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Simply, calling an elf an elf or a dwarf a dwarf in a non-defamatory, non-insulting way: is it justified to call this out as racist language in a D&D game?

More specifically, we have a player, that whenever they notice that a character/NPC is addressed by their race, they shout "racist!", followed by a prolonged laugh.

May I ask, to what extent is it understandable to address players/NPCs by their character race in colloquial speech?

If these situations are undesirable, who should be corrected?

Or is this considered an in-game behavior and should be solved in-game (by spells/magic potions)?


Justification for accepted the answer.

@Thomas Markov's answer points out the correct way to handle players with individual opinions and the proper DnD etiquette, which I found very helpful. Despite that, I have decided to pick @Non-human Person's answer, because it offers an out-of-the box view. The fantasy world doesn't need to copy the real world to the very extreme, since the fantasy world offers a lot more than reality (races AND species, magic, etc.). In my opinion, the DnD should be a safe place and not a mine-field, where acting-a-character is rated against vaguely-related current societal issues.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As a reminder to visitors from across the network, please do not answer the question in the comment section. Take our tour and read our FAQ for more information about RPG.SE. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 10 at 18:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is it more along the lines of characters going "hey, you, Elf!" or "he's an Elf"? I think there is a definite difference between the two \$\endgroup\$
    – Jasper
    Jan 10 at 20:07

12 Answers 12

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It is "racist" but not "racist" in the kind of way we think about it IRL

This is a complex question, I think other answers have done a good job addressing the core issue, so let me tackle the question you asked.

Race in D&D has a very different meaning to "race" in real life. Rather than thinking about it as "basically the same thing", you should consider it as a game term with a dramatically different meaning.

Races in D&D aren't races, they are species

Firstly, although WotC refers to elves and dwarves as "races", it's fairly clear that they are not races as we refer to them in real life. Race in real life is a social construct centred around grouping people based on their physical appearance. The problem with race in real life is that it's used to make generalizations that have nothing to do with appearance - eg that one race is smarter than another or some race is hard working or one race is more creative, etc.

In D&D race is a biological reality - dwarves and elves are not the same species. Someone saying "hey elf" to an elf is no more offensive than someone saying "hey human" to a human or "hey cat" to a cat.

Try to think of D&D races more like "cats and dogs" rather than "humans with various skin colours".

Elves and Dwarves are biologically and culturally different

D&D further muddies the waters by folding ethnicity into race - all dwarves have +2 con from their biology, and get the Stonecutting feature too.

This leads to a conclusion far away from the real world. As I said, in the real world you can't make assumptions based on ethnicity or biology on the basis of race, that's racism. In the D&D world, each race is its own species with biological differences and ethnic cohesion, so you can. The same kind of statements that are bad in the real world make sense in D&D, dwarves ARE more hardy than other races, and they DO all know about stonework.

This puts WotC is a very uncomfortable position. They reused the term race and applied it in a situation where racism becomes justified. Well, at least they don't justify racial hatred, right?

D&D has justifiable racial hatred

Unfortunately, D&D falls short there too. Because the so-called races often act cohesively, racial hatred is often justified - for example Dwarves justifiably hate Giants for enslaving them. Likewise in a world where good and evil are objective divine forces, there are races that are good by nature and races that are evil by nature creating further inherent, justified, racial hatred.

So in summary, "racism" has two very different meanings between our world and D&D's world. WotC constructs a situation where racism exists and is justified. This is a massive departure from our world because race in our world is a pseudoscience, not fact the way it is in D&D - racism in our world is never justified.

But in the end, it's a game

The key point to remember is that your players exist in our world. Many people think of races in D&D as a parallel to the real world. Even if they don't think of particular D&D races matching up with particular real world races, they probably think of the concept of "race" as meaning roughly the same thing. So even if the denizens of D&D don't think of racism as anything other than reality, your players certainly should understand that what they are doing is uncomfortable for everyone involved. You can see other answers with how to deal with this player.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There's a good-spirited and interesting conversation going on in comments about races vs. species in D&D vs. in real life... none of which really seems directed at suggesting changes to or improving this answer. Since comments are not for extended discussion this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Jan 10 at 18:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Further muddying the waters, as you say, Tasha's Cauldron of Everything changes the racial rules so you can swap around ability scores (among other traits). I also recall hearing that Wizards of the Coast is removing things like racial alignments, but don't have a source for that assertion. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoelHarmon Re: the removal of racial alignments, this is probably the best source. See also this question \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jan 16 at 19:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoelHarmon Here is a more recent summary of some of the more recent changes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jan 20 at 0:24
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A disruptive player should be asked to stop.

