The Hadozee: Why it is Never a Good Idea to try and Rehabilitate a Racist Trope

I was excited for the new 5E D&D Spelljammer setting. Overall, it is okay. Three books with enough info to get a game going, but not much depth given. Between the three books you get a smattering of details, very little lore, and zero mention of THE Spelljammer. But I’m actually fine with all of that. What I’m really not okay with is the return of the Hadozee.

If you aren’t familiar, the Hadozee were introduced back in the 2E Spelljammer setting. To the best of my knowledge they’ve never appeared outside of that setting. Even back when I was a kid, I realized that the Hadozee were a horribly racist minstrel caricature of people of African origin. But I don’t want you to just take my (sometimes faulty) memory as gospel. Instead, I’m going to start by showing you every mention of the Hadozee from 2E Spelljammer books. Buckle up.

DD2-SJ: The original Spelljammer boxed set: The Hadozee are not mentioned. Should have stayed that way, but let’s continue.

“Legend of the Spelljammer” boxed set: Still no Hadozee. It really is starting to look like they weren’t an integral feature of the Spelljammer setting, as the two big original boxed sets don’t have a single reference to them.

MC7: Monstrous Compendium Spelljammer Appendix: This may be the first reference in print to the Hadozee. Credits at the front of the book state it was Douglas Niles who created this entry.

Image of Hadozee from MC7. All images were originally Copyright and Trademark TSR, and are likely C/T of Wizards of the Coast now.
Entry from MC7

Here’s where we get the first bit of racist connotation. I’m referencing the whole once grouped with orcs line, but the Hadozee helped the Elves, so the Elves basically let them live and started exploiting them. It isn’t extremely blatant, but we’ve got a few more books to go through.

MC9: Monstrous Compendium Spelljammer Appendix II: No reference to Hadozee.

SJA1: Wildpace: Once again, zero reference to the Hadozee.

SJA2: Skull & Crossbones: No Hadozee to see here, either. Yeah, they were really an integral part of the Spelljammer setting, weren’t they? (That was sarcasm, btw.)

SJA3: Crystal Spheres: First up, 5e dropped the Crystal Spheres, but they were so integral to the 2E version that there was an entire supplement named for the concept. Is there any mention of the Hadozee? There is not.

SJA4: Under the Dark Fist: Nope. I’ve actually referenced the Hadozee more in this post than they were referenced in official Spelljammer materials so far.

SJQ1: Heart of the Enemy: No.

SJR1: Lost Ships: No.

SJR2: Realmspace: No.

SJR4: Practical Planetology: No.

SJR5: Rock of Bral: Writer: L. Richard Baker III: A reference! Location 133 – Saakharr’s Exotic Mails. Yeah, this is a shop started by a lizardman that makes armor for nonhuman clients, including Hadozee. Still weird that in a space setting humans are still the absolute dominant species for all trade, such that there is one shop that makes armor for basically everyone who is not human. Not terrific, but it is reflective of most of the 2E product line that divided playable races into the categories of Human, Demi-Human, Humanoid, and Monstrous.

SJR6: Greyspace: Writer: Nigel Findley: In the Spacefaring Companies section, we have an entry for “Spike”:

Okay. We start to get more into “yikes” territory here. Spike is “bright” for a hadozee with an Intelligence of 11 (back in 2E the average intelligence for a human was 10, for reference). They call him “Spike” because no one on board can pronounce his real name, despite the entry stating that some of the other marines are also hadozee. But I guess they don’t count towards the rest of the ship’s crew, huh? Oh, but none of the humans have issues taking orders from him. Not because they aren’t racist, but because Spike is that badass. Oh, and the captain saved him from a neogi slave vessel that was getting ready to sacrifice Spike as fuel for their ship. I think that Nigel may have been a bit influenced by the whole Han/Chewbacca life-debt thing here. If you were unaware, the trope of freed slave then swearing a life vow to their liberator thing is a racist trope. Freed slave sticks with liberator as a means of liberating more enslaved people still plays into the whole slavery trope, but alters the narrative. They don’t stay with their liberator swearing absolute loyalty because the liberator did one good thing. The first trope involves trading one master for another, but leaves the character still effectively enslaved by whatever tradition is at play. In essence, once a slave, one can never actually be liberated. As an additional note, the other three listed crew of the Sentinel have intelligences of 14 or above. They are two humans and a half-elf. They Sentinel is a company of pirate hunters, but their motivations are mysterious. Moving on.

