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For an upcoming game, I'm planning on making one of the early hooks a standard-seeming "tribe of monstrous humanoids (in this case, lizardfolk, if that makes a difference) is bothering us, go deal with it," thing. However, I'm hoping for this to be less of a hack-and-slash campaign, and more about the players trying to prevent violence between different groups. Therefore, I want the players to think that they're about to fight an evil group, only to discover that the lizardfolk aren't evil after all, just operating under some misunderstanding that can be cleared up by getting the two groups to talk.

That's my hope, at least. I'm worried that, in hinting at the lizardfolk's non-evilness, I'll be too obvious or too opaque. Is there anything that I can do to communicate this information and, if it's not too broad, any less specific advice about running the scenario that I've outlined?

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Important question: When do you want the players to realise the Lizardfolk aren't evil? When they're first given the quest? When they come in sight of the Lizardfolk village? When they hear the lamentations of the survivors for the brave dead who opposed the PCs? Or when the players return to the person who gave them the quest and everyone is horrified at what they have done? Deciding when they find out will have drastic effects on the themes and 'feel' of the game. –  GMJoe Jun 6 at 6:35
    
another possible Dupe and one the question asker should check out rpg.stackexchange.com/q/31869/3529 –  Joshua Aslan Smith Jun 6 at 17:19
    
Comments aren't for lazy answers... Please answer below if you have one. –  mxyzplk Jun 6 at 23:14

14 Answers 14

up vote 15 down vote accepted

This echoes some of the other answers, but I wanted to weigh in:

Flesh them out

Create an actual NPC village exactly the same way you would create one of a non-monstrous race. Create villages, shops, story arcs, government, etc.

At the humanoid village

Try to keep most of the "crimes" of the monstrous race to be non-specific. Have the villagers say things like "there's one that I caught stalking my daughter!" (reality: they both happened to go to the river for water at the same time). Maybe give one actual issue that people keep citing but upon deeper reflection most of the other "stories" are really misinterpretations or outright racism.

Do not create random encounters

The party's first encounter with this group (I'll say lizardfolk from now on but obviously whichever race you choose), won't be "okay now the PCs are going to meet 5 random lizardfolk, rolled from XYZ table with ABC treasure", but it will be "the village has patrolling guards." They will act like guards do. They won't attack unless attacked first, they may be interested in why the party is there and ask them questions, but they won't attempt to detain the party unless the party gives them cause.

If you really want to create an effect where "they seem hostile at first, but the party begins to slowly realize..." you can create a "crime" for the party to commit by accident. For example, if the party trespasses in someone's farm or, worse, an egg creche, without realizing it, then the guards will try to arrest (but not kill) the party, and the party, expecting combat, attempts to fight back.

The guards, when some of them are killed, the rest would probably flee rather than fight to the death. Flesh out their inventory with things that guards might normally have, like whistles, standardized weapons and uniforms, etc.

Have the local government respond the way a lawful good government would

If this is the beginning of the campaign, the party will almost certainly not be able to overwhelm an entire large, organized settlement. The reason that civilizations go the organized route is that it keeps the people alive and conserves resources (as opposed to the chaotic evil that constantly wastes resources fighting each other). If it's one town, there will still probably be some people that are higher level. They may eventually capture the party and give them a trial and counsel and the party may realize that it's not a sham trial, and that "oh crap, we just killed some people with families etc. what have we done?"

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Humanize them

Not in the sense that they should act like humans, but in the sense that they have their loved ones and suffer and bleed. Make them cry (or whatever lizards do), anger or beg ("please, spare my family").

In most movies, the henchman are just henchman that cease to exist once they're killed. In an Austin Powers movie they humanize two henchman. Once they're killed, we are presented a scene where their family/friends are waiting them to come back to a very normal life, and are shocked by the news of their death. That's the way to go.