I’m going to sidestep your question here a little bit. I don’t think it matters if calling an elf an elf is racist within the fiction of the setting, because even if it is, there is a way for the players to approach that in-character without disrupting the game. What you have here is a player, not a character, disrupting gameplay to make a joke that seems to have gotten quite old, quite quickly.

So just ask them to stop1:

It was funny the first time, but please stop making outbursts every time we mention the race of a character.

Ideally, they will stop making such outbursts all together. However, and I have experienced this before, outbursts related to character race may just be replaced by other similarly low-brow jokes. If this is the case, I recommend having a one-on-one conversation with them, away from the ears of the other players:

Hey bud, we all appreciate the occasional joke, but your interruptions are far too frequent. Please try keep them to yourself as much as possible, or reserve them for times when they will not interrupt other players speaking.

I’ve had success with a conversation like this. The player went from frequent lame jokes to infrequent funny jokes. I established that the table was not the “no fun zone”, but that it is okay to crack jokes as long as we respect other players.

You may also consider asking the player about why they are doing this, just in case it isn't just a grab at some low-hanging humor fruit:

Is there something about the way we are handling character race that makes you uncomfortable?

Disrupting the game is inappropriate, but we want to be sure we are doing everything we can to make everyone comfortable with the game's narrative. Jasper points out in this comment below that this "might be a coping mechanism for how they are not okay with what they do perceive as racism" - if this is the case, the DM and the player need to explore this further and try to come to a favorable resolution.

And if none of this works, and the disruptive player continues to be disruptive, you probably just have to move on. If you are in a position to remove them from the game, do so. If you aren’t, and you don’t want to tolerate the nonsense, you will have to remove yourself.


1 I have written this answer from the perspective of the DM managing to social atmosphere of the game table. While maintaining a fun and respectful atmosphere is the responsibility of everyone at the table, that moving parts of conflict resolution are often most easily handled by the DM (when the DM isn't the primary source of the conflict). If you are a player who is having trouble with the frequent outbursts from your tablemate, you are of course welcome to address them with your fellow player, but relaying through the DM may also be a good idea.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's a very good frame challenge. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9 at 16:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent answer. With questions like this though, I also think it's worth asking "what exactly is the problem?" If everyone is cracking up over this every time, there's no RPG police to kick down your door and stop you. If someone is unhappy, figure out if they're unhappy about the racism, the "racism!", or the disruption. From there, your answer is exactly right. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Jan 12 at 18:21
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I feel like there are really three parts to this, and I'll address them separately:

  1. Is this racist in the game world?
  2. Is that expected/usual/acceptable in the game world?
  3. Is that acceptable out-of-game at your table?

(And then 4. How can you handle the player's outbursts? But other answers have already covered that.) Spoiler alert, question 3 is probably the most important, but let's get the first two out of the way first.

1. Is this racist in the game world?

The dungeon master or storyteller is the only person who can definitively answer this, though the player characters may also have in-world opinions. But I would probably assume, in most cases, it is racist. Language like that explicitly focuses on race, and specifically the “otherness” of the person being addressed. I'll assume for the rest of my answer that it is racist in-game. (And even if there's some reason in the lore that it's not, out-of-game it still “smells” like racism.)

2. Is that expected/usual/acceptable in the game world?

Again, this is part of worldbuilding, so likely depends on the dungeon master or storyteller. But here the player characters have more agency. They likely have in-world feelings about racism and can choose to act based on those feelings. They might find it abhorrent and take issue with the NPC speaking that way. They might find it innocuous or just “how things are.” But the players might just take cues from the dungeon master and assume the NPCs speak in a way that is generally acceptable in-world, and so have their characters follow suit or not address it.

3. Is that acceptable out-of-game at your table?

This, I feel, is the most important question. But, it's also completely independent of the other questions. Whether or not the language is intended to be racist, and whether or not that's ok in-game, your table has to decide where their boundaries are out-of-game. Are the players ok with such language?