SJR7: Krynnspace: Writer: Jean Rabe: In the entry for Lunitari, it is referenced that there is a mated pair of old hadozee living on that moon. This pair are part of a group use the hulk of an old crashed spelljamming vessel and turned it into a weird kind of “haunted ship” that seems more like a carnival attraction than anything else. The hadozee couple likes to plant a fake logbook in the chartroom of that ship with “lurid details of horrible planetary monsters and finally a savage death to old crew members.” When adventurers take the logbook, the hadozee couple will just write another fictional and horrific account for the next group to find. So we just have an old married couple living on the moon who like to prank adventurers. That’s not so bad.

SJR8: Space Lairs: Nothing.

SJS1: Goblin’s Return: Nothing.

The Astomundi Cluster Boxed Set – Book 1 – The Astrogater’s Guide: Nothing.

The Astomundi Cluster Boxed Set – Book 2 – Adventures in the Shattered Sphere: Nothing.

The Astomundi Cluster Boxed Set – Book 3 – The Celestial Almanac: A footnote entry –

War Captain’s Companion – Book 1 – War Captain’s Guide: Nothing.

War Captain’s Companion – Book 2 – Ship Recognition Manual: This book includes a crew summary guide with some basic stat info for various types of crew members. Hadozee are listed as being able to fly, so they can board another vessel without first grappling.

War Captain’s Companion – Book 3 – Combat Among the Stars: Nothing.

CGR1: The Complete Spacefarers Handbook: Editor: Barbara G. Young: This is the first publication I’m aware of during 2E that listed the Hadozee as a playable race. Back in 2E there were things like “Racial Ability Requirements”, just like class requirements. According to the rules as written, you would roll 3d6 six times, and those would be your ability scores in the following order: Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha. So if your first roll was 6, then your Str was 6, and so on. You rolled your scores before choosing your race and class(es). For a human, the racial ability requirements were always 3 to 18, so no matter what stats you rolled, you could always be human. Okay, so now we look at the Hadozee on the chart. Str 6/18; Dex 8/18; Con 3/18; Int 3/18; Wis 3/18; Cha 3/16. Kind of conflicts with the description of “Spike” from earlier, as this chart suggests that Hadozee have the same range of Intelligence as humans. In fact, the Monstrous Compendium entry puts their Intelligence in the “Average” range of 8 to 10 (again, same as humans), making Spike’s entry in Greyspace feel even more telling. The Hadozee max of 16 of Cha is the same as Lizard Folk (Lizard Men or Lizardmen back in 2E) and the insectile Xixchil. Racial Ability Adjustments chart then gives all Hadozee a +1 to Dex and a -1 to Charisma. So if you rolled all your stats within range for you to make a Hadozee, the maximum you could have in Charisma at the end of character creation is 15. Okay, that seems a bit unusual. Keep in mind, the hippo people known as the Giff have no penalties to Charisma. The Hadozee are instead lower in Charisma than Lizard Folk, and barely more Charismatic than the insectile alien Xixchil. Next up is Class Restrictions and Level Limits (which was another thing from 2E to try and force people to play humans):

Hadozee can only be Clerics, Fighters, or Thieves. Once again, kind of weird since they don’t have any Intelligence penalties, but nope, no Hadozee Mages allowed. If you never played prior to 3E, you might not get that the above was normal back then. I always hated the level caps for anyone other than humans. I cover the bioessentialism (i.e.: eugenics) in other posts, so I’m going to just state that the above was rooted in real world racism.

Now we get to the actual entry for Hadozee. Let’s take a deep breath. And…:

Immediately I’m a bit perturbed by the “deck apes” thing right up front. Oh, Hadozee are “rude”, and only aren’t rude when in the presence of elves or employers. What’s going on here? Oh, those are “controlling influences”. They are “hard workers”. They prefer to join the crews of other nations. That’s kind of unusual. I feel like I’m missing some context, even though the other books in the Spelljammer series have thus far had very little to say about the Hadozee. Something tells me there was a Dragon Magazine issue that may have covered the Hadozee before Complete Spacefarer. A lot of gamers don’t realize that 2E had a bit of an evolution not unlike what WotC is doing with One D&D (which won’t replace 5E, but will just expand upon it). The Complete series was the flagship of what was basically 2.5E. “Hadozee have traveled the spaceways for generations, working for masters of many different races.” That is not very great language. They are “born warriors”. This entry also contradicts the earlier tables, stating that they take a -2 to Cha instead of a -1. The editing on books from this era was atrocious. We didn’t have the internet to provide us with errata. Which makes me think of Dragon Magazine again.

