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The problem with Evil races is not what you think

Aging Bard

Canaith
This is a delicate topic. I very much want commentary to course correct me where necessary. Thank you in advance.

In a recent video, long time RPG creator Jim Ward (Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World) protested against the de-emphasis of alignment and elimination of absolutely Evil races like orcs in 5e, while praising its accessibility to new players.

In a perfect world, we understand that games are not real, and anything we do is not real. WE have no such problems with chess, for example. But in an RPG, we embody a character that we act through. That character is not real, but the emotions we feel while playing that character are real. This is where the problems begin.

If I were running a game with nothing but professional actors, I could trust them to be professional. The emotions they bring to their characters are just acting, and are not real.

If I were running a game with a small group of very trusted friends, whose morality I think I know, I would trust their role playing to a point, as long as they understood what they were doing was not real.

The problem comes in all other situations. I simply cannot trust when a player I do not know well wants to act out rape, racism, misogyny, or the like as anything but wish fulfillment. They may really be just role playing, but that requires trust, and trust takes time. To be frank, I do not think RPGs are the appropriate arena to act out wish fulfillment. That's what therapy is for, and I am very pro-therapy.

So the conflict arises from people who insist upon trust and their asserted goodwill to act out their dark fantasies. This is simply not possible or reasonable. Trust must be earned over time.

And so we come to Evil races. Old cis-white dudes (which includes me!) need to be very clear that these are not racist or misogynist proxies, and it is NOT unreasonable to suppose this. Goodwill is not the default, it must be earned. That may be disappointing for those wanting to see good in most, but it is the truth that not everyone is good.

To reiterate, I very much welcome comments to better refine my commentary. Thanks again in advance.
 

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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
The issue of evil races was hashed over a lot in other threads (search for Orcs). One argument about Orcs in particular is that parts of the descriptions of the orcs almost word for word matches the language used by racists and eugenicists in the late 19th and early 20th century, and once you see it, it's hard to unsee. Which seems bad for a race that can be a PC, or make half-orcs, or just be there to slaughter with no moral qualms. For example, there are some lined up quotes at:


and more


Here are some other links (that include that one) that have some things to think about:



Here are two blog posts by James Mendes Hodes as well:



Similar things are probably true for various other humanoid races (why are hobogoblins portrayed the way they are? drow? etc...). In any case, for the future, it seems like if one needs a species that's always evil, an easy fix is to make it the undead or alien-chest-burster or something that no one would ever make show up as a "person".
 
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Reynard

Legend
The problem is not with the orc as inherently evil servicer race. The problem is with the orc as a sapient, free willed being we then cast in the role of Savage (noble or otherwise) and slaughter wantonly. The orc as "demon" is just that, but the orc as "other" is highly problematic.

My inclination is to say that there is nothing wrong with creating a stock enemy species, servant of the dark lord for your game, but due to the cultural baggage associated with orcs, goblins and others, it is best to make that thing out of whole cloth, free of the associations noted in the OP.
 

Aging Bard

Canaith
Right, but Always Evil monsters elides the problem of potentially Evil monsters. The latter should be possible, but bad players make this problematic. The problem is bad players, not unreal Evil races, and that we really don't want to deal with bad players as fiercely as we should because they might be our friend or sibling. They need to go without question.
 

Aging Bard

Canaith
The problem is not with the orc as inherently evil servicer race. The problem is with the orc as a sapient, free willed being we then cast in the role of Savage (noble or otherwise) and slaughter wantonly. The orc as "demon" is just that, but the orc as "other" is highly problematic.

My inclination is to say that there is nothing wrong with creating a stock enemy species, servant of the dark lord for your game, but due to the cultural baggage associated with orcs, goblins and others, it is best to make that thing out of whole cloth, free of the associations noted in the OP.
The need to do this is because of bad racist players, as I note below. Certain players are the problem, not the rules.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Right, but Always Evil monsters elides the problem of potentially Evil monsters. The latter should be possible, but bad players make this problematic. The problem is bad players, not unreal Evil races, and that we really don't want to deal with bad players as fiercely as we should because they might be our friend or sibling. They need to go without question.

The need to do this is because of bad racist players, as I note below. Certain players are the problem, not the rules.

The distinction between always evil and potentially evil seems regularly blurred in general - there's a long time famous non-evil Drow, there's a beholder that runs an inn iirc, and there were non-evil orcs in Greyhawk according to a post earlier today.

