Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Racism

Last week I began working on the last of my personal stats tables, charisma, something that I've put off doing for a year or so.  It is intended to be a background generator, my philosophy being that there are certain things an individual doesn't get to determine about themselves - build, health, family, social class and biology ... the latter including, of course, the color of one's eyes, hair and skin.

My first thought was to put together something simple, a table that would be rolled upon at random, but quickly my sense for the real got in the way.  You cannot simple create a universal table for an individual's hair color, since the likelihood of that hair being blonde or black varies considerably with whether that person is, say, Egyptian or Icelandic.

This is not something D&D remotely touches upon - not in any book I've read, though the Dragon Magazine might years ago have had something on it (that I missed).  Human racial characteristics are taboo.  In most 'worlds,' the Polars might be Vikings and the Equatorials might be Bantu, but specific distinctions for populations are not designated.  When you talk about 'race' in D&D, you are talking about elves, dwarves and halflings, NOT Samoyads, Berbers and Polynesians.

But unfortunately for me, I run the Earth and I cannot simply ignore said designations, if I want to retain the world's cultural and political identity.  If you get off the boat in Vietnam, you will not be met by a group of blue-eyed, red-haired villagers.  It would not be Vietnam, and if not, what is the point?

These days, it is practically racist to even use the terms Caucasoid, Mongoloid or Negroid ... the evidence to show that melanin levels are a product of environment has destroyed the 'scientific racism' that was a subject for discussion in schools even in my lifetime.  And I take no issue with that; the less divided we are, the better.  My concerns only reach as far as producing a random table that has any chance of telling a player what his or her color statistics are (eyes, hair, skin) at the moment of birth.

I have a table, based on data gathered for my trade tables, that indicates randomly where a character is born, this table being dependent upon where a character starts in my campaign world.  If the character joins the game when the party is in India, he or she is very likely to be Asian; if the character joins when the party is in Gibraltar, he or she would probably be Spanish or Moroccan.

But unless I want to create a table for every point on earth, I'm stumped.  How easy it would be to assign characteristics according to geography ... but it isn't just a question of saying that people from Switzerland all have this hair color and this eye color.  Most people may not travel more than seven miles from their place of birth, but genetically we're not that homogenous.  After all, people from the exact same parents might have differing hair and eye color, my sister and I for example.

The obvious answer - one that many a gentle reader is thinking right now - would be to ditch the table and let players simply choose their own characteristics.  Same old saw, it's a game, it's fantasy, blah blah blah.  I think I have to call that the most tired argument in the D&D community.  I swear, 'personal fantasy' is a euphemism for players wanting to prop up their own withered egos, bewailing that in real life they are such social lepers that they need this game to be fantasy if only that they can feel like real men or desirable women - something they just can't have otherwise.  As if my world needs to be a fictional therapy for losers who can't bear being Mr. Pink in this scenario.  I'm not your enabler, I'm your DM.

Fact is, I'd like a series of tables that make it clear to the player that when they put the little 8 under their charisma, the ultimate throwaway stat, that they KNOW they have an 8 charisma, complete with mottled, sickly looking skin, buck-teeth, stuttering and body odor.  I don't give a crap that its also a description of the actual player sitting at the table - if you want to be a stud or a babe, sacrifice that 17 dexterity and put it under charisma instead.  You might stumble when you walk, but you'll look super-hot doing it.

So yes, I'm adamant about having the dice pick out your hair color.  And since I don't want to make up a thousand tables, I'm somewhat stuck with some very racist generalizations - racist because now it's racist to say that there are 'races.'  I feel I will probably produce very simple tables, with very few possible results for each region, to compensate for the many regions that I could draw up tables for.  As a guideline for how many, I'll throw up the table below, a German map from the 19th century.  Try not to be offended.

This sort of thing - being told their general appearance - doesn't bother my party at all.  They're used to being from a multiplicity of regions, since they've wandered around from Russia to Iran to Eastern Europe.  Members of the party are Egyptian, Greek, Finnish, Persian and Russian.  The girl who used to play a Chinese cleric moved away about a year ago.

Naturally there's the matter of non-human races.  Because the origins for elves, dwarves and halflings are fairly homogenous, for those races I could create one single table.  But I'll probably think of reasons to goof that, too.

UPDATE:

I should have included that this is the table I'm upgrading.

I've made up this map for the general distribution of humanoids in my world.  It only includes those areas that I have designed:

13 comments:

Roger the GS said...

I'm not sure that being of one phenotype or another would have much to do with Charisma, even if "comeliness" plays a large part. Being in a zone where your phenotype was unusual might be a disadvantage, true, but this would be similar to existing as a "demi-human."

