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The problem with Evil races is not what you think

Which places do you have in mind?
Yeah, I was going to say... Where do people think the English Common Law which we live under today (in the US at least) came from? Courts, which were literally the lords acting as judges, were bound by tradition. This wasn't really, AFAICT, so much a matter of high-mindedness as it was that even the 'guy with the sword you don't want to mess with' NEEDS the cooperation and loyalty of the subjects, he can't watch his own back all the time. So he has to construct some sort of legitimacy, and ruling consistently, and agreeing to be bound by traditional consistent rulings, is a pretty quick way to get there. Also without predictable rules you cannot have things like trade. Lords would rather raise taxes and get luxuries from trade than rule with absolute arbitrariness over mud pits.
 

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Mainly Central Europe.
In general the local lord ruled on issues brought to him (or had a servant do so in his name) and was not bound by any codified laws except maybe the bible.
And there was a sharp divide between nobility and the common folk basically everywhere (Japan has already been mentioned) which affected how law was spoken (and I specifically did use the word trial as most people didn't get one). Nobles were right, free men when they were respected or useful (=rich or influential) and serfs were at the bottom. And in any legal case between people of different classes the their statues determined guilt, not evidence.
Or the lord wouldn't bother and let god decide with a trial by ordeal. If the accused survived he obviously was innocent.
Right, but all of this is highly situational and certainly only applied in specific places and times, or at least there was a lot more nuance to it.
 

pemerton

Legend
A very good point! The REACH of the authorities was exceedingly limited as well. Outside of areas directly controlled it was quite tenuous. Even in the 15th and 16th Century in England the roads were frequented by many notorious bandits, for example.
I wasn't referring only to geographic reach, but to penetration into society. Whether one thinks it's good or bad - a matter we don't need to get into! - there's no doubting that the capacity of the contemporary US state to engage with its citizens and residents as individuals - eg via the tax return - is a remarkable technical achievement. It also depends upon the reduction in social power of non-state "intermediating" groupings, which - where they are strong - increase the opacity of society vis-a-vis the state.

If the worlds of D&D are quasi- or pseudo-mediaeval, it's as "unrealistic" to posit modern governmental capacities as it would be to posit, say, steam railways and machine-woven t-shirts.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
A further thing, which I think is underappreciated in a lot of FRPG world-building, is what is encompassed by authorities. I think it can be hard, for those who haven't experienced it or really intellectually engaged with it, to imagine the radical difference between the reach and the capacity of (say) the contemporary American state and the reach of (say) an 11th century central European noble.

One reason for structuring liability in group terms is simply that anything more fine-grained was not technically feasible.
This is one major point which differentiates historic/fantasy settings and modern/futuristic ones. And it is very easy to spot modern settings written by people who are used to fantasy settings as they have no idea how to deal with the increased reach and power of the state (yes, I mean you Starfinder).

Another thing to remember, not everywhere was the nobility in charge. On land held by clergy for example the rules of law were different (and often more fair with actual trials beyond the nobles gut feeling).
 

This is one major point which differentiates historic/fantasy settings and modern/futuristic ones. And it is very easy to spot modern settings written by people who are used to fantasy settings as they have no idea how to deal with the increased reach and power of the state (yes, I mean you Starfinder).

Another thing to remember, not everywhere was the nobility in charge. On land held by clergy for example the rules of law were different (and often more fair with actual trials beyond the nobles gut feeling).
Well, for many centuries, Friesland basically outlawed nobility entirely! I mean, you could BE a 'noble', technically, but it had effectively no bearing on your legal status. Every adult man was adjudged free (I don't know if there were institutions like indenture or debt prison or whatever).