It doesn't take bad players to make always evil species problematic when the language used to describe them easily ends up (either purposefully or accidentally) similar to the language used to describe real world groups of oppressed people.

See #2 above for examples.
 

Aging Bard

Canaith
It doesn't take bad players to make always evil species problematic when the language used to describe them easily ends up (either purposefully or accidentally) similar to the language used to describe real world groups of oppressed people.
No, only bad players would make the problematic interpretation. Good players would see the problem and reject it. I assume players have agency and knowledge. If they lack these, I might cut them some slack, but only to a certain degree.
 

Malmuria

Adventurer
In a recent video, long time RPG creator Jim Ward (Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World) protested against the de-emphasis of alignment and elimination of absolutely Evil races like orcs in 5e, while praising its accessibility to new players.
Oddly, he said the purpose of not only keeping alignment but applying it to an entire race in the game was for roleplay, which I don't understand at all. You can set up a much richer world with more roleplay if you have several humanoid factions, all with their own practices and motivations and none of which being automatically 'good' or 'evil'. On the other hand, if orcs etc are just evil, then the default action becomes combat. He further expressed concern that the children ages 7-12 coming into the game would never understand the true Gygaxian vision of it, as expressed by alignment and evil orcs. It was a bewildering set of comments.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
No, only bad players would make the problematic interpretation. Good players would see the problem and reject it. I assume players have agency and knowledge. If they lack these, I might cut them some slack, but only to a certain degree.

When the words used to describe a fictional race are almost word-for-word what real world racists and eugenicists used to describe real world human groups, it seems odd to blame the player who sees that and can't unsee it (especially when they belong to one of those groups). I'm missing why that's a player problem.

Why does the DM need something that fits the slot the racists and eugenicists of old needed - for a near-humans to be lesser and evil? Why can't the DM just use undead, far-realms aberrations, and demons.
 
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You could create a brand new evil race, run past a dozen cultural consultants to ensure there is no unintentional points of comparison with any real world race or culture, and establish them as basically and inherently evil to use as unapologetic villains in the game...

And within 2 months you will have players wanting to play them.

And within 2 more they would be complaining that they shouldn't actually be evil.

The problem has nothing to do with racism, and everything to do with the contrary and perverse nature of humans in general and players in specific. The best way to get people to want something is to tell them they can't have it.
 
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Dire Bare

Legend
Right, but Always Evil monsters elides the problem of potentially Evil monsters. The latter should be possible, but bad players make this problematic. The problem is bad players, not unreal Evil races, and that we really don't want to deal with bad players as fiercely as we should because they might be our friend or sibling. They need to go without question.
Hard disagree.

The idea that only "bad players" lean into the negative stereotypes embodied in our favorite fantasy races is hogwash, IMO.

It's systemic racism. The kind of racism you don't always realize you're engaging in until somebody points it out to you. Even if you are a "good player" . . . skilled, mature, tolerant, open-minded, and work hard not to be racist.
 

Aging Bard

Canaith
Hard disagree.

The idea that only "bad players" lean into the negative stereotypes embodied in our favorite fantasy races is hogwash, IMO.

It's systemic racism. The kind of racism you don't always realize you're engaging in until somebody points it out to you. Even if you are a "good player" . . . skilled, mature, tolerant, open-minded, and work hard not to be racist.
No, that's exactly wrong. Systemic racism needs to be called out as wrong, not forgiven. If you don't realize it, you have a problem and are arguing for lack of agency. This is trying to forgive certain levels of racism as benign. No. All racists need to work at being non-racists.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
No, that's exactly wrong. Systemic racism needs to be called out as wrong, not forgiven. If you don't realize it, you have a problem and are arguing for lack of agency. This is trying to forgive certain levels of racism as benign. No. All racists need to work at being non-racists.

It doesn't feel like you read @Dire Bare 's post the same way I did...
 



R_Chance

Adventurer
You could create a brand new evil race, run past a dozen cultural consultants to ensure there is no unintentional points of comparison with any real world race or culture, and establish them as basically and inherently evil to use as unapologetic villains in the game...

And within 2 months you will have players wanting to play them.

And within 2 more they would be complaining that they shouldn't actually be evil.

The problem has nothing to do with racism, and everything to do with the contrary and perverse nature of humans in general and players in specific. The best way to get people to want something is to tell them they can't have it.
This is pretty much exactly what I thought on first consideration. Then...

