About fantasy and "evil races"

avram

Registered User
Validated User
Really? How so? Educate me.
There are several places in the text of Lord of the Rings where orcs and half-orcs are described as "sallow" (yellow-skinned) and/or with squinting or slanted eyes:

"In one of the windows [Frodo] caught a glimpse of a sallow face with sly, slanting eyes; but it vanished at once.
'So that's where that southerner is hiding!' he thought. 'He looks more than half like a goblin.'"
(The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 11, A Knife in the Dark)

"But there were some others that were horrible: man-high, but with goblin-faces, sallow, leering, squint-eyed."
(The Two Towers, Chapter 9, Flotsam and Jetsam)

"When they reached The Green Dragon, the last house on the Hobbiton side, now lifeless and with broken windows, they were disturbed to see half a dozen large ill-favoured Men lounging against the inn-wall; they were squint-eyed and sallow-faced.
'Like that friend of Bill Ferny's at Bree,' said Sam.
'Like many that I saw at Isengard,' muttered Merry."
(The Return of the King, Chapter 8, The Scouring of the Shire)

While the subjects in that third example are described as "Men," it's likely they are half-orcs, since they're said to be like Bill Ferny's friend, who's the one being described in the first quote as "more than half like a goblin."

Furthermore, Tolkien, in a letter he wrote to Forrest J Ackerman in 1958, described orcs thusly: "The Orcs are definitely stated to be corruptions of the 'human' form seen in Elves and Men. They are (or were) squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes: in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types." (This is reproduced in The Letters of JRR Tolkien; it is letter #210.)
 

zanshin

Registered User
Validated User
I think cosmically detectable evil is pretty much a d&d thing in rpg’s. Other than some corner cases like Storm Bull being able to sense chaos in Glorantha I can’t think of other examples in rpgs. I would be happy to be corrected.

RPGs are entertainment. Sometimes you want entertainment that is intricate and thought provoking. Other times you want to kick some monster butt and enjoy the game process and the badassery of your awesome characters.

I enjoy a bit of depth to my evil. In Midnight Orcs are (mostly) evil because Izrador, the only god left in the world, fills their dreams with horror to brainwash them to dominate and destroy. There is the occasional Orc who manages to resist the programming. For the typical group of adventurers/resistance there would be few qualms about killing Orcs.

In my take on the Realms of Chirak, Orcs are like the reavers in Firefly, raging berserkers that kill those who are not them, born from the blood of an evil god, to be feared and opposed.

That doesn’t mean I crave simplicity in all things, just that memorable monsters , like the Alien in the eponymous movies, can be inimical to us.

Separately I really enjoyed the write up of lizardmen in Volo , I thought that it was a good way of getting across a very different mindset.
 

Morty

Registered User
Validated User
Its all academic.

Orcs aren't Chaotic Evil because the rulebook says so.
They're Chaotic Evil because they go out and do Chaotic Evil stuff. An orc sitting at home, tending his fire and raising his crops is not Chaotic Evil. He's probably True Neutral or something. It's the gang that's raiding the borderland or shacking up with that wizard that wants to rule the world that give all the other orcs a bad name, but they're also the orcs that most need to be stabbed repeatedly.

NPCs shouldn't exist in a vacuum (or maybe they do - if you just want to activate them when the PCs step into the room, I'm not going to complain). Alignments are not arbitrary. Orcs don't get labeled "mostly evil" because they're just standing around, waiting for some heroes to swoop in and murder them. They're probably out doing evil shit, thus necessitating/justifying the heroes swooping in and murdering them.

Saying "there are no evil species" is assuming that Western 21st century values are not only universal to humans, but also apply to all aliens as well. Maybe orcs think differently or process emotions differently or have a different (read: "Evil") philosophy compared to humans or elves or whatever. Maybe the orc has free will or maybe they're the lapdogs of an evil god. Maybe they are redeemable, and it only takes the love of a good paladin to set them straight. But I also don't think it matters one way or the other when the orc in question is trying to stab you in the bowels or eat your face off.

A band of player characters who ride into an orc village and start killing everyone unprovoked is no more "Good" than the orc horde that does the same in reverse.

Actions, in other words, speak louder than the alignment entry in the Monster Manual.
Emphasis mine. Yes, they are. Everything they are and everything they do is only because someone somewhere wrote it down this way. Same as with every other fictional people or species. For years now, many writers have consciously decided to create fictional species that are nigh-universally evil and dangerous, while also being relatively weak and easy to kill by low-level adventurers and retaining human-like intelligence and behaviour. And the argument in this thread is that they shouldn't. Since the trend comes from some very ugly human desires.
 
