[Let's Read] AC9: Creature Catalogue

Talisman

The Man of Talis
RPGnet Member
Validated User
And that was followed through with, right?
Please point to where I said that.

My point was that Tolkien's orcs are an example of an evil humanoid race that are not just "black people in costumes." Since this seems to be a magical impossibility to some people around here. I never said it had a happy ending; in fact, I believe I noted that, while it wasn't their fault, the orcs were still evil.
 

DavetheLost

Registered User
Validated User
Even Tolkien was not at all certain that his orcs were beyond redemption. They were inarguably brutal, malicious, vicious and nasty.

I think there is a considerable ground between video game or shooting gallery cardboard cutouts, racist caricatures, and allegorical stand-ins for the socio-political issue of your choice. RPG "monsters" can quite fruitfully occupy the spaces between those extremes.

The Chamelemen described upthread for example have depth and are certainly not just pop-up enemies to put down with no more thought than scoring points, if they are a racist caricature it is beyond me to see of whom, nor do they read as allegory. They inhabit the middle spaces.

A tribe of ogres, who eat humans, elves, etc because they consider non-ogres to be food could be an interesting enemy. Certainly to the human village they would be considered "monsters", but they do not need to be burdened with the stereotypical Hollywood "native cannibal tribesman" baggage. They could even have a culture of great sophistication, except they eat people!
 

Sark

Registered User
Validated User
A tribe of ogres, who eat humans, elves, etc because they consider non-ogres to be food could be an interesting enemy. Certainly to the human village they would be considered "monsters", but they do not need to be burdened with the stereotypical Hollywood "native cannibal tribesman" baggage. They could even have a culture of great sophistication, except they eat people!
It's a much later development, but isn't that more or less the depiction they gave the Grell at some point?
 

NobodyImportant

Registered User
Validated User
My point was that Tolkien's orcs are an example of an evil humanoid race that are not just "black people in costumes."
Tolkien Letter #210:
“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.”
 

DavetheLost

Registered User
Validated User
I only know the Grell from the Fiend Folio, and of course the Black Butler character. My daughter is a Black Butler fan, but that is a very different Grell. Caused me some cognitive dissonance. She would say Grell and I'd think brain with tentacles and she'd be thinking read-headed assassin with a chainsaw.
 

vitruvian

Registered User
Validated User
Even Tolkien was not at all certain that his orcs were beyond redemption. They were inarguably brutal, malicious, vicious and nasty.

I think there is a considerable ground between video game or shooting gallery cardboard cutouts, racist caricatures, and allegorical stand-ins for the socio-political issue of your choice. RPG "monsters" can quite fruitfully occupy the spaces between those extremes.

The Chamelemen described upthread for example have depth and are certainly not just pop-up enemies to put down with no more thought than scoring points, if they are a racist caricature it is beyond me to see of whom, nor do they read as allegory. They inhabit the middle spaces.

A tribe of ogres, who eat humans, elves, etc because they consider non-ogres to be food could be an interesting enemy. Certainly to the human village they would be considered "monsters", but they do not need to be burdened with the stereotypical Hollywood "native cannibal tribesman" baggage. They could even have a culture of great sophistication, except they eat people!
You can also avoid it being an implicitly racist 'the other tribe are all cannibals' thing if the monstrous bandits or even the ravening cannibal horde ultimately comes from your own/the PCs' own culture and people. That can be done with some forms of undead, or if you want living ogre-like beings, you could always use the Algonquian idea of the wendigo, or the Sawney Bean story with D&D supernatural elements added. Maybe your version of 'orcs' isn't even originally a different species, but a group of people from your own culture who have become degraded, possibly as the result of possessing spirits of some kind, to the point that they have physically changed. See also Lovecraft's version of ghouls, although they tended not to predate on the living.

Of course, then you've swapped out implicit racism for implicit stigmatization of the misfit and outsider from within the tribe, so YMMV.
 

Damian May

Apex Predator
Validated User
I dunno, even cannibalism and head hunting* can be part of a fully rounded culture without devolving into caricature and parody, it just needs to be done well.

*I mean, my wifes family participated in the latter within living memory.
 

SuperG

Active member
Validated User
Long, tiring day, so no monster today. However, I do want to respond to this:

So the only way to have humanoids that aren't racist caricatures is to have them be literally video game enemies that pop up and get slaughtered? How incredibly dull.
Only way, no, but it's incredibly common for people to reach for racist stereotypes without even consciously thinking of it. I'd say the average white guy doesn't have a voice in their head that says "people who cook people in big pots and dress in feathers and bones are part of the real world". It's all fiction to us. The subject of cartoons, not documentaries.

