I fear they'll just have Drizzt&friends pull off some weird shenanigans and magically convince half of the drow to stop being evil, and to come create a new settlement on the surface (and maybe call it Drizztland). With 0 acknowledgement of the other drow cultures that have been working towards that goal for millennia, that have been there for 30 years, like RAS always does. Because in the end, the shitty treatment of the drow was birthed by the extreme obsession over Drizzt that ran rampant in WotC back in late 3e (especially with people like Athans, the worst kind of fanboys), which gave us the shitty depiction of Eilistraee in WotSQ 4-6 and LP (all books that now WotC loves to pretend never existed).
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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Irennan »

Actually, they might even rework stuff. The drow/elven history lays the basis for a more nuanced approach. The Crown Wars are not black vs white, they're pretty much dark grey vs dark grey. Instead of being the "eeeeevil guys", the drow could have simply been separated from the elves due to the Crown Wars, which saw heinous crimes committed against the drow (Eilistraee's whole nation was nuked, for example), which creates a scenario in which no side is actually right or wrong, just 2 people wounded by a bloody chains of wars. So, Lolth, her 2 kids, and the drow could have walked their own way due to the conflict, developed as their own nation (still in conflict with the elves, due to what happened), but over the millennia they could have managed to get some presence on the surface, deal with other races, etc... (Eilistraee&Vhaeraun could be on the forefront for this). Some younger drow and elves might want to reconcile and leave the past behind, while others might harbor old grudges; a deity like Eilistraee could work to reconcile the two people (and her mom and dad), etc...

Even yet,Lolth could be made into a character and society that makes sense, while still keeping the positive points about her. She can be a deity of ambition, about turning challenges and struggles into strength, about determining one's own future, preserving one's own independence etc... (which would preserve the competition-focused society). Araushnee could have had an interesting development, had they tried to focus on "seizing one's own destiny" and her feeling like a trophy wife, rather than "hurr durr, eeeeevil". This would also make Eilistraee a nice foil, with her effort to lure the drow on a "journey" to see what life can be and embrace (and nurture) the beauty in the world (rather than being blinded and missing on the joy of life due to hyperfocus on "success"), but also a good ally in that she too strives to empower the drow to choose their path. This version of Lolth would also go well with Vhaeraun's own efforts to restore the golden age of the drow. Eilistraee could still play the part of the nurturing mom, who might have still refused Corellon's offer to stay with the Seldarine, and taken the curse just to be with her people, etc...

And yes, that would require some retconning. At this point, WotC has already made so many retcons I don't think we have anything to lose. We might as well welcome some retcons that bring better quality worldbuilding.
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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Leema Har'gachi »

I wonder what they meant in the article when they said they were looking for freelance writers, I doubt they are looking for additional game designers.
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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Irennan »

It's probably for their adventures. They've repeatedly stated they're not interested in novels.
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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Bhaern Quel »

Leema Har'gachi wrote: Sun Jun 28, 2020 9:12 am I wonder what they meant in the article when they said they were looking for freelance writers, I doubt they are looking for additional game designers.
Well it is hard to know what they seek, however their magazine can use articles, there is also the DM's Guild that free lances can publish on. Of course if new talent really strikes a cord with them they might even get a novel, however as Irennan guess is, it is not likely is that big a gig that they are looking for.

They are more likely looking for new talent that can be paid less for word count or royalties.

The last time there was a contest for new setting a professional was the one selected, not someone new.

Submissions however became property of WotC of a few others. Rights forfeit as I recall.
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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Zaknafriend »

I always took it the drow were mostly evil because they live in such a tough place and that required a level of pragmatism that excludes the good tag in a character's alignment(Papers please or This war of mine style). The infighting and internal strife was based on lolth's desires. These two factors are what made drow evil, rather then natural evil state. There have been plenty of nuetral and good drow characters other the RA's creepy uncle Dourden.

We saw the same with the Orcs. Zent-keep sent Grey orcs to the Tungin war and just left them there after the war, thinking they would destabilize the area. Instead, they became neighbors who looked out for the natives in the area. 4th ed put an end to that idea, which was too bad because since was a area of the map that didn't have any significant world value it would have shaped into a great grey orc/half orc homeland.

Hob-goblins got a great evil culture reprieve in both Eberron (lots were evil but plenty weren't) and as the founders of the Iron-heart school of the sublime way. Come to think of it, goblins got a little of that too with inclusion of the blue.
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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Irennan »

Zaknafriend wrote: Fri Oct 30, 2020 5:18 am I always took it the drow were mostly evil because they live in such a tough place and that required a level of pragmatism that excludes the good tag in a character's alignment(Papers please or This war of mine style).
That's the explanation provided in some editions, yes, but it doesn't work. At all. Humans have thrived in hostile environments by cooperating and helping each other. Developments, technology, and civilization only became possible because of this. Forming groups based on cooperation; the reason why humans are social creatures with such a strong tendency to form groups (generally speaking) and condemning the out-groupers, is exactly this. Groups and cooperation make you survive. This includes caring for each other.

