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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Orcish Enlightenment...

Old-school gaming benefits from a recurring cast of stock enemies; minions of monstrous aspect to pad armies and populate dungeons.  Traditionally, the orc has satisfied this particular need; but lately the poor orc has become, well, problematic.  I know, I know, orcs aren't even human, much less real; and inherently evil creatures of any race are simply impossible in our reality.  I've made myself clear on this point, but acknowledge that we must follow our conscience and that there's absolutely nothing wrong with the "nuanced" orcs preferred by some.  Indeed, such orcs can easily serve as stock enemies...     

Now if our only goal with enlightened orcs is to fight racism, we're misdirecting our efforts away from the actual humans we're trying to help.  But there are still plenty of excellent reasons for giving orcs a nuanced treatment; and the OSR, with its emphasis on personal creativity, agrees.  That said, here's some ways to make it happen:    

(1) Orcs are automatons, imbued by their gods with only one perspective.  Sure, these are still inherently evil; but they also aren't persons so much as an unusual golem having no discernable culture beyond acting on their programming There just has to be room for this sort of thing in a fantasy game, and it has absolutely no parallel in our universe.

(2) Orcs (and Drow) aren't inherently evil; but some of their numbers have succumbed to religious fanaticism, taking after evil gods.  This is similar to the Nazi cult of Hitler's Germany in its dark prime.  Hey, if orcs are a complex, nuanced race, there's no doubt some of them would turn to wickedness.  But still others would choose good, serving the orcish lords of light and fighting, perhaps alongside human allies, against the darkness.

In (2) above, evil orcs are just a faction of the whole, albeit large and distinctive enough to stand out.  It's not so much "orcs" as "evil cultists" of (insert wicked orcish god here).    

(3) Ultimately; some orcs are evil, just like some humans.  And if we can fight human bandits and diabolical wizards, we can surely fight orcs.  Perhaps an orcish warlord has arisen, amassing the worst of their kind under a banner of bloodshed.  Of course, these would be reviled by orcs of the honorable sort; and it provides a population of stock baddies to engage with proper, old-school abandon.  Call it a secular variation of (2), above.   

My beloved old-school orcs clearly fall under (1), above.  There's just enough personality to think you're engaging a person; but these aren't analogous to any so-called race, and the circumstances of their creation and continued existence should make that clear.  Everything else is what happens when we decide that orcs are people.  No, they aren't all uniformly wicked; but enough hold evil affiliations (we humans have many of our own) as to constitute a distinctive faction.  Anyway, there's never a bad reason to flex our creative muscles, even when we think we disagree with some conclusion.  Good ideas are everywhere...


  1. Orcs cannot be unproblematic.
    Orcs represent preciselly the view that each culture has from different cultures of one.
    Germanic tribes viewed romans as their Orcs, and they were Orcs to romans: they represent people with customs that we cannot or want not to integrate.

    It is not bad to see this as evil: If some bug-like anthropomorphic alien race wanted to invade the earth, we'd probably mark them as Orcs and defend ourselves against their invasion. But their terrible nasty customs would be OK to them.

    Orcs are simply another version for "the archetypal others". For an antifa maybe they embody the riot policemen. For a common XXI century person they embody the nazis. It is not weird that leftists think that racists can view orcs as black people or any similar metaphor.

    Every ideology I guess that has an "other" that can be embodied by orcs because "they are so dumb to comprehend our flawless ideology or adopt our correct customs"

    But even if they see them as evil, nobody can deny that both Riot Police or Nazis, or members of any race, had feelings, and were capable of being loving husbands, fathers or friends, having a good concept of themselves and a reason to do what they do, etc.

    Is not bad to have orcs. Is just that if they do not confront the "PCs side correct morals or status quo" they cease to be orcs as archetype, even if they are orcs by race

    1. It seems our whole hobby has been problematic at times...

  2. This is just another foothold leftists are using to screw with our beloved hobby. I usually don't include orcs in my D&D campaign... but I will now, and those bastards will be evil, by God!

  3. White conservative liberals are wrong. Orcs can be inherently evil in a game without that making you a racist, they are the racists, they regard themselves the saviors of all peoples in the world, fuck them!

    We non-american, non-white people, don't need to be saved by the white police, we despise those people, they are almost as bad as regular bigos, their racism is just as disgusting but they think they are in the right! They're wrong.

    But they insist they, the white, must saves us, the non-white. They see us as inferiors as the regular bigots see us. No matter how friendly their racism is, it's still racism.

    Inherently evil races in a fantasy game is not as different as inherently evil russians in classic cold war fiction, Americans just love to deny their racism and hatred. They say, "I am not a racist, I will vote Joe Biden". Joe Biden is as racist as Trump, motherscrewers, if not worse. We outside USA know it, and American in USA know it, and that's why they will vote Biden, because in the end, they don't want things to change, they love their status quo, that status quo which has its foundation on slavery.

  4. This conversation seems to be degenerating but I think your point 1 makes a lot of sense. The way orcs (and all the other humanoids) in AD&D are presented are as a tribal people with women and children and villages who also just happen to be evil - though they tend to live in marginal areas and pretty much do the same things the PCs do. So when the player characters go in and kill them all in their homes it feels a little weird to me and has for a long time. If you want to have orc like inimical beings - what you propose in your first point makes a lot of those issues go away, or if your goblins are closer to fairy tale magical tricksters, or you go with a Harn like origin, or?

    1. Yeah, it's last month's controversy for sure; but there's always a good time to debate something as ubiquitous as orcs in our fantasy games...