• Paizo Publishing and Pathfinder – Half Orc Origins

    by  • October 9, 2012 • Essays, People & Events • 49 Comments

    ©2012 John W. Sheldon

    Half-Orc Noble by John W. Sheldon ©2012.

    UPDATE: See the end of the post for a response to this article by F. Wesley Schneider himself!


    I recently had the opportunity to speak with creators of the Pathfinder RPG at Paizo Publishing, James Jacobs (Creative Director) and F. Wesley Schneider (Editor-in-Chief). The subjects at hand were: the inclusion of the forced-sex origins of Half-Orcs in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, and some of the art in the Pathfinder Advanced Races book. In a series of posts, I am splitting out the discussion from my e-mails with Jacobs and Schneider about the Half-Orcs, and then will share our discussion of the art. Some of the e-mails will be trimmed down for length.

    In the e-mails, Jacobs and Schneider also discuss a lot of other things about the Pathfinder setting – feel free to comment on these, because picking apart the good and bad of the game is important. I’m hoping that these posts will open up even more discussion of what we expect from Paizo, what they are doing right, and what they need to do better – not just with these things, but with everything.

    As a small disclaimer, I am a Pathfinder system fan and play regularly. Due to my objections to the Half-Orc background and some of the other material, I have rarely played in the standard Pathfinder setting. I have a positive leaning towards the Pathfinder creators because of their efforts to improve the content from what Dungeons & Dragons had, but in spite of this, I still don’t think they are perfect, so I hope that’s clear.

    I’m also planning to interview Jacobs and Schneider at a later point, after feedback from our readers! They have offered to give us some of their time to address comments and concerns from the players.

    Check out the conversation below the cut!

    All emphasis is mine.

    Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Schneider,

    I am a big fan of the Pathfinder RPG. I have been playing roleplaying games since I was 15, and I have always been very interested in the races and rich history built into the races. However, of late, I’ve noticed some things that bother me. The first is in the Half-Orc racial description – there is (to me) a troubling part of this description that the majority of the Half-Orcs are the result of forced sex – or, to use the proper language, rape. I realize the Orcs are supposed to be monsters, and I get that people like to have a good way to show just how evil monsters are. However, I have a hard time understanding why a PC race would be given a background that basically says “you are the product of rape”, which, in real life, is a very painful and difficult emotional situation. Is this content necessary? Does it need to be included, as simply a base fact of the system and setting? I don’t know if anyone has addressed this in the past, but it is something that recently came to light for me, and I would like to know your thoughts on the issue.

    I still really love the game and play it on a regular basis, but I like to make sure that creators know how the players feel about the content of their games. It would be really cool to see some changes in future books.

    Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

    -Brie Sheldon

     Hi there, Brie!

    Thanks for the feedback!

    First, regarding half-orcs… the direction we took with them in their racial description is one we went back and forth over, and in the end we decided to go with the darker, grittier version. Golarion (and Pathfinder) often skews toward mature topics, and while we did tone down the language a bit for half-orcs, retaining their brutal and depressing origins was important to us. Certainly not ALL half-orcs are the product of orcs raping humans, but orcs ARE intended to be evil creatures in Pathfinder, and that’s one way to ensure that point comes across. Especially when there are other very popular game worlds where orcs are presented almost as the good guys. In the end, each and every player gets to choose how his player came to be, and in this case, having a half-orc PC whose parents were loving is a great way to set that character apart from the histories of most half-orcs.


    James Jacobs
    Creative Director
    Paizo Publishing, LLC


    First off, thanks for the e-mail! It’s always great to get feedback and we try as best we can to remain transparent about our decisions with our readers. If you haven’t already, I’d totally suggest checking out the message boards a paizo.com where you can often find many of our thoughts and philosophies.

    On to the topics you mentioned. The half-orc is an interesting race in that its appearance dates back to a player option in the 1978 Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook. In the second edition of that game, the half-orc was removed, along with the names demons and devils in a push to omit controversial topics from the game. In third edition, the game on which the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is based, half-orcs returned, in my opinion to the strength of the game. Half-orcs, and to a lesser extent all half-breed races, have roots in taboo topics, and what might be cast in a romantic light with a human-elven dalliance takes on pointedly more grim prospects when it comes to a fundamentally evil and savage race like orcs.

    So here’s our challenge. We could change the culture of orcs from their Tolkienian roots to a race capable of having healthy relationships with other races. We could add a loophole, by which a percentage of orcs are less savage and embrace healthy relationships with other races. We could omit the race, as they did in second edition. Or we could acknowledge that this race, that’s been part of the game for 35 years, most likely has its origins in violence and worse.

    I think you can see that it’s a tricky decision.

    Ultimately, we decided that we wanted to be able to tell stories about horrible, frightening, and controversial things. We wanted to have demons that drag innocents to dark places and flense their skin from their bones. We wanted to have unsettling folkloric creatures like halfbreed dhampires and popobawa. We wanted to have goblins under the bed kill a little kid’s puppy. We wanted all of these things, in part not to limit our storytelling, but most importantly so the evils we’d be challenging our heroes with could stretch to be as real as the evils we face in the everyday world. We wanted to acknowledge that our fantasy setting is not a whitewashed version of an ideal, it faces the same challenges, dangers, controversies, and evils that we can everyday. In some ways it’s better, in some ways it’s worse, but in Pathfinder, if a hero wants to fight for her cause with a +5 bastard sword, she can do that in a way that’s probably not acceptable in the real world.

    Please don’t get the impression that we only wanted evil things in our game. We employ a diverse group of creatives of a range of genders, sexual preferences, ethnicities, ages, and interests – Paizo is not three white dudes in some dingy basement. So we also wanted to have a goddess about sexual freedom, a goddess about kicking evil’s ass, and a hermaphroditic nature deity. We wanted several of our iconics to be LGBT and a paladin in our world’s first town to be in a healthy gay relationship. We wanted our first NPC in a printed Pathfinder product to be a tough black woman. We wanted to see characters of African, Indian, Asian, and Caucasian ethnicities being heroic together. So in such ways, Pathfinder does stretch toward certain ideals.

    So was it a decision to make half-orcs be the rape race? Yes and no. We’ve spend considerable space in the course of our works explaining how orcs often go out of their way to find breeding stock with the potential to yield more intelligent offspring, of which half-orcs are often the result and rise to places of power and influence in orc culture. Is this a terrible thing? Yes. But you’re right, orcs are monsters and as unrepentantly evil as the hordes you see in Return of the King. But the Pathfinder game is also about fantastic exceptions. Half-orcs who rise to be heroes despite their monstrous backgrounds are already exceptions. They’re already remarkable just for being half-orcs. With that in mind, there’s no reason a half-orc’s parentage couldn’t also be an exception, and if a player wants to have his parents be a redeemed orc paladin and her handsome husband, then by all means–sounds like an awesome backstory. But part of what makes such exceptions so special is that they do buck the norm–that they are exceptions.

    Ultimately, despite many of us having strong personal reactions toward and opinions about elements of our campaign setting, we felt that it was important to include them, taking our setting from the PG status of many games to something closer to PG-13 or even a hard R. It’s our philosophy that facing such elements, including them in our game, and treating them with the gravitas such serious and often personal topics deserve is far preferable to pretending they don’t exist. This is a position that will lose us book sales and will turn off some customers. We know that, and ultimately that is each consumer’s decision. I certainly would not let my 10 year old nephew loose in a library of our works without context and guidance. But Pathfinder is also a game about choices. The game works just as well without halflings, rangers, and lizardfolk as it does with them. So if there’s any element a GM doesn’t want at her game table, the game is entirely hers to customize, and I believe the stronger for it.

    Were we not drawing off a tradition of gaming going back three decades, were we creating Pathfinder as a fresh new game, we’d have to have a long discussion about including a race with origins like half-orcs. But, as an element intrinsic to modern fantasy and the system we adopted, we decided to include them along with their unsettling baggage and make them a vital part of our world rather than sidelining them. I totally understand that many will consider that an objectionable opinion, but I hope that there’s enough else of value in the Pathfinder RPG to keep such readers interested and engaged in playing and telling the stories they want to tell.


    I know that all got REAL long winded, but since you took the time to ask I wanted to take the time to answer on both of these often touchy topics. Thanks a ton for all your interest Brie and again, if you’re not already posting on the paizo.com message boards, please do! Hope to see more from you on there!


    F. Wesley Schneider
    Paizo Publishing


    Mr. Schneider and Mr. Jacobs,


    I really was glad to see your clear and detailed responses on these questions. I will say that I did not realize that Pathfinder was intended to be targeted towards such a mature audience. With that in mind, it does make a lot more sense and your reasoning for including it in the setting is sound. In the games I have played, we have always kind of house-ruled it out since it is a more delicate topic than some of our GMs and players are prepared to address, plus we often played outside of the setting with custom worlds, so it’s useful to see the origins of the choice to include it. It’s unlikely I’d feature it in one of my games, but knowing that it comes from a rich background and that you all have really thought through it’s involvement, instead of just carrying it over because that’s the way it was or without real consideration, makes me feel more comfortable seeing it in the text.