It is interesting to study the history of this region as a contrast with the rest of Medieval Europe. Notably Frisia was eventually overrun by late Medieval lords, partly due to infighting and a slow breakdown of social equality and institutions which supported it. By the end of the 15th Century their egalitarian system largely ceased to exist, but for 800 years they formed a completely different and unique social/political system.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
I remember years ago, back in my uni age days (so, FAR too many years ago, :() playing with a DM who depicted his orcs as First Nations (well back then, that wasn't the term we would use) people defending themselves from the colonial forces. It was a real eye opener and not something I'd ever even considered before. Just wasn't part of anything I'd read in fantasy or any of the D&D books or anything. I was playing a paladin in the game and it became are fascinating game of how I could reconcile this character who was created using the more or less bog standard tropes of the game with this very on target depiction. It's a game that ended far too early and it's something that I've always remembered.

It really did open my eyes, all the way back then, and this would have been in the early ish 90's, to just how ingrained the racism of the game really is. Once you've seen it, it's practically impossible not to see it throughout so much of the game.

That’s similar to the treatment of dwarves in Daniel Collerton's "Irilian" series in White Dwarf #42-47. White Dwarf #43 (1983):

The Irilians' views of demihumans are stereotyped and are generally the worst possible… dwarves [are] 'money-grubbing and miserly'. Perhaps because both the money-lender/bankers in Irilian are dwarves, they are especially disliked; occupying much the same position as Jews did in Medieval Europe, tolerated (barely) most of the time and otherwise persecuted.​

I think Collerton gets it spot on here. He wasn't the first to make a connection between dwarves and Jews – Tolkien and others also did so. But unlike Tolkien, Collerton's dwarves are not innately greedy, rather it's a false stereotype imposed upon them.
 
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BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
I had a personal liking for the orcs in Warcraft 1 and 2. Not because they were an "evil race" (which is debatable), but because they were fantasy conquistadors and their culture had more depth than typical depictions of orcs. They had multiple religious schools of thought (e.g. necrolytes vs warlocks), internal politics and schisms, a multitude of clans with different subcultures, they made alliances with persecuted minorities on Azeroth like the goblins and trolls, etc. I was disappointed when WC3 retconned them to peaceful Native American stereotypes that were corrupted by those nasty demons and therefore weren't responsible for their many war crimes. (Before you mention it, my enjoyment is permanently ruined by #blizzardgate.)
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
This was Elizabethan England, imagine England in the 9th Century! And 'Local Authority' was just a code word for 'the guy with a sword that nobody else wants to argue with'. Throughout most of the Medieval period large percentages of land in Europe were also 'wasteland', just forests, wetlands, etc. that was very lightly inhabited, if at all, and often completely outside the remit of any authority. In earlier periods these areas were the RULE, not the exception..
I think one thing a lot of people forget when discussing the power of medieval nobles is that the Lords were as terrified of the peasantry as the peasantry were of the nobles.
There were a whole series of peasant revolts occuring usually due to unfair taxes.

Prior to the 10th century laws were about folk rights - enforced by the clan/tribe/village/(guild) - and Privilege granted by Nobility. The Church also had its role in enforcing rules on the Parish.
Things were small scale, the peasants relied on the Lord for protection and the Lord was reliant on the peasantry for labour and supply of goods, a noble knew that his own wealth and survival often depended on keeping the common folk happy too
 

I think one thing a lot of people forget when discussing the power of medieval nobles is that the Lords were as terrified of the peasantry as the peasantry were of the nobles.
There were a whole series of peasant revolts occuring usually due to unfair taxes.

Prior to the 10th century laws were about folk rights - enforced by the clan/tribe/village/(guild) - and Privilege granted by Nobility. The Church also had its role in enforcing rules on the Parish.
Things were small scale, the peasants relied on the Lord for protection and the Lord was reliant on the peasantry for labour and supply of goods, a noble knew that his own wealth and survival often depended on keeping the common folk happy too
Yeah, my impression was always that it was rather less unequal than one might imagine. I mean, yes, the lord was technically in charge of many things, 'owned' an estate, etc. but he couldn't really kick people around too much. The whole thing was relied on by the community, many people ate at that table, etc.

