How strictly should race's appearances be enforced?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


How much do you think it is fair to play around with the appearances of races before they are no longer suitable for Pathfinder?

For example, could High Elves be Chinese-inspired in appearance and Wood Elves be the one that have pinkish/purple skin inspired from WarCraft? Maybe the only blond/blue eyed Elves are the Snow Elves.

Could typical Dwarves have generally stone-like skin, often marble gray but other times having various mixtures of brown in stripes across their body with jet black hair and only the exiled surface dwelling dwarves having more pinkish-beige skin tones and wood-colored brown hair?

Could the Orcs be all green/blue/gray with a mixture of boar and gorilla features while Hobgoblins are red/brown/yellow with very wolf/cat-like features so that no one could ever possibly mistake them for each other?

Could Kobolds come in all the colors of the Dragons and tend towards the alignment of that particular dragon color?

Just how much can the appearances of the races be played around with before it just isn't the same setting? Do you change the appearance of various creatures from what the book says when you play Pathfinder?


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It's a fantasy world, so people can look like whatever we imagine them to look like. Only real issue is if you have changed the appearance of a thing so much it is no longer identifiable as that thing- like if your gnomes are 12 feet tall and have 7 arms, maybe don't call them gnomes.

But hair color, skin color, build etc. can be freely changed within most parameters. Like I have long insisted Drow should be pale like cave salamanders and no one from any RPG company has told me to stop.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I think there are several questions here:

The first is can the game system handle fairly radical reskinning, and the answer to that is that it 100% can. Your elves can have orange skin, droopy ears and pig noses and the system won't care at all.

The second is how much re-skinning can you do in a particular setting, and a lot of that comes down to communication. If I tell you your enter a village of orange skinned, droopy eared creatures with pig noses and then refer to them as elves, you are going to be confused if that reskinning hasn't been explained before. Certainly the 'skin' of things is important, and contributes to the perceptions of the game world. The above 'elves' wouldn't feel like elves to me, and I wouldn't make that choice. If everyone at the table knows about the reskinning, and is cool with it though, it isn't a problem.

If you are a player obviously you need to work with your GM and make sure your vision of the race will work with his vision of the world. In a setting like PFS, just stick with what is published.

When I say 'elf' that very short word conveys a lot of information based on experiences in the game and other influence from our culture. The more my vision of 'elf' departs from that norm (and fairly enough, there is a lot of variation already Keebler and Tolkien are quite different) the more confused others are going to be when I use that word, obviously they can adapt with time, but doing that sort of thing, especially a lot, might make the came less fun.


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Paizo already goes against the grain with some of their races (elves are aliens and look the part, far from the pointy eared perfect humans you see in most other settings). There's really nothing stopping you from tweaking things to work closer with your own setting.


Tzakkesh wrote:
Just how much can the appearances of the races be played around with before it just isn't the same setting?

Are you under the impression that all official Pathfinder elves are blond and blue eyed?

If I'm playing in a setting, I try to be as true to the setting as possible. There's lots of good art provided with the game; I don't want to have to throw all that away.

But I don't have a problem with making up a setting that just happens to be pretty similar to Golarion while differing where I need it to.


Well, I think the above link just shows that Elves and other "demihuman" races take on the same skin-tones as the humans around them.

But I suppose one could take this to mean "Of course there are blue Orcs with long arms, stubby legs, hunch-backs, pig-noses and big tusks. Just because the entry says that Orcs are green and tall, that just means the Orcs here. The Orcs who live way up north can be another matter entirely."

Or "yeah, no one going to mistake the 6'4" red guy with big pointy ears and sharp cat-like teeth as anything as other than a Hobgoblin. When it said Hobgoblins were 5'4" gray skinned guys, that just meant the ones who lived in the most setting-default region of the world where they are mostly semi-subterranean. That doesn't mean they don't look totally different from over there in the desert region for example."

or "Just because an Elf has purple skin or a Dwarf has gray skin doesn't mean they are from the evil subrace. Those physical traits could completely manifest themselves in other tribes/clans."


