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The problem with Evil races is not what you think


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nevin

Adventurer
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.
just like in real life you have to set boundaries. with people you don't know it's always better to just lay it out at the beginning and if they don't like it they can play somewhere else. In my experience most players don't want to play evil characters unless they have some serious issues to work out or have an overblown case of narcissism and want to make everyone else's life suck. After years of trying it I will only let someone play an evil character if I'm sure they aren't going to actively turn on the party because "they are playing thier alignment". That's not fun for anyone except that jerk.

That being said I've had a player play an evil character to the end of a campaign arc and no other party member ever knew they were evil. it was amazing and gave me all kinds of depth in the backstory of my campaign. But thats' one attempt in 30 years that actually worked out where the party had fun with it.
 

John Dallman

Adventurer
Are you aiming for horror or non-horror?
I was willing to take either course. If the characters did a good job of adapting to the Elder Things and negotiating with them, the adventure could turn into science fiction, and that's what happened in play. If they did a bad job, horror could re-assert itself. It was a case of "play it to see what happens."

There is a significant science fiction element in Lovecraft's work, which tends to get neglected.
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
I was willing to take either course. If the characters did a good job of adapting to the Elder Things and negotiating with them, the adventure could turn into science fiction, and that's what happened in play. If they did a bad job, horror could re-assert itself. It was a case of "play it to see what happens."

There is a significant science fiction element in Lovecraft's work, which tends to get neglected.
Okay. I’m only interested in HPL mythos for the scifi horror. If I just want scifi, then I have a plethora of alternatives.
 

Note, self defense laws vary a lot between countries even in modern times. What counts as self-defense in some parts of America would be second degree murder in Canada, for example. ((Sorry, this is treading REALLY close to politics, so, I don't want to elaborate more))
There are different varieties of self-defense laws by state in the US.
In some states, lethal force may be used to protect mere property, as well as prevent harm to person; in others, one has an obligation to flee if possible, and any force is only justified if one cannot escape nor otherwise prevent harm.

That Waterdeep has a no self defense law is not at all a verisimilitude issue for me. It's not terribly sane.... but many laws aren't. Or at least, many that had a sensibility at one point no longer do.
And some (like no donkeys in your bathtub, from a northwestern Alaska town) have some story behind them.
 

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.
Yeah, Stross' Deep Ones are a bit less 'out there' in the sense that you can NEGOTIATE with them. OTOH they are still completely incomprehensible, frighteningly powerful, and probably haven't destroyed us simply because we're just not important, like at all really.

As for the 'Elder Things', there wasn't much talking to them in any HPL Mythos stuff, but they never seemed like a super malign race either, just weird and out there. In fact, few of the RACES actually are 'monstrous'. The Deep Ones were really the main targets of that meme. Great Race of Yith, they're cool. Beetle creatures from the far future, no problem. Fungi from Yuggoth, eh, kinda trippy, but as long as you make it clear you aren't interested in being containerized...

It is the Great Old Ones themselves which seem malign, or at the very least extremely toxic, to us.
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
Yeah, Stross' Deep Ones are a bit less 'out there' in the sense that you can NEGOTIATE with them. OTOH they are still completely incomprehensible, frighteningly powerful, and probably haven't destroyed us simply because we're just not important, like at all really.

As for the 'Elder Things', there wasn't much talking to them in any HPL Mythos stuff, but they never seemed like a super malign race either, just weird and out there. In fact, few of the RACES actually are 'monstrous'. The Deep Ones were really the main targets of that meme. Great Race of Yith, they're cool. Beetle creatures from the far future, no problem. Fungi from Yuggoth, eh, kinda trippy, but as long as you make it clear you aren't interested in being containerized...

It is the Great Old Ones themselves which seem malign, or at the very least extremely toxic, to us.
I prefer Hahn’s analyses over the Chaosium-influenced fanon
 


BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
Stross seems to have hit a pretty good result. His work in the Mythos is extremely well-received. I mean, it helps that he is like about a 1000x better writer than HPL... lol (and I say this as a fan of HPL's work).
It’s more that whole “the fishies are vastly superior to humans” comes across as self-deluding propaganda even in the the original story if you read it with even a slightly critical eye.

The US military destroys Innsmouth and Devil’s Reef, but fish granny claims in a dream that it isn’t important and they’re really superior to those silly land dwellers. This despite the fact that they previously attacked Innsmouth and killed half the population when Obed Marsh was imprisoned, just because they stopped receiving sacrifices. Sounds to me like they realized they can’t win against the US military but are too much sore losers to admit it.

