Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Final Word on Slaughtering Orcs

In TSR era D&D, the default assumption is that orcs & co. are irredeemably evil, rabid monsters. In an utterly objective sense. Their very essence is evil. Within that imaginary realm, killing a young orc is dispatching a demon in larval form. Not killing a child.

In later editions, the picture has changed somewhat, with ideas of orcs being noble savages, etc., entering the picture.

I think it's just fine if someone wants a more nuanced orc in their campaigns. 

But if you do so, and you pretend, or actually think that your intellectual model about an imaginary subject is shared by everyone else and then claim you're a superior role-player to those who don't acknowledge your self-constructed imaginary parallels between slaughtering D&D orcs and real life genocide, then I'm going to laugh at you.

I'll have a twinkle in my eye, though, so try not to take it too hard.


  1. Well said,

    IMO, there should never even BE "child orcs" in a campaign. All encountered orcs are mature evil warriors. All this touch feely orc shit pisses me off!

  2. In popular literature you never see orc children so it's easy to demonize them. In Tolkien (the movies at least) they are seen being birthed fully grown, and in Warhammer (40k at least) "orks" have no sex per se, they also grow from the ground like a plant and get bigger the more they fights they get into.

  3. I think this point of view began with John Wick's "Orkworld" game.

    Now granted, a nuanced game is not for everyone. I have split up orcs in my game so I can play with morality and even the natures of evil. My regular players are my kids, sometimes I like to teach them something other than just "kill things and take their stuff", but those are my games with them. I don't pretend that this extends outside of our game room.

    I guess it is a line. Some people see a continuum starting with humanoids going on up. Some people say orcs are always evil. Other like their lines elsewhere. Me? I say orcs have free will, most choose to be evil. Demons, undead and creatures like that? To me those are the evils and they are all fair game for slaughter.

    1. I'd say that point of view started when half-orcs were allowed as PCs, and someone realized that they weren't required to make the character Evil (or Chaotic). If a half-orc can choose to be Neutral Good, for example, then maybe not all orcs are Lawful Evil any more than all Merchants are Neutral. Then there's the bits in the Caves of Chaos where orcs, goblins, and so on can be convinced to help the adventurers. From a very early time, there was some exploration of the morally grey areas involved in the game.

      I like your free-willed orcs, and I try to portray them that way, as well.

  4. I wouldn't put baby orcs in my dungeons. I assume they're all doing their little orc thing in some village somewhere. If you run into orcs in a dungeon, they're all grown up and mean you harm.

  5. Everyone knows that an Orc child that *doesn't* attack intruders is as good as dead in Orc society, anyway.


    Sometimes I like my Orcs to be Sauron-spawned irredeemable monsters.

    And sometimes I like my Orcs to be Earthdawn-style underdogs who have every bit as much right to live as Humans.

    And sometimes I'll run a game in which the PCs have been told that the world they live in is the former, when actually it's the latter.

    But yeah, it's just a game.

  6. Playing D&D in the 1980s, I never thought that Orcs were irredeemably evil beings, spawned from pure Chaos or cloned by mad wizards. That's a modern view of D&D orcs. I guess it's appealing if you don't want to think about the morality of killing intelligent beings (but then why not just dump humanoids altogether? It's not as if there aren't other monsters in D&D).

    In The Lord of the Rings (the books, not the film), orcs clearly have a shared moral code, but they are completely hypocritical about it. Individual orcs are selfish bastards, but they expect OTHER orcs to be loyal, courageous and helpful.
    In OD&D orcs are included under both the "Neutral" and "Chaotic" alignment columns. So, some orcs are Neutral, some are Chaotic.

    In AD&D orcs are Lawful-evil, not Chaotic-evil, which I take to mean they have some sort of code of honour. they are described as "bullies" and they are "cruel and hate living things in general". Their lairs contain females and young.

    In B/X D&D orcs are Chaotic in alignment. They "have bad tempers and do not like other living things". Their lairs contain females and young (as seen in B2).

    To me, all this makes orcs sound like human-like beings with horrible personalities, not like minor demons.

    My view is that orcs found in their lair are likely to be of Neutral alignment (they have to get along with one another). They still have unpleasant personalities, but they are not total psychopaths. The gangs of all-male orcs found in dungeons are more likely to be of Chaotic alignment. I do see trolls as being always extremely viscious, though, and I prefer the magical "bogbears" of Fight On! issue 3 to standard D&D bugbears.

    I'd be happy to allow Lawful characters to treat anyone who doesn't share the same mother-tongue or worship the same gods as "not one of us" and let them murder or enslave them if that's what they want. That includes elves, dwarves and other (non-Common-speaking) humans. That's in line with the real life attitudes of many pre-enlightenment human beings who would have considered themselves Lawful!

  7. Alignment causes brain damage.

    When it's included in a game, even intelligent and educated people start sprout nonsense and post lengthy posts on blogs debating moral choices that had been obvious to all, except that Alignment causes brain damage and suddenly there is a discussion.

    Brain damage, I say.

    Oh, Dave what did you bring upon us all...

  8. I think both versions, both kinds of worlds can be "the more nuanced" version, depending on how they are done. Great post. I will join you in the laughter.

  9. Alignment was the first rule I ignored in my campaigns. I also never bought into the whole "monster ecology" debate. Monsters in D&D are there to challenge the players...and die, if the dice roll true. Nothing more. Baby orcs, human crossbreeds, and all the other BS that goes with trying to fit what are essentially obstacles and resource drainers into some sort of imagined ecology are moot points as far as my games are concerned.

  10. In the Simarillion, orcs were created from elves by Melkor who tortured, maimed, twisted them into becoming his servants. While they were irredeemable, they never loved Melkor and obeyed him more from fear than respect. That makes for an interesting mindset. They hate everyone, including those they serve. I think the thing that offends me about the "noble savages" idea is not that there might be morality issues in killing orcs, but the denial of the possibility that evil can be instilled in that which was originally good, and that nothing is ever truely spoiled. In Tolkien, orcs were elves who were utterly destroyed. They were so unrecognizable as elves that they became entirely different things. Their hatred of all things is what makes them evil.

    1. The question, though, is whether orcs are creatures with free will, or if they are merely pawns of a greater power. If they have individual wills, then they can be portrayed as "noble savages" (though, as with real-world examples, they probably are not). If orcs are used as a game symbol for the racist underpinnings of fantasy fiction (and Tolkien in particular), then that's a legitimate and interesting direction of fictional exploration.

      Hey, you're the one who brought up Tolkien. That means that philosophical questions like that are going to have to be faced.

  11. Hi. Did you by any chance have a look at the Orcs of Thar Gazetteer for D&D Mystara?