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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ONE OF US! ONE OF US! HEE HEE HEE!

First of all folks, sorry about last week. I have no excuse, I just completely spaced it. I forgot all about the blog until very late.

This week has been kind of exciting, role-playing wise, because a friend of mine just started her very first game! She’s playing an elf witch in a Pathfinder game. I’ve really enjoyed talking to her about it, following along as she makes her character and learns about the game.

(And in the process, I’ve also finally gotten around to looking at Pathfinder. Everything I’ve heard about Pathfinder, and from what I can tell the whole point of it, is preserving the 3.5 D&D rules once fourth edition came about. But they made changes, and I’m not sure what to make of them. Adding class features seems good, though the new favored class system seems weird. I guess there’s nothing wrong with Pathfinder, but I think I’d prefer to just stick with all my 3.5 material. Stick what you know, right?)

Anyway, the two are similar enough that I can understand the lingo, so it’ll be lots of fun following my friend as she wades further and deeper into my mostest favoritist pastime. I always get a thrill watching new comers to gaming. It’s like a bonus to the group of people I can share my passion with, another person with whom I can engage in that most sacred and honorable of activities, geeking the fuck out.

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.

Shemhamforash! Ave Satanas!

A fellow gamer recently told me about this. Apparently someone is making a film adaption of one of Jack Chick’s many anti-D&D Chick Tracts, with the aim of showing just how very, very stupid it is. I’m looking forward to seeing it, because everything Jack Chick has ever said in his entire life, as far as I can tell, is completely deserving of all the scorn and ridicule that the whole of humanity is able to conjure up.

If you don’t know who Jack Chick is, he’s a fundamentalist Christian who makes comic strip pamphlets, which he calls Chick Tracts, in which he spouts out his hateful, close minded and ignorant views on the world. Like a lot of other fundamentalists, such as Pat Robertson, some of Mr. Chick’s favorite targets are homosexuals, secularism, the LDS church, feminists, and Dungeons and Dragons.

Yeah, that’s right. D&D is, according to this asshat, a direct path into the warm embrace of satanism.

This far-right Christian* hate of role playing games, D&D in particular, is perhaps the greatest example of arguing from ignorance I’ve ever encountered. The idea seems to be that Dungeons & Dragons teaches people how to perform satanic rituals, thereby making them more willing to join satanic cults.

The first problem with this argument is that the kind of satanic cults Jack and his ilk are trying to make us afraid of simply don’t exist.

The other problem is that while the real religion of Satanism, that is the religion represented by Anton LeVay’s Church of Satan, does perform ritual magic, Satanic rituals have less  in common with D&D as I have in common with a kangaroo; I mean we’re both eukaryotes, animals, chordates, and mammals, but that’s about it.

Basically, the far-right Christian fear mongers are speaking authoritatively about the connection between Satanism and Dungeons & Dragons while simultaneously making it very clear that they’ve never done any real research into either one, such as reading the D&D Player’s Handbook or the Satanic Bible. I, on the other hand, have read both of those books, and feel very qualified to compare and contrast the two.

First of all, the only similarity I can think of between Satanism and Dungeons &Dragons is that neither one of them promotes worship of the Christian Devil. No, seriously, the Satan of Satanism is not a divine or angelic being, but a concept describing a “force of nature”, as the Satanic Bible puts it.

Now, for some of their differences:

The Satanic Bible is a religious text defining the practices and tenets of belief for a real life religious movement called Satanism. The D&D Player’s Handbook is an instruction manual on how to play a game.

The Satanic Bible discusses two different kinds of magic. The first is coincidental magic, wherein a person manipulates events to lead to a desirable outcome. An example that the Satanic Bible gives is a woman wearing perfume to attract a potential sex partner. You may recognize this kind of magic as not actually being magic. The other kind is ritual magic, in which a group of Satanists get together, wear black clothes, light candles and recite fancy incantations with the idea being that doing so will enhance and focus emotional energy to guide events to a certain outcome. The Satanic Bible is very clear that ritual magic needs to work with nature, not against it, so the effects of ritual magic tend to be subtle; for example, the inaccurately named Ritual of Destruction seeks to cause an increase in the frequency with which a specific person has bad things happen to him or her. The D&D Player’s Handbook, on the other hand, presents a system of game mechanics to determine whether or not a fictional character living in a fictional world can cause a fictional (and decidedly not natural) phenomenon to occur. Because it’s a game.

The Satanic Bible presents Satanism as being in direct opposition not only to Christianity, but to other pagan religions such as Wicca, and says some very not nice things about them. The D&D Players Handbook doesn’t take a stance one way or the other on any real world religion, because Wizards of the Coast is in the business of selling games, not religious conversion.

D&D involves a lot of dice rolling. Satanism doesn’t.

