Mon
Jul 30 2012 10:00am

Ecce Orcus! An Argument for Humanizing the Orc

Orcs should be one of the core races of fantasy; both fantasy gaming and fantasy fiction. Humans, elves and dwarves are all well and good—I just want to see orcs added to that list.

I’m not talking about half-orcs, though I like half-orcs too. I am talking orcs; I want them pulled out of the Monster Manual and put into the Player’s Handbook. Half-orcs are are like half-elves; neat, but they don’t diminish the need for the original non-human race. I want to mainstream orcs. They have the pedigree! Tolkien set out to fabricate a mythology and he succeeded; we now see the bits and pieces that he synthesized from a wide range of sources as the “canon” of fantasy. Going by that rubric, orcs belong shoulder to shoulder with elves and dwarves; their roots go just as deep, and I think they bring something important to the genre.

In “A Modest Proposal for More Diversity,” I called for a greater range of real world ethnicities to be portrayed in fantasy fiction. The demonization of the orc is the flip side of that. Fantasy has a long and embarrassing history of imperialism built into it. The trope of a bunch of blonde haired white people—elves, humans, dwarves—against a host of dark skinned “barbarians” is not accidental. It doesn’t come out of thin air. It is a response to colonial pressures, to Europeans in Africa and Asia and to Europeans in conflict with Native Americans. The fact is that “hack and slash” or “dungeon crawl” games involve “heroes”—usually light skinned ones—going to where other races live, killing them and taking their stuff. Sometimes this is a matter of dragon-slaying or smashing skeletons, but by and large the threat is one of what Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons call “monstrous humanoids.” They are just… people. “Demihuman,” huh? Less than human? Seriously; so much of fantasy gaming involves breaking into people’s homes, murdering them, and then looting their corpses. Does having green skin and tusks make it okay to pursue a pogrom against them?

There aren’t racial alignments. Demons and devils might have innate alignments (—though if an angel can fall and become evil, can a devil repent and become good?—) but alignments should be cultural. Drow can be evil because “drow” is a society, a Lolth-centric theocracy founded on slavery and betrayal. Orcs can be evil; they can be caught up in the armies of a dark lord or part of a group of bandits, but then, so can humans. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have evil orcs, but rather that you should have good orcs, as well. No “race” should be inherently villainous. Making orcs into monsters reflects historical attempts to dehumanize people by painting them as animals.

Don’t just make them noble savages; remember, we’re trying to get away from the post-colonial legacy. Tribal orcs aren’t innately a bad thing, but they can be problematic; clumsily co-opting marginalized civilizations is a bad thing. Let’s not put on our rose-tinted glasses here, let’s not go for insulting caricatures. Treat orcs as people, not as a fearful or fearsome caricature. We’ve seen the problems that creating a simplified “primitive” race of “mystics” can bring—look at Avatar’s “Great White Hope” problem— and that is something to be wary of. I’m not saying you can’t have animist orcs, just to keep our eyes open going into it.

I’m inclined to say that orcs shouldn’t have intelligence penalties, while I’m at it. I again have to invoke the real specter of historical racism. There have been plenty of pseudo-scientists spouting physiognomy in the guise of anthropology. Heck the word “race” is a perfect example of that legacy. People were actually taught that people of different backgrounds were categorically different, that some types of people are smarter and therefore superior to other kinds of people. That legacy shored up arguments in favor of slavery, apartheid and eugenics for, well, centuries. Making orcs innately stupid seems too much like an extension of that line of thinking.

You know that moment when you are playing a half-orc (or maybe a tiefling) and someone in the game world just reacts to your character with a host of assumptions, all of them bad? Your noble half-orc paladin rides into town on his celestial dire boar charger…only to be met by an armed city guard. Or your half-orc druid descends from the forest to purchase supplies only to be told that no orcs are allowed in the city limits. Maybe your lawful neutral half-orc fighter is sick and tired of being treated like he’s some numbskull berserker, excluded from the general’s discussion of strategy. Either way, there is just a moment where your brain clicks. “That isn’t…fair.” No, it isn’t. It is pretty terrible when people make negative assumptions about you based on your character race. “Oh, I’m not insulting you, I just always heard orcs were great barbarians; if anything it is a compliment!”

I don’t want to over-state the dawning awareness of inequality, but I do think that the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is one of the things that makes the hobby great. Obviously it is hardly a patch on real discrimination, but it can rattle your assumptions in a good way. It is a tool by which you can examine privilege. By pretending to be someone else, you get a chance to…well, see what it is like to be someone different from you. In a world where “straight white male” is the presumed default of most fiction, a game where the “human male” assumption rubs your character the wrong way can be a good tool for understanding how the bias of an supposed uniform audience or protagonist is a bad thing. Playing a half-orc lets you see how assigning someone “outsider” status on the basis of irrational prejudice is…well, a bad thing. Not that it should need to be said, but fiction can shine a light on these things, transforming it from an abstract idea into something personally meaningful.

Take a page from Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the original series, Klingons weren’t entirely dehumanized—notable episodes like “The Trouble With Tribbles” proved that they were still people—but more often they were the all-purpose Cold War faceless foe. When The Next Generation came out, though, they put a Klingon on the crew, providing a much bigger window to explore the notions of othering and the outsider. We can do it with aliens…why not do it with fantasy races?

I don’t think this is revolutionary. Shadowrun has orcs. Well, “orks.” Warhammer—especially the science-fiction version, Warhammer 40,000—has presented orcs as a playable race for decades. From the “Waaagh!” to riding boars to the squigs and nobs, you can see a pretty solid culture take shape. Warcraft of course is another big name in making orcs a playable race; the heroic orcs of The Horde are a great argument for why the orc should be considered part of the “standard fantasy toolkit.” Stan Nicholls has books and comics with orcs as three dimensional characters. Even Forgotten Realms has Obould Many-Arrows, the orc chieftan with a dream of civilization. Eberron has druidic orcs, Spelljammer has the scro—sophisticated militaristic orcs in space—so the seeds have already been planted. Embracing that evolution is only good for the genre.

Orc illustrations are copyright Wizards of the Coast and Paizo.


Mordicai Knode really likes orcs, but in his own campaign that niche is filled by Neanderthals. That is just the way it is. You can talk to him about hominids and fantasy races in the comments or on Twitter, or follow him on Tumblr.

130 comments
Charles Moore
1. Shadeofpoe
You know, I had a friend that played an Orc Cleric of Grummsh that wanted vengeance on all the Selune worshipping elvish murders that would kill orcs wantonly. That was a very fun game. We all pretty much played "villianous" characters and fought the good guy races.

But, have you read ORCS by Stan Nicholls. It's a pretty interesting take on the whole Human v Fantasy monsters. Pretty much makes the race of Orcs into a kind of pastoral Native American type.

There's also WoW's orcs. Blizzard has done a lot to humanize them a great deal. Well until they had Thrall lose to Garrosh...grumble....
Hedgehog Dan
2. Hedgehog Dan
"I don’t think this is revolutionary.Shadowrun has orcs."

And Earthdawn, too. :) Actually, in Earthdawn, they are the second most common race - dwarves are the first and humans are the third.

That said, I found the exclusion of orcs (and they always evil portrayal) outdated two decades ago (the very first RPG literature that I have ever read was Shadowrun books, where orks were the victims of racism).

When I played D&D, I actually had a character, who was a half-orc bard. And then I had another character for another rpg, who was an orc fighter.
Mordicai Knode
2. mordicai
1. Shadeofpoe

I mentioned Orcs! I've read the first book of the trilogy-- gosh those are gorgeous covers, amirite?-- & the comic prequel that First Second did with him too.

See, this is my point; there are these lavish stories & worlds, & the orcs are a huge piece of that. I think we're moving toward seeing them as part of the standard, & I think that is a great thing.
William Carter
3. wcarter
The racist and colonialist sentiments are definitely a black mark on the not-to-distant past of science fiction and high fantasy, and they need to be delt with going forward.
My question is, how do you humanize them in worlds were the "Orc" race is artifical contruct?
In Tolkein's Middle Earth and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time (where they are called trollocs but were still basically the same) they weren't a natural species but rather the twisted genetic experiment of a higher being.
Hedgehog Dan
4. IlGialloMondadori
Orcs are overused, and boring. Also, the core of your argument, that, "
In a world where “straight white male” is the presumed default of most fiction," we should use Orcs to stand in for other races, and then, demonstrate the intolerance of racism, is juvenile, as well as racist itself. Orcs receiving intelligence penalties in the original Dungeons and Dragons was done because they were monsters, NOT humans done up ugly in order for us to use them as symbols to explore racial issues. They were monsters, from an alien society born from alien thinking, which did not mesh with the human society. That's what made it interesting. Humanizing them does not make them interesting.
I strongly, strongly disagree with using orcs, or any particular make believe fantasy race, as a way to explore racism. It reeks of nerdy white male misunderstanding of the historic realities of the situation. It reminds me of a review of the Dragonlance novels, which (paraphrasing), stated that, "Tanis Half-elf suffers under tremendous racism much like African Americans, where sometimes people say they don't like him, except he's white, can live for 180 years, has low light vision, and an immunity to sleep effects." It's just stupid. There is no one-to-one here that is not completely insulting to the realities of racism, never mind the inherent racism of using something as distinctly "other" as an orc to represent the historical trials and tribulations of humans.
There was nothing wrong with orcs being frightening, alien creatures that want to eat you. They weren't human then, and they don't need to be now.
Hedgehog Dan
5. J Mccaffery
I second the Stan Nicholls suggestion-- that book is great.

The worst thing about Pathfinder -- I mean without hyperbole, the biggest misstep in the otherwise sterling stack of creative decisions at Paizo -- is doubling down on Orcs. They're inherently savage and brutalistic and dumb. They "lack the patience for farming" and without armor. It's just a weird fantasy where racism is okay because in the world of your imagination racism is true and that's a huge problem.

As a storyteller and player I'm open to suspending some disbelief-- I can accept, for example, that you might have a dungeon in which monsters wait patiently to fight adventurers without any apparent ecology and never leave the confines of their room-- but accepting that there's a roving, cultureless mob race of savages and it's OK to kill them because they're definitely going to murder some white women isn't just hard to accept; the effort to bend over backwards to accept that there are some convenient and guilt-free sword-targets out there seems somehow reprehensible.

I don't blame DMs and game writers for going in this direction (well, I mean, I do, don't give huge problems a pass just because you can understand the rationale behind their mistake). If you decide that the orcs have children and might be sad when you kill the orc next to them or that you're basically walking into the "dungeon" where these dudes live, well-- what's the difference between an orc and a gnoll? Not too much. OK, so we have to revisit all of those savage races. Well, damn, but I guess being non-humanoid doesn't make much of a difference-- if you've got a language and an intelligence, well, you're basically a person...

And now you've made 2/3rds of the Monster Manual kind of a hand-wringing, mentally troubling problem. Not a problem for me, though! I'm pretty sure that the only things your players shouldn't feel bad about killing are the undead and straight up demons and devils. It's also probably OK to interpret the Lovecraftian evils of D&D (aboleths, grell, mind flayers) this way. In fact, it's actually more problematic to do anythingbut kill the Aboleth.

I want to point out that the captcha gave me two words in a non-Latin alphabet.
Charles Moore
6. Shadeofpoe
@Mordicai

Sorry for redundancy then, must have glanced over it, not been a kind Monday morning. And yes they are incredibly gorgeous. Another fun one is Grunts, which is about a group of Orcs that find modern day weapons to fight back. Much more tounge in cheek.

@IlGialloMondadori

Yes, the orc began as a monster in D&D, but he grew. Turns out people like playing monsters. They were given a culture and ideology. My sessions have explored them in the past as much as we've explored elves and humans. Just like every dwarf doesn't have to have a scottish accent and be an alcoholic, nor does every Orc have to be evil. Life is about learning the truth behind our monsters, why cant fantasy be the same?

No, complaring Jim Crow to a half-elf in a fantasy story isn't going to be 100% fair to those who lived through it, but it also gives folks a taste of what it might have been. You see a favorite character face down hate just because his ears are pointy as being just as dumb as hating someone for being a different skin color. If it causes just one person to think twice about it doesn't it count for something?

I mean if you say make-believe can't deal with real world social justice then we have to throw out A LOT of fiction. Starting with the X-Men and working our way to Ursla Le Guin.

It's like muppets and "monsters" of Seasame Street, people don't want to be preached to, BUT if you dress everything up in green and pink felt and fake plastic hair, you stop caring about the sermon and stay for the story.
Mordicai Knode
7. mordicai
2. Hedgehog Dan

I plaed a T'skrang Swordsmaster up to Fifth Circle back in my day, & killed two whole Horrors along with the rest of my friends. Survived two TPKs, too-- one versus the horror I finally killed, the other early on, versus two Jeruthra-- so I have a fondness for Earthdawn's orcs, yeah!

3. wcarter

I mean, I think there are lots of different ways. Heck, off the top of my head, borrow some of the tropes of science fiction. Were orcs created (geneticaly or magically engineered) by a dark lord? Great! That raises questions of nature or nurture. Created by Morgoth, sure, but wouldn't a tribe of independent orcs living in defiance of his evil works be a vindication of "good" & the will of sentient creatures to resist slavery, for instance?
Mordicai Knode
8. mordicai
4. IlGialloMondadori

I'm saying that using orcs as monsters who want to eat you is just one story, & short sighted one. & I guess I'm saying that yes, no matter what you may wish was the case, the use of fantasy races as informed by real world racial issues is going to happen. It is inevitable. If you can't see how the tensions of Tanis Half-Elven's parentage reflects the real world struggles of mixed race people & of post-colonial apartheid, then I suspect you may be willfully overlooking them.

You are right that used clumsily, or used definitionally, it can become a bludgeon & an offensive characterization. I'm not arguing that people use it clumsily. Rather, I'm arguing that even if you don't set out to see colonialism & racial issues in your orcs, they are still there. The cliche of the savage subhuman is not something that just happens in a vaccuum.
Hedgehog Dan
9. Herb502
Tolkien's orcs were offhandedly mentioned as quite mechanically clever (not that Tolkien necessarily considered that a good thing). His orcs were more analogous to ze Germans than any tribal people (despite essentially being described as Mongols).

Jordan used Trollocs to do something else entirely--allow for lots of action early on while retaining the taking of human life as a Very Big Deal.
Mordicai Knode
10. mordicai
5. J Mccaffery

Right. Introducing an element of ethical complexity into the Monster Manual isn't a bad thing. Having characters have to consider whether it is moral to kill sentient beings is a good angle, a mature angle. Heck, you can still have a bunch of gnolls who ride on giant hyenas & carry the (un)holy symbol of Yeenoghu in their midst. Go head & hack & slash demonic cultists! Just don't assume that the next tribe over is-- maybe they are a bunch of druids, man, you don't know!

Also just get an account, never worry about captchas again!
Hedgehog Dan
11. Hedgehog Dan
"I strongly, strongly disagree with using orcs, or any particular make believe fantasy race, as a way to explore racism."

I disagree. Racism is fueled by preconceptions and the lack of understanding other cultures, and judging them through our world-view. Therefore it can be applied to non-human cultures as well.

Take for example Waterborn from Greg Keyes. It deals with racism most efficiently - one of the POV, Pekar is a hot-headed, narrow-minded, immature boy, who is full of white self-righteousness, and, for the first half of the book, he seriously cannot understand, what is wrong with his attitude. He is not malign, he is just ignorant.

There is a scene in the book, where he beats down Ngangata, who is a half-alva, because of a perceived insult. Ngangata does not fight back - neither receives support nor from humans, neither from alvas -, and Pekar does not understand, why. Later, after they became friends, Pekas asks him about the reasons of it.

Ngangata argues, that he could have beaten Pekar easily... however, there was a chance, that if he had done this, Pekar would have accused him using supernatural abilities during the fight, and abet others to take a revenge on him. After a little thinking, Pekar agrees, that this was exactly how he would have acted.

In other words, Pekar seriously believes during the first part of the book, that he, as a human, is predestined to win, and he cannot be defeated by 'lowly species' in a fair game - if he is defeated, then the fight was not fair.

Mind you, in Waterborn, the other POV character is Hezhi, a dark-skinned princess, so, the 'only white Europeans and non-human creatures' attitued does not apply to the novel.
Hedgehog Dan
12. Hedgehog Dan
'I plaed a T'skrang Swordsmaster up to Fifth Circle back in my day'

Hehe, those swashbuclking lizard people are cool as well! :D
Mordicai Knode
13. mordicai
9. Herb502

Yes, I like the idea of having orcs have a kind of...dieselpunk culture, mostly out of the use of explosives at Helm's Deep!