Anyway, you really have to remember that 97% figure. That's medieval agriculture, in general, 97 of 100 people must be agricultural workers to make it function. So all the soldiers, knights, etc. etc. etc. the whole nobility, was just a small fraction of the other 3%, because it also included many townspeople, craftspeople, tradesmen, etc. The upper classes didn't matter at all to normal folks, because they basically didn't exist.
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
I don’t want to bring in politics, but I’d like to note that people’s approach to the “evil races” debate depends on their existing biases.
  1. One group thinks that fictional species can be coded with traits reminiscent of real world ethnic stereotypes/caricatures, whether intentionally or subconsciously, and that this can potentially become offensive.
  2. One group thinks that it’s categorically impossible for fantasy to be racist because it’s fantasy, even if a fictional species is heavily coded in way that should be impossible to ignore. Anyone who sees this coding is therefore a racist. (E.g. the Terra Formars comic codes Martian cockroach people with numerous stereotypes of black people, such as spiral hair, athleticism, holding guns sideways, wearing bling, phallic symbols, rape symbolism, etc along with having a couple named Eva and Adolf, depicting an engineered perfect human as a Nazi Aryan stereotype stud, tons of seemingly extreme right-wing social commentary… but fans insist that this doesn’t exist.)
  3. One group is prone to overreaching and seeing coding even where there is none, neither intentionally or subconsciously planted by the creator. This reinforces the beliefs of group #2. (E.g. someone wrote an article arguing that the aliens and predators from the movie franchises of the same name are anti-black caricatures.)
  4. One group thinks that it’s impossible for a fictional species to have evolved in such a way that peaceful coexistence with humans is impossible, and that any depiction of such is inherently racist towards real minorities. This reinforces the beliefs of group #2. (E.g. that notoriously controversial Extra Credits video.)
  5. One group just doesn’t want to think too hard about their elf-games and categorically rejects any attempt to insert what they perceive as “political correctness.”
  6. One group thinks that any kind of coding is inherently offensive. (E.g. someone wrote an article arguing that dwarves being coded as Scottish Jews is inherently offensive even though dwarves are normally characterized as heroes and even as an unfairly persecuted minority.)
  7. Etc
I have seen all of these positions argued at some point and I can provide receipts. There are nonsensical leaps of logic in most of these positions. It makes discussions very frustrating.

Like, there’s basically only two takes on HPL’s fish people: they’re either irredeemably evil monsters that must be exterminated to protect our pure human bloodlines (and our women!), or they’re a persecuted minority who looks weird but are otherwise normal people. There’s no nuance here, and in neither case do they feel like aliens.
 

Like, there’s basically only two takes on HPL’s fish people: they’re either irredeemably evil monsters that must be exterminated to protect our pure human bloodlines (and our women!), or they’re a persecuted minority who looks weird but are otherwise normal people. There’s no nuance here, and in neither case do they feel like aliens.
It is not so much about HPL's Fish People (Deep Ones) and how society is depicted as reacting to them AS SUCH. It is the fact that HPL presented ideas of 'degeneracy', 'primitiveness', and 'racial admixture' which were undeniably and clearly drawn directly from, and intended to evoke and be complemented by, the same ideas being applied to human ethnicities by the foremost authorities of his day. The proof of this is of course undeniable and exists prolifically in his own writing and letters.

So, when he talks about the moral degeneracy and even physical and possibly intellectual degeneracy of Deep One/Human hybrids, he is undeniably and literally referencing ideas which he sees as validated 'scientifically' WRT actual living people in the real world. This cannot be seen as 'OK', and if your argument is that a reaction to it is the fault of people who are 'overly sensitive' to having these depictions recapitulated in their gaming, then all I can say is we disagree.
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
It is not so much about HPL's Fish People (Deep Ones) and how society is depicted as reacting to them AS SUCH. It is the fact that HPL presented ideas of 'degeneracy', 'primitiveness', and 'racial admixture' which were undeniably and clearly drawn directly from, and intended to evoke and be complemented by, the same ideas being applied to human ethnicities by the foremost authorities of his day. The proof of this is of course undeniable and exists prolifically in his own writing and letters.