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Tzakkesh wrote:
How much do you think it is fair to play around with the appearances of races before they are no longer suitable for Pathfinder?

"[N]o longer suitable for Pathfinder"? What does that even mean?

Dave Justus wrote:
The second is how much re-skinning can you do in a particular setting, and a lot of that comes down to communication. If I tell you your enter a village of orange skinned, droopy eared creatures with pig noses and then refer to them as elves, you are going to be confused if that reskinning hasn't been explained before. Certainly the 'skin' of things is important, and contributes to the perceptions of the game world. The above 'elves' wouldn't feel like elves to me, and I wouldn't make that choice. If everyone at the table knows about the reskinning, and is cool with it though, it isn't a problem.

Anybody who would be that surprised about a non-Tolkien-looking elf needs to read up on their mythology, or at least pick up a Brian Froud book. Heck, the elves on Golarion look like crossbreeds between humans and Greys for reasons already mentioned above.

(Back to OP)

Wake me when your player says that their elf looks like a four-dimensional trash bag. If you're concerned about whether a PC's appearance makes sense for the setting, that's a wholly different story. That's a question for the person curating the setting. (Turns out that's the GM.)


My casting pick for Aragorn would have been Samuel L. Jackson.

Tzakkesh wrote:
For example, could High Elves be Chinese-inspired in appearance

No, silly, High Elves are French. Vulcans are Chinese!

So,

Dave Justus wrote:
the game system handle fairly radical reskinning,

Re-skinning, oh dear.

It seems to me that the issue is not whether the game system allows for this, but whether your gaming community can handle it. If you want to use the fantasy world's different races of people to make some kind of political and/or racial statement directly correlating to real-world perceptions on race and racism, that seems like fair game to me, but a whole lot of people are likely to catch feelings about that. You might be playing with fire.

Then again, go ahead and take a long look at the works of Robert Howard, L. Frank Baum, and H.P. Lovecraft, and it won't take long to find the racism there. Lots of people in fantasy roleplaying games like to kill certain kinds of monsters just because they're there, or just because they think they're evil. The fantasy genre has a long tradition of being a racist genre, perhaps inherently so, and I see no reason to let people feel comfortable with it.


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Scott Wilhelm wrote:
I see no reason to let people feel comfortable with it.

One reason might be that sometimes people just want to enjoy gaming and not deal with real world issues.


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Dave Justus wrote:
Scott Wilhelm wrote:
I see no reason to let people feel comfortable with it.
One reason might be that sometimes people just want to enjoy gaming and not deal with real world issues.

It sure is nice to be able to make that choice, isn't it?


blahpers wrote:
Dave Justus wrote:
Scott Wilhelm wrote:
I see no reason to let people feel comfortable with it.
One reason might be that sometimes people just want to enjoy gaming and not deal with real world issues.
It sure is nice to be able to make that choice, isn't it?

Yeah, it is. I mean games with heavier themes and deeper explorations of relations and meanings are great but I don't really see why we should throw shade at someone who wants to make blue orcs and purple elves or use aesthetics from different cultures and periods than renaissance Europe without going any deeper than that.


Squiggit wrote:
blahpers wrote:
Dave Justus wrote:
Scott Wilhelm wrote:
I see no reason to let people feel comfortable with it.
One reason might be that sometimes people just want to enjoy gaming and not deal with real world issues.
It sure is nice to be able to make that choice, isn't it?
Yeah, it is. I mean games with heavier themes and deeper explorations of relations and meanings are great but I don't really see why we should throw shade at someone who wants to make blue orcs and purple elves or use aesthetics from different cultures and periods than renaissance Europe without going any deeper than that.

I'm not throwing shade at the OP: I'm pointing out that some of his ideas are likely to make people feel uncomfortable while at the same time encouraging him to go do just that: if he has something to say, he should say it.

Just be mindful, that's all.


