Earlier today, Wizards of the Coast made an announcement that a lot of people have been waiting a long time for: Dungeons & Dragons is going to stop using the word “race” in the rulebook for One D&D (the upcoming major revision of the game), and would instead prefer to use the term “species” instead.
It’s understandable why the word was used in the first place. It was the 1970s, times were different, and the game had been made by some guys, not a team of qualified anthropologists. But as the decades have gone on, and the game has grown more popular and been exposed to the winds of time, that word—race—has become increasingly anachronistic.
For starters, it’s not even accurate! Race, as it’s most commonly defined, is a term humans have used to categorise ourselves based mostly on common physical traits, like skin colour. A black and white human, then, are from different races. A human and an orc are not. They are from different species.
More importantly, though, it has allowed the series to perpetuate long-standing stereotypes that are, essentially, racist. In 2020, for example, the D&D team wrote about how the way the game assigns traits based on a character’s genetics was “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.”
Which brings us to today’s announcement, which says (emphasis mine):
Dungeons & Dragons has a history of evolving to meet the needs of our players and foster an inviting space for everyone.
With that in mind, we understand “race” is a problematic term that has had prejudiced links between real world people and the fantasy peoples of D&D worlds. The usage of the term across D&D and other popular IP has evolved over time. Now it’s time for the next evolution.
Since the release of the fifth edition of D&D in 2014, we have made the conscious decision to reduce usage of the term “race” to only apply to the game mechanic. We took this a step further with the release of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything in 2020 when we presented an alternative to character creation that untangled ability score improvements from your choice of playable people. We have also evolved the lore of the peoples throughout the D&D multiverse to be more diligent in extracting past prejudices, stereotypes, and unconscious biases.
One D&D (the codename for the next generation of D&D) gives us an opportunity to go deeper into every component of Dungeons & Dragons. The immense interest and level of feedback across the first few playtest material releases shows us the value in having an open dialogue with our community about everything related to the game.
In the next Unearthed Arcana containing playtest materials for One D&D, we are presenting a replacement for the term “race.” That new term is “species.”
We know this is an important change to D&D—one that requires an open conversation with our community. And we want to be clear about a few things as we playtest the new term.
– We have made the decision to move on from using the term “race” everywhere in One D&D, and we do not intend to return to that term.
– The term “species” was chosen in close coordination with multiple outside cultural consultants.
– In the survey for this Unearthed Arcana playtest, which will go live on December 21, players will be able to give feedback on the term “species” along with everything else present in the playtest materials.
Having an open conversation around the term “race” is both important and challenging. That is why it’s vital we foster a positive, open, and understanding dialogue with one another. We welcome your constructive feedback on this evolution and the many more evolutions to One D&D that make this game exciting, open, and accessible to everyone. Dragons and elves belong in our world, and so do you.
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While they go to great lengths to say this is a process, one that will involve dialogue with the fanbase, this also seems like an absolute no-brainer? They’re simply swapping out an inaccurate term for an accurate one, and in doing so, also removing from its flanks one of the series’ biggest, most long-standing cultural thorns.
If the news here is that they’re definitely ditching “race,” and need to replace it with something else, then “species” is about as perfect a word as they’re going to get!