Let's face it: "oh, the environment wants to kill us/has scarce resources, so we turn against each other" is the recipe for failure. Especially in a world where you have the possibility of literally snapping your fingers and making food appear, or where a lot of shenanigans to extract resources that IRL would require scientific knowledge and studies to apply that knowledge through tech, are instead far more accessible because "magic". It would take nothing for a magic-attuned race like the drow to pool 2 brains together and reshape the Underdark to thrive, or start chaing producing resources. Instead we have this line about "survival of the fittest", written by someone who clearly didn't stop to think that "fittest" has different meanings depending on the context.
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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Irennan »

Zaknafriend wrote: Fri Oct 30, 2020 5:18 am The infighting and internal strife was based on lolth's desires. These two factors are what made drow evil, rather then natural evil state.
This is indeed canon, but it doesn't work either, as it leads to non-narrative--i.e. a bad situation in which everything pushes for a change, yet the author(s) refuse to explore the consequences of their own premise, and the changes that people are normally led to do when confronted with a failure in their "survival system". Or yet, lacking those changes, they refuse to have the lack of change lead to its natural conclusion ("death/failure").

The thing is, the current worldbuilding of the drow is really dated and not well thought out. It only exists because of author bias. I'll paste what I typed about this elsewhere (so it's not specifically directed at you, but I'm lazy to think of another answer, when this one will be good enough).
In 2e, the drow commoners were described as unhappy with Lolth; in other sources they're also portrayed as perpetually miserable and trapped in a system that intentionally prevents their development and growth, from a personal, economic, and social standpoint, as well as willing to change (and looking for a change). There's a difference between meritocracy (which is what Lolth should be about but totally isn't--nepotism and stagnation are a staple of her society), and making most people live like sh*t and waste all their strength in randomly backstabbing each other, because "muh powah...", as the latter model would naturally lead either to change, or to collapse (especially over 12k friggin' years). However, the further we go with the editions, the more uniform the Lolthite society is depicted, and the less the consequences for the lack of change are explored. Which leads to my next point.

Lolth doesn't care for the drow and that's evident; she only cares that they remain bound to her, and she has actively hampered them for millennia. This has been canon since 2e: the the drow would be 100x better w/o Lolth. With that premise, they should have never gone through more than 12000 years of total misery without one meaningful change--heck, with 0 attempts at a change. Without splinter movements (Eilistraee and Vhaeraun aren't splinter movements, because their societies didn't form within Lolthite society; they're external cultures), without disillusion and resentment towards Lolth forming among the drow. They should have formed splinter movements fighting for different ideas; schisms should have happened and deepened; the society should have changed, fractured, and evolved. Not having any of that with a premise as ridiculous as Lolth's is a narrative failure.

Don't give me the "drow not changing, not developing new ideas, or not turning to Eilistraee&Vhaeraun&Co is justified because Lolth. It's all because of story premise!!11!". If this had been because of the story, a society like Lolth's would have already dramatically changed or collapsed a long time ago, because change is what stories are about, and because it only makes sense.

In fact, you might say that the theocracy, totalitarianism, or what you have prevents the drow from developing those feelings and intentions, but that's baseless. When a society is so ridiculous that you have laughable stuff like "loving your kids is weakness", when commoners have no rights or anything, can be killed for fun by nobles, can be bankrupted for fun by priestesses (and subsequently enslaved)--this is all in the lore across the editions, btw--when the vast majority of drow is perpetually emotionally and materially miserable, it makes sense for them to lose faith. To be disilluded. Especially since the drow are often described as a highly intelligent race. Yes, there's resistance to change, against giving up the set of belief that ruled your life, but: 1)that can only sussist when you have something to gain (either on a psychological, or social, or economical level) 2)all goes out of the window when the premise is so ridiculous even chickens can laugh at it. 3)that can never justify the lack of whole splinter movements and major upheavals, which, in turn, would make it easier and easier for people to recognize the rality of the situation.

And this is just commoners. Miserable people, the "have nots" are usually shut down from a social perspective, and it's unlikely for change to start from them--they're in the so-called quiet desperation. Change starts from the "have some, want more", which abound among the Lolthites. Minor houses who don't like Lolth, male wizards, merchant clans, other drow cultures/churches (who are totally able to infiltrate Lolthite environments. Look: Masked Traitors, Secret Moondancers, Silverhair Knights)--they would all greatly benefit from an uprising, and have tools to achieve it. Heck, the other deities and churches could even support the wizards/merchants/dissatisfied nobles. With that in mind, channeling the anger of the drow commoners would be a totally feasible task, and should have happened plenty of times over 12000 years of misery.

You can't even use fear of death as an excuse, because 1)the drow are always risking death in the Lolthite society 2)it has never been enough to prevent formation of splinter movents, changes, etc... It hasn't been for RW societies, it isn't for the drow, who also have the support of other deities, and don't just have Lolth.