Actual conversation I've had working on a gaming project (paraphrased): "Can we not call goblin magic-users Witch Doctors? It's a very real and modern religious practice. It's sorta like calling [human priests] 'Vicars' only more offensive."

I had trouble getting to the end of my two write-ups without including things I, personally, know to be problematic. It's not easy.

I like both of those, but especially the Chamelemen. The detail about them considering all silent-skins to be dishonest is cool: a plausible source of drama that marks them as very much not human.
Thanks! :)

I'll credit the webcomic Freefall for inspiration there; the way it handles the main character being an uplifted wolf has been really inspirational for me for thinking about "human + animal" can make for an interesting kind of nonhuman.

Why must "tribal humanoids" always and inevitably mean "racist parody," though? Why does living in tribes rather than cities equal racism?
Because we-the-authors live in cities, not tribes, and live in a context where much of what we know about the people who DO is based on racist stereotypes rather than ethnographic fact?

It's not inevitable (I think - hence a stab at making two variants of Lizardfolk that aren't tapping racist tropes), but it's really damn easy.

Feathered headdress? Those are pretty bloody tricky to make, often have RL cultural and religious connotations I am not remotely qualified to explain, and have parallels in European history even quite recently (the phrase 'feather in your cap' comes to mind) - but they get used as a marker of "savage barbaric peoples".

Wearing little clothing when you live in a jungle? Really logical, kinda what we do ourselves (how much clothes do athletes wear?), but "look at these uncivilized barbarians [who don't live in Northern Europe, where layers are actually sensible]!".


And then we get to "they have lower tech than their neighbours". This is... implausible. Real history shows us how lightning quick human beings can be to "catch up" on anything other than infrastructure, with the main obstacles being "the human beings with the edge actively resist letting anyone catch up".

Here, something from real history:

Tuhawaiki signed the Treaty of Waitangi at Ruapuke on 9 June 1840. His name is recorded as John Touwaick. He went on board the Herald'in a full dress staff uniform, of a British aide de camp, with gold lace trowsers and cocked hat and plume, in which he looked extremely well; …accompanied by a native orderly sergeant, dressed in a corresponding costume.' Tuhawaiki's home was now a weatherboard house, and he was the acknowledged leader of Ngai Tahu. He had his own trained bodyguard of 20 men, clothed and equipped as British soldiers. He was, furthermore, determined to make the most of the new agreement. His commercial ability impressed European observers, who noted that he spoke English freely, could read and write a little, and was accustomed to cash transactions and bank business. On business he dressed in a neat suit and white greatcoat, and wore a watch and chain.
Bear in mind, this is 70 years after Captain Cook made the first real map of NZ.

That's what an actual historical "tribal leader" looked like (tl;dr? 'A Victorian Gentleman').

And, well, here's another quote about the Maori (different tribe):

wikipedia said:
Māori warriors fighting the New Zealand government in Titokowaru's War in New Zealand's North Island in 1868–69 revived ancient rites of cannibalism as part of the radical Hauhau movement of the Pai Marire religion.[88] "
(and this country is pretty damn swampy)

Craziest thing? The "swamp-dwelling cannibals" were the beleaguered natives fighting a treacherous imperialistic power.


So why is it racist? Because it's tapping into narratives that stem directly from recent western colonialism, used to justify annexing their land and forcing them to work for your people, follow your religion, speak your language and send their children to schools to learn to be more like you.


See, I agree if the goal is "go to where the orcs are and kill them. Jolly good sport, what what?" But that's going to be true of anything the PCs choose to hunt down for no reason. My take is more "You need to get those savages because they are actively eating people." Not because they're orcs, but because they're orcs that are doing evil things. I'd expect heroic PCs to do the same vis a vis elves, halflings, or sapient yaks that were performing the same actions.
Even if the Elves (who are of course impeccably civilized) are conquering the "savages" lands and the people being eaten are defeated soldiers?

The problem with the narrative of "go fight the evil savages who are invading us poor defenceless civilized folk's territory" is that IRL, that's the exact opposite of the real story: it's the "civilized" folk who went out and slaughtered people and took their stuff, and then make up lies about how they're the ones being attacked.

