Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fun with Humanoids

From here:

When there is a kobold lair, or a room full of kobolds in a dungeon, the unspoken assumption is that the PCs are expected to kill them, even if the only reason for doing so is that they might have treasure that the party can take. Even if the kobolds are not known to be murderous bandits or minions of evil and just happen to be living there, they are still kobolds and so it's okay to kill them. This never used to bother me, but it does now.

I responded there... but this blog is supposed to be my repository on gaming thought, right? So for archival purposes:

Good. Good! Don't shy away from this, but don't water down the issue by just making the humanoids simply "misunderstood," either. Milk it for all the drama that it's worth.

Humanoid children... well, Keep on the Borderlands is a fantastic precedent: They exist as far as Gygax was concerned. The fact that half orcs exist should also settle the matter.

As for the morality of killing them... well... I always like to make my players sweat, so of COURSE I don't say that they're all irredeemably evil by nature. And if humanoid children aren't evil by nature, then slaughtering them is an evil act. As is leaving them in the lair amidst the gore of their slaughtered relatives after you've dealt with the combatants.

True evil gamemastering: Magic-user casts sleep on a group of humanoid guards in a lair. Just as the sleeping foes are about to be "dealt with," in comes a child, clutching the equivalent of a teddy bear (make it some stuffed human baby if you really want to make the whole situation truly macabre and bizarre), saying in broken common, "What are you doing to my daddy?"

There is a ridiculous amount of referee pride when a group of players starts thinking in terms of, "We've got to get the <macguffin> out of the orc lair with a minimal loss of life!"

Of course "not irredeemably evil" doesn't mean "just people that look different." What if humanoids had, ahhh, nutritional requirements that are a bit... distasteful or unacceptable? Think of how the doctor rewarded Bub to make him behave in Day of the Dead... so you can have little bits such as the warlike nature of humanoids is just a psychological defense because if they thought of their food as people, many of them wouldn't eat, and that's it for the race. Introduce little bits like most of the tribe not speaking common, and the ones that do will be smaller with less hit points due to not being properly nourished, because they couldn't bring themselves to eat anything that was begging for mercy... but they'll still support the success of their tribe so they'll still stick you if they have the chance.

Have an inn at the edge of civilization, and have the innkeeper pay bounties for humanoid scalps. Extra money and xp for killing gobbos! Then they find out their "complimentary breakfast" is made of orc meat... see how the players react. :)

Play the Slavers series (I know this is an OD&D board, but if the guy I quoted can reference AD&D... ;)) but replace all the humanoid henchmen with humans, and make all the slaves humanoid.

(then there's the Danger at Dunwater example...)

Or sometimes I just take all the incidences of "orc" and just replace them with "savage" humans. You invade their lair, and human women and children are realizing their way of life is going to disappear if they don't fight... what does your character do when there's a six year old kid trying to kill them? What, you thought invading a tribe's home was going to be a simple slice and dice affair?

Remember the battle of Helm's Deep? All the kids being suited up? And what would have happened if the orcs won and broke through to the caves below? When you invade a lair, you are the orcs to the natives, be they human or not.

You know what makes players confused? Evil elves. Not drow. I mean making regular everyday elves hostile towards humans. Screw this "our time is past, and we are the wise old buddies of these newfangled humans who shall inherit the world." Nope. "It's not to late to reclaim this world which was once ours!"

Usually when I introduce this element into a campaign (and I always do, sooner or later), the first thing that happens is the players want to stop dealing with it altogether and go fight bestial enemies or true EVIL (undead!) things instead. Which works for me.


  1. I suppose it is the people I play with.

    a) they would "gleefully" kill the child with the teddy bear.
    b) they would collect sacks of kobald heads for the bounty
    c) they would slaughter the six year old and make a joke like, "that'll learn 'em"
    d) they'd make the innkeeper eat his complimentary breakfast...his "last meal"

    Not morally confused people here.

    The headgames you suggest are brilliant...I would definitely incorporate them. But I doubt very much that my players would see past their greed or their survival long enough to stop from killing imaginary creatures.

  2. Great comment! I do totally agree with this. on a side note: I don't see why folks just assume that because something is good, it means that it doesn't attack and will put up with all of the bullshit as benevolently as a loving father. As far as demi-humans go, I love doing scenarios where goblins or such are just in a bad area where they'll find nothing but trouble. If the PC's rout them, then all they get is experience, but if they help them relocate to a safer area where they can live happily and actually serve a function, then they will be rewarded with an ally for life, as well as some secret magical item.

  3. To quote one of our players concerning the Detect Evil spell, "What happens if I cast the spell just when the evil high priest is thinking about what kind of sandwich he wants for lunch?"

    Just because a bloke is evil (or good) does not mean he's always doing bad (or goodygood) things every waking moment.

    So in the kobolds' lair you find the kitchen, and a book called "How To Serve Man"

    Confusion ensues...mwahahaha!