    I do love that Pathfinder has included elements that in other systems are often ignored or purposefully left out (LGBT, female warriors, multiracial and ethnic variety even within humans) and that the art portrays that as well, so I really hope I didn’t come across as unappreciative. That is actually why my game group switched to Pathfinder from D&D originally.

    We live to serve, and thanks for the opportunity to get some of our thoughts out there. Getting reads like this from player is ALWAYS a huge help to us and typically we go to the message boards for it, so we look forward to seeing you on there. I would totally suggest throwing some of your ideas on the general forums on there too to see ether what others think and how people who share your concerns have dealt with it (you don’t need to read everything, jut stuff you post in). We’ve got an AWESOME community with tons of great ideas, so you might find some genius ideas that are perfect for your game. Good talking to you Brie and thanks for playing!


    F. Wesley Schneider
    Paizo Publishing


    All in all, a good discussion, albeit a long one. The specific things I wanted to address here include the bolded items above.

    First, the negatives:

    …but orcs ARE intended to be evil creatures in Pathfinder, and that’s one way to ensure that point comes across.

    Rape is a horrible thing. I get that. Things are evil, and demonstrating that evil nature is important. However, why is it that people leap to rape? Why is this the thing that we feel we need to include to demonstrate the evilness of something? I am personally tired of the “well we needed to show how evil something was, so it’s a raper!” It’s everywhere in fiction and in most media. It bothers me most because it is particularly in conflict with the way the modern world treats rape victims. Rape victims are often dismissed, shamed, blamed for what happened to them, and yet we see people who rape in fiction as this height of evil. It is a strange dissonance between the real world and the fictional worlds.

    We could change the culture of orcs from their Tolkienian roots to a race capable of having healthy relationships with other races.

    This part particularly bugs me. I realize that orcs in Tolkien’s writing are super evil, and intended to be seen as the worst of the evils, but I have yet to find any evidence that they, as a habit, raped people just for joshies. While there are notes in information about the orcs and Uruk-hai in Tolkien indicating that they did reproduce with humans at some point, and that there were orc women, I can find no indication that it was a standard habit for them to rape enough to create a race of half-orcs large enough to be a core race, as in Pathfinder. Where did the raping orcs idea come from? Did it originate at the same time as the Drow matriarchy slave-raping?

    It’s our philosophy that facing such elements, including them in our game, and treating them with the gravitas such serious and often personal topics deserve is far preferable to pretending they don’t exist.

    A common mistake for people arguing to include rape or sexual assault (or other traumatizing topics) in fiction is that not specifically noting it is pretending it doesn’t exist. In the real world, plenty of people don’t talk about rape, but it still exists, and some people do talk about it! This brings up another issue of assuming lack of initiative on the part of the gamers. It also implies some sort of cultural/social ignorance on the part of players, but yet also expects them to have the maturity and sense to handle sensitive topics like these in game successfully. Writing it into the text isn’t needed for these elements to exist, and including them, in my opinion, just encourages people to include them in game – and doesn’t give a lot of guidance on how to do it right.

    So if there’s any element a GM doesn’t want at her game table, the game is entirely hers to customize, and I believe the stronger for it.

    I get the point here. It’s great to be able to allow for creativity and people making games “their own”. But, I think game creators should strive to create games that people wouldn’t want to change. No game is perfect, but there are steps that creators can take that make games more accessible, like removing common, traditional elements that are overdone. I think players should be able to choose to add, not have to worry about what they have to take out.
    I personally don’t like game settings that include these elements as canon in a fantasy atmosphere, and it’s not just because I get triggered by sexual assault and rape. It’s not just because I’d like to see a world where we aren’t making rape an essential story element. It’s because I am so bored with rape. It’s everywhere, pervasive, and I lose my escapism. Now, there are definitely games where I could understand addressing these topics, but I think that it requires a safe space, a specific atmosphere, and a lot of maturity to do so.

    Now, the positives:

     We employ a diverse group of creatives of a range of genders, sexual preferences, ethnicities, ages, and interests – Paizo is not three white dudes in some dingy basement. So we also wanted to have a goddess about sexual freedom, a goddess about kicking evil’s ass, and a hermaphroditic nature deity. We wanted several of our iconics to be LGBT and a paladin in our world’s first town to be in a healthy gay relationship. We wanted our first NPC in a printed Pathfinder product to be a tough black woman. We wanted to see characters of African, Indian, Asian, and Caucasian ethnicities being heroic together. So in such ways, Pathfinder does stretch toward certain ideals.

    I have to say this: I give Paizo a lot of credit for not only taking a lot of time to e-mail me, discuss these topics with me, and be honest about the topic, but also because I do think they’re making some positive steps. I encourage people to offer their comments about the Golarion setting, including the references Schneider made regarding racial and gender diversity, and LGBT inclusion. I think they’ve made some major strides from D&D’s background, and with what I’ve seen of D&D 4th edition and D&D Next, they still are a doing a lot of good for a “big company”, for the fantasy tabletop genre.

    Schneider and Jacobs also talked a bit about the time they spent considering the inclusion of the traditional orc and half-orc background, and I like to hear that they thought about this stuff – that they didn’t blindly include it. I would never accept a company claiming to try to be better and improve things if they didn’t take the time to evaluate the questionable content.

    Please comment with your thoughts, and feel free to give your feedback on the Paizo creator’s comments.


    F. Wesley Schneider e-mailed me this afternoon when I linked him to the article:


    Nicely done! I just read through your article and I think it’s harsh where it deserves to be harsh and quite fair overall.

    This is actually quite good timing as well, as this Thursday we’re posting a piece of fiction I wrote revealing the background on our iconic half-orc, the inquisitor Imrijka, a story that our discussion decidedly factored into. Her backstory is not one that includes the generally leapt to assumption for half-orc origins, it’s something more… mysterious. That’s not to be read as “hand waved” or “ignored,” as I have plans for this beyond even what’s made apparent in the story. It’s my hope that the origins of our iconic half-orc–the half-orc that we’ll be holding up as the exemplar of the entire race–helps color our readership’s perception of this race beyond the grimmer classic assumptions, but rather as something with far broader potential.

    Check back at paizo.com on Thursday as I’m keenly interested in your opinion.

    Thanks again for your time, consideration, and fairness on this topic. We really appreciate it.






    I'm a 25 year old admin assistant from around Pittsburgh, PA. I am married, work and attend college concurrently, and have been tabletop gaming for about 8 years. I blog (very, very periodically), and write unpublished short stories. I play tabletop RPGs, board games, and both casual and RPG video games. I live for the social part of gaming, but do enjoy a good explosion, and am learning the ropes of creating worlds in which people can play.


    49 Responses to Paizo Publishing and Pathfinder – Half Orc Origins

    1. avatar
      October 9, 2012 at 20:27

      AD&D 1e was the first game to introduce half-orcs as a concept, and the allusions to rape as their primary means of origin, so sayeth Wikipedia. So, we can maybe point to Gygax as the origin of both that, the Drow and their matriarchy.

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      • avatar
        October 10, 2012 at 03:49

        Buzz – Thanks for the info! I had read a little bit about that, but couldn’t find a concrete that Gygax was the author of those particular backgrounds.

        • avatar
          October 17, 2012 at 18:45

          I don’t see anything about rape and half-orcs on Wikipedia, and I certainly don’t see it in the first edition AD&D manuals. I think Gary is blameless, at least in the core books. If he wrote something in a Dragon article, I’d like to see it cited.

          Here are his actual words from the 1E PHB and MM:

          From the PBH: “Orcs are fecund and create many cross-breeds, most of the offspring of such being typically orcish. However, some one-tenth of orc-human mongrels ore sufficiently non-orcish to pass for human. Complete details of orcs and crossbreeds will be found under the heading Orc in [ the monster manual ].”

          From the MM: “Half-Orcs: As orcs will breed with anything, there are any number of unsavory mongrels with orcish blood, particularly orc-goblins, orc- hobgoblins, and orc-humans. Orcs cannot cross-breed with elves. Half-orcs tend to favor the orcish strain heavily, so such sorts are basically orcs although they can sometimes (10%) pass themselves off as true creatures of their other stock (goblins, hobgoblins, humans, etc.).”

          Half-Ores: As orcs will breed with anything, there are any number of unsavory mongrels with orcish blood, particularly orc-goblins, orc- hobgoblins, and orc-humans. Orcs cannot cross-breed with elves. Half-orcs tend to favor the orcish strain heavily, so such sorts are basically orcs although they can sometimes (lOYo) pass themselves off as true creatures of their other stock (goblins, hobgoblins, humans, etc.).

          I don’t think I’ve missed anything untoward here, but am eager to be corrected if I missed something.

