Friday, September 23, 2022

Half-Orcs Were a Mistake

Wanted: For the Crime of
Gygaxian Naturalism

Despite Gary Gygax's repeated assertion that his conception of Dungeons & Dragons owes little to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (which he nevertheless included in Appendix N), he sure did borrow a lot of individual elements from the novel! Orcs are regularly cited as the prime example of this peculiar phenomenon and rightly so, I think, because, as a distinct type of enemy, they are largely without any significant mythological precedent prior to the publication of Tolkien's tales. At the same time, orcs are, at base, little more than man-shaped monsters in service to Evil, not unlike similar creatures found in northern European folklore and in the pulp fantasy stories that proliferated in the first half of last century. 

The same, however, cannot be said for the half-orc, references to which can also be found in The Lord of the Rings. The precise nature of half-orcs in Middle-earth is unclear, partly because I don't believe Tolkien ever settled the question of the nature of orcs, having changed his mind several times on the subject. What we can say for certain is that Tolkien's half-orcs – or "goblin-men," as he sometimes called them – were creatures that, while generally orcish, looked enough like Men that they move among them without attracting much comment. Half-orcs were thus useful as spies by the forces of Evil.

Half-orcs don't exist in Dungeons & Dragons prior to the publication of the AD&D Monster Manual in 1977, where there's a brief discussion of them at the end of the book's entry for "orc." There, Gygax states that

As orcs will breed with anything, there are any number of unsavory mongrels with orcish blood, particularly orc-goblins, orc-hobgoblins, and orc-humans. Orcs cannot cross-breed with elves. Half-orcs tend to favor the orcish strain heavily, so such sorts are basically orcs although they can sometimes (10%) pass themselves off as true creatures of their other stock (goblins, hobgoblins, humans, etc.).

This sounds a lot like the broos of Glorantha, does it not? In any case, the Players Handbook a year later gives us a a bit more information about them. Here, Gygax reiterates that

Orcs are fecund and create many cross-breeds, most of the offspring of such being typically orcish. However, some one-tenth of orc-human mongrels are sufficiently non-orcish to pass for human. 

The remainder of the PHB's description is given over to game mechanics, with little else stated about the nature of half-orcs or the place within the implied setting of AD&D. We do learn that, with the exception of humans and halflings (!), all other playable races hate or have antipathy for half-orcs. This makes sense, given half-orcs' preference for classes like thief and assassin, marking them as having criminal and antisocial tendencies of a most unsavory sort. I have no idea why Gygax felt the need to include orc-human hybrids as a playable race in AD&D, though I suspect that, like half-elves, which first appeared in Supplement I to OD&D, he did so to appeal to the fans of The Lord of the Rings among early gamers. I think this was a profound mistake, one that has haunted D&D ever since. 

I say this because orcs are monsters. According to the Monster Manual, they "are cruel and hate living things in general." Likewise, "they take slaves for work, food, and entertainment (torture, etc.)." They're not people in the same sense that, say, humans, dwarves, or elves are – or at least that's how I think they were initially conceived. Unfortunately, Gygaxian naturalism upended that particular apple cart and we discovered that orc lairs contain noncombatant females and young. No longer is an expedition into the Caves of Chaos a simple matter of defending the Realm against Evil; now it's an exercise in the mass murder of the defenseless.

The existence of playable half-orcs only complicates the matter further. It might just be possible to squint one's eyes and imagine that even baby orcs are an existential threat to the Realm of Law and Goodness and therefore fit only for extermination. Once you allow playable orc-human hybrid characters who are not required by the rules to evil, let alone restricted from being good, you open the door to viewing orcs (and, by extension, all humanoid monsters) as people on par with the more traditional player character races. From there, you're well on the road out of the adventuresome pulp fantasy world D&D has long evoked and heading toward … something else entirely.

