Even though Race means something different in D&D than it does in real life, you can probably imagine why it can be seen as problematic to categorize it this way.
Even Wizards of the Coast have officially acknowledged the racial issues around the game and the ways they’re working to change it, going forward.
“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. That’s just not right, and it’s not something we believe in. Despite our conscious efforts to the contrary, we have allowed some of those old descriptions to reappear in the game. We recognize that to live our values, we have to do an even better job in handling these issues. If we make mistakes, our priority is to make things right.” (read more here)
Wizards of the Coast is working to remove dangerous and insensitive stereotypes in book reprints and in newer publications.
A great book that’s been around for a minute that offers alternative character features is Ancestry & Culture by Arcanist Press.
The basic premise is that instead of choosing a race, class, and background, you drop the race and you choose an ancestry and culture as well as your class and background.
“Ancestry” is the traits given to you by your blood relative, things that you don’t have control over. An example of this might be that a tiefling that has horns, whereas your “culture” is going to be the traits you have that are given to you by your family culture, such as a rock gnome’s building skills.
Interested in character sheets that are already built for this alternative system? It’s free to download! (Suggested donation $1)
I appreciate that these conversations are happening. I like that we can make things better where possible!