On the problem of killing orcs, etc.

Grumpygoat

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If something has developed language, a working culture, some level of tool use, and so on, then it generally should not be portrayed as always evil. Additionally, if something doesn't have free will, if it has no choice about its actions, then it's more difficult to justify as evil. In general, I find it hard to believe i a culture that raises and nurtures children, that has a functioning society in anyway, could be intrinsically evil - there needs to be some level of compassion there, some level of empathy and ability to work together.

And then there's the issue that a few D&D races - orcs and drow specifically - that come with a lot of racial (and with drow, also gender-based) coding that makes the decision for them to be evil through-and-through pretty damn problematic.

Outsiders get a pass because they typically represent the spiritual essence of their alignment. They represent ideas, or the planes that embody those alignments. They are, in some ways, physical manifestations of alignment.

Undead, by contrast, can have some nuance, but typically don't. They're unnatural. Many hunger for the living. They're empowered by negative energy, which warps them. The process to become one can involve some unspeakably evil shit (liches). Sometimes, even when they're intelligent, they're arguably only a remnant of the person, and the worst parts of them. Those few undead that arguably don't fall under any of those criteria are often the most morally versatile - as with ghosts.

Both groups also usually avoid uncomfortable racial stereotypes.

And with all of that said, I'm not opposed to races having alignment tendencies. In a world where a one-eyed Gruumsh decides to craft a race in his own image, and with a similar attitude, then sure. Maybe most orcs are Lawful Evil. It's the culture passed down to them. But are orcs Outsiders, a manifestation of some alignment? No? Then why are they always evil? Similarly, why aren't humans always True Neutral? And elves Chaotic Good?

And while I can understand the desire to just go kick ass and chew bubble gum without moral quandaries, why not use outsiders and undead? Or constructs? Why the need for living, breathing people who raise children and knit blankets? The need to go into a city and be able to indiscriminately eliminate everyone because "they're evil" is uncomfortably familiar to the real world - where it's those invaders, those people doing that deed, who are typically the evil folk in the scenario.
 

Afterburner

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What makes an intelligent, social, humanoid in body plan, non-human creature acceptable or unacceptable to kill on sight in D&D?
The DM and the players.

I infer (perhaps incorrectly) that this thread is an outgrowth of the "Decolonializing D&D" thread elsewhere in the forum.

I have read that thread with interest, and it is a very enjoyable and educational read. But at the end of the day, it's not anything I feel moved to take action on. I run D&D games for my kids, and they have not reached the age where they are interested in the deep cultural ramifications of orc society. Orcs and goblins and kobolds are mobile piles of violence and hit points, nothing more. I could call them "gribbeltysmonks" instead of "orcs" for all the difference it makes. They don't have a society or a culture. They don't exist outside of the room where they are found. They're MOBs in a video game that we just happen to be playing using pencil-and-paper.

On the other hand, if I were running a game for grown-ups, and those grown-ups were interested in the cultural ramifications of orc society, or even if they were simply made uncomfortable by the idea of orcs being mobile XP banks, then I would likely make different choices in how I presented them.
 

Fabius Maximus

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You could make the argument that there are certain creatures, like liches and vampires and mind flayers, whose diet or life cycle are parasitic. Even a Lawful Good lich Paladin is going to have to eat souls to keep crusading around; leaving one active who is merely sitting around researching spells means that it is, at some point, going to go out and eat someone's soul. And as an adventurer, you had the chance to stop that and didn't.
Yes, but that's a case of an active choice. At least for the lich.

The mindflayers are a more nauanced view-- they are dangerous but not by choice. Which mind you can be a good seed for a fairly grim campaign where the other side isn't so much as evil, as it has no choice.
 

NathanS

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What people are talking about is that declaring any sapient being "intrinsically evil" "because in-fiction reason makes it okay" is something they don't like. And look very critically at or pop culture playing into such ideas, even more so I'd think when its for kids.
 

ESkemp

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I think it's hard to completely purge the problematic nature of "it's okay to kill these sapient creatures because you can tell they are innately evil just by looking at them." Invoking the alignment rule to say that you can't reform them is still approving the idea that you can shoot first, ask questions later, as long as you're shooting at sapient tool-users who look like this. That's still problematic. That said, we all can, and do, enjoy problematic things. It doesn't have to be a deal-breaker, and it's okay if it is.