Racism is a difficult subject in our out-of-game world. (There's an understatement!) With any difficult subject (racism, sexism, sexual content, gore — the list goes on), it's very important to make sure that everyone at the table is ok with that content being part of the game, and to continually re-evaluate that as the game progresses.

If anyone at the table is not comfortable with the topic being part of the game, don't include it. That doesn't mean racism doesn't exist in the world, but instead the players and dungeon master are making a conscious decision that the topic just isn't going to come up in this game one way or the other. It's an out-of-game decision.

This is the sort of thing that can be figured out in a session zero, where the players get together to decide the parameters of the game they're going to play. This RPG StackExchange question discusses session zero in more detail, and this article on D&D Beyond discusses it from a D&D perspective. There are all sorts of approaches to how to handle this in a respectful and compassionate way — Lines and Veils are a popular concept, and this question has some explanation and references. Even if the game is already started, it's never too late for a session zero.

I mention all this because it's very possible that the player making outbursts is actually feeling uncomfortable about the topic of racism (consciously or unconsciously), and is using lame humor as a way to defuse the tension. If they are aware of it, they may not know how to bring it up with the group if everyone else seems confidently comfortable with the topic. Taking a step back and addressing whether racism really belongs in the game (and to what extent) may help.

(Of course, it's entirely possible that the player is just being rude and immature. I don't know your player, and if it's really a rudeness issue other answers have covered that very well.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would only offer a counterpoint to your presumption in #1... D&D is heavily based on the same material (or in some cases on the material within) things like J.R.R. Tolkien's writing where it was not uncommon at all to address a person, especially if you don't have their name, by their race. It is generally used with mild to no offense; the offense comes when the subject is using it in a tone that implies derision. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Jan 10 at 4:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Of course you're right that that is not the most important question by far. But it can inform groups who are not offended by the notion out-of-character when doing their own worldbuilding. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Jan 10 at 4:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for mentioning that one likely cause of the outbursts is the player's personal discomfort about the topic of racism. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jan 10 at 5:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would like to add re point 2: Just because something is seen as unacceptable in the game world, doesn't mean it shouldn't happen in your game. Villains have these habits of being a) morally deficient by the standards of the story and b) necessary to tell a good story. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 10 at 8:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KarlKnechtel Here at rpg.se we embrace a plurality of playstyles \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Jan 10 at 10:54
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A lot of it will necessarily depend on context. The way you describe it, however, it is not racist. Dungeons & Dragons fantasy races really are different, with different special abilities. They are nothing like real-world human races.

The game itself both calls out people of different races for actual differences, and differentiates between races and ethnicities, all in the same sentence:

And the people themselves—people of varying size, shape, and color, dressed in a dazzling spectrum of styles and hues—represent many different races, from diminutive halflings and stout dwarves to majestically beautiful elves, mingling among a variety of human ethnicities.

If, in the real world, blue-eyed people could see twice as far as other eye colors, it would not be at all eyeist to call for “the blue-eyed person” in situations requiring seeing across long distances.

If blond people were able to withstand poisons that could kill non-blonds, it would not be hairist to call for “the blond” to deal with situations that might otherwise kill people.

Even among groups that have known each other a long time and know each other’s names, use of group names rather than individual names is a useful signal about what the need is. This is especially true in the typical D&D situation where special race and class abilities make a huge difference to the success of a dangerous mission and often the survival of members of the party. It is not at all occupationist, for example, for a soldier to call for the medic, even if the medic is a known person with a known name.

Members of a D&D party will often call for “the thief” or “the fighters” to similarly signal situational needs. D&D adventuring parties often display a very similar sense of camaraderie as small military units, and for similar reasons.

But even outside of military situations people will commonly address their doctor solely as “doctor” or “doc”, despite knowing their names, when requesting information of a medical nature. Addressing people by what they can do—professor, chef, farmer, officer, even boss—is very common. Children do it when they address mom or dad, and mom and dad do it when they address each other as ma or pa. Children will sometimes even change the way they address their parents once they have children of their own, because what their parents can do has now changed from being parents to being grandparents.

D&D character races, like D&D character classes, are things the character can do. In Dungeons & Dragons games, the same character might be addressed as their class (cleric, thief), their race (elf, human, dwarf), or their name, depending on the abilities each aspect of the character brings to the current situation. There’s good reason for this, as player choice of race “establishes fundamental qualities that exist throughout your character’s adventuring career.”

