Unfucking Dungeons & Dragons
The concept of some humanoid or near-humanoid species being
naturally inclined to evil is a racist one, and, unfortunately, a prevalent one
in Dungeons & Dragons, exacerbated by the fact that these “evil species”
are frequently the “ugly” ones. Drow are a particularly glaring example - “made
black because of their ‘evil’”?! Fuck you - but the duergar - “the
slaves … learned only to enslave, really makes you think don’t it” - and
the orcs - “they feel the CALL to evil in their Gruumshy HEARTS” - are also
super not good. (There’s also a fair degree of ableism, with “insane” monsters
- in such cases, I honestly think “unaligned” would be a better description for
“too far gone to understand morality”. Evil implies a choice.)
Honestly, I wouldn’t mind so much if these weren’t supposed to be naturally-occurring species - always evil demons or fey are fine, because they’re made of magic and stories, although care should of course be taken not to make them look like naturally-occurring species - but elves are really just fragile pointy-eared monkeys, and they have excuses.
However, these evil humanoids are also genre staples and often quite aesthetically good. To that end, I offer the Unfucking D&D Guide, which provides what I think are solutions to this problem. (It should be noted that I am whiter than plain yogurt, so my ideas should be taken with a grain of salt and definitely not take precedence over the ideas of non-white folks. If I’ve said something fucked-up in this, please let me know and I’ll fix it.)
- Duergar. Keep the “enslaved by illithids, made grim
& psionic” bit, toss the “learnt evil from them” part. The duergar are
joyless, or can appear so - you can play them either as gloomy and fatalistic
or as eccentric and unreasonably concerned with “corruption” - but despite
whatever mood they possess, make sure that they are thoroughly dedicated to
making sure the horrors of the Underdark stay in the Underdark, and are as
righteous and honorable as their hill and mountain cousins.
- Derro. The derro are an “insane” species; I bring
them up only because I saw them confused with duergar in one post about racism
in D&D. Their lore has not been constant - the current lore is “dwarves
enslaved by illithids, tortured into madness, and now they’re eeeeeeeevil”,
which is ableist, not racist - but their metatextual origin is among the
detrimental robots, or Deros, of pulp author Richard Sharpe
Shaver’s stories (or possibly delusions). “Born from the dreams of a mad author” would actually be good lore
if you can make that author a tragic sufferer of schizophrenia in a time before
it was understood rather than an ~*~eViL mAdMaN~*~, but in any event, change
their type to construct, fey, or fiend, and, most importantly, don’t take
them seriously. The derro are pulp villains, and their evil is
grandiose and nonsensical. They ought not to be seen as realistic; they ought
to be seen as Snidely Whiplash, Commander Claw, or Heinz Doofenshmirtz. “Reasons”
are for other genres.
- Drow. Return drow to their mythical roots as trow,
nocturnal hunters, tricksters, and magical artisans dwelling in the hollow
hills. There’s high and wood elves; dark elves can find a niche. Lolthite culture
is good villain fodder, but make sure that you can handle an “evil religion”,
and make sure that all types of elves participate.
- Goblinoids and trolls. Make them fey, and abandon
Tolkien for Rossetti and folktale. Goblins make cruel bargains; hobgoblins
attend faerie courts; bugbears hide in closets and
create electricity fromfeed on children’s screams; trolls lurk under bridges and love riddles. As fey, they’re not evil, simply alien and lacking in empathy towards mortals.
- Gnolls. If you use the Volo’s lore, change
their type to fiend and be done with it. If you want to have them be natural
humanoids, go read Ursula Vernon’s Digger for the best-written
hyaena-furries in literature and base gnolls off that once you’re done crying.
- Kobolds. Kobolds are already draconic cleaner wrasses
in lore; there’s no reason that metallic dragons can’t enjoy them as well and
influence some populations to good.
- Illithids. The mind flayers certainly have great
potential as villains. However, there is nothing about their psychology that
impels them thither. Their biological requirements could easily be met by
feeding on those close to death, whom I might imagine would willingly donate
their brains as food or tadpole incubators in exchange for a painless death and
the surety that their memories would live on in the illithid. Also, create
food and water spells exist.
- Ogres. Ogres are wilderness-dwellers who prefer to
maintain their personal territories through fear instead of actual force of
arms; the idea of the monstrous, anthropophagous ogre is a deliberate sham.
They are actually capable of great heroism, even if they aren’t exactly the
sharpest tools in the shed and okay to be honest I started out trying to build
up to a Shrek joke but I think I’d take this over canon lore.
- Orcs. Orcs are an easy fix; all you need to do is
remove Gruumsh from the equation and they don’t have a bullshit “call to evil”;
in Eberron, without objective gods, the people of the Shadow Marches believe
that half-orcs are the proof that orcs and humans are one people, so there’s
even in-game precedent for orcs as members of society.
- Yuan-ti. There are two ways to do this. One is to
dump all the lore and just have sexy snake cults, although don’t dress them
like Asian or Aztec stereotypes like a lot of the art does. (The 3.5 Monster
Manual yuan-ti pureblood looks like she’s constantly accompanied by an
inappropriate bamboo flute riff, I swear to Istus.) A sexy snake cult (and I am
including malisons, abominations, and anathemas in the term “sexy”, not just
purebloods) should be fun for everyone.
- The other way is to keep their personalities and dump everything else, because if you keep that, you get truly excellent villains. I mean, these fuckers. How dare they drag something as pure as snakes into their Ayn Rand bullshit. Villain yuan-ti should be something transformed from willing or deluded humanoids (histachii raise the sacred snakes and the children of the yuan-ti, who possess their parents’ original race at birth). Couple that with the fact that since snakes very definitely have emotions, yuan-ti logically should as well, which means that they only think they’re above emotions. Now you have Objectivists roped into a magical pyramid scheme, which should offend no-one who doesn’t deserve it. You can mourn for the beings they once were, or just laugh in their dumb faces. Also, the sexy ones all look like Ayn Rand.