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On the problem of killing orcs, etc.

Ysidro

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I haven't finished this thread, but anything that makes me ponder the nature of evil can't be all bad? Or can it?

Seriously though, this has me thinking it all boils down to the nature of evil in a particular game. What does "evil" mean in D&D in general and any setting specifically. Without going through my books and checking the discussion on alignment in various editions, I seem to think it generally comes down to selfishness. Evil beings do what they will, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily ravenous monsters.

Heck, in the homebrew setting I'm working on, the Eternal Emperor is Neutral Evil, but that doesn't mean the entire empire is evil. It's not an empire of spikes and chains but one that further's the Emperor's personal ambitions at the cost of everyone else's.
 

komradebob

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Also, I kind of agree with @Afterburner and others above, that this whole discussion seems more concerned with hypotheticals and thirty-plus year old stuff from the early days of D&D. Modern D&D and Pathfinder are hardly perfect, but "always Evil" orcs, goblins etc. haven't been a thing for close to twenty years if not more (can't remember how the alignments worked in AD&D monster manuals any more), and at least personally, I have neither seen nor heard first-hand accounts of the stereotypically bloodthirsty, "How many XP for the orc babies?" genocidal players in ages.
It ain't like the adult orcs are worth a whole lot of XPs either.
 

vitruvian

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I did specifically exclude "enslaved cattle status" as a valid form of (independent) existence, in my opinion.
There's also the distinction between whether mind flayers pose an existential threat to the species as a whole or to individuals within that species. We don't pose an existential threat to our cattle as a species, but actually promote the growth of their population, but for each individual cow raised for meat, we humans are indeed the walking threat (or promise) of slaughter. But as a thinking species, we don't need to think that the mind flayers are planning to eat us to extinction to have valid motivation for preventing them from eating any of us.
 

Elfwine

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Context matters. Is it a game of black hats and white hats, and heroes kill monsters, and monsters are always bad? Or is it a game of monsters are people too and can have complex motivations? In the former type of game both sunset mind flayer and orc babies do not really fit, especially if they are being presented as moral puzzles. In the latter type of game they are what should be expected from the setting.
I'd add something to this:

Even if someone - let's say a dragon (no, I'm not specifying the color) to have a specific kind of creature to talk about - is kind to her children, and might even have friends, that doesn't preclude being evil, threatening, and unrepentant+unwilling to stop.

It makes the process of facing them potentially less "walk up to them and try to use swords" from first awareness of their existence on, but "There's always a way that everyone can be convinced that being Good is better than not being good, that coexisting is better than not coexisting." is not necessarily a thing, even if that tells us more about this dragon or that wizard or those giants or these outlaws or that you're going to have a lot more luck trying to redeem a werewolf than a beholder.

It can get very customized from "black hats and white hats and nothing else". But the more you go away from that, the more you have to state that's not how things are being done, rather than "Orcs are no different than dwarves morally speaking, shame on you for not immediately assuming that would be the case when none of the information available to you the player suggests that's how things roll here! Why, we don't even use alignment at all because we believe in moral relativism!" after failing to describe what's normal in any given campaign setting or even the table.
 
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DavetheLost

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Also, I kind of agree with @Afterburner and others above, that this whole discussion seems more concerned with hypotheticals and thirty-plus year old stuff from the early days of D&D. Modern D&D and Pathfinder are hardly perfect, but "always Evil" orcs, goblins etc. haven't been a thing for close to twenty years if not more (can't remember how the alignments worked in AD&D monster manuals any more), and at least personally, I have neither seen nor heard first-hand accounts of the stereotypically bloodthirsty, "How many XP for the orc babies?" genocidal players in ages.
Within the last year I had a player burn down a peasant village so he could recover the nails, plow blades, axe heads, etc out of the ashes to sell for scrap metal. He di not kill the inhabiting villagers first. They ran to the next village over, told the story of the atrocity, and when the player showed up with a bunch of ash and soot covered scrap metal to sell he was promptly apprehend by the authorities and treated to rather summary justice. The whole thing rather rocked me back on my heels. I was not at all expecting such behavior and had not seen it in some years either. But it is still out there. The prevalence of the term "murderhobo" as used to describe current players in some campaigns should also be taken as evidence of this.
 

ezekiel

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Within the last year I had a player burn down a peasant village so he could recover the nails, plow blades, axe heads, etc out of the ashes to sell for scrap metal. He di not kill the inhabiting villagers first. They ran to the next village over, told the story of the atrocity, and when the player showed up with a bunch of ash and soot covered scrap metal to sell he was promptly apprehend by the authorities and treated to rather summary justice. The whole thing rather rocked me back on my heels. I was not at all expecting such behavior and had not seen it in some years either. But it is still out there. The prevalence of the term "murderhobo" as used to describe current players in some campaigns should also be taken as evidence of this.
Wow, that's...pretty goddamn extreme. Even for D&D. "Murderhobo" is usually half tongue-in-cheek because it refers to being a roving mercenary, not a cold-blooded arsonist and random serial murderer. The only person I know who's done anything even like that is my best friend's sister, but that was in Fallout: New Vegas where she was confused about why townspeople would always attack. (She had rock-bottom karma because she would steal literally everything that wasn't nailed down, and people were finding out.) And that's still not "hey, I could destroy the lives and livelihoods of all these random people to make a quick buck."

