I’ve never been a big fan of the alignment system, and every so often I toy with the idea of eliminating it for PCs and using it only as an NPC/monster trait. (So he’d be cowardly, introverted, and chaotic…)
But then I think about all of the magic spells and magic items that react this way or that with certain alignments and don’t feel like making rulings every time one of them is encountered. Though I could do a fair job of guesstimating law vs. chaos or good vs. evil in a PC, I’d only be able to judge based on the character’s actions and the player would have a fair gripe if he or she felt I couldn’t really know what the character felt and believed in his or her heart and mind. So I’ve stuck with the system.
A couple of days back, Maliszewski posted on Irredeemably Evil creatures and wondered about the slaughter of non-combatant orcs, goblins, and other humanoids in particular by PCs. The comments section is a sight to behold.
He followed up (in a way) the next day with The Changing Meaning of “Alignment” in OD&D, another good post with a lot of interesting reader comments.
Last night, though, he posted a quote from Poul Anderson that pretty much sums up where I stand on the humanoid family issue and touches on the whole alignment concern in general:
In any case, humans were the chief agents on earth of Law, though most of them were so only unconsciously and some, witches and warlocks and evildoers, had sold out to Chaos. A few nonhuman beings also stood for Law. Ranged against them were almost the whole Middle World, which seemed to include realms like Faerie, Trollheim, and the Giants–an actual creation of Chaos. Wars among men, such as the long-drawn struggle between the Saracens and the Holy Empire, aided Chaos; under Law all men would live in peace and order and that liberty which only Law could give meaning. But this was so alien to the Middle Worlders that they were forever working to prevent it and extend their own shadowy dominion.
That is very close to how I usually see the worlds I GM. Not all humans are lawful or good, but virtually all humanoids are not only chaotic and evil but acting agents of destruction. Sort of the terrorists of the fantasy world. Not without honor of sorts and not without any redeeming features, but a fair target and an enemy that needs to be held at bay if not wiped out completely.
Are there orc women and goblin babies? Who knows? If there are, they must hide deep within the bowels of the mythic underworld. Or, perhaps, that terrible pig-face creature trying to rip your throat out is an orcish woman and humans just can’t tell the difference. Regardless, the orcs and goblins of my worlds give no quarter, ask no quarter, and deserve no quarter.
Some wonder about the origins of half-orcs if there are no orcish women. I say that we don’t know that there are no orcish women, we don’t know if half-orcs have orcish or human mothers, and that (more than anything) we are all much happier not knowing where half-orcs come from.
Sure, some will argue that orcs deserve a chance. But, then, some people argue the same thing about real terrorists in the real world. I don’t listen to them, either.