Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Migration of the Oni-Wives

The oni-wives migrate on schedules unknown to mortal scholars.

"Migration" probably isn't even the right word, as it implies something regular, instinctual, inevitable, and purposeful. But the coming of the oni-wives is none of those things, save perhaps "inevitable."

The migration will happen, and the oni-wives will come. Will you be ready when they do?

They emerge from their mountain caves and redoubts and fastnesses, gripped by wanderlust. And where they wander, things change.

The changes are small at first. One of the witch-ogres arrives in a village and saves a child. Another finds a wolf whose leg is stuck in a trap and she sets it free.

But soon they grow large. An oni-wife destroys a slaving ring. An oni-wife faces down an army. An oni-wife destroys a city.

And before anyone can fully adapt, they disappear, returning to their mountain holds (or sometimes slain by angry mobs) and waiting for the next cycle.

Why do they do this? The few scholars who know of them have many theories but few answers. Some say they are emissaries of the numinous, go-betweens and messengers among the gods, the primordials, the folk of the world, and the forces of magic. Others say they are entropy incarnate, yet another mechanism by which civilization is doomed to fall. Still others claim they are the immune system of a healthy cosmos, a process by which the world keeps its systems vital and keeps its ages turning.

(Sages also wonder at their names. Are they truly kin to ogres or oni, or are these just poetic epithets? What do they do when they are not in the world? What drives them to come and bring change with them? Do they hear the songs of the gods and the music of the spheres keening constantly in their minds?)

It ultimately does not matter from whence they come or why they come or even when they come. What matters is that they will come, and you (or your children, or your children's children) will have to adapt to the change they bring with them.

When they come, will you be ready to greet the world they bring with them?

Thursday, February 11, 2021

New Classes

While cleaning out the old corners of my Google Drive, I found the custom classes I made for Arctic Death, Infinite Night back when it was a Lamentations of the Flame Princess game.

You could probably also use them in a B/X game or other such derivative, were you so inclined. (Which is probably where they're best suited. Otherwise, good luck playing a half-ogre in 1630s Germany.)

As usual, if you use them, let me know how it goes.


The Half-Ogre

Similar to the dwarf, but strong instead of tough. (And now available in the psychedelic colors of classic AD&D ogres!)

I developed this class because my players encountered a half-ogre NPC named Chunk the Twunk and one of my players wanted to play him when her original character died.


The Froska Fairy

A pixie that can summon and speak with frogs. Based on the halfling, but way more agile and maneuverable. (And much harder to hit.) The trade-off is low hit points and an inability to carry much of anything. (If you want to fight, you're probably wielding a knife as a zweihander.)

I developed this class because one of my players wanted to play Saffron the frog fairy from Clint Krause's The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem after his original character died.


Click the link for the Half-Ogre and Froska Fairy classes!

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Old Horror Discourse

Because everything old is new again when it comes to RPG discourse, I recently saw The Dreaded Discourse™ around horror raise its head. This usually comes in two flavors:

1) Adventure games (especially D&D, but a wide net that potentially describes any game the commenter does not like) are bad at horror.

2) Modern horror is hard to do effectively.

The former argument is predicated on the fact that one needs specialized systems to invoke feelings of horror, while the latter argument is predicated on the fact that modern technology is too much of an equalizer in the struggle of humans vs. the unknown.

Both reflect exceedingly narrow viewpoints.

Issue #1: Adventure Games are Bad at Horror

I will freely admit: adventure games typically aren't built for horror, and aren't often my go-to horror games, but sometimes the lack of tools is liberating. Indie games tend to have very specialized procedures as to how characters interact with horror, and even Call of Cthulhu has a typical encounter loop (see the horror, roll SAN against the horror, fail and freak out or succeed and fight or retreat). But all you really need for horror is a sense of powerlessness, and it takes very little to reinforce that — a single powerful attack from the monster, or a single player attack that the monster no-sells, or even just something the players have never before seen, and suddenly everyone is scattering to regroup and figure out what the hell just happened. Ignore the advice on balanced encounters, and suddenly everything is survival horror.

But you don't even need to go that far. Just start describing a creepy environment, and most players get into the zone. I have absolutely made players fear something far weaker than they just by describing it in a frightening enough manner.

It's a sometimes food, and you don't want to just spring it on a group without some warning, but it's still worth trying at least once.

