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

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toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
You don't have to "make a case."

500 people could consecutively post that "they think" drow-orcs-ogres-tieflings-demons-devils-mind flayers-chromatic dragons-yada-yada shouldn't be run as evil. At my table, in my campaigns, I'll run them as evil because my players, at my table, are playing fantasy because they want to get away from moral ambiguity philosophy 101 "What Makes One Evil" and just game.

I don't have to convince those other 500 because they aren't playing at my table and I simply don't think about what they're doing. I may weigh in time-to-time on the forums in the hopes that "you do you" wins out.

If I were being paid to design an RPG, I'd put some more thought into it because I'd want a format that allows "you do you."
 

now TBF let me weigh in on where I fall (and have for a long time)

my first campaign I had good kobolds and orcs. Not that PCs teamed up with them, but avoided them.

by 10 years later when my brother in law (10 years my elder) joined (or well tried to join) us in 3.5 he thought we spent WAY too much time deciding who was the bad ones and who was the good ones. He couldn't believe anyone played D&D worrying about if orcs are good or bad... when he found out in the campaign right before he joined we had the party working with 2 (married/mated) dragons, she was red he was black.... his eyes almost poped out of his socket.
 

Reynard

Legend
I find the argument both for and against to be odd...

if I have evil orcs attack a town, and my party fights them does it matter if ALL orcs are evil or are just THESE orcs are evil?
I would argue it does because it both informs the fiction and suggests solutions.

For example, if orcs aren't inherently evil servants of the Dark Lord, then immediately the question of why are these orcs attacking this town comes up. That implies some things about the world and invites questions, and it will likely suggest solutions beyond "exterminate!" to the players.

If, however, the orcs are in fact the inherently evil minions of Darkus'lordus, then that implies a different story -- why does DL hate this town? -- and puts the PCs in a different frame of mind.

Note that I am not saying one is better than the other for any given game, even if in the context of this thread I would advocate the latter.
 

MGibster

Legend
Other than tradition, what's the argument for always-evil servitors not being undead or constructs?
I tend to find most undead and constructs to be fairly boring. But, hell, if the Skull from The Last Unicorn could have a personality then why not give D&D undead personalities too?

 

So this is of course a proper hornet's nest but I am curious about one factor.
In Tolkien's cosmology, do Orcs have souls?
As in, are they complete, living beings, or are they just flesh machines?
In DnD, to the best of my knowledge, Orcs have souls. Orcs have Gods. Orcs are judged upon death for their actions.
I have never quite understood why Orcs need to be intrinsically evil in order to make fighting and even killing them OK. Killing enemy soldiers in war is generally seen as morally justifiable. If Orcs culturally view violence and aggression towards others as not only acceptable but morally correct, then resisting them would be just as just as standing against any number of conquering societies in human history. Were the Romans evil? How about Genghis Khan? How about Leopold II of Belgium?
What is at issue is that Orcs are coded with traditionally racist tropes. There are dozens of easily found articles and papers that lay this out. Big. Dark. Primitive. Uneducated. Driven to r*pe. Hell, it took until like 4th ed to remove that trope from 1/2 Orcs.

Short answer: I think you can make any people an enemy if you stress that what is at issue is that cultural norms that drive them put them into conflict with others. America was founded as a slave-owning nation. Most did not own slaves, and there were many who opposed the practice. But enough were either in favor or were at least neutral to the practice so that it remained with us until the Civil War. Were all those Americans evil? No. Did they live in a society that normalized a barbaric and objectively evil practice? Yes.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
So this is of course a proper hornet's nest but I am curious about one factor.
In Tolkien's cosmology, do Orcs have souls?
As in, are they complete, living beings, or are they just flesh machines?
In DnD, to the best of my knowledge, Orcs have souls. Orcs have Gods. Orcs are judged upon death for their actions.
I have never quite understood why Orcs need to be intrinsically evil in order to make fighting and even killing them OK. Killing enemy soldiers in war is generally seen as morally justifiable. If Orcs culturally view violence and aggression towards others as not only acceptable but morally correct, then resisting them would be just as just as standing against any number of conquering societies in human history. Were the Romans evil? How about Genghis Khan? How about Leopold II of Belgium?
What is at issue is that Orcs are coded with traditionally racist tropes. There are dozens of easily found articles and papers that lay this out. Big. Dark. Primitive. Uneducated. Driven to r*pe. Hell, it took until like 4th ed to remove that trope from 1/2 Orcs.

Short answer: I think you can make any people an enemy if you stress that what is at issue is that cultural norms that drive them put them into conflict with others. America was founded as a slave-owning nation. Most did not own slaves, and there were many who opposed the practice. But enough were either in favor or were at least neutral to the practice so that it remained with us until the Civil War. Were all those Americans evil? No. Did they live in a society that normalized a barbaric and objectively evil practice? Yes.
Tolkien went back and forth in his writings about the origin of orcs, but in nearly all of them (including his published works) orcs have souls, or at least spirits. Usually they are the result of Morgoth and Sauron's experiments on tricked and/or captured Elves (and in some writings Men). As both have a life after physical death, it follows that orcs do as well.
 

Reynard

Legend
In Tolkien's cosmology, do Orcs have souls?
As in, are they complete, living beings, or are they just flesh machines?
In Tolkien orcs do not have souls and are not free willed, even if they are sentient. I know this feels like a dichotomy to some folks but there is plenty of religious and philosophical backing for it to make sense in its context.
In DnD, to the best of my knowledge, Orcs have souls. Orcs have Gods. Orcs are judged upon death for their actions.
I mean, yes, but that's the very problem. Don't do that and ta-da, stock enemy.
 