The protection racket argument (Lolth protects them from the Underdark threats) doesn't work either. Lolth has never protected the drow from anyone; they always protected themselves. What Lolth did is giving a bunch of divine spells to a bunch of people who could force the drow into being her slaves, but those people and that regime only weakened the drow and made them suffer (that's literally stated in the 2e The Drow of the Underdark book, and it's quite obvious). And on top of that, those divine spells could have been provided by literally any other deity,--and other deities also reached for the drow. You have Vhaeraun as the main one--aka, the deity who had led Ilythiir to glory when Lolth was still forgotten and in the Abyss, whom the recently exiled drow still worshipped but magically forgot about in an instant, because... uhm... right, because the author says so. Eilistraee could have been relevant too, but she was powerless after the Descent and after the sun elves magic nuked her nation, but even then she still kept fighting for the drow, according to the lore in Demihuman Deities.

Before someone comes up with "but North Korea" to justify why the totalitarianism works, there are A LOT of North Koreans who are disillusioned with the regime and try to escape; they only put up a facade of obedience. Also, how many rebellions have oppressed people attempted over the course of human history? However, not even something as basic as this is mentioned for the D&D drow--it's always <1%. Heck, in FR that disillusion alone would be even enough to hurt Lolth's power. Lolth's followers have more influence on her than she has on them. In FR, the power of a deity has always depended on the faith they get from their followers (as shown by Eilistraee being reduced into powerlessness after the Sun Elves literally magic-nuked her nation, or Auppenser being also reduced into powerlessness after the elves genocided Jhaamdath). Ever since the Times of Troubles, a god's own life has depended on the faith they get. Disillusion, even if not openly manifested (therefore this wouldn't even require the drow to actively do anything, just develop resentment or disillusion--a natural response to living like sh*t), will severely hurt Lolth.

On top of this, as mentioned, there are other deities defending change and growth. You have the followers of Eilistraee--and Eilistraee herself--who have been actively reaching for the drow, even materially helping them embrace a different path, even risking their life for them. They have whole orders dedicated to that--including infiltrating Lolthite cities to rescue drow in need. Eilistraee has also been showing all drow--including the matron mothers--what life can actually be, that an alternative exists, and has been doing so by directly contacting the drow through dreams for millennia. She's been calling them to her.

Vhaeraun is a revolutionary who has constantly carried disruptive actions against the Lolthite regimes, to the point of unleashing massive conflicts and civil wars within Lolthite cities. He appeals and offers power to the downthrodden males, which is big in a society like Lolth's, while still offering them the promises of glory and supremacy that they are so hooked on.

Yet, despite the ridiculousness of the condition of the drow commoners, the dissatisfaction of many categories of "have some, want more", despite all the basis for changes and uprising being there, of catalysts (including divine catalysts) for such uprising existing, the overall lore of the drow remains always the same: 90+% are loyal to Lolth. It's stupid, it's even illogical from a purely numerical standpoint (like, other cultures who go live elsewhere never reproduce? They have divine protection too, and of deities who actually care about them, yet their numbers never change in proportion? Wtf?). It's also definitely not "because of story". In fact, the lack of change, even just significant disillusion, defeats one of the pillars of narrative: exploring the consequences of actions, conditions, and false truths, because the Lolthite drow want to be one of the most Stupid Evil (tm) societies in fantasy, without any of the consequences. It's as if the drow lack any drive to improve their condition.

Also, the drow have history and tradition before Lolth; they weren't a blank slate. They had the experience of the power reached by Ilythiir (which was without Lolth, and with Vhaeraun), and the propserity of Miyeritar (again, no Lolth, but Eilistraee). This legacy should have been influential in leading more of them to see Lolth for the fraud she is.

It's not for nothing that Ed Greenwood's division of the drow places Lolth at slightly less than 50%, not at 90%+, in his own version of the Forgotten Realms.

But let's accept this. Ok, let's say that the drow do indeed refuse to change, and have been doing nothing but killing and torturing each other. as well as being miserable and stagnating, for 12k years in the name of Lolth. Let's say they really are this uniform to all agree on that. Where are the consequences? Where's the fall of their civilization, which would be especially easy in an environment full of immensely powerful enemies like the Underdark. Where's the techonoligical stagnation that comes with a society that censors everything, discourages communication AND innovation, and leads people to waste time/resources in useless things like backstabbing each other and constantly watching their back (oh, and let's not forget discouraging personal initiative, as the priestesses can just bakrupt you and take away your work on a whim). There's none; the drow are always described as top tier in terms of techs, hydraulics, prosthetics, architecture, magic etc...

Moreover, what are the other Underdark denizens doing to exploit the weakness that comes from infighting? Where are the dwarves erasing drow cities in their moments of weakness? Where are the illithids manipulating them and eventually enslaving whole populations? Oh wait, when this happens, "plot armor" (tm) descends from the sky and save the drow from any consequence, so that they can start the next day exactly the same as it was before--just like a Saturday morning cartoon! The only cities that fell were Ched Nasad and Maerimydra, but they didn't even fall as consequence of this kind of backward mindset. Nope, their fall was all fault of the followers of Kiaransalee and Vhaeraun, who invaded when Lolth withdrew her power (note: not as a consequence of the drow's mistake, but as a consquence of an externale factor that the drow had no control over). Their fall wasn't to show how ridiculous the Lolthite society is, and it's doomed to failure. This is everything you must NEVER do when doing narrative. Like this, not only the drow generally never suffer any consequence, but when they do, it's not even their fault, and this is the exact definition of a Mary Sue race (or of a concept that leads to "non-narrative").

