I gotta tell you, I struggled over X for a long time. I was on xill for a while, then to xorn. I had to skim through a dictionary before I settled on xenophobia. In the D&D games I've witnessed, xenophobia is not often addressed, but its something I like to put into my games when I can. Essentially, it is the fear of the strange or different. This can be culturally, racially, sexually, anything really. The fear of whatever is not you. In this way it goes beyond racism, it encompasses all that is different.
The tropes of fantasy lend themselves to the stereotypes that elves and dwarves do not get along, and that orcs are generally disliked by the other 'civilized' races. In a way, xenophobia makes itself shown all over the genre and the games. The elves tend to be withdrawn and isolationist, dwarves tend to mistrust other non-dwarves. Even humans, who are generally considered the most accepting of the demihuman races, live primarily among other humans. Of course, all races prefer their own kind, but when was the last time you heard of a human or elf living in a dwarven city?
I try to include instances of blatant racism in my games when it seems appropriate. I've had several characters flat out show hatred for specific races. A particularly aloof elven lord was famous for hating humans, though I did add some interesting character development in that he was inexplicably in love with a particular human woman, a fact that made him hate himself. I've had some NPCs be actively spiteful to party members of a certain race. I really love to do it to the race of whatever the paladin happens to be. Paladins tend to put time and skills into diplomatic relations, so if the NPC the party needs information from happens to hate the paladin's guts, it can be fun to watch the party attempt to make up for their lost member.
Sexism has also played a huge part in one of my favorite stand-alone adventures. Two elderly dwarven widower kings needed to marry their children to ensure the continuation of the family line, incidentally merging the two kingdoms together. The prince and the kings assumed the prince would take over and the princess would do her womanly duties like all good women should. Of course, the princess had other plans. She sought to assassinate the prince so that she could take full control of both kingdoms, having had her fill of male oppression. The plot was extremely intricate, and is heralded by my players as the best mini-adventure I've ever done. All from the idea of sexism and how it affects the women involved. She was a broken and angry woman, but by the end of the adventure, almost every NPC had done something despicable, and yet every one had their reasons and could be sympathized with. The players too, had to do some underhanded forgery to ensure a corrupt dwarf went to prison. All in the name of "justice".
The reason I include these aspects in my game is because I do not see my campaign world as perfect. People are flawed, and sometimes those flaws include xenophobic views of the world. More often than not I have characters who are unshakably convinced of their views, even when those views are unpopular with modern societal norms, or just plain wrong. Just because we no longer see xenophobia as the norm anymore (or at least the willingness to admit it) doesn't mean a feudal society would not. Often, the fear of the other was encouraged to provide a sense of unity against invading forces. It's like my brothers and I have said many times, if Earth was invaded by aliens tomorrow, every nation would band together to defend our home against the other. Our xenophobia is an evolutionary tool to protect us, and denying its existence, preventing it from appearing in my game, merely hinders my creativity in character choices. Thus, I embrace it, and allow my NPCs to take it as a trait. Thanks for reading, stay tuned Monday for "Y is for Yesteryear".
Sexism in Fantasy