Monday, October 27, 2014


  Note: For me gaming is a pastime, a hobby, a way to have fun. Sure, I write supplements and sell them, but that is more about sharing and funding my book-buying habit, not as a career. For those of you who don't know my training is in ethics and morals and I spend a fair amount of my time teaching those topics. My day job is about keeping people safe.
  Today I am talking about a topic that a lot of people get emotional about. While I encourage comments, I have a comments policy. I put up with zero personal attacks, harsh language, or idiocy. I have no problem blocking anyone and I will report people who violate terms of service, etc.
  And for anyone who wants to make assumptions about me based on what I am about to write: I've faced personal, direct discrimination and lost jobs because of my racial background and because of my religion. Keep that in mind.
  Thank you for your time.

  There is a conversation about tabletop fantasy games that always leaves me nonplussed. I read another variation of it just a few days ago. While varied it always goes something like this,
  "The idea that a race, like goblins, is inherently evil is problematic."
  And the ultimate variation,
  "Well, the idea that drow are inherently evil is a real problem because they are black."

  I have always wondered what these people are going on about. Let me give you three reasons.

  One: Hobgoblins, etc., aren't a race as the term is used in the contemporary world. Beyond the fact that the very concept of race within humanity is terribly muddled and has a very shaky definition that originally covered everything from people who shared a common language to people who had the same occupation to all the people roughly the same age in the world.
  Throughout this all one fact remains - in Real Life the various races, no matter how shakily defined, are all human beings.
  Goblins aren't humans. Neither are orcs, dwarves, elves, xvarts, grimlocks, or gibberlings, They are all separate species of beings. They aren't humans. Being not-human is a defining characteristic of what they are. And this is not just explicitly part of tabletop FRPGs the reflection of humans having multiple races is also 'baked into' the OSR games. Oriental Adventures specifically addresses non-White human races and the World of Greyhawk gazetteer was rather detailed in all the various races of humans around Oerth and specifically pointed out that they are all human while demi-humans and humanoids aren't human.
  Gary himself even threw in a curveball with the 'savages' of Hepmonaland being descendants of a race of fair-haired, fair-skinned humans meaning that in Greyhawk the jungle savages are - the whitest humans around.
  You caught that, right?

  Two: Humanoids, etc., are not "stand ins" for human races. In addition to the fact that many of the oldest TFRPGs specifically mention various races of humans the Big Three humanoids, orcs, goblins, and hobgoblins, come specifically from folklore. Orcs (a cognate of ogre that means 'eater of people')), goblins ('troublesome spirit'), and hobgoblin ('mischievous goblin'), bugbears ('scary thing that eats children' or 'something unseen that causes terror'), etc., make it obvious that the folklore origins of these creatures are much less subtle than standing in for races (especially since they became folklore long before the surprisingly-modern ideas of race existed).
  No, evil humanoids simply represent evil.
  That's right. While the elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and humans represent good the orcs, ogres, goblins,etc. represent evil. Good guys and bad guys. That's why one small group of 'non-humanoid sentient beings that are humanoid is appearance' are called demi-humans and the rest are called humanoids - demi-humans are good guys allied with humans, humanoids are bad guys opposed to humans.
  Does this lack of subtlety bother you? Well, to paraphrase MST3K,
  "Repeat to yourself 'it's just a game, I should really just relax'."
  Never forget some very important facts:

  •   This is about made up creatures, not real people.
  •   They are based on traditional folklore or the imagination of players.
  •   They exist only within the rules of a game.
  •   How they are portrayed is entirely up to people who play games locally.

  We will cover this more in part three.

  Note what I am not saying. I am not saying that things in a game can't be offensive. I have met guys that can turn eating a bowl of breakfast cereal into a racially offensive display. I assume that these buffoons could do the same to a TFRPG regardless of the rule set.

  Three: It is a nonsensical argument to make in the first place.
  The last two times I ran into people ranting about this in person I asked them the following questions,
  "The Monster Manual says dwarves are lawful good. Why did Gary put an evil dwarf into the Hall of the Fire Giant King if dwarves are lawful good?"
  "The Monster Manual says humans are neutral. How can you play a monk, ranger, or paladin if humans have to be neutral?"
  The people both answered the exact same way,
  "Well, just because the books say...."
  And stopped talking.
  In both cases I asked this next,
  "Have you ever heard someone complain that High Elves are inherently good?"
  And neither of them had.

  This happened because the premise requires that in addition to ignoring that goblins aren't humans, and ignoring that its a game we all decide how to play, not Real Life, it requires that we ignore the repeated admonition that the rules books are just guidelines. I would hate to have to go through the 1e and 2e books to see how many times the concept of 'the DM can change stuff' is specifically mentioned, but I am sure it is pretty frequent.
  In case this has somehow slipped past you, the alignments in the Monster Manual, etc., are guidelines.
  Frankly, considering the number of times I have seen solars, lammasu, planetars, and other beings that are presented as the living embodiment of Good portrayed as evil because of a curse or insanity (or just because) I am not sure how anyone could have missed that.

  You want some non-evil humanoids? Feel free. Heck, a tribe of Lawful Neutral, edging up on Good, goblins are a critical part of my campaign world. Want to have some non-evil drow? Since there are canonical good gods for good drow to worship this doesn't require much work or creativity.

  Speaking of drow, I want to add a bit of a fourth point - a lot of the people I read and meet that obsess about 'inherently evil races' in AD&D seem to just insert their own - problems - as they try to 'fix' things. One of the things that prompted me to write this was a guy complaining bitterly about drow being inherently evil and dark-skinned. Since he found this such a problem he fixed it all up by keeping them totally evil...
 ...and making them albinos. Because that is not offensive at all - I mean, it isn't as if there are prejudices about albinos, right?

  I guess this entire post boils down to what I said earlier.

  "Its just a game. Relax."