Using the Adventures in Middle Earth classes outside Middle Earth


I have been looking into ‘Adventures in Middle Earth’ (AiME), the Cubicle Seven 5E Dungeons and Dragons remake of their game The One Ring. It is a interesting game. I really like the way they have presented a low magic version of D&D, and I have been looking at whether I could transplant those low magic character classes to a non-Middle Earth game.

The character classes broadly mirror the main character classes in the Player’s Handbook. The one exception I think is the Wizard where they have had to do major surgery to create a version of the Wizard (the Scholar) that doesn’t have any spells but is still interesting and effective. I think they have done a good job.

I’ve often wanted to play a low fantasy, low magic version of Dungeons & Dragons. Not being a professional game designer, I’ve never been prepared to do all the work required to make that happen. But AiME provides a good basis to create a low magic flavour of D&D. It would be a good basis, for example, if you were looking at a campaign that was more like Game of Thrones.

You would need to make some changes to get this to work, and how many depends on how much of the AiME system you’re using. For example, whether you’re using the shadow or journey rules. But my impression was that it wouldn’t require a huge amount of effort to make these character classes work outside of the Middle Earth setting.

Let’s take the Scholar (Wizard) class as an example. Basic attributes of the class transplant across easily (although AiME uses some new skills). The living standard rules are linked to your race/culture, so for standard D&D you’d have to assign living standards to different races/cultures. The 11th level ‘Hidden Paths’ Scholar ability is linked explicitly with the journey rules, but the fluff is vivid enough that you could use it without. Turning to the Master Healer path, use of the hagweed herb, and ‘relief from long burdens’ is linked explicitly to the shadow rules. You would need to provide an alternative, such as removal of energy drain, or a mental condition like charm or feeblemind. Under Master Scholar, ‘dark knowledge’ could instead relate to demons or devils and infernal/abyssal (or the far realm). That’s it! It otherwise works as written.

The prospect of running a Dungeons & Dragons game and there being no spells like fireball or magic missile is quite exciting. I think it might change the dynamic and the game play. The party would not be able to rely on spells to solve their problems, or on the force-multiplier effects of area effect combat spells. Players may find they need to be much more careful, respect numerical superiority, use cunning and avoid diving headlong into combats. I think it would lead to more intelligent and more cautious players characters. All of that sounds like a good development to me.

I also like the way that AiME makes magic items interesting. They do have mechanical effects, but they make very clear that items have a history, and they are from a particular culture, and belonged to a particular person. I like how this gets away from the +1 sword nonsense.

I think the high fantasy, high magic background of Dungeons & Dragons is hard to avoid if you’re playing the game as written. That’s because in all of the editions therer are high fantasy concepts baked into the game rules. For example, the availability of healing magic or cure disease, and the ability to resurrect people from the dead, etc. To have a low fantasy version which still functions effectively like Dungeons & Dragons is intriguing.

So in summary I think the advantages to running normal D&D using the AiME system is that it is a low magic, low fantasy, gritty game with more of a GoT feel. Threats are more serious, and players are forced to act much more like real people than super heroes. Equally, monsters have to be played more intelligently because you can’t rely monsters with loads of magical spells either.


Why there are only four real alignments in Dungeons and Dragons


Continuing the theme of alignments, I want to present an interpretation of alignment as set out in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1E) that shows that there are only four ‘real’ alignments.

Over the years and different editions of D&D alignments have expanded. In the 1974 edition, there were just three alignments: Law, Neutrality or Chaos. ‘Chaos’ included undead, balrogs and goblins, so should be viewed as a synonym for “evil”, and “law” should be treated as a synonym for “good”. Humans could be of any alignment. Hobbits were always lawful. Dwarves and elves could be lawful or neutral. Interestingly, the rules said that orcs and ogres could be neutral or chaotic, which suggests that they need not always be the antagonists.

By the time that Gary Gygax had codified the game in AD&D (1E), there were two axes upon which alignment was plotted: law versus chaos and good versus evil.

Gary says that unintelligent creatures are considered to be of neutral alignment because they are totally uncaring. My contention is that, for Gary, neutrality is not a moral position or an ethos, but an absence of one. This is reinforced by his descriptions of what might I will call the 4 cardinal alignments.

