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How Do We Deal With “Evil” Races, or That Time I Almost Committed Genocide

May 1, 2012

Part of a continuing series I’ve dubbed, “To Be A Young Necromancer In Love,” updating Tuesdays and whenever the hell I feel like it.

When I was a Freshman in college, I got my first taste of the tool kit oriented Hero System. While I was sad to see my many-sided dice go unused, the feeling of power I felt rolling 12d6 on a regular basis made the transition a little bit easier. Well, in all honesty, I was pretty against the Hero System until I actually bought the book and was able to sit down and read it. Before that moment it was all acronyms I didn’t understand.

The true point was, that the first Hero campaign I played in sort of showcased some of the crazy things you could do within the system. It was called the “Weird West,” game and we were a group of people that were traveling together who ended up getting involved in some crazy stuff. An early escort mission for us turned into fighting a town filled with zombies, for example. The game got a little bit more ridiculous when, after an ‘Anthropologist’ hired us to fight an evil cult and recover some artifact, he turned out to be a Vampire and turned us into his spawn for shits and giggles.

Once turned into vampires, we almost exclusively fought villainous supernatural creatures. The characters of the game were a former US Marshal who believed God had spoke to him, an arsonist the US Marshal had captured but didn’t turn in, a womanizing sharpshooter named Casey, a half-Navajo tracker, a Lakota medicine man, and then my own character Gong Jin a disgraced monk who had been exiled from China. Over time the Lakota medicine man left, and so did the arsonist, and we were joined by a slightly older insane vampire named Megan.

Not long after turning into vampires, we came across a small town that had been subject to increasing raids from a nearby group of Orcs. Orcs, in this setting, were humans that had long been tainted by demon-blood and were predominantly angled toward evil doings. Orcs were, apparently, lesser demons. On top of this, the male raiders had been raping and pillaging this town without mercy. The town was barely standing, its women were captured and presumably being raped to propagate the Orc race, and we felt the need to do something about that.

So we rode forth to the cave system the Orcs inhabited and did a quick investigation. We realized that the Orcs had in fact kidnapped, and raped, the women who were now little more than slaves in the Orc tribe. From there we proceeded to go around beating the crap out of every Orc man we found in their underground village. The Orc response was in kind, and eventually it ended up with a big showdown between us and their leaders who we also overcame.

At the end of it, there were no men of fighting age left in the village, and only the womenfolk. Our first decision as the de facto leaders was that everyone left in the village would go up to the surface, as we were going to destroy their demonic lands. We had discovered while fighting the village priest, that somewhere in this cave system was the protruding knee of Lovecraftian God. Not the sort of thing that you want influencing a populace, and so we decided to close off the cave system.

In a moment of kindness, one of the players let a young Orc boy (aged about eight or ten) retrieve his “horse,” (actually some sort of weird monster) from the village stables before we dropped the roof on everyone’s head. We’d later come to regret that action as this Orc boy and his mount hooked up with another villain, set on seeking vengeance for the death of his village and culture.

With the village destroyed though, we had a major decision before us, what were we going to do with all the non-combatants?

One of the first things Gong Jin suggested, and a few other characters agreed, was that we should just slaughter them all and forcibly abort all of the Orc fetuses. The logic here was that Orcs were demonic beings, there was no reason to show them mercy, and who knew how many young Orc boys would grow up to hate humans? Several players objected on the grounds that genocide is wrong.

We then decided to round up the captured white women and ask their opinion. Obviously, many of them did not like the idea of having their children torn from their breast and killed nor did they appreciate the concept of a forced abortion. Interestingly though, they did support the death of many of the other Orcs, with the exception of names they would then list off. It became clear that the names they listed off were the female clansmen who had protected them when they were brought into Orc society. Essentially, the women were fine with killing off Orcs, as long as they weren’t ‘kin.’

When you added up all the women captured though and their various exceptions, you ended up with most of the Orc non-combatants. Once again, a call for blanket genocide was made on the grounds that Orcs were evil demons, and clearly they had bewitched these women into trusting them with their evil Orc demon magic!

Less people were on the side of murdering all the Orcs at that point. Gong Jin being possessed of several character disadvantages still believed that slaughtering all demons was the appropriate choice. Eventually, he became convinced that it would be acceptable to let the Orcs live on the grounds that “green barbarians,” were truly no different from, “white barbarians,” in terms of their backwards cultures.

Also at work, was the realization that Gong Jin and the other characters as vampires might very well be demonic in nature. If the party could fight for the forces of good despite being demonic, did this mean the same was true for the Orcs? After all, they were also being influenced by a mad sorcerer and the protrusion of a Lovecraftian horror into the world.

The town was brought together, and while some of the people weren’t entirely pleased at having Orcish grandchildren or step-sons, they were definitely not leaning toward genocide like we were. We never actually made it back to the town of Humans and Orcs in our journey, but it is nice to imagine that everything ended up nicely there. The only indication that we have, the angry Orc boy who came to hunt us down for destroying his culture would seem to imply that the Orcs began to make a cultural shift after living amongst humans.