Far be it for me to suggest that there's anything inherently wrong with this approach to fantasy. Indeed, there might well be something genuinely fun and compelling about treating humanoid races as one might treat alien species in an episode of Star Trek rather than as ravening Chaos-spawn that bubble up from the black blood of the Earth to wreak havoc across the Realm of Man. However, for those of us who like fighting orcs (and goblins and gnolls and …) without pangs of conscience, I think it's important we keep them genuinely monstrous and inhuman. Doing this necessitates, among other things, abandoning the idea of playable half-orcs. They were a grave mistake back in 1978 and they've only become more so in the more than four decades since.

62 comments:

  1. I just can't get on board with the idea that orcs are "inhuman". Orcs are humans with all their worst traits dialled up a notch. Or humans whose culture follows much harsher set of ethical rules. They can't all be total psychopaths, because they are able to co-operate, follow orders, create stuff, do long-term planning etc.

    Yes, that does lead to moral dilemmas. I don't like the idea of adventures that consist of "Here's a community of non-human humanoids - it's okay to kill them, even the women and children, because they're not human and they might pose a danger to humans." The orcs you meet on during adventures should be the brutal, sadistic, merciless henchmen of the loathsome Dark Lord. Or the army rampaging across the peaceful kingdom, attacking at night, killing, raping and burning everything in their path. The women and children, and the less violent male orcs, are staying home in their distant caverns or their mountain villages.

    I actually like the idea of making orcs MORE human in terms of their appearance - like the Shou in the Red Tide setting.

    There are plenty of inhuman monsters in the D&D setting - horrible things that can't be reasoned with and just want to kill you. I think you can play D&D without using orcs or any of the traditional humanoids.

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  2. I always thought that it was the inclusion of noncombatant orcs and the resulting push towards orcs as 'natural' instead of 'monstrous' that was the mistake, but you make a solid case for playable half-orcs as the breakpoint. Given how obscure they are in Tolkien (mentioned in only a couple of places), I don't know if it was the Tolkien influence that brought them in, Gygaxian naturalism, a push for symmetry with half-elves, or a desire to create an 'assassin race' similar to how gnomes became the 'illusionist race.'

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    1. The noncombatants are a problem too, make no mistake.

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    2. I agree. When Peter Jackson showed Uruk-Hai emerging from egg-like sacs fully grown and immediately capable of violence I considered this a convenient way to remove non-combatant orcs from the game and orcs reproducing asexually and straight into adulthood has been adopted by me in at least one of my game worlds. I think Games Workshop has done something similar. As well as removing the dilemma of non-combatant orcs, it also separates orcs further from humans and demihumans.

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  3. Non "non combatants" were never in my games nor most of us BITD. Even when B2 came out, none of us bothered with that. Females fought as Kobolds and the young would try and swarm and bite your legs and could definitely hurt you if you played stupid. Orcs hated all of the "good" races, wanted to destroy living things, and more often than not attacked on sight. You didn't parley with them, and they did not surrender. Orcs were truly monstrous in our games then, and have never changed- same for Goblin types, Gnolls, Kobolds, etc (though unlike Orcs they will consider surrender, bribes, etc)

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  4. Also meant to add- No Half anything in my games. Orcs or Elves. Physically unable to conceive.

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  5. If you can have a world where elves are plants or dwarves are glorified golems, you can have a world where orcs are monsters and a different world where they're just people.

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  6. When we were kids, my friends and I took 'orcs will breed with anything' very literally, and came up with all sorts of half orcs: orc/troll, orc/bullywug, orc/centaur, orc/nycadaemon...

    The orc/carrion crawler hybrids were particularly terrifying (and too powerful for use as PCs).

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  7. If Half-Orcs were a mistake, then Dragonborn were unforgivable.

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    1. Dragonborn are just reptilian people that are more dragony than straight lizardy (like your classic lizardmen). They're not half-anything.

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    2. "They're not half-anything" - still unforgivable.

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  8. Howard Johnson is right. Really all the half-X 'entities' bring with them a lot of unnecessary baggage, but none more so than these.

