Dragons Over Normandy Update: Orcs (or, Why I’m Not A Racist)

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.

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Ode To The Natural 20

I could fight a monster with AC of 65

And have combat stats so low, I’m not sure how I’m still alive

But thanks to you I’ve still a 5 percent chance to hit

And, if I’m really lucky, maybe even score a crit

 

I love to see the curves of your two and of your zero

When you show up it makes me feel as though I am a hero

Unstoppable, unbeatable, until that basterd One

Shows up at last to take a giant shit on all my fun

 

Oh, Natural 20, I wish that you were on each side

 

Heroes?

Today’s post was inspired, in part, by “M for Mature” by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, and calls back to some of the things I’ve talked about lately. Also, the character names were taken from this page.
 

One evening, as the last of the sun’s rays began to withdraw behind the great mountains to the east, a party of orcs made camp for the night after a long day of adventuring. The fire had been provided by Ugzod, the group’s sorcerer, and above it hung a now deceased wild boar, which was caught by the fighter Dur. Nazsnaga, a druid, didn’t approve, but chose to find some fruit for herself instead of starting an argument over it. The camp site had been consecrated by Shaksnik, cleric and priestess, and the party was settling in for a nice meal followed by good night’s sleep.

Standing guard at the edge of the camp, the ranger Dreggut suddenly picked up a scent that alarmed him. He moved quietly to the others. “Be on your guard,” he said, “I don’t think we’re alone.”

Suddenly, from all around them, another adventuring party emerged from the trees, weapons drawn and ready for battle. They weren’t orcs though. The halfing was wielding a crossbow, and had a backpack that was clearly full of treasure. The elf woman, wearing the barest of garments, held a wooden staff aloft as light streamed from it. The human, wielding an insanely large broadsword, appeared to be one massive, solid muscle clad in scaled armor. And the dwarf, naturally, had an ax.

“Prepare for death, vile creatures!” the elf shouted, “Behold the light of Corellon Larethian and dismay!” But the light coming from her staff only served to illuminate the goosbumps on her bare skin.

“My goodness,” responded Shaksnik, “do the elves really make their women dress like that? You must be freezing, you poor dear! Here, take my coat.”

As she tried to hand her coat to the elf, the human stuck is sword into her face, nearly taking an eye.

“Back, monster! I will not allow evil such as you taint our cleric!”

Shaksnik looked at him, confusion and hurt feelings mixed on her face. “But, I’m a cleric myself.”

At this point Dur felt compelled to interject. “What evil? What are you talking?”

“You, laddie” the dwarf said. “Everyone knows orcs are evil.”

Ugzod burst out laughing. “Dude,” he said, anachronisms be damned, “You’re calling us evil, you bigoted fuck?”

“Yeah” Dreggut added, “Not to mention all that loot the halfling’s carrying. I suppose you guys bought all of that, and the original owners are still alive and well.”

“Uhm…” the halfling responded.

“Enough” the human shouted “We shall do battle!”

“Let’s not,” Nazsnaga said, “We’re all adults here, I’m sure we can come up with some kind of peaceful, mutually beneficial agreement and part ways without bloodshed.”

 

The next morning, Ugzod, Dreggut, Nazsnaga, Dur and Shaksnik were dead, their bodies left, without ceremony, to the crows. And the other party were in a nearby village, being celebrated as heroes.

Bonus Post

Since my blog post last week was me basically saying “sorry, no blog post this week’, I thought I’d make it up to you and make two posts this week.

One of things I’ve wanted to talk about here, but as of yet haven’t really, is role playing games as a medium of artistic expression. As an example, I want to share with you a story I wrote last year. I was running a Mage: the Awakening game, and as I was learning the game I wrote this short story. I didn’t get everything right (as I said, I wrote it while learning the game, not after) but I like it. I hope you do to.