The last thing I want to say about this is that a lot of the ridiculous claims Jack and friends are making about D&D to try to scare people away from playing it are things which would actually be a lot of fun if they were incorporated into the game. Like, I’d kind of like to have a podium and a hooded cloak while I’m GMing.

*I want to emphasis the “far right” part of that. There are plenty of Christians who don’t have their heads up their asses far enough to confuse a game with actual occultism.

Bonus Post: Be nice to the lady nerds

So there’s this really ugly thing happening in the world of nerdom. I think I first started hearing about it last year, but I suspect it’s been going on longer than that; I’m kind of a nerd among nerds, and I don’t go to cons or frequent message boards or play online games or interact with other nerds who aren’t part of my immediate social circle, where thankfully this doesn’t really seem to happen much. But it is, I now realize, happening elsewhere. This thing has been on my mind a lot for the last few days, ever since I read Fake G33k Girl’s new blog. I can’t stop thinking about this, so I’m going to kind of ride her coattails and give my two cents.

(Although, if you haven’t read her blog yet, you totally should. Her treatment of this topic is so much better than mine.)

 

Back when I was in high school, the terms “nerd” and “geek” did not, or at least from where I was standing didn’t seem to, refer to cultures, but instead referred to stereotypes. Back then when someone called me a nerd they probably weren’t trying to be my friend. Back then we nerds didn’t call ourselves nerds, those names were stuck to us by others. We had a lot of common interests, such as comic books, role playing games and science fiction to name a few, but that’s not why we were called nerds. We were given these labels because we didn’t really fit in with the social structures around us. Occasionally that was a result of having interests that weren’t, at that time, mainstream, but I think more often it was a lack of social skills or other differences that earned someone the title of “nerd” or “geek”.

And of course, part of this stereotype was that we were all a bunch of lonely boys who will never grow up or get to touch boobs. Back then we had girls in our ranks, but they seemed to be a minority within our minority. They may not have actually been, I’m not sure, but that certainly was the perception, even to a lot of us nerds.

Later on we started to claim those words as our own, to wear them as badges of honor and build a real, honest to goodness, no bullshit culture around them. We held our heads high as we suffered the slings and arrows of people thinking it worthy of derision to learn Klingon, or become intimately familiar with the intricacies of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, or keep a Magic: the Gathering deck in our back pocket.

And a while after that, perhaps in part because of that, a lot of our “nerd” interests started to become popular and mainstream. Nowadays we have big budget, high quality film adaptations of superheroes and 1980’s cartoons, as well as classic science fiction and fantasy novels. Whereas people who like dressing up like characters from movies, comics and video games were once seen as weirdos and losers, now it’s a real legitimate hobby with a special name and everything! We call it cosplaying, and lots of people do it, and gone are the days where we just assume they’re jobless losers living in their parents’ basements.

Being a nerd is no longer a stigma. It’s a culture, it’s a set of interests, it’s a lifestyle. Most importantly, it’s socially acceptable. We have actual nerd celebrities, like Wil Wheaton and Vin Diesel. Yeah, did you know Vin Diesel plays D&D?

Pretty cool, right?

It’s been a long time since anyone has called me a nerd or a geek in a mean, hurtful way. I’m no longer worried about sharing my geeky interests with strangers. People are cool with it. I no longer feel like I’m being excluded. That’s a good thing.

So why the fuck do I keep hearing about geeky ladies being treated like shit by nerd guys? I mean, of all fucking people, nerds are excluding women from their culture? This whole thing about “testing” women to confirm that they’re “real” geeks. Slut-shaming women who cosplay, or accusing them of doing it just to turn on their boyfriends. Talking to women in online games in such an objectifyingly, obscene way that many female gamers try to pass themselves as dudes just so they can play without other members of their community demeaning them. I even hear tell about threats of rape and other forms of violence because a woman has the gall to try to be a part of this scene we’ve created.

Nerds are doing this? NERDS ARE DOING THIS??

A true nerd knows the pain of exclusion. A true nerd knows the fear of being attacked, literally and figuratively, because of one’s interests. A true nerd should be grateful that all kinds of people, including women, are talking an interest in the things that we love. I remember being afraid of scaring women off, whether or not I was trying to “get with them” or just hang out, by talking about my nerdy interests. Part of that fear stays with me today. When I see a woman wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt or reading an RPG manual, I’m delighted. I’m overjoyed that the line between us outcasts and them cool kids is blurring. I’m glad that, whatever other social shortcomings I have, I can talk to these people because we have common interests. I’m glad that geek girls are a thing. I want all people to feel welcome in our geek culture.

 

So, y’know, don’t be a dick, huh?

 

P.S. I’m talking about misogyny here, but for the record I’m also against homophobia, racism, and any other kind of bigotry. These things have no place in nerd culture, and we all need to put a stop to it.