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D&D Clarifies Plans For Mixed Race Characters

On Thursday, D&D Beyond tweeted that options for PCs of mixed species are not being removed from the game. The tweet stated simply that, “Options for creating characters descended from more than one species are not being removed from Dungeons & Dragons,” and that, “Proposed adjustments to character origins have been open to the community since August 2022 and will be revised further.”

The designers have already communicated that the language identifying “half” mixes of species, such as “half-elf,” and “half-orc,” will be dropped for One D&D, due to their resemblance to racially insensitive terms such as “half-breed.” Playtest rules recently included a change allowing mixed heritage but the game mechanic specified that such a character would have stats from only one parent, by the choice of the player. For example, a character with an elven mother and human father would, in game terms, have stats for either an elf or a human. The player would then decide how the character looked aesthetically, choosing non-stat species features as they liked.

There was negative player feedback about this approach for two basic reasons. One is that it seemed to some like a just-plain-boring approach, removing interesting opportunities for mixed stats. Another is that asking characters of mixed species to choose to identify primarily as one or the other could be considered a little tone-deaf, symbolically. One Twitter user responded: “People of mixed race have long faced racial discrimination either being forced to choose one heritage, or having society choose one for them.”

Some thought that the game designers were going to respond by pulling out mixed species characters entirely, which is why D&D Beyond wanted to address this and state their intentions. We have no answer yet about what the proposed new mechanic for mixed species characters might be.

Original D&D, published in 1974, listed only four player character races: human, elf, dwarf, and halfling. However, the original rules were much looser than what we’re used to in fifth edition, and they included a statement on “other character types,” stating, “there is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything…”

When first edition (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) was published in 1977, however, mixed species appeared explicitly for the first time as “half-elves” and “half-orcs”.

There was a precedent for this kind of language in previous fantasy books, in which some characters were described as “half-elven,” including Elrond, who first appeared in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, published in 1937. In the Tolkien legendarium, though, children of elven and human parents had the opportunity to select which species they wished to live as (not too different from the now-scrapped One D&D approach, in a way).

Going further back, a half-elf is mentioned in The King Of Elfland’s Daughter, by Lord Dunsany, in 1924. “Half-elves” also appear in Norse mythology.

Part of the charm of the fantasy genre, of course, is its use of archaic concepts and phrasing. But for a product whose goal is entertainment, this must be balanced with a modern reader’s sense of what is acceptable, and since D&D was first published, the way we refer to people of color and of mixed race has continued to evolve to try to be more inclusive.

The One D&D designers are now facing the need to make this adjustment and it will be interesting to see how this plays out as the rules continue to develop.

About the Author
Dve (pronounced "Dave") is a long-time hobby gamer who writes about and plays board games, miniatures games, card games, and tabletop role-playing games. He also works part-time at a Friendly Local Gaming Store in northern Indiana.

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