The elves are 200x better written in comparison, as all their tragedies are consequence of their major shortcomings (hubris and arrogance, which led to dehumanizing and discriminating others, as well as thinking to be able to change the world as they please without repercussion), and like the flawed a**holes they are, they still insist it isn't their fault, and are all "woe is me". Most refuse to change, and they pay for this with a massive decline. That's how you write consequences while worldbuilding.
Last edited by Irennan on Fri Oct 30, 2020 4:45 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Irennan »

Zaknafriend wrote: Fri Oct 30, 2020 5:18 am We saw the same with the Orcs. Zent-keep sent Grey orcs to the Tungin war and just left them there after the war, thinking they would destabilize the area. Instead, they became neighbors who looked out for the natives in the area. 4th ed put an end to that idea, which was too bad because since was a area of the map that didn't have any significant world value it would have shaped into a great grey orc/half orc homeland.
For the orcs, we even have an agrarian, pacifist culture in the Eldathyn Ondonti. Too bad WotC downplayed them into oblivion, just like with Eilistraee. That's the "fun" part of this issue--they're going around putting their "this is racism" stamp on older edition sources that paint a more nuanced portrayal of those races than the 5e books do, yet they try to make the 5e books pass as the golden standard. Also, they're a racist company IRL, given how they treat their non-white emplyees. Talk about hypocrisy.
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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Zaknafriend »

Irennan wrote: Fri Oct 30, 2020 4:10 pm That's the explanation provided in some editions, yes, but it doesn't work. At all. Humans have thrived in hostile environments by cooperating and helping each other. Developments, technology, and civilization only became possible because of this. Forming groups based on cooperation; the reason why humans are social creatures with such a strong tendency to form groups (generally speaking) and condemning the out-groupers, is exactly this. Groups and cooperation make you survive. This includes caring for each other.

Let's face it: "oh, the environment wants to kill us/has scarce resources, so we turn against each other" is the recipe for failure. Especially in a world where you have the possibility of literally snapping your fingers and making food appear, or where a lot of shenanigans to extract resources that IRL would require scientific knowledge and studies to apply that knowledge through tech, are instead far more accessible because "magic". It would take nothing for a magic-attuned race like the drow to pool 2 brains together and reshape the Underdark to thrive, or start chaing producing resources. Instead we have this line about "survival of the fittest", written by someone who clearly didn't stop to think that "fittest" has different meanings depending on the context.
I disagree. Human are able to work together and thrive in hostile environments once we've exhausted every other choice. Real world histories are littered with the remains of nation states that couldn't get cooperation down. And we have cultures that got to staggering levels of power through the monstrous use of state enforced philosophy/religion and xenophopia.

Magic is fundamentally different from technology to use because it's hinges on personal power and experience. Newton wrote down his laws of motion and the whole world world gained. Fleming discovered antibiotics and the whole world was in a better place. These ideas are repeatable by anyone. Magic on the other hand, is developed and controlled by just the caster. It's functionality is dependent on a individual's personal talent and experience. When that caster is gone everything resets. The caster can leave behind notes on how they got to where ever they got to, but someone new still has to start from scratch and.work their way up to where the first caster was.

Now mix in religion. It's lead to some of humanity's worst acts in the real world. The spider queen offers the only real system to gain magic in codified ways and straight up murders anyone who disagrees. Other gods that have worked their way in are the god of slimes, the spider queen's idiot male servant/son, Lovitar the maiden of pain and everyone's favorite, Shar, the lady of loss. These gods do offer some power for acts of depravity/devotion sacrifices and the like, but even then the grants are usually fleeting in their duration, requiring another act for more power.

The church of Eilistraee flourishes on the surface, Silverymoon, Dambrath (where it absolutely shouldn't but somehow does), the Moonsea and Waterdeep (the Skullsport area, it thrives because of it's proximity to Waterdeep, though technically underdark)I believe there is one underdark city mentioned in the undmerdark book (3rd Ed) where our bright lady has made some inroads. And that took thousands of years.