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          • avatar
            October 18, 2012 at 01:24


            As I noted above, I had heard rumors of Gygax originating the background, but I had no confirmation. I appreciate you posting this! It gives better perspective and at least shows that, from this information, it’s unlikely that the 1st edition is where it originated. I would be interested in seeing the manuals myself.

          • avatar
            October 18, 2012 at 16:09

            Nice research, rjbs! I obviously misspoke.

            Googling around, I see lots of people offhandedly referring to 1e as the origin of the “half-orcs from rape” idea. I also found this passage in Roger E. Moore’s “The Half-Orc Point of view” from Dragon #62:

            “Produced under questionable circumstances at best, half-orcs will usually…”

            I think there is a lot implied here, but obviously nothing explicitly stated.

            I’d be curious to see what other products may have added to this, such as setting books.

            And I have no idea how 2e treated them, as I basically skipped that edition.

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    2. avatar
      October 9, 2012 at 23:12

      I can think of a few reasons why rape is so commonly used as a means of characterizing something as evil (this is not specifically about pathfinder, but more general fiction)-

      1. There is historical precedence for using it as a way of characterizing groups one does not like as evil. The image of a black man raping a white woman has been used in the U.S. and the myth of Prima Noctis is another example. Writers from a culture where this is a common propaganda technique for groups societies does not like could have unconsciously fallen back on it without realizing what they were doing.
      2. Rape has been and continues to be used as a means of oppression of minority groups, especially in war as a form of psychological warfare. In the war torn world many fantasies occupy such systematic sexual abuse could realistically be a part of the setting. Though this would require a more intentional examination of sexual abuse and other forms of torture on the society that most works of fiction are not willing to engage in.
      3. Unlike murder, the other common method of painting a group as evil in fantasy, rape has a survivor that the author can then pull in as a tangible example of a group’s evilness. Especially if there is not an ongoing conflict in the setting. A twenty year old village where everyone was killed is distant from the narrative, but a character that was raped is more present. I think this is a failure of the author of knowing how to create an interesting threatening villain and so falls back on things they have seen others use, but don’t really understand how to approach well. If the need for a survivor to serve as a constant reminder of how evil the other side is, it begs the question of why torture and disfigurement is not as commonly used (at least from my experience) to characterize evil since it also leads to lasting psychological trauma, which leads to number 4.
      4. Because heroes are commonly shown being “strong” enough to resist being tortured and being able to survive with no lasting psychological trauma (very unrealistic), torture has no weigh as characterization and there is no real threat. If a character has given in to or been traumatized by it torture is because of a flaw or weakness of the character, so a survivor of torture is not a big deal and is not an effective means of conveying that something is evil. We see heroes recover from everything else by just trying hard enough. There is never any PTSD, depression, etc. Rape and sexual assault then becomes the only way of causing lasting trauma to anyone “strong” enough to be interesting as a protagonist. This is further reinforced when we frequently see heroes resorting to torture as a means of obtaining information. Evil may be shown torturing, but it is primarily for sadistic amusement and usually a prelude to rape which is the real evil they’re going to do to the female protagonists while the male protagonists watch.
      5. The author is relying upon the fact that rape and sexual assault make people uncomfortable. By associating that discomfort with the group they want to be evil, they hope to make the evil unsettling by association. This is commonly done with other topics when authors cannot create the tone they want through their own writing.
      6. Lastly, and in my opinion the most likely reason, Rape isn’t something that happens to men. True, males are raped in the real world, but the numbers are much lower than for women and it’s not a constant fear. A lot of fantasy is centered around male power fantasies and the assumed audience is male. Rape isn’t threatening to the male audience (or the majority of the male audience) so it’s something that can be used to label a creature evil justifying violence against it, but the male player or reader does not need to worry about rape happening to them and they don’t link that to the real world fear of being raped. And since the target of rape in fantasy is almost always sexualized female archetypes (the virgin for example) it allows the male to play the hero while also allowing artists and authors to put females into titillating positions (torn clothing, bondage type holding devices, etc.). And the artists and author has the reliable fall back defense to criticism of this depiction by saying, “we’re not saying this is okay, something evil did this and we’re just showing it”. Additionally, rape as a central part of evil is frequently used as a device to get the male hero laid with reward sex (because nothing turns a woman on more than almost being raped and then being rescued, apparently) and the author doesn’t have to do the hard work of developing a relationship to justify the sex. (again fulfilling the stereotypical male fantasy)

      Wow, that was longer than I expected.
      (note: I am not saying that any of these possible explanations justifies the trope. Even outside of playing into rape culture and being offensive, it’s lazy writing. Use of rape and sexual assault as a background tends to try to generate black and white morality to justify the questionable moral actions of the protagonists and rarely does it deal with the psychological effects realistically or address any of the issues is draws up)

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      • avatar
        October 10, 2012 at 03:59

        trmechzero: Thanks for your comments! I agree with you almost entirely.

        Your last point, I must admit, I don’t entirely agree with – I don’t like marginalizing men being raped, even if it is less common than women being raped and it is not a constant fear, so while I do understand your point overall, your first sentence is one I think should be avoided. Men are also not the only storytellers to use rape as a trope, so I don’t think that your last point is the main reason, I think it’s a contributor.

        Thanks again, you have a lot of really great information here. :)

        • avatar
          October 10, 2012 at 07:06

          Agreed. I didn’t intend to marginalize anyone being sexually assaulted. It’s terrible no matter who you are and it can happen to anyone. I meant sort of the opposite of how it came across (I should proofread more). I meant in popular culture and in a lot of fiction, men can’t be raped, except occasionally by another man, because “men always want to have sex” or one of a myriad of other equally invalid justifications. Sorry for the poor wording.

          I’m glad Paizo actually responded with some consideration rather than the knee jerk defensive response a lot of companies tend to fall back on. It makes me happier that I own a Pathfinder. Good post.

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          • avatar
            October 10, 2012 at 07:43

            IRL, it’s about 1-in-6 men vs. 1-in-4 women, though male under-reporting may mean the number is closer to the women’s number. In fiction, I’d be surprised if the ratio of depictions were as low as 100-to-1 in depicting female vs. male rapes.

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            October 10, 2012 at 15:55

            Thanks for the response!

            I do get where you were going, I just make it a point to call out the wording, mostly because I figured that wasn’t your intent. :)

            Yeah, Paizo has been so awesome. I really respect how they’ve treated my comments and the issue as a whole.

      • avatar
        October 10, 2012 at 06:23

        Reason 1: This one gets to me for some reason. Something about human nature wanting to make our enemies evil in a way that is sexually depraved and a little titillating. I guess with sex being linked to reproduction for so much of human history, it makes sense that so much importance was placed on doing sex the “right” way (I just typed that sentence and I am not convinced by it; you don’t have to be). I guess I sit here and wonder why there is a historical precedent of conflating evil with rape.

        Reason 3: Totally lazy writing. Murder can have survivors: attempted murder, the “one that got away,” the “one they left alive to spread the message,” the “one who came across their town destroyed”–all of these are overused tropes, too, probably because they have been effective at some point, so saying “murder doesn’t leave NPCs” is a lie. (I know you are not giving *good* reasons; I am just pointing out some reasons they *aren’t* good reasons.)

        Reason 4: You and I talked about how we both identify this as the primary reason people write rape = evil instead of better, less failtastic characterizations of evil. I think it’s pretty obvious that sexism is at play when the narrative is “men get tortured and if they break, they are weak” and “women get raped and it will hurt and they will rise above it.” I think that simplifying into those stereotypes the way that fantasy tropes often do not only is disrespectful of rape victims but also of torture victims and other survivors of violence. Sexual violence is not the only “real” violence.

        I do think in classic fantasy roleplaying games (D&D in particular, since it grew directly out of war games) where violence is part of the expected mechanic, it is easy to become desensitized because it’s so engrained in the mechanic. I think it’s important to examine this occasionally and see why we’re hacking and slashing, and whether we’re comfortable with the mechanic and our reasons for using it.

        I also appreciate that at your table, your goal in violent encounters is to raise the stakes by having every encounter leading to at least one PC being in danger of death within two rounds. That is obviously not a solution to society (and gamer society)’s comfort with violence in general, but it does reduce desensitization because the violence feels personal.

        Reasons 5 and 6: Are contradictory. (Not that that means that they aren’t both used, even at the same time! Yay cognitive dissonance!) Or perhaps not contradictory, but together hit that “sweet spot” (of yuck) of “uncomfortable but not too uncomfortable.” Like how humanoids just at the edge of the uncanny valley can have a mesmerizing effect.

        Full disclosure: trmechzero is my partner and a frequent GM for games I play in.

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        • avatar
          October 10, 2012 at 06:24

          Clearly, I married trmechzero because we are both longwinded as hell. 😛

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        • avatar
          October 10, 2012 at 16:03

          Whew, text! I love big responses, I just am not so great at returning them! :)

          I appreciate all of your comments here. I especially like your point about men being tortured v. women being raped, because it’s something I’ve thought about as well (in part because, isn’t that just as sexist against men? that they are weak if they break? It bugs me.).