So, when he talks about the moral degeneracy and even physical and possibly intellectual degeneracy of Deep One/Human hybrids, he is undeniably and literally referencing ideas which he sees as validated 'scientifically' WRT actual living people in the real world. This cannot be seen as 'OK', and if your argument is that a reaction to it is the fault of people who are 'overly sensitive' to having these depictions recapitulated in their gaming, then all I can say is we disagree.
I agree that they’re a racist allegory. I cannot understand the minds of people who claim otherwise. The people in group #2 that I mentioned. They believe that HPL’s fish story cannot have racist themes because the fish people are fictional. When challenged, they’ll point to sources that confirm their confirmation bias. “See? This Israeli critic says that Innsmouth isn’t racist!”

The short story “The Doom that Came to Innsmouth” is emblematic of this kind of thinking. It has the same racist themes as TSoI except updated for the post-Civil Rights era. It’s even more disgusting than its inspiration, because at least in TSoI the story was told by unreliable narrators and you can contrive a non-racist interpretation of the events, but TDtCtI has no such ambiguity and the author seems painfully lacking in self-awareness.

But I don’t agree (aesthetically speaking) with going in the other direction and writing the fishies as a persecuted minority like “The Litany of Earth” does. Even a charitable analysis of the original Innsmouth story can’t whitewash (pun not intended) that the fish people acted like colonizers and are in telepathic thrall to an alien squid dragon thing that is known for driving humans who overhear its thoughts insane.

I recommend Leila Hahn’s analysis, since it is the single most detailed and least biased analysis I could find: Let's Read: everything Howard Phillips Lovecraft ever wrote Books

There’s also this comparison by a Greyirish: “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys

I agree with Greyirish that these stories fail to actually explore the alien natures of the mermen, instead using them purely as either racist allegories or anti-racist allegories. I prefer horror stories over dark fantasy, and I prefer horror that doesn’t rely on racism. So far the only Innsmouth fanfic (because they’re all ultimately fanfics, even if you can legally sell them) that I enjoyed was the adventure game Call of the Sea, as it didn’t rely on racism and didn’t depict the fishies as a persecuted minority either.

I suppose my tastes are idiosyncratic, but my taste is my taste.
 


Did the thread mention these articles yet?

The thread, particularly through @Doug McCrae 's contributions, have gone a lot further in its analysis of various races in dnd than these articles, which are one dimensional and overly defensive. They are indicative of the categorical rejection of the conversation that you refer to earlier. That is, it's hard to even start a conversation on tropes and characterization in dnd and other fantasy stories because it quickly becomes a debate as to whether that conversation should even exist by people who come in just to call the discussion, as the author of that first article says, part of a "new woke wave of moral outrage and policing," and to say "but as far as D&D goes, let’s try to tune out society’s moral entrepreneurs as best we can and get back to gaming." Said by a guy who looks like this

Screen Shot 2021-07-31 at 1.09.35 PM.png
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
This is why I prefer 13th Age’s take on orcs. They pop out of chasms in the ground as adults holding weapons and don’t reproduce, so all the “other” symbolism is absent. I don’t understand why 5e couldn’t have taken a similar approach. They retconned the ecologies of tons of other monsters.

I’m honestly astonished that we even need to explain that invoking classic “other” symbolism is something that we just don’t do in modern society. I’ve seriously explained this to certain people, and they can’t grasp why you shouldn’t invoke “other” symbolism. They think it’s perfectly okay. This attitude is present worldwide, even among gamers from colonized countries. I like to think that I’m a rational person most of the time. But hearing that rebuttal from those specific people makes me seriously wonder which side is right, or whether there even is a right side. Saying anyone who disagrees has “internalized colonialism” feels suspiciously like confirmation bias to me.
 