Trollocs are intesting for being...well, pretty explicitly genetic chimera. & for having the Myrdraal throw-backs. There is definitely an Actual Taint of Evil involved there.
Hedgehog Dan
14. J Mccaffery
10 Mordicai

Maybe some day. The more I say it in my head, the more I think I've stumbled across the kernel of the problem-- When your fantasy pastime is to envision a world in which racism is TRUE and OK, and then to go into that world to be impossibly wealthy, well-armed civilizers? (Is that even a word)?

That's messed up! Don't get tricked into doing that by lazy game writers!
TW Grace
15. TWGrace
Realizing that you dont have to be hidebound and dumping the silly alignment chart is one of the smartest things a gaming group can do.
Hedgehog Dan
16. IlGialloMondadori
@J Mccaffery

That is somewhat the problem, for sure. There is an imperialist slant to adventure fiction. I'm not sure the answer is Orcs Are Just Like People of Different Color, though.
Daniel JONES
17. Sindri
I think I must disagree. This is very smack of modern humanitarianism, which is all well and good. But it does not have to apply to fantasy settings. Of course, any author is free to represent his races as he sees fit. But your proposal for a sweeping generalizatin of all demi-human creatures as being seen as equal is both restrictive, and unlikely. Firstly, it makes very much sense for, at least, the races to regard one another with distrust and disgust. You mentioned a half-orc riding into town only to be met with guards. I would assume the same to happen if the roles had been reversed. Secondly, while we know evolution to be be the shaping influence of our biological condition, within fantasy settings there is usually a direct hand by one or multiple intelligent creative influences. Traditional orcs were MADE to be violent, brutal, grunts. Intelligence was not neccessary for them, aside from select breeding decisions for special units or commaders.

Third, and I think most important, is that by trying to make the only differences between the races be skin-deep, you are creating some objective standard at which humans are the core. They are not humans. I think it much better to take something akin to Lovecrafts Cosmicism, and craft races that think very differently from humans, but at the least, they will have different racial perspectives. We see this constantly with Elves being 'wiser' or more intelligent than humans. And in the fantasy setting they usually are. And it doesn't matter if we make them black elves with funky blue hair so as to de-anglocize them. What makes an Elf elvish and an Orc orkish goes deeper than the skin. They ARE NOT equal. There is no standard for that unless you want to make humans some core being from which everything else deviates, which, is ammusingly racist.

The races are DIFFERENT. And that isn't bad. It doesn't make Orcs better or worse than humans. It makes them something else. You know, Orcy.
Mordicai Knode
18. mordicai
16. IlGialloMondadori

Well, I mean, that is why I encourage people in the post above not to create a stereotype of some sort of "noble savage" or to give into lazy worldbuilding. Again, nobody is arguing that things should be done poorly or clumsily. It isn't "Orcs Are Just Like People of Different Color" just "Orcs Are People," the same way elves are people.
Katy Maziarz
19. ArtfulMagpie
Those who find this an interesting topic may well want to read Terry Pratchett's Discworld books if they haven't, specifically the sub-series relating to Commander Vimes and the Watch. Vimes starts out like any human in Ankh-Morpork, with prejudices against dwarves, trolls, vampires, and other non-humans. But by the most recent book in the Vimes series (Snuff), he may not understand their culture, but he knows that they're people who deserve justice and he's got them all working for the Watch. And yes, there's even a book about Orcs and the prejudices about and rehabilitation thereof...Unseen Academicals. Very well done, I thought.
Hedgehog Dan
20. IlGialloMondadori
I think I have to agree with Sindri, in that I find it more interesting to view the distinctly NOT human races as NOT human. It's bland, in my opinion, to just make them humans. Elves, Orcs, Trolls, Gnolls, etc, etc, etc. started out as magical races, beings to be feared and to evoke wonder. It's a latter day gaming trope that they're not so different at all, and in fact are just human, they just have magic powers that make them better (stronger, smarter, longer life, etc.). To each there own, I suppose, and I'm not arguing for them to be cannon fodder (as the orcs in Tolkien mostly are), but rather there are fundamental differences that aren't as simple as, "I need to get my reagents from town and they told me to leave because I'm ugly."
Sam Brougher
21. Azuaron
"Orcs should be one of the core races of fantasy; both fantasy gaming and
fantasy fiction. Humans, elves and dwarves are all well and good—I just
want to see orcs added to that list."

Am I the only one who sees how inherently ridiculous that statement is? That we have a set of "core races of fantasy", and that we should be expanding that list? This is fantasy. We can do anything, see anything, have anything represented.

We should abolish that list. We should demand authors make up their own races (and actually make them up, not just repurpose an elf and call it a tish'nvar or something). We should treat any setting with "standard" fantasy races as inherently absurd and unoriginal until proven otherwise.

Authors: Make. Your. Own. Races.
Mordicai Knode
22. mordicai
17. Sindri

I'm not saying you can't have racism in your game, I'm saying lets not have a racist game. Elves irrationally hating dwarves & dwarves irrationally hating elves is a part of the fantasy trope pile, too, but there is a difference between something in the story & something having authorial intent.

But then, I'm definitely a modern humanist.

You mention elves, & then mention this is a reason why my argument for humanizing orcs is wrong...but I'm confused, since I'm arguing exactly that orcs should be treated as elves are treated.

If you want to say "orcs are carnivores & thus they do not have crops, leading to conflict with agricultural humans who attempt to farm the orcs hunting grounds" you've just made an infinitely better story than "ugly orcs are bad, noble humans must kill them!"

If you want to say "orcs exhibit extremely low rates of sexual dismorphism, with females being the same size as males & both using prominant tusks for mating displays, thus orc bands tend to have highly egalitarian attitudes & be befuddled by human divisions between the sexes" you've gone & told an interesting story, too.

Those are all things you can do, but they aren't things you can do when you say "orcs are evil subhuman monsters."
Hedgehog Dan
23. J Mccaffery
17. Sindri

Right, but-- Elves and dwarves and humans and gnomes and halflings all get to be good or bad. Even if the intelligent actors who made them are good and good-intentioned! And saying that evil creatures EXIST is not beyond fantasy! I recall that the Buffyverse very smartly interacts with the notion that vampires are no-bones-about-it soulless and always bad.

Remember, a large part of the problem is that the depiction of savage races, especially orcs, synchs up SO CLOSELY to actual racism. They're every Westerner's stereotype of The Savage Other. Maybe if they were, like, Romulans or something weirder.

Also when invoking Lovecraft recall that Lovecraft is the biggest racist.
TW Grace
24. TWGrace
It isn't "Orcs Are Just Like People of Different Color" just "Orcs Are People," the same way elves are people.
Would you say the same for Illithid?
Hedgehog Dan
25. IlGialloMondadori
@Azuaron
Excellent point. Biting Tolkien for decades upon decades hasn't been enough? Inject some excitement and wonder back into fantasy, instead of making it some kind of insanely boring, been-there social simulator to make white people feel better about themselves.
China Mieville has done some interesting things in this regard with his Bas Lag.
If Orcs are such a symbol for imperialist fantasy, then lets jettison them all together and do something new.
Hedgehog Dan
26. J Mccaffery
24. TWGrace

There's a universe of difference between Ancient Spacefaring Braineaters From Before Time and "green, tusked guys who live over there and have an ongoing territory conflict with the humans who live over there." Like, do they have a language? Do they... do they have children? If one of them produces offspring with a human, IS THAT OFFSPRING IN THE CORE RULEBOOK, same as the half-elves?

It becomes increasingly difficult to argue that they have "murder & pillage always, no remorse" hard-coded into their nature and, like I said, increasingly problematic to engineer your imagination to believe that. It's facile at best and actually repugnant at worst.
Daniel JONES
27. Sindri
But, the only standard for good or evil will be that made by from a human mind. If you want to tell the story from an Orcish or Elvish angle, then you reinvent the standard. Rape is bad because we say it is. To Orcs, it could be fine and dandy. That will still be evil from any normal human perspective, because of our created or evolved or culturally crafted moral attitude. Unless they have the same brain, just set into a different biological husk, different races are going to think and act in different ways, more likely than not anyway. I'm not saying they should be inherently evil compared to some objective standard, I'm saying each should have their own standards which seem objective to each race. And I recall Lovecraft being racist. But, I don't think it really matters? So... what? We don't like people who are different. What we adapt to consider different changes. It used to be skin color. For Lovecraft's stories, it was writhing, slithering entities who we fundamentally could not understand. They were not good, nor evil. They merely existed in their own state, completely alien and independant of us. I don't know if Orcs and Elves and Humans should be quite that different, I won't say. That is a detail for each author. But racism is very important, I would say perhaps fundamental to a diverse world. I'm just not saying that the objective rests on the Human race. Elves and Orcs, in some vague fundamental sense, should be quite different. One has evolved/was created/whatever in an ingelligent fashion. The other to be brutish. Neither is lesser than the other but by some imposed Human standard which is only invoked by virtue of standard human narritive. It doesn't matter if you swap their qualities, making Elves thugs and Orcs to be scholarly gents as long as the reader is viewing the world through their own human moral code and the narrator is telling the story through a similar code. As long as you invoke humanism to describe what isn't human, you force the extremely different races to become either closer or further from an imaginary ideal.
Mordicai Knode
28. mordicai
21. Azuaron

Well-- this is a seperate but related issue. I don't think I agree with you! I think that having your own races can certainly be cool, & I'm not knocking that. I also think that using pre-existing ideas in new ways can be cool, tool.

Having a shared mythology-- elves, dwarves, wizards, dragons-- gives us all a context in which we can jump in feet first, which can be especially important in something like a roleplaying game. "The elves are in the great forest to the north" is a sentence that communicates a lot of useful information, while "The heeev-kabba live in the forest to the north" tells me very little, besides that there is something to the north. Both can be put to good use.

Besides, even then, "orc" becomes a stand-in, frequently. The same way that I can go "the Na'vi in Avatar are just space elves" I can go & say "the Klingons are just space orcs." Shorthand. I'm not saying "every story is obligated to have orcs," I'm saying "when you have orcs, they should be people."
Hedgehog Dan
29. IlGialloMondadori
@TWGrace - Illithids are interesting, although I do not know how much humanising any of the fiction has done for them. They're a distinctly alien, and frightening race of creatures, that are clearly intelligent and have their own culture.
Now, I may be off base, because, as I said, I'm not sure what D&D fiction has done to them in the past few decades, but on the surface, they're much cooler than orcs, mostly because of their alienness.

I think the inherent stupidity of the argument going on here is that people are positing arguments about the nature of how they want to represent fantasy creatures. What is the essential orc? It's clearly up to the person who is designing the fiction. The orc being argued for here is one particular brand, one championed by Blizzard in particular, but it need not be the only variety. Arguing that your particular idea of fantasy should be the only one is a narrow view.
If you want to escape the racism of the orc as a figure of savage races, then don't use them in your game, or don't just make them stand-in for earth races.
Hedgehog Dan
30. Kingtycoon
Oh I'm glad you came to this. I thought your previous modest proposal was... too modest, and I think this cuts a bit deeper. Thanks.

I have a few points:

1st - In Tolkien I believe that Orcs are specifically Cursed. That's unambiguously stated right? They've been cursed to be crummy right? That, I feel, is acceptable in a fantasy setting. It's more Mark of Caine than Sons of Ham so to speak. Meaning a person in the setting can have an objective understanding that Orcs are objectively crummy - because they're under this curse, it's not a matter of debate - there is a magic curse on them. I say this is acceptable and makes for an amusing, interesting playable character type.

2nd - If we accept, and I think we aught to, that the idea of the noble savage is a fantastic fiction, then maybe it's acceptable to include that in our fantasy fiction. Without making broader claims of symmetry to actual history, we can have noble savages, heck, if the idea weren't appealing it wouldn't have appeared as a fictitious trope. Which doesn't mean that this problem in 'real-world' history isn't a problem, but we don't need to run our games as analogues of the 'real-world'.

3rd - I think about this a lot. Orcs are mistreated and presented as analogues of the racial-bad-guys in 'real-world' historical contexts. They've got all the bad and none of the good, they're baby-eating barbarians and there is a... there's a strong undercurrent of discomfort that's associated with having them included as a lesser race or classed as monstrous humanoids. Monstrous Humanoids is maybe - maybe - a morphic description, but more likely it is a bad thought about the racist other in human cultures.

Finally - I want to speak in favor of some of the statistical modifications of the different races, Orcs included in the game. To my mind - these are storytelling challenges, things that need addressing on a world-building scale. Physiological differences are easier to explain - Strength, Constitution etc... They're just bigger or stronger or have extra redundant organs - Done. But explaining the intellectual stats being modified - to me this demands more storytelling and that I like. My Orcs, if you recall were stunted intellectually by their total immersion into their ancestral recall - they couldn't develop or learn new tricks because their intellectual capacity was devoted to old tricks exclusively. They had physiological blocks against eating plants and so they were bloodthirsty etc... The stat mods are often used as a simplistic note about deviation from the norm, but they can be, and I say should be, used as a method for fully and thoroughly distinguishing between these races physiologically - not just culturally. Culture flows from physiology.
Mordicai Knode
31. mordicai
24. TWGrace
&
29. IlGialloMondadori

I'm jumping all over this thread, so I hope this makes sense! I would personally put mindflayers in the same category as demons & devils. That is-- not intelligent humanoids. If evil is a real & actual force in your game-- hence devils & demons-- then that is your story, that affords you certain tropes while shutting other doors. Similarly, ilithids are aberrations, are extraplanar Lovecraftian forces. They are no more "people" than Cthulhu is a person; they may use their tadpoles on human victims to assume a humanoid form but that just makes them like the xenomorphs from Alien.

That said, could you make them just aliens & not Lovecraftian elder things? Sure, you could tell that story!
Jack Flynn
32. JackofMidworld
I'm a strong user of story and character arcs when I run my games but always used orcs as more of a sub-human, rather than a "demi-human" race. In a fantasy game, there are times when you need an enemy that is ALWAYS an enemy. Yes, there should be the occasional good orc (and I'm all about a Risen Devil to balance out that Fallen Angel), but, from a game-mechanics standpoint, if you start throwing devils and demons at 1st level characters, it sorta makes it a totally different game. To me, orcs were more like pig-faced neanderthals, parasites, rather than a personalization of some type of human subset; they barely had a civilization and existed solely to prey on the races that WERE civilized.

Just my two coppers...
Justin Unrau
33. jjackunrau
Greg Stolze has a great RPG supplement called Ardwin in which there are no humans, just interbreeding classic fantasy races. He's got some interesting ideas how the races work culturally and biologically. Ardwin Orcs are pure carnivores and their aesthetics disdain decoration, preferring natural beauty. It's very cool stuff. Supplement 14 on this page http://www.gregstolze.com/reign/supplements.html
Hedgehog Dan
34. J Mccaffery
27. Sindri

I mean-- Yes, but if you want to imagine a culture with different physical traits and different values, that's one thing; don't use, note-for-note, the early 20th century caricature of the Primitive Non-White to describe that? Especially when the purpose, their place in the plot, is to be OK to murder for XP.

"All people are different and have their own values and cultures-- we can't apply a strictly human perspective to all things. For example, OUR culture is to value law and the sanctity of life, and YOUR culture is to be murderable."

That's the problem.
Hedgehog Dan
35. Kingtycoon
@ Jackofmidworld You know - some of this comes from two very different types of storytelling and gaming. I've played, quite happily in games where monster-execution was an essential component. In the games I've personally run though the focus is usually on Villians. All the bad guys are NPCs, all of them have class levels etc... They're villians, not monsters.

Monsters v. Villians is maybe a part of what M is talking about here.
Hedgehog Dan
36. Herb503
Fantastic racism is fraught with unfortunate consequences where the differences among races are more than skin deep. But then this can be used to make the more profound point, I think all too often forgotten in our post-modern thinking, that individuals should be treated as individuals irrespective of racial differences. All that crap one side shouts is real and the other shouts is completely fabricated is irrelevant.

I think there is also a tendency to apply thinking that is both entirely modern and entirely nonsensical to fantasy races, i.e., the idea that race really matters and is a primary method for divvying people up. I'd like to see the differences between humans-dwarves-orcs-whoever treated as much more muted and unacknowledged.

30. IIRC, there is no evidence from the books that orcs can be redeemed, but Tolkien at some point said they could, because to say otherwise wouldn't be reconcilable with his Catholic beliefs.
Hedgehog Dan
37. John R. Ellis
I'm definitely of the "make your own races" camp. Don't like the notion of an innately evil race? I'm with you! Just don't use them in the first place.

I've read far too many horrendeous fanasy novels that tied themselves into knots trying to justify the vile, evil, wicked things "Orc Classic" races do, by saying "Well, yeah, but they're still good on the inside".

