D&D General The Case for Evil Orcs (Minor Rings of Power Spoilers)

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Reynard

Legend
PROLOGUE: I know this subject can get contentious, so i want to get out in front of it here. I am advocating for the inclusion of always evil servitor races for malevolent cosmic powers to be used as stock enemies in D&D. I am not saying anything about real world racism or real world racial essentialism. I am also very specifically not talking about playable races, or ones that fill non-enemy roles in a campaign (so no orc shopkeepers or honorable enemies).

One of my favorite things in the first couple episodes of Rings of power was
the return of the vile orc as an enemy.

I believe that for the style of fantasy action adventure that D&D excels at, the presence of enemies that can be killed without compunction is good. And while hacking away at cultists, fantasy Nazis, bandits and so on can be rewarding, from a world building perspective the minion race serves a special purpose. Given that we are dealing with fantastic worlds here, usually ones with as much or more wonderous elements as found in ancient myth (as opposed to more grounded medieval romances) the inclusion of beings that were formed by and serve the Dark Powers gives those Dark powers presence even in the earliest stages of a campaign. The trollocs at the beginning of the Wheel of Time tell us and the characters that the Big bad is coming.

Of course not all campaigns center around a singular big bad, but I still think your orcs, gnolls, trolls and thouls serve a purpose. Not only do they give the PCs something to flex their muscle and powers on, they can create a basic architecture of evil in your world. Even if there is no Sauron, the presence of orcs speaks to Morgoth's lasting impact on the world. Note that this bit about evil races and world building also applies to inherently good races and world building, and I think most D&D worlds need more of those, too.

Now, this should not be taken as me saying that race X or Y should not be allowed for PCs. I don't care if groups like goblins or orcs for CPs because I know that a few decades of presenting those creatures as attractive is meaningful. I am only saying that the presence of some kind of servitor race(s) is a net positive for most D&D campaigns -- with the caveat that what those races are depends pretty strongly on the details of that world. For example, draconians as unrepentant evil monsters is pretty core to the initial world building of Dragonlance (even if later works gave draconians more nuance).

As a side note: inherently evil doesn't necessarily mean non sapient or sentient. We see sapience in the Lord of the Rings orcs all the time. They are individuals with personalities (which is different than WoT's trollocs, I think, but I am less well versed in that example). But if we allow for the idea that Morgoth did not give orcs free will -- that is, they can make choices but they can never not choose evil -- it does not contradict the "inherently evil" aspect.

Anyway -- RoP got me thinking about it again and I thought I would try and make the case.
 

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Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
No one has a problem with having always-evil/always-hostile monsters (like Demons, Sorrowsworn, and Star Spawn) that can be used as mooks for the BBEG that the players can hack through without moral repercussions. No one has a problem with that.

However, if they're people, then it's a problem. If they have personalities, have agency, and the emotions that a normal person does . . . then it's a problem. If they're people, they can't be always-evil because then they're sentient creatures with agency/free-will that allows them to choose not to serve the Dark Lord. However, if they're not basically mindless monsters without free will . . . why are you making them always evil? What is the need to have the always-hostile mooks be people?
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
I think it greatly depends on your game world and the type of game your group wants to run.

Do orcs, goblins, trolls, etc. have to be "people" or can they be "monsters"? I can see them going either way, and it just depends on what your group wants to do IMO.

I typically run such creatures as hostile and/or evil, but there are always exceptions, just as the "good folk" races are generally good, but there are always exceptions to that as well.

It is a fantasy game, so personally I don't draw any connection to real life, but I understand others do and so if they don't want to use such creatures as "monsters" that their prerogative, of course.
 

Other than tradition, what's the argument for always-evil servitors not being undead or constructs?

I mean, I love Undertale, but there's nothing problematic about PC carving their way through legions of skeletons.

In the D&D cosmology specifically, undead and constructs are a lot easier to manage, if you're an evil overlord.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Other than tradition, what's the argument for always-evil servitors not being undead or constructs?
Well, that does tend to exclude indirect methods of large-scale attack, such as via cutting off a food source (unless those undead are vampires) or economically outmaneuvering them. While I know those don't really sound like they lend themselves to adventuring, it's not beyond the pale to imagine a scenario where you're leading a force to secure a profitable new silver mine before it falls into orcish hands (and who'll use it to buy, say, slave fighters from the neogi).