Personally, one of the reasons I don't prefer innately evil kill-on-sight enemies as a player, or as a GM, is that most of the time for me opposing them feels kinda meaningless. Enemies that are created evil and die evil 100% of the time have not chosen an ethos. They don't decide to stand for anything. The stories you tell with them tend to be sort of stories like fighting wildfires, if a wildfire had kidneys you could stab it in. Zombie apocalypses are much the same way -- all of the interesting factors involved with a zombie apocalypse story are based on the decisions that humans make trying to survive, and headshotting the actual zombies is just kind of this mechanical process. That's fine, but I tend to like that lack of ethos better in boardgames or video games, where it fits within the limitations of those media. And even then, I like seeing enemies who aren't necessarily intrinsically evil, but might be kill-on-sight: like, y'know, guys in Klan robes. Now there's a visual profile that tells you "enemy," and they weren't born that way.

I mean, take the concept of fiends. Probably the most famous fiend in Western culture is Lucifer Morningstar, once brightest of angels, until he fell. If a D&D world's cosmology doesn't allow for that level of nuance -- that even the purest Good and Evil can change sides -- it's comparatively simplistic. (And the idea that pure Good can fall but pure Evil can't rise busts the symmetry that D&D relentlessly pursues...)
 

Rainfall

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I'm pretty sure Orcs haven't been "Always Evil" for over two decades or more. Advanced DnD revised onwards at the very least. Even in the older modules negociation was a perfectly valid tactic.

So, when is it okay to kill orcs? Pretty much when it would be okay to kill humans. When they're part of a rampaging armies, being a Lich's palace guards or hiding in ruins raiding the countryside. That's assuming DnD style orcs there, in many ways Tolkien orcs have more in common with Undead than being gree humans.
 

Lord Raziere

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A normal human man, goes forth from his normal village to fight in a war so that he can protect them. He experiences trauma, deserts his army, becomes a bandit, kills innocent people for their food then tries to return to his village wielding a sword hoping that his family understands, you confront this man as he comes, clearly broken from the experience and on the verge of erupting into violence at any moment. his village is already dead, burned to the ground a month after he left by enemies he never fought.

kill him. he is nothing but a threat to everyone around him and telling him the truth will only break him further.

a sympathetic story does not change the crimes one commits, and justice in a world of monsters, medieval civilization and wilderness is one that comes at the end of a blade. I agree, I hate intrinsically evil races as an idea. I will not however pretend that the fantasy world is fair or perfectly just, or that one is capable of being a hero without bringing harm to others. you do what you can, and if one feels sympathy for the bandits and raiders that come to pillage and burn then that person is a saint not long for such a world.
 

Lord Shark

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For me, it varies by game world. In most fantasy games, I'm perfectly fine with the idea that there can be neutral or even good-aligned orcs, and that it's the behavior rather than any inherent nature that renders a given being "fair game" for being fought and killed. (I don't use alignment in D&D, which helps with this approach.)

On the other hand, if I'm running The One Ring? Then yes, Orcs are evil, full stop, because in Tolkien evil is not an outlook or a set of rules, it's a force. Corruption, in the form of evil acts or simply living too long in unwholesome places, is a frequent danger, and falling into Shadow can bring anyone's story to a tragic end. Redemption is difficult and potentially impossible. I don't want that sort of black-and-white morality in every game, but for Middle-Earth it's an important part of the feel for me.
 

Grumpygoat

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Even Tolkien was uncomfortable with the idea of intrinsically evil orcs, even as he gave the impression that that's what they were.
 

Elfwine

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"All living things were divided in that day, and some of every kind, even of beasts and birds, were found in either host, save the Elves only. They alone were undivided and followed Gil-galad."

I'm not sure we ever see orcs in a context that if they're "intrinsically evil" is entirely relevant in LotR, or Tolkien's other writings for that matter. Almost always they're specifically Sauron's (or Morgoth's) forces, with heavy amounts of - it's not just "nurture", it's outright forcing the issue.

Orcs are fought because they're hostile.
 
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