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The problem with Evil races is not what you think


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And that's an error I may go fix. The proper 0-3 is "PreIndustrial" (excepting mayby in the travesty which is Mongoose's efforts.
I misread that SRD as Wiki... I cannot fix the SRD. I can suggest ignoring that part of the SRD and using better lables.
Note that that labeling all of 0-3 as "Primitive" is a Mongoosism, one of many things that make me rather derisively minded toward the game and the company.
I CT, MT, TNE, and on, TL0 is bone and stone ages all together. A definition of primitive being still potentially technological, just not of need at a civilization (= living in permanent settlements full time) supporting level.

"Primitive" in Traveller other than the mongoose edition means no metal tools. It makes no judgement about civilized (living in permanent settlements) vs Nomadic vs migratory (I've heard the term para-civilized and semi-nomadic; it's migrating from one permanent site to another in a stead rotation;

Let's list the materials allowed for MegaTraveller TL0...
Stone, bone, antler, mud/clay, brick, wood, sap, grasses, leaves (esp palm leaves and pine needles, also long cactus spines), shells (bivalves, snails), teeth (esp. sharks and rodents), fire, tar seeps,

Stone tools can be of several kinds...
simple hammer & anvil (been used by monkeys)
Simple single break scrapers - can be done with most rock types. Enables converting grasses, leaves, and bark to fibers. Can be used to sharpen wood into spears (I've done this.)
Flaked tools - shaped core - mostly scrapers/hand-axes
Flaked tools - useful shards - hand knives
Flaked tools - complex shaped shards

Bone tools:
Simple hammers from longbones.
Simple saws from carnasial teeth of predators
Awls, adzes, and scrapers from rodent teeth
With stone tools, you can make bone needles, bone brushes, bone spearpoints, bone knives/spatulas, maces (look up walrus baculum, known in Western Alaska as an Usik, Oosiq, or Oosik. Used as a fishbat and also used to be used for seal harvesting).


Things learned from experimental archaeology:
  • It's possible to make bone spear tips and (low quality) scrapers and awls without use of stone. Bone on bone can be used to make the needed fractures.
  • It's possible to make mudbrick without stone tools or even bone ones, but the digging is easier with wood, antler, or bone tools than by hand alone.
  • Bone knives can be used to harvest bark fibers, and for cutting cooked meats and scraping fat off hides.
  • sap can be turned into a usable glue in skulls by putting the sap inside the skull, and using a fire pit to heat it. It can be even converted to a tarry glue that way.
  • Tar can be used from natural seeps or mildly processed in the same way as pitch.
  • Shark teeth washed ashore or from caught sharks can be used to work wood almost as well as stone flake tools. They also can be used as arrowheads and (when set in grooves in a wood handle) as serrated swords.
  • Woven grasses, either whole or stripped down to raw fiber, can be used to make durable goods. Long pine needles can, as well.
  • Human hair can be used as a binding material for bone, tooth, stone, wood, pine needle, or even animal fiber.
  • certain wild animals have useful hair, as well in addition to the shorter fur. Horses especially, but also certain others. Those that are long enough to tie two bundles of needles together or to lash down a spearhead, reinforced with pitch, tar, or other glues.
  • splitting sinew doesn't require a lot of force, just a sharp edge.
  • Bone can have a surprisingly sharp edge
  • Baskets can be used to cook over a fire. (Thank you to the Hopi for showing this to anthropologists in the 80's or 90's...)

On a late medieval level... say, Spanish America? South American Civilizations were not quite good enough to stop conquistadores 1:1, but enough to hold their own with their 100:1 ratio... until smallpox and other Eurpean diseases killed well more than half. The sharktooth swords and similar obsidian and stone edged swords were in fact pretty effective... but no defense against diseases. The locals were still at a stone age tech level, most without even the wheel as a simple tool... but they were not far behind Eurpeans in standard of living, nor in personal combat capabilities. Bone over rigid leather is almost as good as bronze over leather.


Primitives who are not warring have no need to match the neighbors. They provide a sufficient disincentive for cautious colonialism; only in desperation or xenophobia are they worth dealing with until they become a problem.

the term itself may be laden, but what it represents isn't a huge difference in force multipler; the most important element is the armor, not the weapons. Antler picks are quite capable of denting steel armor sufficiently to do significant injury.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
One of the things people forget is that blunt weapons (of any sufficiently hard material) can deliver dangerous injuries, even through armor of more advanced materials. The reason is that blunt weapons don’t just crush flesh and bone, but can also wound via hydrostatic shock- energy transmitted though the body beca of the non-compressibility of water. A blow that doesn’t crush may nonetheless cause a concussion, deaden a limb or disrupt the function of an organ.

