In the most recent Unearthed Arcana, Gothic Lineages, Wizards of the Coast made the following clarification to their design process going forward:
I’m actually a big fan of this change in design philosophy.
By removing cultural characteristics from individual races actually makes it easier to ground the players’ characters into the game world as their choices in starting areas, and in languages, might become more useful to their exploration of the world. Likewise, removing the alignment suggestion from the races seems like a solid move as you can still have “evil” orks and drow, but you can also play good ones without feeling pressure to conform to the racial alignments that dominated the game’s past.
Both moves are good ideas that will help move the game forward as it continues to expand into the mainstream.
I do think that they could have removed the word “race” from the game entirely if they wanted – and I think whenever the next edition comes out that we will see it gone from the game – and instead begun referring to it as “lineage” as they did in this article. I’ve discussed in the past my discomfort with the word “race” (see Why did Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Continue to Use the Term ‘Race?’ for more) and at the time I suggested using “species” instead. After seeing “lineage” used I find it far more enjoyable a term and will be using it going forward.
I’m interested in seeing where the game will go in the coming years with these changes. What are your thoughts?