EDIT: On further thought, I think I should revise my answer: the argument for having always-evil servitors not be undead or constructs is that it disallows for the understanding that "what works on us, works on them," that you get with orcs, hobgoblins, etc., and in so doing makes it harder to think outside of the metaphorical box when it comes to creative ways to fight them.
  • At the individual level, you can knee an orc in the groin, potentially trying for a "dirty trick" effect under the game rules (or just having the GM wing it, if you're going with a "ruling over rules" style of play). You can't do that to a skeleton or a construct.
  • At the strategic level, you can reroute a river to flood a dungeon, killing the inhabitants without putting yourself at risk and then going in to salvage the treasure. You can't do that with a dungeon populated by skeletons or constructs.
  • At the macro level, you can introduce an invasive species that eats the orcs' crops, crippling their ability to field an army while they try to deal with food shortages and buying your people time to build their own military back up. You can't do that with skeletons or constructs.
Having low-level, ubiquitous enemies that are mortal humanoids retains a lot more options than changing them into creatures with a different mode of existence.
 
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Reynard

Legend
No one has a problem with having always-evil/always-hostile monsters (like Demons, Sorrowsworn, and Star Spawn) that can be used as mooks for the BBEG that the players can hack through without moral repercussions. No one has a problem with that.

However, if they're people, then it's a problem. If they have personalities, have agency, and the emotions that a normal person does . . . then it's a problem. If they're people, they can't be always-evil because then they're sentient creatures with agency/free-will that allows them to choose not to serve the Dark Lord. However, if they're not basically mindless monsters without free will . . . why are you making them always evil? What is the need to have the always-hostile mooks be people?
I think I laid it out pretty clearly that they weren't free willed in the OP. If by "people" you mean flesh and blood mortal creatures, there's no reason not to. They are more like velociraptors in that sense, but more frightening because they think and speak and might just want to chop off your legs for a snack since you aren't using them anyway.
 

I honestly can't decide if 'inherently good races' is worse or equal vibe to 'inherently evil races' to me.
They're the same thing. One is self-serving as an attack on others. The other is self-serving as an invincible excuse against any criticism.

"Inherently evil" races--races that have the capacity to make moral choices, but inherently always make evil ones--are a problem for both the racism reasons (isn't it just dandy that they're coded with stereotypical Asian, African, or Middle Eastern characteristics? Good gosh golly, so unfortunate that!) and for the simple fact that they crush any actual moral understanding that could be learned from the text.

If you do something like Oofta's "essentially bio-androids that are physically animated by the Dark Lord's will and cease functioning the instant that will is removed for any reason," that's substantially better, because (a) that isn't actually a race anymore, it's an organic machine incapable of making choices of any kind, moral or otherwise, and (b) being machines, they were intentionally designed by someone, and thus we can actually use this as a useful commentary against racism by noting that making your bio-androids racist caricatures is pretty evil in its own right, separate from what evil you happen to work with those bio-androids.

I guess in that sense, "inherently good race" is actually worse than "inherently evil race." Because the former invites the extreme temptation to have these "inherently good" beings be seen as Just Better versions of mortals. There's a twisted aspirational element to that. And, of course, it's extremely convenient for use in justifying all sorts of atrocities and horrors: "Well it can't be evil. The always-good angels told us to do it. It has to serve good, no matter how hard it is for us to understand."

I think I laid it out pretty clearly that they weren't free willed in the OP. If by "people" you mean flesh and blood mortal creatures, there's no reason not to. They are more like velociraptors in that sense, but more frightening because they think and speak and might just want to chop off your legs for a snack since you aren't using them anyway.
Really? There's at least two distinct places where you exactly contradict that:

Now, this should not be taken as me saying that race X or Y should not be allowed for PCs.
How can they be PCs if they aren't thinking, feeling people with individual personalities, desires, and motives? Isn't that a fundamental part of being a PC, in all but the most extreme pawn-stance game?

As a side note: inherently evil doesn't necessarily mean non sapient or sentient. We see sapience in the Lord of the Rings orcs all the time. They are individuals with personalities (which is different than WoT's trollocs, I think, but I am less well versed in that example). But if we allow for the idea that Morgoth did not give orcs free will -- that is, they can make choices but they can never not choose evil -- it does not contradict the "inherently evil" aspect.
Here you just straight-up say nonsense. It's not possible to have "sapient....individuals with personalities" that don't have free will. Further, if it's literally not possible for them to not choose to do horrible, disgusting, dangerous, corruptive things, then they cannot be evil. You have to be able to choose to do evil or good. Otherwise you just...aren't either. You aren't even on the alignment grid at all, which is why we have Unaligned. How is it even remotely possible to be "sapient" and be "individuals with personalities" and "make choices" and yet not have free will?