IOW, a stone-headed club may be a more serious threat to a metal-armored warrior than a piercing or slashing weapon of similarly low tech level.
 

Ace

Adventurer
The problem with D&D alignments is that Evil doesn't always mean raving monster. Its means selfish, power hungry, cruel. Unp;leasant traits

Treating every encounter as they were mindless killers is not bad gaming at least for me. Its just boring.

Sure Evil can Eeeyargh Bloodfeast demon of a thousand slaughters or a causal killer Nine Eyes Raken (CE) , it can a self absorbed necromancer with no regard for the sanctity of life and death caring only his experiments or it can be a selfish Mountebank based Gordon Gecko (NE) It can be a dreadful orc enforcer or a charming slaver who believes the weak must serve the strong (LE)

Thus whole Ancestries being one alignment or nearly all of them (remember Drizzt was almost a novelty) is fine if you play sentient thinking as such.

And note a lot of people aren't playing D&D for nuance, just fun so always evil orcs will be fine with many players
 

Ace

Adventurer
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.
I've noticed broadly that very few players care much about the world . There are exceptions , lore hounds, long term players in long running games that sort of thing. Mostly D&D is "Point me in the direction of the adventure."

I've used a super generic world, described places as "Not Venice" "Not German" and the players are like "Cool." and often start adding on.

On similar grounds its why I think the "always evil" debate in D&D is more an academic debate that spilled onto the gaming table rather than anything intrinsic to the hobby. Its cognitive dissonance between the stuff learned in college, politics among a few people meeting the more freebooting, reaving fantasy vagabondage that most D&D is about and that most people care about.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think the "always evil" debate in D&D is more an academic debate that spilled onto the gaming table rather than anything intrinsic to the hobby. Its cognitive dissonance between the stuff learned in college, politics among a few people meeting the more freebooting, reaving fantasy vagabondage that most D&D is about and that most people care about.
I think there is ample evidence, both from history and from current events, that concern for racism, and the propagation of racist tropes and racialised ways of thinking via cultural artefacts, is not a purely academic concern.

In fact I would go so far as to say that only someone living in an ivory tower could think so.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
On similar grounds its why I think the "always evil" debate in D&D is more an academic debate that spilled onto the gaming table rather than anything intrinsic to the hobby.
The chart below is from Dungeons & Dragons Book I Men & Magic (1974). It shows that orcs (and some other monsters, such as ogres and minotaurs), could be either Chaotic or Neutral in the original game. Chaos in 1974 D&D was synonymous with evil.

Character Alignment.png


Post #280 from upthread covers the history of "always evil" monsters in D&D. It provides evidence that orcs were always evil in the AD&D 1e Dungeon Masters Guide (1979), stopped being inherently evil in Roger Moore's article Half-orcs in Dragon #62 (1982), became inherently evil again in D&D 5e (2014), and stopped being inherently evil for a second time with WotC's announcement Diversity and Dungeons & Dragons in 2020.

Therefore it can be concluded that orcs have been always evil for nine years out of the 47 years D&D has been in existence.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I wasn't sure there was especially a LOT to distinguish them. I mean, obviously they are slightly different 'spins' on Grippli, but I would think any 'anthro' animal people are going to sort of look like 'a chimp crossed with an...' anyway. You could describe the 'elaborate' burrow systems of the underground living variant, and a tree-living variant can fairly obviously build interesting tree homes of some sort. I'd note that making them similar in various particulars to human habitations is a bit anthropocentric, but it may simply be a practical necessity, and if they are already 'anthro' animal people anyway it is kind of water under the bridge! Still, it might be interesting for tree frog people to travel on the undersides of gripping poles that run between platforms or something, and perhaps they build them at various angles, since they can walk anywhere and don't need horizontal surfaces, etc.

I might have buried it under too much other stuff. One of the big differences I was going for is that the former were chimpanzee equivalent intellect and niche filling and the later were human equivalent intellect and niche filling.

Are there any adjectives to describe those different levels of mental capability besides just relating them to different species (human, chimp, etc...).