For example, a halfling could be a good choice for a sneaky rogue, a dwarf makes a tough warrior, and an elf can be a master of arcane magic.

Dwarves “have advantage on saving throws against poison, and you have resistance against poison damage”. Elves “have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep… Elves don’t need to sleep.” And so on through each of the fantasy races. These are real things in the game that make real differences to success and survival and that dwarf individual variation.

There is nothing like this among human races, except in the imagination of racists. It’s uncomfortable to even use such examples as eyeist, hairist, and occupationist. Like using “racism” to describe acknowledging the real differences between members of very different fantasy races, this trivializes the actual racism experienced by humans in the real world where such differences do not exist and acting as if they do is not justified by biology, magic, or the rules of physics.

“Race” as it is used to describe different human ancestry is not the same word as “race” used to describe fantasy elves, dwarves, humans, and so on. These terms are not the same in any realistic or ethical sense. Acting as if they’re equivalent accepts the racist notion that some human races are inferior and some are superior. It would be racist to act as if the differences between human races are equivalent to the differences between a fantasy elf and dwarf.

In the real world it is racist to claim that each of the human “races” are different, and to treat them differently because of that belief. Those racist claims are wrong. In D&D differences do exist, and it would be racist to claim that they don’t. It would be racist to treat people as if they do not have the special differences of a dwarf, or a human, or an elf. Such refusal to face reality could kill the person whose race is being ignored. Imagine ignoring that humans cannot see in the dark, for example, or that the halfling cannot escape just because the doorway is blocked by an enemy. Imagine calling it racist to bring up those differences, differences that affect the survival of the character, within the game.

One of the things that has always interested me and seems never to be explored in games is how having real, definite races of people would affect the racism against the imaginary differences we’ve made up in the real world. It seems as though having truly different fantasy races ought to make it obvious how incredibly superficial and trivial are the differences that justify hatred among human ethnicities. Sadly, it is easy to be disappointed by the resilience of such racism in the real world, and it’s hard to say that it would not remain resilient even in worlds like that of D&D.

As far as how to bring this up with the character who keeps making the joke, my advice would duplicate Thomas Markov’s, but be less-well written. I’d also echo his experience, personally, that reducing the quantity of at-table jokes vastly increases their quality.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Indeed ...though I'd say not "sadly" as the fact that your answer exists (and the others') adds to the dialectic of narrative we humans have of ourselves and of othering. "I looked in the mirror and saw the reflection of my reflection in my own eye. For a moment, I had a glimpse of who I was and now I'm not!" :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Jan 10 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ "It seems as though having truly different fantasy races ought to make it obvious how incredibly superficial and trivial are the differences that justify hatred among human ethnicities." Shadowrun touches on this. "Why worry about the tanned-looking guy standing next to you on the subway when that thing over there has hands the size of your head?" (SR2e p47) \$\endgroup\$
    – Adeptus
    Jan 11 at 3:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ On joke quality, I'd say there is an optimum quantity that is highly sensitive to local conditions. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Jan 12 at 19:30
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I agree with Thomas Markov's answer (and I think frequent loud interruptions aren’t warranted) but I think it also may depend on how the race is being used. For example:

If an NPC is directing PCs to find someone or identify someone like “you’re looking for the shop with a red sign. The shopkeeper is a short elf, you can’t miss them” then that’s totally fine.

If an NPC is speaking to someone and saying like “hey dwarf, come over here” then you are using language that does seem kinda racist. You could address somehow that you’ve built a world without any race discrimination but that might be hard.

If you’re not sure, replace the word with a real life situation and see if it’s uncomfortable. If it is, probably avoid it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the RPG Stack Exchange! This seems like a pretty good start to an answer, but we prefer to provide more context; information from a relevant book if possible, or experience based answers otherwise. Would you be able to add a bit to explain how you came to the conclusions you did? Bonus if you can reference actual situations that have come up in your gaming. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Jan 10 at 4:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another note; we are not a forum, and answers are subject to be rearranged according to the communities' votes. Try to reference answers directly- @[name] is common, even though it doesn't link in Answers, or making a link directly to the answer (you can grab that link by clicking the Share button on any answer, left of the contributor's name). \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Jan 10 at 4:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ If replacing a game situation with a RL situation and see if it's uncomfortable, that would be the end of most combat in D&D. \$\endgroup\$
    – Abigail
    Jan 10 at 17:08
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"Who is she? The cat's mother?"

