Thursday, July 31, 2014


A blog, like a diary, is a slave to the thoughts of the writer on a particular day.  It isn't as though I'm able to compel myself to different thoughts simply because a reader somewhere is disgruntled about what happens to emerge from the tips of my fingers.  These are the yolks, folks, the eggs fall where they must and I continue to write in my merry way whatever the consequences.  So goes the world.  Vox populi, vox humbug.

This business of voices interceding into the behaviour and actions of other peoples starts a long time ago, where farming makes the institution of villages practical.  All around the year, your enemies in the hills know where you are, and they know that if the game thins out or the winter is hard on half their flocks, that where you are there is food.  Packing together the houses into villages brings security, for even if you don't build moats and walls, your neighbours can hear you cry out.  Therefore, when the hill peoples come 'a calling, they'll have to deal with the whole village, not just you and your family.

Contrary to the simplification of history, these villages do not instantly hire magistrates and divide themselves into wards that elders represent.  Villages begin without politics.  If we are talking about anywhere from 40 to 100 people, most likely the decisions that are made in the village will be made by people squabbling, threatening, gathering into their natural groups and daring the other to make the first move.  And, like most conflicts within families, conflicts within the village will be brief, non-lethal and purposefully forgotten.

We're a lot more like animals than we realize.  Like animals, we know when we're beaten and we give up almost immediately.  If you'll remember, fights on the schoolground in those first four grades were always very brief - the bully or tougher one ended up by sitting on the weaker, then he would get up and push the weak kid around a bit.  Total time of the fight, 30-40 seconds; total injuries: negligible.

It is when a village gets bigger that things begin to change.  This has everything to do with family.  Families are naturally occurring political units.  It's only natural to identify with blood, as blood is around all the time, you grow up with it and learn to rely on it - and to see everyone who is not a member of your family as an outsider.

Here is where politics starts - not by joining together, but by realizing that the threat is inside the village, not outside.  Oh, the hill peoples are still a problem, but with more people comes a greater labour force and walls become more practical - but with more people there are families that are getting bigger and bigger. These bigger families take it into their heads that they can push others around - and sooner or later the folk the family wants to push around is another family that is almost as big, but not quite.  For those of you not following, this is what happened with Eve Online back in January.

The result is political will manifested as retributive assassination.  An all-out war hardly ever manifests itself. And while robbery or adultery are comparatively rare, for we are still speaking of a small village of two or three hundred, where everyone knows one another, arguments and confrontations are not forgotten.  They are tallied, they are measured against every other confrontation, they are talked over at family meetings and discussed by a large enough faction to engender resentment and hate.  Jimmy pushed you, and Jimmy's brother pushed me, and Jimmy's father sold our father a lame animal fifteen years ago, etcetera.  Steadily, over time, this resentment builds into a generational dogma, until Jimmy and his whole family are something less than human compared to you and me and our family.

And Jimmy's family feels the same way about it.

Sooner or later, by chance perhaps, with all that hate, someone is going to get into a fight where someone gets killed.  From then on, it gets personal.  Jimmy kills me and my brother kills Jimmy and Jimmy's brother kills my brother and his first cousin, starting of a blood-feud of tit for tat that goes on and on and on.  There are many places in the world where this is common today - Iran, Albania, Liberia, Burma, Zaire - the list goes on and on.  In most every case these feuds are local and continue unabated because they happen in the backcountry or places where violence is so consistent that a state of lawlessness exists, like in Gaza.

'Civilization' begins when there are enough people who belong to neither family who are prepared to stop the blood feud by force.  Where a free-for-all justice system can no longer be tolerated, where the majority of the villagers are those who belong to neither faction, or any faction that condones spontaneous retribution.

That is the key word: spontaneous.  Retribution continues to be fine and practical, but it's necessary that the executions, when they happen, occur with everyone having a clear head and being able to agree that with this particular execution, all the other executions will stop.  Your family and their family will live in peace now, because we have systematically executed all the people who we feel are necessary.  Everybody happy now? Everybody good?  Great.  Let's get together on this thing and grow some crops, build higher walls, then raid other villages.

Something about the thought processes and comments of ordinary role-playing gamers tends to demonstrate how simply they look at the world.  For many, saying that there's a lot of 'in-fighting' among orc tribes seems to explain away everything that needs to be explained.  That it needs no further thought or investigation, or even rationale considering there is usually a chieftain among orcs and a chieftain's henchmen.  These, for those who don't know, do not tend to exist in an ordinary, isolated village of 250 people.  They do not manifest as a political fact until such time as the people themselves ask for someone to come in and set the standard for why in-fighting has to stop.  Once there's a chief, that's a clear indication that the orc tribe ought to be thinking as a unit - for that is the purpose of chiefs, that is why they are installed.  A single chief and his four henchmen absolutely cannot hold back the will of any one family that wishes to do as they will (i.e., fight with their neighbours).  That chieftain only rules because everyone agrees that this in-fighting has to stop.

Which would mean, described as they are in the books, orcs and other tribes would NOT be fighting.  They would be much more dangerous, for they'd be working together to build an establishment from which they could attack others.  If orcs ARE warlike, we've got to give them their due - they're warlike under leadership.

It is leadership that makes them scary.

For most, however, saying the words 'in-fighting' makes it true.  Because they've never taken a course on sociology or anthropology.  Because they can't be bothered to investigate their world.  Because they're half-considered fictional theology demands that the Word of God of a writer is the final say in something being true or not.

And this was fine when we were all fifteen and playing the game after school and around our parents' tables. But we're in our 30s and 40s now, and quite a lot of us have legitimate university degrees.

Isn't it about time we started using education to deduce the rudiments of the game?

1 comment:

Matt said...

Orcs in particular seem to cause a big rift in D&D players for reasons I cannot quite understand. It seems some are insistent on the view that orcs are completely evil, and thus cannot sustain any form of civilization. They are a force of nature, a plague that happens to carry steel.

To others, Orcs are a dangerous society of raiders that serve as a foil to the armies of men and elves. They are often filled with Proud Warrior Race guys who may not be so bad, but they are definitely an enemy.

You try to build them as a society like any other society that has existed on earth.

No matter how it's done though, somehow, whenever Orcs are mentioned, someone is getting pissed off.