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Scott Wilhelm wrote:


I'm not throwing shade at the OP: I'm pointing out that some of his ideas are likely to make people feel uncomfortable while at the same time encouraging him to go do just that: if he has something to say, he should say it.

Just be mindful, that's all.

I wasn't referring to you. Your comments seemed completely appropriate given the OP's question. It's definitely important to be mindful of what you're saying or what you might be perceived as saying when doing this, especially if you're drawing on real world cultures as inspirations for the aesthetics of specific fantasy species.


blahpers wrote:
Dave Justus wrote:
Scott Wilhelm wrote:
I see no reason to let people feel comfortable with it.
One reason might be that sometimes people just want to enjoy gaming and not deal with real world issues.
It sure is nice to be able to make that choice, isn't it?

If you can't but are able to play at all in the first place, you're probably in the wrong group.

Sovereign Court

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion Subscriber

As a living, breathing "real world issue", it sure is nice to see people saying that people like me don't deserve to be part of the game because we're ruining their escapism or something.

We'd like some escapism of our own... say, to a fantasy universe where narrow-minded people aren't trying to erase us for god-knows-what reason. It seems unfair to assume bigotry... but it's hard to think of any other reason why someone might not want us in their fantasy universe.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Dave Justus wrote:
Scott Wilhelm wrote:
The fantasy genre has a long tradition of being a racist genre, perhaps inherently so, and I see no reason to let people feel comfortable with it.
One reason might be that sometimes people just want to enjoy gaming and not deal with real world issues.

Not interjecting bigotry into your own games and dealing with the bigotry inherent and apparent in the system are two completely different things.

So in not wanting to deal with “real world issues” what do you exclude or overlook? Are women not allowed to play in your games? PoC? Queerfolk? Or are they in but only as caricatures and/or villains?


Tzakkesh wrote:

How much do you think it is fair to play around with the appearances of races before they are no longer suitable for Pathfinder?

For example, could High Elves be Chinese-inspired in appearance and Wood Elves be the one that have pinkish/purple skin inspired from WarCraft? Maybe the only blond/blue eyed Elves are the Snow Elves.

Could typical Dwarves have generally stone-like skin, often marble gray but other times having various mixtures of brown in stripes across their body with jet black hair and only the exiled surface dwelling dwarves having more pinkish-beige skin tones and wood-colored brown hair?

Could the Orcs be all green/blue/gray with a mixture of boar and gorilla features while Hobgoblins are red/brown/yellow with very wolf/cat-like features so that no one could ever possibly mistake them for each other?

Could Kobolds come in all the colors of the Dragons and tend towards the alignment of that particular dragon color?

Just how much can the appearances of the races be played around with before it just isn't the same setting? Do you change the appearance of various creatures from what the book says when you play Pathfinder?

r/frugal


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Rysky wrote:
Dave Justus wrote:
Scott Wilhelm wrote:
The fantasy genre has a long tradition of being a racist genre, perhaps inherently so, and I see no reason to let people feel comfortable with it.
One reason might be that sometimes people just want to enjoy gaming and not deal with real world issues.

Not interjecting bigotry into your own games and dealing with the bigotry inherent and apparent in the system are two completely different things.

So in not wanting to deal with “real world issues” what do you exclude or overlook? Are women not allowed to play in your games? PoC? Queerfolk? Or are they in but only as caricatures and/or villains?

Thank you for the excellent construction of a straw man!

Of course everyone is welcome in my games. In fact, I want everyone to feel comfortable.

I have indeed played and run games that deal with heavy real world issues. That can be fun. I have also, probably more, just played games that are designed to be fun, where everyone can relax and where the game makes no attempt to confront any long traditions of racism or anything else of a similar weighty manner.

In my post, I merely said that one reason I could see (where Scott apparently couldn't see any) to let people feel comfortable with traditional fantasy is because however worthy confronting those things are some of the time, it is not necessary to make everything so serious. Sometimes I just want to relax, roll some dice and make bad puns, and in my experience I am not alone in that.