“Lawful Neutral…it is the view of this alignment that law and order give purpose and meaning to everything. Without regimentation and strict definition, there would be no purpose in the cosmos. Therefore, whether a law is good or evil is of no import as long as it brings order and meaning.” (AD&D, DMG, p.23)

So for those of a lawful neutral alignment, the only thing that matters is law and order, and they literally do not care if laws are good or evil. It is quite clear from the description that this  alignment does not represent some nuanced position of adherence to laws while minding one’s own business, but a position of “pure law”.

“Chaotic Neutral: This view of the cosmos holds that absolute freedom is necessary. Whether the individual exercising such freedom chooses to do good or evil is of no concern. After all, life itself is law and order, so death is a desirable end. Therefore, life can only be justified as a tool by which order is combatted, and in the end it too will pass into entropy.”

Again, all that matters is freedom. It is absolutely irrelevant whether one uses that freedom to heal the sick or burn down an orphanage. This is describing “pure chaos” as a standpoint.

He gives similar descriptions for Neutral Good and Neutral Evil, which makes clear that these are essentially pure ‘good’ and pure ‘evil’. The ‘neutrality’ part of these alignments is doing no work.

In my view this makes these the 4 cardinal alignments of D&D. And I think this is quite a fun conclusion to reach. There is something quite appealing about choosing between good, evil, law and chaos. I think it could lead to some very interesting factions and conflict, and is more dynamic than simple good versus evil.

For example, let’s say that the good kingdom of Orlais is threatened by an army of evil undead led by the necromancer, Alkaeon. But hang on, the undead are also under attack by the paladins of law of the Novus Ordo because of the disruptive force that they represent. But Orlais can’t take a breather because they are being sorely pressed by the chaotic sea reavers of the Broken Isles. They hate the stifling tyranny of the kingdom. But Alkaeon also can’t wait to turn his skeletal legions against the sea reavers who refuse to be dominated, and frankly the Novus Ordo has quite a few plans in store for the ‘disorganised’ kingdom of Orlais.

I also like that these 4 alignments represent definite, clear stances to take to the world, rather than complex and nuanced positions. They smack of aligning oneself with fundamental elemental forces.

But what about the other alignments described in AD&D? It is my view that they are secondary, derivative, and at least partly incoherent as moral positions.

Chaotic Good and Chaotic Evil only differ from pure good (NG) or pure evil (NE) by having the perspective that wide freedom and choice is necessary to achieve good or evil respectively (or perhaps that good or evil are only achievable through individuals rather than groups). This seems to be splitting hairs a little. If you are committed to doing good for the greatest number (i.e. NG), wouldn’t you accept individual freedom to the extent that it didn’t impede the freedom or happiness of others? And if that freedom did impede the freedom and happiness of others, then how can it be said by the CG individual to be good?

Lawful Good and Lawful Evil only differ from pure good and evil by having the perspective that law and order is necessary to achieve good and evil respectively (or perhaps that good or evil are only achievable through groups rather than individuals). Again, if you are committed to doing good for the greatest number (i.e. NG), wouldn’t you accept that law wasn’t the only way to bring happiness? It wouldn’t be hard to identify laws that brought unhappiness. And if you are only committed to law to the extent that it doesn’t conflict with happiness, then how is that any different from just being good?

These feel very much like subsidiary alignments to me. If you are pure lawful, why do you care about good and evil? All that matters is order. And if you are pure evil, why do you care about law and chaos? You will adopt whatever technique gives you the greatest advantage.

All of this has of course moved on a bit. Since 2E we have the concept of the “unaligned”, which supplants the role previously assigned to neutrality. “Neutrality” has become a positive moral position rather than the absence of one, and that has had a knock on effect on our understanding of all of the alignments, introducing many more shades. But it is interesting to ponder that in the beginning the essence of alignment could have been so much starker and more thrilling.

Replacing the gold standard in Dungeons & Dragons


For me, the Dungeons and Dragons economy never made much sense. The “gold piece standard” seemed so odd that it has always undermined my immersion in the game. It didn’t make sense to me to find villagers walking around with purses full of gold coins, or being paid in gold.

Just look at some of the prices in the 1E Player’s Handbook (p.35): 12 arrows, or a pair of boots, or a flask of lamp oil, or a hand axe cost 1 gold piece.  A dagger costs 2 gold pieces. A week’s worth of dried food is 3 gold pieces.

How do people afford to live at these prices? The Dungeon Masters Guide (1E, p.28) says that a tailor earns 1 ½ gold each month, a carpenter earns 2 gold, and a stone mason earns 3 gold each month. I suppose you could rationalise this by saying that in a medieval milieu buying a dagger is a major expenditure, but I find that explanation awkward and unconvincing. I think it would be much better to have a realistic economy based on a copper and silver standard.

