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Out-of-universe we would call them "playable races" or "character races". Is there an in-universe term to refer to a member of a civilized humanoid race, for example humans, elves, dwarves etc. which make up the population of most towns and settlements? (as opposed to trolls, kobolds, etc.)

For example, in the Pillars of Eternity setting, they are called "kith".

Is there such a term for humans + elves + dwarves + halflings etc. in the D&D setting? More specifically, in the Forgotten Realms and the Pathfinder setting, if there would be a difference.

I'd figure people in the setting would use a simple short term do differentiate themselves from "wild" races, even if those wild races are (even if barely) capable of speech.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This question presumes a game universe that is consistent across D&D editions and even instances. That's a badly framed assumption. You are not dealing with a single game setting, so asking for "in universe" consistency is where your question goes wrong. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 3 at 1:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ The supposed dupe is tagged 5e and Eberron, while this is dungeons-and-dragons, lore, and forgotten-realms. The questions themselves indicate explain the difference in scope. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jan 3 at 4:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ The related question referenced above: Is there an alternative word to be used in place of Humanoid? \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jan 3 at 18:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that simply dropping the Pathfinder request would make this a fine question. Vsz, if you'd like to ask about Golarion (Pathfinder's world), you could make that a separate question, although I believe the answers will be the same in this case. \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Jan 3 at 19:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ One issue you might face is that "trolls, kobolds, etc." And orcs and whatnot, are increasingly being referred to in the same way as "humans + elves + dwarves + halflings...". When you ask about the races that "make up the population of most towns and settlements" there's going to be loads of unrecognised settlements that aren't populated by 'humans + elves + dwarves + halflings' etc. c.f. rpg.stackexchange.com/a/120343/2788 \$\endgroup\$ Jan 3 at 22:05

2 Answers 2

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Up to first edition (before Forgotten Realms)

Gygax's versions of the game were explicitly and unapologetically humanocentric. All PC's were assumed to be human unless the DM had explicitly allowed another race (and these optional races were constrained by rules limiting their level). Humanity was assumed to have structured the background society and nations of the campaign settings. In the 1e DMG (p. 88) Gygax wrote:

My own GREYHAWK campaign, for example, assumes all player characters (unless I personally place one who is otherwise) are freemen or gentlemen, or at worst they can safely represent themselves to be so. (Note that the masculine/human usage is generic; I do not like the terms freecreatures or gentlebeings!)

Other races that were dominantly forces for good, or at least generally allied with humans, were called demihumans: gnomes, elves, dwarves, and halflings. This largely overlapped with what you are calling "character races", although the concept was more about whether the race was at the end of the day an ally of humanity writ large or not; half-orcs, for example, were playable races but were not demihumans.

Those sentient races that were largely opposed to humanity were called 'humanoids' and again, the distinction here was on their enmity to humanity in general rather than their suitability as PC's.

[As someone who came to D&D through first edition, I still find it jarring when one of my 5e players refers to elves as 'humanoids', a perfectly proper 5e NPC type but which for me still connotes a 'largely enemy race'.]

When one wanted a term to include humans together with demihumans and humanoids, all the smaller sentient races together (most of which were not playable races), the collective group was often called 'persons' or people, and was loosely defined as anyone that was a possible target for a charm person spell.

Finally, when speaking of everyone except humans that could be considered a 'person', and then adding in the larger, higher-HD sentient races that could not be affected by a charm person spell, the collective term was (somewhat counter-intuitively) 'giant-class', which was most well-known for being the races against which PC rangers received damage bonuses and was basically anything sentient excluding humans.

Second Edition and the Realms

The terminology of "humans, demihumans, and humanoids" was carried largely unchanged into second edition, although the hardcore human chauvinism behind it and championed by Gygax had waned along with level limits on non-human characters.

So, for example, when second edition published a 'splatbook' with rules for using 'monster' races as PC's, it was called the Complete Book of Humanoids and included rules for aarakocra, alaghis, beastmen, bugbears, bullywugs, centaurs, fremlins, giant-kin (firbolgs), giant-kin (voadkyns), gnolls, gnoll (flinds), goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, lizard men, minotaurs, mongrelmen, ogres, half-ogres, orcs, half-orcs, pixies, satyrs, sauriel, swanmays, and wemic. Of these, the more good-aligned or fey races (centaurs, pixies, satyrs, and swanmays), as well as the giants (firbolgs, voadkyns, ogres, and half-ogres) would not have been called 'humanoids' when referenced individually, but as part of a collective work it was perhaps a more elegant title than 'The Complete Book of Humanoids and Some Other Things'.

Eric Boyd, in an explicitly Forgotten Realms product, said that

Demihuman Deities describes the demihuman religions and powers of the Realms: those of the elves (including the drow), the dwarves, the gnomes and the halflings.

Thus the closest term to what you are looking for would have originally been phrased within the Realms as 'humans and demihumans'.

Third edition - Folk and People

By third edition, the deliberate human and male chauvinism of Gygax were equally deliberately replaced by the term 'folk', which was both explicitly gender-neutral and which assigned a sort of equivalence to sentient beings. So lizardmen became lizardfolk, frostmen became frostfolk, etc. In a third edition Realms setting, then, a tavern-goer might tell the party that "there are three villages on the trail inhabited by folk [or freefolk, goodfolk, etc.], but beyond that there are only kobolds and trolls [or evilfolk, or monstrous races, etc.]".