Remember when Orcs were strictly "monsters"? Then came half Orcs which pretty much looked human and were playable. Different, but a hidden difference. Then the half Orcs looked more Orcish and were still playable. Now Orcs. There are several reasons for this beyond "forbidden fruit" (which is still a big one I think). The other reasons being: 1) challenging role playing, 2) the desire to have an excuse for evil actions, and one other more complex reason. The desire to play a marginalized character is number 3. This could be #1 of course, or the desire for a unique (relatively) character, or it could be a reflection of how the player feels about life for a number of reasons. Individual player motivations can be hard to judge though unless you know them well. It can be hard even then...
 

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
No, only bad players would make the problematic interpretation. Good players would see the problem and reject it. I assume players have agency and knowledge. If they lack these, I might cut them some slack, but only to a certain degree.
No, you're wrong. This is the "the offended people are choosing to be offended" BS claim that's been around as long as "I'm offended by this" claims have been. Whether or not the "I'm offended by this" claim is true, "you're choosing to be offended by this" is always an incorrect response. Always. You cannot be fake-offended/"choose to be offended". You can pretend to be offended. You can look for offensive things in something. However, telling someone that "you're not actually offended by this, and if you are, you're the racist" is wrong, especially when the people who are seeing the offense by something are the people that the language that is being used to describe that thing are parallels to language used to disparage their cultural/racial group in the past.

This is essentially the "Uno Reverse Card" of this issue. For as long as people have been raising concerns about this issue, people have also been saying "No u!" right back at them. And this isn't going to change until either of the following happens:
  1. The people getting offended by the issue/raising awareness about the issue stop speaking about it.
  2. The people who say "No, u!" start actually trying to be in the shoes of the people who are offended by the issue, and empathize with their offense.
Option 1 should not happen, because no one should have to be quiet about their pain just because others don't like admitting that their pain is real, and Option 2 can happen, but the people who act that way are almost always quickly replaced by other ignorant people that share the same viewpoints as they did.
 

MGibster

Legend
In a perfect world, we understand that games are not real, and anything we do is not real. WE have no such problems with chess, for example. But in an RPG, we embody a character that we act through. That character is not real, but the emotions we feel while playing that character are real. This is where the problems begin.
I don't really have any intense emotional feelings while playing D&D or other role playing games. At least not any more intense than those I have while bowling or playing a board game. I don't feel the same emotions my character does and in many situations what I feel will be completely different. For example, when my Rogue in Rise of the Runelords took an ogre's hook to the face and died instantly at the first hit I was laughing because it was hilariously awesome.

The problem comes in all other situations. I simply cannot trust when a player I do not know well wants to act out rape, racism, misogyny, or the like as anything but wish fulfillment. They may really be just role playing, but that requires trust, and trust takes time. To be frank, I do not think RPGs are the appropriate arena to act out wish fulfillment. That's what therapy is for, and I am very pro-therapy.
I would argue that the most popular RPG is an adolescent power fantasy and coincidentally a lot of fun. In my years of gaming, I don't think I've ever witnessed a player or DM act out a sexual assault in game. I don't doubt that it happens but I've never been worried when playing with new people.

And so we come to Evil races. Old cis-white dudes (which includes me!) need to be very clear that these are not racist or misogynist proxies, and it is NOT unreasonable to suppose this. Goodwill is not the default, it must be earned. That may be disappointing for those wanting to see good in most, but it is the truth that not everyone is good.
I think most of us have made it very clear that evil races aren't a proxy for racism. It's just that the other side either doesn't accept that argument or doesn't think it's relevant. (Which is fine, I'm not here to get into that particular argument again.) But you've got a lot going on in this post and I think I'm more interested in the emotional aspect of game play. Because I think we're pretty far apart on this.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
Can't the problem also just be because it's boring, lazy worldbuilding?
Cut out the "boring" and "lazy" and you might be right. Could be right anyway :D But, it pretty much depends on the individual world. The last time I checked they are not all the same.
 

MGibster

Legend
Can't the problem also just be because it's boring, lazy worldbuilding?
I think there are competing philosophies behind world building. Personally, I view a game world's primary purpose as being a place where PCs can have interesting adventures. There are a whole swath of things I never think about because it doesn't lead to interesting adventures. Do I really care what that this kingdom's primary export is wheat or how their economy really works? Only if it has an impact on the adventure. But other people love creating a living breathing world that seems real filling it with details that may or may not someday become relevant to game play. Very often those worlds are more fun to read. Probably more fun to make too.
 

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