    I thought the bit in Jackson's LotR movies that shows uruk hai being essentially spewed out of a biomechanical machine, emerging into the world fully grown and eager to kill, was a super smart move. It shuts down this whole "but teh little babies!" business.

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    1. I agree! That's how I conceptualise orcs - as being spawned from a vat of mud and putrid things with a dash of malice thrown in. This gives things a more folktale edge.

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  9. I disagree. Orcs can be irredeemable monsters (if that is what is desired) at the same time that half orcs - being part human - half the capacity to choose.

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  10. How I do it:

    1. All orcs are utterly and fixedly lawful evil. This includes orc females and young. A paladin would risk losing his paladinhood if he neglected to slay orc females and young.

    2. There are no half-orc NPCs, but the option is open to PCs. (As such, half-orcs are beyond very rare.) Any such half-orc would not be utterly and fixedly lawful evil, but would have alignment as desired by the player.

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  11. I myself have put a good deal of thought into this subject. I've essentially eliminated half-orcs as an option in most campaigns; similarly, too, half-elves.

    In general, in my campaigns, humanoids thus fall into one of two broad sorts.

    One, they are humans or demi-humans utterly and irredeemably corrupted by Chaos. Dwarves become goblins; elves become hobgoblins; gnomes become kobolds; and humans become orcs, or under specific circumstances, bugbears or gnolls. When a humanoid is slain, it is reincarnated via birth within a humanoid clan (thus, the clans are generally ultra-protective of their females, as it is a sort of immortality). Whelps are not children; they are born fully cognizant, with most memories intact (though older memories are lost over many incarnations) and able to walk. They grow at a rate of 1 hit point per day until fully regrown.

    Two, humanoids are created using a spell to transform common animals into humanoids. They are intelligent because they are provided a lesser animating spirit (devil, demon, etc.) from the Hells (and as such, are irredeemable). Some are animated by spirits of the damned. They have children, but even these, too, are animated by infernal spirits, for which there is no chance of salvation, and these "children" grow at an accelerated rate, as above.

    Thus, these two solutions prevent any sort of moral or ethical dilemma. "Humanoids" are puppets animated by irredeemably corrupt souls or even the spirits form Hell. They have no "children," merely smaller versions that have not yet reached their full physical potential.

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    1. This is a little like 13th Age's idea that anyone can "go orc" and the inherent magic in the world changes you and your kin to reflect your new angry raging and orcish nature. Note that 13th Age doesn't have alignments, they leave that to the DM and gaming table as to whether they wish to use such a system or not. It's not for me, but YMMV.

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  12. Is it just me, or does that half-orc bear a striking resemblance to Pat Robertson?

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  13. " No longer is an expedition into the Caves of Chaos a simple matter of defending the Realm against Evil; now it's an exercise in the mass murder of the defenseless."

    It always mass murder, if not of the defenseless, of those considered "other." It's not like they retconned non-combatants into the module - they were always there.

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  14. This whole argument (are orcs monsters or people?) always sidesteps the fact that in the adventure fiction that inspired the game, as in most of human history, killing other people was generally considered fine and even noble so long as they fit the right criteria: different tribe, different nation, different god, different flag. Original D&D's moral "problem" is that it embraces values that were acceptable for most people for most of human history but which many (including me) no longer find acceptable in real life. And which some people (not including me) no longer find acceptable in fiction.

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    1. You are right. I also think that fantasy can have characters who believe that another group are inherently evil and must destroyed to the extent of committing genocide. HOWEVER, I do not accept that that can be stated to be an objectively true fact in the setting and even worse the system. After all, what is the good in being good if you have no choice, and where is the evil in being evil if you also have no choice? Indeed what is the difference between the genocidal human and the genocidal orc? That doesn't mean your game has to even consider it, but the system shouldn't quantify either position, and let the gaming table, players and DM choose their setting.