If a player wants their character to have a certain look I guess they can just say "I am a wanderer from China/Norway/Zimbabwe" and assume the phenotype. As much as it will make them special, that will usually work to their disadvantage play-wise.

Will Mistretta said...

"they have an 8 charisma, complete with mottled, sickly looking skin, buck-teeth, stuttering and body odor."

Of course, there's the bit in just about every D&D rulebook ever where they go on about how charisma isn't looks...

Alexis said...

Sorry, I may not have made this clear. The side comment about charisma was in reference to the difference between having 'black hair' and having 'raven black hair' ... or between having 'denim blue' eyes as opposed to 'baby blue' eyes. Whatever you feel about color, some aspects of color are considered - have always been considered - superior and more attractive than others.

Alexis said...

True enough, Will. The description for charisma includes appearance, personal magnetism and persuasiveness. I intend tables for all three (my post recently about charisma success and die rolling was part of that work). But whatever the impact of the other two aspects, your challenge doesn't preclude my including a visuals table. You might be decent looking with an 8-charisma (the table will include a chance) but I wouldn't count on it. You can see how it works, since this is the less-complicated table I'm upgrading.

Zzarchov said...

The demi-humans coming from one region bit bothers me a tad, how realistic is that? They may have originated from the same magic forest/mountain/drops of gorgon blood, but humans originated in one place as well.

The leprechauns of Ireland are different than the Domovoi of Russia even if both are halflings (at least in the game I run). The Norwegian dwarves in their mountain strongholds are different than the roving stone age barbarians in the Himalyan mountains.

Alexis said...

I don't have Norwegian dwarves, nor dwarves in the Himalayas - they're from the Urals and the Altai, and thankfully I don't need a table for leprecauns, since they're not player characters. But believe me Zzarchov, I am thinking along those same lines.

Oddbit said...

You know, one thing I think is missing from the tables is character voice. A few entries for a shrill, sweet or incomprehensible voice might be interesting. Of coarse I don't know if you would make your players try and jump through those hoops at the table so maybe that could be why.

drnuncheon said...

8 charisma equates to bad skin, buck teeth, stuttering and body odor? Seems a little excessive for something that's a mere one point below the average range (9-11).

I mean, mechanically, the guy doesn't even get a reaction penalty from strangers he meets. I know if *I* ran into a stammering smelly buck-toothed pustulent individual, he'd be taking a reaction penalty from me.

That alone says that he's not all that obviously different than the average person: maybe a little more taciturn, brusque, maybe clumsier with words - things that might annoy people over the long-term and cause him to have a lower base loyalty rating and fewer henchmen.

Will Mistretta said...

More thoughts:

Individuals also don't get to choose their sex and name. Will there be tables for those?

How about class tables? Historically, not many peasant dirt farmers chose their lot in life, correct? And then there were children more or less indentured to tradesmen in years-long apprenticing arrangements, sent to live at monasteries and cloisters, sons of knights expected to take up the sword themselves, etc.

Alexis said...

Will,

I'm curious, how many result possibilities would you think a sex determination table ought to have?

It's funny to me that height and weight tables have been part of D&D dogma since Carter was president, but I'm stepping over the line with eyes, hair and skin. At any rate, I think you should be warned that I also have tables planned for eyesight, jawline, bushyness of eyebrows, the size of feet, whether ears have lobes, whether or not it's possible to roll the tongue, breast-size, circumcision and of course penis length.

Unless you think a player should be as long as he wants to be.

Red said...

You cannot simple create a universal table for an individual's hair color, since the likelihood of that hair being blonde or black varies considerably with whether that person is, say, Egyptian or Icelandic.

This is not something D&D remotely touches upon - not in any book I've read, though the Dragon Magazine might years ago have had something on it (that I missed)


I've got one for Greyhawk - the Greyhawk Human Appearance Table. I'm not sure where I got it (Canonfire? Living Greyhawk?). But it is a two page pdf that includes skin, hair, eye colors and even hair type for Baklunish, Suloise, Flans and Oeridians.
There is even a method for DMs to make tables based on mixes of races.

A quick google doesn't reveal where I found it. If you're interested, I can forward it to you.

Alexis said...

Thank you, but no Red. I do appreciate the offer.

Th' Dave said...

I took a different approach and sprung race on my players mid-campaign.

War was brewing, and in the real world people tend to line up along racial lines as tensions rise. I wanted to give the players the feel of two distinct racial categories arising from one previously homogeneous people.

Fortunately for me, the players had all named their characters with either vaguely Scottish or Norse sounding names. So I took that innocent and previously inconsequential difference and used that as the seed for the racial divide.

I considered my experiment successful when one of the players asked, without prompting, what race a particular NPC was.