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Traditionally, many character races in D&D have been defined to have a race with whom they share a mutual hatred: elves and orcs, dwarves and goblins, and gnomes and kobolds, for example. With Volo's Guide, however, orcs, goblins, and kobolds are all playable races. This raises the question of how to deal with this in-story racial hatred with the meta requirement for characters in a party to support one another.

Has WOTC or any other authoritative source provided guidance to DMs who have to deal with (for example) a kobold and a gnome in the same party? Once you open the door to Volo's Guide, it seems unavoidable.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you fully read the VGtM section about playing so-called "monstrous" adventurers? \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Nov 26 '20 at 18:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you asking about any particular setting, such as the Forgotten Realms? Different groups can have very different relationships with each other depending on the setting. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 26 '20 at 23:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not all D&D settings have a such a canonical hatred, and a DM is always free to omit it from his own campaign. Do you want to have it? If not, you don't have to work around it -- just omit it. \$\endgroup\$ – Mary Nov 26 '20 at 23:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'll echo @V2Blast -- setting really matters here. If you're talking Forgotten Realms, I can think of a couple lore-friendly possibilities off the top of my head. \$\endgroup\$ – screamline Nov 27 '20 at 4:05
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Usually a solution to this involves both some out of game and in game lubrication.

Agree As A Group

Does everyone want to play a game with this tension - the players and the DM? The DM can always disallow choices at their table if they think it’ll be disruptive to the game at hand. The group needs to say that:

  1. They want to work together and stay together
  2. They understand their choices are making that harder and when it comes down to it they will need to prioritize #1 above “My Guy Syndrome.”

Also, it’s an opportunity to introduce racial tension and dynamics into the game, but not everyone wants that, so other players have a vote too.

The “generic” racial attitudes in D&D don’t hold in all campaign worlds or even all of a given campaign world. If people just want the sweet stat bonuses without the roleplay you can just remove that element if that’s the kind of game you want.

Now as for in game...

Individuals are Individual

Sure, these different humanoid species, in general, have beefs with each other. But just like real world people groups that have beef with each other, it’s severe in some places and with some people and not so severe in other places with other people. There’s some orc with an elf fetish out there somewhere, or that was rescued by elves as an orphan, or... Loki and Thor from the Marvel movies are semi good examples if Loki calmed down a little.

Depending on what setting you are using there are usually plenty of examples of atypical race relationships. Remember, PCs become adventurers because they are exceptional - if they were they typical member of their culture they’d have some lame job and not speak until a PC entered their room.

We Have A Job To Do

How many books, movies, and TV shows have a premise where people that don’t get along are brought together because they have a bigger thing they need to achieve? Conservatively, half, starting with the Epic of Gilgamesh? Read a book!

Aliens and humans, vampires and humans, jocks and nerds; from serious things like Hidden Figures and The Green Book to the ridonkulous like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer and Enemy Mine, you have historical foes brought together because there’s something they need to achieve together, a doom they need to escape and need every hand, or just work for someone who doesn’t give a crap about their beef.

This requires you the DM to come up with a premise that ideally lets players who aren’t My Guying too hard to have something to cling to in order to justify their character still working with another.

I’ve been running games since the ‘80’s and I’ve seen every single weird combination of characters; but as long as players understand the group’s fun comes first and the DM and players put some basic hooks into the game to foster cooperation it shouldn’t be much of a problem.

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    \$\begingroup\$ P.S. We don’t have to use ‘official guidance’ to offer experience-guided play experience on this Stack so I’m not bothering with jumping through canon hoops. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Nov 26 '20 at 19:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good answer. The last of these options often benefits from explicit discussion between players (and may not even require DM intervention, if players both agree that the objective is to have these two characters cooperating). \$\endgroup\$ – Geoffrey Brent Nov 28 '20 at 2:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Loki and Thor from the Marvel movies are semi good examples" - this relationship is basically the same in the original myths... \$\endgroup\$ – tardigrade Nov 28 '20 at 22:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to expand on your last option, its worth nothing in the real world that the existence of a common enemy has historically caused old grudges to be, at least temporarily, set aside all the time. Athens and Sparta set aside grudges to fight the Persians as just one of many, many examples in real history. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Nov 29 '20 at 0:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Sweet stat bonuses" are, as of Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, no longer tied to races because they can be swapped out nearly arbitrarily (along with languages and proficiencies). \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Nov 29 '20 at 21:09
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PHB page 17 says this about letting race guide character personality (emphasis mine):

These details are suggestions to help you think about your character; adventurers can deviate widely from the norm of their race. It's worthwhile to consider why your character is different, as a helpful way to think about your character's background and personality.

What this means, is that a player can just create a character which doesn't share their race's typical prejudices or world view. Above can even be read as encouraging this.

The basic tool provided for this is the characters personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws written on the character sheet, as well as the character backstory.

A player can create an elaborate story about an orc child being rescued by an elf. They can also keep it simple, write "Only the deeds matter" in the chosen box and be done with it.


Interactions with the campaign world are a different matter, and offer opportunity for roleplay and problem solving... Can Disguise self fool the sterotypically racist family of a party member? Only way to find out is to play it out.

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Wizards of the Coast puts out the game rules, but not how you and your table should play within those rules. There's plenty of roleplaying styles in which such tensions can be handled, and tons of inspiration to be drawn from D&D let's plays and other media (D&D or otherwise).

Some examples:

  • Drizzt Do'Urden, famous Drow. While the Drow are despised by Elves and most other surface-dwellers, Drizzt has made friendships and alliances with Dwarven kings and Elven queens.
  • Lt. Cmr. Worf, Klingon in Starfleet. While the alliance with the Klingons is terse (and later even breaks), Worf is a trusted officer in Starfleet.

I feel that the way to deal with this touches on a much broader social concept. Judge individuals by their actions, not by their general characteristics (such as race, sex, etc). If the people at your table can see past the Kobold's snout and judge their actions instead, maybe the gnome can grow to like them.

Unfortunately, these biases often run deep in people, and in our storytelling this goes even further when we describe a race like the dwarves or elves to carry grudges or have long lifetimes and memories. Trying to let go of our human instinct - reinforced by the traits of the fictional races - requires work from both the non-monstrous player and the PC (challenging his own preconceptions) and from the monstrous player and PC - who needs to carry twice the weight to make their actions noteworthy.

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This is the players' problem. Not the DM's

Your players (and probably you, as the DM) want the party to stick together, even though the races of their characters are enemies, traditionally speaking. However... what do their characters themselves want? They each have their own motivations that do not necessarily line up with those of the players. Luckily, the player usually has power over his character and can shape it to his liking.

If the players want the Elf and the Orc to cooperate, then they will need to think of a reason why their characters would also want to do that. For example: was the orc an orphan after a war, and adopted and raised by an elvish community? Or do they maybe have a common enemy, that makes them (reluctantly) cooperate (for now)?

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