Storm clouds are brewing outside the window of my office as the sun sets. It seems to have been getting dark earlier and earlier lately. I don’t just mean this time of year, I mean during the last several years. Since I Awakened. It’s a matter of perspective most Sleepers wouldn’t understand. Even during the daytime it seems dark to me, as I’m sure it does to most Mages. Glimpsing the Supernal Realms changes your perspective, and you see the Fallen World for what it is: a world of darkness.
A knock on the door pulls me from my thoughts. “Come in” I say. The door opens slowly to reveal the poorly lit figure of a young woman wearing a black trench coat. As she walks into the pool of yellow light cast by the lamp in the corner she pulls back the sides of her coat and puts her hands on her hips. Black tank tob underneath a fish net shirt. Low cut leather pants. Black boots. Black fingernails. Black hair with blond roots. Tribal tattoo around a pierced naval. I get the impression that I’m supposed to be turned on by all this.
“Are you Ronnie Masterson, the private investigator?” she says in a tone she thinks is seductive.
“Yes. And you are Elvira, the Herald for the Consilium.”
“Oh, you know about little old me?” Her voice is thick with fake modesty.
“Yes. More than you’d probably want me to know.” She starts to laugh until she realizes I’m not kidding, then awkwardly clears her throat. Before awakening and choosing the shadow nave Elvira, she was Brittany McPherson, a cheerleader from Des Moines Iowa. Then she became a Mage, adopted the whole goth/whore schtick and moved here. A lot of the willworkers in this town wonder how she became a Consilium official at such a young age, which only proves that mages can be idiots too.
“I assume” I continue, “that your here on behalf of the Hierarch? Official business and all that?”
“Yes. A cabal of younger mages were recently found dead. Murdered, actually. It looks like the work of a Banisher but we haven’t been able to find him. We heard you’re pretty good.”
I hate tracking Banishers. They know all the same spells the rest of us do, and their rhetoric about how evil magic is doesn’t seem to stop them from using it. The good thing about jobs like this though, is you can ask for a lot. Hazard pay and all that.
“Does the Hierarch know what my fee for Banishers is?” She hands me an envelope.
“Here’s half” she says, standing way too close. I count it and it’s all there.
“Inform him that I’m on the job.” She smiles, winks at me, than walks out in a way that I can only assume was meant to keep my attention on her ass. Once she’s gone I roll my eyes. Then I sit down at the desk and grab the phone. Time to get to work.
A few hours later and I’m stepping out of a cab into the rain. I got a tip that our guy might be one of the locals at a dive bar in the run down part of town. I walk in and find myself in every shitty bar you’ve ever been to. Overpriced jukebox playing loud country. TV showing a football game, turned up to blast out the music. Two drunk Irish guys at the end of the bar singing their drinking songs over all of it. Two fat bikers playing pool on an old, run down table. Hicks and yokels everywhere you look, and all of them are staring at me. A lot of women complain about men oggling them, but it’s the chicks that bother me. Most guys try to be smooth about it, but the dykes in this town have no sense of subtlety.
As I make my way to the bar, I casually cast an Unveiling spell to see if there’s any signs of magic use, and of course I see nothing. It was a long shot, but it’s good to cover all your bases. I order a drink and and try to get some information from the bartender, but I don’t really know what to ask him. I don’t know what the Banisher looks like or anything, and it’s not like I can just say “Hey, do you know a mage who likes killing other mages?” After a few minutes I give up and let the bartender get back to work. Suddenly I feel two hands come down on my shoulders, and I realize too late that the Irish guys stopped singing a while ago. A voice in my right ear says something that would sound like gibberish to anyone else. Sleepers will never know how funny it is to hear High Speech in an Irish accent.
“Your time has come.”
Fuck, must have seen my Nimbus when I cast the spell earlier. I’m getting sloppy tonight. Another voice speaks English into my left ear.
“Why don’t you come outside with us, sweatheart?”
Two of them. That’s good, that means I can charge double. If I survive, that is.
“Why in the hell would I go outside with you? How stupid do you think I am?”
“Oh, what, you don’ think we’ll do it hear if we have to?”
The guy makes a solid point. With all these people around it would be risky to cast any vulgar spells, but I doubt these guys would hesitate to do that. Outside I hear a crack of thunder, and suddenly going outside with these guys seems like a good idea. Gotta play it cool though, if I seem to change my mind too quickly they’ll be on to me. I get my hands to shake just the right way and drop my voice to a trembling whisper.
“Please, don’t do this. You don’t have to do this.”
“Oh, but we want to” one of them says, and grabs me by the arms. I pretend to be too weak and scared to struggle and let them drag me out back. The rain is really coming down know and I can see flashes of lighting in the distance. Best part is, not another soul around. I couldn’t have planned this better.
They throw me down to the ground and are suprised when I stand up laughing. I’m never unarmed in a storm. I hold my hands up like guns and point at them. I drop my thumbs like hammers and call down the lightning. But as soon as I do I can tell something went wrong.
The next thing I know I’m in a hospital bead with a tube down my throat. The drugs make the room look much darker than it is and I can barely see the nurse on the side of the bed. She tells me I was struck by lighting. She tells me the guys they found me with were killed by it. She tells me that I’m lucky to be alive.
Ok, maybe I could have planned that better.