I don't know how common the above phrase is outside the UK, so I shall explain its meaning: it is a rebuke used to children who refer to a woman (often their mother) as "she" in their presence. It is general truth that referring to people by traits rather than by identity is considered impolite. Referring to someone as "elf" is removing their identity, and instead substituting a group trait, and so it will very likely be considered rude regardless of any wider context.

A polite character could prefer "good sir", "m'lady", or "my good man", etc whilst a less formal character could prefer something like "mate", "chum", "duck", "love", or "my lover", etc.

Is shouting "racist!" correct or helpful?

Not really, quite apart from @ThomasMarkov's excellent frame challenge above, it should be understood that the concept of "race" in D&D (or the writings of Tolkien and others) is not the same thing as race in the modern world and conflating the two is unhelpful and disruptive to the game. Dividing humans into races is ascientific tosh, no more meaningful than dividing people into blue eyed or not, but an Elf and a Human are as different as a horse and a donkey.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure how general your general truth is. When I was learning Portuguese, I found that many social situations called for exactly this, in the same way that a waiter in English might say, "Would the gentleman care for a desert?" rather than use the informal "you". \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jan 10 at 13:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ "The gentleman" is a formal greeting, not a referent. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 10 at 13:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth noting, to highlight further your first paragraph, that in some very familiar circumstances and cultures even things that might be highly offensive to a non-familiar person can be terms of endearment (thinking specifically the celtic and cockney tendencies of using swear words between good friends as terms of familiarity or greeting without causing any offence to the recipient). Context is key! \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Jan 10 at 19:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ In the real world you generally wouldn't need to refer to someone as "elf" because it would be apparent who you were talking to. Since we aren't in a VR world we have no way to non-verbally indicate who we are talking to, labels are required that wouldn't be needed in most situations. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 10 at 21:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LorenPechtel Not so, you just need to say who you talking to, e.g. I say to the elf "Good sir, coul you..." \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11 at 8:40
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It is appropriate in-game to use racial terms for characters. Elves might dislike Dwarves, everyone hates Drows, and so on, and of course any character in your world can live out their predispositions fearing only in-game consequences.

The (negatively connotated) term makes no sense in a fantasy world. To quote Wikipedia (emphases mine):

A race is a categorization of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into groups generally viewed as distinct within a given society. The term was first used to refer to speakers of a common language and then to denote national affiliations. By the 17th century, the term began to refer to physical (phenotypical) traits. Modern science regards race as a social construct, an identity which is assigned based on rules made by society. While partially based on physical similarities within groups, race does not have an inherent physical or biological meaning.

The races in D&D and other Tolkien-esque universes (i.e., Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and so on) are clearly not social constructs; neither in-universe, nor obviously in the intent of the authors of the rulebooks or other materials.

In real world biology, a race is an informal (i.e. not wholly based on biological facts) taxonomy level:

In biological taxonomy, race is an informal rank in the taxonomic hierarchy for which various definitions exist. Sometimes it is used to denote a level below that of subspecies, while at other times it is used as a synonym for subspecies. It has been used as a higher rank than strain, with several strains making up one race. Races may be genetically distinct populations of individuals within the same species, or they may be defined in other ways, e.g. geographically, or physiologically. Genetic isolation between races is not complete, but genetic differences may have accumulated that are not (yet) sufficient to separate species.

It is a bit of a vague term, and sometimes used for historical reasons, but not connotated negatively unless used for humans. When talking about, say, races or breeds of dogs, cats or horses, nobody has a problem - on the contrary, for breeders it is of the utmost importance to have clean separations, with pedigrees going back many generations and driving the economy. It is clearly appropriate to call a dog a Dalmatian, and another dog a German Shepard.

And to come back to the fantasy world, if at all, Dwarves or Elves are species (a common demarcation of which is whether they can interbreed). Even if your world allows for half-dwarf-half-elf offspring (which, I guess, would not be too far off when you consider that half-elves, i.e. half-human-half-elves or half-orcs are usually a thing; not half-dwarves though...) and thus while the genetic separation of species in the D&D universe may not be wholly complete, using the term like this would certainly be acceptable.