Issue #2: Modern Horror is Hard to do Effectively

I take much greater offense at this one. Sure, it can be hard to do horror when you're running a spreadsheet of ever-ascending numbers and magical powers, but the modern era is almost uniquely suited for horror tales.

As noted above, horror relies on a sense of powerlessness, even if that sense is transient or only arises from encountering something one has never seen before. (Even in the case of something like Unknown Armies, where the horror comes from responsibility, the "powerlessness" arises from unintended consequences and the sense of spiraling out of control. Powerlessness takes many forms.) The alienation of modern, Westernized society gives us this in spades.

I've heard the argument before that people avoid eras past 1980 because of ubiquitous computers and cell phones and automatic weapons, and I've heard the (admittedly rarer) argument that some avoid the last 100 years or even the 20th century altogether.

You have to watch The Thing, or more importantly, Aliens. Technology is your friend as a horror GM, because it offers a false sense of security. Players always like to assume that they can handle problems because of the tools at their disposal: they have guns, cars, and cell phones. Help is just a phone call away, and they can always get into a car and leave the scene if things get bad.

But remember what happens in Aliens. The marines assume their heavy ordinance will nullify the threat while the tactical sorts coordinate the offensive over cams and comms. But their guns do very little to chew through endless waves of xenomorphs, and all the cameras and communication systems do is let the others watch them die.

Modern horror parties spend most of their time apart, embroiled in research, or working dayjobs, or splitting up to divide tasks more effectively. They rarely sleep in the same building, let alone the same room. And they sometimes encounter things that guns cannot put down.

Use this to your advantage.

If your buddies are halfway across the city when you get attacked by the rampaging monster, all your panicked cell phone call will do is let them hear your last, desperate moments. If you manage to get cell phone video of it, amateur digital analysts on Reddit will pick it apart and tell the survivors how fake it looks. Even with the fruits of 10,000 years of human civilization, your toys will not save you.

Everyone dies alone.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Review: NEUROCITY

Several months ago, Argentinian game designer Gavriel Quiroga asked if I would take a look at his then-new RPG, NEUROCITY. Now that I have a spot of time and he has a new Kickstarter called WARPLAND (already funded with forty days remaining!), it seems like as good a time as any to dig into it.

What you get: One hundred twenty-six pages of post-cyberpunk dystopia. Gavriel clearly loves the genre, and puts loving detail into making a tech-noir mélange in the way that D&D provides components for a fantasy kitchen sink or World of Darkness makes an urban fantasy/horror kitchen sink. The best way to describe it is with the genres it emulates: you get shades of 1984, Brave New WorldDark CityJudge DreddMemoirs Found in a Bathtub, Robocop, The Prisoner, and THX 1183. In terms of the game's "feel," it has similarities to Black Sun Deathcrawl, Cell Gamma from The No Press RPG Anthology, and Paranoia. (Longtime readers will recall my love for Black Sun Deathcrawl, and so should be unsurprised to learn that I similarly enjoyed NEUROCITY.)

Gavriel's writing is terse and clinical without being overly cumbersome, and despite the lack of fancy layout, I found it easy to read. (By way of example, I read the whole book in an hour or so.) Art and white space are used as effective pacing, the art largely comprising '80s-style cyberpunk comics and collages done by Sol Olweder. The overall style looks like a mimeographed zine from the '80s, something someone would shove into your hand at a political meeting or a punk show. Whether that's a style of art you enjoy, it's a stylistic choice that works well and fits the game's tone.

The Setting: I'll let the author himself give you the gist:

In order to delineate the setting it could be said that we are in a Post-Cyberpunk era where we can find configurations that refer us to aesthetic (Tech-Noir) and functional conceptions of the 80s. This is mainly due to the technological involution society has been forced in order to maintain its functionality in a closed environment.

Due to rigidity in administration and the constant fear of reprisals for evading protocol procedures Neurocity is slowly sinking into a bureaucratic swamp. Behind an apparent efficiency that satisfied I.S.A.C's gaze we find the vicissitudes of a technocracy deprived of the freedom to act according to common sense.

He describes a world that was once ours until we developed an AI called the Intelligent Singular and Artificial Consciousness (I.S.A.C.) re-ordered the world, developing a class system and a physiological regimen to keep the population docile. (As in Brave New World, the population medicates with soma, and has been rendered sterile; sex is frowned upon, but is still a common form of recreation, especially among the lower classes.)