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    2. I think you’ve hit the heart of it, StevenWarble. The picaresque nature of D&D calls on the PCs to conduct themselves in ways we wouldn’t approve in real life. In a more gamey version with funhouse dungeons and the like going around killing things willy-nilly doesn’t seem so questionable; it’s like playing a video game. But a naturalistic campaign will shift the comfort zone, especially when modeling a millieu with very different values. James’ objection to the slaughter of non-combatants has left me wondering whether any PCs in the House of Worms campaign own slaves, an accepted practice in that setting, but one that in the real world would similarly be considered appalling.

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    3. s7610ra, I like your comment too. And Michael Moorcock’s “Eternal Champion” (1962) is an interesting inversion of this trope.

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    4. Bonnacon,

      None of the PCs in the House of Worms campaign personally own slaves, though of course slaves are commonplace in nearly all the societies of Tékumel. It's not an aspect of the setting we dwell upon in the game, though we don't shy away from it.

      You're correct in pointing out the somewhat contradictory nature of my own position here. I suppose we all draw our lines in different places and perhaps that should be the real take-away here.

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    5. I don’t see a contradiction, given that none of the PCs own slaves. Just having slavery in the setting isn’t questionable, but rather a reflection of an unfortunate reality; only relatively recently in history did disapproval become sufficient to deter its practitioners from owning up to it.

      More on point, the Ssú are a good way to achieve what you seek (as I’m sure you’re aware). The Enemies of Man are completely inimical but not “evil”. In fact, at the meta-level I and (I would think) a lot of players would have sympathy for their position, given the amount of crap inflicted on them by humanity. But in-game,the PCs would have no compunctions killing them and, luckily, would certainly never encounter their young, so the issue of non-combatants would not arise.

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  15. I wish that Tolkien's demihumans hadn't become such a permanent fixture in fantasy. Their endless repetition, quantification, and expansion in derivative fantasy and especially in D&D has added a great deal of boring complexity to the cliche rather than making it new.

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    1. Indeed. This bunch of new playable races are all boring... tieflings, dragonborns, etc.
      I cannot fathom the idea of a PC that is a half-demon, for example. If a tiefling enters, let's say, a tavern, and nobody else in the room is afraid of such character, he simply enters the tavern, orders a beer and a steak and sits there eating and everything is ok for the rest of the customers, then it means demons are a common sight, thus the world of this fantasy setting is kinda already doomed for begin with. What I mean is, even fantasy settings need to make sense in a way.

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    2. Agree. A half-demon bellying up to the bar turns the fantastic into the mundane. A sense of wonder is lost.

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    3. "I cannot fathom the idea of a PC that is a half-demon, for example."

      A tiefling is just a cambion with the name changed and the most unpleasant part removed. A few tiny changes and they can fit right into Generic Vernacular Fantasyland.

      Cambions, if we're using medieval lore as a base, aren't half-demon; they've got two human parents, who were both attacked by a incubus/succubus. So, it wouldn't be unreasonable for the religious authorities of Generic Vernacular Fantasyland to take in cambion foundlings as an act of charity, especially if there's some residual infernal sensitivity - being able to detect demons by instinct and some resistance to possession is super useful if you're an exorcist, for example

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  16. If a creature is evil and unrepentantly aggressive to man, what should age or defensive capabilities matter? An alien (xenomorph) egg is young and defenseless before they develop into face-huggers, but the majority would agree that the young defenseless eggs should be destroyed for the protection of the race of man. This would not be a moral dilemma. Given the premise If any Orcs, are spared it will eventually threaten humans, they will have to be exterminated no matter how young or defenseless.

    BTW, I thing viable offspring from entirely different species, is ludicrous. A human / vulcan hi-bred is ridiculous.

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    1. So you would have no half-anythings in your setting, and all demihumans are separate species. Which is of course quite clear and in many ways unmuddied. Inter species genocide would be a factor in your games. Are any other species inherently good or evil in your setting?