As Quadratic Wizard points out, the collective term for all of these individual 'folk' in the Realms was peoples:

Faerûn is home to hundreds of intelligent creatures, ranging from the teeming kingdoms of humankind to the secret fastness of terrible creatures whose entire species numbers a score or less. Like humans, these peoples run the gamut from grotesque to beautiful, from murderous to beatific.

Fifth edition - The 2020 Announcement

In June of 2020, the WoTC D&D Team made an announcement with wide ramifications. Explicitly tying real world social goals to fantasy depictions of 'races', they said:

One of the explicit design goals of 5th edition D&D is to depict humanity in all its beautiful diversity by depicting characters who represent an array of ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and beliefs. We want everyone to feel at home around the game table and to see positive reflections of themselves within our products. “Human” in D&D means everyone, not just fantasy versions of northern Europeans, and the D&D community is now more diverse than it’s ever been.

Without ever using the term 'race' in the announcement, there was now a deliberate attempt to remove the racial essentialism that had been a core conception from the beginning of the game:

Throughout the 50-year history of D&D, some of the peoples in the game—orcs and drow being two of the prime examples—have been characterized as monstrous and evil, using descriptions that are painfully reminiscent of how real-world ethnic groups have been and continue to be denigrated...We present orcs and drow in a new light in two of our most recent books, Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Explorer's Guide to Wildemount. In those books, orcs and drow are just as morally and culturally complex as other peoples.

There are two things to note here: First, the word you are looking for is now explicitly peoples. And second, there is now a deliberate repudiation of the 'this race is predominantly evil' view for some of those races that had been previously seen as such. Individual orcs and drow are now just as likely to be good, or evil, as individual humans. As far as I can tell, trolls and kobolds are still predominantly evil - but that could change in future products. And if it did change, those changes could well be retroactive. As the announcement explains:

When every D&D book is reprinted, we have an opportunity to correct errors that we or the broader D&D community discovered in that book. Each year, we use those opportunities to fix a variety of things, including errors in judgment. In recent reprintings of Tomb of Annihilation and Curse of Strahd, for example, we changed text that was racially insensitive.

Shortly after The Announcement, in November of 2020, Tasha's Cauldron of Everything was released, with rules for how this affected playable races.

Character race in the game represents your character's fantasy species, combined with certain cultural assumptions. The following options step outside those assumptions to pave the way for truly unique characters.

Thus, the domain of racial essentialism has been dialed back. It now explicitly only concerns physical attributes, like Darkvision or your Strength score (and even there, it is recognized as not universal with rules for non-archetypal Ability Score Increases and even Custom Lineages). Alignment, on the other hand, is now considered part of culture, and not universal or tied to specific races. In many newer products, sentient creatures are not given an alignment tendency in their stat block.

Thus it is entirely possible that while some Forgotten Realms tavern-goer might have once said, "there are three villages on the trail inhabited by people, but beyond that there are only kobolds and trolls", that same canonical tavern-goer could, in the future, be retconned to having actually said something like "there are three villages on the trail inhabited by civilized people, but beyond that there are only wild lands with those who choose evil and lawlessness." Furthermore, it is now understood that among the peoples of both lands are trolls and kobolds, with some living peacefully in civilization and others as monsters in the wilderness.

The end of racial essentialism in D&D means that the terms you are seeking, terms that put people in behavioral groups based solely on physical features or ancestry, are losing currency. Despite being one of the core principles of the game from its founding, these terms will be less and less relevant in the game to come.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ My question was mostly about what people in-universe would use. In a tavern, asking what is beyond that mountain, the answer could be "there are three villages on the trail inhabited by X, but beyond that there are only kobolds and trolls". Would that X just be "people"? Or when you interrogate a captured goblin about having seen any X lately, would you have to list humans, elves, dwarves, or is it a name in Common used for them? (the Pathfinder Kingmaker game has at one point a troll use the term "borba", and even explain what it means when asked, but that might be only in their language) \$\endgroup\$
    – vsz
    Jan 2 at 21:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Vsz the terms demihuman and humanoid were used in-character and in-universe. There's plenty of examples in the older D&D novels. +1 to this answer for accuracy and detail. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jan 2 at 21:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great edit! Really good! \$\endgroup\$ Oct 6 at 1:23
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"Peoples"

Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (2000):

Faerûn is home to hundreds of intelligent creatures, ranging from the teeming kingdoms of humankind to the secret fastness of terrible creatures whose entire species numbers a score or less. Like humans, these peoples run the gamut from grotesque to beautiful, from murderous to beatific. (p.5)

Faerûn is home to many native peoples and has many magic portals that lead to distant parts of the world as well as to other worlds. (p.18)

All speaking peoples, including the humans of various lands, possess a native tongue. (p.84)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The OP is asking for a term that refers only to the civilized "these are PC-appropriate" races, but the quotes you've selected indicate that "peoples" is inclusive of monstrous and not-usually-PC races such as goblins and ogres and such. -1. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jan 3 at 21:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gmjoe, they're practically all playable in 5e \$\endgroup\$ Jan 3 at 21:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage As they were in 3e, but that's not what the OP was asking for. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jan 3 at 21:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ "that way of talking about sentient beings" - even in-universe? Maybe in a sheltered university in a big city, those who've never seen a troll in their lives... but people in a frontier settlement whose livestock (and sometimes their children) have been often eaten by trolls, would definitely not see trolls as "people", they would see them as monsters, and would consider any creature who's not a member of the group asked in the question, as vermin. \$\endgroup\$
    – vsz
    Jan 4 at 13:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @vsz Yes, in-universe if the DM adopts the changes in policy that WotC are making in their products. I have added a new section to my answer to explicitly address what AncientSwordRage is referring to. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jan 4 at 21:44

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