There is only one settlement remaining and it is Neurocity, an enclosed mega-structure with artificial sky and weather. The outside world is dangerous, the boundary of the city marked by increasingly-abandoned and dangerous districts until giving way to the wastes beyond. The city itself is a retro-futuristic dystopia, where the common folk increasingly use old-school technology while only the upper crust has access to the truly futuristic stuff. (For example: mobile phones and flying cars are practically nonexistent, as both might inspire humanity to something approaching freedom.) As with most post-cyberpunk settings, cybernetics are rare, but genetic engineering is exceedingly common. Nobody ever dies in Neurocity; clones are regrown and imprinted with the previous person's memories. The population in Neurocity is completely static.

Zero population growth.

Rounding out the setting is a collection of tables for random encounters for the city's districts. I'm a sucker for random tables, and could see culling entries from some of these for other cyberpunk or science-fiction games. Even though they are specific to Neurocity, you could still mine them for inspiration in adjacent genres.

The System: The rules are pretty straightforward. Characters determine their role in society and their motivations, and also determine five stats ranging from 5-10. To perform an action when the outcome is in doubt, the goal is to roll 2d6 under the relevant statistic. There are a handful of complications and modifiers to this base rule — situational modifiers of -3 to +3 can be applied to the base statistic, successful rolls above 8 are critical successes, double 6s are critical failures, snake eyes or single ones are successful but might cause complications — but they're relatively straightforward.

(I'm personally not a big fan of overly fiddly modifiers, although the author recommends to just make sure they feel right. I would imagine in play the modifiers are rather like the shifts in Unknown Armies, and are meant to be applied with common sense rather than a strict tally of bonuses and penalties.)

Characters also have two derived scores, Tension and Wounds, which determine their capacity for mental stress and injury, respectively. Even though this is a game where violence happens, Tension is the true meat of the system, as PCs constantly have to balance the egregious psychological harm caused by this soulless system against the need to medicate or discuss their troubles. Tension also acts as narrative currency, as characters can choose to gain tension to reroll dice. If a character goes over their maximum Tension, they have some manner of psychosis as they lash out (and will probably be disciplined in some manner for acting in an unmutual fashion).

However, characters who are currently at maximum Tension and roll snake-eyes develop psychic powers, granting them superhuman attributes and an additional use for Tension.

As noted by the author, NEUROCITY is designed for short campaigns of roughly three to four sessions in length. (Before I read that note, I was going to guess five or six.) Although you could deviate from this basic formula, the basic gameplay loop seems to involve receiving a job from a superior (probably to do something about a terrorist cell comprising unmutual elements of the underclass), and in the process, ranging farther and farther out before learning the dark secrets of Neurocity.

The secret origin of Neurocity and the nature of I.S.A.C. provide the game's replay value, as these are designed to be randomized or altered every campaign such that no two versions of the city will be alike. (So while a campaign might only last four sessions, you could easily run a couple of campaigns in sequence to see if things turn out differently.) These secret backstory options also form the meat of the game and its central philosophical tension: how does one live in an absurd, dysfunctional future society where life is mandatory? How does one find meaning when life is meaningless? And is it possible to escape this prison, or is the prison preferable to what lies beyond?

The Verdict: We'll start with the bad: I found the rules a little fiddly and there are a few glaring typos that could have used another editing pass. (I don't speak Spanish and haven't read the Spanish version, so I don't know if that one is better edited.) Likewise, the book ends with some sample characters and other notes, but I might have liked a summary of some of the charts, like the example modifiers and the wound tables.

Beyond those minor complaints, I would recommend it. It has a neat setting and poses some interesting existential questions about finding meaning amidst the absurdity and existential dread of endless drudgery. (Contrast with Black Sun Deathcrawl, that offers no such philosophical musing, only the catharsis of nihilism.) The style of the book really fits the tone, and although the concepts are dense, Gavriel handles them fairly well. Even if the post-cyberpunk tech-noir setting or the rules don't interest you, you could probably use the random encounter tables and setting bits in your own cyberpunk or science-fiction games.

Given the game's replay value, either over multiple campaigns or as a source of random encounters for other games, I'd say the pdf price of $6 is more than justified. (The print-on-demand book is $30, and while I'm usually a physical copy sort of person, I don't imagine this will hit the table often enough to justify the price. On the other hand, if you planned on playing it multiple times, using the random tables, and taking it to conventions and such to run repeatedly, it would totally be worth getting a physical copy.)

