Crash’s Course Ep 11: Stereotypes

Hello and welcome to Crash’s Course, a short form podcast where I share my thoughts and advice on playing and running tabletop role playing games in roughly about 5 minutes.

Today I want to talk a little about stereotypes. Outside of a game setting this can be a deep conversation that can lead to some very nasty subjects, but inside a game setting, the same thing can happen and make things be unpleasant all around.

It’s my hope that most people can agree that assuming stereotypes are true is not the recommended path to take, but at the same time, most games I see with orcs have them as big, burly brutes with a penchant for smashing things, goblins are chaotic, murder-happy munchkins, and elves are aloof, self-centered elitists.

Also, most dwarfs appear to be from Scotland? That’s odd.

Now I’m not saying you should stay away from the occasional angry giant as an antagonist, and people have gotten a lot of use out of stereotypes in their games over the decades, but that doesn’t mean these concepts are carved in stone. Consider, if you will, a goblin paladin who helps the weak and poor, an orc mage who’s calm, collected, and maybe a bit of a pacifist, or even a horde of machine-hating gnome barbarians.

I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Those who’ve been paying attention to the various editions of D&D may have noticed a decreasing emphasis on Alignment. Sure, they still include it as part of the character sheet, but there it’s meant to be a shorthand guide. “In the lore of the default campaign settings, X creatures are usually YZ Alignment.” It’s a useful tool for a starting GM using pre-created materials to get a quick handle on a recommended way of how those beings could be expected to behave.

But look at the spells Dispel Evil and Good, Detect Evil and Good, & Protection from Evil and Good – none of these actually mention Alignment outside of their names, unlike the previous edition versions that were either about evil beings or good beings, you had to pick when you prepared the spell.

In truth, I don’t even like the term “evil” as a concept. There are beings who are selfish and self-centered, of course, but the number of mustache-twirling ne’er-do-wells tying people to train tracks out there is mercifully small.

OK, so you still want a horde of goblins to besiege the PCs town. Go for it, but just … give them a better reason to do it than “they’re evil goblins, that’s what they do.” Hunting, gathering, and farming are occupations that result in way fewer goblin deaths, and goblins can be intelligent enough to understand this.

Perhaps their crops failed, or a passing army scared away all the game, or they were chased out of their previous home when a dragon moved in, and need supplies to travel further.

None of these options insist that the goblins are evil, but still give them a reason for taking from the people who aren’t them and don’t like them (because of stereotypes, most likely). Better yet, an enterprising party might be able to intervene and find a way to prevent loss of life on both sides. When you assume the enemy’s always evil, that becomes a lot harder to do.

Players of my campaigns have gotten used to this being an option, and have intentionally sought diplomatic options when facing bandits, goblins, necromancers, the undead, undead necromancers, and even dragons.

Of course sometimes an antagonist is just not interested in having a chat, and battle’s inevitable. That’s OK, so long as there’s a reason for it.

(And for the record, “this one’s a bit of a jerk” is a valid reason.)

That’s all for this episode, subscribe to just this podcast on Mastodon at or subscribe to all my TTRPG podcasts at

Music is Deadly Windmills by JAM from, used with permission, as it’s public domain.

This podcast is distributed under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.

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