One option is to look again at the price of every item, and to change these where they seem excessive. But I think the whole coin standard that underpins the D&D economy also needs replacing with something more believable.

So how do we start? I think the best option is to look at a real historical culture that had a similar coin standard to D&D, and see if we could adopt something similar. I want to look at the coinage of the Roman Republic. Rome had a comparable coin standard in its early days. In later years inflation meant that the coin standard changed significantly, but the early coin standard seem to come close to the fantasy one in D&D.

The Roman coinage system was built around the silver Denarius. This was a small silver coin which had a currency value greater than the value of the metal it was made from. A Denarius was worth 10 Assarius. The Assarius was a coin made from bronze or copper. For smaller purchases there was the Semis, which was worth half an Assarius.

Between the Assarius and the Denarius there was an intermediate coin – the Sestertius, which was worth 2.5 Assarius, or ¼ of a Denarius. Later, a gold coin was introduced – the Aureus, which was worth 25 Denarius. So this is what this looks like:

Semis (bronze or copper) – ½ Assarius

Assarius (bronze or copper) – 1 Assarius

Sestertius (silver) – 2.5 Assarius

Denarius (silver) – 10 Assarius

Aureus (gold) – 250 Assarius (or 10 Sestertius)

What could you buy with these coins? I understand that a modicum of ten loaves was worth 4 Assarius in the Republic, so that gives us a rough standard of 1 Assarius = 2.5 loaves of bread, or roughly 1 loaf of bread per Semi.

In terms of people’s earning potential, we know that the pay of a legionnaire in the Republic was 3 Assarius per day, which suggests that they were fairly well off.

So, how do we take this and turn it into something that can work in D&D? Here is my suggestion.

  • Bronze farthings (various denominations) worth fractions of a copper
  • Copper penny – the coin standard
  • Silver shilling worth 10 copper pennies

Under this system, a loaf of bread would cost a farthing worth half a copper penny. That means that most ordinary people are dealing in farthings and pennies. The well off like merchants may have silver shillings. This all feels a lot more natural and believable to me.

In terms of how we review the prices of goods, I think this could all do with some simplification. I think there should be broadly three classes of stuff:

Normal everyday goods, like eggs, a chicken, bread, ale, horse feed, which are worth farthings.

Expensive goods like clothes, tools, farm implements, nights in an inn, would be worth copper pennies.

Very expensive goods like swords, armour, horses, would be worth silver shillings.

For earnings, common workers would receive daily pay of 1 to 2 copper pennies. A craftsman or a skilled soldier’s daily pay may be in the 3 to 5 copper penny range.

Of course people will be expected to pay taxes. I need to do some more research before I can work out what would be sensible.

It’s worth thinking about how this would filter down. Monsters that are encountered are unlikely to have many coins, but if they did they would be predominately farthings and pennies taken from common travellers. Other monsters would be more interested in your gear and goods than your coins.

For a bit of fun we could have an ancient currency that might be found in ruins that comprised gold coins each worth 25 silver shillings, and this would be a nice piece of treasure, but not something that people would use in day to day life. Gems could range in value from 10 to 1000 silver shillings.

Some things I do not believe should have values assigned in coins. For example, magic items and spells should not have a value in coins because no one can realistically buy them. I also think buildings, land, building materials etc are clearly of high value but again I don’t think these should have values listed as silver equivalent.


Alignment is about means not ends


“Alignment” has been a long-standing part of Dungeons and Dragons. We have managed with it, but it’s never been an easy concept or mechanism to operate, and most modern games have done without it.

My contention is that the error that we have made in using alignment is understanding it as being about a person’s objectives or ends. In the 1E Dungeon Master’s Guide, Gary Gygax describes it as “the broad ethos of thinking, reasoning creatures”. He goes on: “The overall behaviour of the character (or creature) is delineated by alignment…alignment describes the worldview of creatures.” (AD&D, DMG, p.23)

So alignment represents how you view the world, which dictates your actions. Gary goes on to give examples of specific alignments.

For example: “Neutral Evil…holds that neither groups nor individuals have great meaning. This ethos holds that seeking to promote weal for all actually brings woe to the truly deserving. Natural forces which are meant to cull out the weak and stupid are artificially suppressed by so-called good, and the fittest are wrongfully held back, so whatever means are expedient can be used by the powerful to gain and maintain their dominance, without concern for anything.”