And if NEUROCITY interests you, check out Gavriel's WARPLAND if you have the chance! It looks to be roughly the same price point with similar rules and philosophical attitude, this time in a fantasy setting.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Random Cyberpunk NPCs

A friend is running a Cyberpunk RED game and asked us to develop some of the waitstaff at the bar we own. (Yeah, that's right. We don't just meet in a tavern. We own the tavern.)

So, here are three cyberpunk NPCs to populate your own bars and nightclubs. Use and abuse them as you see fit.

Billboard (M) – One of the bartenders at the local watering hole, Billboard is a young Vietnamese-American man. His family is also in heavy debt to one of the triads in the area, so he took this job in the hopes of paying down his debt. Of course, bartending isn’t even his main hustle; to further pay down his debt, he also became a living billboard for various local corps. (As such, he bartends shirtless. It’s in his advertising contract.) He has neon blue chemskin, shift tacts and a techhair mohawk that detect hormonal changes (and so act like mood rings), and is covered by light tattoos advertising various local businesses. Every few weeks, he either adds a new tattoo or changes an old one that isn’t paying as well.

Hiroko Nakamura (F) – One of the waitstaff at the local nightclub, Hiroko is a young Japanese-American woman. She is exceedingly quiet and soft-spoken, a very normal and unassuming counterpoint to a place like this jumping joint. Nobody is certain about her history or why she’s working at a nightclub, which (of course) leads to intense speculation among the other staff. The most common (and likely) theory is that she’s just a quiet college student trying to keep her debt under control with a side gig, but popular theories include: she only knows enough English to greet and serve customers, she just works here to get her drug connection, she’s a full conversion cyborg secretly bristling with weapons and cyberware, she’s an obscure Tokyo pop star on the run from the Yakuza, or she’s a corporate or police spy with surveillance gear in her prescription glasses. Whether any of these rumors are true is currently unknown.

Synth Dragonfire (M) – Synth is a Caucasian man who is also one of the waitstaff at the local bar. Of course, to hear him tell it, waiting tables is just a side job; he’s the Synth Dragonfire, you know, of the band Dragonfire? (He’s always a little crestfallen when someone doesn’t recognize him.) He dreams of being a real live rockerboy, composing electronic prog power ballad synth music about young heroes rising up against tyrannical dragons or some shit. The critics (which is to say, his roommates) describe his brand of rock as, “practically unlistenable.” While at work, he frequently has to be reminded to not harass customers with his demo mix download links. (Plus, isn’t he a little old for this scene? And maybe too high-energy for his age?) He’s sure the club managers are going to invite him to do a live set “any day now.” When not serving the guests or peddling his music, he sells blue glass and synthcoke on the side.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Projects Around the Internet

Some of my acquaintances have been making art around the internet for your consumption.

Cass Voit just released a Mage: The Ascension novel, HopesChest. The blurb sounds as though computer hacker Pandora "Panda" Tran is caught between the Virtual Adepts and the Technocracy. But will she choose them or go her own way? She even cut a trailer for it, included below:


Michael Strange of Twin Mask LARP fame does a guest spot about LARPing on the inaugural episode of Queers Should Be Stoned. If you want to hear about queer issues, marijuana, and the intersection of LARP and gender issues, here you are.

Rise Up Comus just released their first official game, Under Hill, By Water. An OSR-ish game, you play halflings far away from lands of adventure usually covered in dungeon-y and dragon-y table-top RPGs. Stardew Valley in the Shire.

Check 'em out, won't you?

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Orc Problem

Is this a bad time to revisit this conversation?

Fuck if I know. I'm just the guy who slings the wordcount. Then again, if other people are talking about it, why am I worried?

Also, you don't have to read the previous ramble on The Danger Zone, but these two are companion pieces of a sort. I'm hoping this one will be a little more refined than the last one, but we'll see.

Sometimes I just vomit words onto a page so I can be free of them.

The Dreaded Orc Discourse™ (discorcs?) has reared its ugly head again, this time riding the cultural wave of the Black Lives Matter protests. (I seem to remember The Dreaded Orc Discourse™ appearing earlier in the year, but I can't recall the context.)

For those of you who are reading this in the future or are unaware: the BLM protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder have prompted a re-evaluation of our culture, which is always a good thing to do. However, the fact that we revisit cultural sensitivity every few years or decades and then invariably just make a handful of token changes, throw up a couple of censor bars, and call the problem SOLVED invariably leaves me rather cynical with regard to all this. (Make no mistake: things are getting better, but the increments tend to be small, and the pundits who declare problems fixed invariably do so prematurely. The work of making a better world never ends.)