This “taking the stories at face value even when the facts don’t add up” is endemic to HPL fanfic. IMO Hahn’s critical analyses are the single most original take on HPL’s stories since HPL wrote them.
 

It’s more that whole “the fishies are vastly superior to humans” comes across as self-deluding propaganda even in the the original story if you read it with even a slightly critical eye.

The US military destroys Innsmouth and Devil’s Reef, but fish granny claims in a dream that it isn’t important and they’re really superior to those silly land dwellers. This despite the fact that they previously attacked Innsmouth and killed half the population when Obed Marsh was imprisoned, just because they stopped receiving sacrifices. Sounds to me like they realized they can’t win against the US military but are too much sore losers to admit it.

This “taking the stories at face value even when the facts don’t add up” is endemic to HPL fanfic. IMO Hahn’s critical analyses are the single most original take on HPL’s stories since HPL wrote them.
Well, a vast amount of the Mythos "doesn't add up" of course. HPL wanted to write about secret hidden stuff, not an all-out war of annihilation between Deep Ones and humans. Also I think he would say that Stross' Deep Ones, with their more pragmatic and fundamentally utilitarian view of humanity are less mysterious in some fashion. That is, the HPL Deep Ones REALLY DON'T CARE, maybe they cannot take on the US Military in a way that achieves their objectives, but we cannot even fathom what those are, and their actions make no sense to us at all.
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
Well, a vast amount of the Mythos "doesn't add up" of course. HPL wanted to write about secret hidden stuff, not an all-out war of annihilation between Deep Ones and humans. Also I think he would say that Stross' Deep Ones, with their more pragmatic and fundamentally utilitarian view of humanity are less mysterious in some fashion. That is, the HPL Deep Ones REALLY DON'T CARE, maybe they cannot take on the US Military in a way that achieves their objectives, but we cannot even fathom what those are, and their actions make no sense to us at all.
I understand that modern stories like The Sick Land love to wallow in surrealist incomprehensibility, but a lot of the HPL stories are largely explainable. Largely. Like, we know what the mermen want because they explain it to the human characters: give them sacrifices, marry them, convert to their religion, etc and they'll give immortality and gold jewelry in return. We don't get much detail, but what little we do see appears pretty comprehensible.

The whole "you can't understand it" thing seems to be more a part of what fans think HPL's work is more than what it is actually is. (I recall that several Lovecraft scholars have complained about Chaosium messing up fandom's perception of the mythos, but I don't recall much of what they said.) There's this fascinating online article on how to write a Lovecraftian monster, and most of HPL's stories actually break the rules it sets (whereas a military scifi story like Knights of Sidonia follows far more).

That's the entire reason that Hahn was able to write such detailed analyses in the first place. One story that Hahn notably went full Derrida on was "The Whisperer in the Darkness." Although HPL's tone says one thing, the actual events of the story say something completely different. The fungus crabs come across as (by HPL standards) incredibly moral and restrained beings, but also as incompetent morons more appropriate for slapstick comedy.

Let that sink in for a moment. When I said Hahn was the most original take on HPL since HPL, I meant it. Hahn was so somethinged with the story that no analysis was made of the fungus crabs, even tho xenology posts were a regular part of the Let's Read.
 

le Redoutable

Explorer
I have not read the 27 pages of this topic,
still I can tell you something which is worth:
there is no such thing as Evil;
there is place for Cruelty, Betrayal etc
but those who inherit the bad mood ( french le mauvais rôle )
let others have ( le bon rôle ) ;
if noone would take the bad mood their opponents could never act like Paladins
( si vous arrivez à comprendre my translation you are genius lol )
 

I have not read the 27 pages of this topic,
still I can tell you something which is worth:
there is no such thing as Evil;
there is place for Cruelty, Betrayal etc
but those who inherit the bad mood ( french le mauvais rôle )
let others have ( le bon rôle ) ;
if noone would take the bad mood their opponents could never act like Paladins
( si vous arrivez à comprendre my translation you are genius lol )
Je suis un génie! 🙌

However, I don't think a story necessarily needs explicit bad guys, albeit it is harder to construct a conflict that way. But the most interesting conflicts are usually those in which both sides actually have a legit point.
 

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
However, I don't think a story necessarily needs explicit bad guys, albeit it is harder to construct a conflict that way. But the most interesting conflicts are usually those in which both sides actually have a legit point.
Exactly this!

