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

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Reynard

Legend
Supporter
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.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
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
Supporter
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.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
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.
 

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