Ultimately a game world is set to be just that. A place where a handful of PCs can somehow outwit undead magic lords of unimaginable power who want for nothing and have all to figure out how to defeat those pesky kids and their dog. And the story has to serve that idea. So we get red shirt clad guardsmen from Waterdeep fighting to help us against Orc hordes and drow invasions, all plotted by demon lords and Mindflayers, all of which will just get us back to roughly the status quo.
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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Irennan »

Zaknafriend wrote: Fri Oct 30, 2020 5:25 pm I disagree. Human are able to work together and thrive in hostile environments once we've exhausted every other choice. Real world histories are littered with the remains of nation states that couldn't get cooperation down. And we have cultures that got to staggering levels of power through the monstrous use of state enforced philosophy/religion and xenophopia.
It doesn't seem you're really disagreeing with me, though. You said it yourself: once they turn against each other, they fall. Once they can't get cooperation down, they fall. Once they get fragmented, they fall. Ultimately, cooperation is what allowed humanity to rise from primitive status into civilization. You don't have to like each other to cooperate, but the start of civilization as we know it coincides with the treatment of a broken femur. In the end, the fact that infighting and fragmentation are a recipe for failure is a recurring principle in all history; it really isn't a matter of opinion. However, this is utterly lacking in the worldbuilding of the drow. They don't face the consequences for their mistakes, which makes them a Mary Sue race. In this sense, Vhaeraun is a good villain; Lolth is a caricature (and a Mary Sue as well, since she too never pays the consequences of her failures and shortcomings).

Now, onto the other point, in order to avoid misunderstandings, when I say "cooperation", I don't mean all humanity working together. I mean groups of people bond by sharing a condition working together. You talk about Xenophobia and state-enforced philosophies as if they disprove that cooperation is the only way for humanity to survive, but the thing is that Xenophobia and strong group-rules are two of the best catalysts for unity. As I said, the reason why humans are social creatures with such a strong tendency to form groups (generally speaking) and condemning the out-groupers (Xenophobia), is exactly this--it's helped them survive. Establishing more and more rules for the group defines the group more strongly, and makes the condemnation of the other more and more savage. Why are racism and other shit like that o hard to eradicate? I won't go as far as saying that this tendency is the only reason, but it surely is one.

That said, eventually--and this is another matter--going overboard with that enforcement fails, and those dictatorships fall. The reason is that enforcing too much makes people miserable and it clashes with their desire for freedom, and... well, people don't like being miserable. They seek change, like I dicussed in my second post. Change is also the heart of any narrative. If you don't have it, either in the form of growth (heroic arc), or in the form of consquences for your refusal to change (tragic arc), then you're not making narrative.
Magic is fundamentally different from technology to use because it's hinges on personal power and experience. Newton wrote down his laws of motion and the whole world world gained. Fleming discovered antibiotics and the whole world was in a better place. These ideas are repeatable by anyone. Magic on the other hand, is developed and controlled by just the caster. It's functionality is dependent on a individual's personal talent and experience. When that caster is gone everything resets. The caster can leave behind notes on how they got to where ever they got to, but someone new still has to start from scratch and.work their way up to where the first caster was.
Magic has rules and methods, especially in FR. You can develop techniques, share them, streamline them to maximize the efficiency and speed at which something is obtained. And I mean, spells being passed on over the ages, methods for creating magic items (which shouldn't be all battle-oriented; in fact, a lot of them should be utility-oriented) being widespread, it all points to magic having a method to it. Magic is indeed the technology of magic worlds. If magic remained with the caster, then it wouldn't even be able to be taught, which we know isn't the case. Interestingly, though, the equivalent of what you're saying (magic breakthrough disappearing with the caster) would be Flaming keeping penicillin to himself, which is exactly what Lolth encourages in the drow (which is another recipe for disaster).

On a side note, unrelatedly to D&D/drow/FR, if you make a power system that has no universal rules and is entirely subjective, that's not even a soft magic system. That's the absence of a magic system. It's poor narrative design, because whenever you're in front of a problem, you can just say "and the problem is solved, because magic did it", since you established no rule re: what magic can and can't do, and how it does that. Even if you want to create conflict, what basis do you have to say what magic can and can do to make it internally consistent (and even more importantly, consistent to the reader, rather than feeling like an asspull?)
Now mix in religion. It's lead to some of humanity's worst acts in the real world. The spider queen offers the only real system to gain magic in codified ways and straight up murders anyone who disagrees. Other gods that have worked their way in are the god of slimes, the spider queen's idiot male servant/son, Lovitar the maiden of pain and everyone's favorite, Shar, the lady of loss. These gods do offer some power for acts of depravity/devotion sacrifices and the like, but even then the grants are usually fleeting in their duration, requiring another act for more power.
I've already addressed (in-depth) the point of religious totalitarianisms and even the threat of death not being nearly enough to justify the worldbuilding of the drow, and the absolute lack of changes, or of consequence to the lack of those changes. Especially in a world where people's mere disillusion can end a deity's life or drain their power anyway. Or for a race that all sources describe as highly intelligent (lol). This is one of the problems with the worldbuilding of the drow; everything continues to exist "because the author says so". And seriously, we're talking about joke-like levels of stupid and misery here--both emotional and material. Humans have turned whole nations upside down for far less, and multiple times.

But bear with me: when I say this, people often think I'm referring to the fact that the drow being evil is the problem. Nope, I'm referring to conditions of the drow being so miserable and laughable that anyone--evil or not--would want to change them. Evil people, or ambition-driven people, especially when highly intelligent (all things the drow are commonly stated to be) would be even more motivated to change a system that intentionally keeps them down, and makes them miserable, because they're personally affected by it in ways they don't like. But as I said, I've alredy discussed this, in-depth.