This is why all relevant celestials in my home game (mostly angels, demons, and devils, though couatls have also been shown to fall into this category) have a reason why they're "Always <Alignment.>" They fought in the War in Heaven. They waged an infinitely-long war for one of the three ultimate factions: the loyal Servants who upheld the will and the divine plan of the One, the loyal-but-disobedient devils who wanted to uphold the divine plan but disobeyed the One's command to never use coercion on mortals, and the twice-fallen demons who came to revel in the destruction/death/pain/emotionality and thus sowed chaos for its own sake. Devils believe they "won" the right to play out their philosophy, while the Servants believe the devils were punished to be bound by the very rules they hoped to apply to mortals. Demons believe they "won" the right to rapaciously sate their eternal, unquenchable desires on the world, so long as they can draw mortals into similar debauchery, while the Servants and devils see them as punished to be enslaved to those desires for all of eternity.
 

grimslade

Krampus ate my d20s
On the one hand, if you and everyone at your table are cool with having always evil humanoids, have at it. Do what works for your group.
On the other hand, the fun of having humanoids is they are humanlike, good and bad. Demons and Devas are caricatures of sapient creatures. They have no free will, they follow their programming even if they are chaotic, like Slaad, they just do it randomly. The concept of a fallen angel is it is a corruption, an anomaly. Same for an enlightened demon. It is an abomination to the order of the universe. Bob Goblin, the local rat catcher who also trades a little gossip on the side? Could be a master of slander and innuendo or a neighbor who just likes to talk.
The problem with 'always evil' races is weird stereotypes and anachronisms creep in. Things that might not be racist in your mind, can have some pretty racist origins. The problem is just because we don't perceive it, others can, and our usage keeps it alive to spread around.
Again, make sure everyone is cool with it at the table and be comfortable enough to hear if things are getting a little too close to real.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
There is nothing wrong with intelligent Monsters as the campaign enemy opposing the good guys - the Draconians of Dragonlance or the Orcs of Tolkien or Klingons in Star Trek are great and make sense within that world.

the problem with DnD is that over the years more and more monsters have been added to the list of good guys - when Dragonborn and Tieflings and Goblins and Half-Orcs are playable races then the idea of Orc as evil monster becomes increasingly flawed.
 

Reynard

Legend
"Inherently evil" races--races that have the capacity to make moral choices, but inherently always make evil ones--are a problem for both the racism reasons (isn't it just dandy that they're coded with stereotypical Asian, African, or Middle Eastern characteristics? Good gosh golly, so unfortunate that!) and for the simple fact that they crush any actual moral understanding that could be learned from the text.
I'm not sure why you decided that the best way to engage this discussion was to immediately come in with this stuff, but it would be great if you took it elsewhere. I am not the least bit interested in 500 posts of you intimating that me and anyone else who thinks evil orcs are okay are closet racists.
 

Reynard

Legend
There is nothing wrong with intelligent Monsters as the campaign enemy opposing the good guys - the Draconians of Dragonlance or the Orcs of Tolkien or Klingons in Star Trek are great and make sense within that world.

the problem with DnD is that over the years more and more monsters have been added to the list of good guys - when Dragonborn and Tieflings and Goblins and Half-Orcs are playable races then the idea of Orc as evil monster becomes increasingly flawed.
Sure. I am using "orc" as shorthand here, knowing full well that for many orc is just another tiefling or dwarf (thanks WoW...).

My point is even with that being the case, a fundamentally evil, servant of darkness, meant to die in droves stock enemy is a worthwhile element of the game.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Well, that does tend to exclude indirect methods of large-scale attack, such as via cutting off a food source (unless those undead are vampires) or economically outmaneuvering them. While I know those don't really sound like they lend themselves to adventuring, it's not beyond the pale to imagine a scenario where you're leading a force to secure a profitable new silver mine before it falls into orcish hands (and who'll use it to buy, say, slave fighters from the neogi).