My campaigns tend to work similarly to the MCU, in theme (comedy, epic stakes, and large, diverse casts), and a specific criticism that I've seen of MCU movies dozens of times is the "this movie's villain is just evil for the purpose of being evil, and thus isn't a compelling villain". The most popular MCU villains (Infinity War Thanos, Killmonger, Loki, etc) have motivations/identities other than "I'm evil and here to be the guy that the heroes fight against".

Sometimes those villains are perfectly fine, especially for party members that just want to cut through armies of enemies without having to do any critical thinking about whether or not it's a good thing to kill them, but the more memorable and compelling villains are the ones that have a point. The ones that have motivations that we can relate to and understand (revenge/retribution, survival, justice, the willingness to do what others won't, jealousy, etc) are often better and more epic villains than those that have more obscure/alien motivations (destroying the world(s) just 'cause, power/wealth/title, bloodlust).
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
I think that's subjective. Morally complex villains were pretty rare up until the mid 20th century and now it's a bandwagon that writers are criticized for not jumping on. Less than admirable heroes, on the other hand, go back to Gilgamesh. (As in, the story itself criticizes his actions, not in the sense that the ancients were less morally enlightened than secular humanists.)
 

Hussar

Legend
I think that's subjective. Morally complex villains were pretty rare up until the mid 20th century and now it's a bandwagon that writers are criticized for not jumping on. Less than admirable heroes, on the other hand, go back to Gilgamesh. (As in, the story itself criticizes his actions, not in the sense that the ancients were less morally enlightened than secular humanists.)
I'm not sure you can claim that to be honest. Shakespeare has morally complex villains - Hamlet is a good example, Lear. Goethe's Faust is pretty complex. Arthurian stories feature all sorts of moral complexity.

The main thing to remember when we start talking about stories, is that the novel form doesn't really explode until the 20th century and has done nothing but continue to explode as an art form. Just looking at fantasy genre stories, there have been more original fantasy novels published in the past 20 years than in the past century. And that number just keeps climbing.

So, it does make sense that with such a crowded form, nuance becomes far more important in order to distinguish one work from another. Simple black hats vs white hats is a really limited palate to draw from. Particularly when you're trying to make your story stand out from a much, MUCH larger pack.
 

Sepulchrave II

Adventurer
I think that's subjective. Morally complex villains were pretty rare up until the mid 20th century and now it's a bandwagon that writers are criticized for not jumping on. Less than admirable heroes, on the other hand, go back to Gilgamesh. (As in, the story itself criticizes his actions, not in the sense that the ancients were less morally enlightened than secular humanists.)
That's because being a "Hero" didn't originally refer to moral character, but rather physical and martial prowess. Paris and Achilles are in a sense heroic villains, or villainous heroes. Hector, more virtuous.
 

I'm not sure you can claim that to be honest. Shakespeare has morally complex villains - Hamlet is a good example, Lear. Goethe's Faust is pretty complex. Arthurian stories feature all sorts of moral complexity.

The main thing to remember when we start talking about stories, is that the novel form doesn't really explode until the 20th century and has done nothing but continue to explode as an art form. Just looking at fantasy genre stories, there have been more original fantasy novels published in the past 20 years than in the past century. And that number just keeps climbing.

So, it does make sense that with such a crowded form, nuance becomes far more important in order to distinguish one work from another. Simple black hats vs white hats is a really limited palate to draw from. Particularly when you're trying to make your story stand out from a much, MUCH larger pack.
Careful, most people today are utterly unaware of the sheer scope and size of the 'pulp' and associated categories of fiction in the last 19th and early 20th Centuries. They could easily swamp the entirety of modern fantasy and sci-fi and not even burp. There were INDIVIDUAL AUTHORS who had output in the 100's of millions of words. Yet most of it was basically low grade formula trash with cardboard cut-out characters and stock material.

For whatever reason, these authors saw no need to produce a better grade of material, and apparently the publishers were perfectly happy selling 1 cent 'dreadfulls' to kids and aspired to little else. It wasn't until the 20's and Hugo Gernsback and Amazing Stories that there was SOME improvement. That was mostly caused by the fact that paper and distribution costs increased, so the available page space shrank, and with higher cover prices you got a bit more demanding audience. Even so, most of what was in the 20's pulps is pretty bad stuff.

So, I would attribute any improvement, such as it may be, more to an audience that is more discerning and well-educated and the fact that even mass-market paperbacks are not really dirt cheap at $12 and up! Even so, there's plenty of schlock out there, though IMHO it seems to cluster more in the serial military-sci-fi sub-genre than anywhere else...
 

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