Shar and Loviatar don't affect a whole culture or people. They have their own cults, but they are very niche. Those deities can reach the levels of power they do (for Shar), because Faerun is polytheistic, and everyone worships nearly all the gods of their pantheons. It wouldn't be crazy for a grieving mother to pray to Selune for comfort, but also to utter a prayer to Shar to help her turn that loss into strength to enact revenge for her slain child, for example. In fact, Shar approaches people as offering confort to people's pain for losses, in the feeling of emptyness/abandon, or in turning that pain into energy to fight off the world that took whatever they lost away from them. When designing his deities, Ed made sure to make it so that each provided something to the people who turned to them. Lolth, OTOH, offers *nothing* and takes all. She offers "power" to those who can harness it, but *literally* every other deity does, and at least 2 other deities actively reach to the drow in ways that Lolth can't stop. And Lolth's isn't even the only way to gain power--arcane magic is a thing, warlock pacts are a thing, sorcerers are a thing (though this is innate), druidic magic is a thing, etc...
The church of Eilistraee flourishes on the surface, Silverymoon, Dambrath (where it absolutely shouldn't but somehow does), the Moonsea and Waterdeep (the Skullsport area, it thrives because of it's proximity to Waterdeep, though technically underdark)I believe there is one underdark city mentioned in the undmerdark book (3rd Ed) where our bright lady has made some inroads. And that took thousands of years.
This is somewhat unrelated to the point I was making, because it examines something external to the Lolthite society. Anyway, Eilistraee had a whole flourishing nation before Lolth's cult was even a thing on Toril. Which, as I said, should make the rejection of Lolth even easier (not necessairly in favor of Eilistraee, since Vhaeraun had a mighty culture too, and the drow should have remembered of it, especially shortly after the Descent. In fact, the trend was that as soon as Lolth's cult started spreading among Ilythiir's rulers, Ilythiir fell). In the current times, however, Eilistraee's culture is NOT flourishing. Every source still has Eilistraee at like <1% of the drow, which is frankly utter nonsense. Not only because the drow wouldn't just eat Lolth's crap all day long if it wasn't for author bias, but because of a purely logical reason (like I've already explained in my second post).

On one side, you have a "civilization" with mortality rates that are outright stupid (even in times of Lolth-enforced peace, even in a friggin' war, they keep killing each other), and a deity that actively encourages stagnation. On the other side, you have two cultures that, even though they started small (after the Descent) are united, and have all the tools to lower mortality rates to near 0, and care after each other. Guess what would happen over the millennia? Right, the "civilization" would decline, while the other cultures would gain numbers. And that's with *0* converts. Guess what happens in D&D? Nothing. Lolth's numbers constantly stay at >90% of the drow, Eilistraee's constantly stay at <1%. Sorry, but did they stop to think about this from more than a handful of seconds? It's one of the reasons why Ed Greenwood's approach, with Lolth slightly below 50%, is *far* better than this (and I bet that Lolthites aren't as stupid as canon portrays them in Ed's Realms).
Ultimately a game world is set to be just that. A place where a handful of PCs can somehow outwit undead magic lords of unimaginable power who want for nothing and have all to figure out how to defeat those pesky kids and their dog. And the story has to serve that idea. So we get red shirt clad guardsmen from Waterdeep fighting to help us against Orc hordes and drow invasions, all plotted by demon lords and Mindflayers, all of which will just get us back to roughly the status quo.
That isn't true, though. A game world just has to give your campaign a prompt; it shouldn't be designed to pigeonhole you into one type of storyline. It can have a focus on facilitating certain types of storylines, but it should be an aid, not a constriction. That said, declaring "eh, it's simply how this is designed" isn't an excuse for poor narrative. If that's simply how things are designed, then they're designed badly. Which was my point.

Having good worldbuilding instead of something that falls apart as soon as you start asking the most basic of the questions ("why?") doesn't help design a game, it puts an obstacle in front of you. Moreover, having decent worldbuilding wouldn't prevent you from having your "drow are invading" storyline. If the drow weren't monolithical, and had only one faction following Lolth rather than nearly all of them, if that faction wasn't as comical as it is in canon, then you could still have your "the drow are invading" storyline, and maybe it wouldn't even be an "oh look, the drow are invading. Is this that time of the week again?" kind of storyline.
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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Leema Har'gachi »

Ok, I just put in a bit of two-cents here and then skeeedadle. SO, I am pretty sure even R.A. Salvatore agrees with Irennan, since (spolier) the recent trilogy he release actual shows a massive tension between House Melarn (I freakin hate that they took that name) and House Baenre is starting to cause a massive rift between the populous of menzoberranzan to the point that the last book literally ending with Yvonnel Baenre the second (despite how she refers to herself she really isn't Yvonnel the eternal reincarnate, they have way too different personalities) basically saying menzoberranzan is going to be in civil war now. I know how people feel about the Legacy of Drizzt series, but I thought it would be prudent to point out this as further evidence to Irennan's case.
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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Irennan »

I really doubt RAS agrees with me; he's responsbile for the bulk of the crappy worldbuilding behind the drow. Yes, Gygax created them, but RAS had the opportunity to make them an oppressive yet workable and nuanced society, with a lot of different movements, interal conflicts, and push for change (and Drizzt's story would have still worked in it). Instead he doubled down on the cartoonish evil.

