When a new Unearthed Arcana drops much of the focus is on the mechanics. They are mechanical tests after all. In some cases the development team removes story mentions to not taint the survey results. This UA drop is focused on playing as Undead or Fey. The purpose is to test Dhampir (emergent vampires, kinda), Hexblood (emergent hags, kinda), Reborn (those that hover between living and dead, mostly).
The mechanics are intriguing. The Dhampir has a bite attack that uses Constitution for its damage stat, which makes sense. The Hexblood has a superior version of Message and Arcane Eye combo. Reborn are sleepless, with a kind of elvish trance available.
More important than the new racial options and mechanics is the sidebar titled Design Note: Changes to Racial Traits. Thanks to Justice Arman for calling this out on Twitter and forcing me to look deeper into the change.
Let’s take it piece by piece.
The first paragraph further emphasizes the small changes in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. It’s a solid reminder of the product and the small steps already taken.
In 2020, the book Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduced the option to customize several of your character’s racial traits, specifically the Ability Score Increase trait, the Language trait, and traits that give skill, armor, weapon, or tool proficiencies.From UNEARTHED ARCANA 2021: Gothic Lineages
Paragraph two is a reminder that the work is not done. Forward all D&D books are removing those elements from races that are purely cultural, as well as the Ability Score increase. This will obviously, and *necessarily*, impact the current races (a change that will be simpler via DnDBeyond and other digital systems than those with physical books. There will still be physical and magical differences for the characters with certain races.
Following in that book’s footsteps, the race options in this article and in future D&D books lack the Ability Score Increase trait, the Language trait, the Alignment trait, and any other trait that is purely cultural. Racial traits henceforth reflect only the physical or magical realities of being a player character who’s a member of a particular lineage. Such traits include things like darkvision, a breath weapon (as in the dragonborn), or innate magical ability (as in the forest gnome). Such traits don’t include cultural characteristics, like language or training with a weapon or a tool, and the traits also don’t include an alignment suggestion, since alignment is a choice for each individual, not a characteristic shared by a lineage.
The final paragraph is a strong reminder that a character is not the normal part of any culture, species, lineage, or race. The player-character occupies a unique space within a D&D world. They are heroes or anti-heroes, not paragons of a racial group.
Finally, going forward, the term “race” in D&D refers only to the suite of game features used by player
characters. Said features don’t have any bearing on monsters and NPCs who are members of the same species or lineage, since monsters and NPCs in D&D don’t rely on race or class to function. Moreover, DMs are empowered to customize the features of the creatures in their game as they wish.
The multi-year critique directed at D&D in regards to its history and legacy of racism and racial-tinged rules is having an impact — a slow one. This are necessary changes. Some of them are small. Some of them are big.
To borrow from Jemma Simmons, Agents of SHIELD, “The steps you take don’t need to be big. They just need to take you in the right direction.”
These are steps in the right direction. This is progress. The path forward is exciting.