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[Let's Read] AC9: Creature Catalogue

SuperG

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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".
Nobody ever writes "those people invading my lands are killing my people are super-civilized".

That's propaganda, and that's the problem: it's often very successful propaganda that has coloured the discourse of historians for the generations that followed.

And it's moderately fine to stick those labels on the Huns and Mongols because they happened longer ago and their dynamic isn't a world-spanning colossus of shitty historical actions that have very clear and present modern day effects. The Colonial Era finished "in my grandpa's time" for a lot of people today, and "what do you mean, it finished?" for others.

Worlds apart.

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.
Yep.

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.
I'd like to think I've been very consistently saying "it's really easy to be racist when you do this" and/or "it's really easy to sound racist when you say that". Authorial intent and how something reads to a reader are two different things, and your innocent intention can easily look really damn racist.

This is kinda a problem with the discourse around racism: Many of us have so integrated "racism is evil!!!!" into ourselves that nobody is willing to go "oh, that thing I said was a bit racist. I am so sorry, I didn't mean it like that". Even though slips of the tongue are common (surely we've all said things that 'sounded wrong', right?).

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.
It's not racist in the sense that it marks you as a card-carrying member of the KKK. It IS racist in the sense that it could make someone feel like you were racist if they discovered that setting detail, because the Author Is Dead.

By itself, it's probably fine - but if gnolls (the demon-worshipping bloodthirsty monster humanoids) are the *only* humanoids in your setting who do anything like that, it starts looking worse, because now you've decided that revering birds and wearing feathers is *not* something the "good" "civilized" races do.

And contrariwise, if this is Gnollworld and Gnolls are the heroes of the story and they're *clearly* coded as a specific RL ethnicity and the European analogues are literal monsters (for the second half of this, I point to the MTG world of Ixalan, where the Conquistadors of Torrezon are a nation of vampires), then we're probably still good.

It's "this can easily have unfortunate implications, carefully review what you decide" not "don't do it".

Have you seen fantasy artwork? I can't recall the last time a character in fantasy was shamed for being scantily clad.
The archetypal "chainmail bikini hero" is literally called the Barbarian. Going "they might be primitive, but they're also hot!" is worse, not better.

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.
Oh, there are absolutely ways to justify a disparity existing - but if the Orcish Horde is invading from the North, they should probably be doing so while clad in heavy army, deploying siege weapons, etc. etc.

Orcs using explosives to bring down the walls of Helm's Deep is actually a pretty good way of handling this. Just because they're brutal warmongers doesn't mean they're poorly equipped. In fact, it makes it highly likely they're extremely WELL equipped - good luck, heroes!

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.
Sure. Now consider how many people tell the story of savage tribal orc cannibals, and how many people tell the story of the decadent jaded elf cannibals.

What explanation can you give, other than (ultimately) racism, for why it's usually the people who match European stereotypes who are "good" and the ones who match non-European stereotypes are "evil"?

It's not personal racism. It's not malicious. People don't usually do it meaning to offend or hurt people. But it does. And once you go "okay, it is an issue" you can stop offending/hurting people.

Different words are the most horrible swear words in the UK and USA, but people fairly quickly learn to not use either, even if the word is harmless in your own tongue, because nobody wants to be offensive. Right?

Remember, I'm not saying there's *no* way to do it right: I'm saying that there are more ways to mess up and be offensive here than might be immediately obvious.
And also that I'd like to *help* there bruh - my first initiative in this thread was brainstorming types of non-racially-offensive Lizardfolk who people could include in their campaigns.

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.
Real life is what you need to be worried about when it comes to avoiding coming across as racist.

If you want to read a series vaguely approximating "First Nation people halted the European invasion with their powerful druidic magic" I'd suggest the Soldier Son trilogy, which I personally found an amazing work of fiction. And is worlds away from a lot of portrayals. Not least because all the characters in it are human.

And gibberlings are an endless horde of hellspawn? Can be great. Maybe make them act like baboons, baboons are carnivorous assholes with hands.

Just... don't make them the closest thing your setting has to [ethnicity/culture/religion X] unless you *want* to imply group X are evil. It's not exactly rocket science.

I think you're taking it a wee bit too far, but I understand and mostly agree with this.

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.
Repetition: Don't make [the evil hellspawn] the closest thing your setting has to [ethnicity/culture/religion X] unless you *want* to imply group X are evil.

Noble heroic human FP vs. evil vicious nonhuman FP is a lot less problematic.

I kind of regret bringing up Tolkien's orcs now. Like, a lot.
Hey. They're pretty close to working, and they're an example everyone knows, so they're easy to use for examples of how to fix these kind of problems without fundamentally changing the story.

(Like, again, fixing Tolkien's Orcs isn't hard: call them Fallen Elves ['COS THEY ARE - it would not be inaccurate to translate them as that in a foreign language edition of it], don't describe them as looking like RL ethnic groups, and you're basically done. And the first half of that is only needed to just drive home the point of nurture, not nature)
 

Elfwine

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Nobody ever writes "those people invading my lands are killing my people are super-civilized".

That's propaganda, and that's the problem: it's often very successful propaganda that has coloured the discourse of historians for the generations that followed.

And it's moderately fine to stick those labels on the Huns and Mongols because they happened longer ago and their dynamic isn't a world-spanning colossus of shitty historical actions that have very clear and present modern day effects. The Colonial Era finished "in my grandpa's time" for a lot of people today, and "what do you mean, it finished?" for others.