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  17. They were a mistake in so many ways. Ditto half elves. Not that I can really blame Gygax, the ideas of mongrel half castes, mulattoes and so on was deep in Western culture. As an example, read the deeply racist xenophobic descriptions of people of mixed Asian and African heritage in Fleming's Dr. No. The race hatred myths of raping sub humans impregnating pure innocent pure breeds is not one we want to explore much either. So. What do you do? IMHO: You either delete all mixed heritage folk and revert some races as pure unredeemable Evil. Or you accept that morality isn't in the blood, and that all sorts of mixed heritage humans (cause that's what they really all are) exist and embrace it. Which T&T did from the get go. I also really like in 13th Age the idea that those who are forced to survive at the edges "go orc" through terrible choices, acts and rage. So morality changes anyone to an evil raging creature, which also leaves open a door to redemption.

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  18. Seriosuly James?
    "for those of us who like fighting orcs (and goblins and gnolls and …) without pangs of conscience, I think it's important we keep them genuinely monstrous and inhuman."

    From all my interactions with you I have not found you to be a bad person. But, go back and think a bit closer about that sentence. Please.

    Yes, I agree about the mistake part, but not the rest of it.

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    1. Do you really think we need to keep something in our games that we can kill just because they are evil?

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    2. In a fantasy game where evil is a real, objective thing, I don't see the problem.

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    3. I don't. I dislike this race as morality conceit. If you are going to kill, you need accept that it is a choice,even if your character thinks it isn't.

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    4. I say that's racist bullshit. Morality isn't in the blood. That's a slippery slope into a cesspool that gaming need to grow out of.

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    5. Hi Andreas. Are racial alignments always racist, or only when the monster is humanoid, like an Orc?

      For example, is it racist to say all Giant Spiders are chaotic evil?

      Giants appear very human-like. Is it racist to say all Fire Giants are lawful evil?

      Thanks.

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    6. Morality isn't in the blood. Nuff said.

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    7. I made a brand new account to comment on a blog I've never commented on before in the ten plus years I've been reading it, to let you know that you're so off base here it is legitimately hilarious. It's a fantasy game of make believe, more over DnD is basically murder simulation gamified. Get off your high horse and chill out a bit before you go insinuating people are racist dude.

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    8. My D&D is different to yours

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    9. First lets's one thing clear. Nobody is calling someone else a racist here. What's being called out is the thought that we need to dehumanize someone so we can kill them without remorse, and that blood based metaphysics is somehow making this process ok. Those ideas are racist bullshit.
      I have the utmost respect for James, and consider him a thoughtful and interesting writer about all facets of out hobby. I would happily hang out and play games with anyone in this conversation without any idea of them being bad persons for playing games in a different way than I do. In this text based form of conversation nuances is lost, and you have to be clear about what you address and in what tone. I take responsibility for not having done that. My bad. I am not condemning any one person as anything. I am assuming all people I converse with to be nice and sensible people until proven otherwise. I think people can disagree with me about the ideas mentioned above and not be despicable people. Really.
      But, if you think your game is a murder simulation, and you really feel the need to degrade other beings as unworthy of living, real or fantasy, in order to kill them, I think you need to look at hard at the reasoning you use to defend that. Some of those reasons stink, and I think all of us are better staying away from that cesspool. I use strong language because I think we have far too long let unsound ideas go by thinking about what they mean.

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    10. Thanks for the clarification, Andreas.

      "What's being called out is the thought that we need to dehumanize someone so we can kill them without remorse, and that blood based metaphysics is somehow making this process ok. Those ideas are racist bullshit."

      Again, do you consider Orcs as a someone, or a something? And if they qualify as people, is that based upon their appearance? Or their sentience?

      For example, are you offended when blood-based metaphysics says that all Red Dragons are chaotic evil? Or that all Fire Giants, who appear quite human-like, are lawful evil?