For the later group, most of them live in very isolated places and so haven't been exposed to the full tech/magic suite that is the default in the PhB (but are probably really good at surviving in the out of way place they found and some variants of bard and druid). It feels like "isolated" and then a paragraph description of their tech in contrast to the default PhB tech is a good way to describe this, and nothing is really added by primitive. ("The city trained explorers that manage to survive their treks in the Grippy homeland often only did so because they realized they were just as out of their depth in the Grippy lands as a Grippy would be on their first visit to the city... and decided to approach the native experts as they would any other needed experts. The explorers that looked down on the Grippy as primitive often didn't survive the diseases and treacherous landscape long enough to regret it.")
 

MGibster

Legend
I think that this is where Western perspectives use a selection of other pejorative terms to describe non-Western nations: e.g., Byzantine, decadent, despotic, oppressive, etc.
Byzantine is used to describe a situation, often bureaucratic, that is overly complicated, tedious, and difficult to understand. I don't think I've ever heard someone use byzantine to describe another nation unless they were literally speaking about Byzantium. In my professional life, I've described certain administrative processes of the federal government as byzantine. As far as decadent is concerned I've typically heard it used in one of two ways: To describe a confection, typically chocolate, as part of an advertising campaign. And by Soviet pundits and historians who referred to the United States as decadent. And as far as despot goes, we've referred to plenty of western leaders as despots including Napoleon and Frederick II of Prussia.
 

MGibster

Legend
I've noticed broadly that very few players care much about the world . There are exceptions , lore hounds, long term players in long running games that sort of thing. Mostly D&D is "Point me in the direction of the adventure."
Largely this has been my experience as well. Aside from running Star Wars, I cannot remember the last time I participated in a game where all the players were well acquainted with the setting. Which works out fairly well most of the time because the expected behavior of PCs in one D&D setting is typically the same across the board. It's caused some problems when switching over to other games with different settings and assumptions.

I've used a super generic world, described places as "Not Venice" "Not German" and the players are like "Cool." and often start adding on.
Same here. In my dwarf campaign I described them as coming from not-Bavaria. I think I called it Beerfelden because they had a lot of wheat and barley growing on the surface.
 

Malmuria

Adventurer
Byzantine is used to describe a situation, often bureaucratic, that is overly complicated, tedious, and difficult to understand. I don't think I've ever heard someone use byzantine to describe another nation unless they were literally speaking about Byzantium. In my professional life, I've described certain administrative processes of the federal government as byzantine. As far as decadent is concerned I've typically heard it used in one of two ways: To describe a confection, typically chocolate, as part of an advertising campaign. And by Soviet pundits and historians who referred to the United States as decadent. And as far as despot goes, we've referred to plenty of western leaders as despots including Napoleon and Frederick II of Prussia.
All of those terms were in play in the way Western Europe, particularly in the early twentieth century, described the late Ottoman empire and to an extent, Russia and Asian societies. It's was a modification of a 'progressivist' notion of history that attempted to account for the much longer and deeper history of non-Western 'civilizations,' so as to justify Western superiority. Decadence, as in 'decadent art,' was also notably used by reactionaries to criticize the cosmopolitan aspects of Western culture in a search for a highly nationalistic identity that was thought to be more 'pure' (with all of the well known and terrible implications that attend to that concept).
 

Malmuria

Adventurer
On similar grounds its why I think the "always evil" debate in D&D is more an academic debate that spilled onto the gaming table rather than anything intrinsic to the hobby. Its cognitive dissonance between the stuff learned in college, politics among a few people meeting the more freebooting, reaving fantasy vagabondage that most D&D is about and that most people care about.
Really? I feel like some version of it come up quite often in gameplay when you have players who are interested in different tactics. One person enjoys the combat, while another might want to negotiate, and to do so need more information about the motivations of the monsters (are they inherently evil? Or is the story more complicated?). It also comes up, especially in older editions, when characters like Paladins or Druids had specific positions around when violence was justified, often tied to their class abilities and alignment. Hence the copious debates around orc babies and the like.
 

MGibster

Legend
All of those terms were in play in the way Western Europe, particularly in the early twentieth century, described the late Ottoman empire and to an extent, Russia and Asian societies. It's was a modification of a 'progressivist' notion of history that attempted to account for the much longer and deeper history of non-Western 'civilizations,' so as to justify Western superiority. Decadence, as in 'decadent art,' was also notably used by reactionaries to criticize the cosmopolitan aspects of Western culture in a search for a highly nationalistic identity that was thought to be more 'pure' (with all of the well known and terrible implications that attend to that concept).

