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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shifting Orcish Alignments


A brief history of Orcish Alignments I just posted in response to the query, 
"Shouldn't orcs be chaotic evil?":

"They were Chaotic Evil before they were Lawful Evil.

In the beginning (OD&D, 1974), when there were only three alignments, they were Neutral or Chaotic. This lasted for three years, until Holmes Basic (mid-1977), where they are Chaotic Evil. The Holmes Basic set uses the then-new five-point alignment system, and Holmes the editor may have just appended an "evil" on to the Chaotic from OD&D. By later that year (Monster Manual, Dec 1977), Gygax had changed them to Lawful Evil, possibly because they are tribal and will follow a strong leader, as mentioned above."

See also: Neutral Orcs in OD&D

Update: In the DF thread, Matthew looked up the alignment table from Strategic Review #6 (1976), and Orcs are listed as Chaotic Evil. I'd guess that Holmes went by this table, because other monsters in the Blue Book seem to follow this table. For example, monsters that were Chaotic in OD&D such as Goblins, Minotaur and Spectres are listed as Lawful Evil on both the SR table and in Holmes.


9 comments:

  1. However, on page 104 of the DMG, under 'Monsters and Organisation', the section on orcs does say "There is not much chance that the chaotic orcs will have sent for reinforcements..." so it seems that even within the 1e core books, there was still an element of confusion.

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    1. Good find. There's also a comment in the DF thread that Gygax indicated the alignment in MM is incorrect, though they certainly would have had the opportunity to correct it when they corrected other typos.

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  2. 3rd Ed didn't help, by changing orcs back to CE but keeping their patron, Gruumsh, Lawful Evil. In some campaigns, I've had two different subraces of orc, one CE, the other LE, to cover both bases.

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    1. Thanks for the tip about Gruumsh. That's further evidence that the Monster Manual alignment is not a typo.

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  3. I always liked how the Elder Scrolls handled orcs; while they were still a persecuted people trying to establish a national identity (ES 2), they would be considered chaotic evil in their actions against the Empire as radicals, freedom fighters and sometimes terrorists, though their own society was lawful neutral.

    After orcs were granted political recognition by the empire and a degree of geopolitical autonomy (ES3+), you find Orcs who run the gamut of lawful good (proving the worth of their people in the eyes of other cultures), neutral good/lawful neutral (good-hearted orcs who are genial & kind, content to be normal citizens), chaotic good (well meaning orcs who are still brutish and unrefined), chaotic neutral (drunken angry idiots), and assorted evil (Petty criminals, gangsters, demon worshippers and orc-supremasists). You get to see an interesting range of archetypes that you might from any persecuted minority.

    Also, interestingly, even Tolkien admitted to regretting creating a race that was irredeemably evil because it went so against his own christian beliefs that all were capable of good and redemption.

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    1. I think that the Elder Scrolls dilution of Orcs in this way is similar to how Star Trek's Federation subsumed the Klingons... then had to find new bad guys in the Romulons... then there was peace with them and so they had to find new bad guys in the Borg... and on it goes. Just keep Orcs as they bad guys, it's a lot easier!

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    2. Thanks for the comment. Also, having half-orcs in AD&D that could choose Good alignments also implies that Orcs aren't really that different from humans, unless you postulate that full Orcs are being driven by some sort of external "Evil".

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    3. You're welcome!

      Also, even with the Klingon example, that doesn't mean you can't still use them as villains. It just means that they're not 1 dimension mooks, so you can actually make them MORE awesome and intriguing.

      Worf was a lawful-good space-orc. Didn't make episodes with conniving klingons, house rivalries and bouts of nationalist klingon expansionism any less interesting when it happened. It just meant that the writers had to come up with better reasons than just "cuz they're klingons".

      And in the case of Elder Scrolls, Orcs were never really big bads in anything, even in 2. The real villains were the petty human city states who were leveraging their position against the empire. The only time orcs never had any depth was in the 1st one where they were a generic low-level fantasy mook.

      In fact, one of the things that fascinates me most about the Elder Scrolls as a fantasy setting is that alignment and villainy is NOT something determined along lines of race, and while racism and bigotry exists in the world, it's only the real kooks who seek out some sort of racially supremacist end (Dagoth Ur, Umaril the Unfeathered, and several figures who only show up in the in-game literature.)

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  4. Klingon? Bah! Those are space hobgoblins, not space orcs. :-D

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