Dungeons & Dragons is great. It also, unfortunately, has long-fed into the inherently colonialist tropes that have long dominated the fantasy genre. Wizards of the Coast has recently made some strides to disentangle their tabletop role playing games from these harmful stereotypes — things like the essential racial traits of Orcs, which peg them as dark-skinned savages that are inherently evil and dumb.
This is a great step. But the folks at Arcanist Press have taken it even further by introducing a homebrewed alternative to "racial" traits for fantasy characters by replacing them with "Ancestry" and "Culture." Eugene Marshall's short book, Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e, offers guidance on how to create characters of one ancestry raised in a different culture (an orc raised by elves, for examples) as well as characters of mixed ancestry (the child of a gnome and a Tiefling) — ultimately allowing you to create a fantasy world that is more inclusive and diverse, like our own, but in different ways.
You can see writer Eugene Marshall using his Ancestry & Culture guide to roll a new character in the video above. Essentially, the guide breaks down things like Age, Size, Speed, Keen Senses, Fey Ancestry and Trance as genetic traits inherited through ancestry, while other traits like alignment, special skills, or languages can be passed down through one's culture. This makes for more well-rounded and interesting characters, and arguably enhances the game overall.
For example, a dwarf who grows up among other dwarves would possess all of the traits from both dwarf ancestry and dwarven culture, whereas an elf who grew up among dwarves would possess elf ancestral traits, such as Keen Senses, Fey Ancestry, and Trance, but dwarven cultural traits, such as Combat Training, Tool Proficiency, Stonecunning, and proficiency in the Dwarvish language. Weapon training and languages aren’t genetic, after all; one learns them from one’s family and community. Thus, if an elf grew up in dwarven culture, they would learn dwarven weapon training and languages, unless those who raised them specifically chose to raise them as culturally elven.
You will also find rules for creating characters with more than one ancestry below. For example, your character might have one elven parent and one dwarven parent. Some players might balk at the notion that individuals of different fantasy ancestries could have children together, especially when their physiologies seem to differ as much as, for example, a dragonborn’s and a gnome’s might. If such issues of realism bother you, then by all means do not use those rules or allow them at your table. For those players who are not bothered by such issues, or for those who wish to explain their character as having a magical, rather than a biological, origin, these rules can provide such options.
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e also includes two friendly one-shot adventures designed for all-ages players, plus 126 ancestries & cultures from Arcanist Press's Custom Ancestries & Cultures and More Ancestries & Cultures packs, as well as rules for creating your own cultures based on geography or planes of existence.
Fantasy is, of course, escapist. But that doesn't mean it has to adhere to outdated cultural and racial expectations, either. This book is a short supplement, but it still offers a comprehensive and easily manageable way to integrate more progressive values into your dungeons and/or dragons.
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e [Eugene Marshall / Arcanist Press]
D&D will change to address racism, but someone has already done the work [Charlie Hall / Polygon]
Image: Wikimedia Commons (CC 3.0)