Of course, I told my own players (and tell my DMs) I'm not interested in grimdark worlds. I'm fine with worlds that aren't all sunshine and roses. Life sucks sometimes. But I am not a murderhobo. I want to play more in the direction of "reconstructed" Paladins & Princes(ses) style, where Good wins more often than not, but there can be wrinkles and you have to work for your happy ending. That means no random murder, generally no getting stabbed in the back *because* we showed mercy, etc. The world may be "in a bad way," but it's not a fundamentally bad *place.* To possibly overstretch a metaphor, I can be an actual knight in shining armor--if I take the time and effort to polish it up, and don't run and play in the mud at every chance I get.
 

Lord Raziere

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Wow, sometimes you look at some DnD stories and realize that Undertale's genocide route wasn't that far off the mark in terms of some players behavior.

and yeah I'm more of a "knight-errant/ronin/wandering cowboy" kind of person rather than a murderhobo. like sure they both wander and kill things, but the knight-errants have a code and morality that they follow rather than just do whatever job has money- I'm pretty sure many knight-errants would refuse to ask for anything more than food and water in return for protecting random people from monsters.
 

kenco

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Context matters. Is it a game of black hats and white hats, and heroes kill monsters, and monsters are always bad? Or is it a game of monsters are people too and can have complex motivations?
The game can be played either way. I think the roots of the game are nearer the black-and-white; but the ways it's used has drifted and diversified over time. It emerged from two-warring-sides competitive war-games, in which a player might well control the 'baddies'. The major in-game rewards in the original published rules featured a) XP for killing monsters; b) XP for taking their stuff (GP); c) XP for taking their stuff (magic items). So the moral rights of the fictional monsters (orcs included) do not seem to have been deeply considered in the design of the game.

The original rules also feature the following: "Monsters will automatically attack and/or pursue any char- acters they “see,” with the exception of those monsters which are intelligent enough to avoid an obviously superior force." This in context includes all orcs. If we take it seriously (and there are reasons we might not), then no PC has any reason to make exceptions when it comes to killing orcs: they are inimical to ordinary life. The exception would be a player character orc, which would be classified as a "character" rather than a "monster". This raises the question of how the PCs distinguish characters from monsters, a topic not covered by the rules...

Having checked my PDF of Men & Monsters, I discover that orcs in OD&D are one of a handful of types of 'monstrous' humanoids that can be either Neutral or Chaotic in alignment. So perhaps this 'kill 'em all' attitude wasn't always universal? Ogres are also in this category.
In the former type of game both sunset mind flayer and orc babies do not really fit, especially if they are being presented as moral puzzles. In the latter type of game they are what should be expected from the setting.
I'm pretty sure the orc babies can exist in the former type of game, too. I think the assumption that EGG did not (at least originally) intend the case in the KotB as a moral puzzle is quite plausible.

Looking at KotB, I see that they are described as 'young' or 'young who do not fight'; but 'babies' is near enough. It also seems that most of the more numerous chaotic humanoid groups in the complex have their own batch of 'young'.

I recall seeing a couple of different groups playing in the black-and-white style encounter the 'young' in KotB (although I don't recall if they encountered orcs or one of the other monster types with 'young'). One group thought about it for a moment ('Whatta we gonna do with 'em?' 'Kill 'em'), then killed them. The other just killed them, after once they had dealt with the adults (tactical priorities, you know). I didn't notice this disturb anyone, or disrupt the flow of play. All this was a long while ago, though.

I can't help mentioning that the orcs in the module are a) alignment Chaotic (from the rulebook); b) living in a place known as The Caves of Chaos (from the module); c) exist in a game where each speaking individual knows one only of three alignment tongues, in addition to anything else they happen to speak.

I haven't read the Dragon Magazine articles mentioned elsewhere in the thread, so I don't know what EGG said, if anything, about his thinking. I can't help suspecting that he was just filling out the naturalistic detail of the world. Orcs are animals, must reproduce, have babies... must be in the lair somewhere... there!
...mind flayers do not actually pose an existential threat to the existence of humanoids... mind flayers will always assure that humanoids continue to exist. What is not assured is the continued existence of any particular humanoid...
Surely. Taking as read that we still regard killing individual humanoids etc. etc. as wrong. And assuming they don't suffer some kind of 'tragedy of the commons' episode in managing the wild stock!

As a random aside: I suppose it's long-established in cannon that mind flayers can't subsist on other kinds of brains, or the brains of the deceased, or brain-tissue steaks grown in vats, or strictly evil humanoid brain tissue (from other mind flayers?? :oops:), or surgical offcuts from tumour-removal operations, or magical weekly healing of their starvation damage, or whatever is produced by Create Food-type spells, or by being converted into undead mind flayers, or uploaded as computer algorithms?
 

OmSwaOperations

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A really interesting question here, and one which got raised on the other "is D&D colonialist, etc." thread is whether creating a setting in which creatures (e.g. Orcs) are innately Evil and therefore can be killed without qualm is itself a bad thing.

Some people on the other "D&D is bad" thread seemed to think that it was, I think because they believed that it showed a desire on the part of the DM to make murder unproblematic, or to make colonialism justifiable (as if I land on a continent of evil murder-monsters, setting up a town and killing the lot of them is obviously a lot more justifiable than if I land on a continent of ordinary people and do the same).

I would disagree with that kind of analysis, because I think people are smart enough to separate real life and fantasy worlds, to realise the pertinent distinctions between the two, and to think/act accordingly. However I'm interested to see what other people think about this kind of critique?
 
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