“Lawful Good…view the cosmos with varying degrees of lawfulness or desire for good. They are convinced that order and law are absolutely necessary to assure good, and that good is best defined as whatever brings the most benefit to the greater number of decent, thinking creatures and the least woe to the rest.”

These are presented like pocket philosophies. If you think that natural forces should cull the weak and stupid, and that the powerful (like yourself!) should triumph, then you are neutral evil. Implicit is a goal (to dominate others), and a justification for that goal (social darwinism, effectively), and a methodology (do what thou wilt).

If you think that the world needs law and order to ensure that the maximum number of creatures can be happy, then you are lawful good. Again, there is a goal (bring happiness to the greatest number), and a methodology (use law and order), although no particular justification for this view is given.

My contention is that it is wrong to view alignments as including an implicit objective, and they are more useful and make more sense if we understand them to be an articulation of the means by which a creature is or is not willing to achieve its ends.

For example, let’s say a creature has a goal to ensure the survival of his tribe or family. There are various ways to achieve this goal. The particular means that the creature is willing to use to attain that end indicates its alignment.

A creature that is unwilling to to hurt others to ensure the survival of the tribe is ‘good’, and a creature that is willing to hurt others and kill other tribes is ‘evil’. A creature that would seek to help their tribe through trade or agreements with other tribes is ‘lawful’. A creature that is willing to steal and raid other tribes is ‘chaotic’.

These are all different ways of achieving the same end, but they represent different moral positions across a spectrum. The end itself is neither good nor evil, nor lawful or chaotic.

Implicit here is that certain things are really means rather than ends. For example, wilful murder is a classic evil act. But murdering people is not an end in itself (unless one has taken leave of one’s senses). The murder is more rightly seen as a means to some end.

Here’s another example of what I’m talking about. Let’s say a creature’s objective is to live as easy a life as possible. An evil creature may choose to do that be stealing or mooching off others. A good creature may do that by trying to find an occupation that they enjoy, and having as few commitments as possible. A lawful creature would try to exploit the rules to their advantage, perhaps gathering power politically or in some other way that would give them an easy life. A chaotic creature would drop out, drift and be flaky, doing the bare minimum to get by.

Each of these approaches is subject to our moral evaluation, but the end itself is not. There is nothing particularly good or evil or lawful or chaotic about wanting to live as easy a life as possible.

So if it is the means rather than the ends that are subject to moral evaluation, then surely alignment as an ethos for living should also be about means and not ends?

I think viewed this way, alignments are potentially more interesting. For example, it rejects the simplicity of assuming that ‘evil’ creatures just want to kill or dominate others. On the contrary, they may want to build a better world for all. It’s just that they are willing to kill and dominate in order to get there.

Similarly, we don’t have to view ‘good’ characters as wanting everyone to be happy and everything peaceful. A character may be 100% committed to revolution and overthrowing the current society even if that will disrupt the lives of many. But  they are good because they are not going to murder people to achieve their goal, but they try to persuade them instead.

Why I hate Dungeons and Dragons



This is one of a pair of articles. See also ‘Why I love Dungeons and Dragons’.


The weird mindstate of playing D&D

One of the things I dislike about D&D is the mentality that some players get into when playing it. We may have been playing some cool sci fi game, or Call of Cthulhu, or Vampire the Masquerade, and everyone has been into it and pretty focused. But then as soon as we sit down to play D&D the players start being really silly, and can’t seem to take anything seriously.

We all joke around when playing RPGs, but with D&D it can turn into one big joke, and an endless series of silly comments and remarks. This can be a whole lot of fun, but as a DM it can be quite frustrating. D&D is one of the games where I find it hardest to get the players to take it seriously, and to maintain mood and tone. I think this is probably because it is the first game people ever played when they were kids, and I think it has a tendency to put people back in that mindset.


The monsters are too familiar

D&D created hundreds of monsters, and many of these have become completely iconic, but they are also incredibly familiar. Not only do players know the exact abilities of the monsters, but there is no anxiety, fear or surprise. Obviously you can alter monsters, and give your goblins special powers, but players may feel that you are cheating or being gimmicky. I really think the ‘Lamentations of the Flame Princess’ RPG has a good point when it encourages DMs to create their own unique monsters rather than relying on a bestiary, like the Monster Manual: “Because monsters should be unnatural and hopefully a little terrifying, using stock examples goes against the purpose of using monsters to begin with.”


