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
Supporter
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.
 

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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