I think the important thing is that we're living in the 21st century not the early 20th. I'm not going to worry about referring to a fictional kingdom as decadent just because reactionaries used it to describe art or the Orient decades before I was born.
 

MGibster

Legend
It also comes up, especially in older editions, when characters like Paladins or Druids had specific positions around when violence was justified, often tied to their class abilities and alignment. Hence the copious debates around orc babies and the like.
I don't think I ever witnessed any debate over what to do about orc babies and the like during game play back in the dark ages of the 80s and 90s. i.e. I've certainly never run into a Paladin in a game who thought it was perfectly acceptable to slaughter non-combatants of any kind or a DM who punished a good player for failing to do so. Like many debates over alignment, many of them were hypothetical and typically didn't have a significant impact during game play. This is one of those raging debates I've seen online that I rarely hear anyone talk about in person.
 

Malmuria

Adventurer
I think the important thing is that we're living in the 21st century not the early 20th. I'm not going to worry about referring to a fictional kingdom as decadent just because reactionaries used it to describe art or the Orient decades before I was born.
Sure. Words carry a density of meaning that can be and is often glossed over in everyday usage. Further, words of course expand, contract, and change in meaning all the time. I don't think a term like "Villain," for example, still has any class connotation in contemporary English even though it is there in its etymology; other, similar words, like "churlish" or "boor" still do to some degree, but wouldn't be offensive along those lines without a more explicit context.

If I was editing an rpg supplement, and the author had written an East Asia analogue and described it "decadent," I would raise a note of concern, and if they had a South Africa analogue and described it as "primitive" I would...well, that might be more a circle it in red with exclamation marks type situation. It's all about being sensitive to the context, situation, and tropes of your writing, and the perspectives of your readers/players. If one of your players came to you with concerns about the language you were using, I would hope that anyone would take those concerns seriously rather than dismissing them.
 

I misread that SRD as Wiki... I cannot fix the SRD. I can suggest ignoring that part of the SRD and using better lables.
Note that that labeling all of 0-3 as "Primitive" is a Mongoosism, one of many things that make me rather derisively minded toward the game and the company.
I CT, MT, TNE, and on, TL0 is bone and stone ages all together. A definition of primitive being still potentially technological, just not of need at a civilization (= living in permanent settlements full time) supporting level.

"Primitive" in Traveller other than the mongoose edition means no metal tools. It makes no judgement about civilized (living in permanent settlements) vs Nomadic vs migratory (I've heard the term para-civilized and semi-nomadic; it's migrating from one permanent site to another in a stead rotation;

Let's list the materials allowed for MegaTraveller TL0...
Stone, bone, antler, mud/clay, brick, wood, sap, grasses, leaves (esp palm leaves and pine needles, also long cactus spines), shells (bivalves, snails), teeth (esp. sharks and rodents), fire, tar seeps,

Stone tools can be of several kinds...
simple hammer & anvil (been used by monkeys)
Simple single break scrapers - can be done with most rock types. Enables converting grasses, leaves, and bark to fibers. Can be used to sharpen wood into spears (I've done this.)
Flaked tools - shaped core - mostly scrapers/hand-axes
Flaked tools - useful shards - hand knives
Flaked tools - complex shaped shards

Bone tools:
Simple hammers from longbones.
Simple saws from carnasial teeth of predators
Awls, adzes, and scrapers from rodent teeth
With stone tools, you can make bone needles, bone brushes, bone spearpoints, bone knives/spatulas, maces (look up walrus baculum, known in Western Alaska as an Usik, Oosiq, or Oosik. Used as a fishbat and also used to be used for seal harvesting).


Things learned from experimental archaeology:
  • It's possible to make bone spear tips and (low quality) scrapers and awls without use of stone. Bone on bone can be used to make the needed fractures.
  • It's possible to make mudbrick without stone tools or even bone ones, but the digging is easier with wood, antler, or bone tools than by hand alone.
  • Bone knives can be used to harvest bark fibers, and for cutting cooked meats and scraping fat off hides.
  • sap can be turned into a usable glue in skulls by putting the sap inside the skull, and using a fire pit to heat it. It can be even converted to a tarry glue that way.
  • Tar can be used from natural seeps or mildly processed in the same way as pitch.
  • Shark teeth washed ashore or from caught sharks can be used to work wood almost as well as stone flake tools. They also can be used as arrowheads and (when set in grooves in a wood handle) as serrated swords.
  • Woven grasses, either whole or stripped down to raw fiber, can be used to make durable goods. Long pine needles can, as well.
  • Human hair can be used as a binding material for bone, tooth, stone, wood, pine needle, or even animal fiber.
  • certain wild animals have useful hair, as well in addition to the shorter fur. Horses especially, but also certain others. Those that are long enough to tie two bundles of needles together or to lash down a spearhead, reinforced with pitch, tar, or other glues.
  • splitting sinew doesn't require a lot of force, just a sharp edge.
  • Bone can have a surprisingly sharp edge
  • Baskets can be used to cook over a fire. (Thank you to the Hopi for showing this to anthropologists in the 80's or 90's...)

