Is The Pathfinder Setting Ethically Problematic?


Lost Omens Campaign Setting General Discussion

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thejeff wrote:
That it was inspired by Les Mis doesn't mean it was meant to be exactly Les Mis. Les Mis may have led to "We should do revolutionary France", which led to Galt.

Les Miserables would be more postrevolution as far as I can tell, but maybe it was the the reason for including something France-like and then someone thought that the revolution would be more interesting.

prosfilaes wrote:
You changed two important details; instead of (white) humans, hobbits, elves and dwarves, you now have Nubians. And instead of orcs who could walk around the real world on Halloween or at a con no problem, you have giants who are distinctly inhuman.

You only asked for the good races to be dark-skinned. The only good race in my idea are black humans. You asked for the villains to be pale-skinned, that's also satisfied (and I wouldn't have a problem with Transylvanian vampires, Viking plunderers or whatever either). Tolkien originally wanted to create myths for England, so obviously people in Middle Earth looked like Englishmen.


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prosfilaes wrote:


Imagine a fantasy epic where all the good races were dark-skinned and the bad guys were pale-skinned, where the author dismissed concerns about the latter as "they are monsters".

Isn't that called A Wizard of Earthsea?

Quote:
That would make me uncomfortable,

Shrug. Your loss. If you let your political sensibilities interfere with your ability to have fun,.... well, to quote Thomas Jefferson, "it does me no injury ... it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

Dark Archive

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Orfamay Quest wrote:
prosfilaes wrote:


Imagine a fantasy epic where all the good races were dark-skinned and the bad guys were pale-skinned, where the author dismissed concerns about the latter as "they are monsters".
Isn't that called A Wizard of Earthsea?

In addition to A Wizard of Earthsea, Elric of Melnibone had a pale race (none so pale as their albino king, obviously...) of incredibly decadent and evil sorts, portrayed as inhuman compared to the swarthier races of the Young Kingdoms.

Despite being white, I'm not Melnibonean, so I didn't take umbrage to that portrayal.

The evilest humans in Greyhawk are the Sueloise of the Scarlet Brotherhood, as pale as pale can be, and, while the Bakluni, Oeridians, etc. of the setting are also caucasian (a more Mediterranean / Middle Eastern sort of caucasian, but not what a modern day census would tally as a 'person of color'), the Sueloise are the whitest of them. Despite being one of those pasty freckled-y 'blue eyes from the North' types myself, I didn't see the way the cultures of Oerth sorted out chromatically as some sort of political statement about white folk in the real world.

Given a choice between assuming that Gary Gygax just sort of did what he did without thinking about how the optics might shake out forty years later, and that he was specifically trying to offend me personally, I'm gonna go with the choice that assumes less malicious personal intent (and less 'Athena is going to turn you into a spider' levels of hubris on mine). :)


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To turn it around another way, what if I wanted to write a story about a sun-blasted desert world where there are two civilizations: a pale-skinned race living underground and the dark-skinned surface dwellers. One of the civilizations is evil (mutated and gone slightly insane) and the other is good. Now, perhaps the dark-skinned surface dwellers are the good guys (with the evil faction having been driven underground) or perhaps they are the evil ones (having been driven mad from being forced to live in the above-ground wastelands).

What do we take away from this? Should all writers for the rest of time just avoid using a setting like this for their work in case it might offend? Or perhaps writers should just save these sorts of stories for a rainy-day-future, a future in which all of humanity finally achieves a reasonable level of common sense.

Liberty's Edge

So Bekyar are demon worshippers, right?


The Block Knight wrote:

To turn it around another way, what if I wanted to write a story about a sun-blasted desert world where there are two civilizations: a pale-skinned race living underground and the dark-skinned surface dwellers. One of the civilizations is evil (mutated and gone slightly insane) and the other is good. Now, perhaps the dark-skinned surface dwellers are the good guys (with the evil faction having been driven underground) or perhaps they are the evil ones (having been driven mad from being forced to live in the above-ground wastelands).