Magic items are reduced to mechanisms

One of the worst things about D&D is the way that magical items are treated. Usually in fantasy novels magic items are amazing and mysterious. In D&D they are all too often reduced to an uninspiring mechanical bonus e.g. chainmail +2. Partly this is because magic itself in D&D is treated as something quite safe and mundane. Spells and items are given their values in gold pieces, as if there is a magic item shop where you can go and pick up a few, or trade them in. Magic items are also treated as sweeties to give out regularly to keep players interested in the game. That has the consequence that they can’t be too powerful, and thus you get lots of small magical items like +1 swords, or bracers of defence +1, that are tedious and definitely not ‘magical’.

By now we should really have cracked this. We should have a variety of mundane items of quality that allow for mechanical bonuses (Middle Earth Role Playing, or MERP, had some great rules about the bonuses that derived from weapons and armour made of different rare materials). And we should have far fewer magical items, but ones that have significant advantages and disadvantages (making them interesting), and that scale as players level up (so that don’t have to keep getting new ones). There ought to be options for players to put points / XP / feats (or whatever) into increasing their items’ powers and abilities if that’s how they want to develop their character.


It’s hard to be heroic

As the first RPG, and being born out of a simulationist wargaming background, D&D is quite simulationist. What I mean is that as a game it attempts to simulate nature, and to represent events as unfolding objectively. For example, you have one chance to cut down the High Priest of Azuul before he finishes his incantation and opens a portal to the ShadowDark. Your chance to hit that guy is based on your weapon, skill and strength. Oh, you missed? Sorry, you lose.

Simulationist games are usually contrasted with narrativist games where the basis of the game is to tell a story rather than objectively simulate nature. But I’m not asking for D&D to be a narrativist game. My complaint is that D&D makes it hard to be heroic because it lacks a mechanic that allows the players to really pull out all the stops, and to tilt things in their favour when the stakes are at their highest. What I have in mind is, for example, something like the karma point system of Shadowrun (karma acts as XP, but can also be used to buy successes), or the fate point system in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.


Why I love Dungeons and Dragons


This is one of a pair of articles. See also ‘Why I hate Dungeons and Dragons

Rules, rules, rules

One of the great advantages of D&D, and why it is such a great introduction to the hobby, is that it has a rule for almost everything. It is a complete system that covers everything from combat, spell casting, grappling, magic item creation, encounter creation, and even downtime between adventures. The game virtually runs itself.

Particularly for novice DMs and players, having a clear guidance on how to resolve one or another kind of test or situation is reassuring. You don’t have to use all the rules, but the fact that they are there means that you are not left scratching your head.


Iconic races, classes and monsters

D&D ‘is’ fantasy role-playing in many ways, and D&D classic classes like the Cleric, Paladin and Wizard have filtered through to games and literature. And monsters like the Beholder, Modron, Carrion Crawler and Mind Flayer are uniquely characteristic of D&D. They are comforting in many ways, and as a player I relish meeting one of these iconic monsters.


Rules-free roleplaying

One of the few areas where D&D has traditionally had very few rules is role-playing. We had ‘alignment’, and more recently we have ‘backgrounds’, ‘bonds’, ‘flaws’ and ‘ideals’ in 5E. I recognise that there is a downside to this, and some feel that D&D’s lack of system support for role-playing has made it into an afterthought or optional extra. If you want, you can play D&D without roleplaying at all, and simply describe your character’s actions in the third person. But arguably one of the advantages of D&D is that it hasn’t regulated this space, and has not sought to systematise your character’s background or goals. It was the one bit that was left entirely up to you.


So many ways to play

For a rules-heavy game, D&D manages to also be very flexible. It supports a huge range of play styles, campaigns and themes, and you can make D&D into your game quite readily.

It was designed from the start for home-brew play. It assumed the DM would create their own world, and make it uniquely their own. Although there are some odd inclusions that hint at an implied setting, it is largely ready to be used in whatever way you wish to tell whatever story you wish.


We are all still playing it

You need only look at surveys of the games that we are playing to see that various editions of D&D and retroclones represent the lion’s share of all tabletop roleplaying to this day. This survey published on EnWorld last year shows that around 75% of all tabletop games are some flavour of D&D. This survey had the figure at over 77%.