Next up are kits (think sub-classes in 5E). Looks like if a Hadozee can be the base class, there are no kit restrictions listed here. The Merchant kit even states that Hadozee practice interplanetary commerce. The Diplomat kit states that the Hadozee don’t have the respect of the other races. Because they are rude and coarse? Still no basis for the Hadozee being described as such. The Medicus states that Hadozee make poor Medicuses because their “rude” personalities are incompatible with the Medicus lifestyle. The Harlequin states that Hadozee are common, “although their entertainments are viewed as coarse and uncultured by some groups.”

I’m going to pause here for a moment, and really speak with my own voice. This is all adding up as I explore the Hadozee in 2E. This is all bad. It was also just how most 2E stuff was written. Pretty much all of the non-humans outside of the “demi-humans” (dwarves, elves, gnomes, halflings, etc.) are characterized as “savage” peoples. It was a step-up from editions prior, when even the demi-humans were limited to very specific roles and personalities (if you want to play a halfling as anything other than Bilbo, Sam, or Frodo, tough luck). I’m sure some of the 2E writers thought they were really doing a progressive thing at the time. It was definitely a big deal at the time. I used to read Dragon Magazine, and I remember letters about allowing players to play as “monster” races. Yeah, what goes on over on TTRPG Twitter isn’t anything new. And, yeah, WotC thinks it is doing something really progressive compared to prior editions. Truth is, they are doing better than what came before. Are they ever going to get where some want them to get? Probably not. Still, how the Hadozee made it into 5E in the new Spelljammer when so many other playable “races” got skipped over is kind of surprising. I never knew a single person who played a Hadozee. I had forgotten about them until I saw someone asking if WotC was keeping the “racist space monkeys”.

Back to the Complete Spacefarer. Hadozee can’t be Salvagers, because Hadozee don’t have Spelljamming abilities of their own. Why not? Hadozee can be Clerics. Clerics can power spelljammer helms. There is literally no explanation as to why this is a requirement to be a Salvager, other than they often work alone (meaning they need to be able to helm their own ship). Again, Clerics can power a helm.

Now we go to the Role-Playing section of the book detailing character personality types. These are not part of the rules system. These are basically just character concept prompts. One of which is “The Xenophobe”, who are, “often groundlings who have entered space, and who can accept demihumans as equals (or nearly so) but who are revolted at the idea of working beside a hadozee or a giff, much less a mind flayer.” So, yeah, kids, make your character a rampaging racist. Hahahahaha, “Xenophobes tend to be of neutral alignment, with chaotic or evil tendencies.” But don’t worry, “Some xenophobes are good aligned but are unable to overcome their own prejudices enough to treat aliens like their fellow species. Some xenophobes are lawful and push for protectionist legislation to eliminate the alien threat. Others are chaotic and take matters into their own hands.” There is this gem of an in-setting quote at the bottom of this page:

Agreed. After all, humans wrote this book.

Next up we have Spacefaring Organizations. The Elven Imperial Fleet allows Hadozee and other races to serve on fleet vessels, but “true” members of the Fleet must be Elves. What they meant there was only Elves get to be officers.

What is it with Hadozee and Elves? Up to this point, none of the books have explained that. I’m going to keep reading.

The Smiths’ Coster is a merchant group of primarily dwarves. The current head of the company, Nagul Roundbeard, thinks that, “To work here, you’ve got to be family.” Every place I’ve worked where the boss said that turned out to be horrible. My family is very dysfunctional, so I’m not sure it is terribly inaccurate. Still, I don’t think I’m going to care much for Nagul’s ideals. And here it is, “He considers the giff and the hadozee to be too unintelligent to run one of his ships (although he rarely expresses this opinion in their presence), and he dislikes reptilians…in memory of a difficult battle he had with them in his youth.” Nagul is that racist uncle that every white family has. Especially spot-on since Nagul is a business owner who for some reason never promotes the people who don’t look like him. But don’t worry, he only dislikes certain people because of “the war”.

To the two or three of you who might read this, these characters aren’t just there to be the “bad guys”. This book gives players the prompt to be Xenophobes. There’s another entry for “fun” background ideas about a player who was born hundreds or thousands of years prior but has basically been frozen. “The character may hold antiquated beliefs, like a hatred for the hadozee, and therefore be difficult to deal with in the modern universe.” Why would anyone hate the Hadozee?

That’s it. As far as I know, that was the full run of 2E Spelljammer books. Except for the six novels.

Now I’m hopping over to the Forgotten Realms wiki to see if I can figure out where some of this info is coming from. 3E brought them over in Stormwrack, which was just a high seas adventure expansion. The Hadozee were originally in Star Frontiers, TSR’s sci-fi TTRPG. D&D would later adapt them as the Shadow People in Dragonlance, and the Hadozee in Spelljammer. In Star Frontiers they were known as “Yazirians”, and in the 5E book it is specified they are originally from a world named “Yazir”.

