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Monday, June 22, 2020

Orcish Alignment

People sometimes complain that it’s unrealistic to limit orcs to Lawful Evil, because it demonizes them as monsters instead of people. Where did that come from?

I don’t mean “Where did the complaint come from?” I mean “Why are orcs Lawful Evil?”

In Men & Magic, the alignment chart (page 9) has orcs in the Chaos column… and the Neutrality column. This is pretty much the only discussion of their alignment in the three original booklets, although the discussion of hirelings in Underworld & Wilderness Adventures mentions that Chaotic characters might wish to hire orcs – more a commentary on the preferences of Chaotic characters than on the alignment of orcs.

In the AD&D Monster Manual, orcs are now Lawful Evil. Not only have they lost some flexibility, they’ve switched from Chaos to Law.

I could complain about the switch from the threefold to the five- or nine-fold alignment systems, or from alignment as allegiance to alignment as moral philosophy, but I have already done so. I’m more curious here as to why Gygax felt the need to switch, and why the switch had to include orcs becoming Lawful instead of Chaotic. Was it just because there weren’t enough Lawful Evil monsters under the new system?

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  1. I'd just assumed, thinking about it, that he wanted orcs to be more of an organized military force. Lawful suits organized a lot better than Chaotic doesn, in the nine-fold alignment system.

    1. Possible, although goblins, kobolds, and hobgoblins are also Lawful Evil. Bugbears, for some reason, are Chaotic Evil, so it can't be just a "tribal humanoid" thing.

      And the question still remains: Why make the change to the meaning of Law? It originally had no special significance with regards to organization or even to "law". It was just a team.

  2. I think this has more to do with the Chaotic Good alignment of Elves in the 1e MM than anything else. Since Orcs and Elves are supposed to be diametric opposites, Orcs became Lawful Evil.

    1. That's certainly part of it. But of course, elves were aligned with Law originally. So Gygax swapped their alignments but kept them opposed, apparently because he assigned a meaning to Law and Chaos that changed the way he looked at elves and orcs.