My first attempt at DM’ing was The Keep on the Borderlands. I was probably about 16 years old and we bordered on being murderhobos. Even so, I was troubled when I hit this passage:
- COMMON CHAMBER: The rest of the kobold tribe lives here. There are 17 males (AC 7, HD 1/2, hp 3 each, #AT 1, D 1-4, MV (40’), Save NM. ML 6), 23 females (AC 7, HD 1/2, hp 2 each, #AT 1, D 1-3, Save NM, ML 6), and 8 young (which do not attack). If their caves are invaded, those able will help in its defense. Males have d6 silver pieces each, females d4 silver pieces each; the young have nothing. Amidst the litter of cloth and bits and scraps of odds-and-ends there is a piece of silk worth 150 gold pieces. (If the party does not search it will not be located.)
Of course, the players marched in and started killing kobolds. We had a brief discussion about how to deal with the young ones, and we soon decided that since their race was inherently evil, killing them was not a problem. But it always bothered me. To the point that I remember that moment vividly over 3 decades later.
A while back I saw discussions on Twitter about “inherently evil races”, and I immediately knew what they were talking about; I was right back in those kobold caves. This discussions even made it onto NPR.
Looking at the various threads on Twitter and Reddit and there are quite a variety of reactions. I am honestly confused by the controversy here. I don’t think anybody is saying there can’t be evil in the world, or that you can’t have evil Orcs or Drow. But when you see a Drow you can’t just assume they are evil and kill them without thought; you’re going to have to find out first. It may well be that the bulk of their culture encourages evil behavior, but there are always exceptions. You might even have to role play an interaction with them to find out where they stand before rolling for initiative.
It is good to see this discussion take place. As with so many discussions on the internet it generated much more heat than light. But for me, it was comforting to see so many others troubled by situations like the one above. At least I am not alone, and there are many others ready to change this.
So now when I role play the goblins in Cragmaw Cave (for example), I think about why they are there and what their individual motivations are. They are not mindless automatons who will fight to the last; they may flee, surrender, beg for mercy, etc. And if the characters persist in mindless slaughter, there could be consequences to that: they could miss out on key clues, or they could gain a reputation as genocidal maniacs. The goblins may react in greater force to them next time knowing this. They could spark an even larger human-goblin war, which could have even more consequences for the characters.
And if you don’t like that, and you just want old-fashioned inherently evil races, you can do that at your own table, just don’t expect to have a lot of company.