I am of the opinion as a designer that D&D settings are more interesting when you consider the diegetic language of the setting, and that language is best served when you do not pre-emptively position players to be racist. It may sound like a lot is loaded into that, but, as I’ve said before, consider the term ‘halfling.’ In the context of a universe, that term is almost certainly a slur, if it’s not a term chosen by the people themselves, since it positions them entirely in their relationship to the other, larger people saying that term. If the term ‘halfling’ is to not be a slur, it needs to be a term the halflings use, and then the question follows: half of what.
I’ve talked about this at length in the article on the halflings, and now we’re moving on to another term that players are going to need that I want to try and make sure isn’t a term that naturally implies every character speaking naturally is a bit racist. That term is beastfolk.
If you’re not familiar, beastfolk is a term used in a lot of D&D settings for ‘furries and near-furries.’ It’s for your anthropomorphic animals, but also for humans with some animalian traits. Often these traits need to be centered around the head; for example, Raptorans are kind of more like elves with wings, but despite having wings and talons, they’re generally not seen as ‘beastfolk.’ In a lot of ways, it’s about the face.
If beastfolk is a term the default observer imposes on the group, then that brings with it ideas of colonialism, the idea that the group doesn’t have a way to centre their own identity, and they didn’t get to choose their own name. That sucks. But on the other hand, I don’t think it’s a great idea to tell the players ‘okay, you know this term that’s in the game books and is in the fiction and is definitely a simple handle for what you, a human, can definitely use to describe these nonhumans? you need to stop using that and now use a more complex term that’s probably not as good.’
No, the solution, in my mind, is to come up with a story.
The story of why the beastfolk call themselves the beastfolk.Continue Reading →