13 July 2014

Baiting and Switching ... Not.

So there was a thread once, where the OP put forth a proposition, based on indig tribes of Southeast Asia such as the Hmong or the Karen: that orcs were similarly folk who were pushed out of the better, nicer lands, who lived on the fringes of civilization as a matter of course, and who were far more stigmatized as Those Barbarians than anything else.  This wouldn’t be readily apparent to the players, who’d hold – and be expected to hold, as All Civilized Folk ought – the classic prejudices about orcs being nasty evil beings needing extermination.

The OP somewhat presciently said that this would either work well or piss everyone off, and it did: starting with other posters, who raked coals of fire over the idea.  The OP was accused of “cheating,” of having a “social agenda,” of baiting-and-switching, and of breaking the expected D&D paradigm.  One poster, rather colorfully, compared the “humiliation and embarrassment” of the situation to showing up at your boss' wedding in a clown suit.

This is not an unusual reaction in gaming circles ... IMHO, more because their own worldview was threatened than any other factor.  Now, yes: if the OP's was running straight D&D, with published dungeon modules fresh out of the shrink wrap, and advertised a hack-n-slash campaign, then yes, messing with people's (completely OOC) preconception of How You're Supposed To Be GMing Those Races is railroading.  I'm equally willing to acknowledge that a number of game systems have fixed settings with defined notions of the setting's races. A Pe Choi in Empire of the Petal Throne, a troll in RuneQuest, a dwarf in Warhammer, a gargun in Harnmaster, we have a good idea how they're to be portrayed.

For my own part? I think the notion of orcs as the fantasy world's 'Yards is a smashing one. Beyond that, I'm a GM. I get to set the standards for my setting. I can adopt whatever moral standards I bloody well feel like adopting, I get to define my world's orcs however I please, I am not bound by any fictional source or player expectation when I do it, and all the rest of you get to do the same around your own gaming tables.

Beyond that ... not everyone plays D&D 4th with a (say) Forgotten Worlds setting.

Let me repeat that: not everyone plays D&D.

Orcs are presented in different fashions in other systems. GURPS has its own take on them. Harn has its own take on them. Warcraft has its own take on them. Shadowrun has its own take on them. Warhammer has separate spins depending on whether you're doing Fantasy or 40,000. The claim that orcs are monolithically, irredeemably evil throughout the RPG world is flat out false ... and doesn't even apply to D&D, which has had orcs as playable PC races in more than one edition.

The notion, therefore, that "changing" how orcs work in your campaign is by-definition a bait and switch is bullshit.

And when this is a "reveal," and the whole point is that the general perception of the world might be wrong ...? Err. This isn't an epic screwjob. This is a plot twist.

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