I think I agree about the ‘creation by evil’. But you are more free with the word ‘creation’ than I am. Treebeard does not say that the Dark Lord ‘created’ Trolls and Orcs. He says he ‘made’ them in counterfeit of certain creatures pre-existing. There is, to me, a wide gulf between the two statements, so wide that Treebeard’s statement could (in my world) have possibly been true. It is not true actually of the Orcs – who are fundamentally a race of ‘rational incarnate’ creatures, though horribly corrupted, if no more so than many Men to be met today. — J.R.R. Tolkien Letter No. 153Implied in this quote about orcs is a cultural critique of modern man divorced from God. The “rational incarnate” creature is one that has replaced God with reason, and having done so has rid the world of Good and Evil. Fundamentally, this is why I have a real problem with WotC and its new approach to orcs.
Evil, like cold, is an absence of something. In the case of cold, it is an absence of heat. In the case of evil, it is the absence of good. In a Biblical context, God is the source of all goodness, because Christ Himself tells us:
“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” —Mark 10:18Thus, when humanity elevates rationality to the point that it thinks God is no longer necessary, a biblical critique would argue that the society built on that foundation is evil. From a practical point of view, good and evil cease to make any sense.
To go back to the heat/cold analogy, imagine that we have lived our entire lives near the arctic circle and have never seen a world without ice and snow. In such circumstances, it is impossible to describe what it might be like to live in the Sahara, because we have never experienced that kind of dry heat in our lives. In the same way, if we live a life without good, we have no reference with which to understand evil.
The consequence of such a world-view is catastrophic on many levels. The first half of the 20th century saw the rise of what Tolkien might call rational incarnate societies. They murdered others and their own in the tens of millions. Absence any concept of good, rationality justified mass murder. The level I am concerned with today, however, is in the realm of stories…specifically about how we construct them in context of an RPG.
The most universal and archetypal stories that have cultural significance and last through the ages are those that at some level pit good versus evil. In my lifetime, Star Wars played with these archetypes brilliantly. Homer, Beowulf, Gilgamesh, the Bhagavad Gita, King Arthur, Shakespeare, etc. all meditate on Good versus Evil. Good yarns have good characters who have complex and interesting motivations inspired by the classic conflict of good and evil.
In context of RPGs, especially classic versions of D&D, character motivation becomes a central feature of the game. Every player has to wrestle with why their character does what they do. Every player has to wrestle with what has the most value. This is particularly true when XP isn’t exclusively given for combat. In older versions of the game where 1xp=1gp, and a goblin was worth 5 xp, getting the 500gp treasure guarded by the goblins became an exercise in weighing values. In campaigns where 1xp=1gp spent, gaining a level became an exercise of literally putting your money where your mouth is, and then living with the consequences.
In this context, orcs are the personification of the absence of good. Whether physical manifestations of sin, spawn of the fallen world, or a humanity that has turned its back on God, orcs allow us to have a reference point for what is good. Without them, every character is an orc. They may look like a human, gnome, or elf, but without the reference point of evil, everyone may as well be an orc.
In a world where everything is an orc, good stories become impossible. Archetypes disappear, because the only character motivation left is selfishness. Without evil, why do anything? When selfishness is the motivation for everyone, everything become normative. Killing millions becomes rational.
Telling stories and playing RPGs become boring and pointless.
So, for me, having a world where orcs are evil is essential for not only understanding the game, but being able to actually play it.