Now, in humans, someone who talks a lot about how good they are while doing bad, wicked actions is considered a hypocrite. And that's the polite term.

So, yes, just dispense with the old races altogether. Make your own. Then you won't have to make bizarre justifications for the old mold.

("Sure they rape and kill, but, like, they're nice to their families. And stuff.")
Daniel JONES
38. Sindri
Why not? That was a time that existed. A time when culture and civilization flourished. We like to write our fantasy worlds often in some medieval time. Why should we be forced to have an archaic society with modern, politically correct, wide spread humanitarian ideals? If it makes you feel better, write your dominant race to be purple people who have civilized the white barbarians. It doesn't really matter. From the only record we have, our own history, humanitarism develops on the back of genocide and mass suffering. Rather than just bluntly trying to impose some sense of equality across your world, how about you have your own budding version of Des Las Casas and his Destruction of the Indies.
Hedgehog Dan
39. J Mccaffery
37. John R. Ellis

This is only really a response to your last line since the core of your argument isn't a thing I have a problem with, but-- compare the trope of vikings with the trope of orcs. They do basically the same thing. But think about how often the traits of the former are idealized; think about how many players have described their characters as viking analogues. More importantly: Does anyone ever imply through storytelling that vikings don't... love their kids; fashion distinctive patterns and designs into their houses, weapons, clothing, boats, etc; feel grief, etcetera

38. Sindri

It's not so much that storytellers who want to create archaic worlds with archaic mindsets should be scolded, or even that one's story should be in some way humanitarian. The thing we are condemning is that the Orc exists BECAUSE of humanitarian thinking -- because we apply a modern mindset to our fantasy game. Orcs exist because we, having a modern mindset, know that it's not OK to kill people, and even when it's a situation we consider "OK" -- self-defense, say -- it's still traumatic and difficult. So we fabricate a fantasy strawman out of every menacing brute that racists have spun together in the last 200 years and use them instead. Because it's EASIER. Because it's more fun. Doesn't that sound super awful?
Mordicai Knode
40. mordicai
30. Kingtycoon

1. The Children of Ham versus the Mark of Cain is a nice biblical shortcut to what exactly we're talking about. If you want to put a Supernatural Evil Stain-- which is related-- that is something as well, but still secondary to making them people, since that just creates-- ta da!-- conflict, & conflict, as I understand it, is sort of good for narratives.

2. & 3. I think point three undercuts point two, which is to say, yes, it is extremely coincidental that orc traits overlap with racist stereotypes from history. How about that! I'd just say that the Noble Savage is an extension of that, but then, hey, maybe it can be redeemed.

4. Your final point is one, I think, that is better addressed through racial perks-- Race Memory!-- than through racial disadvantage to intelligence. Again, because of good old fashioned historical context. That said, could you make a less intelligent orc that was still humanized? Sure, it is...just harder, since you are suddenly swept into the current of racism that lies below the surface, & you'll have to struggle against it. Your "Noble Savage" could balance it out with a Wisdom bonus; I'm just saying you close a lot of doors in doing so.
Mordicai Knode
41. mordicai
36. Herb503

I recall hearing that anecdote about Tolkien's orcs as well, though I can't for the life of me remember where. Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

37. John R. Ellis

Yes but well...humans rape & kill, & outside of philosophy & theology, nobody is arguing that they are innately evil.

38. Sindri

Because the game & the story-- the physical thing you are holding in your hand & the abstract thing you are putting into your brain-- exist in the modern world. No one is saying you can't have a fantasy universe without racism. What I am saying is that you shouldn't have a fantasy game or novel that is racist. Fantasy versus reality. Story versus real life.
Daniel JONES
42. Sindri
39. J Mccaffery

I don't think it is horrible at all. Lazy, I can grant depending on the situation and context. While Tolkien Orcs certainly have their place, , I value at least origional uses or takes on classical races. I don't think Orcs have to be simplistic, or even traditional. But there is nothing wrong with have a race that we, purely because of racial reasons, clash with. It happens frequently in nature here in our world. Sometimes two species just cannot coexist. I suppose we could have the race vs species argument, and talk about the ability of interbreeding between orcs and humans, but I don't think that really matters. Black peopld and white people can breed, but they are still people. Orcs are Orcs. They have an inantely different essence than humans, by the traditionalist sense. Why is it bad for them to embody what humans view to be repugnant, in their essence. Their skin color being dark isn't really that important.
Sam Brougher
43. Azuaron
Regarding Lovecraft and his racism, that's a more complex subject than "Lovecraft was a racist." Remember, while being strongly antisemitic, he married a Jew.

It's important to note that Lovecraft was mostly a cultural racist, not a biological racist; that is, he believed the English culture to be superior to other cultures, and was not usually against those who had "assimilated" into the English culture, regardless of their ethnicity. Whether this is "better" or "worse" than biological racism, I leave up to you.

But, if you want to see exactly what Lovecraft thought of people from those "inferior" cultures, look no further than Shadow of Innsmouth. Lovecraft's racism did not manifest in his tentacled horrors (those came from his night terrors), but in the people who served them.

@mordicai I think it goes without saying that any race should be a well-developed race, be they humans, orcs, elves, skurrl, or bi'fris, unless the author is making a specific point about it (the darkspawn in Dragon Age come to mind; they're more of a humanoid natural disaster than a "race", although, even for them the origins and motivations are quite well developed).

And authors certainly can do interesting things with the "standard" races (which is why I had the caveat "until proven otherwise"), just like authors can do interesting things with humans (despite stories about humans being done to death ;-) ), and for RPG settings, it's often useful to have shortcuts when explaining to new players so it doesn't take hours and hours.

But for books, movies, tv shows, short stories, etc.? It's usually a crutch that a lazy author uses to avoid having to think. In fact, at this point the "standard" races (including orcs) have basically been done to death, even from the subverted angles, so it's nearly impossible to say "I'm doing something new with ____" because it's almost certainly already been done, or, at least, something very similar. Intelligent orc? Done. Blue-collar orc? Done. Gnome barbarian? Done. Illithid paladin? Done (really, Google it; there's a surprisingly large number of results).

On the other hand, if we continue to allow authors to use "standard" races, I can rapidly identify the lazy authors and avoid their books. So, now that I think about it, I could go either way.
Mordicai Knode
44. mordicai
43. Azuaron

"Lovecraft wasn't racist, just a specific kind of racist" doesn't go very far for me! That said, I think it does bear looking at it in context-- you'll note it all came to a head when he was unemployed in Red Hook-- & that it doesn't damn his body of work. Houellebecq's HP Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life is worth reading on the subject.

Anyhow, right; I'm not really arguing with your points, though I think that being over the "it's been done!" hump is actually in favor of the "standard fantasy kit." I get so bored of stories where the author thinks they are "exploding the genre" because they...tend not to be. Just tell the story already! But then, I also like comic books, where the same thing holds true-- give up on trying to break the genre & just use the genre to tell your story!
Sam Brougher
45. Azuaron
32 @JackofMidworld All non-African humans are descended from African humans who interbred with neanderthals. Something to think about.
TW Grace
46. TWGrace
J Mccaffery-
There's a universe of difference between Ancient Spacefaring Braineaters From Before Time and "green, tusked guys who live over there and have an ongoing territory conflict with the humans who live over there."
...
It becomes increasingly difficult to argue that they have "murder & pillage always, no remorse" hard-coded into their nature and, like I said, increasingly problematic to engineer your imagination to believe that. It's facile at best and actually repugnant at worst.
Why?

I ask, because the idea behind this conversation seems to be that orcs should be little more than green-skinned humans.

Why cant the illithid be treated as little more than gray-skinned humans with a penchant for brain sashimi?

If Illithid cant be "humanized" (because they are some unimaginable horror from beyond) then why should orcs? Shouldnt the orcs have their own culture, mores, and heritage? Maybe that culture is something that humans find repugnant. Maybe orcs find human culture to be repugnant.
mordicai-
I would personally put mindflayers in the same category as demons & devils. That is-- not intelligent humanoids.
I put them in the same catagory as dragons, trolls, elves, dwarves, orcs...

Intelligent Non-humans.

IE beings that have their own viewpoint, morality, and agenda. Viewpoints, moralities, and agendas that more than likely are not the same as, and potentially are in conflict with, humanity's.

Can the individual disregard the race's moral/cultural imperatives, sure, and it can some of the best roleplaying imaginable, but there should be costs paid in doing so.

On a seperate note, this conversation reminds me of an old-old dragon magazine article about whether killing baby orcs (or something along those lines) violates "lawful good" paladinhood...
Sam Brougher
47. Azuaron
44 @mordicai Oh, Lovecraft was totally racist. But he was racist in a more complex way than, "____ people are {whatever}," which makes him more interesting than your standard racist (if not more admirable).

But the genre isn't "elves, dwarves, orcs, and humans in a magical medieval world". It's fantasy. Neil Gaiman is great fantasy author specifically because he makes up fantastic things (he's even on record saying he doesn't like writing sequels because it bores him to retread old ideas).

The problem with authors who think they are "exploding the genre" isn't so much that they're doing new things as they write poorly and think too much of themselves. I can say the same thing about people who will "make you think about elves in a whole new way". But at least people who are trying new things are trying new things.
Mordicai Knode
48. mordicai
46. TWGrace

No, the point isn't to make them green-skinned humans. The point of the post is to admit that orcs represent an intersection of real world racism & colonialism with the fantasy genre, & to seek to remedy that by treating them with the same paradigm one brings to elves or dwarves. Are dwarves just humans with beards & elves just humans with pointed ears? Maybe in some lazy schema, but not in the one I'm proposing.

As to ilithids, I see your argument-- I just think that if you aren't using ilithids as cosmic horror you might be missing the point of them. I don't think they are just "non-human" but non-life. As undead are non-life, I think abberations are (again, this guy!) Lovecraftian horrors unknowable by any of the sentient races of fantasy. They are facehuggers & cthulhus, not Ood...though if in your campaign you want them to be aliens, then so be it, that is okay by me.

& yes, the question of "does killing a baby orc violate lawful good" is exactly the question, though I would have been worried of being accused of reducto absurdum if I had narrowed it down that way. I say-- orcs are people, & killing babies is bad. That is right. I'm going to take the controversial humanist liberal leftist pinko ethical position that murdering children is bad.
Sam Brougher
49. Azuaron
48 @mordicai Ah, but is killing baby illithids bad?
Daniel JONES
50. Sindri
48. mordicai

I see where you are coming from, and it may well have plenty of validity to it. But I don't think anyone sees Orcs as a replacement for Natives or Africans. Well, perhaps I shouldn't say anyone, but I never made the connection. I think that a modern reader who views Orcs doesn't look at it like that. I don't see the white man supressing darkskinned folk. Whatever Tolkien's motivation may have been, the Orc have become more than that. They have indeed taken on a life of their own, but I don't think it does the race justice to try to humanize it. We may as well try to Orcize humans! Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, they are their own races with their own unique possibilities for creation, advancement, culture, mythos, etc etc. I personally feel that we should be exploring that, exploring the idea of how life took a different route, about how something that isn't human exists. That is far more interesting to me than making the Orc more relatable to the human condition. Whatever Tolkien may have had in mind, the Orc isn't violent and savage because it is darkskinned, or darkskinned because it is violent and savage. It doesn't have to be either of those things, because it is more than just a sum of its parts. It is an idea, I think at its core, that represents a more bestial, tribal, savage route of life that humanity did not take. That should be explored. But if in that exploration, we find that the end result clashes with our modern humanistic perspective, that it offends us, we should be thankful to have crafted something that MOVES us, that makes us feel.
Hedgehog Dan
51. J Mccaffery
42. Sindri

"Black peopld and white people can breed, but they are still people. Orcs are Orcs." -- Orcs and humans can breed, and the product is definitely people. Remember that the problem isn't the notion that you might, in a work of fiction, present two groups of people who are different in tangible ways (culturally, physcially, etcetera) and that because of those differences and scarcity they might have a conflict. It's that it's facile and simplistic to make one group, the perspective group, fully realized and capable of great diversity in outlook and moral code... and then to make the other group punching bags. It's lazy. And it's racist to then use the Savage Archetype for that group. Part one is bad storytelling. Part two is repugnant. You don't always get part one without part two, but in this case you sure as hell do.

46. TWGrace

I know it's a bad rhetorical tactic to repeat oneself, and I don't mean to do so, but I can't reiterate enough that the problem here is that orcs ARE just green-skinned people in D&D / Pathfinder / Most Of Modern Fantasy. They've got two arms, two legs, talk with their mouths, eat food to survive, try to stay out of the cold, produce living babies. They are already people, except they are people who are OK to kill, because if we didn't make sure to establish them as OK to kill you might feel bad about going into their camp and taking all their stuff. Refer back to vikings-- take an adventure in which the heroes bust into a village, kill everybody, and take their stuff. Now imagine that the bad guys are named Olaf, Leif, and Sigurd, Sif, etcetera. Suddenly your adventure stopped being Lord of the Rings and started being Game of Thrones. Those guys had viewpoint chapters, man! Dear God!

They're people. Except instead of giving them idealized racial and cultural traits (pointy ears, long blond hair, love of song and nature, mighty dwarf beards, bawdy love of beer and comaraderie, etcetera) we've given them the traits real-world racists associate with the targets of their racism. And not even some of those traits! Straight up all of those traits.

And we've done this... in order to make killing them guilt-free. And that sucks. Can we at least agree on that?
Sky Thibedeau
52. SkylarkThibedeau
@43 Cultural bias would be a better term. All of us are guilty of a Cultural Bias one way or another. We naturally think that right thinking people like us are superior to those people who thinks things or do things differently than the way 'they should'.

Even this article itself is guilty of Cultural bias. My Mores are inherantly superior to that Troglodyte fellow Tolkien and his Inklings.

Find people of like mind and have fun.
Daniel JONES
53. Sindri
51. J Mccaffery

I agree with you on the point that most characters should feel something when killing. But if someone wants to craft a race that is barely sentient, slow witted , clumbering, and violent, they should not be disuaded from doing so because 'well that is what Europeans thought about Africans and Natives. It's just racist.' I love inner conflict in my stories, when a character kills and then has a few pages of inner dialogue trying to cope with that. But it isn't impossible that a comparitivly stupid and clumsy, humanoid looking race came into being. That doesn't mean I'm trying to map that onto real life, to say that any one ethnicity is such a way. What if the Orc isn't just a humanoid that looks like a monster, but a monster that looks like a humanoid? Sometimes it can be as simple as that, and it musn't always be a sign of lazy writing. Modern day political correctness should not be forced to bleed over into a writer's creation. The writer has complete control over his world, and if he wants to try to craft a masterful story in a world where he has created seperate races that exist on some sort of superiority ladder, I will at least give that writer the chance. Fantasy being sepperate from reality, I can read a story where Orcs really are nothing more than thuggish brutes and then walk down the street and not feel a crossover into my own life.
Hedgehog Dan
54. Kingtycoon
I see 2 distinct moods in the comments to this thread. On the one hand there are DMs and players who are looking at Orcs as a crossroads between the chump-monster - the low HD baddies that PCs slaughter by the hundreds and the Named NPC monster. Orcs really are something of a confluence of these themes- because they're low HD monsters that PCs slaughter in their hundreds, but also because they're plausible, almost have a real story and are potentially equivalent to the more conventional playable races.

Arguments toward using only handmade races is ... well we all champion our own worldbuilding, but no matter what you make you owe some debt to TSR et. al. if you take my meaning, whatever we make we're informed by the history of the hobby, denouncing the standard set up is just dishonest. And besides that, doesn't really break down any of the positions relating to my first point. Are Orcs interesting enough to be People or uninteresting enough to just be HP bags that offer XP like pinatas?

Otherwise we're talking about the naisance of the Orc as an idea and how it's clothed in racism and the ideologies of the 19th century. The fantastic elements of the game being essentially victorian, altogether bound up with the revival of the gothic in that era. The hobby owes a lot to that period and we should, I suppose, consider what we've inherited from Eddison and Lovecraft and everyone else and weigh it for value before committing it to our own handmade realities.

For my part I think that questioning the cultural and memetic origins of the Orc as a player race. To me- the Drow were a popular choice in the 90's when their evil subtext was all about excess and perversion and amorality. The Orcs are what? Bestial, aggressive? Atavistic? I only think of it as one of the mirrors held up to our own society -that these choices are compelling.
Mordicai Knode
55. mordicai
49. Azuaron

Ah, but there are no baby mindflayers! There are only facehugger-like tadpoles that parasitize a host, devouring them from the inside out. Which I don't say to side-step your argument, but rather to highlight mine: they aren't just Not People, but Not Life, Not Right. They Should Not Be.
Mordicai Knode
56. mordicai
50. & 53 Sindri

I guess what I am saying is that even if you aren't aware of the legacy of race in informing how fantasy it still matters. Whether or not you cringe when you see an offensive Fu Manchu character or whether you don't see the Orientalist
caricature there is sort of beside the point, because it is there.