He's backtracking now because of the backlash, and pretends like he's been planning it for 30 years (LOL), but let's be real. Drizzt is very much described as the super special drow in all of his books save the latest few. He develops those different morals on his own and is portrayed as unique because of them--he's basically born with them. RAS' version of the drow basically is "overwhemingly evil race, with a handful of exceptions", and it shows from how he handled the worldbuilding.

The dissent, disillusion, and splinter movements should have started to develop a LONG time before the present era. Had RAS been so insistent on showing the nuance in the drow, he would have played on that. He would have explored the consequences of such a crappy society, which include people getting fed up of being treated like subhuman sh*tstains. He would have also included different cultures formed over the millennia a long time ago in his representation. He didn't, he always was about Lolth, Lolth, Lolth wanting to get Drizzt, Drizzt hunts, and some more stuff to highlight how special and awesome and misunderstood Drizzt is. And Jarlaxle, but that's not a culture.

When Ed introduced different cultures in Eilitraee&followers, RAS--the guy who won't stop talking about how he designed the drow as nuanced from the get go--didn't address them. If his interpretation of the drow had been actually more nuanced, he would have included them (even if only in a few appearances) to show that the drow not only can individually choose, but can also form different cultures. Or, if he didn't want to use Eilistraee, he would have created different cultures on his own (like I mentioned before). Instead, the only way he mentions Eilistraee is as an evil Lolthite pretending to be an Eilistraean (which kinda paints the Eilistraeans as a myth), and the drow has a whole remain a monoculture in his books.

Moreover, this "rare exception" thingy done by RAS is problematic. It allows arguments like "but X race already has free will!!1!" and at the same time it enables a bad general representation of the race, because the rare exceptions have no statistical relevance compared to the "eeeeevil" guys. They're so few to be irrelevant. It also makes no sense. Even rare exceptions, over tens of thousands years, would eventually come to form their own societies. So, where are them? All hunted and killed by the "evil ones"? Setting aside that this doesn't really work, really? That just reinforces the point that the race is overall unredeemably evil, which is what the "rare exceptions" approach was supposedly trying to avoid.

On a related note, his stance about Eilistraee seems to come from (willful) ignorance tbh.

He says that he absolutely dislikes Eilistraee because that level of god-coercion for god reasons reduces the “mortals” to puppets. However, Eilistraee's lore is described as doing the opposite of coercing mortals. She's in fact described as goddess who strives to empower her people to make their choices and find their path. She's described as helping and conforting them without being intrusive (as in, for example, helping in practical matters of their everyday lives, scaring aggressors away, etc... without being openly revealing of her intervention). You could see her as watching over mortals in their "journey", and by offering them the tools to travel it themselves and overcome its challenges. This is a valid approach to paint a deity character. In fact, one of the reasons I'm so fond of her is that she subverts most tropes involving gods. Even her choice to forgo all she could have wanted just to be with the drow, since she'd foreseen times of need, fits that. The culture inspired by her is based on nurturing arts and beauty, freedom of expression, and acceptance, and being a nurturing matriarchy, this also makes her a really good foil to Lolth.

One of the ways WotC intentionally crapped all over her lore when they tried to get rid of her was by portraying her as the exact opposite of all this, almost line by line. She came off as very similar to Lolth, which was utter BS, and the reason why they did it was to make Drizzt more special.

So, while it's obvious to not want to turn this into a god vs god issue, Eilistraee's culture isn't motivated by "I do this because I follow her", it can easily be motivated by "I do this, because I believe it's the right thing to do/it's what leads to happines/etc..." Likewise, following Eilistraee, for a drow, can be motivated by "I follow Eilistraee because she embodies what I believe in" or by more personal reasons related to personal stories; depends on the individual. After all, in the ancient times of FR history, when the first instance of her culture appeared, it wasn't Eilistraee to go around converting people, it was people founding a nation based on ideals associated with her. Eilistraee acted as an empowerer and patroness for that.

And you know what's fun about this? RAS say that absolutism and dogma corrupt, but he engages in absolutism himself. Drizzt isn't a character anymore, he's a bunch of stuff that RAS deems moral virtues on a stick, as well as RAS' mouthpiece. He *tells* things as if they were absolute, which is ironic, since--as I said--all the critics towards religion seem to boild down to condemning absolutism, but then the story embraces it. Sometimes, even the world itself bends backwards to prove Drizzt right. For example, how Artemis' whole "development" was framed in the terms of him discarding the traits he had developed to overcome his abuse--so, a part of his identity--and becoming more acceptable in the eyes of the world the more he became like Drizzt/CotH. It's not about him finding his own way to overcome abuse and channeling those traits (the ones he developed to "become stronger at the break") in more constructive outlets and into and his personal growth--i.e. finding his personal truth. It's about becoming more "morally virtuous" (by conforming to the standard out there). All of this actually invalidates him as a character; it invalidates one of his biggest conflicts; it's the contrary of empowering. Last but not least, it's dismissive towards the whole process of healing from abuse IRL (because conforming to the expectation of others is the opposite of rebuilding oneself). This is the consequence of an absolutism that the Drizzt story tries to condemn, but also embraces in a different form.