Moments like this in a campaign can be hard to pull off, but they’re definitely interesting nonetheless. To have a moment where the players are debating the benefits of genocide, or at least ethnic cleansing, is somewhat surreal. Of course, as Gong Jin argued, this is a logical extension of the “some fantasy races are just evil,” trope. If an Orc is always going to be evil, then there is no reason to let Orcs live at any age because the only difference between an Orc child and an Orc of fighting age is the immediacy of danger. The pronouncement of an entire race being evil is something that GMs and players need to be ready to confront with this conversation. Is it right or wrong to murder all the non-combatants of a race, if that race is always evil?

There were of course other elements at play, Gong Jin’s crusader disadvantages also lead him to choose more extreme options when more level headed ones were available. Other players had characters that were more cautious though still ruthless, and some that were obviously sentimental. I recall now that there was even an argument over giving the Orc child his “horse,” because of the fear that any ties to the old Orc tribe might encourage retaliation. The argument that won out was pretty much, “Fucking Christ, it’s just a kid’s horse it’s not an evil artifact. It’s his pet.”

At the end of it, this session was probably one of my favorite from the game because not only of the issues that were raised but because at the time we were playing it was still very fun. As I think of it, there were still many jokes, off-color though they were, being bandied about and despite the serious nature of our decisions and arguments there were no real ruffled feathers at the end of the night. That’s the mark of a good game, where one player can support a heinous action till their last breath, and nobody holds it against them outside of the table.

  1. shouldve just pulled a Janeway…

  2. Russo permalink

    Given how much controvery was generated on reddit by Mark’s recent post about racism in D&D, I anticipate the internet will be very upset about some stuff in this post, so I want to comment on this before the inevitable shit storm.

    This plotline was loosely inspired by an old Western about John Wayne trying to rescue/kill his daughter because she’s been kidnapped by indians. Swapping the indians for orcs made the plot (at least superficially seem) less racist. It also ensured that the PCs wouldn’t be too sympathetic to the villians. I wanted them to have a moral quandry, and I didn’t want it to be too one-sided.

    I like it when RPG villians actually do evil things. It makes the players feel like they’ve actually accomplished something by thwarting the villian. A lot of RPG villians are like most Saturday Morning Cartoon villians. We’re told that they’re evil because they oppose the heroes, but we pretty much only have the heroes word for it that they’re the good guys. The heroes and the villians might as well be championing the causes of red vs. blue instead of good vs. evil.

    Moral ambiguity and intense moral debates are not for every gaming group. Some people just want to relax and not think about that stuff when they’re playing a game. That’s fine. But if the group actually likes that kind of thing, it makes for a very enriching experience. They can indulge in “acting” or “psuedo-intellectual blathering” and it can be a lot of fun.

    That being said, it is a VERY BAD IDEA to make a your villian a rapist unless you know your players very well and know how they will react and what they’re comfortable with. “Law and Order SVU the Game” is NOT for everyone, even if the rape always happens off screen.

    In this case, not only had I known all of the players for a few years, but one of the players, the Navajo tracker, had actually written into his backstory that his goal in life was to hunt down and murder his father. (Which he did, later on in the campaign.) Because he had been raised by his mother and his father was a rapist. This was a pretty strong indicator that the group wouldn’t be uncomfortable with this plot. Actually, no one batted an eye at it.

    Yes, one of the players was a woman. No, there were no other rapists in the campaign. You have to use that stuff sparingly if you use it at all (and most of the time you really shouldn’t).

    Actually, turning them all into vampires went over a lot less well. The original plan for the campaign was a cross between Vampire the Masquerade and Deadlands, but rather than having the players start off as vampires I thought it might be fun to have them start off as humans with no knowledge of the supernatural and surprise them after a couple of adventures. Naturally, I knew players don’t like to have their characters permanently altered without consulting them, so I told everyone before they made their characters that “there will be a twist in this campaign that will have major implications for your characters and how they fit into the world, so don’t get too attached to them the way they are.”

    A couple of players liked the twist, a couple did not. One player eventually quit because he didn’t like the campaign. Another quit because a new semester had started, he only had time for one game, and he liked his other game better. (I don’t blame him, it was the best D&D campaign I’d ever played in. Mark here was the GM.)

    That discouraged me from running any more campaigns where there is a twist that makes the campaign into something other than what was advertised. Some GMs can pull that off, but I couldn’t, and I don’t recommend it.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Law of the Hearth and Honor or: Double Cross at Prisoner Exchange « From the Desk of Mark T. Hrisho
  2. The Dangers Of Holding To Tradition or: That Time Gong Jin Water Boarded A Boy For Converting to Christianity « From the Desk of Mark T. Hrisho

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