Reynard

Legend
Tolkien went back and forth in his writings about the origin of orcs, but in nearly all of them (including his published works) orcs have souls, or at least spirits. Usually they are the result of Morgoth and Sauron's experiments on tricked and/or captured Elves (and in some writings Men). As both have a life after physical death, it follows that orcs do as well.
Elves do NOT have souls in the way Men do. That is explicitly the gift to Men. They get to go to heaven or whatever but Elves do not (though some are resurrected). Since orcs are corrupted elves, they do not either (though there's an interesting question of whether a killed orc could be resurrected as an elf).
 

Fifinjir

Explorer
Elves do NOT have souls in the way Men do. That is explicitly the gift to Men. They get to go to heaven or whatever but Elves do not (though some are resurrected). Since orcs are corrupted elves, they do not either (though there's an interesting question of whether a killed orc could be resurrected as an elf).
IIRC, the spirits of dead elves go to the Hall of Mandos or are reborn on Middle-earth. I’d assume Morgoth made some mechanism that enforced the later for orcs.
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
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.
Tolkien's Orcs have language, and different personalities and are intelligent enough to make weapons/armor and other crafts. They're people. They have some kind of free will.
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."
Then use magical wolves or some other type of unintelligent wild predator. Or something like Warforged. Or make the robots biological robots (like @Oofta's version, where they're clones programmed to follow certain orders). Or give them some other justification for being hostile than just "they're born evil". Maybe they're like Thri-Kreen or Lizardfolk and enjoy eating the flesh of one of the other races. Or need to fight for some reason, like 40k's Orks. Or it's just a specific culture/religion/nation in the species that makes them "evil".

There is no justification for having an always-evil race of mooks (that are people) be used as mooks other than tradition and nostalgia. There are better solutions. There are workarounds for using them other than making them people.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Elves do NOT have souls in the way Men do. That is explicitly the gift to Men. They get to go to heaven or whatever but Elves do not (though some are resurrected). Since orcs are corrupted elves, they do not either (though there's an interesting question of whether a killed orc could be resurrected as an elf).
I know Elves are different. They do, however go to the Halls of Mandos when they die to await being re-embodied and returned to the world. If Orcs are corrupted Elves, as most writings indicate, then they go to Mandos as well and could be returned to the world.

Elves, Men and Orcs all still exist in some form after death.
 


Micah Sweet

Legend
Tolkien's Orcs have language, and different personalities and are intelligent enough to make weapons/armor and other crafts. They're people. They have some kind of free will.

Then use magical wolves or some other type of unintelligent wild predator. Or something like Warforged. Or make the robots biological robots (like @Oofta's version, where they're clones programmed to follow certain orders). Or give them some other justification for being hostile than just "they're born evil". Maybe they're like Thri-Kreen or Lizardfolk and enjoy eating the flesh of one of the other races. Or need to fight for some reason, like 40k's Orks. Or it's just a specific culture/religion/nation in the species that makes them "evil".

There is no justification for having an always-evil race of mooks (that are people) be used as mooks other than tradition and nostalgia. There are better solutions. There are workarounds for using them other than making them people.
I have to ask you the same question I asked @EzekielRaiden: would you insist that other gamers follow your views? Your thoughts above seem rather prescriptive of other people's opinions.
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
I have to ask you the same question I asked @EzekielRaiden: would you insist that other gamers follow your views? Your thoughts above seem rather prescriptive of other people's opinions.
Would I insist that another table stops using the pre-errata lore for the Hadozee or old versions of Vistani? No. I'd certainly speak up at the table that used that lore just to make them aware of the problems and try to get people online to understand my viewpoint, but I wouldn't "insist" that they change how they play their table because of me.

Same answer.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
if I have evil orcs attack a town, and my party fights them does it matter if ALL orcs are evil or are just THESE orcs are evil?
That's what I don't get. Why do ALL of them absolutely need to be evil.

It's like in the 'is this evil' thread where there's an alien species that feels the need to eliminate all humans. Does it matter if they're evil, does it matter that every single one of them - children and elderly included, even the ones you will never meet-- is a justifiable kill if the ones you're facing here and now are a clear and present danger?
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Sure. You're right. Let's not discuss that thing.
Yeah, but you can see the issue here, right?

Avoiding the problematic bouy by steering full speed into a problematic iceberg larger than the ship itself.

Let's not talk about reasons for killing people that might be an issue; let's just kill them for being born wrong.

When all the while we're just killing them for being in the way of killing guys who we have reasons to kill or having stuff we would rather like to own instead of them anyway.
 

That's what I don't get. Why do ALL of them absolutely need to be evil.

It's like in the 'is this evil' thread where there's an alien species that feels the need to eliminate all humans. Does it matter if they're evil, does it matter that every single one of them - children and elderly included, even the ones you will never meet-- is a justifiable kill if the ones you're facing here and now are a clear and present danger?
It's also worth noting that this is not in fact a new issue. Grappling with or gleefully ignoring the moral implications of violence are as old as RPGs. Keep on the Borderlands has non-combatant women and children peppered among the various orc/goblins/ect found in the caves that the PC presumably have to clear out. What do you do about them?
 

"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.
So, what if you remove the coding? What about having orcs, having come from elves, look the same as elves - conventionally beautiful, ethereal, etc., other than often being built like linebackers? But still evil?
 

So, what if you remove the coding? What about having orcs, having come from elves, look the same as elves - conventionally beautiful, ethereal, etc., other than often being built like linebackers? But still evil?
Part of the objection is simply that biological essentialism when it comes to behavior is in essence the basis of racism.
 

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