          “I think it’s important to examine this occasionally and see why we’re hacking and slashing, and whether we’re comfortable with the mechanic and our reasons for using it.”

          Yes! I agree. This is something that is a great point that is often missed. I think, in some ways, it is easier to address “normal” violence (I’m not big on torture in games, unless it’s very carefully examined) in game than sexual violence, because it is hard to look at it from a victim’s point of view unless you’ve experienced it, or you think it through very intently. That’s part of why I have objected here to its use. It’s not that all players are immature or something, it’s just that I think things could be handled with more respect than we tend handle other issues like torture and violence. Does that make sense?

          • avatar
            October 11, 2012 at 17:41

            Oh totally. I am not a fan of rape stories or torture stories being built into a system mostly because we already use violence so casually and without self-examination. Adding the specific psychological elements that are inherent to torture and rape seems like a recipe for teaching players that it’s okay to casually invoke experiences that are very harrowing and very real, especially since, as (I am interpreting what) you say, we at least experience violence as gamers from multiple sides, which seems less likely the more specific you get with the kind of violence you build in.

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          • avatar
            October 12, 2012 at 01:54

            Thanks for responding, denzi! Well put!

      • avatar
        October 12, 2012 at 13:28


        I agree with a couple of your points, but disagree – strongly, in one case – with others. I’ll go over this point by point.

        1. Fully agree here, especially on the black man/white woman rape idea prevalent there (seriously, Orcs don’t represent white people, they represent the people of the Heart of Darkness, as narrated in colonialist literature; they’re every evil native people clichée rolled in one). However, other mythologies depict rape as not despicable at all, but a lawful act; most notable are the Old Testament and the founding myth of Rome – that this is never brought up in games, even in a culture of ‘evil’, probably because of speciufic bias around rape restricting it in public perception to ‘bestial’ people – people of color mainly (and homosexuals and others American Priotestantism doesn’t approve of).

        2. Fully agree. Please keep ‘Rape has been and continues to be used as a means of oppression of minority groups, especially in war as a form of psychological warfare’ in mind for later.

        3. Well, I’m not inclined to agree about the murder in principle, but I very much agree rape is a cheap and often very badly employed device to show off someone’s evilness.

        4. Classic power fantasy, yeah. It’s highly interesting, on a side note, that the western/Americna taboo on all things sexual carries over that much into D&D. Also, more thoughts on that – rape/Sexual assault being the only

        5. I again agree. It’s just a cheap grab for emotional impact, and in gaming, a hallmark of bad GMing and bad writing if done like this. You can create evil much more effectively with less stressed tropes than rape. I want to stress that this is just as often used by women as men, in my experience, for cheap emotional effect. It’s a general trope, not gender-specific.

        6. I absolutly disagree. I could give a broad range of examples, but I’ll stick to what strikes home most for the vast majority of western-style gaming – American culture.

        MOD NOTE [derail – While sexual abuse in the real world is an important topic, the topic at hand is how rape is commonly used at the gaming table without a lot of nuance. The narrative that people bring to the gaming table may not reflect reality. Focus on that narrative.]

        Let’s recall what you wrote in #2: “Rape has been and continues to be used as a means of oppression of minority groups, especially in war as a form of psychological warfare.” It does, of men too. Remember Abu Ghureib? Baghram? Or maybe the ‘legitimate interrogation techniques’ your country uses in Guantanamo? Those ‘legitimate techniques’ included sexual harassment. Explicitly. And it’s hard to deny the sexual nature of the Abu Ghuraib photographs. And please keep in mind that this is both the tip of an iceberg – there are at least six confirmed (temporary) secret installation from the Bush years that have by now been closed down, And this was a common ‘interrogation’ practice in the US intelligence community.

        And this doesn’t come from nowhere, nor was this President Bush’s or his minions’ abundant evilness. It is far more deeply rooted in what Americans perceive as just and right. Ever watched a cop show? Where some (doubtlessly deserving) suspect is threatened with things like “you know what they do to young men like you in prison”? Well, what do you guess they do there?

        It’s not a constant fear, sure. But fears are irrational. Also, fears are culturally determined. And few western-oriented societies are so soaked up with fears as that of White America, which is where most gaming literature comes from. And to end this digression – the depiction of rape (always female rape, as you have observed, except for purposedly ridiculing portrayals like the dickwolves of PA fame) draws on this fear, which essentially goes back, in my opinion, to #1, and to the idea of saving white knights as a male power fantasy. Male rape falls into the victim blaming that is so endemic in American culture, blaming the victim for not having been strong enough, or deserving it, and not even being a woman, where being raped is at least fundamentally understandable. Yes, that is sexist, too, for both sexes actually.

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      • avatar
        October 15, 2012 at 20:22

        So this got me thinking about a quote from Firefly: “If they take the ship, they’ll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing. And, if we’re very, very lucky, they’ll do it in that order.” ”

        The Reavers have been our biggest inspiration for orcs since Pathfinder’s beginning: innumerable, alien but familiar, and absolutely merciless–pure Id. There are of course differences, but we were impressed by how creepy the Reavers felt, while still being so familiar. Yet, from their first descriptions, they’re presented as thieves, murders, rapists, cannibals, necrophiliacs, and worse. And, on top of that, they’re human.

        How did folks feel about Firefly’s reavers?

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        • avatar
          October 15, 2012 at 21:02

          I personally hate that line in Firefly. I love Firefly, and the Reavers were appropriately terrifying, but I felt they would have almost been scarier without the rape. I often feel like sometimes, it is scarier to have the sex/power dynamic removed with villains and instead have the villains or monsters view humans more as objects or beasts – almost as though the desire for sex is unfamiliar or the idea of sex with humans is gross or vile.

        • avatar
          October 15, 2012 at 21:26

          I’m going to totally break from the party line and be real honest here: I barely even noticed that line. It was sort of like, “well of course they rape…they’re the bad guys.”

          And I think it’s that exact thought process that’s under scrutiny here. Yeah, they registered as bad guys, but not in a way that was interesting, original, or made them any different than any other bad guys. They were the same as every other bad guy in every other thing that has bad guys.

          And this was years ago. Despite nurturing healthy (and oh-so-original) crushes on Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin, I’m not a Firefly fangirl. I watched them once and haven’t returned to them, and I suspect I’d be a lot more critical of the Reavers portrayal now. I’ve had years of rape first-response volunteerism under my belt, as well as surviving an assault of my own (weird how we frame that like its a possession). And in the greater scheme of things, I think I could probably forgive Joss Whedon; I fill my idle hours with things like Human Lanterns and French new wave horror, so Firefly is by no means the grimmest depiction of misogyny I’ve had to rationalize. But I think my original thoughtspace is more interesting and telling anyway. Of course the Reavers were rapers…but they were also incredibly dull.

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          • avatar
            October 15, 2012 at 22:28

            I am a pretty big fan of Firefly, which I think is part of the reason why I’ve thought about it more. They scared me not because of the rape but because of the way they were portrayed in the film and show (the cinematography and sound effects and the kind of implied gory stuff). I’m a giant wuss, though. I felt like the rape line kind of cheapened it a little.

          • avatar
            October 15, 2012 at 23:19

            To be perfectly honest, I always felt like the Reavers were the redneck cannibal hillbillies of the Serenity universe…extensions of The Hills Have Eyes and Deliverance and a host of other films whose characters have become pretty archetypical (or cliche, depending on how you look at it) by now. Rapiness is, unfortunately, a defining attribute of that archetype.

            Interestingly, orcs and half-orcs ARE NOT the cannibal hillbillies of the Pathfinder world. That honor goes to half-OGRES.

            Anyway, it’s interesting, because it doesn’t surprise me that Whedon imported that archetype in whole, if indeed that’s where he drew his inspiration. But that is kind of the whole conversation we’re having too…do archetypes have value as a shorthand for whatever they represent, or do they just end up being boring and redundant and ineffective after awhile? And I imagine that answer might end up being highly individualistic (in our cases, we both found them ineffective, but for vastly different reasons…in fact, my over-familiarity with the genre cliches I perceived them to be made my reaction to them an almost subconscious one. Because I barely gave them anymore thought than, “eh, boring.”).

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          • avatar
            October 15, 2012 at 23:51

            (note: I am not a big fan of the redneck cannibal hillbilly rapist thing in part because I have the bias of my family coming from West Virginia, which is the typical default location for that.)

            I do think it’s a lot of the boringness. I get sick of those kind of fallbacks.

        • avatar
          October 16, 2012 at 02:01

          I really think that particular line is one of the cleverest in the series but I’m not particularly a fan of the Reavers. Mostly because when you have a entity like that there is only one possible interaction with them. It didn’t really show up as a problem due to the shortness of the series but I felt the Alliance was a much much better ‘villain’ group because they could be reasoned with, be manipulated, have interests in common, infiltrate the crew – all while having a veneer of civility and doing monstrous things (River’s program, the Miranda project). I’ve never been a big fan of othering the villain to make them something we can’t recognize in ourselves and the Reavers fall to far along that spectrum to be a real ‘if your id takes control’ example that would really be frightening.

