Monday, December 19, 2011

Orc women and Goblin kids

The blogger who writes The Yaqqoth Grimoire posted about B2 The Keep on the Borderlands and so-called Gygaxian Naturalism. That's the term for Gary Gygax's details in adventures and monster books alike for the number of women and kids in a tribe, what monsters eat, how monster X gets to the surface to hunt, etc. Like real critters, hence naturalism. Although it doesn't extend to toilets, oddly - I had to put in latrines in B2 because my PCs reasonably wondered where that all gets done. Anyway.

As you can see from the post above, his players handled the women and kids with Molotov cocktails and the justification that the monsters are, well, monsters. He took out the women and kids from that point on. That's a fair solution, but what if you don't take them out? If you get rid of them, you get rid of an interesting moral, ethical, and tactical dilemma.

Whacking the women and kids. Yeah, just makes you squirm, right? Bring the genocide aspect of dungeon crawling right up. "Clearing the dungeon" and "Defeating a chaotic outpost" really are just euphemisms for genocide. The only good orc is a dead orc. But there you are, faced with females of the goblinoid species you just fought in brutal combat. Young, too. Let them live and more orcs come, and orcs are bad guys in this simplistic world and they're damn well going to raid farms, take slaves, and eat kids. Later they'll armor up and have swords and whatnot, but these guys are at your mercy.

What do you do?

It's a tough call. Do you whack the women and kids, or spare them? Is killing Chaotic orcs okay when they are adults, but not when they are kids?

Do you show mercy and potentially open up the chance for surrenders and parlay and so on, or kill them all and ensure a fight to the death?

Do you spare them and suffer the consequences later, or do you molotov the women and kids because you know they'll knife you if you turn your back?

My players are doing B2 right now, and their solution has been to kill anything that fought them, but spare anything that didn't. Female hobgoblins and gnolls fought them and died hard. Some female hobgoblins didn't fight, and got spared (not even robbed, just ignored).

So non-combatants of any age or sex get spared . . . and they feel it's what let them negotiate with some of the goblinoids. They are purely profit oriented, so avoiding fights saves them money and resources and potential injury, while massacre gets them nothing extra. They rescued a berserker barbarian and let him join them, and he gleefully murdered three gnoll kids he discovered. Hey, gnolls captured him and tormented him and then were going to eat him, he's got no sympathy. But Vryce, the party's tactical leader, told him not to with the explanation that sparing hobgoblin kids is what made it possible to negotiate a non-aggression pact with the hobgoblins and potentially get them as allies if they need them later. Plus it meant expending zero resources rooting out diehards who know even kids don't get spared by these home invaders.

My players did joke that "in a week, they'll be adults and fight us." Maybe they are right, and they're just asking for more trouble later. But the solution felt right - the adult goblinoids who raid, pillage, and kill get killed. The young are spared the blade and if they survive and come for revenge, well, the blade is waiting for them.

Get rid of the females and young. This fits well with that mythic underworld bit that AFAIK Philotomy articulated best (and heck, maybe first, I don't know). Orc kids? Are there orc kids in Mordor? Were there weeping mother boogie men? If you don't have mamma demons and mamma slimes, why have mamma gnolls? Without women and kids, they are truly monsters. Motherless spawn of evil. No tactical wonder about prisoners and women and kids - Evil, evil, evil. Even Nazi prison guards have moms, but in this method orcs don't. They may spawn from pure evil, be tortured into form from humans and elves or dwarves (irreversibly, of course, so killing them is mercy), made in some hideous fashion like golems, or summoned from beyond. Kill, kill, kill! Your ethical problem is killing them fast enough, your moral problem is their existence, and your tactical problem is not getting killed back in the process.

I know from that summary it sounds like the first method is the "good" method, but I'm not really favoring one over the other. That moral/ethical/tactical quandary is interesting but it can derail play, potentially takes some joy out of the game sessions (It's all fun until you have to kill goblin kids, or not), and misses out on the underworld bit. Which seems mroe fun - the dilemma of females and young (and any other non-combatants - do you kill autistic orc or the feeble old gnoll?) or the horror-shivers of "orcs used to be elves until they were tortured into that form . . ." or "I can become that." You know, the zombie-as-contagion or ghoul-as-punishment-for-cannibalism approach.

I went with the former because I wanted to run B2 out of the box. But it had opportunity costs in mythical coolness.

Pick your poison.


  1. My own solution is a little of both the mythic and the natural.

    Because of Robert Bledsaw's Judges Guild and the Gygax adventures I used the genocide issue arose early in playing the Majestic Wilderland. When I was in college in the mid 80s. Around this time I took the Monster Manual, Monster Manual II, and the Fiend Folio and catagorized every create in a notebook. One catagory was sentient creatures. I think I counted nearly a 100 sentient creatures capable of forming a society and culture.

