Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Perhaps They Were Possessed by Blackwolf

Since I do have a lot of posts to write and I spent time turning my way through the book yesterday, I might as well talk about a few things that the makers felt should be included in the original Dungeon Masters Guide.  For example,

"Demi-human troops are unlikely to serve a human master who is not otherwise supporting a cause of the particular race.  Some small number might serve with a henchman of their own race, but not large bodies except for short periods of time, most probably when danger threatens their area.  You might allow exceptions to this as they become compatible with your campaign.  Similarly, half-elves might enlist bodies of elves, halflings might enlist dwarves or elves, etc."

This is the first paragraph of a section entitled Use of Non-Human Troops.  I've always felt the section (it runs six paragraphs and two tables, on pages 105-106) had a strange vibe to it - it sounds distinctly like the authors of the book are wagging their fingers at me, apparently for 'reasons.'  It isn't as though it bears the mark of canon, since who ever heard of halflings (or anyone) able to "enlist" elves??

I have never heard players express a desire to employ non-humans in an army and not because of this passage.  The game goes way, way over the top to stress that bugbears, gnolls and goblins are EVIL and CHAOTIC and probably insanely dangerous to share a barracks with.  I get comments all the time, expressing wonder and amazement, because I chose in my world to set up gnoll and goblin kingdoms, where these creatures calmly collect peat, grow crops, raise their children, tell stories and presumably worry about family members who haven't come home before dark.  Who would ever think of that?

So having created this systemic, milieu-driven racism, hammering it home with every other description in the books (and module after module), why exactly did we create a little section in the DMG to bring up the subject and then moralize about why it just won't work, it just shouldn't be done and oh, in case you were still thinking about it, these troops will absolutely not get along with each other:

"Compatibility of Non-Human Troops:  The general compatibility of demi-human troop types can be determined by consulting the Player's Handbook, Racial Preferences Table.  Lizard men are hated by all demi-humans and humanoids save kobalds, and even the latter are suspicious of them (just as human troops are).  Of the various races of humanoids, many will bully or attack one another as indicated on the table below:"

After which we get a racial preferences table, just like the Player's Handbook, expressly for bugbears, gnolls, goblins, hill giants, hobgoblins, kobalds, ogres, orcs and trolls.  Presumably, this is why lizard men were expressly mentioned in the paragraph before the table, because they weren't included (the table is only a column wide and had to be crushed to where four of the headings are abbreviated - "Bugbr." "Gob." "Hob." "Kob."

Of course, this doesn't tell us anything about troglodytes, lycanthropes, gargoyles, minotaurs, ettin, other giants or any of the faerie folk (whom I presume are non-human).  Is it okay if I use faerie folk as troops?  Do they all get along or do I need another racial preference table for them?

Obviously this was some sort of problem in Gygax's campaigns, something he didn't like and felt he needed to put the kibosh on before it got out of hand in the campaigns of all the strangers who would one day buy the books.  "First it's convincing two orcs to tag along with the party and then it's a squad and a whole platoon!  What next?  Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together . . . . mass hysteria!"

I will grant there is drama in gathering together a bunch of different humanoid races as an army.  It's nice to imagine them fighting each other - something nicely depicted in the film Wizards, where this problem needs to be overcome by Blackwolf before he can unite his troops . . . but it seems to me this is a player problem to be solves, not an institutional need for a rule-set that demands that kobalds will always hate gnolls or that ogres will always hate goblins.  It's this sort of shit that gets the game defined as racist - with the game using 'alignment' as the all-purpose justification to bestowing the game-makers' commands.

I can't for the life of me guess why this passage was included; they felt compelled to add rules in case the players decided to ignore the writer, but then they also felt the need to include this:

"Non-human troops, bugbears and humanoids, will very difficult to handle.  They will tend to fight amongst each other . . . fight with humans nearby - whether friendly or not (25% if friendly) - run from battle if they see troops on their own side retiring or retreating and fall to looting at the first opportunity."

Have the authors of this ever met a human?  Ever read anything about human troops in war?  These are things that won't happen in human armies?  The paragraph goes on:

"If the master is strong and powerful and gives them cause to fear disobedience, it will be of some help in disciplining such troops.  Likewise, if there are strong leaders within each body of such troops, threatening or driving them on, they will be more likely to obey.  Weakness in leadership, or lack of officering [sic], will certainly cause these troops to become unruly and impossible to control."

Really.  No kidding.  It's a good thing that ordinary troops don't respond like this to poor discipline or weak leaders.

It might be imagined that this pressure is just there to stress that the players have to keep on top of the problem - but then the chance of a strong leader managing an orc unit is only 90%.  That's an incredibly poor morale for a combat troop of any kind!  For a bugbear unit, it never gets any better than 80%.  Jeez.  Why bother?

That's clearly the point.  Why bother, don't do it, here are rules that make it impossible, choke on that you little bastards.  Now let's talk about construction and seige.


For the record, the film Wizards - which I saw when it came out, two years before I'd even heard of D&D - has always been closer to how I imagine a fantasy universe than Lord of the Rings.  The elves experience fear, faeries exist as a unified people, combat is industrial, rape happens, sexuality is part of the conflict/experience and brutality is both normal and undesirable.  In a war, no side wins - the deciding factor isn't how much magic but how willing we are to use every resource available (a luger, if necessary).

The link above gives access to the whole movie.  Someone posted it on youtube two years ago, but it won't be there forever.  Watch it, steal it if you can (good luck finding a copy legitimately).

1 comment:

  1. Wizards IS an excellent movie. Thanks for the's been a while since I've had a chance to watch it. I think I appreciate it more with each viewing.


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