(I could add a paragraph about speciesism now, but the answer is getting too long already; The TLDR would be the same.)

So, on to your problematic player: for whatever reason the racial aspects seem to be uncomfortable for them. I see two possible reasons: either they are so inundated with the real world discussions about human racism that they really get triggered by these themes, and their reaction is just their outlet for whatever emotion comes up. In this case, weaponize yourself with the concepts explained above, take them aside, and clear the issue up.

The other reason could be that they are just your regular old joker, having a hard time immersing themselves, and separating in-time vs. out-time. In that case, your discussion with them (again in private) has nothing to do with racism, but is just your good old one-on-one, telling them your expectations. As a GM, you are the person with the most effort invested, and setting the tone, asking people to show respect by staying in-character is your prerogative. If you need arguments for this kind of discussion, that would be another question.

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It's Complicated, And Depends On The Game World, The GM, And The Group

That is really the only possible answer; I regard answers that try to state definitively that things must be this way, or are definitely that way as highly suspect, at best.

However, it's also a fairly trivial and unhelpful answer, so let's try to put some meat on its bones:

There are lots of ways to design a game world, and lots of ways to look at doing so. One way is to consider a continuum where, on one side, the game world intentionally plays up certain real-world issues (like racism or sexism) for any one of a number of reasons: Because the GM or group find it "realistic", because the GM or group want to struggle against these ideas or ascribe them to the villains, etc. On the other side of that continuum will be game worlds where those issues are largely removed from the game, again, for any one of a number of reasons: Because the GM or group aren't interested in it, because the set-up would otherwise make certain characters or adventuring parties unsustainable, because the players are dealing with those issues in real life and it's not fun for a game, etc.

There is no exhaustive list of reasons on either side, and not all reasons are created equal.

So it is perfectly possible for me to imagine a game world where Elves and Dwarves and Orcs have all been at their throats for centuries and are thoroughly horrible about it and all references of one to another are automatically derogatory. It is also perfectly possible for me to imagine a game world where Elves and Dwarves and Orcs have all been united against some Aberrant or Fiendish threat for so long that racism just... isn't a thing in that game world, and remarking on heritage just isn't controversial.

There is nothing in D&D that requires either of those situations, but also nothing that would invalidate either one of them.

So much for the contribution of the GM. The thing is, the players get a vote, and it's unavoidably a vote affected by meta concerns-- specifically, the players' own experiences with that issue (in this case, racism.)

The GM can say, 'Racism isn't a thing in my game world.' The players can all, in theory, head-nod along with that in good faith, thinking it's a good idea. But if there's a player at the table for whom, "Hey, Elf!" or "Go get me that Dwarf!" are uncomfortably close to something they have to put up with in real life and they hadn't realized it until it started happening, well, then the table potentially has an issue to work through.

Just because something has been defined as non-racist inside the game world by the GM doesn't mean it can't potentially cause problems for one or more players (including the GM!) later.

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The other answers provided here are good, but "old school". The idea that race in D&D is just shorthand for species instead of real-world race is flawed, Wizards of the Coast has made several announcements very recently that contradict that viewpoint. Specifically around Drow Elves, they have indicated that it is no longer canon that Drow are evil at the race/species/whatever-level, because of the real-world problems this was causing at tables, as it makes a lot of players (especially new/young ones) uncomfortable. I bring this up because the player in question could honestly be trying to steer the culture of the game away from the old school Tolkien style.

Absolutely do not go in hard on this player with the "this is a game, race isn't a thing here" attitude, as they probably feel differently, and it could be that their position becomes more common than yours, as the culture of the game changes with modern times. I would recommend, as others have said, to circle back to a Session 0 meeting, and ask the players how they feel about the issue, outside of the context of this one player having just made a joke about it. Its totally OK for every game group to have their own playstyle, but I think you really just need to figure out if this player is actually feeling uncomfortable and is making a joke to lighten the mood, or perhaps they are sorta being sarcastic about modern "cancel culture". Either way, figure out how to gage everyone's feelings on the subject, and move forward from there, with the idea that is there absolutely no canonical answer in D&D for this problem, its simply up to your table to decide how they wanna play.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Let me quote from Tasha's CoE pg.7: "Character race in the game represents your character's fantasy species, combined with certain cultural assumptions." While it does allow players to make substitutions to stats and proficiencies in the service of greater customization (and differences in setting and individual variation), it does not overturn the fundamental premise. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 12 at 9:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fluffysheap If you are quoting from the books, them I'm afraid you don't fully understand the problem/complaint that is changing D&D right now. The books also used to say "All drow are evil and black", which is being increasingly viewed as problematic by lots of players. \$\endgroup\$
    – Graham
    Jan 14 at 13:36
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As this question has been so elegantly answered, I would like to add a bit of lore that would kindly point out why a PC might non-comfrontationally call someone by their race.