EDIT: On further thought, I think I should revise my answer: the argument for having always-evil servitors not be undead or constructs is that it disallows for the understanding that "what works on us, works on them," that you get with orcs, hobgoblins, etc., and in so doing makes it harder to think outside of the metaphorical box when it comes to creative ways to fight them.
  • At the individual level, you can knee an orc in the groin, potentially trying for a "dirty trick" effect under the game rules (or just having the GM wing it, if you're going with a "ruling over rules" style of play). You can't do that to a skeleton or a construct.
  • At the strategic level, you can reroute a river to flood a dungeon, killing the inhabitants without putting yourself at risk and then going in to salvage the treasure. You can't do that with a dungeon populated by skeletons or constructs.
  • At the macro level, you can introduce an invasive species that eats the orcs' crops, crippling their ability to field an army while they try to deal with food shortages and buying your people time to build their own military back up. You can't do that with skeletons or constructs.
Having low-level, ubiquitous enemies that are mortal humanoids retains a lot more options than changing them into creatures with a different mode of existence.
What I don't get is why they have to specifically be a biologically distinct species instead of just bad people. Why does it have to be a whole species born specifically to be gutted by heroes?
 

Reynard

Legend
What I don't get is why they have to specifically be a biologically distinct species instead of just bad people. Why does it have to be a whole species born specifically to be gutted by heroes?
You don't actually solve any of the problematic issues that way, since why someone joins a cult, serves a fascist or becomes a criminal is just as fraught with nuance and uncertainty as anything else. But the point of the created species is to sidestep all of that. They were made for this, both by the Dark Lord and the GM, to service the need for scores of enemies for the heroes to bash, slash, burn and blast to smithereens.

As to the "why not skeletons/robots/demons" question: I think, world building wise, they are scarier as "alive" but I can appreciate that some folks prefer not to draw some arbitrary line between "people" and "servitor species."
 

If you are going to stick races into monster manuals, then I want more things like Orc Eye of Gruumsh, Gnoll Fang of Yeenoghu, and especially the Drow Arachnomancer--extra-special evil, extra-special good, extra-special lawful, or extra-special chaotic. I would rather have more things like marauders, cultists, pirates, etc than cannon fodder orcs or goblins. Now if you want to make a pirate entry and want to use an orc pirate as an example of a medium pirate and a goblin pirate as an example of a small pirate, that would be fine as long as every bad guy role isn't orcs and/or goblins.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
You don't actually solve any of the problematic issues that way, since why someone joins a cult, serves a fascist or becomes a criminal is just as fraught with nuance and uncertainty as anything else. But the point of the created species is to sidestep all of that. They were made for this, both by the Dark Lord and the GM, to service the need for scores of enemies for the heroes to bash, slash, burn and blast to smithereens.
Wait.

I know you said you wanted to not get into the racism deal, but you're the one who brought up 'problematic', so... you also don't solve people existing in a way you don't like by exterminating them either.

By playing the game originally defined by home invasion and robbery, we've already brought into murder being the solution to most problems.
 

Reynard

Legend
Wait.

I know you said you wanted to not get into the racism deal, but you're the one who brought up 'problematic', so... you also don't solve people existing in a way you don't like by exterminating them either.

By playing the game originally defined by home invasion and robbery, we've already brought into murder being the solution to most problems.
Sure. You're right. Let's not discuss that thing.

Killing as a primary method of problem solving can apply to a number of action adventure subgenres, from tomb robbing to war to crime drama, so that doesn't necessarily define the moral tone of the game. All the moral tone requires is an agreement among the folks at the table.

"Nathan Drake is a thief with a heart of gold. Oh, by the way, he's going to shoot and kills a couple thousand guys in the next couple of days."
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
They're the same thing. One is self-serving as an attack on others. The other is self-serving as an invincible excuse against any criticism.

"Inherently evil" races--races that have the capacity to make moral choices, but inherently always make evil ones--are a problem for both the racism reasons (isn't it just dandy that they're coded with stereotypical Asian, African, or Middle Eastern characteristics? Good gosh golly, so unfortunate that!) and for the simple fact that they crush any actual moral understanding that could be learned from the text.

If you do something like Oofta's "essentially bio-androids that are physically animated by the Dark Lord's will and cease functioning the instant that will is removed for any reason," that's substantially better, because (a) that isn't actually a race anymore, it's an organic machine incapable of making choices of any kind, moral or otherwise, and (b) being machines, they were intentionally designed by someone, and thus we can actually use this as a useful commentary against racism by noting that making your bio-androids racist caricatures is pretty evil in its own right, separate from what evil you happen to work with those bio-androids.

I guess in that sense, "inherently good race" is actually worse than "inherently evil race." Because the former invites the extreme temptation to have these "inherently good" beings be seen as Just Better versions of mortals. There's a twisted aspirational element to that. And, of course, it's extremely convenient for use in justifying all sorts of atrocities and horrors: "Well it can't be evil. The always-good angels told us to do it. It has to serve good, no matter how hard it is for us to understand."


