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Inside lives a goblin that feeds on indecision.

"Always Chaotic Evil" Considered Stupid

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(Originally posted on Google+, for some inexplicable reason.)

Just to toss out a topic (or possibly sweaty dynamite) ... what's the general opinion on "evil races" in games? By which I mean entire intelligent species whose sole purpose is essentially to kill/enslave/annoy humans.

As one might gather, I'm not a fan. My first problem is that real-world societies have attributed two-dimensional malice to their enemies far too often, with tragic results, and I'd rather not have a reminder.

The second and perhaps more important issue is that mustache-twirling villains are boring.

For example, Mind Flayers are brilliant if done right. Their metabolism and life-cycle REQUIRES consuming a sapient creature's brain every so often. Donors are understandably unwilling, so they must of necessity become secretive, manipulative, and amoral. The same could have been said of vampires until we learned enough about blood; nowadays we have to either declare "it's really life force" or posit they're Just Evil.

On the other hand, Orcs are the poster children for Always Chaotic Evil; they're bad because they're bad. A few authors have reinterpreted them over the years, but a society that ruthless and violent BUT has children and pregnant females is hard to believe. (The WH40K idea that Orks grow from spores is better but still problematic.) Drow are even worse: an entire nation of dark-skinned(!) assassination-happy dominatrix-led psychopaths whose society neither collapses nor evolves because Lolth makes them do it.

I'm tinkering with an alternate vision of Dark Elves, suggested by Gary McBride:

Dark Elves are those elves who went into the Underdark to protect the surface from unspeakable horrors. Over the centuries, millennia, or aeons they've waged an unending and largely unknown war against brain-eating abominations, ancient evils from an earlier age, and dead gods who aren't dead enough; they've also learned both hatred and contempt for the surface world. The surface Elves forgot about them, abandoned them. Dwarves keep digging too deep and unsealing what the Dark Elves sealed. Goblins, kobolds, and their ilk sometimes make valuable slaves for the war effort, but mostly they're a nuisance. And then there's humans, clueless bumbling humans, who traipse into the war zone in pursuit of loot and sword practice. Deep down the Dark Elves are still elves, with honor and foresight, but endless days of pain, madness, and death have made them hard. According to Dark Elf philosophy all intruders must die, save a few to tell the tale; better to kill a few relative innocents than let the rest encounter the Things that really lie under their feet.

Probably not a brilliant idea, much less original, but I'd rather GM a world with those Dark Elves than the original Gygax version.

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  1. nijineko's Avatar
    my default campaign standard is that "always x alignment" entries are ignored, unless an individual and/or unique creature has, due to past actions and choices, deliberately become a paragon of that way of being. and due to other campaign standards that concept applies all the up and down the power curve with no exceptions. the end result is that all things can choose who and what they are, though there are certain points of no return which any given creature can theoretically choose themselves past; thus there are a few creatures in my campaigns that are completely evil or purely good.
  2. falinxelote's Avatar
    I like the idea of explaining alignment like that personally. I usually operate from the standpoint that every creature believes it is good and its enemies are evil. Morality is a personal thing not a universal concept. Only psychopaths do what they consider evil intentionally. So I often run monsters similarly, Dragons are often apathetic of short lived thieving races, Goblins are narcissistic and believe the world should be theirs, Orcs follow a path of violence through a viking type mentality honor in battle and the afterlife is accessible only through death in combat, and the only exception is creatures like demons which are souls tormented and tortured into evil. I have similar stuff for many races.
    As for Drow they simply have devalued life. They kill because it is necessary in the underdark and they have been doing so for so long that they forgot that each life has value. They torture and maim like the Aztec, as offerings to their god, to insure good crops, healthy children, or victory in battle. They attack the surface out of jealousy and a twisted belief that the surface is weak and should be made strong. To them attacking the surface elves is leading the weak, misguided portions of their race back to strength.
    I follow the alignments but I create societal reasons for them. That also means a Drow not raised of Drow would not be drawn to evil just like a high elf raised by Drow would be just like the Drow.
    Updated 02-03-2014 at 05:46 PM by falinxelote