I would say that fantasy literature has made orcs less, not more. Stripping them down to subhuman savages is not something that really adds detail or complexity to your story. It only adds something dehumanized. & if you want them to be "monsters in the shape of humans" then you better go the rest of the way, because having them as tribal humanoids who can interbreed with people & have sentient "people" offspring sort of spoils that angle. They are too much like people to say they aren't people, as it stands.

52. SkylarkThibedeau

I like to think that this is something we could all argue about with the Inklings. Tolkien would say "bah! Orcs are orcs!" & I'd say "well they clearly represent industrialized society!" & he'd say "I abhor metaphor so they definitely aren't! But they do stand for a sort of end to the beloved pastoral England I love at the hands of industry!" & I'd say "I just said that!" & Clive Staples would be like "actually I address just this issue with the Narnians who served the White Queen," & I'd be like "woah, good point, but I think your Space Trilogy is better" & he'd be like "ah, lets discuss the nature of orcs & Original Sin!" & then I'd say "exactly!" & then Tolkien would groan.
Hedgehog Dan
57. S.M. Stirling
"going to where other races live, killing them and taking their stuff."

-- ah... this is a description of most of human history. Fill in "groups" or "tribes" or "imagined communities" for the inaccurate "race".

Who gets which end of the stick isn't a matter of morality, simply of opportunity. Who's quick, clever and lucky vs. who's slow or unlucky. And it is better to give than to receive.
Mordicai Knode
58. mordicai
57. S.M. Stirling

Yes, & I think it is important-- from a historical perspective-- to keep in mind that while a given group of conquerers were killed, raping, stealing & slaving, they were doing these things to actual people. You may say it is better to give than receive; I might say it is better if nobody is giving or receiving. I never really get the casual "well, history is a litany of terrible things" attitude; yeah, it is, & that is terrible. I don't think it is out of bounds to want your fiction to reflect that reality, rather than allow people to relish murdering & looting against subhumans...especially given the fact that most historical murdering & looting (& raping & slaving) were justified by appealing to the notion that the victims were subhuman.
Jack Flynn
59. JackofMidworld
45. Azuaron A) We're not talking about real-life creatures descended from another species, we're talking about a fantastical creation that was specifically created by an author as a foe for players to kill for XP in a game. B) I read an article pretty recently that says that homo sapiens are a totally species that essentially wiped out the neanderthals, not an evolutionary descendant or mutant branch (which, sadly, pretty much validates that humans have always killed everything that we meet).
Hedgehog Dan
60. S.M. Stirling
56 Mordechai: "an offensive Fu Manchu character"

BTW, exactly what's offensive about Fu Manchu as Sax Rohmer originally wrote him?

He's a brave, intelligent, determined, superbly educated Chinese (well, Manchu/Chinese) nationalist and scientific genius who wants to get back at the Westerners who've screwed over China and used it as a combination door matt/piggy bank.

Plus he has degrees from four European universities and understands Westerners (including the rather thick, dim Nayland Smith, whose idea of "subtle" is to say "look at the birdie" before he punches you) far better than they understand him.

The British heroes are quite understandably frightened of him.

He's a resistance fighter from a Chinese perspective, in other words. A ruthless one, of course, but so what? War ain't beanbag, or even Chicago politics.

Nayland Smith and the others fight him because they're on the Other Side. He's a Chinese nationalist who thinks Europeans are predatory barbarians, and they're patriotic supporters of the British Empire and its civilizing mission.

And of course the story is told from their viewpoint because Rohmer is, ummm... British!

Everybody does this.

I saw a truly hilarious Indonesian martial-arts historical movie recently, in which the Bad Guys, who were supposed to be Dutch, were all played by Indonesians in blond wigs, mugging for the camera and rolling their eyes as they plotted cackling villainy against the stalwart Javanese hero.

(Except for the evil Dutch official's beautiful daughter, who of course couldn't resist the hero's manly charm.)

It didn't bother me in the slightest; why should it? People are generally on their own side; it would be extremely odd if they weren't.
Mordicai Knode
61. mordicai
59. JackofMidworld

That Neanderthal information is pretty old; new stuff is always coming out. I'm actually reading a book about it right now; anthropology was my undergrad, so I've got a softspot for it. Humans being descended from Neanderthals was never really part of the debate; the question is more one of hybridization. Currently, it looks like people of African descent don't have any Neanderthal genes, but that people of European & Asian descent have 1-4% Neanderthal genes...& no Neanderthals we've looked at seem to have any sapiens genes.

& yeah, they are fantastical creations...which is what makes human beings responsible for their portrayal. They are fictional, & they also have a long shadow of the real world's racism cast over them, because things in the real world influence what people in the real world create with fiction.
Jack Flynn
62. JackofMidworld
61. mordicai - I only started looking into human evolution deeply pretty recently when I was researching some stuff for a story, so I was a little surprised when I saw that; I didn't realize there actually was species crossbreeding, especially to the extent that it makes up 1-4% of the genetic structure. That's kind of amazing, so thanx for putting that out there.

When I've played in a game where elves or dwarves were being treated as second-class citizens (happened in a 1st ed D&D game I played in recently, set in Glantri), I took umbrage in-game and tried to work against it, but I always considered orcs to be just another type of monster, smarter than a gelatinous cube and easier to kill than a dragon. Guess maybe I do have something to think about.
Mordicai Knode
63. mordicai
62. JackofMidworld

The data goes back & forth-- the last thing was mitochondria & the word on the street was no interbreeding, so take it with a grain of salt...like any scientific research there are a lot of theories constantly being scrapped in response to new figures. The book I'm reading now is Think Like a Neandertal; if I get a chance I might review it for the site!

See, exactly! Now you're getting it! Second class citizens-- I'm thinking for instance Jewish people in North America 300 years ago-- is just one possible axis. To continue the sort of "Pioneer" analogy, there are the Native Americans fighting against imperialist Europeans-- dehumanized by propaganda, as you might dehumanize, say...an orc. Which is what I mean when I invoke colonialism when talking about orcs-- the "subhuman other that is just a monster in a person shape" is exactly the sort of thing that white people said about Native Americans. Or Africans. Or...well, the legacy of colonialism is pretty crappy & wide reaching. That is the context in which "orcs" as fictional creations come out of-- that same awful soup.
Hedgehog Dan
64. S.M. Stirling
58. mordicaiVIEW ALL BY MORDICAI | MONDAY JULY 30, 2012 04:56PM EDT

"Yes, & I think it is important... they were doing these things to actual people."

-- yeah, so? Not having elves or orcs or surviving h. habilis around, who were they supposed to do it to, sheep?

Actual people who'd be doing exactly the same things to them if they'd had the opportunity.

I don't wring my hands unduly over this. People are people; I'm one of them; and I like people. As they actually are, not as some fantasy alternative. I don't trust them, not being an idiot, but I generally rather like them.

"I say it is better if nobody is giving or receiving."

-- this is precisely equivalent to saying that the world would be paradisical if only everyone obeyed the Golden Rule.

That is, it's technically true, but functionally meaningless.

In any case, if that's your perspective, what the hell are you doing playing games largely predicated on war and conflict?

You think people should do it, but then feel -really guilty- afterwards, like Puritans and sex?

"I never really get the casual "well, history is a litany of terrible things" attitude; yeah, it is, & that is terrible."

-- so? We're all going to die, usually alone and in great pain, too. That's terrible as well. Asi es la vida.

"especially given the fact that most historical murdering & looting (& raping & slaving) were justified by appealing to the notion that the victims were subhuman."

-- post hoc propter ergo hoc. Generally people were thought inferior -because- they could be beaten. You've got the causal chain bass-ackwards. We despise those who appear weaker than us, and admire and copy (as well as resent) those who appear stronger.

Kiss up, kick down, it's human nature.

Furthermore, human beings are instinctive (and I use the word in its technical sense) tribalists. Us good, Them bad, or at least suspicious. Our customs good, Theirs disgusting, and so forth.

You can no more avoid this than you can outrun your own sweat.

Even attempts to renounce tribalism just end up creating an Anti-Tribalist Good People Tribe, which then wages passive-aggressive war against the Unenlightened Bad People Tribe, all the while hypocritically denying that they're engaging in the standard tribal game. Good luck with the outrunning your sweat thing.

There are people who will kill each other over football teams, fer Ghu's sake!

Take a look at tribal naming habits sometime. Mostly the in-group has a name that means "The Real People" or something of that sort. Eg., Dine, which means "People". Or Deutsch, which means... "People". Or Lakota, which means "Friends"(*).

But the names for other people... well, "Sioux" is an English mispronunciation of a French mispronunciation of an Anishinabe/Ojiibwa word meaning "Snakes".

The Anishinabe being the people who drove the Sioux out of the Great Lakes country, whence they migrated onto the Great Plains a couple of decades ahead of Lewis and Clarke, driving the Crow (IIRC) out of the 'sacred' Black Hills with fire and slaughter. And so it goes.

(*) We Anglo-Saxons proudly named ourselves "People With Big Knives". Our word for the neighboring Romano-Britons, "Wilisc", meant "People Who Can't Talk". Also colloquially, "slave".
Hedgehog Dan
65. S.M. Stirling
58. mordicaiVIEW ALL BY MORDICAI | MONDAY JULY 30, 2012 04:56PM EDT

"Yes, & I think it is important... they were doing these things to actual people."

-- yeah, so? Not having elves or orcs or surviving h. habilis around, who were they supposed to do it to, sheep?

Actual people who'd be doing exactly the same things to them if they'd had the opportunity.

I don't wring my hands unduly over this. People are people; I'm one of them; and I like people. As they actually are, not as some fantasy alternative. I don't trust them, not being an idiot, but I generally rather like them.

"I say it is better if nobody is giving or receiving."

-- this is precisely equivalent to saying that the world would be paradisical if only everyone obeyed the Golden Rule.

That is, it's technically true, but functionally meaningless.

In any case, if that's your perspective, what the hell are you doing playing games largely predicated on war and conflict?

You think people should do it, but then feel -really guilty- afterwards, like Puritans and sex?

"I never really get the casual "well, history is a litany of terrible things" attitude; yeah, it is, & that is terrible."

-- so? We're all going to die, usually alone and in great pain, too. That's terrible as well. Asi es la vida.

"especially given the fact that most historical murdering & looting (& raping & slaving) were justified by appealing to the notion that the victims were subhuman."

-- post hoc propter ergo hoc. Generally people were thought inferior -because- they could be beaten. You've got the causal chain bass-ackwards. We despise those who appear weaker than us, and admire and copy (as well as resent) those who appear stronger.

Kiss up, kick down, it's human nature.

Furthermore, human beings are instinctive (and I use the word in its technical sense) tribalists. Us good, Them bad, or at least suspicious. Our customs good, Theirs disgusting, and so forth.

You can no more avoid this than you can outrun your own sweat.

Even attempts to renounce tribalism just end up creating an Anti-Tribalist Good People Tribe, which then wages passive-aggressive war against the Unenlightened Bad People Tribe, all the while hypocritically denying that they're engaging in the standard tribal game. Good luck with the outrunning your sweat thing.

There are people who will kill each other over football teams, fer Ghu's sake!

Take a look at tribal naming habits sometime. Mostly the in-group has a name that means "The Real People" or something of that sort. Eg., Dine, which means "People". Or Deutsch, which means... "People". Or Lakota, which means "Friends"(*).

But the names for other people... well, "Sioux" is an English mispronunciation of a French mispronunciation of an Anishinabe/Ojiibwa word meaning "Snakes".

The Anishinabe being the people who drove the Sioux out of the Great Lakes country, whence they migrated onto the Great Plains a couple of decades ahead of Lewis and Clarke, driving the Crow (IIRC) out of the 'sacred' Black Hills with fire and slaughter. And so it goes.

(*) We Anglo-Saxons proudly named ourselves "People With Big Knives". Our word for the neighboring Romano-Britons, "Wilisc", meant "People Who Can't Talk". Also colloquially, "slave".
Mordicai Knode
66. mordicai
60. S.M. Stirling

...what is offensive about Fu Manchu? Do you really need someone to explain this to you, or are you hoping to slink around the whole "Yellow Peril" thing? I guess I'm asking-- do you really not know about the historical context or are you purposefully obscuring that context by playing blithely innocent? It might make sense to step away from the post & click around Wikipedia or something, because there is plenty of information that is easily available to you out there.

& for the record: a story in which one side of a conflict deceptively paints the other side of the conflict as subhuman savages isn't fiction, it is more specifically propaganda.
Hedgehog Dan
67. S.M. Stirling
63 Mordicai "is exactly the sort of thing that white people said about Native Americans. Or Africans. Or...well, the legacy of colonialism is pretty crappy & wide reaching."

-- excuse me, but what on earth does "colonialism" have to do with it? Can you give me of an instance in which there was an intergroup conflict in which both sides did NOT slang the other side? Take a look at World War era depictions of Germans, fer Chrissake!

Europeans and their overseas descendants didn't invent war or conquest; they were just better at it.
Mordicai Knode
68. mordicai
64. S.M. Stirling

I see a lot of handwaving about how you aren't sorry when genocide or slavery happens, which is...hey, if you want to play the "I'm a cut-throat pragmitist!" card, go on. I don't lend it a lot of credit, since I'm a pretty cut-throat utilitarian too, but then, I am able to sort of view the consequences of actions in a larger context, like-- hey, maybe having a colonial system that plunges the world into conflict & war isn't the best way to get the gross global profit index up. I mean, hey, if you want to do ethical loop-de-loops, you should do them far enough to where you go "oh wow maybe this vast legacy of destructive poverty & inequality is somehow related to all the terrible things we did in pursuit of war, when trade would have served better."

But then, you seem to espouse a real "us versus them" attitude, which you also seem to grant as a given, which isn't the case. The whole "hey tribalism is human nature" is embarassing from an evolutionary psychology standpoint, as you currently live in a nation-state. Look around! America! It is a nation! You don't even live in a city-state, you've got a whole nation. Hey!

& as I've said to you-- well, I think every time I've ever exchanged words with you-- no one is arguing that your fictional work needs to be devoid of conflict. Or of murder. Or racism. What I am saying-- as I have always said, when you've painted the straw man that I somehow am calling for an end to conflict in narrative-- is that the work itself shouldn't be racist. Or sexist. Because the real world & the fantasy world are different. You might like conflict in stories-- me too!-- & I like characters, too!

Like for instance, George R.R. Martin (as J Mccaffery brought up) can have a horrible murder in his book...& in the real world condemn murder as a bad thing. & in the text, we see that-- oh man, crap-- murder is a really bad thing. That person was a person! He doesn't fall back on "well, it was us versus them & besides, people get murdered all the time, who cares."

That said, as usual, I think we're unlikely to change each other's minds;especially since I was arguing about orcs with the axiom that genocide was bad & you seem to be arguing that genocide isn't that big of a deal. I don't want to Godwin this conversation, & I can't see this going anywhere but in that direction.
Hedgehog Dan
69. Hedgehog Dan
"BTW, exactly what's offensive about Fu Manchu as Sax Rohmer originally wrote him?"

I also must admit, that I find Fu Manchu as a way-way more admirable antagonist than a typical European dictator.

I also must add, that I am a Hungarian - and I never found offensive, that for example Vigo, the Carpathean is supposed to be a - deceased - Hungarian despot (http://ghostbusters.wikia.com/wiki/Vigo). Also, I have seen movies, where Hungarians were portrayed as ruthless gangsters secondary to the main plot (The Usual Suspects, The Whole Nine Yard), and I never cringed because of that.

It is also a fairly popular belief, that the word ogre came from the French 'ongrois' (Hungarian), and there is another fairly popular one, that we are related to the Huns. Usually, the portrayals of either of them usually are less than flattering.

But you know what? When we arrived in Europe more than a thousand years ago, we were nomads, who thought that looting and pillaging are decent professions. People of West-Europe feared us rightly at the time, calling us ogres and Huns. Actually, one of our warriors climbed onto a church building, so he could defecate on it, showing his contempt for that puny Christian God (he tumbled down and broke his neck, so, it might not have been the wisest idea after all).

Then we settled down, founded a country, and tried our best not to chase away those foreign priests. Fast forward half thousand year - entered King Matthias Corvinus, one of the most beloved king in our history. Not so long ago, I have found German tales about him, painting him as a Witch-King, who could summon devils, who would teleport him far away, or to other kings' courtroom. You know, what I thought? Boy, this is frakin' awesome!