A lizardfolk's naming convention is to highlight a distinguishing feature of that person. This can be something as broad as "Archer" or as specific as "Poop Bather". However, that would also extend to NPCs who's only defining characteristic might, in fact, be their race.

They mean no offense by this as their alien minds use this convention for each other as well, but it could become a point of contention between players as being insulted for correctly roleplaying might get the problem player's character a rather unflattering nickname, like "Twat". And as funny as that might sound, I know D&D is an accepting community that wouldn't like the bullying of the whole group joining in.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Where did you get this piece of lore from? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jan 16 at 22:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Volo's Guide to Monsters, I believe P. 111. Lizardfolk speech "Names confuse them, unless they are descriptive. They tend to apply their own naming conventions to other creatures using Common words." And in their names "They use simple descriptives granted by the tribe based on an individual's notable deeds or actions. For example, Garurt translates as "axe," a name given to a lizardfolk warrior who defeated an orc and claimed his foe's weapon. A lizardfolk who likes to hide in [...] reeds [...] might be called Achuak, which means "green" to describe how she blends into the foliage." \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jan 17 at 1:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe to my understanding, that means a Lizardfolk who sees an elf among half-elves would most likely use "elf" to name them as it is short and descriptive. While an alchemist who often fails his potions might be called "Smokeball"... That also means that someone who prominently displays negative traits, like being fat, gluttonous, and squealy might then be called "Swine" (though a noble calling their honorable friend that would confuse them being a wrongful descriptor. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jan 17 at 1:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, so it's a Forgotten Realms-specific bit of lore? You should probably include that source in your answer, then, as that information may be relevant to players and GMs using other campaign settings. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jan 18 at 21:43
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It is okay for a character to be a racist in the game. this is a role playing game. a theatrical acting.

It is not okay for a player to be racist.

It is extremely important to know the difference.

And disruptive players should be taken aside , talk to and if they can't fix their disruptive behavior, let them go.

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I'm going to state that the individual you are speaking about was likely talked to in the past about being racially insensitive either within your current group, or a different group and he/she is still quite salty about it. Has anyone questioned the person, or asked, "what does that mean?" or something like that? I've played a TON of DnD, and I cannot think of a single instance where race was brought up so much I mean, talk about ruining the fun of a campaign. if you feel that bringing a politically charged situation into your gaming circle makes the game more pleasurable, then by all means, let him continue. But, if the group that you're playing with is as equally diverse as the characters you've created, then I'd walk lightly. I'd hate to think that one of your friends, maybe someone sitting directly across from you is patiently waiting for you to fix that situation, because that is an incredibly impolite to treat a guest inside your home.

In my experience, people who do/say/act in such a way are looking to get a reaction out of someone; I am certain that someone is you unfortunately. That type of talk is not allowed anywhere within earshot of me. I am a white guy, but I am also homosexual, and for anyone to use something that has been a source of exclusion and pain all my life as a means of a punchline or for popularity points wouldn't remain in my presence, or DnD campaign very long. This person has a lot of work to do to earn your friendship, and at the end of the day, there are WAY, WAY, WAAAAAYYYYYYY too many amazing and wonderful people out there to be handing out second chance cards to people that do the stupid stuff you described above.

I'd quit worrying so much about the game/gameplay/story and spend some time finding a replacement for motormouth.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome Brett! It would have been helpful and in the spirit of our SE to be a tad more welcoming by giving you feedbadk on your answer instead of just down-voting. Alas, twasn't the case today. My two pennies' worth is that it might help to add a specific example of lived experience as a DM and/or player, which provides an answer the question. Also, ifusaso's comments/suggestions in one of the previous answers are worth reading, too. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Jan 10 at 21:58

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