Worlds apart.
The Colonial Era is not the entire history of the "civilized" world's interactions with groups it deems less civilized.

I don't how to emphasize that enough. The real story of "civilized" peoples interacting with groups they deem less civilized is not the same in the part of the world bordering the Eurasian steppes as it is in (for example) North America. This isn't just about whether one thing happened long ago or more recently.

If the goal here is 'let's be sensitive and accurate", that's a big deal.

Especially with any narratives involving "the (Group 1) are invading the (group 2)" or "defend (group 2)'s lands from (group 1) raiders".
 
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Elfwine

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It was probably going to come up sooner or later.

D&D's roots have elements ranging from "awkward" to "outright vile", and D&D's "even if you don't explicitly have to kill and loot every monster you meet, doing so isn't necessarily wrong, either" can go...

troubling places. Especially combined with that.

It'd be a heck of a lot easier to talk about pictures of gnolls who wear bird feathers primarily in terms of "I like this artist, are they still alive? Do they take commissions?" if at least one of those things was addressed.
 
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Dagor

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Sure. Now consider how many people tell the story of savage tribal orc cannibals, and how many people tell the story of the decadent jaded elf cannibals.
Michael Moorcock's Melnibonéans come to mind (and if you don't believe the "cannibal" part, read Elric of Melniboné sometime, again if need be)...but yeah, it's kind of rare otherwise unless one actively delves for the darker "elves as dangerous alien Fair Folk" takes on the subject.

It was probably going to come up sooner or later.

D&D's roots have elements ranging from "awkward" to "outright vile", and D&D's "even if you don't explicitly have to kill and loot every monster you meet, doing so isn't necessarily wrong, either" can go...

troubling places. Especially combined with that.
The funny thing about those roots is that even actual original-era pulp writers -- at least the ones still remembered today -- who happily took advantage of all manner of troublesome stereotypes in their work were at the same time usually quite capable of more nuanced portrayals of "other" cultures and people when they actually wanted to (and, I suspect, in at least some cases when their publishers let them get away with it). I'm still trying to hash out what precisely that says about those even more one-dimensional portrayals that one can find in considerably more "modern" game sourcebooks and potentially at actual tables, but I can't shake the feeling that it's probably something deeply ironic.
 

Trireme

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The Savage Coast setting retconned these to be named the Cayma, IIRC. They're one of the variant lizard-races that was native to the area called the Lizard Kingdoms, along with a bunch of other things we'll see coming up.
And they were playable, too... between flying minotaurs, scorpion-people and multiple varieties of lizard folk, Savage Coast and its expansion, Orc’s Head, probably include the most unusual PC races of any 2nd Edition campaign setting, even when accounting for Dark Sun, The Complete Spacefarer’s Handbook and Council of Wyrms (and unless you count what one Dragon article added to Requiem: The Grim Harvest).

Savage Coast material also laid out new, setting-specific options for a few races from The Complete Book of Humanoids in areas where they appeared as monsters, an approach I’d have liked to see more often in 2E materials published after that book.
 

Elfwine

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The funny thing about those roots is that even actual original-era pulp writers -- at least the ones still remembered today -- who happily took advantage of all manner of troublesome stereotypes in their work were at the same time usually quite capable of more nuanced portrayals of "other" cultures and people when they actually wanted to (and, I suspect, in at least some cases when their publishers let them get away with it). I'm still trying to hash out what precisely that says about those even more one-dimensional portrayals that one can find in considerably more "modern" game sourcebooks and potentially at actual tables, but I can't shake the feeling that it's probably something deeply ironic.
This is drawing from what I've read by, and what I've read about Robert Howard specifically (it may very well apply beyond that, but I can name characters from Howard's work more readily), but my thoughts there...

It's not all that hard to find an example of an "exceptional" read not completely shallow and horrible nonwhite character in his stories. But the depiction of black people in general - this is drawing on having a copy of his Solomon Kane stories, so not just "thinly veiled" but "actually in Africa" - can charitably be called hit or miss. And for gaming history reasons unrelated to racism as such, s lot of the stuff drawing from his work as far as RPGs go has a tendency to focus on "There are the protagonists, the Major Enemies, and the nameless spear carriers.".

It's not hard to note the characters that get left out or downplayed.

I'm sure there's more to it than that, but it does strike me as one element that's less than lovely in "modern" gaming.
 
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Trireme

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D&D never seems to have done much with gnolls that is actually encouraging. Orcs at least have the benefit of being the easily remembered ones for dealing with the topic, though I'm not sure D&D has done well with it - but lizardmen and gnolls, not so much.
Lizard men from Spelljammer are perfectly “civilized”, building their own class of spaceship (complete with onboard pool to soak in) and having no adjustments to their ability scores as PCs compared to humans (meaning they’re neither less Intelligent nor less Wise).
 

Trireme

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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).
Playing Devil’s advocate here: “it’s not their fault they’re born violent, evil and/or easily dominated” was and is the ideology of a great deal of real-world pseudo-scientific racism. I’m not sure that means that inherently evil monsters should never be used in context of fantasy, but I’m pretty sure this particular approach to it won’t be at all convincing to those who are troubled by them. In fact, it’s kind of the ultimate example of what bothers certain people about the idea.
 
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