Wizards Address the Orc Problem

Nice to see this directly addressed. Obviously I still prefer my solution which was just to replace Orcs with a more sympathetic species, but WotC is a business with tight margins so they'll just do the minimum necessary to not be running a minstrel show.

I've never really used "Drow" except in the GDQ modules (Giants went great, never got a party to finish Drow, let alone Queen of the Demonweb Pits), I preferred the Sidhe from Celtic myth making all "Elves" pretty, alien, and sociopathic (interesting point, there's a subworld of Queen, "Caer Sidi", which inspired me to get into Elves-as-Sidhe!), and later the Gazetteer Shadow Elves created underground Elves with a grudge, but they're not Drow. Having the black-skinned, white-haired Elves be "evil" and relentlessly, cartoonishly cruel torturers, poisoners, perverts, and backstabbers wasn't one of TSR's better takes. And then R.A. Salvatore, the third-worst writer in the world (I've read two of his books, part-way, and they're so bad it's impossible to finish them), made his Mary Sue character Drizzle-doo-wah-Diddy who's the One Good Drow, which became TSR canon. I'd flush the entire archetype, I don't think it's fixable.

The Vistani thing is also pretty hard to fix. They're stereotype "Gypsies". You can pull elements out to make carny folk, maybe, but if you have a tribe of thieves and soothsayers in a caravan it's obvious what you're doing. There's also Romani-based caricatures in Greyhawk, and who knows where else, it was a very popular trope with the '80s-'90s TSR writers, because "a Gypsy tells you your fortune" is a super easy plot hook, if you're unaware/unconcerned about your racism.

Changing ability score modifiers is weird. Now, there's no modifiers in Original D&D, everyone has the same 3d6 scores down the line, and fairly simple species special abilities and some harsh class limits. AD&D 1st Ed added the racist & sexist race vs stat & class tables, and each following edition dug in further. Hm, looking at my AD&D PDF (bought back when Paizo had the rights), I could swear in the original print back in '79 there was a Human column up front there, that's been redacted, where Human females got 3/17 Strength and probably Constitution & Charisma (being used more for leadership in AD&D, and women leaders were Not A Thing to those guys). Was this changed in a later printing? And the Half-Orcs got seriously shafted here.

Note this is the AD&D 1st ed text on Half-Orcs. "Orcs are fecund", "player characters which are of the half-orc race are within the superior 10%". What the fuck, Gary?

I don't really have any use for D&D 5th Ed, it's a cartoony game with 10-100x as many rules as it needs, and they've dug themselves into this hole by pushing out old content which was noted as being problematic 20 years ago, but at least WotC's a little self-aware of the things they're publishing now.

The Thing About Orcs

So, there's this piece on Orcs and racism:

And they have a long blog post about Tolkien's racist origins of Orcs & "Eastern Men":

"The Orcs are definitely stated to be corruptions of the 'human' form seen in Elves and Men. They are (or were) squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes: in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types."
—J.R.R.Tolkien, Letter #210

Which I agree is pretty horrible, I greatly dislike Tolkien the man, and his post-Hobbit work. The post is kind of a waste of time to read beyond that, I eyerolled 180° at the quoting-white-men-about-racism tone, and denial of other people of colors' different experiences (Jason Momoa in particular). Maybe that's just how James talks, all the goddamned time. Someone should set up a medical research fund. Anyway, I'm only in this to read about the Orcs, shit that happens on Earth is not my problem.

My old solution to the Orc problem was to make Orcs tolerated and playable if they lived in civilization, but so culturally different in their nomadic tribes, that you still had something like the classic Human/Orc war trope. That can be problematic when compared to how the US, etc. treated Native Americans and other indigenous populations, but it cut down on the genocides/"we kill all the Orc babies"; players treated Orcs like a hostile tribe of Humans, warred against them until they stopped being annoying, and made peace.

But then why not just use Humans? That's James Raggi's solution, which technically works, but it's not interesting unless you throw an enormous book of "What do the Saxons believe and why are they so awful?" at the players which you don't want to write, and which they won't read. In history it was pretty easy to tell what culture someone was by their artifacts, dress, and speech; but none of those are easily visible in Theatre of the Mind role-playing.

So in everything I've run or written in the last few years, I solved the problem by replacing Orcs with Beastfolk, humanoids with bestial features chosen off a table of local mammals. They behave almost exactly like my previous use of Orcs, and yet because they're not all green-skinned pig-men, and might even be cute & fuzzy, especially the young ones, suddenly reaction is completely different. It either arouses or annoys furries, neither of which is my intention, but that's a small price to pay for how radically it changes the conversation.