This is why I prefer 13th Age’s take on orcs. They pop out of chasms in the ground as adults holding weapons and don’t reproduce, so all the “other” symbolism is absent. I don’t understand why 5e couldn’t have taken a similar approach. They retconned the ecologies of tons of other monsters.

I’m honestly astonished that we even need to explain that invoking classic “other” symbolism is something that we just don’t do in modern society. I’ve seriously explained this to certain people, and they can’t grasp why you shouldn’t invoke “other” symbolism. They think it’s perfectly okay. This attitude is present worldwide, even among gamers from colonized countries. I like to think that I’m a rational person most of the time. But hearing that rebuttal from those specific people makes me seriously wonder which side is right, or whether there even is a right side. Saying anyone who disagrees has “internalized colonialism” feels suspiciously like confirmation bias to me.
I have relatives in India who will use terms like "backward" to, for example, talk about rural communities. Similarly, some people look to the west as representative of what it means to be "modern." It speaks to the way recently-developed (relatively speaking) frameworks for understanding human societies spread through cultural contact that is uneven (that is, that involves a distinct power dynamic). In that context, "internalized colonialism" doesn't mean that people are somehow mind controlled but speaks to a set of ideas and ideologies that form a "common sense" for any given group.
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
I have relatives in India who will use terms like "backward" to, for example, talk about rural communities. Similarly, some people look to the west as representative of what it means to be "modern." It speaks to the way recently-developed (relatively speaking) frameworks for understanding human societies spread through cultural contact that is uneven (that is, that involves a distinct power dynamic). In that context, "internalized colonialism" doesn't mean that people are somehow mind controlled but speaks to a set of ideas and ideologies that form a "common sense" for any given group.
I’ve been trying to interrogate these beliefs and it’s been an exercise in insanity. The people I talked to categorically don’t believe in the concepts of coding or othering… or internalized racism, or pretty much any kind of racism that is more subtle than the KKK or Nazis. The kinds of people who constantly espouse “you think orcs are black people? You’re the real racist!”

While I do think sometimes anti-racism can veer into tilting at windmills that gives the opposition ammunition (which is true of any belief system), this absolute denialism of more subtle forms of racism isn’t a rational response either.

Being even vaguely aware of how utterly pervasive racism and sexism and other -isms are is a curse, because I’ve noticed that a lot of normies are going to think I’m tilting at windmills or attacking them for wrong think.

I also keep seeing stupid stuff on both sides that makes me constantly question what the right answer is and my personal beliefs are constantly pinballing because I can never be sure whether I’m tilting at windmills or not.

I just wish human beings would stop having different opinions. It’s exhausting.
 

I agree that they’re a racist allegory. I cannot understand the minds of people who claim otherwise. The people in group #2 that I mentioned. They believe that HPL’s fish story cannot have racist themes because the fish people are fictional. When challenged, they’ll point to sources that confirm their confirmation bias. “See? This Israeli critic says that Innsmouth isn’t racist!”

The short story “The Doom that Came to Innsmouth” is emblematic of this kind of thinking. It has the same racist themes as TSoI except updated for the post-Civil Rights era. It’s even more disgusting than its inspiration, because at least in TSoI the story was told by unreliable narrators and you can contrive a non-racist interpretation of the events, but TDtCtI has no such ambiguity and the author seems painfully lacking in self-awareness.