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          • avatar
            October 19, 2012 at 11:01

            Just a thought, but does the second part of the line make it any better? Thinking to the “And if we’re very lucky, they’ll do it in that order” part. This means that they are likely to do quite brutal things before raping the person to death, which is implied to be worse than just the rape. Does that have an effect on the landscape?

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    3. avatar
      October 10, 2012 at 05:24

      One important point that every fantasy setting I’ve personally read omits is birth control. Throughout human history, people have found ways to prevent unwanted conceptions or abort unwanted pregnancies with relative safety.

      In fact, the herb Silphium was reputedly so safe and effective as a preventative that Romans considered it worth its weight in silver and the plant was eventually harvested to extinction.

      In short, it sort of strains my disbelief that a society with advanced healing magics wouldn’t have a facility for preventing unwanted offspring (especially offspring with a dangerous, monstrous origin conceived in violence).

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      • avatar
        October 10, 2012 at 05:31

        That is a very good point. This is something that we (the Gaming as Women writers) have been discussing, and it is particularly relevant – as you note – that some form of birth control would be super important for situations like this.

      • avatar
        October 10, 2012 at 05:53

        Yes, we did discuss this! In fact, I think I went off about it completely, lol. It just totally breaks my brain that the setting includes stuff like permanent portals to the elemental plane of water to provide irrigation and drinking water for desert communities, but no one ever thought to address the issue of unwanted pregnancies (such as those implied by the existence of half-orcs). Now, I’m not necessarily singling out Paizo here, they’re certainly not the only ones who have neglected these kinds of details. But in the fantasy rpg crowd, they’ve been the one most willing to buck tradition in the interest of expanding their audience, and this is another area where they could possibly make that happen.

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      • avatar
        October 12, 2012 at 13:31

        That is indeed true (at least for Games written by and largely for Americans). I always put this down to the States’ strong fundamentalist movement and touchyness of the matter, myself. Can’t really say for Pathfinder, as I’ve never read any of theoir books properly, but it was only brushed over cursorily in D&D (and even there only in a fringe publication).

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    4. Pingback: Paizo Publishing and Pathfinder-Half-Orc Origins | F. Wesley Schneider

    5. avatar
      October 10, 2012 at 20:17

      First off, many thanks to Brie for talking with me and James, for giving us the opportunity to express our intentions and philosophies, and for letting us know where we have room for considerable improvement. Her initial messages made it clear that she is a passionate gamer but that certain creative decisions were impacting her—and a much larger readership’s—enjoyment of a game we’ve worked to make as friendly and inclusive as possible. Her emails did not disguise her concerns but were openly curious of the reasons behind our choices, giving us the opportunity to discuss and consider the topic with a fresh perspective. Considering the distance I feel that much of gaming still has to grow in its inclusion of not just women, but all races, cultures, and sexualities, this sort of dialogue is exactly the sort we as gamers and game makers need to constantly be having.

      At Gen Con this past year I was a speaker on a panel with several other gay gaming professionals titled “Queer as a Three-Sided Die,” focusing on LGBT topics, concerns, and inclusiveness in gaming. At one point during what ended up being a fantastic and highly interactive seminar, a straight attendee explained that he wanted to include homosexual characters in his writing but didn’t want to offend anyone, so had avoided it. Before the panel even had much of a chance to respond, the audience leapt to explain the importance of starting a dialogue; to honestly try—avoiding stereotypes and obvious offence as much as possible—and get something out there, then take in the response and do better. We on the panel pretty much just nodded, as the crowd had put it more eloquently than we ever could: dialogue and evolution are key.

      That’s what excited me so much about Brie’s emails, article, and the discussion I hope will follow. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game’s pedigree stretches back not just through decades of roleplaying games but through more than a century of fiction. In the context of such a tradition change is sometimes revolutionary, but more often it’s evolutionary. In the case of the half-orc, we didn’t want to be subtractive in our updates to the 3.5 rules set, and in including them in our rules and stories hearkened to a tradition I suspect started with Tolkien’s Uruk-hai and had been propagated through roleplaying games since some of their earliest days. The creators of those early games, the sensibilities of those times, and the players of those games are not the creators, sensibilities, and players of today, though. Our inclusion of half-orcs in Pathfinder erred on the side of tradition, but there’s obviously work to be done. You can read my thoughts and accounting of our thinking on half-orcs above, but I hope everyone views that for what it is: a starting point.

      Personally, I think it’s time half-orcs evolved as a race beyond their stereotypes and assumptions. I think they could be excised and replaced with another race that better satisfies players who want to play “monsters.” Alternatively, this race has seen almost a century of development—maybe it’s time to take them back either in the direction of more mystical origins or for world builders to start acknowledging that yes, humans and orcs can interbreed and the result has led to half-orc communities that present a healthier environment for all members to flourish. That’s doesn’t have to be a “good” society, for folks who like their orcs evil and half-orcs taboo, but it could be a more balanced culture, bringing the focus of what makes a half-orc exceptional back around to their alignment, and not just racism and tragic origins.

      Regardless of the direction this race evolves, changes can only occur through discussions and conversations like the one Brie initiated. As gamers, as fantasy lovers, and as people who want to share their stories with everyone, this is the exact sort of criticism that changes our perspective in real and lasting ways. Really among friends and fellow gamers, constructive criticism and looking toward what RPGs can be are the doorway to making these games that mean so much to all us something even better.

      So those are my long-winded thoughts, but let’s keep this conversation rolling. What would you like to see? What would help you tell the stories you want to? What aren’t we doing that you’d like to see and what are we doing right that we should do more of? Inclusive of gender but also beyond that, what can we do to make the Pathfinder RPG better for you? In short, what can we do to be better allies? You can bet I and my entire team will be listening and taking notes for the future.

      Again, huge thanks to Brie for contacting us in the first place and putting this together. Thanks everyone!

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      • avatar
        October 10, 2012 at 20:49

        Mr. Schneider, I cannot even tell you how much I appreciate your comment and your response overall. Since we’ve had an opportunity to chat so much, I don’t have a lot to say other than I am crazy excited to see the new fiction and to see the future evolution of PC “monster” races and the possibility of improvement of half-orcs. Your responses to me has been really great, and please extend my thanks to Mr. Jacobs again as well. When the second installment of the article (regarding the art that we discussed) is posted, I will send it your way!

        I hope the other readers here will jump in to talk to you! Thank you!

        • avatar
          October 10, 2012 at 23:19

          Will do! I’ll be checking back here regularly and am keenly interested in hearing what folks think.

          Additionally, if you want to talk about the art topic just yell. I think that’s a subject we’ve certainly been more aware of as we’ve grown from a company of 20 folks happy to have any art in our books to a company of about double that with the time and flexibility to make decisions beyond “will it fill a space on the page.” 😛

          Might even be able to slip you a few pieces of art, like the original version of our Iconic Ninja with her open “boob window,” which we got closed up for publication. But that’s a whole other story. :)

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          • avatar
            October 11, 2012 at 02:21

            Awesome! I would definitely love to put up some of the art if you’d be willing to share it – it would be cool to show a contrast of what is good, what isn’t as good, what is really great, and what Paizo does to give us art that’s awesome. :)

            Thanks! I am so excited to have your responses here.

            ETA: I think that piece in particular really showcases the consideration you guys do put into your art selection!

      • avatar
        October 11, 2012 at 00:27

        Hi Wes (I hope it’s okay to call you Wes),

        I want to say, as a one of Brie’s co-bloggers here, this is altogether great. If I haven’t always been completely won over by Pathfinder, I’ve never been anything less than impressed with Paizo’s response to its fan community, and in particular the way it responds to the concerns women have sometimes raised (like now). I’m curious to see what happens from this point on, starting with your half-orc iconic; the proof is in the pudding, of course, but this kind of dialogue is really fantastic.

        I think there’s an interesting discussion to be had here about how nostalgia plays into all of this, but I’m not sure how to frame it in a way that actually leaves room for response. Maybe because I’m still trying to put my finger on it myself. Needless to say, we reside in a community that practically feeds off nostalgia. The whole OSR movement can be seen as symptomatic of that, and Pathfinder too, to an extent (in that it capitalized off the disenchantment of a very large audience who was tired of having to “buy something new”…even though clearly the “buying” wasn’t a problem, it was the “new”). And I guess that’s where my curiosity lies; as a bigtime publisher of a bigtime game, what challenges do you perceive in drifting Pathfinder to a place of greater diversity? What do you think would happen if you just came out and changed the nature of orcs, or (as you suggest in your comment) got rid of half-orcs entirely? My guess is that sales wouldn’t be hurt, but is that the only concern?