What do we take away from this? Should all writers for the rest of time just avoid using a setting like this for their work in case it might offend? Or perhaps writers should just save these sorts of stories for a rainy-day-future, a future in which all of humanity finally achieves a reasonable level of common sense.

Well, in all seriousness, I'd suggest that the whole 'race of hats' trope is lazy and overdone. The idea that an entire race can be uniformly evil -- or uniformly anything, for that matter -- is part of the problem.

Turning it around, there's a real issue when the one member of the Blithiri race is described as greedy and people assume that this represents the Blithiri in its entirety. But the fact that stupid readers can misinterpret what you wrote doesn't excuse you from writing stupid things.


Orfamay Quest wrote:
The Block Knight wrote:

To turn it around another way, what if I wanted to write a story about a sun-blasted desert world where there are two civilizations: a pale-skinned race living underground and the dark-skinned surface dwellers. One of the civilizations is evil (mutated and gone slightly insane) and the other is good. Now, perhaps the dark-skinned surface dwellers are the good guys (with the evil faction having been driven underground) or perhaps they are the evil ones (having been driven mad from being forced to live in the above-ground wastelands).

What do we take away from this? Should all writers for the rest of time just avoid using a setting like this for their work in case it might offend? Or perhaps writers should just save these sorts of stories for a rainy-day-future, a future in which all of humanity finally achieves a reasonable level of common sense.

Well, in all seriousness, I'd suggest that the whole 'race of hats' trope is lazy and overdone. The idea that an entire race can be uniformly evil -- or uniformly anything, for that matter -- is part of the problem.

Turning it around, there's a real issue when the one member of the Blithiri race is described as greedy and people assume that this represents the Blithiri in its entirety. But the fact that stupid readers can misinterpret what you wrote doesn't excuse you from writing stupid things.

I tend to agree, but...

It's also lazy and overdone to assume that all races have the same spread of personalities, attitudes and alignments as human. I don't have any problem with a race having even a strong tendency towards one alignment with variation around that. And there are also races that are going to be viewed as evil by humans: Some illithids may treat each other or even other species better than others or be more or less chaotic, but they all still eat sapient brains.

There may also be isolated races that exist only as a single culture and thus share many traits even though they're not innate to the race.

And in fantasy there is of course magic.


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I also agree. I did say "if I wanted to write" but the fact is I would never want to write something so simplistic, but others might and it was mostly just to illustrate a point. Also, I find TV Tropes to be lazy and overdone, so variable mileage and all that. ;)

Anyway, the point being that races like Orcs and Drow should be able to exist outside the realm of socio-political scrutiny and interpretation if the author so chooses. The fact that almost nothing can exist outside the realm of misguided scrutiny anymore speaks more to an issue with the audience rather than an issue with the writer. Please note, I'm not trying to absolve all writers as some truly are deserving of such scrutiny.

While I do think verisimilitude among any single race is often far more interesting, I would like to point out that the idea that an entire race CAN'T be uniformly evil (or anything else) is also problematic. There is room for both ends of the spectrum (endless variety and singular uniformity) and everything in between. The real problem is entirely conceptual - people spend too much time focusing on what can or can't exist, trying to root everything to either the human experience or something personal they can relate to, trying to categorize everything in an effort to establish meaning or understanding (be it in the real world or one built in the mind's eye). It's a fundamental problem with humans in general. It's a matter of stepping outside oneself and realizing anything is possible (creatively speaking) and nothing should be ruled out, nor should we try to define all things. I really don't want to veer this into a philosophical threadjack but when people discuss things as "part of the problem" I find it important to address the real problem rather than the micro-problems that spin off from it. Finally, yes, I recognize that we can't magically transcend the limitations of language and thus all experiences and ideas must be conveyed in some form humans can relate to. The problem is matter of framing, not of conveyance.