And, by the way, King Matthias became beloved AFTER his death... the taxes were freakin' high during his reign, because he really-really needed money for his Black Army (yeah, that was its name).

You know, who make me cringe and uneasy about my heritage? Our leaders who sometimes - and currently, more often - do not represent us responsibly. Leaders, who spoil our relationship with other countries. Leader, who will paint a more unflattering picture about our nation, than hundreds of pulp fictions.
TW Grace
70. TWGrace
the "subhuman other that is just a monster in a person shape" is exactly the sort of thing that white people said about Native Americans. Or Africans. Or...well, the legacy of colonialism is pretty crappy & wide reaching. That is the context in which "orcs" as fictional creations come out of-- that same awful soup
It is also what "white people" say about other "white people".

In fact, Tolkien's description of orcs is very close to the WW1 and WW2 propganda about Germans. The old "swarthy hun that must be stopped".

In many ways, if you look at it, Germans of the first two World Wars are a very good real world analog for Tolkien's orcs.

They were a people twisted, corrupted by their leaders to take what was not theirs and to behave in barbaric ways.

ETA- I see that Mr Stirling beat me to it...
Hedgehog Dan
71. S.M. Stirling
66 Mordicai

"I guess I'm asking-- do you really not know about the historical context "

-- I'm fully aware of it, since history is my hobby and has been for lo these decades.

I'm just not putting the same spin on it as guys like Edward "Baron Munchausen of the Palestinians" Said.

Not privileging your preferred meta-narrative framing, to coin a phrase. Problematizing your assumptions. Contesting your claim to a hegemonic discourse.

Now, are you going to meet and engage with the points I put forward in that post on Fu Manchu, or just do a "Dance of Ritual Abhorrence" and accuse me with trembling vehemence of being a Bad Person?

Thus, I might add, yourself demonstrating the validity of the point I made above.

"a story in which one side of a conflict deceptively paints the other side of the conflict as subhuman savages isn't fiction, it is more specifically propaganda."

-- it's absolutely universal to insult and paint blackly the other side in a conflict.

My point, which you seem to be dancing around, is that absolutely EVERYONE does this. It's a human universal.
Hedgehog Dan
72. Hedgehog Dan
And, staying on-topic, can somebody tell, where is Mordor in this map?
http://www.bogost.com/blog/where_in_the_world_was_middle.shtml
It is in the Carpathian basin. But considering that Tolkien modelled his orcs after Nazi Germany and its allies, and unfortunately, as much as it pains me to admit it, we were one of them, Mordor's place in the European map is not something that comes as a surprise to me. Feeling insulted because of this would be a hypocrisy on my part.
Daniel JONES
73. Sindri
I must agree with Mr. Stirling. Conflict, aggression, paranoia, suspicion of the different. All of these things are fundamental to the human condition. If you are going to tell a story from a human perspective, I would have to say that racism must exist. To take it out is akin to trying to write a story without conflict. I'm not going to say that it can't be done, or can't even be done well. But you are removing a large part of the human perspective just because it is dirty. You can both write a story in which from every human perspective another race is 'evil,' and at denounce real life racism itself. I keep reading how fantasy and real life are sepperate, so then what is the problem? Why are you so intent on removing this human quality from creative work? We all know that racism is an unproductive use of our energy and time. That doesn't mean that it does not have its place both as a tool for understanding how humans think and for crafting a diversely populated world.
Mordicai Knode
75. mordicai
73. Sindri

What the problem is, in a nutshell, is that what I said-- "the genre tropes we use are problematic at best & racist at worst" is being countered by "well, racism causes conflict & conflict drives stories!"

The problem is that I'm not arguing that. I'm saying that the stories are racist, not that they are stories with racism in it. To wit: Legolas & Gimli don't like each other, because elves & dwarves don't like each other. That there is racist; don't give me that "well, they are fantasy species" dodge either, as I think it is not unfair to call Gimli & Legolas' kneejerk dislike of each other based on race "racist." Racism in the story. But lo & behold, Gimli & Legolas adventure, realize their prejudices were wrong, & become friends. Because their story is not racist.

What I am arguing is a natural extension of exactly that. Why is it okay to have a kneejerk assumption that, say, Grishnakh is evil? "Because he's an orc" doesn't cut it. That is racist. Because he has been coerced & abused by Sauron & the hierarchy of Mordor? Much better. What is the elves' ancestral hatered of orcs but the elves' ancestral distrust of dwarves, but in different clothing?

No one-- nope, nobody at all-- is saying you can't think about racism & use it as a tool to build worlds with verisimilitude. You can have villains who are racist. You can have heroes who are racist!

What I am saying is don't have rules in your world that are racist, & be aware that if you make, say, a race of gnomes with big noses whose lust for gold can't be contained, you as the author might be looked at askance for making a racist story, because in the real world those negative stereotypes about Jewish people exist & have a heavy weight.

Similarly there are negative portrayals of non-white characters as dark skinned subhuman savages...& putting dark-skinned subhuman savages in your fantasy world is thus problematic at best, racist at worst, because here is the thing-- you are creating that world.

So yes, you'll forgive me if I stop taking the "you are trying to create stories without conflict" straw man seriously at this point.

71. S.M. Stirling

& if I disagree with the notion that modern authors will look at people based on race & "pick sides." That isn't universal, & I don't find it admirable or a universal truth about human beings. If it was, you wouldn't see any group ad-mixture, but you do. There certainly are people who see cultural groups, pick sides, & then exploit the weaker group through...well, the terrible tragic tools of history, but then, there are always villains.

You sir are arguing the position of Mordor.
Irene Gallo
76. Irene
@SM Stirling—your previous comment has been removed by the moderator. You can make the same points without casting aspersions, attacking and/or being rude to the other commenters. Please be civil.
Daniel JONES
77. Sindri
It isn't really a strawman argument. I'm trying to explain that the racism that you are arguing against only exists because of a human narration. It isn't an objective fact. To say that, for example, Orcs, are stupid and evil, is a human opinion by the human narritor. These standards, stupid and evil, can't exist objectivly. They are subjective, from usually a human viewpoint. I think that, as a subjective element, they are necessary to tell a story. If you want to argue that a race is inferior on an objective level, I don't know of a way to do that. If your problem is that races are mimiking racial injustices done in real life, from where else should an author draw inspiration? I don't know what other points I can make, without further sounding like a racist. I merely support the author's ability to craft a world as they wish, and I think that while racism in real life is abhorent, I believe it has its place as a descriptive tool of the human psyche and world crafting abilities. I'm done with this conversation as far as I can see, becuase I have nothing more to add that isn't redundant. Though I disagree with what seems to be the remaining majority, I have enjoyed the discussion.
Mordicai Knode
78. mordicai
77. Sindri

Yeah, but what I'm saying is that if you have a book that says "orcs have a -2 to int, a -2 to wis & a -2 to cha" & that it says they default to "chaotic evil"...then you the author are responsible for that. That isn't "in game text" or the voice of a character, that within the fictional setting, that is in the metatext, that is in the rules built by authors. But yes, it has been nice arguing with you; frankly I'm shocked that you haven't accused me of a needlessly post-modern reading of the text, which I would have argued against but that I may be guilty of!
Hedgehog Dan
79. S.M. Stirling
68 Mordicai:

"I see a lot of handwaving about how you aren't sorry when genocide or slavery happens"

-- cue the Misrepresentation Fairy to hit this with her wand... 8-).

Dude, talking with you is this weird experience. It's as if you're looking past my shoulder, talking to someone else... someone who exists only in a script running in your head. And then attributing to me what this person in your head said.

It's really odd.

It would help if you read -what I write down- and react to -that-, rather than your stereotype of what someone who disagrees with you -must- have said.

Read it slowly and carefully, and read right through to the end.

Now, to demonstrate what actually -engaging- with someone might look like:

"hey, maybe having a colonial system that plunges the world into conflict & war isn't the best way to get the gross global profit index up."

-- well, for starters, can you name any period of world history that -wasn't- one of conflict and war? Pre- or post-1492.

You see, your statement contains an ASSUMPTION.

This assumption is that there was (or could be?) a prelapsarian peaceful world which nasty people (Europeans?) upset at some point.

But this assumption is simply false-to-fact, as far as I know. Am I wrong about that?

It's also oddly Eurocentric, giving Europeans some sort of supernatural power to change the way the world works, as if they were the serpent in the Garden of Eden or something.

It also contains a further universe of assumptions about moral philosophy, Rawlsian and Utilitarian, unless I miss my guess, though I'm open to correction if you'd care to.

OK, let's go further:

'when trade would have served better."

-- served better for what? It all depends on what your -purpose- is.

A tank makes a lousy schoolbus. It does not fulfill the purpose of a schoolbus.

But then again, it isn't intended to be a schoolbus. It's function is to crush and kill, not take the kiddies to school.

Eg., when the English came to the Atlantic shores in the 1600's, they were ready enough to trade but their primary aim was to take the land and settle it with their own folk. Note terms like "New England" or "New York" or "Carolina" or "New Jersey". (Or for that matter, "New Spain".)

Those emigrating hoped (apart from those who had a mostly futile vision of doing a smash-and-grab and then going home with the loot in the style of Cortez) to create a new society pretty much like England, but tidied up, without the people they disliked (Anglicans or whatever) and with themselves further up the social scale.

As high as possible, but the commonest hope was to own land for a family 'competence' which most English people yearned for but few achieved.

As one of them said at the time, "It is the people living on the land who make the land English, not the land the people."

The Indians, naturally enough, found this agenda troubling... 8-). Mostly since it implied that, at best they unconditionally assimilate, or, failing that, just die or leave.

This is the historical process which resulted in the US, Argentina, Mexico, Australia, Israel and so forth. Most nations, in fact, if you go far enough back. Like the Magyars in Hungary, as someone upthread mentioned.

And -- in fact -- from the English p.o.v. this was better even in terms of simple trade.

Their own colonists (and the equally imported slaves) bought much more from them, and produced more for them, than aliens living in their own self-sufficient societies ever would. By definition, English people wanted English stuff, either made and grown locally or brought from the Old Country. Trade with England was peripheral for the Indians until they'd been smashed up, but central for the English settlers from the gitgo.

"But then, you seem to espouse a real "us versus them" attitude, which you also seem to grant as a given, which isn't the case."

-- mmmm, read what I said about "imagined communities". Nations are, like tribes, an imagined community based on fictive kinship.

" Look around! America! It is a nation!"

-- yeah, an imagined community based on fictive kinship... a Big Tribe. Tribes aren't "natural" either. They're stories people tell each other. The urge to be a member of a tribe is innate. The form that the tribe takes is culturally/historically contingent. You get the distinction?

"What I am saying-- as I have always said, when you've painted the straw man that I somehow am calling for an end to conflict in narrative-- is that the work itself shouldn't be racist. Or sexist."

-- as far as I can see, this translates into plain English as "the work itself should be written from the viewpoint I and my friends -- My Tribe -- espouse."

In which you get to define what all those terms mean and anathematize those who don't fit.

Now, this is natural human tribalistic behavior. Which is -exactly my point-.

The problem here from -my- point of view is not that you have a point of view which you prefer -- we all do -- but that you're trying to universalize and privilege it, and demonize and silence others.

You see what I'm getting at? You're saying that terms like "sexist" have a universal, unproblematic meaning. And they don't.

"Like for instance, George R.R. Martin (as J Mccaffery brought up) can have a horrible murder in his book...& in the real world condemn murder as a bad thing. & in the text, we see that-- oh man, crap-- murder is a really bad thing. That person was a person!"

-- look, dude, have you ever had a person try to kill youd, and had to return the favor? I have. The fact that it's a person, with a personal history and feelings and a family and all -really doesn't make any difference-. It really doesn't. They try to kill you and you return the favor.

It's no giant huhu. Just part of life. Judging by the results of forensic arcchaeology, it's always been that way.

Cf. Otzi the Iceman.

I never -liked- being in that situation; adventure is someone else in deep shit far away. It was scary and sorta disgusting. Though I've met people who got off on it, and frankly they scare the crap out of me.

But it's not some monstruous unnatural eruption of Cthuluism into a normally benign world.

That -is- normalacy.
Hedgehog Dan
80. S.M. Stirling
75. mordicai

>I disagree with the notion that modern authors will look at people based on race & "pick sides."

Mordicai, the problem is that I disagree with that statement too, and never said that.

It's sorta annoying when you keep trying to stuff me into that box.

I'm -trying- to be civil here.

What I actually -said- was that people form groups and take the side of groups in the conflicts between groups.

You've been doing exactly that in these discussions, haven't you? Being on Fu Manchu's side is just as much a choice of sides as being on Nayland Smith's side, isn't it?

Saying "Lo, the poor Orc" is taking a side.

"If it was, you wouldn't see any group ad-mixture, but you do. "

-- ah... you are -aware- of why virtually all Americans who've been here any length of time are of "mixed" background?

A lot of it was simply white dudes raping slave women because they could. Even more was the "power is attractive" phenomenon, and an infinite range of mixtures of the two.

According to the 1850 and 1860 census reports, 10% of the slave children born in those years had white fathers. The escaped-slave notices in the newspapers of the time were full of things like: "Blue eyes, blond hair, will attempt to pass himself off as a white man". Which many, many of them (including one ancestor of President Obama's mother) did, blending quietly into the 'white' population. By now virtually every "white" Southener has some of that ancestry.

Similar phenomena occured elsewhere.

One of my ancestors was a Beothuk Indian, for example. He was captured as a small baby when a buch of white Newfoundlanders and their Micmac trackers massacred a Beothuk band, taken back to their fishing village, raised there, married a local girl and became a schooner captain and founder of a large family.

This happened in the 18th century; by now, everyone in that area is (very partially) descended from him, the way hundreds of thousands or possibly millions are descended from Pocahontas and John Rolfe. That doesn't make me an Indian. Or a Beothuk; the Beothuk are extinct.

My wife's great-grandmother was Cree. Same sort of thing.

See? Conflict AND intermixing. Happens all the time.
Mordicai Knode
81. mordicai
79. S.M. Stirling
It would help if you read -what I write down- and react to -that-
Alright, I'm game. Let me see here. Red is you, blue is you quoting me. Black is the actual text of this current comment. Formatting may get a little screwed up along the way.
"going to where other races live, killing them and taking their stuff."

-- ah... this is a description of most of human history. Fill in "groups" or "tribes" or "imagined communities" for the inaccurate "race".

Who gets which end of the stick isn't a matter of morality, simply of opportunity. Who's quick, clever and lucky vs. who's slow or unlucky. And it is better to give than to receive.
Flippant dismissal of murder as the course of human history. Which is fine, we can say that it is how human history has proceeded as though there was never any history without murder, as though every moment of the past was about genocide & looting. It wasn't though. Parts of it were. Parts of it weren't. I prefer the parts where it wasn't, for reality, though that struggle sure makes good fiction. Since we're talking about reality-- not the fictional world, but the real world context in which that world exists as fiction-- I prefer that we don't look at the worst crimes of history as universalizables. Since-- as we can tell by their occasional cessation-- they aren't.
It didn't bother me in the slightest; why should it? People are generally on their own side; it would be extremely odd if they weren't.

I am opposed to paradigms where "us versus them" is defined by ethnic categories. In fiction, I understand this has a place, since fiction is driven by conflict & real world racial conflict exists. From a position of the authorial voice, I don't think there is any excuse for it.
"Yes, & I think it is important... they were doing these things to actual people."

-- yeah, so? Not having elves or orcs or surviving h. habilis around, who were they supposed to do it to, sheep? Actual people who'd be doing exactly the same things to them if they'd had the opportunity. I don't wring my hands unduly over this. People are people; I'm one of them; and I like people. As they actually are, not as some fantasy alternative. I don't trust them, not being an idiot, but I generally rather like them.
See, lines like "I don't wring my hands" is what I might say counts as hand-waving the bad parts of history away as some kind of...no, "neccisary evil" isn't even the right word. I'll use your term. "Normalcy." That isn't "normal." It might happen a bunch in the historical record, because we focus on the high drama, but then, murders take up the newspaper headline but that ain't normal either.
"especially given the fact that most historical murdering & looting (& raping & slaving) were justified by appealing to the notion that the victims were subhuman."

-- post hoc propter ergo hoc. Generally people were thought inferior -because- they could be beaten. You've got the causal chain bass-ackwards. We despise those who appear weaker than us, and admire and copy (as well as resent) those who appear stronger.
I disagree with your historical psychology. The Crusades, for instance, I might point to as an obvious historical use of propaganda to dehumanize a potential foe in order to motivate people to go murder them. Anyhow, this whole "might makes right" argument is again, the part of Mordor.
Kiss up, kick down, it's human nature.

Furthermore, human beings are instinctive (and I use the word in its technical sense) tribalists. Us good, Them bad, or at least suspicious. Our customs good, Theirs disgusting, and so forth.