    I decided to come up with an explanation for this. So I create a mythology where there only two races (Elves and Men) in a Dawn Age where the gods lived among them in the First City. In the fullness of time factions arose and one of them revolted believing they knew what was best for creation. They won and were known as the Demons. Eventually the Gods rallied and were able to imprison the demons in the abyss. But this took time in the meanwhile the demon took the race of man and twisted them into all the other sentient races except for the elves.

    This mythology persisted even after I greatly simplified things when GURPS became the main system I used for fantasy roleplaying. Instead of the multiple humanoids races now I had only Orc and Goblins. And there will still the question of genocide.

    The explanation I adopted that the Demon were creating new races to find the perfect servitor. Dwarves, Halflings, Gnomes, i.e. the good aligned races were failed experiments. Orc, goblins were more successful and there were others.

    When the gods won all the races were liberated to live as they will. The gods decided that for the new age they would withdraw and operate through faith instead of living among the mortal races.

    Some races were well suited to live in peace with others. But a few were not. Among them where the Orcs and the Goblins. The demon had created the orcs with extreme levels of aggression tempered only by a innate response to follow a strong leader. Goblins were created with an obsession to focus a single task. This made their entire race pretty much autistic.

    The impact of this had profound effects on both races ability to get along with other cultures. The Goblins could (and did in some regions) live side by side with another race as long as there was a civilization. But primitive goblin tribes were very hard to live with as their obsessions made peace difficult. And no matter what was tried nobody could live with Orcs in peace. The result is millennia of genocidal warfare with these races (mostly with orcs).

    The result for my campaign that while players still felt that genocide sucked, for some there was no practical choice. Tempering this was that problem of these races were an average. Individual orcs and goblins could transcend what the demons done to them.

  2. A jumble of disassociated responses:

    Tolkien himself had shifting opinions on the matter. He of course goes to great lengths to have his characters show mercy to Gollum and even hinges the ultimate deus ex machina on such actions. (And the deus ex does seem to have some sort of barely hinted at Author of History behind it.)

    Orcs, though... it wasn't until later in life that he became unsatisfied with the theological implications of having a truly irredeemable race in the game.

    I, too, have wanted to inject more "weird fantasy" and demon-possessed type elements into the game in order to allow us to sidestep the ethical issues... but that doesn't seem right. (Note that Lizard Men aren't even Chaotic, for example....)

    I think the game takes care of itself when played as it was intended. If it is balanced in such a way that the players *have* to use negotiation in order to survive... if the players are all (ultimately) Chaotic Neutral Thieves aka ADVENTURERS, whatever their alignment and class is listed as... then you're probably not going to see systematic genocide. But if monsters terrorize the countryside enough and keep large amounts of treasure in the commons room where the women and children are... they totally have it coming. (But Earburt has brought kobald captives back to the Keep to sell as circus performers.... Will they break loose and wreck havoc, or will they be put to work digging out a new dungeon area...?)

    I guess I'm fine, thought, with Dungeon Fantasy being a type of cooperative war game rather than a role playing game in the modern sense of the term.

  3. The same thing struck me when I was recently reading Bone Hill. For both the gnolls and the bugbears in that module, the majority of them are females & children. And the bugbear young are explicitly mentioned as sentries in the castle ruins. So Lakofka was really making it impossible to avoid the moral dilemma.

    I actually really like the idea of a more mythological take on humanoids (boogie man style goblins). But I wouldn't go that route in order to remove moral dilemmas, which will almost certainly still exist with, for example, barbarian tribes, or even the families of enemies from civilized states.

  4. @Rob Conley: I've been reading your book, and I just got to that part. I'll discuss it a bit more when I get there. But my first reaction was, if orcs and dwarves are both demon spawn, man, there must be anti-dwarf crusaders. But yeah, the "on average they need to be dead" approach is a good one. I wouldn't try to parallel it to a modern world, but like most other swords-and-sorcery/dungeon bashing paradigms, it works well in its place.

    @jeffro: yeah, it's tough because you can get that guilt feeling of "but if I make orcs demons, aren't I sidestepping the issue?" But you just need a solution that works for everyone. And even if goblins and orcs don't have kids, that killer bear might have cubs, those bandits have moms, the merchant you rob has dependents, etc. You can't avoid it.

    @Brenden: I need to find and re-read Bone Hill now. I never had it, my cousin did, and when he gave up gaming it wasn't in his collection anymore. My DF PCs would kill the sentries dead, young or old. It reminds me of a guy who talked about having to shoot an AK-armed kid in Somalia. He regretted it but it was shoot or be shot.

    It's an interesting issue no matter what you choose.


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