So what you're saying is, it's only acceptable to portray people of higher social class in a negative light? It's inherently racist or classist or some other -ist to portray someone, or a group of someones, who are (1) of a lower social class, and (2) evil?

Nope. Nope. Nope. Can't agree. Won't agree. You're cutting out too many perfectly good stories for no adequate reason. Depicting an evil person as a member of a lower class is not the same as saying that all members of said lower class are evil.
You're missing a nuance there. It's not about evil individuals; it's about evil groups. If you have "Kneecappper Joe", a single lower class thug who breaks kneecaps for the mob, but he's just one criminal and most of the people in the neighborhood are good people just trying to make it to another day, that's fine.

Hannibal Lecter is urbane and sophisticated, but you could totally do a lower class version of him - but you'd need to be damn sure that you weren't implying that he was a serial killer *because* he's lower class.

As you say - the difference between "an evil person who is an X" and "all X's are evil". The thing is, what this requires? It requires you to have a lot non-evil people who are X's. And when you make the evil people literally a different species (e.g. Lizardfolk)?

And then you give them traits such that they can easily be associated, not only with real people, but real people who were historically accused of being evil monsters who needed to exterminated for doing the exact things your fictional race of lizardfolk do?

Well, that *looks* racist (or classist) as heck. And "I didn't mean to be racist" is not a defense once people start trying to get you to stop doing it in future.

I think I agree, but I'm not entirely certain.

On the subject of evil races, I'd like to point to Tolkien's orcs. They're pretty universally depicted as evil, hateful, ugly, vicious, and malevolent. However - and this is important - it's not their fault. Orcs are a slave race, literally born to be the slaves of first Morgoth, and later Sauron. They are born into violence, evil, and mental domination; they have no choice or option to be other than evil. They're intended to be perverse, twisted mockeries of the other races. As such, I feel that they avoid a lot of the racist baggage, since all the fault lies with Morgoth (and later Sauron).
Let's be clear here: the adjectives used by Tolkien to describe his Orcs were also used (as is) to describe real world people, in the same time period.


So imagine five minutes of your racist uncle (if you don't have one, rejoice in your good fortune, then imagine you do) describing one of your friends that happens to non-white in ranting, frothing detail.

Now imagine using that to describe what Orcs in your world look like.


See, evil, hateful and malevolent? Sure, that's actions.

Ugly? They're ugly because they don't look like Europeans.



Have you seen Bright? Bright is basically "what if LoTR really DID lead to our world", and puts Orcs into the setting... in the position where non-Caucasians are (or, on better days and in better places 'have been') in our world.


Let's change LoTR. Let's NOT rename Orcs (and while we're at it, let's not have their appearances be changed by working for Sauron). So they're Mordor Elves (Uruk Hai can be Isengard Elves). They and Sauron's human servants are collectively called "Mordorians" as a political entity.


NOW it's not tapping into racism. I think. I'd still want to have someone double-check my work, because heaven knows I've slipped and said/done offensive things that I cringe at in retrospect.
 

Elfwine

Registered User
Validated User
The problem with the narrative of "go fight the evil savages who are invading us poor defenceless civilized folk's territory" is that IRL, that's the exact opposite of the real story: it's the "civilized" folk who went out and slaughtered people and took their stuff, and then make up lies about how they're the ones being attacked.
The groups that came out of the Eurasian steppes on horseback to acquire wealth at the expense of their neighbors have not been historically the ones characterized as "civilized folk".

That's its own dynamic and mess that isn't identical to what happened in (using modern nation names) Australia or the United States or South Africa, to name three examples of imperialism of the sort you're talking about.

This is rather relevant to representing anything like "what RL history shows".
 
Last edited:

Talisman

The Man of Talis
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I'll credit the webcomic Freefall for inspiration there; the way it handles the main character being an uplifted wolf has been really inspirational for me for thinking about "human + animal" can make for an interesting kind of nonhuman.
Freefall is one of my favorite webcomics, for the reason you mentioned, and because the artist manages to tell a really quite deep and compelling story in the three-panel joke-a-day format.

Because we-the-authors live in cities, not tribes, and live in a context where much of what we know about the people who DO is based on racist stereotypes rather than ethnographic fact?
I had no idea all those books I read about the various First Nation tribes, or the stories I heard from actual First Nation people, were racist stereotypes.

So you're saying that writing about a culture you're not personally immersed in is automatically and intrinsically racist? I realize I sound like a smartass, but don't mean that sarcastically - that's honestly what it sounds like you're saying.