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Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Maps Subscriber

I think the existence of always-evil or always-good races is "unrealistic" but then again there's no real world analogs for the RPG concept of good and evil anyway so any attempt to insert alignment is unrealistic - the fact it's detectable making it some kind of objective thing, the fact you can be evil regardless of actions (ie a newly animated undead) making it a weird moral property if that's what it's supposed to model.

Having said that, it's quick and easy to populate one's gameworld with stereotypes to the point of caricature. I would personally think that there are some good-aligned communities of drow and orcs in my version of Golarion. I'd pretty confidently predict that my players are never going to meet them though (or if they do it will be THE focus of the adventure).

If there are too many exceptions floating around, the value of those stereotypes becomes lessened. Everyone you meet is an unknown where their race/culture becomes superficial description (realistic, but not necessarily helpful for all games).

If we had the time to game for more than a few hours a week, I'd be quite interested in developing a richer and more subtle campaign setting. I dont think it adds anything other than confusion, uncertainty or indecision when the players dont have time for any between session consideration and games night is barely two hours of effective play followed by an hour and a half of sleepy play.


Thing is, everywhere in Pathfinder you have things that go against the grain in terms of alignment. Rise of the Runelords gives you an evil Aasimar. Wrath of the Righteous gives us a redeemed (well, mostly redeemed) Succubus. So while things like a society/race may cleave to a given alignment, you find others that do not.

Shadow Lodge

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Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber
prosfilaes wrote:
Adamantine Dragon wrote:
JRR Tolkien was heavily criticized for having orcs be dark-skinned with animalistic features. When asked about how this was a potentially racist image, he said something along the lines of: They are ORCS. Not PEOPLE. They are intended to be monsters to differentiate them from people.
Imagine a fantasy epic where all the good races were dark-skinned and the bad guys were pale-skinned, where the author dismissed concerns about the latter as "they are monsters". That would make me uncomfortable, and if I read it, would have to accept it with the racial undertones that were obviously there.

Like Ursula K LeGuin's EarthSea books?

EDIT: Ninja'd *TWO DAYS* ago cause I hadn't noticed this had gone onto another page. Sigh. Having said that, it is interesting that there aren't any other examples that spring to mind that are more recent.


The OP is just passionate about their point of view and advocating for it accordingly.

Jumping down someone's throat when they insult your favorite thing is a bad way to get them to change their opinion.

Liberty's Edge

The Block Knight wrote:
Or perhaps writers should just save these sorts of stories for a rainy-day-future, a future in which all of humanity finally achieves a reasonable level of common sense.

Were complaints about the Birth of a Nation just a lack of common sense? Or should authors listen to how their stories resonate with the society around them?

pH unbalanced wrote:
Like Ursula K LeGuin's EarthSea books?

I haven't read the Earthsea books, but looking at plot summaries, the plot summary of The Other Wind makes it pretty clear the Kargs are people who can play protagonist roles, not monsters. And having read "The Word for World is Forest", I can't imagine trying to read Le Guin without hearing the cultural echoes, and I think she intended that we should hear them.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8

Birth of a Nation is a bad analogy, unless you're saying that the staff of Paizo equal D. W. Griffith.

I think a better analogy is Tolkien's orcs. People read into it racism, Tolkien says that it wasn't his intent. If you're going to keep reading into it things that aren't there... then you're the one obsessed with race, not the writer.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Matthew Morris wrote:

Birth of a Nation is a bad analogy, unless you're saying that the staff of Paizo equal D. W. Griffith.

I think a better analogy is Tolkien's orcs. People read into it racism, Tolkien says that it wasn't his intent. If you're going to keep reading into it things that aren't there... then you're the one obsessed with race, not the writer.

To be frank... most racists would never admit, or even realize that they are. In Dr. Tolkien's defense, he was no more a racist than the average Brit of his time, cultural upbringing, and station would be.

Webstore Gninja Minion

Removed posts and their replies, and locking thread. Should posters feel a need to start this topic again, please do it in a civil and reasoned manner.

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