Let that sink in. 44 years after D&D was first published, and three quarters of roleplayers are all still playing it. For gamers a huge amount of time and interest gets devoted to other games, but the statistics really put into context that all other RPGS ever published are a minority pursuit.


It was first

It is the source. The original vision. It created the hobby. In lots of ways it is just about perfect. There is something marvellous about playing a game with such a rich 44 year history. As a 46-year old, my whole life has been run through with tabletop gaming, and in particular D&D, since I first got my hands on the Mentzer red box at Christmas in 1983.

They are people too


Old school gaming didn’t spend long on philosophical reflections on the value of the lives of orcs.

They were evil and that was that. Perhaps there is something of the legacy of Lord of the Rings in this, given that orcs were corrupted by the supernatural evil of Sauron and Morgoth.

But if you play Dungeons and Dragons long enough, moral questions crop up. Classic adventures like ‘The Keep on the Borderlands’ described the orc and goblin warrens as being populated by warriors, but also by females and young. Dungeon Masters are not given any guidance on dealing with such moral quandaries. Is it okay for the paladin to kill the orc babies? They are evil aligned, after all, and will just grow up to kill…

People will be willing to argue it both ways, but it should be clear that it’s not okay.

It’s not okay because orcs etc in D&D are not supernatural evil, but just another sentient race. They feel pain like us, and although they may have a different culture and morality, they are people too.

You can either reject this, or run with it.

If you run with it, you have some questions to think about. Namely what is the deal of these humanoid races? Why are they in conflict with the PCs?

Are they mercenaries working for the big evil for pay? Are they cowed into working for a big bad? Are they violent raiders because their culture is warlike? Perhaps they don’t view others as having rights? Perhaps their motivation is religious and they raid in order to carry out holy edict?

Even those with ‘chaotic evil’ alignments do not view themselves as evil, but they view their actions as justified for one reason or another. They have some set of beliefs or values that allow them to view others as inferior and as means to their own ends.

In other words, intelligent monsters need a culture and motives just like human antagonists do. Unfortunately D&D is quite good at inventing intelligent monsters, but not very good at explaining their motivations and culture.

For example, let’s have a quick canter through the various Monster Manual descriptions of orcs. There was no attempt to explain the culture of orcs in AD&D, and they are simply said to hate all living things, and to be competitive bullies. 2E does not take things much further. 3E states that orc society is patriarchal, and that orcs view all races as inferior, and believe everything rightfully belongs to them, having been stolen. That’s all we get. 4E says “orcs worship Gruumsh, the one eyed god of slaughter, and are savage, bloodthirsty marauders.” There’s not much more than that. 5E is better, and provides more on the Gruumsh creation myth, and describes orcs’ destructiveness as in effect a religious conviction. It also includes some interesting stuff about orcs admiring power, even in other creatures, and ‘rejecting notions of racial purity’. Not exactly a full write up, but more to work with.

I think the main reason that intelligent monsters in D&D lack motives and a culture is because the Monster Manuals are deliberately generic. The intelligent monsters are presented as generic options rather than being embedded within a particular campaign world. Not all fantasy RPGs present their antagonists in this way, but D&D does. It is therefore easy for DMs to fail to realise that they have work to do here, and that in incorporating an intelligent race in their game, they need to develop and describe a culture and place in the world for them, and they can’t simply rely on the MM description.

There’s fun to be had with this. Let’s run with the 5E reference to orcs admiring power, even in other creatures. What if orcs are effectively social darwinists? What if they believe that the strong deserve to rule, and the weak deserve to suffer? They may well admire strength in other creatures or species, and despise weaker creatures that are not able to defend themselves. They may view property as rightfully belonging to whoever can take and hold it. (They are sounding like green Nietzscheans!). Interpreted this way, the orcs may themselves view your paladin’s sparing of their children as despicable weakness!

Of course, even where intelligent monsters do have a good write up, we shouldn’t miss that there is an implicit assumption that they are all homogeneous. You only need to look at any human society to see how varied and conflicted it can be. There needs to be scope for differing views and politics within other cultures.

My last thought is this. Once you’ve worked out the motivations and culture of an intelligent race, is there still any reason to have them be monsters? If they are to be more than “humans in costumes”, then what does their being a different species add? For example, do we really need all these slightly different humanoid antagonists? Are hobgoblins really distinct enough from orcs in game terms to warrant being distinguished? Perhaps if hobgoblins had a really interesting Lawful Evil honour-based culture, then it might just be worth having them?