Last edited:

Dalillama

Registered User
Validated User
I tend to see this as how in most genres anything not human tends to be very simplistically defined. Non-human races have 1 culture, 1 religion, 1 form of government, dress the same, talk the same, and all tend to act along the same personality lines(Vulcans = logic, klingons = warlike). So in terms of that, it really doesn't surprise me that "gnolls are all bad" ends up being how the game world plays out. Also things are written so as to not be messy when the adventure moves into the "wipe out all the evil gnolls". God forbid you have to actually deal with the women and children of that evil gnoll tribe you're going to take down.

But other races being simplistic seems like a universal enough theme I wonder if writing contrary to that just doesn't work well with consumers. Like in Star Trek, yeah you'll get small instances of the different species acting different, but mostly characters stick to their easily digested stereotype. Your Bajoran security officer isn't going to be an atheist who's sports dreadlocks and is into punk rock moshing in the holodeck.
It's largely an issue of creative time and screen time; when you have a dozen or more species of nonhuman, you have to come up with a dozen or more cultures. Then, if you want intraspecies diversity, you need several dozen more cultures, and that's a lot of work. Especially because you need to have each species' cultures be distinctively theirs, some type of way that they're all not like human cultures. And then you have to show all that during the story, etc.etc.
 

mindstalk

Does the math.
Validated User
Emphasis mine. Yes, they are. Everything they are and everything they do is only because someone somewhere wrote it down this way. Same as with every other fictional people or species. For years now, many writers have consciously decided to create fictional species that are nigh-universally evil and dangerous, while also being relatively weak and easy to kill by low-level adventurers and retaining human-like intelligence and behaviour. And the argument in this thread is that they shouldn't. Since the trend comes from some very ugly human desires.
I think you missed the point, which is contained in the sentence after the one you bolded. If the rulebook says that they're always Chaotic Evil, then that should be manifested in their behavior. "Show, don't (just) tell". If the goblins are minding their own business tending goats and potatoes in a peaceful village, and you're told they're Chaotic Evil, then something has gone wrong with the rules or with the portrayal.

(Or some powerful force is keeping them in line, I say to be completist.)

It's largely an issue of creative time and screen time; when you have a dozen or more species of nonhuman, you have to come up with a dozen or more cultures. Then, if you want intraspecies diversity, you need several dozen more cultures, and that's a lot of work. Especially because you need to have each species' cultures be distinctively theirs, some type of way that they're all not like human cultures. And then you have to show all that during the story, etc.etc.
Or you can have cross-species cultures as in Eberron. :p
 

Silvercat Moonpaw

Quadruped Transhuman
Validated User
I feel like what happens is that cultures get presented and too many people fail to remember that individuals are individuals and are going to act how their personal mentality interacts with the world around them.

Also I think too many writers get caught up in trying to make full cultures and forget that for various reasons not every facet of said cultures is going to be noticed. It would probably be easy to create multiple cultures for every non-human if you didn't try to list every variation of each culture. (Or focused on a small-enough area in which it would be logical that each race would only have one of their cultures hanging around.)
 

mindstalk

Does the math.
Validated User
Just two cultures per species might be enough to reinforce the idea that species != culture. Maybe hint at the existence of others.
 

Dagor

Registered User
Validated User
Just two cultures per species might be enough to reinforce the idea that species != culture. Maybe hint at the existence of others.
And/or, for that matter, allow for actual multispecies cultures. A lot of fantasy seems to like to have its individual species keep more or less strictly to themselves (there may be more cosmopolitan areas, but those tend to be presented more as common meeting and trading grounds than joint-species political entities in their own right) and then perhaps subdivide things further within some of those, but there's not a lot of genuine species mingling under the banner of a common culture, nation, or even just philosophy or faith. It's kind of funny how, say, D&D has no problem with conflicts between humans and elves, humans and humans, or elves and elves respectively, but rarely shows us one of one proper human/elf alliance against another...
 

mindstalk

Does the math.
Validated User
And/or, for that matter, allow for actual multispecies cultures. A lot of fantasy seems to like to have its individual species keep more or less strictly to themselves (there may be more cosmopolitan areas, but those tend to be presented more as common meeting and trading grounds than joint-species political entities in their own right) and then perhaps subdivide things further within some of those, but there's not a lot of genuine species mingling under the banner of a common culture, nation, or even just philosophy or faith. It's kind of funny how, say, D&D has no problem with conflicts between humans and elves, humans and humans, or elves and elves respectively, but rarely shows us one of one proper human/elf alliance against another...
Eberron being a huge exception. Mystara's Glantri being a lesser one -- it included two elven principalities, one standard and one a bizarre 'Spanish' culture.
 
Top Bottom