You can no more avoid this than you can outrun your own sweat.
I respectfully submit that it is not human nature, & that in fact the long trends of history have so far been one of turning these assumptions on their head. I might point to the American Revolution-- I am critical of a great deal of America's colonial history in this post, but I admire a bunch of people telling a king to go screw himself to run a (flawed) social experiment in equality.

On a basic philosophical level-- by which I don't mean ideological, but philosophical as in a truer form-- I highly dispute on a fundamental level your axioms of evolutionary biology & I assert here that I will tend to be unmoved here by arguments from evolutionary biology or psychology, as I find both fields to be havens of political pop culture with very little to add to informed debate (outside of academic journals & Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, whom to the surprise of no one is my favorite).
Europeans and their overseas descendants didn't invent war or conquest; they were just better at it.
Now who is using posterior logic to inform their arguments? They were better because they won? Really.
"I guess I'm asking-- do you really not know about the historical context "

-- I'm fully aware of it, since history is my hobby and has been for lo these decades.

I'm just not putting the same spin on it as guys like Edward "Baron Munchausen of the Palestinians" Said.
There is a rule in comedy in which a piece of satire only works when it is lampooning the people in power, not the people being harmed by that power. I might propose a similar school of thought for history, in which the "winners write the history books" is a cherished ideal. Said is hardly perfect, but criticising Western history for an unexamined look at the...well, wrong assumptions of their histories? Is a noble pursuit. Here again I see we differ in philosophy.
"a story in which one side of a conflict deceptively paints the other side of the conflict as subhuman savages isn't fiction, it is more specifically propaganda."

-- it's absolutely universal to insult and paint blackly the other side in a conflict. My point, which you seem to be dancing around, is that absolutely EVERYONE does this. It's a human universal.
I again disagree with your hypothesis, as well as your backing statement (from another comment):
Even attempts to renounce tribalism just end up creating an Anti-Tribalist Good People Tribe
On one hand, I discount it because it fails even the broadest use of Popper's rules for falsifiability-- a statement that can't be proven false & if you try to prove it false you have proved it true? Circular logic is circular. Though you have a lose point that everyone brings bias to the table; I suggest we examine those biases & discuss them-- which is the fundamental conceit of the original post.
Hedgehog Dan
82. S.M. Stirling
Among human beings in the real world, "race" is a socially-constructed myth.

It doesn't actually exist as a physical fact, at least not in the way racial ideologies say it does.

As a -social category- it's real; but it's real because people believe in it, believe in the social myth. They don't believe in it because it's real, the way we believe in rocks and atoms. All humans are members of the same species, and very closely related at that -- far more genetically uniform than any other widespread mammal, except cheetahs.

All human social categories -- classes, nations, religions -- are like this. They're stories, not outright facts. That doesn't mean they're unimportant -- stories are imensely important to a social, language-bearing animal like us.

But in fantasy, "races" actually often -do- exist as a physical phenomenon, regardless of cultural perceptions or myths, within the author's 'imaginarium', his created world.

In Tolkein, elves and humans are nearly as different as horses are from zebras, and dwarves are -entirely- different and can't interbreed with either.

They have different natural lifespans and ecological niches.

Tolkein's elves and humans are very distinct sub-species, if not entirely different species. They're roughly like wolves and coyotes, or tigers and lions.

This is repeatedly made clear; all varieties of Men can and do intermix, just as they do in the "real world".

Mixture between Elves and Men (and Men and Orcs) is extremely rare, and takes some sort of supernatural intervention by "Fate".

Orcs are, of course, simply magically/genetically changed Elves. By descent, they -are- Elves.

And Dwarves are simply a different species -tout court-. They're literally a 'separate creation', no more human than a chimp is (or vice versa). Trolls and Dragons and "Great Eagles" and suchlike also exist.

(Hobbits are an odd case... but apparently they don't intermix with Men either, even to the very limited extent that Elves do.)

This is what is known as "literalizing the metaphor".
Mordicai Knode
83. mordicai
Why didn't I invoke Demosthenes' Hierarchy of Foreigness before?

I maintain that orcs (& elves & dwarves) are framlings. They are as alien as a human from another planet. Heck, the degree of genetic drift-- if there was a long-lived human with pointed ears & night vision from a world with an odd orbit or a short human with a heavy beard from a cold high gravity world-- is totally within a half a million years. Easy.
Mordicai Knode
84. mordicai
82. S.M. Stirling

Well, but to turn that logic on its head, all elves, humans & orcs can interbreed in Dungeons & Dragons-- note all the half-elves & half-orcs-- which would argue for them being all of one species. Or if not of one species-- dogs, foxes & wolves can interbreed but we still seperate them out-- then a near thing.

My point is that you can't make the metaphor literal, but that doesn't mean the metaphor is absent of meaning. Like you said-- sure, "race" in the real world is biologically meaningless, but it has tremendous social meaning (alas) so it is foolish to pretend like it doesn't "exists," even though biologically it has no basis. Similarly-- on a level even more abstract-- I am saying that of course orcs aren't people. They are fictional, they aren't "real." As a metaphor, however, they have power, because we use them to tell stories. Using them as subhuman savages just recapitulates the old story of genocide present in colonialism-- part of American's sad historical legacy. I say, elevate the discourse.
Other Alias
85. ghostcrab311
Heh, all of my RPG games involved us not only playing orcs and trolls and whatnot, but also doing so exclusively in orc / troll etc territory. Our campaigns rarely, if ever had human type races in them. There was the odd elf as a villain, the odd gnome as comic relief, but otherwise, nothing but "monsters" as far as the eye could see. It was totally awesome.
TW Grace
86. TWGrace
Mordicai -83
I maintain that orcs (& elves & dwarves) are framlings.

Mordicai -48
No, the point isn't to make them green-skinned humans.
Which is it? Do you want orcs to be green-skinned humans, or do you want them to NOT be green-skinned humans?
Mordicai Knode
87. mordicai
86. TWGrace

I am attempting to strip the "science fiction" out of the Hierarchy to apply it to a fantasy world. In the Enderverse, they aren't going to encounter creatures capable of interbreeding with humans. They aren't going to meet "aliens" who are 700 year old humanoids with pointed ears. What you are seeing is cognitive dissonence between the fantasy tropes & harder science-fiction tropes. You won't get me with any of your gotcha journalism!

What I mean when I say I don't want them to be green-skinned humans is that I am not arguing for a reductionist story here. Heck, let me just spit-ball off that tagline. Maybe the orcs are green skinned because they have photosynthetic pigments in their skin. Heck, they get energy from the sun! That will have far reaching consequences to them on a evolutionary level, huh, & on a societal one. No one starves; if you are hungry go stand in the sun. Now, will they tend to keep to the equator...& what are the tusks for, mate displays? Leadership contests? Maybe they eat...coconuts or bone marrow to supplement their diet?

Listen, I am saying, make them people. That is my big crazy idea. The same way elves & dwarves are people, & are non-human. It isn't that crazy, I don't think!
Mordicai Knode
88. mordicai
85. ghostcrab311

We occasionally play what we call a "Monster Mash" campaign, where people pick all the weird monsters-- ettercaps & astral devas & whatever-- & throw them all in as PCs. In our Fourth Edition games it was...well it got really ridiculous. That said: my ettercap wizard named The Menacing Sound of Distance & the astral deva I played in a seperate campaign named The Spenta Mainyu are both fond favorites.
Other Alias
89. ghostcrab311
Yeah, we kind of outlawed über magical creatures as PCs, but goblins, orcs, trolls, hobs, even minotaurs and lizardmen were kosher.

Would have been fun to go with a totally OP campaign with all the high power beasties. All playing as dragons, or something.

I suppose I should add that we used the Palladium Fantasy RPG, by Kevin Siembieda (sp?), and that included all kinds of non-humans by default, which was a nice feature.
Hedgehog Dan
90. Kingtycoon
SM Stirling immediately and irrevocably looses all credibility and arguments by invoking 'human nature'.
Hedgehog Dan
91. S.M. Stirling
81. mordicai

>Red is you, blue is you quoting me.

-- good idea, if I could figure out how to do it! Can't, though: not a very computeresque person. My bad. I'll use "you" and --me.

The captcha feature on this blog is an absolute pain in the arse, too.

"Flippant dismissal of murder as the course of human history."

-- more "humorously resigned acceptance".

As for tone, history has been defined as 'tragedy for those who feel, comedy for those who think'.

I laugh a lot. It beats crying.

Incidentally, using "murder" in this context is rhetorically illegitimate. Murder is unlawfull killing; killing is just killing, whether it's me killing you to take your wallet (murder) or you killing me to stop me (not murder). That's a matter of the common dictionary definition of the words.

It's the sort of confusion of terms which the mistranslation of the Sixth Commandment engendered.

It actually reads "Thou Shalt Not Do Murder". Hebrew makes exactly the same distinction that English does. The King James Bible is magnificent poetry but exceedingly bad scholarship. (Take a look at the original terms translated as "witch", for example.)

"as though every moment of the past was about genocide & looting. "

-- did I say this? You're addressing that straw man again.

War and other forms of lethal conflict are a -big part- of history; and the -threat- of violence is ubiquitous in human interactions.

"The State is not argument. The State is force". Or as Max Weber summed it up, "Violence is the ultimately decisive form of political action."

The violence may be implicit -- a threat -- but it's there. This is actually an advance on the situation prior to the invention of the State, when forensic archaeology indicates that violence was the commonest cause of death for adults over immense stretches of time.

Private property, for example, can't exist without the law (the force) of the State. It's not a relationship between people and things; it's a power relationship between people, mediated through things. If I "own" property it means I can call on the force of the State, the community, to exclude you from it unless you meet my terms for using it.

"I am opposed to paradigms where "us versus them" is defined by ethnic categories. "

-- why? 'cause most of the human race evidently disagrees with you.

Granted there's an arbitrary element to this -- ethnic groups are socially constructed -- but then there is to every other human grouping too. Our social groupings exist essentially as a form of collective belief.

Of course, as Marx put it, human beings make history... but they don't make it just as they please. The fact that you don't identify with an ethnic group doesn't mean that others won't pin that particular tail on you, and quite possibly kill you for it.

Getting killed while protesting your disbelief in that paragdim will help not an iota. From an individual's perspective, social constructs can be as real as rocks... or bullets.

>I'll use your term. "Normalcy." That isn't "normal." It might happen a bunch in the historical record

--- ummm... I can't think of any other definition of the word "normal" than "happens consistently".

"Normal" is a descriptive term, not a prescriptive one. It does not mean "good", any more than "natural" means "good" (unless you're an Aquinian, and I'm not.)

People in the contemporary West are almost uniquely sheltered from violence, you know. Beware generalizing excessively from your own experience.

"The Crusades, for instance, I might point to as an obvious historical use of propaganda to dehumanize a potential foe in order to motivate people to go murder them."

-- ummm... where did the Crusaders "dehumanize" Muslims? (And again with the murder thing: kill, quite possibly, murder, no. No law, no murder.)

They believed that Muslims were the perfectly human adherents of a different religion (true) and that that religion was false (partially true; all religions are false) and that God wanted Christians to rule Jerusalem and adjacent areas (wildly false).

If the Muslims weren't human beings with souls, there would have been no grounds for religious conflict. You don't have religious wars with unsouled animals. They didn't dislike the people ruling Jerusalem because of their language, physical appearance, customs, dress or any "ethnic" marker; it was strictly their theology.

Note that in the Crusading romances of the time, Crusaders are always -converting- their enemies. That is, the Evil Them becomes People Like Us, by joining the True Faith. The chivalric romances often express admiration for brave Saracens, like Saladin.

In the cold light of day this was usually much less converting than killing, but we're talking propaganda here.

I might note that "Crusade" and "Jihad" are precisely equivalent; Christians probably picked up the concept from Islam, part of a long cross-fertilization. Both cultures use it metaphorically as well ("Crusade against sin", or "internal Jihad") but the original meaning is straightforward holy war against infidels.

"but I admire a bunch of people telling a king to go screw himself to run a (flawed) social experiment in equality. "

-- really, I don't see how this refutes tribalism. (Or nationalism.) The Revolution created an independent state, after all, to which citizens were expected to feel loyalty, just as the British did to Britain.

Where's the conflict with what I said? Wars of national independence are an -expression- of tribal identity, of Us againt Them.

How am I wrong there?

"Now who is using posterior logic to inform their arguments? They were better because they won? Really."

-- I said they were better AT WAR because they tended to win wars. Note that the entire (for all practical purposes) Western Hemisphere speaks four European languages.

Is there any better evidence of how good you are at war than winning wars? Really?

"There is a rule in comedy in which a piece of satire only works when it is lampooning the people in power, not the people being harmed by that power. "

-- really? I've got news: cruelty is the basis of well over half of all humor. Again, you're mistaking "what I wish was so" for "what's so".

"Said is hardly perfect"

-- actually (this is a different topic, of course) he's a systematic liar; ORIENTALISM is full of statements that just... aren't... so. Elementary stuff like who published what when.

It's not scholarship at all, more of a "grito", a howl.

I don't object to his political orientation; he's entitled to be on his own side. It'd be a very odd Palestinian who liked Zionism.

It's the falsehoods. Incidentally he systematically falsified his personal history too, well beyond the "stairwell wit" that everyone does occasionally.

" but criticising Western history for an unexamined look at the...well, wrong assumptions of their histories?"

-- no, if you'll read his stuff, what he's actually objecting to is scholarly curiosity.

Frex, he interprets the fact that Europeans studied Middle Eastern languages and collected the books of the area (while people in the Middle East didn't, to any great degree) as evidence of hostility and evil intent.

"I again disagree with your hypothesis"

-- can you name me a conflict at the level of war in which both sides -didn't- attempt to blacken and discredit the other?

Really?

"Though you have a lose point that everyone brings bias to the table; I suggest we examine those biases & discuss them-- which is the fundamental conceit of the original post."

-- forgive me if I misinterpret, but what you've been saying is that OTHER PEOPLE have discreditable biases, but that you don't and may majesterially sit in judgment upon them.

In other words, they have evil false ideologies, and you have the Truth.

If I'm wrong about that, how am I wrong? Isn't that what you actually believe?
Hedgehog Dan
92. S.M. Stirling
VIEW ALL BY | MONDAY JULY 30, 2012 09:00PM EDT

"Well, but to turn that logic on its head, all elves, humans & orcs can interbreed in Dungeons & Dragons-- note all the half-elves & half-orcs-- which would argue for them being all of one species."

-- yeah, it would, which is why I think it's a profound failure of imagination in D&D and a decline from the Tolkein original.

Tolkein's universe is intriguingly different from ours; there are multiple intelligent, speech-using species whereas here-and-now there's only one.

Tolkein's world has cultural differences -within- the different species and sub-species, and also actual differences between -species-. This is better as a fictional construct.

It gives you fictional possibilities that don't exist in the real world.

Eg., Legolas and Gimli aren't a Frenchman and a German. All the time and will in the world won't turn an Elf into a Dwarf or vice versa. Their friendship is a friendship across -genuinely- innate differences, dating back -- literally -- to the beginning of time.

"so it is foolish to pretend like it doesn't "exists," even though biologically it has no basis."

-- Ummm... isn't that what I said? That it exists -as a belief-, but not as the physical phenomenon the racial ideologies posit?
TW Grace
93. TWGrace
Mordicai
Listen, I am saying, make them people. That is my big crazy idea. The same way elves & dwarves are people, & are non-human. It isn't that crazy, I don't think!
I agree, they should be people. But to me that does not mean they need to be "humanized" (the title of this thing). That means they should be their own sentient beings. They should have their own sense of self. Their own personal motivations. That goes for orcs, elves, dwarfs, dragons, illithid, devils, demons, etc.


To me, forcing them to be more human makes them being orcs meaningless, you can just have a different group of humans in your game do the same thing.

Maybe instead of "humanizing" them, you should "orcize" them (btw nice word Sindri) . Treat the orcs as orcs, not some tribe of humans.

Give them orcish motivations. Motivations that dont have to be nice or pleasant from a "human" (especially a theoretically modern human) point of view.