But I don’t agree (aesthetically speaking) with going in the other direction and writing the fishies as a persecuted minority like “The Litany of Earth” does. Even a charitable analysis of the original Innsmouth story can’t whitewash (pun not intended) that the fish people acted like colonizers and are in telepathic thrall to an alien squid dragon thing that is known for driving humans who overhear its thoughts insane.
I think it would be perfectly acceptable to write a story in which the Deep Ones have a complex, albeit extremely alien, culture. Its fine that they are malevolent in their outlook towards humans, or at least look at us as somewhat of a "sub-Deep One-race." In fact you could definitely PLAY WITH THAT, drawing an analogy between them and historical colonizers and racists IRL (it need not be explicit either). You could then approach the hybrids as a group which suffers bias from both sides (and again there could be interesting parallels here with real history). Now, what the hybrids attitudes towards humans is, etc. could go a few ways, but I would expect there are redeeming features and potentially sympathetic characters there.
I recommend Leila Hahn’s analysis, since it is the single most detailed and least biased analysis I could find: Let's Read: everything Howard Phillips Lovecraft ever wrote Books

There’s also this comparison by a Greyirish: “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys
Well, I have not read that LR, but I HAVE read (in case my handle leaves much doubt) everything ever written by HPL which is still extant, including the published letters and other material, as well as everything written by the people whom he corresponded with (again subject to it having been in print any time since the mid 20th Century at least). That would include REH, Clark Ashton Smith, etc. I've read, I believe, the vast majority of what HPL ghost wrote, though it is actually hard to know the full scope of that for sure.

I have not read McNaughton nor Emrys AFAIK, though I have read quite a few modern Cthulhu story type collections, so its possible I just don't remember them.
I agree with Greyirish that these stories fail to actually explore the alien natures of the mermen, instead using them purely as either racist allegories or anti-racist allegories. I prefer horror stories over dark fantasy, and I prefer horror that doesn’t rely on racism. So far the only Innsmouth fanfic (because they’re all ultimately fanfics, even if you can legally sell them) that I enjoyed was the adventure game Call of the Sea, as it didn’t rely on racism and didn’t depict the fishies as a persecuted minority either.

I suppose my tastes are idiosyncratic, but my taste is my taste.
I am really not saying that you cannot have a Deep One or Hybrid in a game without confronting everything racist that might be taken for. I would just say that you would want to signal that such tropes are not to be relied upon as the basis of all the facts in play. I'm no genius on what everyone out there is going to find acceptable. I just think when you decide to use HPL-based material at all, you have to reckon with the fact that he was an amazingly, appallingly racist person, and it taints all his work. Honestly, one option would be to simply not bring Mythos material into it at all. HPL doesn't have a lock on Cosmic Horror.
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
Its fine that they are malevolent in their outlook towards humans, or at least look at us as somewhat of a "sub-Deep One-race."
Hahn speculates that they were engineered as an experiment by the starfish heads because they’re subject to similar hypnotic conditioning as shoggoths are. “Oh look at those poor hominids that can’t breathe water, communicate telepathically, or live indefinitely. Let’s create a hominid that can and release it to breed with the rest. They might make good slaves, and if not we can always dispose of them.” Then there was a lot of Murphy’s Law.

Hahn’s analysis is quite frankly the most creative take I’ve ever seen, and it’s especially interesting because it’s based purely on a critical reading of the original texts. It’s also way less odious than the standard uncritically racist take on the mermen that the Chaosium-defined expanded universe runs with.
 

John Dallman

Adventurer
Hahn speculates that they were engineered as an experiment by the starfish heads because they’re subject to similar hypnotic conditioning as shoggoths are. “Oh look at those poor hominids that can’t breathe water, communicate telepathically, or live indefinitely. Let’s create a hominid that can and release it to breed with the rest. They might make good slaves, and if not we can always dispose of them.” Then there was a lot of Murphy’s Law.
That is interesting.

I found in play that the Chaosium scenario Beyond the Mountains of Madness gets a lot more interesting, and more survivable, if the characters, having learned the Elder Things' written language, start talking to them. Elder Things are very weird, but they are material creatures with recognisable needs and desires, so negotiation is conceivably possible.

For a modern take on the Deep Ones, see Charles Stross' novel The Jennifer Morgue.
 

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