      Are all species-based alignment racist bullshit in your estimation? Or is it just for demi-humans and humanoids?

      Thanks.

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    11. I have no objection to your setting or table to decide that all sophonts are of a particular alignment. However I feel hardcoding into the system limits the fun for others who want a game which doesn't do that.

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    12. I think the critical comment in this thread is "Morality isn't in the blood." Indeed no, it is not. That's a critical failure point in the argument. Morality, in a fictive setting where supernatural gods exist, realms of pure good and evil exist, beings of pure good and evil exist; beings of pure Law and pure Chaos exist; The very stuff from which the orc, the demon, the devil, the dragon etc. is Evil. It is the _spirit_ or _soul_ of the monster that is Evil. Even though it is a creature of flesh, blood and bone in the implied multiverse of D&D, it is not the flesh that makes it Evil. It is it's spirit.

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    13. Etrimyn,

      I would consider The Other to be a pretty wide concept, personally. When it happens to relate to people who look like humans I think it's extra nasty. But, now we're starting to get into that kind of putting creatures into neat boxes, and that's distracting details. I've tried to make my point.

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    14. What about AIs designed to be malevolent? (Think Terminator robots.). I think James (and those who posted about xenomorphs and the Peter Jackson film’s Uruk-hai) are positing a fantasy version of this concept, not biological species per se, i.e., arising full-formed from the “black blood” rather than being raised from babies and learning malevolence from their culture.

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  19. I think it was a mistake to include monstrous options as player characters. But they’ve really always been there – see pg. 8 of Men & Magic, Other Character Types. These days I prefer running games with human-only PCs. The very nature of a “monster” is that of The Other. And other-ness becomes more unsettling the more we relate to it. Consider how an animated skeleton is creepy because it reminds of our own mortality. It is like us, but not us. The original game even treats NPC humans as The Other, not just by listing them under the monster section, but by explicitly giving them the ability to see in the dark – top of pg. 5 of Monsters & Treasure.

    Gygaxian naturalism seems to enjoy muddying these moral dilemmas. The defenseless orc and lizard man young of B2 are just one example, but the somewhat sympathetic orc slave faction of G1 also brings up questions of conscience. If you were to substitute human bandits or berserkers (with defenseless young) for the orcs in the Caves of Chaos, the moral quandary definitely thickens for us because they are no longer The Other in the same way. How problematic someone finds these kinds of scenarios really depends on your ability or preference to keep fantasy separate from reality. The more the game leans towards pulpy and mythic abstraction, the easier it is to distinguish between the two.

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  20. In one of the Runequest supplements from the Avalon Hill period, there is a mention of a reformed broo, I believe in the mountains of the Dragon Pass area, that is now a healer. So, even broo are not irredeemable.

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    1. That is correct, a Chalana Arroy healer. Plus broo are children of Thed, who was a victim of rape. Nuance does not disallow horrible foes you probably do want to kill on sight.

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  21. I've come to not really like character races with a bunch of extra powers in class/race based D&D (race as class is a different matter). To me the idea of of an orc, elf, ogre or demonic strain in a character, maybe with a minor benefit or hindrance attached, seems like a better option than a full half-half demi-human character. It avoids the problem of characters as humans in funny suits and allows the pure versions of those creatures to be as powerful and alien as the DM wants to make them.

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  22. I'm really bored with orcs, personally. The "naturalist" version of orcs as savage tribal warriors is just too close to Wild West depictions of rampaging "injuns" for my tastes. (And towards the end of his life Gygax even quoted, seemingly approvingly, Col. John Chivington's statement that "nits make lice" as justification for the slaying of orc babies, making the parallel with the massacre of Native American noncombatants clear.) We want to retain the sort of mythic resonance of the fearful Other, but without the racist propaganda that has often accompanied these images.

    In my B/X megadungeon campaign, orcs were what happened to humans who stayed down in the dungeon too long, warped by its baleful nature. They regressed into bestial savagery. I've never read 13th Age, but it sounds like a similar idea, that anyone could "go orc" if they give into their worst impulses.