        And since I have you here, I want to open up the lgbtq can of worms too. I watched the portion of Queer As A Three-Sided Die that made its way to the internet with great interest, and I really am pleased and excited to see that we can actually now have panels like this at GenCon and openly discuss how to make roleplaying more queer-friendly. I have a couple notes though! 1). The panel was a great first step, but it needs to become more diversified…as far as I could tell, only one branch of the lgbtq was actually represented this time around. 2). I couldn’t help but notice the general discomfort with the question about transgender characters; that’s of particular interest to me personally and if you ever decide to introduce authentic trans characters into Golarion (girdles of femininity/masculinity and “hermaphroditic” deities are pretty dodgy excuses for trans inclusion), I hereby offer my consultation services (and because lots of trans people game, I’m sure others would be willing to as well). 3). The presence of only bigtime game publishers on the panel raised an eyebrow, because we have some very very queer games in the indie community (Hot Guys Making Out and Monsterhearts, to name just two). This issue of diversity (and it’s not just limited to lgbtq-diversity either) seems like one of those things that should cut all the way top-to-bottom – big publishers, small indie folks, and everyone in between. You and I are, ostensibly, community. How do we work together to raise awareness of these things?

        Anyway, those are some of things percolating in my head. It’s great to have you here at GAW…hopefully you’ll make a habit of stopping by. :)

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        • avatar
          October 11, 2012 at 05:19

          Pfffh, of course it’s okay to call me Wes. 😛

          So let’s see here…

          “And I guess that’s where my curiosity lies; as a bigtime publisher of a bigtime game, what challenges do you perceive in drifting Pathfinder to a place of greater diversity?”

          Honestly, not many. It’s my impression that much of the OSR has to do with choices of game design and complexity. I totally could be wrong here, but I don’t feel like gender roles are any more hardwired into the classes and options of those games as they are in more complicated ones. The traditions OSR games might be following in the footsteps of might have unfortunate choices made for a different audience in a different time, but there’s nothing inherent in those systems that hardwire creative choice or growth.

          With the Pathfinder RPG, one of the ways we assured players would be able to continue to play the games they wanted to play was by being largely additive in our changes. With a set of familiar but expanded rules, GMs can create any sort of adventures or worlds they want. So not to hinder that is exactly the reason we keep the continuity of our campaign setting out of our Core Rulebook line. Aside from presenting a list of deities from Golarion as examples to go along with the cleric, you deliberately won’t find much of the stories and setting details we present in our other lines in those hardcovers. That is expressly so players can create the sorts of games that work for them.

          So if the “hardware” of these games don’t limit us and we can use them to tell any sorts of stories that we want, then this is all about what sorts of stories we as gamers and storytellers want to tell. And there I think we find significant room for and acceptance of change. Heck, one of the things Pathfinder is probably best known for is the new look and take we gave goblins, to the extent that we have an entire sub-line based on respinning classic monsters with new takes (kicking off with Classic Monsters Revisited and going through to books like Giants Revisited). I think we as gamers have a lot of tolerance for our nostalgia being updated, so long as it’s done well. I know that’s a highly subjective statement, but I know I love the new Thundercats but hate the new Transformers. Gamers don’t want to read the same stories they read fifteen, twenty, thirty years ago, they want the themes, the challenges, the adventure, and definitely the good time with friends, but whether the kobold looks like a little dog-person or a little dragon-person doesn’t seem to matter that much–and all the better if it’s fresh and fun.

          So as far as making the Pathfinder campaign setting a place of greater diversity, I know that’s not a problem for our readership as that a goal we’ve actively been pursuing for years. I’ve heard some nay saying (there was definitely some restraint put into my answers to questions about how we can have a character in Pathfinder #1 who’s a paladin AND gay), but I’ve heard far more thanks from people excited about feeling like they and the characters they want to play have a place in a fantasy world. There’s always room to grow though. There’s never going to be some day where we look around and say, “Yup, we’ve done good enough,” which is a huge reason we’re so interactive with our players.

          Making major changes to races thoroughly established in our world’s continuity is more difficult, though. Saying that there’s one moon today then saying there’s two moons the next is going to raise a lot of eyebrows. With something established, there needs to be logical additions or evolutions. With orcs, maybe those of a lot of areas are crazy–damaged by their exposure to the deepest of Darklands radiations–but maybe that’s not the case all over. That’s a bit tricky considering how strongly so many players feel about orcs, but I don’t think it’s undoable. Half-orcs are easier, though, and I think more discussions about the race of a child born of half-orc parents (or a half-orc and human) will be coming up in the near future. My take is such children will be half-orc (we are NOT going the route of decreasing percentages when it comes to half-races), giving that entire race much more potential to know and not hate their parents. There’s definitely room in the stories we tell for whole communities of half-orcs seeking the comfort of their own kind, though I can’t say quite yet what shape something like this might take as our published works. Ultimately, though, we built the Pathfinder campaign setting to be a place where players can indulge any type of game they want. That’s why we have a viking-themed country, a necromancer’s paradise, an Egyptian-styled region, gothic horror land, Conan-land, knight country, and tons more all on the same map. If we’ve got room for all that, we’ve got room for happy half-orc families and the occasional good-aligned orcs. With additions like that, including the comparatively dull rainbow of human variation should be a breeze, but we always need to know what we’ve missed, so keep letting us know!

          On the Queer as a Three-Sided Die front. It was great! You should be there next year!!!

          “1). The panel was a great first step, but it needs to become more diversified…as far as I could tell, only one branch of the lgbtq was actually represented this time around.”
          Totally true. One of this year’s Gen Con guests of honor, Green Ronin’s Steven Kenson, was the one brilliant enough to organize it and the overwhelming response was that this needs to be a yearly thing. So as soon as there’s more to know, you can be sure everyone on that panel this year will be trumpeting it from the mountain tops.

          Totally true that the panelists were definitely from the same LGBTQ cross section and there is ABSOLUTELY room for growth–sounds like you’re raising your hand for next year 😉 –but what impressed me so much about that panel was that it turned into more of a group discussion than a seminar. That video cuts off halfway through (totally missing out on some of my better quips), but by the end members of the crowd were chiming in with greater regularity than some of us on the panel. Which. Was. GREAT! The breadth of experience and perspectives in that room was really something special and certainly deserving of cultivation in years to come.

          “2). I couldn’t help but notice the general discomfort with the question about transgender characters; that’s of particular interest to me personally and if you ever decide to introduce authentic trans characters into Golarion (girdles of femininity/masculinity and “hermaphroditic” deities are pretty dodgy excuses for trans inclusion), I hereby offer my consultation services (and because lots of trans people game, I’m sure others would be willing to as well).”
          I think that’s mostly because the answers we had were so weak! Like seriously, aside from a few lame comments about gender swapping spells and deities (who always cheat when it comes to sex and gender anyway) we didn’t have much of anything. And that’s from the combined worlds of Pathfinder, D&D, World of Darkness, and Mutants and Masterminds. Lame. LAME.

          I took that home with me and immediately rolled elements of that into a character I was designing for Pathfinder Adventure Path #62 in an article on the Gray Maidens–a band of deadly female knights. Using the limited tools available, it did feature the girdle of opposite gender (which really needs to stop being called a cursed item–already noted for future revisions) and a male character who employed it to infiltrate the gray maidens to find his sister. Failing in his task, he’s retained his magical gender change, primarily because he’s discovered the change was right for him. Additionally, I just outlined our book on Empyreal Lords, the high angels of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting, and one gender dimorphic deity will feature a faith who are encouraged to spend time living as members of the opposite sex to better understand they way they live life, and then choose what works best for them.

          Now I know this isn’t perfect, isn’t a solution, and isn’t the end to the conversation, but I hope it is illustrative of how powerful discussions like this can be and that they do affect changes. I just thought our answer to that question was SO LAME that I wanted to make sure we had a better one for next year… not a perfect one, but better.

          And yes, yes, yes, yes! I’d love to get your read on future trans inclusion (and wouldn’t mind hearing your take on the Empyreal Lord stuff once we have it in and up to shape!) Thanks a ton!

          “3). The presence of only bigtime game publishers on the panel raised an eyebrow, because we have some very very queer games in the indie community (Hot Guys Making Out and Monsterhearts, to name just two). This issue of diversity (and it’s not just limited to lgbtq-diversity either) seems like one of those things that should cut all the way top-to-bottom – big publishers, small indie folks, and everyone in between. You and I are, ostensibly, community. How do we work together to raise awareness of these things?”

          While the Queer as a Three-Sided Die panel was largely thrown together at the last minute among a group that already knew and had worked with one another, I think it shows that Gen Con as a company and as a convention is open to this sort of programing and can serve as a forum for gaming related discussions like this. So if you or anyone reading this wants to take that panel as proof of concept, there you have it! There was no corporate powerhouse behind that seminar, just Steve pushing it through, and if he can do it so can any other motivated gamer. It’s not going to be long before Gen Con opens the floodgates for next year’s programing so anyone interested in putting together a LGBTQ seminar, workshop, or whatever have you should really start thinking about what shape that’s going to take.