If you don't believe me, here's a Richard Pryor bit from forty years ago, wherein he describes George Floyd's murder. The murder might be shocking, but the problems of class imbalance and racial injustice that have been highlighted in the aftermath aren't new:


(An aside, so you understand my biases: Censorship and rethinking cultural taboos are all well and good, but these tend to be nice, safe, symbolic actions rather than any sort of praxis. They make us feel good, and give the sense that things are changing without actually changing anything. Outlawing racial slurs doesn't make racism go away any more than outlawing sex work makes misogyny disappear. If you want to change how people think, you have to put in the long, hard work to reform society and show people how things are wrong rather than sweeping the ugly parts of civilization under the rug. Also, censorship is usually evil, but occasionally a necessary evil: parents must do it for their children, for example. I know people are arguing for greater censorship — both in artistic collectives as well as from private corporations — in light of the current culture war, which begs the chemotherapy question. Will you kill the cancer before you kill the patient? Will you save the culture before you permanently poison it?)

(A second aside: Always do the work to understand the biases of the people you're reading. It will help you live longer, and help you avoid the predations of personalities.)

Enough ramble. The re-examination has brought the fantasy RPG community to revisit a question that I've heard bouncing around for decades: should we rethink fantasy races?

The basic argument is that bad thoughts and actions regarding fantasy races reinforce bad thoughts and actions about real races — that Othering in fantasy is a stepping stone to Othering in real life (or that Othering in fantasy will act as a speedbump if you are trying to avoid Othering in your personal life). That's a vast oversimplification, but we'll still be having this argument (or a variation of it) in 2025, so you can Google it to get a more nuanced take.

As you should always understand the biases of someone writing, you should never take persuasive anecdotes as reasons to change your thinking, but I want to provide a handful of reactions to the above thesis. Most of these will draw from my own experience, so again, make of them what you will.

1) The old "change the term 'race' to 'species'" argument. This argument usually emerges in any fantasy-race-is-a-backwards-idea conversation, but I always think this argument is backwards. Race is a synonym for species; that's why they called different lineages and ethnicities different races, so as to reinforce the idea that they were different creatures (and to reinforce the idea that some classes of people could be superior to others, given the whole Western obsession with the fallacy of Progress — another rant for another time). But words mean things outside their textbook definitions, so if "race" has become the preferred nomenclature for "ethnicity," then fine. Change it to species, but don't forget that the word "race" was originally there to control you anyway.

2) Context is key. This is one of those top-down societal things, and I know this is the reason why people think censorship is good, actually, in light of the current culture war. But as I said in The Danger Zone, art isn't bad or evil or dangerous — it's only dangerous when devoid of any other context. THOUGHTCRIME isn't a problem, but the lack of greater societal context is. We throw everyone into a culture saturated with information but give them no instructions on how to parse this flood. We have the ability to teach people critical thinking skills and media literacy, but we have yet to institute these as programs on any grand scale. You can argue about why that is, but regardless of the wherefores, the simple fact is that even the nastiest, most transgressive art ceases to be dangerous if people have a broader context in which to absorb it. (We can also get into the whole method by which people isolate and radicalize, but that's well outside the scope of this humble blog post. Still, our lack of cohesion as a culture provides a breeding ground for predators, and that's a conversation we'll need to have. One of these days. Along with all the other conversations we'll need to have about the various civilizations around the globe.)

3) Look at the intent. This is also another discussion for another day, but a lot of the discourse about "evil races" reflects the evolution of D&D and fantasy gaming over time. The game's fundamentals describe a world where the various races are on different cosmological teams, and although Law and Chaos don't get along, it doesn't matter to your warband, because you're just trying to get paid. (And don't forget that early adventuring parties often had members of radically different alignments, and it didn't matter because they were all looking to score the same treasure. Law and Chaos don't play well together unless they have a common goal. I severely doubt that Arneson and Gygax had any grand plans of promoting cultural egalitarianism in their work, but you can absolutely get a multicultural read on early D&D if you squint.) When you look at the AD&D Monster Manual and see orcs list Number Appearing as 30-300, you realize they're not there as dudes you're supposed to kill, but problems to solve. If you're hiking through the mountains and come across a warband of 165 orcs, you won't have the resources to fight them until high level, so you're going to have to figure out some other way of dealing with them, probably either involving fleeing or negotiating. (And if you have a skilled negotiator with high Charisma, they probably won't even be hostile, assuming you roll well on the reaction roll.) It's only somewhere in the 2e/3e era that violence becomes the assumed way you're going to solve your problems, and while 5e has done a little to scale that back from the 3e/4e era, it still isn't a common playstyle.