    I'm prepping a 5e Spelljammer campaign now, and again, I'm going to use the orc stat block for humans that have gone off the rails from too much time in space and lost their connection to their humanity, and regressed to a state of brutal savagery.

    Both of these versions were inspired by Firefly's Reavers, which ironically were a stand-in for the Western genre's "injuns", but stripped of the racist undertones of having them be a separate ethnic group.

    I agree that making half-orcs (and later, orcs) a playable race was the crux of the problem. Once orcs (or drow, etc.) can be friendly adventurers, the notion of an entire culture of them being thoroughly evil becomes "problematic". I can't wait until people start demanding playable mind flayers!

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    1. And I'm bored of all the projection going on with orcs. The same interpretation of orcs could be made using Vikings, or Visigoths, or the Mongols and the Vikings would be the most accurate given Toklien's desire for a mythology for England. Orcs in "Keep on the Borderlands" -- the first encounter with orcs for many GenXers were portrayed with pink pig-faces. The Goblins in the the Ranking/Bass Hobbit were greenish, wore pseudo European clothes and resembled nothing Human. All this "Orcs=muh racisums" is pure projection and problematization.

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    2. In the 1980s I asserted that in the multiverse of D&D, somewhere there would be a lawful good Mindflayer. My playing group mocked me, but I still stand by that statement 40 years later.

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  23. It's interesting that orcs etc. in AD&D were all grouped into the "giant class" suggesting some kinship from goblin-orc-ogre-giants. As such, the view of orcs as more than ravening monsters likely stems from two literary sources we know Gary read: the sequence in Lord of the Rings in which Frodo and Sam are captured by orcs while infiltrating Mordor, and we see that they have their own issues and grumbles; here orcs are portrayed as evil, but perhaps no less human than many evil men serving dictators. The second sequence is the Harold Shea story The Roaring Trumpet, a major source for the Giant series, where we see giants as, again, rather unpleasant and enemies of the gods, but certainly being definitely "people" in all respects. And of course, both sections make for good storytelling, much more interesting then just having them as brutish monsters.

    Another source for hybrid monsters that Gary also certainly read was Lovecraft. Deep Ones are as horrific, if not more so, than orcs, and worship beings of cosmic horror, yet they also produce children with humans. (Of course, so do demons/devils in mythology.) Again, this makes for a more interesting story.

    (The basic irrationality of AD&D: Isn't it weird that Orcus is the evil ruler of the undead, instead of, say, being, say. the lord of wanton destruction and the creator of the race of orcs, his namesake?)

    Certainly killing non-combatants of *any* intelligent species creates ethical issues. Do dragons reproduce only by fission, or do you kill baby dragons?

    If the dungeon is a hole where intelligent monsters live, then going in and slaughtering them is ethically dubious. If a dungeon is a forward operating base for raids on peaceful surface-dweller lands, than striking back and eradicating it seems fine. Orcs or dragons may reproduce and have children; so may human bandits. Are human bandits also unsuitable because they might also have children in their own strongholds?

    I think the big problem with importing orcs from Tolkien is that D&D had, originally, no background setting. In Tolkien, there is a long-running war going on. Tolkien's orcs are not just evil, they are also the citizens of 3 main communities (the misty mountains, mordor, and isengard) that are expressively at a state of cold or hot war with a loose alliance of human and dwarven kingdoms and elven realms; Sauron is also the heir of the being who created them. Also, while the elves and dwarves are all on one side (unless fighting each other, as almost happened in the Hobbit) and the orcs (and wargs, trolls, etc.) on the other, humans are in the middle: the south-eastern and far northern-eastern realms are part of the Sauron alliance; the others, Rohan and Gondor, and their allies, are with the elves/dwarves..

