Special thanks to David Castro for providing his insight and writing this great perspective article.
There is nothing quite like making a new character for a roleplaying game, is there? Sometimes however, the system you are using comes with distasteful baggage. Sometimes a race has an ability that gives them disadvantages that are supposed to convey something sinister like the Sunlight Sensitivity of the drow in Dungeons & Dragons, or a race has mechanical limitations like Shadowrun’s trolls. Other times, the books suggest that certain races have a harder time being “good”, be that just a roleplay suggestion or if there is an alignment that is important to the system, compared to others, like tieflings and half-orcs. Now, there is nothing wrong with playing an evil character if your play group is okay with that, or one of the above races who is evil. But when the system suggests that most, if not all, examples of a given race are evil, and those who are not are special because they are not evil (I’m looking at you Drizzt Do’Urden), that’s not okay.
One of my very first experiences playing any RPG was D&D Next in at my local game store, the playtest for what would be Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, and I built a drow rogue. He was Lawful Neutral, neither evil or good. This is important because of one roleplaying moment that made me never want to play a drow in a public setting again. We were discussing developments with the NPC who had all but kidnapped us and trapped us in a dungeon to help her, which is how that adventure had begun. She had lied about more than a few things, and my character had piped up to call her out on it. She, loudly, decried my objection, as how dare a drow call anyone else untrustworthy.
Now, as a brown man, in a room where I could count the number of other brown people on one hand, and as the GM playing that character was a white man, this hit me hard as something more than just, you know, fantasy racism. Which goes to my point, there is no need for fantasy racism in your game, unless the plight of the oppressed people is a focus of the game and the players can take actions against it. Otherwise, you’re just perpetuating something that a lot of people deal with in their real lives, and gaming is where many go to escape all that.
There is no reason why goblins, orcs are always evil, and why missions exist to go into where they live and snuff them out, especially as there are often no plot reasons to do that other than because they live there. There is no reason for your NPCs to treat one of your players differently based on the race they picked, just as an aside that no one thinks as wrong, and as players and GMs, we don’t have to have it be that way. If you want drow to be not evil, and thus not have the ability that only other evil creatures have, Sunlight Sensitivity, you can do what I do in my own home game, remove it, and give them the normal darkvision that everyone else gets. Feel free to ignore anything about how NPCs might think you’re untrustworthy because of who or what you are, because really, why have your game include exclusionary things, if you don’t need to?
And if you think you do need to include those things, ask yourself why that is, why is that important enough to keep in your world, and then ask your play group if they agree. We play these games to have fun, and if things like fantasy racism hinder than fun, we should do what we can to ignore those things, regardless of what the official canon says.