I don't usually want "half-breeds", because that directly leads to racial theory bullshit, but in a magical world full of Owlbears it's certainly possible for species to be crossed, and Edgy McEdgertons always want to be a half-breed Goblin/Dark Elf with a tragic backstory or some such, so unless you want to waste half an hour arguing before the game, just say yes and move on.

Old-School D&D

  • How To Get Started Playing Old-School D&D For Free: Fantastic list of resources. Though systems wise, I'd suggest either:
  • My own Stone Halls & Serpent Men: Extremely variant but still recognizably D&D. Definitely not for novice Referees, but I've used it with novice players and they were fine because they don't know better (and the Profession system is more forgiving to novices who might "make mistakes"). When I get Delvers in Darkness done we'll see if that's more novice-friendly.
  • Swords & Wizardry Complete: Updated version of OD&D + Supplements I-III + some early Strategic Review & Dragon Magazine articles. About as close to a "final" OD&D as you can get.
  • White Box FMAG: Just the OD&D white box, very well cleaned up into a standalone game.
  • Blueholme Journeymanne Rules: Slightly variant take on the Holmes Dungeon & Dragons Basic Set. In theory this should be my favorite game ever, because Holmes is what I imprinted on first. In practice, it's almost too accurate, there are some elements like multiple saving throw categories that I find annoying in actual OD&D, and the Blueholme doesn't give you much guidance on acceptable races. Also there's no setting or module as found in the actual Holmes book.

Wendy's RPG

What. Wendy's made a free tabletop RPG about fast food kingdoms.

Very weird. It's D&D5E-like (but not explicitly; it isn't OGL, it doesn't use any WotC trademarks, but it rips 5E off completely), very rules-light. I don't like all the 4d4 rolls (some Wendy's marketing thing is "4 for 4", so this pun is all over), otherwise it's unexceptional.

I do like this variation on critical:

If you roll a 20 on an attack or skill roll, you go into FEAST MODE. You do the maximum amount of attack damage, plus an additional roll of the normal attack dice. You also get advantage on your next roll, making going into FEAST MODE again even more likely. Going into FEAST MODE can completely change the tide of a confrontation.
Likewise, rolling a 20 on any skills check will result in your character’s best possible outcome in their current situation. After all, you went into FEAST MODE.

The equipment list is ridiculous, with Ukuleles, Tiaras, healing by eating Chicken Nuggets, fishing poles. Armor's silly (Apron, Red Polo Black Visor, etc.) but an interesting idea: Some adds to Defense, some to Arcana (magic stat) or Grace (dexterity). Weapons range from Spoon (1d4) to Cast-iron Skillet (3d6). I kinda want to steal a bunch of these stupid ideas.

The book gives you buffs/debuffs based on the food the player eats, obviously encouraging Wendy's food and not anyone else's. What a bunch of jackasses.

The classes are Order of the Chicken (magic-user/thief depending on subclass, 5 subclasses), Order of the Beef (fighter, 4 subclasses), Order of the Sides (spoony bards, 5 subclasses). The powers are jokes but overpowered if you did play them out, and it goes up to level 5; there's no experience, the adventure just says "everyone levels up" after each boss fight. No choices anywhere, just roll stats, pick class, go.

PCs can't actually die, just pass out from hunger and then wake up when the team camps. I guess you could TPK a group, and that'd be a sweet merciful release to death.

So then there's the adventure, which is a pretty standard 5E railroad with five chapters and a couple side-quest areas; zero difference between this and any "adventure path" or recent WotC adventure book, except the branding is different. Some puzzles aimed at small children or drunk frat boys, some very silly monsters. Queen Wendy ("of the Clapback" which either means something very different than I think, or is rather rude) commands heroes who brave the french fry forest to yadda yadda light a bacon beacon, yadda yadda go murder an ice clown in his funhouse and castle. Dave is dead which by my understanding of the rules can't happen, so I suspect Wendy froze him into a statue to seize the throne. Really no sillier than that Chult book.

The art, maps, and layout are very professional (aside from the maps being so linear even Disney couldn't run them as rides), it really makes it clear how commercial-friendly Wizards of the Coast & Paizo are, as if He-Man was selling junk food instead of toys.


Back in the latter days of TSR, Inc, there was a module WG7 Castle Greyhawk, with 13 short comedic adventures by different writers around the themes of Gary's mega-dungeon (some humorless people really take offense to this module; I think it's a funny homage and several levels are great). Level 8: Of Kings & Colonels, by John Nephew (who wrote for TSR, Ars Magica, and Over the Edge) covers a similar gag, with a cavern wilderness fought over by Colonel Sandpaper and King Burger. But he wasn't being paid by KFC to say how great their chicken parts in a bucket are.