Really? There's at least two distinct places where you exactly contradict that:


How can they be PCs if they aren't thinking, feeling people with individual personalities, desires, and motives? Isn't that a fundamental part of being a PC, in all but the most extreme pawn-stance game?


Here you just straight-up say nonsense. It's not possible to have "sapient....individuals with personalities" that don't have free will. Further, if it's literally not possible for them to not choose to do horrible, disgusting, dangerous, corruptive things, then they cannot be evil. You have to be able to choose to do evil or good. Otherwise you just...aren't either. You aren't even on the alignment grid at all, which is why we have Unaligned. How is it even remotely possible to be "sapient" and be "individuals with personalities" and "make choices" and yet not have free will?

This is why all relevant celestials in my home game (mostly angels, demons, and devils, though couatls have also been shown to fall into this category) have a reason why they're "Always <Alignment.>" They fought in the War in Heaven. They waged an infinitely-long war for one of the three ultimate factions: the loyal Servants who upheld the will and the divine plan of the One, the loyal-but-disobedient devils who wanted to uphold the divine plan but disobeyed the One's command to never use coercion on mortals, and the twice-fallen demons who came to revel in the destruction/death/pain/emotionality and thus sowed chaos for its own sake. Devils believe they "won" the right to play out their philosophy, while the Servants believe the devils were punished to be bound by the very rules they hoped to apply to mortals. Demons believe they "won" the right to rapaciously sate their eternal, unquenchable desires on the world, so long as they can draw mortals into similar debauchery, while the Servants and devils see them as punished to be enslaved to those desires for all of eternity.
The question is, are you ok with other people not following your line of reasoning, and just making traditional worlds with races like Tolkien's orcs? Would you play in a game like that, and if you wouldn't, would you just leave or encourage others to follow your example? This game is played at a table, physical or virtual, with other people, and making that experience fun for that particular table is the only goal that really matters. Imo.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
What I don't get is why they have to specifically be a biologically distinct species instead of just bad people. Why does it have to be a whole species born specifically to be gutted by heroes?
Well, I'd venture that it's because having them be an entire race nicely obviates issues of motivation/characterization that "just bad people" has.

That is to say, "just bad people" tends to work (in my experience) on the small scale, but if you scale things up it tends to unintentionally alter, or at the very least invite an interrogation of, the premise behind what's happening. Most PCs don't tend to think much of seven or eight bandits popping out of the wilderness to rob the occasional caravan, but when you have seven or eight hundred bandits who're organized, they have the potential to be a serious threat to the local region. But that then brings up questions of why several hundred people whom you'd otherwise assume would be productive members of society are so intent on tearing that society down. Most PCs (again, in my experience) are going to have at least mild curiosity about what's led to that...are they dissidents? Foreign agitators? Cultists who're claiming religious persecution?

In other words, if you have too many "just bad people" it invites questions of why there are so many, in a way that an evil race doesn't. Their being evil means that you don't have to question it any deeper if you're not inclined (which is a perfectly legitimate way to play).

Of course, you can have all of those questions/concerns apply to orcs, hobgoblins, gnolls, etc. if you want. That's the nice thing about the "evil race" trope; it works at whatever level of complexity you want it to, giving it narrative/worldbuilding flexibility that "just bad people" doesn't afford. Your orcs can be deep and complex individuals who might have some real grievances with the human kingdoms...or they might be a society of brutish savages who only want to pillage and destroy. Some people want the latter, and in a game that wants to have broad applicability, that option should be there, ideally in a way that doesn't necessarily require distinct monsters to fulfill.

I suppose that's the real draw, in that you can choose to humanize evil races or not as per the needs of your campaign. Skeletons and constructs can't really be humanized, and bad guys who're already human need (at least a little) effort put in to dehumanize them. But evil races are good for all options.

Or at least that's my rambling, off-the-cuff take on that particular question. :)
 

Fifinjir

Explorer
It’s worth remembering that Radiant Citadel, the most unabashedly progressive product 5e has released. Still has disease spreading owl demons, masses of twitching limbs, and faceless aberration dudes, all with “typically (something) evil” clearly displayed.

The servitors of evil entities haven’t gone away, it seems to be switching to a “Good creates, Evil corrupts” paradigm. Which actually makes it more Tolkien-ish.
 

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