On a late medieval level... say, Spanish America? South American Civilizations were not quite good enough to stop conquistadores 1:1, but enough to hold their own with their 100:1 ratio... until smallpox and other Eurpean diseases killed well more than half. The sharktooth swords and similar obsidian and stone edged swords were in fact pretty effective... but no defense against diseases. The locals were still at a stone age tech level, most without even the wheel as a simple tool... but they were not far behind Eurpeans in standard of living, nor in personal combat capabilities. Bone over rigid leather is almost as good as bronze over leather.


Primitives who are not warring have no need to match the neighbors. They provide a sufficient disincentive for cautious colonialism; only in desperation or xenophobia are they worth dealing with until they become a problem.

the term itself may be laden, but what it represents isn't a huge difference in force multipler; the most important element is the armor, not the weapons. Antler picks are quite capable of denting steel armor sufficiently to do significant injury.
I looked at my copy of The Traveller Book, printed in 1982 by GDW, which was an update of the original 3BB 'Classic' edition, and pretty much identical in most respects. It lists only TL 0 as 'primitive', pretty much the same as you do. I'm going to guess, without digging out the original 3BBs, that this is how it was worded there.

Mongoose Traveller is, overall, pretty faithful to the original, and is a pretty well-written game on the whole. I think you're bashing it unnecessarily. Obviously any rewrite of the rulebook is going to make a few changes or even just mistakes. On the whole I think it is one of the best efforts out there.
 

One of the things people forget is that blunt weapons (of any sufficiently hard material) can deliver dangerous injuries, even through armor of more advanced materials. The reason is that blunt weapons don’t just crush flesh and bone, but can also wound via hydrostatic shock- energy transmitted though the body beca of the non-compressibility of water. A blow that doesn’t crush may nonetheless cause a concussion, deaden a limb or disrupt the function of an organ.

IOW, a stone-headed club may be a more serious threat to a metal-armored warrior than a piercing or slashing weapon of similarly low tech level.
Honestly, I would consider a good 2 pound club to be a VERY effective weapon. Easy to wield, effective in most situations, and very easy to produce. I have a very nice Masai Rungu that is well balanced and small enough to carry around unobtrusively too. I obviously never hit anyone with it, but it would surely stun an unarmored person, and it is much lighter than the heavier sort of clubs you would use against serious armored opponents.

Swords were really more of a prestige item than anything else. The Romans needed a weapon that could be wielded in close quarters, and I suppose the longer reach for a given weight might be a reason they were preferred by a lot of mounted people, but a good club is as dangerous as anything out there.
 

I've noticed broadly that very few players care much about the world . There are exceptions , lore hounds, long term players in long running games that sort of thing. Mostly D&D is "Point me in the direction of the adventure."

I've used a super generic world, described places as "Not Venice" "Not German" and the players are like "Cool." and often start adding on.

On similar grounds its why I think the "always evil" debate in D&D is more an academic debate that spilled onto the gaming table rather than anything intrinsic to the hobby. Its cognitive dissonance between the stuff learned in college, politics among a few people meeting the more freebooting, reaving fantasy vagabondage that most D&D is about and that most people care about.
I've played since almost the earliest days of D&D. The debate existed even BEFORE D&D (I cite Moorcock, who is the grandparent of D&D alignment for sure). The debates about exactly what 'chaotic' and 'lawful' meant and what then did it mean to be 'good' or 'evil' is what LEAD to 2-axis alignment in the first place! All D&D needed was 2 sides, the 'friendlies' and the 'hostiles', which law<->chaos already provided, the rest was spawned PURELY by players debating about it!

So, no, this is not simply an academic question that some 'egg heads' pooped on the D&D table with and made into an issue. It is implicit, with all its warts and bumps and debates about light-hearted "kill all evil!" black and white play vs more nuanced shades-of-grey, which pretty quickly led to the whole full-on debate (like by 1976 at most).

