Let me preface this by saying that I’ve been a fan of Warhammer forever. I spent my childhood reading books where heroes slaughtered beastmen en masse; I grew up wanting to lead my plucky plastic dwarven armies to battle against the dastardly orcs and goblins.
I also want to say that I wholeheartedly enjoy those games, and the idea of heroes battling against evil in general. No-one’s saying that wargaming or roleplaying should suddenly be pacifistic. (Or I’m not saying that, at least.)
But this is a move that will only help our fantasy fiction in the long run and encourage better storytelling.
For the longest time, we’ve been playing games where the dungeon master shoves a bunch of goblins in a cave and expects the heroes to kill them because, well, goblins are evil and heroes are supposed to kill them. It doesn’t matter what the goblins are doing there, they’re evil things living in a cave, so they must be destroyed. This is lazy storytelling.
In these stories, evil is something green and tusked and stabby. But evil itself is not defined. It’s tied to the race of the enemy.
If we make it so goblins, orcs and the like are not inherently evil, just different cultures, it forces the storyteller to define the nature of evil. What are these goblins doing in this cave? Is the cave an ancient tomb and the goblins are looting it because they want to sell the grave goods? Or maybe they have a bunch of villagers captive in there who need rescuing? Now we have a motivation to go and kill them. And from then on, the way the encounter will actually play out in game is exactly the same as it has always been.
But we really should stop using them as cardboard cut-out bad guys that players chop up on sight. Instead we should force ourselves to consider their motivations: are they in thrall to an evil wizard? Are they being guided by a big bad tough-guy orc who is telling them to kill the humans because they’re weak and squishy? Now you’ve got some defined evil.
We should always be giving our evil a face, never a colour.
In the encounters themselves, we should also encourage ourselves to use all of our characters’ abilities. After all, we have persuasion and charisma stats for a reason, don’t we? When we know the motivations behind the goblins’ actions, for example, a wily character should be able to persuade them to change direction – or even turn on the evil which has swayed them to its side. Too often we resort to combat stats alone when the most interesting part of roleplaying is the wide array of different ways to approach situations and solve problems.
We all have a habit of saying that the best roleplaying games we’ve ever been part of were ones which used all our character stats – many not involving violence at all.
Which is to say, again, that I’m not against combat in D&D games. Not at all. But we can tell better stories, and we can do better to define the evil we fight than by sticking a tusked face on it and saying that is enough of a reason to start killing.
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