4) Art is subjective. Here's where we get into the personal examples. I still list H.P. Lovecraft among my favorite authors despite the rather exhaustive examination of his racism. Why? Because that's not my connection to the source literature. Lovecraft might have written through his racial anxieties with such hits as tribal cultures worship the Great Old Ones because they're stupid degenerates and the alien DNA in your lineage is a metaphor for mixed-race heritage disrupting your superior Anglo-Saxon ancestry, but when I was reading these stories as a kid, that sort of interpretation wasn't in my wheelhouse. I had the cultural context to know that so-called "primitive" cultures were just cultures with a different set of priorities than our own, so the sinister backwoodsmen and degenerate Bantu tribesmen of pulp literature were a metaphor for the frightening, hungry wilderness rather than people I actually thought I was supposed to hate or fear. (I admittedly thought it was weird that Robert E. Howard's N'Longa was treated as being sinister when he was both one of the heroes and more powerful than Solomon Kane himself, so it's not like it all went over my head.) As for the alien heritage that Lovecraft's protagonists constantly feared, that jibed with my understanding of Lovecraft himself — like Poe, Lovecraft had a lot of tragedy in his past, so the idea that one's family was a millstone around one's neck seemed a perfectly logical conclusion — as well as my interest in biology. It was a body horror thing for me: we do have alien ghosts in our genome, the hungry fragments of our ancestors, of proviral DNA, of faulty transcription that can result in cancer. That resonated, and even though the art may have been made with bad intent, my enjoyment of it reinforced a very different worldview. In the case of evil fantasy races, I never took it as people different from us are evil, instead interpreting the message as if we're extremely lucky, we'll be able to see evil intent before it arrives. It wasn't a warning or a fear, but a hope.

5) Sometimes you just gotta kill an orc. I understand why dark-skinned races that are dumber or more duplicitous than the "standard," European-style folk is intensely problematic, but I never saw those as stand-ins for real-world cultures. As mentioned in other places, I got my start with World of Darkness and other sorts of horror conspiracy games, and those games are all about moral relativism — asking hard questions, and realizing that every faction tends to think it's the "right" one while they all have good and bad aspects in them. That's what RPGs were for me. So I came to see D&D and its related games as a welcome change of pace: sometimes you can identify the evil thing by looking at it, and sometimes you can solve your problems just by punching them. It's a sometimes food for me, but not one that I begrudge anyone from enjoying: the real world is infinitely complex, and the more you delve into an issue, the more likely you are to find common ground with your enemy, or that the issue is more complicated than you first thought. But being able to play a game that paints in broad strokes, and that makes its villains obvious, is a nice change of pace sometimes, and one that tends to get rejected. (Full disclosure: I'm absolutely a hypocrite in this regard. Despite the fact that I think you should just be able to punch an orc if you want, I'm not sure I've ever run a straight-up orc punching plot. The drow invasion of Scandshar comes the closest, but even then, that course of action might seem perfectly reasonable if your former elf clans drove you underground and into the arms of a demon-goddess — sometimes the real enemy is the imperialism we met along the way. Evil races usually have reasons for doing what they do, and devoid of that imposed cultural context, they usually turn towards good if given the opportunity. Even my standard fantasy plots that lean on "evil races" tropes tend to be subversions rather than straight adaptations.)

So, is the concept of "evil races" bad? As with most art questions, it depends. Are you using it as a dumb escapist fantasy thing to be used as a counterpoint to the complexities of modern life? You're probably fine. Are you doing something interesting with the source material, or using them as some elaborate metaphor for a real-world issue? Again, that's probably okay as long as your motives are well-considered. Are you using them as a metaphor for real-world cultures, or to desensitize your players to real-world racism? Well, now you might want to take a step back from the fantasy RPGs for a while, because you're getting into that danger zone where the line between fantasy and reality becomes exceedingly porous, and that's frequently a bad trip no matter what your motives are.

As with most of these posts, the dirty secret is that there's no good answer, no hundred-question quiz that will definitively identify whether or not you're using fantasy races responsibly. As long as your actions in a game don't make you more of a jerk in real-life — something to remember in the midst of your next Twitter argument — you're probably still doing okay.

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