Another example is the lack of exploration of how most drow are abused by Lolth, and the labeling of the drow as overwhelmingly evil (even the commoners and the downthrodden) for the larger part of the story, rather than delving to explore the natural conflicts and disillusion that would come with the Lolthite society forced on them--or, even more importantly, their desire for a better life. In short, the absolutism is in the act of entirely framing this as a matter of moral principles, rather than of a people being oppressed and wishing to improve their lives. At the end of Relentless, the absolutism shows itself again in how the framework of change is set up not in terms of the drow fighting to break their chains, and then healing from abuse first, and then being empowered to form their own truth. It's the reverse; with Quenthel's random 180 on goodness and compassion, it's set up in terms of battle between two systems of belief, one of which is obviously right. The worst part is that this conflict is shown as springing from the enforcers, and it's rained from on high on the drow, which is the worst route you can take if you want to show the path of a people finding its own truth (which is, once again, what the Drizzt books paint as the ideal way through their condemnation of dogmatic religions and absolutism in general). There are 2 other problems with this, but I'll discuss them in the next post abou Relentless.

In the end, it seems to me that RAS is trying to give himself credit for something he hasn't really worked for, and that authors like Ed Greenwood and Elaine Cunningham put much more effort into. What's irksome is that while RAS gets praises (in this case unwarranted, because of the reasons I described), the people who *actually* worked to add different cultures and real nuance to the drow are ignored, and their work gets WotC's (literal) label of "sorry for our racism".
Last edited by Irennan on Sat Oct 31, 2020 2:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: D&D to remove inherently evil races

Post by Irennan »

So, Re: Relenless. It tried to change the status quo of the FR re: the drow, which is DIRELY needed (totally agree on that), but it came off as a goofy attempt to me (can't say more without spoilering, so I'll discuss this in the spoilery part of the comment).

MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW

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There's one part of this story that makes me glad, and that's the drow change, but it also makes me raise an eyebrow.

So, at the end of the book, Kimmuriel talks to Quenthel and some other, and says that, to the illithids, Lolth is essentially an illnes, as she doesn't care for the drow, and only wants to see them fight each other, run in circles in confusion, and crawl at her feet. Then shows them some memory from the first Yvonnel, from where she wasn't evil yet. This is enough to convince Quenthel and the others to discard Lolth and abandon evil, and prepare to return to Menzoberranzan to change everything.

Now, the good:

This makes me glad, because--as I said--it should have happened millennia ago in-universe. The fact that Lolth doesn't care for the drow and only makes them miserable has been canon--straight canon, very explicit--ever since 2e, and it was absolutely stupid that the drow went thorugh 12k+ years of total misery without *one* meaningful change.

The bad:

1)This change came from the wrong characters. Not from those who could gain something from changing the status quo (the "have some, want more" which are often those who can get the masses to rebel), not from the people who've been made miserable for years, but from the enforcers. Quenthel&co are those who defended the status quo for a long-ass time. They're the ones who benefit from it. They are sadistic, they randomly killed other drow with savage glee for stupid crap like accidentaly killing a spider. They tortured people for fun. And now, "talk-no-jutsu" and some memories make them do a 180? Lol?

2)As mentioned, it was pretty evident that Lolth has never cared for the drow, even in-universe. A drow is constantly told and shown that they're nothing but meat for her. At multiple times in history, Lolth dropped all pretenses to care about the prosperity of the drow, and just left them to rot following quite stupid plans. Many drow should have noticed that *far* before, and *on their own*--especially since they're described as highly intelligent.

Furthermore, for millennia, you have people like the followers of Eilistraee--and Eilistraee herself--who have been *actively* reaching for the drow, even materially helping them embrace a different path, even risking their life for them. On top of that, Eilistraee has also done something comparable to Yvonnel The First's memories: she's been showing all drow--including the matron mothers and Quenthel--what life could actually be (including in the form of lucid dream and emotiomns showing joy that they have been missing on--which are a comparable media to the memories that RAS uses as a catalyst for the change).

None of that (not the material activities, not the emotions, not the actively reaching for the drow) has EVER been enough to even achieve the smallest change. Millennia of seeing your kids being killed in front of you literally for the lulz, millennia of pain and sheer abuse have never been enough to move anyone (except Drizzt&co, ofc) to take the SLIGHTEST bit of action. Yet, now Kimmuriel's words and a bunch of scenes convince the matron mother of the first house of the most fanatical Lolthite city that "ohh, maybe evil is bad..."

Are you for friggin' real? This is not how you implement changes.
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