A lead designer for Dungeons & Dragons 5E has reassured that the RPG’s changing approach to racial depictions will not end with its latest sourcebook.
In a chapter of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, released last week, players are able to create characters without the inclusion of specific traits previously attached to each race in the tabletop RPG. Several fans have since expressed disappointment at how little the addition of a “custom lineage” option addresses the criticisms levelled at the game concerning its handling of racial stereotypes.
Jeremy Crawford, principle rules designer and lead designer on the D&D 5E Player’s Handbook, told Dicebreaker about the intentions behind the expanded character creation options.
“One of the motivations was: let’s decouple your choice of class from your choice of race.” said Crawford. “Our other motivation [...] was that, by doing this, D&D would stop leaning into a theme the game has had since the ‘70s of particular species having these innate advantages that really do not speak to the narratives that people want to tell about their own characters, and is also uncomfortably like some of the racist narratives in the real world.”
Earlier this year, D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast acknowledged that certain races, such as orcs and drow, had been derived from “racially insensitive” and harmful stereotypes of “real-world ethnic groups [that] have been and continue to be denigrated”.
“Even though those racist narratives were not the intent of D&D’s original design, there’s no denying that people still felt hurt by it,” Crawford admitted. “The last thing we want in our game [...] is for there to be these real-world hurts sneaking into the player’s experience.”
Wizards previously circumvented the issue of moral alignments being associated with certain races in Dungeons & Dragons, such as the dark-elf drow being traditionally depicted as morally evil, by providing players with the option of ignoring alignments. Crawford admitted the problems with this compromise and the need for further changes to be made.
“What we’ve discovered is that this approach, where we were honouring the game’s early legacy while also acknowledging that people want to be able to create the characters they want, is that trying to walk that tightrope has not landed effectively,” he said.
The lead designer highlighted how recent D&D 5E adventure module Rime of the Frost Maiden did not include an associated moral alignment with its featured goliath race, as well as how the monsters in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything similarly do not feature alignments.
“Alignment is going to be shifting entirely into a roleplaying tool used to describe the moral compass of an individual,” Crawford explained. “It’s not something we’re going to be leaning on as a way to describe entire groups.”
The character creation options included in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything can also be found on online tool D&D Beyond, as well as being provided to players for free by Dungeons & Dragons’ organised play community Adventurers League.
However, Crawford said that the options will not be made available for free on Unearthed Arcana - D&D’s website for testing new or upcoming content - and could not confirm whether the options would be included in future prints of major 5E rulebooks, such as the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, or in a potential sixth edition of the RPG.
When questioned about what else Wizards of the Coast would be doing to address the problematic elements still present in D&D, Crawford discussed the company’s plans for the future and vowed that the additions in the latest sourcebook are part of a larger initiative.
“We don’t consider what we’re doing in Tasha’s Cauldron to be the end of our work in this regard,” he explained. “It’s actually a part of a much broader set of steps we’re taking, which are really going to take several years to fully implement as we change how we treat some of these aspects of the game.”
Crawford also confirmed that Wizards had been working on an upcoming Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook for release in 2021: “This very week we’re putting the finishing touches on a book that comes out next year.”