          I know we’ve already talked about doing another Queer as a Three-Sided Die panel, but for my part I think there’s definitely room for that to grow and include more than just last year’s quartet. As for rallying a group of LGBTQ gamers to a coordinated effort… ooofda, tricky. Hopefully we can get details about next year’s Queer as a Three-Sided Die panel out there early enough to get some additional synergy, but–and I know this isn’t terribly satisfying–next year’s panel could also make a good face-to-face place to talk about even more down the road. Alternatively, if anyone has any plans they’d like to include me in or gets my thoughts on, I’d love to help however I can. Just give me a yell.

          “…hopefully you’ll make a habit of stopping by. ”
          Totally! This has really been great. Thanks a ton Renee!

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            October 11, 2012 at 08:30

            Wow, that was extensive. I’m certainly glad you found something to talk about. :)

            I’d agree that these games aren’t necessarily hardwired in one direction or another. Oh, maybe in some ways, because humans had to actually create and write them, and humans have inherent biases. I mean there’s clearly a white, European bias in most of the big fantasy rpgs, and that worms its way into both the mechanics and fictional elements, but I’m not really keen on dissecting those influences right now (at least in part because I know you guys make a real effort to interrogate these things and I can’t offer any better insight than that).

            So yeah, the real crux of my question was about the attitudes of the players themselves…”what kinds of stories do we want to tell”, as you put it. And it’s interesting to get your perspective on that, because I agree, Pathfinder did break ground in terms of representation and diversity (at least among big mainstream products). Of course, some of it I could intuit for myself; the popularity of Pathfinder speaks volumes (and hopefully its sturdiness means you can push boundaries even further, if you’re so inclined).

            As an aside, in my last PF campaign, the goblin NPC was so popular that one of my players retired her character so she could take him over. This was met with overwhelming approval by the rest of the group, as it meant more screen time for Mogmurch. He ended up saving Absalom. Sort of. So yeah, everyone loves your goblins.

            Regarding next year’s GenCon, I’d love to be there, but we’ll see how it goes (lost my job after I started my transition; not an uncommon story for women in my position, but it does tend to limit one’s disposable income). Still, if I can swing it, it’d be honor to participate (although I’m sure there are many qualified trans representatives). I am sorry to have missed your quips and the rest of the discussion; my experience in guest lecturing has always been very much like what you describe…I much prefer conversations to lectures anyway. :)

            Some of the ideas you describe for trans inclusion seem pretty cool. Is that Adventure Path available yet?* If she remains a she, remember to use proper pronouns! That’s very important. Also, yes! I’d be absolutely thrilled to get an early peek at anything you’re working on and offer my thoughts (as relevant). Let me know how that can happen.

            And thanks for the thorough response!

            *edited: I see that it is. I might pick it up just to check it out. :)

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            October 11, 2012 at 18:55

            I’ll post this here, since it won’t let me reply to a reply to a reply. 😛

            “Wow, that was extensive. I’m certainly glad you found something to talk about. :)”
            Right!? Sheesh. Sorry I’ve kind of gone off the handle on this a few times. For one reason or another we haven’t talked much about all the discussions we’ve had and continue to have at Paizo about inclusiveness in the Pathfinder RPG (in part because we’ve seen such discussions go so wrong on other gaming websites). So this has been really refreshing and that has let to… all of the words. 😛

            “…the popularity of Pathfinder speaks volumes (and hopefully its sturdiness means you can push boundaries even further, if you’re so inclined).”
            We’re inclined. Although this topic certainly goes beyond LGBTQ issues, I’d love to see Pathfinder Wiki or some other fan site put together a list of LGBTQ characters in the game, as frankly I’ve lost track. They’re not in like every book, but there’s a goodly number out there, and we slip in more whenever it makes sense particularly in the hopes of a more even inclusion. We also try to reflect this in our rules whenever it makes sense. The very open relationship system in the Jade Regent Adventure Path was designed to assure that players of any sexuality would have the opportunity to build relationships with the NPCs they felt closest to. That sort of rules for relationships thing isn’t going to work for every group, but it’s the sort of design I feel like is pretty common at our operation now but would have been jaw dropping 10 years ago.

            Keep an eye on the Pathfinder Comic too. Even though that is still a very young expression of the Pathfinder world, its effectiveness at conveying subtleties means that things we’ve hinted at since the earliest days are being made much more transparent. It’s really been something special to be apart of and our creative staff has had a lot of input into those (even though readers might not realize it from just looking at the monthly credits).

            But now I totally have transgender characters higher on my list and hope this discussion and others like it will help identify some other groups that we can do better at including.

            “Also, yes! I’d be absolutely thrilled to get an early peek at anything you’re working on and offer my thoughts…”
            That would be fantastic! I always try to find experts whenever we venture into ground we’re obviously not experts on–which, since I mentioned our Jade Regent Adventure Path, led us to finding some great authors with some amazing insights on Eastern cultures and folklore during that campaign’s foray into Asian fantasy. I apparently suck at tracking down your email, but mine’s (cleverly) wes@paizo.com. Give me a yell and we’ll chat (and I’ll get you a copy of Pathfinder #62). Thanks a ton Renee! :)

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            October 11, 2012 at 21:58

            Hey Wes,

            I hope I didn’t seem like I was shaming you for talking! I love that you’re willing to put so much energy behind these ideas, and I totally get how sometimes it’s hard to find the right venue to talk about certain things you feel passionately about. I’m glad you can do that here a bit. :)

            I’d love to see a list of those characters, just because it would be cool to look at in and take in. Similarly, I’m surprised someone hasn’t compiled a list of queer-friendly games yet. While I’m writing this, I’m reminded of GaymerCon; the name tweaks me a bit (I get kind of pedantic about how gay =/= lgbtq), but I think it’s really great to see something that’s specifically about queer games and gamers. Maybe what I really want is a GLAAD-type organization that promotes everything good about the lgbtq in the gaming community. Hmmm, these ideas are just now coalescing…interesting grist for my mill though.

            I just noticed that Imrijka’s story is up! It does whet the appetite for more. Also, I love the line “blizzard-born prince.” I had forgotten that Ustalav was yours (or maybe I just never put two-and-two together). Horror is my thing first and foremost, and Rule of Fear was the first actual Pathfinder product I bought, if I recall correctly (my roomie had all the core books already). It is, actually, the product that made me give Pathfinder a chance. I still find horror difficult to do with PF, but I keep Rule of Fear on hand for inspiration because it looks beautiful and has lots of great ideas in it. And because I am who I am, when I do run PF, I can’t help but insert horror into the game; at those times RoF and Carrion Crown come in handy (my players do not like the haunt rules!).

            Anyway, I’ll pop off an email to you (I’ll probably stall for a day or so, just so I don’t look *too* eager). I totally wasn’t fishing for free product but thank you, and in exchange, I’ll talk about it on the site (if you like; it won’t be a proper review because at this point I’m probably predisposed to enjoy it, but I think I could reflect upon the elements we’ve talked about here).

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            October 12, 2012 at 01:56

            I’m replying here just to say that it would be super sweet to see Renee putting her voice in at Queer as a Three-Sided Die at GenCon, and thanks for all of your input! I love hearing that you respond to things like the lack of representation by immediately saying, “Let’s fix it!”

            That is *so awesome*!

    6. avatar
      October 15, 2012 at 10:07

      While somewhat of an aside from the excellent discussion on how and why Paizo chose their approach, when I included half-orcs in my game I did so in a way that focused on some grim but much less explored ideas. I treated half-orcs as a highly desirable commodity as slaves considered exceptionally strong and inexhaustible. As such the vast, vast majority of half-orcs were deliberately bred by humans using captive orcs rather than something ‘wild’ orcs did (I find the ethics involved WAY more interesting when the individual doing something awful has a choice about it in a way that, by definition, EVIL races don’t). In other non-slaving areas of the world I had a militant monastic order that paid desperate poor women to carry a half-orc child (something relatively more dangerous than a normal pregnancy) who would be raised in the order. While both include forced or coerced sex I find that it is less moralizing than ‘orcs are rape because they are evil’ and offers some very fertile ground for exploring issues around the economics of sex work, surrogacy, slavery, and eugenics.

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        October 15, 2012 at 16:48

        That is an interesting change. My question is, were the humans doing this portrayed as evil, or was it something that was accepted as a cultural norm? Was it something that was promoted and seen as a sensible, logical choice? I am asking because I have heard this type of story before, and I would like to know how you handle representing what they do.

        I honestly would prefer not to have that content in a game I played, in part because it still places that sort of weight on the shoulders of the PCs who choose to play half orcs to need to choose between accepting canon or trying to build something different out of their background, and still having to deal with the incredible stereotyping regardless of what they do with their background.

