Thursday, August 30, 2012

Slicing the Gordian Knot of Orc Kids

This article on Orcs and Goblins over on Silver Blade Adventures got me thinking more about the origins of humanoids. He suggests the idea - not new - that orcs and hobgoblins and such could be created by spells or bred in vats of broiling flesh. Dwimmermount takes a similar approach.

In my own game, the issue of "What about the children?" came up immediately as I ran B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. In that, you can see that my players spared the women and kids, and that I kept the "Gygaxian Naturalism" approach that meant that orcs, et al. are effectively just uncivilized but living beings. Wildmen, perhaps, but not inhuman monsters exactly. It feels cruel and un-fun to murder the kids, and you lose some of that "mythical humanoid creatures" bit.

I realized there is a sort-of middle ground. Perhaps orcs and hobgoblins, etc. are created monsters, either bred out of bizarre stock, warped from humans or elves, or built and shaped out of pots of boiled-down flesh and given souls by evil spells or unsavory rituals. Something like this is found in Robert Conley's excellent Magestic Wilderlands supplement. If that's how they originate, they can easily be conceived of as pure evil.

But what if they breed true? What if they're still initially bred (and can be bred) in those bubbling vats or formed with evil spells, but the males and females can create young that are equally as evil as themselves?

They become more like a self-replicating demonic virus than just another race. The kids must be expunged, because they're simply going to make more of this nasty race. It's like picking weeds or wiping out termites to kill them off - you need to get the whole lot or the problem isn't solved.

This does have the downside of making half-orcs a bit harder to justify. Or perhaps making their reputation as boors and assassins more justified - they're bred from evil, even if, like Merlin, they turn that demonic taint to good ends.

But it's got the potential to split that Gordian Knot of "I want orcs with mythic origins but I want to preserve the Gygaxian naturalism of female humanoids and kids." Or "I want the have orc women and kids but not have my Paladin get smote down with lightning for killing one."

As for my game, I'm not telling the origins of my races just yet. My players read this blog. But it's worth noting that there is still a tactical reason in my games to spare the women and kids - it makes the humanoids easier to bargain with. My players are after loot, so if sparing a few weeds means the garden yields up its veggies with less work, well . . .

14 comments:

  1. Isn't this still just a thin veil to justify mindlessly slaughtering sentient beings without having to think about morals and being able to consider yourself "good"?

    And in a more palatable way to some players than the other solution, being that your "paladin" isn't an embodiment of an absolute moralistic universe but just a religious fanatic.

    Honestly, I think the whole "good"/"evil" split is one of the worst crimes that Gygax fostered on the RPG community, especially considering how it's mixed with the Moorcockian law/chaos axis which was purposely introduced to avoid such blatant human-centric monochromatic moralism.

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    1. Most of the adventurers I've seen played (and played myself) are not really "good" most of the time (though they're rarely too despicable). Anyways, the game needs foes. You can always use undead, robots, whatever, if you want to get away from killing sentient things (which should also include animals, if you want to be literal about it). Are all your adventurers vegan too?

      Us/them (good/evil) is as old as human civilization. I'm pretty sure you can't blame that one on Gygax.

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    2. Isn't this still just a thin veil to justify mindlessly slaughtering sentient beings without having to think about morals and being able to consider yourself "good"?

      Yes. No different than why it's okay to kill demons (also sentient), devils (sentient), evil humans (sentient), etc. The fact that they could not make any other choice than be evil doesn't make them less evil. And hell yes, it's a game, and if you want it both ways (Orc women and kids, but killing them isn't a moral crime) I'm suggesting a way to do it.

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  2. I think that one could reasonably argue that an innately evil (or innately good) being is not in fact sentient. But the mindset of such a creature wouldn't be much like a classical orc, or indeed a human.

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    1. I'd like to hear that argument. Is inability to choose between good and evil a bar to sentience?

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  3. @mdingler
    Thats the only reason for Orcs to exists, as far as I can see...

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    1. As a player, I prefer to use them as retainers when possible. If they can work for the dark lord over the hill, they can work for me too.

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    2. My players have decided they want to bribe the annoying hogoblins that snipe at them from the dungeon to leave them alone, but to shoot other interlopers. Pretty much the same idea. "But they are inherently evil!" wouldn't change that. Business is business.

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  4. Replies
    1. Nice! And thanks for the back-link.

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  5. rq goblins related to elves

    gurps fantasy races 3rd ed goblins are very cool - magic loving creepy more like evil gremlins from films - another book on goblins for gurps have them using lemarkian evolution - each new generation adapt to local environment creating infinite variety

    i had a game with a player who built an orphanage for monster children - the party paladin found out and killed them all when he was at the shops

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  6. Paladin better keep an eye on his precious human-child orphanage I guess.

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  7. I like to do a mixed approach: orcs are not-quite-sentient magical constructs wrought by evil wizards at the behest of the evil artificer god, while goblinoids (including imps, gargoyles, and ogres) are twisted, but ultimately free-willed, beings who are only just to slay under the same conditions as humans or elves or the like (simply more likely to be evil).

    I figure it takes some of the enjoyment out of playing a violent adventurer if there aren't some fleshy things of roughly-human power to slay with impunity but it's also uninteresting to play a moral hero who never needs to make an ethical choice.

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