Silver Crusade

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Dave Justus wrote:
Sometimes I just want to relax, roll some dice and make bad puns, and in my experience I am alone in that.
Because you're not the one affected by bigotry when it shows up.
Dave Justus wrote:

Thank you for the excellent construction of a straw man!

Of course everyone is welcome in my games. In fact, I want everyone to feel comfortable.

Not a strawman. If bigotry of any sort shows up in your games, whether from the NPCs or the players or the system itself and you don't do anything about it (either in the moment or preemptively) because you "just want to relax" then that is at odds with wanting everyone to be comfortable.

Scott said they saw no reason to let people be comfortable with a perhaps inherently racist genre and you responded that one reason was people just want to play the game and not deal with "with real world issues"... racism is a real world issue but you rather allow it so you can relax rather than addressing it or removing it?


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I think the long and short of it is that players should describe their characters as looking like whatever the player wants them to look like. No one will quibble with "her hair is always perfect" as a character appearance, so no one should worry that much about skin color, facial features, build, etc.

Other part of it is if you are playing a fantasy version of a real world group, if that is not a group you personally belong to - tread carefully to avoid stereotyping, and if someone who is a member of that group tells you to step back then you should.

Specifically telling stories about oppression when you have no personal experience with that oppression (save for being on the side perpetuating it just by default). No matter how skilled or well-intentioned you are, you're going to screw up in some unfortunate ways (this is why novelists hire sensitivity readers- to check the author's blind spots). For playing something you're not, it's best to leave it at "these kinds of folks are around" and "these kinds of folks are more or less just like everyone else."

After all, the fantasy I want to indulge in is "there are all kinds of folks, and people pretty much treat them all the same." Like I know "Cheliax oppresses Halflings" is canoncal, but we can just use this as a signpost for "this person is evil."


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I don't think you understand what a strawman is.

I also think you are assuming a lot about me, without any merit.

There is a huge difference between making people feel uncomfortable by forcing them to confront things you feel are problematic, and making everyone feel comfortable.

The idea that you can only achieve the later via the former seems unlikely to me.

That said, we are probably veering too far afield for this post, and I won't be commenting on it further.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Dave Justus wrote:
The idea that you can only achieve the later via the former seems unlikely to me.
I was not suggesting this I will point out.
Dave Justus wrote:
That said, we are probably veering too far afield for this post, and I won't be commenting on it further.

Okay.

Grand Lodge

Any race will have natural variations in skin tones and hair color. Some of them are developed due to climate and habitat (darker skin in sunnier climates, lighter skin in areas with less sun), some can be manifestations of genetic abnormalities (albinism), some can be caused by diet or environmental poisoning (argyria), some from illness (jaundice).

Those are only a handful of the possible things that can affect skin color in the real world...when you dive into a world with multiple sentient humanoid races that can interbreed, throw in some magic, a little bit of extra-planar intervention, etc. There is literally no limit to what you can make things look like in your own world, and only a few limits on what you can do in an established setting with pre-defined appearances for existing races.


Dave Justus wrote:
That said, we are probably veering too far afield for this post

Maybe, but the community sure did prove the point I was making!

I wrote:
It seems to me that the issue is not whether the game system allows for this, but whether your gaming community can handle it. If you want to use the fantasy world's different races of people to make some kind of political and/or racial statement directly correlating to real-world perceptions on race and racism, that seems like fair game to me, but a whole lot of people are likely to catch feelings about that. You might be playing with fire.

It's clearly a charged issue!

So, Dave, I guess it is fair to say I was being hyperbolic, there. But speaking for myself,

Self wrote:
Go ahead and speak for me.

When I am making characters and playing them, I often find myself wanting to use my character to make some kind of statement about culture or politics, and I do have a strong willingness to make (or at least let) people feel uncomfortable doing so.

Dave Justus wrote:
There is a huge difference between making people feel uncomfortable by forcing them to confront things you feel are problematic, and making everyone feel comfortable.