Here is a start:
Then the assembled gods turned to the orcish gods and laughed loud and long. "All the lots are taken!" they said tauntingly. "Where will your people dwell, One-Eye? There is no place left!"
There was silence upon the world then, as Gruumsh One-Eye lifted his great iron spear and stretched it over the world. The shaft blotted the sun over a great part of the lands as he spoke: "No! You Lie! You have rigged the drawing of the lots, hoping to cheat me and my followers. But One-Eye never sleeps. One-Eye sees all. There is a place for orcs to dwell…here!," he bellowed, and his spear pierced the mountains, opening a mighty rift and chasms. "And here!," and the spearhead split the hills and made them shake and covered them in dust. "And here!," and the black spear gouged the meadows and made them bare.
"There!" roared He-Who-Watches triumphantly, and his voice carried to the ends of the world. "There is where the orcs shall dwell! There they will survive, and multiply, and grow stronger, and a day will come when they cover the world, and they will slay all of your collective peoples! Orcs shall inherit the world you sought to cheat me of!" - (Roger Moore, Unearthed Arcanna)
Have your orcs live up to Gruumsh's words. Give them a sense of vengence and a chip upon their shoulder.
Mordicai Knode
94. mordicai
93. TWGrace

I think we have narrowed this down to a semantic debate. I say "humanized" because they have often been explicitly "dehumanized," which I mean in the context of "treated as subhuman." I mean "humanized" in the sense of "bestowed with a sense of personhood" in that the English language doesn't have anything better for the purpose. "Anthropomorphized" is for animals & inanimate objects-- orcs are already anthropomorphic, which is essentially why I am arguing for them being "humanized." I don't want them stripped of personhood; they are already portrayed as having people-like traits-- cultures, tools, language, religion, heck, they can interbreed with humans-- so all I'm saying is that we consider them people. That "we" is us, the creators & players, the authors & readers. You can still say that the cleric of the church of Pelor preaches that the orcs at the door are subhuman monsters & we should kill them all if you need a racist priest. Go ahead! I'm just saying-- lets look at the colonial roots of the trope's expression, & be aware of the fault there, & lets look at the possible riches to reap by considering them as people.

Don't get caught up on semantics; if that really is your stumbling block, consider it gone. You are more than welcome to have inhuman elves & inhuman orcs. All I'm asking for is that you don't make them subhuman.
Wesley Parish
95. Aladdin_Sane
omigawd! I'm almost too scared to comment ... :)

I read JRR Tolkien's Silmarillion and thought, so that's why the orcs are so aggro! they got shafted by Melkor Morgoth the first Dark Lord. Then I read in some of his other posthumously published stuff that he himself was far from pleased with that, and worked out some other explanations.

So I started into thinking, how would it have happened? And when time came - with a question: How did the lady who took King Charles' place in prison feel when they discovered the deceit? that engendered story, and after that a world, and then some people of human derivation but not traditional human behaviour - I started writing something of my own, The Redemption of Vheratsho of the Lakhabrech and the North Vineyards.

I don't know if you'd consider it an example of the "humanization" of orcs ... certainly, I based the Lakhabrech and the Rakhebuityan on what little I knew about the masalai in Papua Niuginian myth as well as the orcs of JRRT and others. And on what little information is available on hyaena culture - Crocuta Crocuta for the Lakhabrech, which incidentally means Free Blood - and a Ursine/Brown Hyaena mix for the Rakhebuityan, which incidentally means Fish Eater/s.

Personally I think I've done more along the lines of "humanizing" masalai .... and in case you're interested, Vheratsho in Yhe Vala Lakha - the Free Speech - means Demoness, and was her older sister's (contemptuous) nickname for her: her mother called her Kherash-shio-Anioi which translates to Huntress-in-Springtime, a much more positive name.
Mordicai Knode
96. mordicai
95. Aladdin_Sane

See, et voila. You can extend my thesis-- "orcs are people"-- to your humanoid of choice. Sounds like you made the masalai a little "gnollish," & given what little I know about hyena mating habits, I can see how you might have built an interesting matriarchal society. In my game I went the opposite direction, making qora-- the "were-hyena"-- a sort of panserbjorn inspired semi-sentient hyna with pseudothumbs & a perchant for body modification.

As I mention, "humanize" is semantically inappropriate, yeah, but I am hard pressed to find a better term, as "anthropomorphize" is too lower level to fit.
Hedgehog Dan
97. Hedgehog Dan
Okay, just because we have reached topics of 'ultimate nature of humanity' and 'legacy', here is my opinion:

- I think this article is useful - it deals with topic we need to talk about, and it handles the subject with an intelligent and profund way, even if one does not agree with the article. And if one does not agree, he or she has the right to tell it, which leads to the much needed conversation.

- Humans - and I meant us - ARE tribal - or, if you wish, horde - creatures. That does not mean, in my opinion, that we will ultimately paint the other side black, that we will kill and eat people unlike us just because they are different. Neither does it mean, that we cannot relate to said people.

BUT! But we do not care about them in the same way as we care about our friends and family. We actually can care REALLY for a certain amount of people - in this way the horde instinct manifests. It is not a good or a bad thing - it is just the way things are. (Or so far, has been.)

There are reasons, we have just started conversations like that. Thanks to numerous inventions, like railroads, planes, television and the internet, we just started to get to know each other. Take for example me, or other people in my shoes - one hundred years ago, I could not have had a conversation with people from other countries that easily. Therefore I could not have had the chance to get to know them - and, in return, neither could they. We could not have found a common topic, which is vital to define us as... US. (Or rather, we could not have found out that easily, that we had that many things in common, like hobbies, etc.)

Even before, before the railways and other modern vehicles, distances were great. Common people did not have the chance to travel to another country, in fact, they hardly travelled farther than the neighbouring community. Their world was incomparably smaller than ours, and they did not have the information flow we have. That is why their world view was more rigid and simple - we live in an age which changes our perceptions about our world constantly. Think about landing on the Moon or the internet. During the life of an average man who lived several hundreds year ago, things did not change that rapidly - and we shall add, that their life was shorter than ours.

Which brings me to my next point: we live in better conditions than they did. We are not at the mercy of nature in the same way - i.e. the length of the winter and summer - as they were. I do think, that we have more choice to avoid bloody conflicts than they had.

Because, wars are not fueled by ideologies, after all, but rather, by need. It is just that we like to justify our needs with ideologies ( I think, actually, it is also a need, social, not physical). Yeah, we like to tell tales about wars waged for the heart of a beautiful maiden or for God or for truth, justice and a certain way, but in reality, these wars were waged because of need. If people have plenty of need, they are not prone to risk their lives - we would be foolish to do. Actually, we are more concerned about our lives. However, I also have to add, that Us vs. Them opposition was many times fueled by that people in the past many times were forced to make the choice to take away food from other people via war of looting... or let their family starve. Combine that with their short-sightedness I described above, and you get the reasons for war.

So, we have better conditions and better possibilites for communication and obtaining information from the past or another part of the world. And, actually, we have the responsibility to use these possibilites well. Not because we are inherently better than our ancestors - that is such a delusion as the ones with which our ancestors tried to justify their wars. But because we do not wish to risk the life of our beloved ones, our own life with an unnecessary war or conflict.

The whole drive to build a civilization is safety, after all. But mind you, civilization is relatively new, and that is why we have problems discussed above. As I said, for millions of years, we lived in packs. For thousand of years, we lived in communities ranging from several dozen people to several thousands. This global conciousness is relatively new - only several decades old. That is why we have hard time to adjust our cultural legacy with all of its contradictions to our new perspective... it is really-really new.

And, when I talks about the horde instinct, that does not mean, that my 'horde' consists of solely white straight males. All I just say the follows: if a person would attack a friend of mine because of his or her religion or sexuality, I would feel more vehemently, then if the same would happen with another person from that community (which would anger me, nonetheless, because what if this happened with my friend or with me... I don't say, that horde instinct makes you not caring about people outside your horde, I just say, that this would prioritize certain people over others. You would give change to the homeless guy, but you would give high amount of money to your beloved ones.)


- While I really believe in equality - because I think that this would serve our civilization better -, I always found strange when somebody tried to proove their progressive thinking with bashing people from centuries apart for their outdated believes (for example, it is a vogue to bash Kipling for his writings). Of course their thinkings are outdated, they lived decades or centuries before you - calling them different slurs because of that won't make you a better person. Partially, because you had the chance to learn from their faults.

No, regarding Fu Manchu, who was the product of his time... I could never take him seriously in a social commentary way, and I do think, that there is not only social responsibility but individual responsibility as well on the side of the recipient. Namely - open a freaking book, before you assume that such an outlandish character would be real. Or just open a book, for knowledge's sake. If you seriously believe, that every Asian is Fu Manchu... well, it is mostly your fault.

Okay, I might not have the authority to speak such things about an Asian villain... instead, I choose to talk about two Eastern European villains, since I am Eastern European. The one is Dracula - he is based on the legend of Vlad Tepes, who is an important historical figure of the Romanians. I barely hear any complaints about the ubiquitousness of Count Dracula in Western pop culture on the part of the Romanians. In fact, Romanian government tried to lure turists through the Western image of Dracula.

Now, the other villain is Countess Elisabeth Bathory, the Hungarian distaff counterpart of Dracula. Needless to say, that that image is far from the reality. In fact, poor Bathory was the victim of a witch-hunt... but I don't feel insulted at all by her popular representation. Why would I? At least there is a character from our history, of who many Americans heard. However, if a person would seriously believe that we bath in the blood of virgins because of that image, I would be amused - but I would not blame the image of Bathory, I would blame the person being ignorant.

That said, I don't mind questions like 'do we still ride on horses?' (No.) At least they show honest curiosity for my culture. And I also never mind Transylvania depicted as a medieval forest-'country'. But I think every person has the responsibility for her own beliefs, and sometimes she should do a little research. If a person arrives to Bukarest, and wonders, where are those armadillos from Dracula, then it is her fault, not that of the film.

- On the other hand, yeah, literature can enhance our empathy. It can persuade us to think about the position of another man. How it would feel if this happened to me or one of my family-member? But then, literature is a tool and every tool's efficiency depends on the way its user uses it.

Personally, I favour human orcs over evil orcs, because the formers are way more interesting.

- I dislike the notion that 'one must act this way because the world is supposed to be a place like this and that'. There are people who would save a child life, because they are God-fearing people, and that is what Jesus said... and there are people who would do the same, because there is no God, and we have to care for each other. And there are people, who would kill said child out of religious fanatism or cold nihilism.

Ideas are also tools. They will not work themselves for you - you have to learn to use them. There is no idea that cannot be warped, and that is why I think, that while I personally favour certain ideas over others, what really matters, is the responsibility of the person who believes in them. We have to learn to take personal responsibility for our choices (and yeah, I know, we cannot be unaffected by the world surrending us, but still, we have choice, I think).

That is my opinion - and I wish to say, that I am pro-choice, supporting gay marriages, and feel the responsibility to stand up against genocide and slavery - I cannot make past attrocities disappear, but I might be able to stop future ones. But I also wish to say, that we have to learn more and more about ourselves, and we shall not just honest about ourselves, but also have an empathic attitude towards our ancestors - if we know more about their choices, we have more chance not to repeat their faults.
Mordicai Knode
98. mordicai
97. Hedgehog Dan

I think the tribalist connection is deeply overstated, like a lot of evolutionary psychology. "Tribalism" is a term that is thrown around a lot, but the bits & pieces of it aren't as hard & fast as they might seem. Dunbar's Number, skin pigmentation, concealed ovulation, there are a lot of interesting things going on...but they aren't really germane to this argument. Suffice to say, if I had to put a point blank pin in it, I would say: Hominids are tribal. Humans are abstract.

It is interesting that you bring up Dracula, because I disagree a bit with you there. I think there certainly is a legacy of racism against Eastern Europeans, sure! It might not be all that potent these days-- though you might still hear Polish "jokes"-- but as you point out, that is real historical propaganda in action.

That said, I am not sure...where we are disagreeing? You say:
Personally, I favour human orcs over evil orcs, because the formers are way more interesting.
& I say: me too! That is...the thesis of this post! That is what I am saying, there, exactly.
Hedgehog Dan
99. J Mccaffery
There's a scene in 12 Angry Men when the jurors, one by one starting with Jack Klugman's character, turn their backs on Ed Begley's character. I saw that when I was a kid and I think it's an important lesson on how to respond to shameless, unabashed racism.

But there's still a lot to respond to here-- I think we have gotten somewhat sidetracked from what is a very simple thesis.

1) It is OK to have an "evil race" in your story.
2) Presenting "unrepentant, purposeless, complete evil" probably should mean that the race you are describing are not people. You've basically made vampires or the Alien xenomorph.
3) There's no way to get around the fact that Orcs are people. This isn't an argument for making them "Green-Skinned People." They already are. They are definitely people. Even in Tolkien, they're people. Remember: They are Sauron's slave army. Where there's a whip, there's a way! They're not vampires. They're not the xenomorph. They're not smart zombies. They're people.
4) Orcs use the vocabulary of racist archetypes to smooth over the cognitive dissonance-- they are our preferred faceless punching bags, but they are also definitely people. So in order to make that OK, to preserve our idea of a punching bag race, we decide that they must be savage, cultureless, dim-witted racists! Too dumb for art, too savage for agriculture!
5) That's effed up.

Remember, this is a simple, straightforward idea. It should be non-controversial. The accusation is not one of racism, but one of problem-solving; I don't think the writers of Pathfinder and D&D and Orc Fiction are all racists. But it's lazy storytelling. Lazy storytelling glosses over "Why?" Lazy storytelling lets real world ideas -- the savage hun is a real world racist trope, not a real world race -- sneak in to fiction.

I love punching bags! As a roleplayer I have a hard time divorcing self-examination from even the lightest, slashiest of games. Which is why it's great when vampires show up! Screw 'em, let's slay vampires. They're a great punching bag. Orcs are bad punching bag, because when you punch them they hurt just like you do. Which is a fine story to tell! Think about the way players interact with, I dunno, bandits, or pirates, or vikings (I don't mean to keep harping on this point, but I think it's an important place where our double-standard is exposed). Those guys hurt just like we do! It's a shame we're totally at odds anyways! Orcs let you bypass that story because they're savage and stupid and it's not a coincidence that these are the same things that privileged people have used to justify killing non-privileged people since time immemorial.

Remember: Having prejudice in your game is not a problem. I think presenting a world without racism in it is kind of infantile, really. But having racism in your game, and having your game justify racism are different things.

The thesis is not you are all racists, roleplayers. (although some of you are)

The thesis is if you want a punching bag, build a better punching bag.

And yes, I just discovered the "Bold Text" button.
TW Grace
100. TWGrace
You know, IMNSHO vampires should be "people" too.

Treating them as some mindless evil that is just there to be exterminated is just as lazy as treating orcs like they come out of PEZ dispenser.
Mordicai Knode
101. mordicai
100. TWGrace

I actually agree with you on the vampires; or rather, that is when I really like to crank the moral relativism gauge all the way to 11.

"Well, yes, she is a preadator on humans. Fact. Well, no, she doesn't have a soul. Still though, she is crying & pleading with you not to cut her head off. So, okay, that is her action, she cowers in terror before you & pleads desperately for mercy, for help. Okay, thief, you are up next in the initative count, what do you do?"
Paul Howard
102. DrakBibliophile
David Weber has said that his Hradani (in his War God series) are *orcs*. They were enslaved by the "Dark Wizards" long ago in the history of his world and aided in the destruction/conquest of a great empire.

The refugees from that war remember that the Hradani served the Dark Wizards but have emotionally forgotten that they had been unwilling servants of the Dark Wizards.

Mind you, most of the non-Hradani only "personally" know of Hradani from them raiding into other people's territory.

Of course, the Hradani don't look like Orcs. They look like very big humans with fox-like ears.

DW's story is about one of the Hradani who gets recruited by one of the Gods of Light.

Final note, the Hradani (in general) hate the Dark Wizards and the Dark Gods but didn't want much to do with the Gods of Light. They wonder why the Gods of Light didn't help them.
Mordicai Knode
103. mordicai
102. DrakBibliophile

Ding, that is what I'm talking about. Another good example. & right, you can totally create a brand new race & still use shorthand to describe it-- sure, they are big & have fox ears, but I "get" the tropes. Using tropes well is the whole point of writing in a genre; it is an abstract language the author can use. & I am saying that it is good to use that abstract language well.
Paul Howard
104. DrakBibliophile
David Weber has "fun" with the tropes. His dwarves are the rulers of the most powerful empire in his world (humans are part of this empire). His elves are immortal but are still in "shock" over the destruction of the ancient empire even after 12 centuries. His half-elves are a "self-created" race and are a bunch of racists.
Mordicai Knode
105. mordicai
104. DrakBibliophile

These are called "War Drums"? What is the first one called? I've meant to give Weber a spin. Also-- sounds like he has a narrative framework that isn't racist, while still having racism in his story. See, boom.
TW Grace
106. TWGrace
The first book of the Weber series is called "Oath of Swords", it is in their (ETA- Baen's) free library.
Hedgehog Dan
107. J Mccaffery
100. TWGrace

I stand corrected on vampires! Matheson already tackled this with I Am Legend decades ago and I let it slip right by me. STILL, while they are a bad example for my argument, they are better than "primitive peoples" -- and more interesting! They get to have a viewpoint and motives and they invite empathy while simultaneously being totally opposition for the party.
Hedgehog Dan
108. PeterWeller
--(apart from those who had a mostly futile vision of doing a
smash-and-grab and then going home with the loot in the style of Cortez)

Cortez spent nearly a decade in Cuba before conquering Mexico. He was governor of New Spain for over five years and only returned to Spain in response to the political maneuvering of his rivals. That's something that someone who has made a hobby out of history for "lo these many years" should know.
Hedgehog Dan
109. Hedgehog Dan
mordicai: I don't think, that the we would disagree, but nevertheless we have touched a topic I just liked to discuss... and this forum provides me the possibility to do that with intelligent people. :)

Regarding the vampires, the same applies to them as for orcs. They are more interesting if they are treated as three-dimensional people. If they have a reason to act ruthlessly, then their acts have more importance. And of course, if they just murder and laugh evilly, they will be predictable and not that interesting.