    Because a de-facto state of cold or hot war exists, any encounter with orcs is not just "kill them because they're evil" but also part of a larger political issue. You can fight orcs not just because they are "evil" but also because they serve a hostile polity that is bent on your enslavement whose culture valorizes murder, black magic, bullying, and serving a demonic power.

    In contrast, in "raw" D&D there is no political dimension or cultural dimension to provide that second level of motivation, only the rough concept of "alignment". Because of this, instead of saying "most of (race X) live in the lands ruled by (evil overlord)" is replaced with "race X are Evil".

    All you'd probably need is something like:

    Alignment: "Evil" indicates that in the default D&D setting, most members of this species were raised in evil-aligned nations, tribes, or families. The majority of such individuals align themselves with evil, though there may be individual exceptions.




    Given Gary's treatment of Drow, presumably he'd probably go along with the idea that orcs who were raised outside orcish culture would not be "born evil." But then again















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  24. im surprised no one "Fantasy Genetics" in Dragon 44( unless i didnt see it in comments above) by Mr Rihn and Mr Moore.

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  25. Thing with orcs is that, if people really want some monsters to fight with no moral conundrums, it is //supremely// easy to do so.

    "Orcs are formed from battlefield mud under the light of a blood moon. The shades of the dead rise from the dirt, take up their rusted chain and spears, and march out in mindless imitation of their living days."

    or

    "Orcs are wild boars that have eaten enough human flesh to learn how to hate."

    Easy-breezy. If you want your orcs to be people, well they can be ordinary humans that are also fascist footsoldiers, or klingons (read, ordinary humans) who paint themselves green before battle or what have you.

    Honestly you could have all four and more at once. Variety in such things is good.

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  26. The reason I was always hesitant to include half-orcs in my campaigns back it the 80s and 90s is that Gygax's descriptions imply that all half-orcs are conceived through rape. In the modern interpretation of Orcs (basically 3E onward) this certainly isn't the case, but in 1E it certainly seems to be. And that just raises a bunch of issues. Was the mother a captive and the half-orc raised by orcs? Or did the mother escape, or was attacked on a raid and the child raised in a human/demi-human society? It gets more complicated when you look at starting languages. Half-Orcs start knowing Common, Orc, and their alignment language. But Orcs don't speak Common in 1E, so how do half-orc PCs learn both Common and Orc? Does this imply that all half-orcs have spent time in both societies? Or that they are just encouraged to learn both languages by whichever society they are raised in?
    And going back to the issue of the mother, just think of how a society would react to these situations. In a conservative society the mother would most likely be ostracized as would the child. Infanticide would not be uncommon. The whole situation is a very, very dark subject. It certainly could be something that could be very interesting for a mature and adult roleplaying group to explore, but clearly not a subject that most groups are going to want to deal with.

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  27. Although I never ran AD&D as a kid (RuneQuest and Dragon Warriors!), whenever I played AD&D, I *always* played half-orcs. It didn't hurt that Aly Morrison had designed such tremendous miniatures for them: http://solegends.com/citc/c010halforcs/index.htm

    Half-orcs, with their grim origins and distrusted status, made for great 'outsider' PCs - you didn't need much rationale for raiding tombs or plundering temples! They were natural adventurers (or murder-hoboes!).

    On Gygax's debt to Tolkien: the description of the half-orcs marching out of Isengard (in "Flotsam and Jetsam") clearly underpins the AD&D stuff about only 10% or so being able to pass as human: " there were some... that were horrible: man-high, but with goblin-faces, sallow, leering, squint-eyed. Do you know, they reminded me at once of that Southerner at Bree: only he was not so obviously orc-like as most of these were."

    Note that these aren't the Uruk-hai (who are significantly shorter than Men - it's the human height that distinguishes the half-orcs; the participants in the conversation are all thoroughly familiar with the Uruk-hai of Isengard at this point). But the notion that most of the half-orc soldiers of Isengard were much more orcish-looking than the spy encountered in Bree must be the basis of Gygax's 10% distinction.

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