It's not an easy needle to thread, no doubt about it. You don't want to be the guy to ruin everybody else's fun. But maybe lots of people ruin lots of people's fun without a second thought. I'm sure that I'm not the only one to notice that all the heroes in the Lord of the Rings moves were all white and all the Uruk Hai were black. Did they mean anything by it? Probably not. Should they have thought about what how, it would be interpreted? Sure, but you can't think of everything.

I've seen a lot of behavior displayed by a lot of players through their characters that made me feel uncomfortable, and usually, they go right on ahead with nary a thought for my feelings. Should I let them? Should I call them on it? Should I make them uncomfortable right back? I guess it all depends.

Should the OP go there? Should he make his Elves Chinese, like he said? Should he make one of the other fantasy races Mexican? Should he make one of the other fantasy races African? My advice to Tzakkesh is that he (?) should think long and hard about doing something that, because, as we have proven on this thread, this is a powder keg issue. But personally, when I have a statement to make with one of my characters, or with my campaign world, I go for it, and let those eyebrows rise!


Kalindlara wrote:
As a living, breathing "real world issue", it sure is nice to see people saying that people like me don't deserve to be part of the game because we're ruining their escapism or something.

What people have made such a claim? I just re-read the thread several times just to be thorough and no such claims currently exist in it.

Shadow Lodge

In my opinion, your character can look like however you want. You don't have to adhere to the silly Golarion version of giant eyebrowed gnomes. If you think that is stupid and gnomes don't look at all like that (then you would be correct), you can change the appearance for your character. As long as you keep the reskinning for your character. Don't tell some other player their dwarf lady has a beard because you think all dwarf ladies are supposed to have beards. Let other players imagine their own versions of the fantasy.
Also, no matter what you describe your gnome like, npcs will still recognize you as a gnome. Reskinning is not a free disguise.

As far as the whole tangent conversation is going, I think that shows you will enjoy the hobby much more if you can find a group of friends with similar values that you can be comfortable with.


The check to recognize you as a member of your race doesn't change regardless of what you look like, unless it is a disguise. With that in mind, if you want the world to make sense, there can't be too much overlap between races, and there needs to be a set range of options. The PCs are typically exceptional members of their race anyway, so letting them set the outer bounds seems reasonable enough. However, if the character could easily be mistaken for some other race, then that should probably cost a trait at the very least.

As a DM, I'm pretty flexible. The only adjustment I make is giving people free knowledge of where you're from if you look extremely unusual. If you want to be a pink elf, cool, people who know about elves will also know of the only place in the world where pink elves come from, so try not to do anything to embarrass your people.

I do think it's reasonable to set genre limits on appearance though. Removing anime hair, or bony strong men, oblivious beauties, and other sorts of genre specific characters should be on the table for the DM.

Short answer: Mechanically irrelevant. Do whatever works for your game world narratively.


To the OP: I reckon you can do all of that if you're the GM. At least talk it over with the GM if you're not, before messing with their world.

A word of caution or two is justified though - if you talk down orcs as near-animals and then give them the accents of some ethnic group when RPing them, you are going to at least have the appearance of being prejudiced against that group. Try to avoid stuff like that.


I would go with within a certain range and reason, the player can set their character, even more if there is reason for it.

But since there is disguise anything you do is subject to it.

There is no default pass cause of character story either.

Which means, if you are a human that want to pass as an elf, you better be good at disguise, otherwise i dont care how you look, anyone , assuming an easy perception check works, will instantly know you are for example a human, you are male, +- your age...

I do agree that checking with the GM is the best bet, ultimately, that will be the last word on the subject anyway.


At least this conversation is (slightly) more civilised than the slanging match it became several years ago (fair enough on not wanting the mechanics or complication of drow PCs in your game - i.e. Second Darkness - {a Good GM could have handled that in my opinion} but the thread almost came to the equivalent of a PFS GM telling a theoretical black guy that rocked up to a PFS table they can't play a black elf because "it just isn't done" *flounce flounce* which was not handled well...)

... that said, some of those guys seem to have gone...

Drow or Half-Drow as playable in PFS

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