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D&D rule change replaces ‘race’ with ‘species’

A ‘problematic term’ is the latest change in fantasy RPGs’ larger reckoning

a group picture of several different characters in Dungeons & Dragons Image: Wizards of the Coast
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

The makers of Dungeons & Dragons will no longer use the term “race” in the rules and materials describing the inhabitants of their fantasy worlds. “Species” is now the operative term, Wizards of the Coast said on Thursday.

“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 studio wrote on D&D Beyond, the online portal and storefront for Dungeons & Dragons players. “The usage of the term across D&D and other popular IP has evolved over time. Now it’s time for the next evolution.”

The change comes three months after Wizards of the Coast apologized to players of Spelljammer: Adventures in Space for its rules’ depiction of an alien species that many found to be a racist caricature. Then, in November, Wizards announced it would work with “multiple outside cultural consultants” to vet new material before its publication.

More broadly, D&D players and fans of fantasy films and novels have been reckoning with their favorite franchises’ problematic history of associating certain nonhuman species — usually evildoers or their minions — with racist stereotypes. The writer and game designer James Mendez Hodes noted, in 2019, that “D&D, like [J.R.R.] Tolkien, makes race literally real in-game by applying immutable modifiers to character ability scores.”

The change announced Thursday will go into effect for the next playtest of “One D&D,” Wizards’ term for the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons, which is still in development. The next phase of the playtest will begin on Dec. 21, and players are invited to give feedback on the race/species name change as well as all other changes the beta is trying out. One D&D materials are distributed through D&D Beyond, which Wizards of the Coast owner Hasbro purchased back in the spring.

“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,” Wizards’ developers wrote on Thursday. “The term ‘species’ was chosen in close coordination with multiple outside cultural consultants.

“Having an open conversation around the term ‘race’ is both important and challenging,” they added. “That is why it’s vital we foster a positive, open, and understanding dialogue with one another.”

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