The problem is, simplistic ideas of alignment, even 2-axis alignment with 'true neutral' as an option (the full 9 bin grid) doesn't cut it outside of some very simple adventures. What is the alignment of the baron who runs the Keep on the Borderlands? He's greedy, sly and dishonest when it can make him a gold piece, but totally fierce in his determination to defend the Keep and wipe out any threat to it (albeit at no cost to himself if possible). Is he good? Evil? Lawful? Chaotic? You cannot answer that, nobody can. Yet mechanically it could be important in a D&D game, because alignment mechanics are baked in. So, outside of 'loot the dungeon' the whole bugbear had to be wrestled and some sort of consensus reached at the table so you can at least play.
 

The chart below is from Dungeons & Dragons Book I Men & Magic (1974). It shows that orcs (and some other monsters, such as ogres and minotaurs), could be either Chaotic or Neutral in the original game. Chaos in 1974 D&D was synonymous with evil.

View attachment 140762

Post #280 from upthread covers the history of "always evil" monsters in D&D. It provides evidence that orcs were always evil in the AD&D 1e Dungeon Masters Guide (1979), stopped being inherently evil in Roger Moore's article Half-orcs in Dragon #62 (1982), became inherently evil again in D&D 5e (2014), and stopped being inherently evil for a second time with WotC's announcement Diversity and Dungeons & Dragons in 2020.

Therefore it can be concluded that orcs have been always evil for nine years out of the 47 years D&D has been in existence.
4e? Alignment is rather less important/emphasized in 4e, but I don't think anything hints at humanoids who are other than evil. That is orcs have CE for their alignment, I think goblins in general are listed as LE. Lizardfolk are neutral, as always. Anyway, orcs themselves are described in the 4e MM pretty much the way they were in the 1e MM, though the description is a bit briefer and thus misses a few tropes. Still, orcs are "savage, bloodthirsty marauders" and "can be coerced or bullied into serving any dark overlord or wicket monster powerful enough to command their obedience." Suffice it to say 4e has nothing GOOD to say about orcs, at least at this stage.

There was, IIRC, an article about playing orcs, and they had a PC stat block in the back of the MM, though I don't think they got the kind of writeup that some other humanoid races did (IE gnolls). half-orcs do avoid the stigma of being an inferior result of cross-breeding, at least explicitly (in PHB2 where they appear). The MM orc picture also depicts them as distinctly dark-skinned and attired in a rather crude fashion. They appear to be ugly, dirty, and violent! The lore section says more of the same negative stuff, lazy, grasping, preferring to take rather than build, bloodthirsty, cannibals, etc.

So, no kudos on 4e there, and I think you'd have to count that edition as 'evil orcs', though some later materials are a bit more nuanced. Still, Monster Vault presents them in the same terms as MM1 did 5 years earlier, and their picture if anything, doubles down on the 'dark-skinned' aspect.
 

Sure. Words carry a density of meaning that can be and is often glossed over in everyday usage. Further, words of course expand, contract, and change in meaning all the time. I don't think a term like "Villain," for example, still has any class connotation in contemporary English even though it is there in its etymology; other, similar words, like "churlish" or "boor" still do to some degree, but wouldn't be offensive along those lines without a more explicit context.

If I was editing an rpg supplement, and the author had written an East Asia analogue and described it "decadent," I would raise a note of concern, and if they had a South Africa analogue and described it as "primitive" I would...well, that might be more a circle it in red with exclamation marks type situation. It's all about being sensitive to the context, situation, and tropes of your writing, and the perspectives of your readers/players. If one of your players came to you with concerns about the language you were using, I would hope that anyone would take those concerns seriously rather than dismissing them.
My feeling on things like 'primitive' and 'decadent' is they are simply lazy writing anyway. The golden rule in writing that I was always taught (and I admit I've little hard practical experience outside tech writing, so just my opinion) is that you SHOW don't TELL.

So if you want to depict a society in a way that might fit with usual understandings of the trope 'primitive', you should instead describe the actual condition of things. Describe the architecture as small single-room homes of mud and sticks grouped into hamlets of 4 or 5 houses each, or something like that. Likewise with other aspects.

As to whether or not that is acceptable or appropriate, that's a harder question. I think any such depiction should probably be sophisticated enough to convey the idea that said society has a long history, much local knowledge, or whatever is appropriate, and avoid the trap of simply depicting it as ignorant, backwards, etc. without positive qualities. I'd also hope to explain something about its nature and why it might be as it is, though I know that's a complex topic!
 

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