'I think there certainly is a legacy of racism against Eastern Europeans, sure!'

As an Eastern European, I can assure you, that this goes more than one way. First, I said that Bathory was a victim of a witch-hunt... and the ones behind that hunt were Hungarian nobles who tried - and eventually, did - rob her from her heritage. It is debated, whether her trial really served the Habsburgs as well, but at least the then king, Matthias II proposed a fair trial for her - it was the Hungarian nobles who gave her a show trial. And, BTW, the legends of the Bloody Bathory were revived by a Hungarian historian, Dezs? Rexa.

Second, Dracula. The reason, why Vlad Tepes has such a bad reputation in Western Europe is that he brutally chased away peasants and merchants of German origin from his realm out of some kind of nationalist fervor - he favoured his people over foreigners, which was not that a rare thing, but he still did not win the heart of Germans.

Historians argue, that it also did not help for his reputation that he was not in good terms with King Matthias (already mentioned in a previous post) who might have defamed him. The truth is, that as I said, King Matthias himself was not popular in Western-Europe, he was in fact feared, which was one of the reasons he was never elected as the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, so, he might not have had the ground to slander another ruler effectively. BTW, the reason of the enmity between the two is that both of their parents were part of the Order of the Dragon, which order was created to halt Ottoman conquest. Vlad wished to continue the legacy, Matthias had other plans in his mind - therefore when Vlad visited him to ask his help, he betrayed him, arrested him and made a peace with the Turks in Vlad's name. Ruthless politician, our Matthias was.

However, sorry for the history lesson, I try to be short - all that said, Vlad has my respect as a leader, because he did everything what he could do to protect his then weak country from the Ottoman Empire. His country was in a turmoil even without the menace of an invading army, and he had to be callus. Regarding his notoriety, I must add two other things:
a) successful monarchs of weak(ened) countries tended to be brutal to forge a stronger kingdom. Our first king, Steven I, made really cruel legal punishments, and when his brother rised against him, Steven quartered the brother after his victory.
b) Vlad was shrewd enough to use psychological terror against his enemies, therefore he showed himself as bloodthirsty as he could.

Now, of course this is not obligatory knowledge for Dracula-fans. However, I feel myself involved, because the most famous Dracula was arguably Bela Lugosi, a fellow Hungarian. And, BTW, when Bram Stoker created Dracula, he asked the help of a Hungarian folklorist, Ármin Vámbéry, who was an expert in vampire legends... mind you, Stoker used his help with broad strokes - 'Whoaw, that ability is cool, that one is lame, etc.' -, but as a thank for his help, he modelled Van Hellsing after Vámbéry, and we can find his name as a cameo in the novel as a collegue of Hellsing, if I remember correctly.

And, by the way, I do not find Dracula that problematic because the Victorian pantheon is full with true British monsters as well... you got Mr. Hyde, you got the Invisible Man.

Anyway, if we are on the topic, I tell you, which things really annoy me. Actually, these are not just stereotypes, but rather, misapplied ones. A mild source of annoyance, when for example a supposedly Hungarian character has a Bulgarian name. But that is bearable.

However, what really frustrates me, is for example Ultimate X-men by Mark Millar, which depicted Croatians spectacularly as arab terrorists/warriors/dontknowwhat in issue 4. Croatians, who are devout Catholics, BTW. That said, I really like his Red Son, because I live in a country which was part of the Eastern Block... and it was good to see a communist superhero which was not depicted as an irredeemable asshole. (And yeah, during the Cold War, each side had propaganda against the other one, so I am not here to complain against the 'Kids don't do communism' Captain America of the fifties.)

Anyway, and now I wish to be ON-TOPIC, I agree that racial moral alignment is bull. First, it simplifies things, second, each nation has its darker days, but that does not mean, that the people of said countries are inherently evil. However, I think one can have fun with stereotypes, i.e. one can have his 'proper' answer for “Oh, I’m not insulting you, I just always heard orcs were great barbarians; if anything it is a compliment!” For example, what if a sophisticated orc magician believes, that humans are sheltered, even if they are likeable? It is a two-sided thing, after all.

And, BTW, what if said orc does not take insult from that compliment (just mild annoyance), because he has trully nasty experiences of racism? (Mind you, during the 90s, little more than a decade ago, the Yugoslavian wars raged... and I live near to the border of the late Yugoslavia, when I was a kid... these things happened next to me, and boy, there were ethnic cleansing, rape and genocide... it did not happen to me, but I know people who were victims... sorry, I do not want to sound patronizing, or diverting, or anything... just maybe that is why I do not take ignorant, implicit, but not malicious racism to my heart, if Dracula and Bathory are real examples... I have seen explicit, truly despicable, outright evil forms of racism - we had a refugee camp next to our town, and the sound of plane in the night were not uncommon. But that is another topic, I know.)
Paul Howard
110. DrakBibliophile
mordicai, as TWGrace said the first is _Oath Of Swords_, the next is _War God's Own_, then _Wind Rider's Oath_ and the newest one is _War Maid's Choice_.

Oh, I found the "War Maids" to be an interesting twist on the "Free Amazons" type especially their customary garb.
Mordicai Knode
112. mordicai
Guys, I can't help but feel somewhat responsible for this Penny Arcade strip. Edit: Beaten to the punch by snowcrash! I wonder if there will be a News update. Also, I will proudly take that term. Orctivist. I am dying.
Jeff LaSala
113. JLaSala
Orcs are awesome in that they can swing both alignment ways if it suits the needs of your world. If you're talking Tolkien or even traditional D&D settings, then orcs really ought to be bad guys 99% of the time. It's part of their heritage. In Eberron, orcs are part of a fringe society that in ages past, helped save the world with their druidic magic.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write up the iconic battle between Corellon (god of elves) and Gruumsh (god of orcs) in a D&D Insider article: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/dra/201202history



The narrator of the tale, an elf, dropped in this little hint of that possibility that not every elf (or orc) is the same: "No, the truth is simple: I spared the life of an orc and dared to befriend her. Is that so unforgivable a crime? To the worldly children of Corellon, the Protector, First ofthe Seldarine, Coronal of Arvandor, and Father of the Feywild, it most certainly is."

Anyway, great topic! Thanks for sharing this.
Mordicai Knode
114. mordicai
113. JLaSala

There is a bit tucked away in 4e that hints that Gruumsh & Lolth had a romance, which is what originally spurred the conflict between orcs, elves & drow...I always found that dimension interesting.

I guess what I'm arguing is that yes you can have bad orcs, yes you can have good orcs, but in those "traditional" DnD settings, I want to see...neutral orcs. & I don't want to see people killing any old orcs. If you want to oppose the Cult of Gruumsh, god of slaughter & slavery, do that, but don't backwards map that onto the whole orc race!
Jack Aubrey
115. StevenM
We ran into a society of vegetarian pacifist orcs during one campaign. They produced Red Orc Brand Baked Beans for the wider market and our Mongol-ish character became their distributor.
Hedgehog Dan
116. Angry Goblin
It's about time! I thought I was the only person thinking this or found this premise problematic! I have orcs in my story, from an older civilzation and more advanced than goblins. And the goblins and orcs are featured predominately than other races.
Mordicai Knode
117. mordicai
116. Angry Goblin

See, my goblins are usually the Tolkien metaphor taken to the next level...if the orcs in Lord of the Rings are the industrialized horror of WWI, I make the goblins in my games the utter crazy ruin of WWII...
Hedgehog Dan
118. shajara
SM Stirling - You almost seem to be using Edward Said as a synecdoche for the people of occupied Palestine, who ought not to be featuring in a discussion about orcs, so please let me ask you something. You argue above that human bigotry is simply about "kiss up, kick down" and providing a rationale for violence over land and resources, and that all groups are alike in this. In more than one of your books, you have had main characters express a level of hatred towards Muslims, including statements of satisfaction that in a particular world/timeline they had been exterminated or would never exist, that shocked me, and that I've never seen one of your protagonists express towards other religious or ethnic groups. Even in the later Change series (my favorite, looking forward to the new volume!), Muslims appear only as dangerous pirates. Is it only that in our world Muslims happen to own much of the remaining light sweet crude, so it's time for some kicking down? I have come to suspect you of personally harboring a sort of prejudice that would be utterly illogical in an atheist who recognized that humans are all much alike, and would love to be reassured that you are not prey to such a delusion. Can you tell me so?
Hedgehog Dan
119. monolith
Man, so many comments already! Hope I don't repeat anything.
So, great article, and very relevant to me as a fantasy novel writer who has found one too many cliches in his story! Masked villain - sigh*
However... before i go and rewrite: Not every story is geared to handle the humanisation of its "savage" race. It's a worthy sentiment, just not always realistic...

Sure, for the typical RPG scenario this idea of diversity and humanization is an absolute must, because those stories have integrated worlds where the races have lived (relatively) alongside each other for decades, if not centuries. Then it becomes necessary to break away from colonial ideals in order for the story to gain relevance in our era.

But one must remember that in a medievil, racially non-integrated world, the orcs are realistically seen as the enemy as a result of our human nature which forces us (as a genetic trait - argue that point if you will!) to ostracise any sentience that is non-human.

Damn, and now I see J Mccaffery (post 99.) has said it all better.
Mordicai Knode
120. mordicai
119. monolith

Well-- to return to one of my core points-- we've moved to discussing two different things. We've got "racist in the story" & "racist story." That is to say, having humans who are in conflict with non-humans because they are xenophobic is one thing. The problem comes when your authorial voice condones & makes that xenophobia "official." In roleplaying games this divide is super easy & visible...because the bulk of the game is "metanarrative." It is telling you the "rules" of the world. Saying "elves & dwarves dislike each other; ancient conflicts between the two are woven into their history & myth, & they are taught to distrust each other" is one thing. Saying "dwarves are filthy subhumans who only care about greed & slavery & murder" is another-- one reflects in-game situations, the other reflects out of game biases.

Also, I don't care about genetics; first, I assume you mean biology, since genes don't really tell anyone anything. & anyhow, the 1-4% of the (European & Asian descended) human genome that has Neanderthal DNA tells a different story, as do the existance of half-orcs & half-elves. If I bought that "instinctual xenophobia"-- a see your point, I don't neccisarily deny it-- I might point out that selfishness, violence & fear are all natural human traits too...but it turns out humans aren't victims of their hindbrains. Reason & sentience trump base emotions. Or they can, depending on your character's alignmnent.

All the arguing for the natural instincts of segregation are weird to me since...why single out orcs or goblins? Why do elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings get a pass? All I'm saying-- my crazy idea-- is to give orcs just as much consideration as you give elves & dwarves. Treat them like people.
Hedgehog Dan
121. zing
Speaking of illithids and Spelljammer, the Spelljammer books had a secondary character who was an illithid. Other than his craving for brains(which he satiated with kobolds, sort of a pescetarianism of cerophagy), he was a decent fellow.

Most of the illithids on the Spelljamer itself were vegans, although not by choice, and the most feared nemesis of the illithids was a mind flayer that swore off brains in order to retain the memories of its host.

Your anthrocentricism is showing.
Mordicai Knode
122. mordicai
121. zing

I think you mean anthropocentric; but yeah! I am, but as I touch on above, that is because I think science fiction & fantasy are different genres. I don't think Lovecraftian mindflayers are your only option, but if you want to go that route, go that route, sure! Cthulhu is not your buddy. He is not a person. He is a star-demon, an unknowable god.

In science fiction, that anthropocentric bias-- for the record, I am actually a carbon chauvinist, if you want to get into that-- is silly, because you invoke...well, science. Now, Spelljammer may be Science Fantasy but that science is in there. Given the tropes of science fiction, you are right to discard anthropocentrism! ('course I might say that having kobolds as your "feed race" isn't really better, & that being "vegan" because you can't get more brains is hardly something to be lauded for).
Hedgehog Dan
123. WOMANDAD
Can we have orcs play as a completely different species, rather than humanizing them? That is to say, throw out all the morphological and cultural distinctions of humans, and the craft from there. Why are there necessarily family units? Do they operate on an emotional level? Do we share a common genetic ancestor at all? I think warhammer came close to this by having them sprout like trees, but after that they act nothing like plants at all. They put on clothes, have 4 limbs and babble like people do. It's pretty boring, and reminds me of star trek aliens, where they're just men with masks.

I would prefer adding three dimensionality to their inhuman elements as opposed to attempting to shove them into human archetypes. The issue is that their current motivations are two dimensional, not that they are impersonable.
Mordicai Knode
124. mordicai
123. WOMANDAD

We talk about that a little bit in the comments; yes! I tried to be very clear but English is only so good at handling fantasy concepts. I want them "humanized" in the same way that elves or dwarves are. So that is "humanized" but not "Humanized," you know? Captial-H Human for species; I always have thought "Elf" & "Dwarf" should maybe be capitalized too. Just for, you know, clarity. "Personized" might be a better way of putting it, but that sounds awkward because it isn't a word.

& on a personal note, the nearest "orc" analog in my own campaign are...well, Neanderthals, which why I read books about hominin psychology; I want to add an element of non-Human thinking, of course. So I get it.
Hedgehog Dan
125. chaosprime
Well said and agreed. I went through about 95% of the same critique process you did (and I'm delighted to get some exposure to the other 5%), which is why lostsouls.org (my MUD) has had orcs, goblins and ogres as mainline player races for 15 years or so.
Mordicai Knode
126. mordicai
125. chaosprime

What was the full list of player races?
Hedgehog Dan
127. Beakerthefrog
While I understand where you are trying to go with this, I have to say that you're missing an important point, and that's genetics. In terms of intelligence, and genetic make-up, there isn't a significant difference between any of the human races. You don't see asians having enlarged adrenal glands that cause them to have explosive tempers, however we do see that with other species that live on our planet. Trying to treat orcs, elves, and dwarves, as humans is a ridiculous idea, because they aren't. It goes beyond their culture, it's part of their physical make-up. I do like the idea of actually treating orcs as people, and adding moral considerations to the wanton slaughter of orcs, but acting like it is wrong to assume that another species could be inherently violent and evil is preposterous. It is entirely possible for members of a species to always be born as violent psychopaths.
Mordicai Knode
128. mordicai
127. Beakerthefrog

I'm not sure you understand how genetics work? Or at least, how it interacts with the nature of Evil & sentients with free will. But see-- that sounds like an interesting conflict, doesn't it? Which would only really work if you...treated orcs like people! Sure, their psychology would change if they were, let's say, carnivores instead of omnivores (again, something I consider near & dear to my heart, since I use Neanderthals in my "orc" niche in my own game) or had an oversized adrenal system, as you cite. The thing is-- okay? So you give the orc PC race something like the barbarian's rage? & then provide the roleplaying challenges to the character.
Rafael
130. Ryamano
Regarding illithids, in my game they're much more intelligent than humans (Int+10) and communicate telephatically. Basically their intelligence compared to the average human is like the average human's intelligence compared to monkeys. Since humans can't communicate telepathically and are that stupid, illithids consider them to be cattle. And when some telepathical human gets to question them, the illithids answer "well, if some cow started speaking to you, would you stop eating beef? What if lettuce start developing their own civilization?". But that's just my campaign.

Basically the matter of orcs being discussed here is more along the lines of manicheism in RPG (and lots of TV shows, movies and books). It's OK to kill orcs without thinking twice about it when they're corrupted by the ultimate evil or the soldiers of ultimate evil. Replace orcs with vampires, demons, robots or aliens and you have run the gamut of adversaries in narratives. Our narratives, for some reason or another, need adversaries we think are OK to kill, just to pump that primitive adrenaline of ages past, and we don't like to think about the unfortunate implications. "We just destroyed something, but it's OK, because it's good x evil, and we're certainly on the side of good! We're not murderers and we didn't commit manslaughter (orcslaughter?)!"

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