Feathered headdress? Those are pretty bloody tricky to make, often have RL cultural and religious connotations I am not remotely qualified to explain, and have parallels in European history even quite recently (the phrase 'feather in your cap' comes to mind) - but they get used as a marker of "savage barbaric peoples".
So for example, if I decide the gnoll hunters of my world wear hawk feathers (since they revere the hawk as for its keen vision), that's racist? If gnoll scouts wear owl feathers, and healers wear the feathers of the turkey, that's racist?

I'm not talking about appropriating actual, real-world feather headdresses or regalia, but "feathers are racist" is kind of insane.

Wearing little clothing when you live in a jungle? Really logical, kinda what we do ourselves (how much clothes do athletes wear?), but "look at these uncivilized barbarians [who don't live in Northern Europe, where layers are actually sensible]!".
Have you seen fantasy artwork? I can't recall the last time a character in fantasy was shamed for being scantily clad.

And then we get to "they have lower tech than their neighbours". This is... implausible. Real history shows us how lightning quick human beings can be to "catch up" on anything other than infrastructure, with the main obstacles being "the human beings with the edge actively resist letting anyone catch up".
Fair point, though I think it can work if we establish that the lower-tech culture is separated from their higher-tech neighbors by great distance, magical barriers, a mountain range full of hostile undead, or something, and have only recently (as in, within the last year or two) made contact.

Even if the Elves (who are of course impeccably civilized) are conquering the "savages" lands and the people being eaten are defeated soldiers?
Well, yes, if you reverse the premise I gave, you can make me wrong.

My point is, I expect heroic PCs to kill ugly people who are doing evil things. If the imperialist elves are conquering the native orc tribes, and the orcs are fighting in self-defense, that is obviously a different story.

Consider a band of [race] who capture lone travelers, torture them, and eat them alive in honor of a demon of hunger. These people are clearly evil. It doesn't matter whether they're savage, tribal orcs, or decadent, jaded elf nobles; they're still evil because they're doing evil things, not because of their DNA.

The problem with the narrative of "go fight the evil savages who are invading us poor defenceless civilized folk's territory" is that IRL, that's the exact opposite of the real story: it's the "civilized" folk who went out and slaughtered people and took their stuff, and then make up lies about how they're the ones being attacked.
I must have slept through history class the day we learned about the Elvish Conquest of the Lower Orclands. Obviously I'm not denying what you say is usually (but not always) correct in real life, but our world is blessedly free of powerful magic, evil deities, and fiends from the Abyss eager for blood and souls. Just because the real world narrative went a certain way, are we forever bound to follow it in our fiction? How incredibly boring, to know that I'm not allowed to imagine an America where the First Nation people halted the European invasion with their powerful druidic magic, or where the screaming, mindless hordes of gibberlings spawn endlessly by dark magic unless their demonic patron is slain.

You're missing a nuance there. It's not about evil individuals; it's about evil groups. If you have "Kneecappper Joe", a single lower class thug who breaks kneecaps for the mob, but he's just one criminal and most of the people in the neighborhood are good people just trying to make it to another day, that's fine.

Hannibal Lecter is urbane and sophisticated, but you could totally do a lower class version of him - but you'd need to be damn sure that you weren't implying that he was a serial killer *because* he's lower class.

As you say - the difference between "an evil person who is an X" and "all X's are evil". The thing is, what this requires? It requires you to have a lot non-evil people who are X's. And when you make the evil people literally a different species (e.g. Lizardfolk)?
I think you're taking it a wee bit too far, but I understand and mostly agree with this.

And then you give them traits such that they can easily be associated, not only with real people, but real people who were historically accused of being evil monsters who needed to exterminated for doing the exact things your fictional race of lizardfolk do?

Well, that *looks* racist (or classist) as heck. And "I didn't mean to be racist" is not a defense once people start trying to get you to stop doing it in future.
See, there's the problem. We're all humans, no matter how widely varied our appearances and cultural backgrounds. It's going to be very, very hard to come up with traits that have never, ever, in the history of life on Earth, been associated with one group of humans by another group of humans. That's perilously close to saying that any attempt to give any group of hostile nonhumans any traits at all is racist.

Let's be clear here: the adjectives used by Tolkien to describe his Orcs were also used (as is) to describe real world people, in the same time period.
I kind of regret bringing up Tolkien's orcs now. Like, a lot.
 
Top Bottom