Malign or Misunderstood?

It is a common point of contention between tabletop gamers as to whether or not monstrous non humans in games are aligned with fell forces, and therefore inherently evil, or if theyare simply ‘other’ and victims of a bad rap.

I grew up with AD&D, after starting with the magenta box. When we played B2, we slaughtered everyone. The damn hobgoblins had a larder full of human heads, and the DMG had that whole “nits make lice” essay about orcs.

Some of this stems from the fiction in Appendix N, like the extremely anti-human nature of the creatures of Faerie and Chaos in The Broken Sword, or the origin story of Orcs in LotR.

My preferred game system doesn’t have alignments, except for specialty characters that recieve powers from extraplanar entities, like clerics, and holy/unholy warriors, and half -infernals and half-celestials. On the other hand, even someone with demonic heritage can be forgiven by the gods, but they still detect as evil.

So, in a game where only the card carrying servants of hell actually detect as evil, the moral circumstances of inhuman creatures are subject to question.  Now, that said, there are creatures that (at least in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, my preferred game) have severely negative character traits, like bully, bloodlust, intolerance, and sadism. The kind of people you can’t win an argument with, or negotiate a lasting peace with.

In my personal game, goblins and orcs are members of society, although there are regional territorial disputes and percieved political slights that become protracted wars with atrocities committed by both sides, human and inhuman, largely because of the nature of mercenary soldiers, as opposed to the overall moral or amoral nature of entire species.

In my convention game, where I am demonstrating DF to an audience more familiar with D&D, my hobgoblins are devil worshipping slave takers that delight in torture, as opposed to the hemp growing sports fanatics and rope makers that they are in my home game.

Will they detect as evil? They will certainly detect as foes, although the priest may, as he is empowered by demons, but the bulk of the tribe will not. Are they villains who must be stopped? Yes. Is it possible that the young may be innocent? Perhaps. In this case, they were raised in a society that believes strongly in corporal punishment, reveres cruelty and revenge, and respect for their elders, (or at least those who hold positions of rank in the tribe). The young who are old enough to know the members of their group will certainly resent whoever murders their family, without seeing their personal exclusion from slaughter as an act of mercy.

Just the same,  adventurers with personal codes of honor or a sense of duty that extends beyond their friends and community (not entirely common in this game system, and actually lacking amongst the pre-gens for the con game, who are mostly murder-hobos) would feel some qualms about putting them to the sword. Those with bloodlust, callousness or the dwarven code of honor will not.

My home game is not so cut and dried, as seen here.

How do you treat the foes of mankind? Are they hellspawn, aligned spiritually with the lower planes, or are they a people with their own agendas and culture?