*pauses and says to self, “Of course they forking were.”*

Gods. So all the stuff about a wizard using magic to force evolve this arboreal monkeys? Yeah, that’s apparently all 5E. But the whole name thing had to come form somewhere. Their name, Hadozee, is supposed to be “pidgin” English for “A to Z”. “Hay do Zee”. “Hadozee”. That goes back to Star Frontiers, is my guess, and managed to slide over to D&D groups, because there was always one person back in the day who also loved Star Frontiers. I never got into it, but I had a friend who did. I remember this from my youth, but I will confess that I have not found any print entries regarding the whole naming convention. My guess is that it was in SF as a joke to how a lot of explorers got the names wrong of foreign civilizations, so that the “English” terms for certain civilizations literally translate to things like, “What? That? Over there? That’s a river. Do you not have rivers where you are from?”

This makes the 5E entry all that much worse, since WotC knows that their players will go to the online Wikis to find out more about a group because 5E is so brief when it comes to lore. Those wiki writers then take info from prior editions and thread it in with newer entries.

So, a wizard force evolves flying tree monkeys to be an unstoppable slave warrior force. They basically say, “No,” and overthrow the wizard. Then they develop a very unhealthy relationship with the Elves.

No. This is bad. If anyone over at WotC is reading this, never let the person who wrote the Hadozee entry write anything else for your books. How many people did this have to go past before publication? Seriously, what the fork? The Hadozee only got tossed into the 2E Spelljammer as an easter egg for Star Frontiers grogs. They were an inside joke in the 80s, and not a great one, because the team on 2E Spelljammer decided to get weirdly racist with them. Then you decide to bring them back, and somehow make it even worse? This is some benevolent overlord/happy slave bullshirt.

What should have WotC done with the Hadozee? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. They shouldn’t have tried to rehabilitate what was already dripping of racist caricature. If they really wanted to have the Hadozee in their setting, here’s all they needed to do:

The Hadozee originated on an arboreal world, where they would use their patagia to glide from elevated platform to elevated platform. As with most other species, their introduction to spelljamming was thanks to explorers. Soon after, Hadozee mages and artificers learned how to create their own ships and helms. Because of their origins, Hadozee spelljamming vessels look more like airships than seafaring vessels.

That’s it. That’s basically all that needed to be done if it was absolutely necessary to include the Hadozee. I mean, they couldn’t even call them Yazirians, because WotC dropped their ownership of the Star Frontiers IP. *EDIT: I was incorrect regarding WotC and its ownership of the Star Frontiers IP. WotC does in fact still control the SF IP, and I may be posting about that later.*

Just such an easy thing to have avoided. All for a gag that most current (and a lot of older) players don’t get. “Hahahaha! This will be a great easter egg for the grognards! Don’t want to alienate them, do we?”

The bar was literally buried. Y’all over at WotC dug up the bar just so you could trip over it.

UPDATE: Apparently WotC did a “quiet” update to the Hadozee entry over on D&D Beyond, stripping out the whole “uplifted and enslaved by a wizard” portion. Still no official announcement or apology from WotC. My guess is that the next printing won’t have the same lore included, but it’s out there on the wikis now, isn’t it?

ADDENDUM: I never played Star Frontiers back in the day, and I don’t have any of those old books in my collection, so the info I was able to find on Yazirians has largely been from wikis without source citations. Over on the SF wiki (https://starfrontiers.fandom.com/wiki/Yazirian) it states that Yazirians were one of the core four playable character races in the original SF game (humans were also one of the four). The Yazirian homeworld was not known, and they were also known as Hadozee, although it doesn’t seem like even the Yazirians have a record of why. They are described as being the most intelligent of the core four, as well as the most warlike and aggressive (although they are considered quite calm in comparison to the aggressive worm-like Sathar, who are not part of the core four). The depiction in SF versus that in SJ is pretty glaring, with some of the writers on the SJ books depicting them as buffoonish, crass, and not very intelligent. I have no real answer as to why there was such a huge tonal shift between the games. For what it is worth, the Yazirians in SF don’t reek of being a racist trope, instead they are depicted as another intelligent species that evolved from primates, the same as humans. Over in SJ, the writers couldn’t seem to agree on how the Yazirians/Hadozee should be presented, with some writers appearing to want to pretty much stick to the SF version, just in fantasy space, while others appear to have actively indulged in turning them into a racist trope.

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