        • avatar
          October 16, 2012 at 01:42

          It was presented as a cultural norm within nations which engaged in slavery on a widespread scale. Much like how in the real world the men who held slaves and forcibly bred them weren’t beard-stroking cackling villains the slavers in game were presented as generally reasonable, pleasant businesspeople or nobles who were entirely unaware of the monstrous nature of what they were engaged in. We chose to very much play up the banality of evil in this instance. Outside that nation attitudes varied from apathetic indifference to outrage leading to open attacks (sometimes based on actual outrage and sometimes using it as a excuse for imperialism) against the slaving nations.

          I can totally understand not wanting that in your game and absolutely support anyone who doesn’t want it in their game. I don’t think that most gaming groups want to deal with the issues involved and as a general rule I think that removing rape as the primary means for half-orcs being created is best for general rulebooks. My group really likes grappling with ethical issues through our game and that is why my players collaboratively created those half-orc backgrounds. Most groups don’t use the game as a means to explore issues like terrorism or the ethics of mass slaughter of goblin non-combatants but my group likes playing ‘gritty’ epic fantasy and treats the entire experience like a collaborative old-school science fiction ‘what if’ story.

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        October 15, 2012 at 19:46

        This is pretty interesting and still includes some really grim elements, going more of a desperation and commerce route rather than a direct violence route. Still some real rapids in there. Have you had any PCs play half-orcs? If they have, have they embraced this background or sought to be an exception to it?

        I have a half-formed theory here about racial backgrounds and whether PCs embrace them as part of their characters or seek to be exceptions. Like, you certainly get plenty of elves that grew up as elves in Elfland, but far fewer half-orcs or drow who grew up as exemplars of their race. That might have a lot to do with those being less than typical heroic races, but subject matter might factor into some decision as well. Needs more data. :)

        This also makes me wonder how folks feel about backgrounds that are essentially”terrible things happened, but born of that is this new thing.” So if we considered half-orcs their own, true breeding race (probably with a different/new racial name now that their not just half-breeds but their own distinct species) but still had their origins in violent clashes between orcs and humans in the distant, distant past, is that better? Does culture and large spans of time help heal the wounds of a violent origin?

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          October 15, 2012 at 20:59

          Wes, RE: your last paragraph –

          I think it’s a little better to have it be farther off, especially if there has been some actual healing. Like, if there’s still deep bigotry and violent relationships between the PC races (half orcs humans) and it prevented half orcs from having some groups that work well with the other PC races that would bug me, personally, but it could be done well. I think a lot of the time, execution is really important.

          I think the “being an exception” thing is a little frustrating, because it ends up being that you are exceptional because you are different from your race or have a different background, instead of being an exceptional being of your own right. Does that make sense?

        • avatar
          October 16, 2012 at 01:23

          Actually half-orcs are the second most popular race in my game (having had 3 half-orc characters) following behind humans. The players were deeply instrumental in crafting the backgrounds of half-orcs rather than it being me, as GM, introducing it by fiat and thus while each successive player broke from the established half-orc backgrounds they created a new ‘canon’ background rather than setting themselves up as a exception to the existing background.

          They originated in this particular format because one of my players really loved the Mul race from Dark Sun (a sterile human-dwarf crossbreed primarily bred for slave labour and gladiatorial combat) and wanted to play something similar in a more traditional fantasy setting. After some conversation we established that what he really liked about the concept was escape from servitude, being considered unusual and powerful, having to build an identity without rolemodels, and the emotional strife they have around family, children, and relationships. Later I had a different player who wanted to play a half-orc but hated slave origins (too many computer games start with the whole slave or prisoner thing) and she suggested something where half-orc children were taken in and raised their entire lives by something like a Tibetan monastery does with children. After some conversation we decided to have them actively recruit women to have these children in order to keep a major racial focus on broken family relationships. The last character was from a new player who wanted to play a half-orc barbarian but felt neither of the existing backgrounds really lent itself to a raised in the wild feel. He suggested borrowing from another campaign setting (Eberron I believe) and had barbarian tribes in a region composed of orcs, half-orcs, and humans. Interbreeding was based on shows of strength and skill that impressed someone enough to invite you to join their tribe or leave theirs for yours.

          In terms of ‘does time make a difference in how the origin is treated’ I think it would be an absolute yes. It takes it from a something that happened to me/my parent to a something that happened a long time ago to my people. I would think of it much like if you were playing a historically accurate game set in the real world playing an african-american in the 1850’s vs playing one in 2012. For the 1850’s character slavery is the defining issue that affects them wherever they go. For 2012 it colours their culture and can come up as an issue but isn’t intrinsic to the character and becomes optional to offer it any focus.

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    7. avatar
      October 18, 2012 at 05:58

      I personally find “we are showing that Orcs are evil and Pathfinder is a gritty mature game” is a really weak reason to include rape in the core rulebook of a game. You don’t see child abuse thrown out carelessly in RPG fluff descriptions, even though it would undoubtedly get the “evil” point across.

      This post and the comments have been an interesting read and I think it is really cool to see Wes actively participating in the conversation and presenting the Paizo perspective. My two cents: Choose any of the million other ways to make orcs evil and your game gritty and let the individual group decide if they want to play a game that features rape as a factor in character creation.

      Personally, I don’t even think the male orc raping female human as half-orc back story makes sense, let alone all the other implications. It pretty much forces the DM to include repeated invasions of orcs into human lands in the campaign world history; invasions that actually succeeded to the point of defeating the human defenders and resulting in large scale raping human women, who then must have carried out these pregnancies to term, and then the human society must have accepted the half-orc babies. That seems like an awful lot to force the DM to include in a campaign world history just to include a player race. What if the human lands have never been overrun by orcs in my game? What if humans in my world are magically skilled and would never allow an unwanted pregnancy to come to term? It just seems like a lazy and frankly boring cop out, the only thing not “boring” about it being the capacity of the term rape itself to trigger strong emotions.

      In my old 3.5E campaign world the grey orcs of the lowland warrens had intentional breeding programs, creating half-orc crosses with many different species and training them as special battle units. Half-orc/half-hill giants, half-orc/half-ogres, half-orc/half-humans, half-orc/half-dallen (dallens were like centaurs with sheeps’ bodies)…

      In my game it was orc priestesses that forced themselves on captured prisoners of war and then performed ritual magic to enable the conception of a child. Reading all the examples of different half-orc variants given in this thread, I don’t think anyone even once mentioned anything other than male orcs procreating with female humans. As if the reverse just wasn’t even thinkable. That seems strange to me. Unless you have a situation where orc hordes are literally ransacking countrysides and burning and looting and pillaging, the vast majority of the prisoners that orcs are likely to end up with are going to be men. It is men that go out and fight the orcs, that meet them in the mountain passes, that foolishly chase them into the warrens. If rape is the origin of half-orcs, it seems much more likely to me that it is female orcs raping male humans, and it seems more likely that half-orcs grow up in orcish society and not human. Not that this is any better in the context of a core rulebook…

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        October 18, 2012 at 16:26

        Thanks for the response, carlgnash.

        I would like to point out that I have not ever seen an indication that the implied rape in this type of backstory is male orc/female human. It’s entirely possible it is female orc/male human (and I think pretty likely that it would happen, given the savage nature of the race in the fiction), but in either case, I feel that rape is not the right element to use.

        While I think you have a lot of good points, I will honestly say that I wouldn’t want to play in a game that had the background in your last paragraph (the orc priestesses raping the prisoners) – it’s just not a subject I’d be comfortable with, because I kind of feel that it’s unnecessary. To each their own, though!

        Thanks again for responding!

    8. avatar
      October 21, 2012 at 18:16

      There’s something that’s yet to get brought up and that I think is *extremely* important to conversations about including rape and sexual violence in games: these things are closer to player experience than a lot of other “bad stuff” in games.

      Reavers are very distant from my actual life and concerns. Same goes for murder and combat. Gore and torture and body horror subplots are also really unlikely to come up outside fiction.

      But rape? Somewhere around 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men according to RAINN is already a survivor of rape. Rape’s a thing that happens all the time, and has probably happened to people in my gaming community. There’s enough cultural pressure not to prosecute rapists that writing rape plot would be like writing gun violence plot – if most of your players had guns and one in ten of them had probably been shot at some point, most likely by somebody they knew socially.

      Also, as a creator of games, I’ve found that it’s very hard to sort of abstract sexual harassment and cultural behavior around rape, and a lot of people have a lot of History around these things. I mean, combat is very abstracted most of the time – rolling some dice is unlike the experience of fighting someone. Dialogue is usually not abstracted at all – my character says the things I say in the way I say them, the player experience of someone making sketchy comments in-character is much, much closer to the player experience of someone making sketchy comments out-of-character than the experiences of in-character spellcasting or combat or finding a dead body or whatever.

      So I really don’t want sexual violence in game background materials at all, given the degree to which it is particularly tricky, challenging material to include in a game and the degree to which I’d prefer to oversee all such inclusion myself.

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        October 21, 2012 at 19:08

        khayankh – You have a lot of good points. Thank you for sharing your perspective!

        I think your point about dialogue not being abstracted is really, really important.

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