A while ago I talked about an idea I had for a game based in a modern version of a D&D world which is going through a global conflict similar to the first and second world wars, and was also seeing the same kinds of political and social changes the real world was seeing during the early to mid 20th century. I haven’t talked about it in a while, but I have been kicking some ideas around. As one might expect, a lot of these ideas are centered around which D&D races would serve as analogues for which real world countries and cultures. Though I didn’t get this here on the blog, some of my friends who I told about this face to face had a knee jerk reaction to one of these in that they found it kind of racist, and that was my idea that Orcs would be this world’s answer to Native Americans. It didn’t occur to me until someone had this reaction, but I know realize that it kind of looks like I’m saying Native Americans are evil barbarians. That’s not the case at all.
On the social/political changes side of the whole project idea, I wanted to reflect the way that the major industrial powers of the early 20th century were undergoing changes in the way they treated certain ethnic minorities. Being an American, the racial tensions that first come to mind is African-Americans (specifically the long terms effects of slavery) and Native Americans (specifically the long-term effects of the U.S.’s genocidal treatment of them). So to find analogues for them in D&D, we need races who are typically seen as evil, worthless, and totally OK to kill and victimize, and who are also very familiar. The two races I think of first who fit that bill are Orcs and Goblins, and I decided to make the Goblins the race who were under the yoke of slavery and the Orcs the ones who were fighting to preserve their own land from foreign invaders. The idea here is not that Native Americans are the way people think of Orcs being, but that Orcs should be seen the way Native Americans actually were: dehumanized victims of racist, military expansion.
Here’s a rough idea of the story of Orcs in this world:
At some point in the pre-industrial eras of this world, the various races were by and large consolidated and separated into their own lands; The Dwarf Kingdom gathered into the world’s largest mountain range, the various Elf sub races unified under a single empire in the eastern woodlands (except the Drow who remained in the Underdark), the Humans came together in the large wintry northern territories and became very isolated, secure in the knowledge that no one can mess with them unless you are the Wild Elves, and so on and so forth. At first the were still a lot of unclaimed, and thus more or less neutral, areas, and it was here that the nomadic Halflings thrived. The one race who had already existed like this, however, were the Orcs, who originated on a very large island (or perhaps a very small continent) west of the great mountains (now home to the Dwarves) and accessible through various island chains. In earlier parts of history the Orcs maintained a presence on the mainland, and much of the world’s history is marked by wars with the Orcs. But as all this nationalizing and solidifying of kingdoms happened, the Orcs withdrew to their own lands.
As time went by, these various kingdoms began to expand, leaving less and less unclaimed space for the Halflings. They began to realize that they need to abandon their nomadic ways and found a kingdom of their own, but by this point that was almost impossible to do as the few unclaimed territories left were all hotly contested by kingdoms that they didn’t have a chance against in a conflict. Then their leaders had a neat idea; the Orcs have this giant island, and everybody hates Orcs and are worried that they may come back, so we could probably get support from at least some of these kingdoms to invade Orc Country and turn it into Halfling Country.
And so it came to pass. The Halflings biggest backer by far were the Dwarves, who initially used their military might and superior technology (the Dwarves led this world’s industrial revolution) to establish a set of colonies for the Halflings in Orc Country, originally under Dwarven rule, but they eventually gained independence and spread across the island/continent thing in a kind of “manifest destiny”.
What this meant for the Orcs was centuries of warfare trying to repel these invaders that cost millions of Orcish lives and led to their near extinction. By the time of the Great War most of the Orcs are living in reservations and resisting societal efforts to make them more like the mainland races. One Halfling famously said “kill the Orc, save the man.”
And this sets the stage for Orcs in the modern era, as the world is entering the largest and most brutal war it has ever faced. Orcs are being asked to fight and die on behalf of the very government that has been killing them, literally and figuratively, for centuries. They are burdened by the common notion that they are evil, savage, and barbaric. Their ancient societies are deemed chaotic and uncivilized, and the Orcs themselves are thought to be servants of an evil and brutal god (although the word “slave” would be more accurate). Dwindling numbers, fierce racism, second class citizens in their own homeland.
So you see, it’s not that I have a low opinion of Native Americans, it’s that I have a high opinion of Orcs.
On a completely unrelated note, I want to apologize for last week. Usually when I have nothing for you I tell you, but I was silent last time. I have no excuses, so I’m not going to pretend to. I’m just very sincerely sorry that you nice folks you decided that this little blog of mine is worth following were forgotten and ignored last week. Please forgive me, and I hope this post makes up for it.