Greenskins & Colonialism

I’ve written at length in the past about the plight of the greenskin and the tableau of colonization represented by the press into the goblin frontiers.   One of the best lampshades on the tropes of fantastic racism and colonialism of greenskins comes from Order of the Stick, where one of the main villain’s motivation is to avenge his people’s cultural status as cannon-fodder.     Asparagus Jumpsuit wants to move past the colonial tropes of RPGs.  But I think it order to move past them*, we need to backtrack.  Before we fell in love with the Noble Savage Orcs of Warcraft and the Proud and Honorable Orsimer of the Elder Scrolls, there wasn’t near as much discussion about the plight of greenskins in fantasy rpgs.    Let’s go back much further than the tropes of dungeons & dragons influenced fantasy, further even than Tolkien’s Orcs, who were twisted creations of an evil god, to when “Fey” was what people feared in the wilds.

Greenskins were not noble savages, no race of different men, but rather the more twisted and deformed members of the Unseelie Court, malevolent in intent against humans, soulless and cursed, and bound to the Devil through the teinde, a pact which required them to offer the blood of infants every seven years.  We’ve projected our orientalist and romantic ideas onto greenskins in fantasy because it is no longer acceptable to project them onto non-western people.

The only way to rid RPGs of the colonial race trope is to treat monsters as part of Fey, wholly opposed to humanity, God and the Godly.  The problem in D&D and any RPG that features goblinoid races is that people will project two different things on the same being, things which are in direct conflict with one another.  A goblin cannot simultaneously be a creature of magic and malice whose nature is to act in defiance of God and Man and be a proxy for a brown person.  You’re going to need to choose in your setting and choose early, and you’re going to have to deal with that choice, but most importantly, you need to make sure that your players are on the same page.  If the goblins of your world are malevolent fairy-kind, make sure that the guy who is insistent upon bringing his white-burden everywhere he goes (including your game table) is aware that the minions of Oberon do not need his guilt sympathies.

*Personally, I enjoy using goblin-folk as nomadic hunter-gatherers who are in conflict with humanity at times out of necessity rather than an evil nature, but at the same time, I don’t use them as stock low-level enemies, either.

Advertisements