Let's go back to fantasy setting and lizardfolk. Imagine this scene:
Players are attacking a lizard village. The warriors are protecting one hut (or wherever they live) in a way that players think it must be some important objective (like the treasury, or command centre). Once they kill the opposition and gain access they find a group of children, old and wounded lizards, all of them terrified. An old lizardman who knows a little of human tongue asks them, "Why? Why are you doing this?". One defeated soldier grabs a character's leg in an impotent attempt to avoid their people's slaughter.

In this way, the lizardmen were at first presented simply as monsters to kill. Suddenly, they feel like people.

I don't guarantee:

a) Players feeling great for that.

b) Players feeling any remorse or stop to kill the creatures.

Anyway, you at least presented the dilemma. The conclusions are up to the players.

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I made something like that in the past, the players encountered some golbins on their way through the golbin camp and keep one a live to ask him some questions. The goblin offered them to help them navigate past his encampment to prevent his fellow goblinoids to suffer from the adventurers. After that talk with the goblin they start to feel wrong about them self, one even said : "I feel that this golbin is more human than we are ... " –  Groumy Jun 6 at 12:38
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+1 for using roleplaying to determine which of your friends are sociopaths. –  agweber Jun 6 at 19:08
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Maybe add a few wounded humans to that hut, so the players can wonder why they were not eaten. "What? They even treated your injuries?" –  vsz Jun 7 at 17:11

How can you show that anyone is good?

  • Show them doing good deeds.
  • Tell stories about their good deeds.
  • Show the evil that results from their absence.

The first time the party meets the lizardfolk, there'll probably be bloodshed. But once the party learns who they've wronged, plenty of drama and adventure will ensue! Here are a few ideas of how to show that the lizardfolk are good:

Show their good deeds

  • They run a hospital where the poor and sick may stay for free.
  • They defend the region from dangerous goblins that live in the nearby hills.
  • A child goes missing from the local human village, so the humans go to the lizardfolk to ask for their help as trackers, which of course they are glad to provide.

Tell about their good deeds

  • The local villagers tell the party that they should go to the lizardfolk for healing.
  • The baron speaks highly of the emir of the lizardfolk, how they go hunting together.
  • The town has no guildhall; the guilds hold their meetings in the hall of the lizardmen, as it is available for rent to anyone, and the lizardmen make excellent hosts.

Show evil opposed to them

  • The party drives away the lizardfolk, then the goblins take over their settlement and raid the humans in the area. The party then needs to drive out the goblins and help the lizardfolk reclaim their settlement.
  • The party breaks in and steals the treasure from the vault of the lizardfolk, only to discover that it is a dangerous magical item that had been kept inactive by the charms placed upon it by the lizardfolk.
  • The party kills one of the lizardfolk. Later, while visiting the human town, the party finds that they are being sued in court for their actions, and that the local judge clearly supports the lizardfolk in the matter.
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A bit of a solution to the "First time the party meets there will be bloodshed", have one of the lizardfolk be carrying a satchel close to its chest, and satying away from any combat. A successful (difficult) perception test will reveal small mewing (hissing? noises coming from it. If the party kills the owner, then looking in the bag they find a baby lizard folk. Now the party has the choice of dealing with it. They may have to return it, or take it to an human orphanage (who will say it should be raised by its own kind). Or they might murder it (then the party may be evil). –  Oxinabox Jun 6 at 7:13
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Not enough for a full answer, but I'd suggest adding "Show the lizardfolks' reaction to the party's hostile arrival". I had a DM once who set up a three-way war between the PCs & two other groups. We realized quickly that most of the soldiers weren't evil, any more than we were, because they talked about defending their homes, just like we were. –  thatgirldm Jun 6 at 8:26
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Sorry Joe, but i think that your ideas are almost totally unapplicable to lizardmen. Ok, we are in an high-fantasy setting, but thinking of a reptile as "glad to provide help to find a children" sounds a little strange. I suggest to think more about the psychology of a totally different species, with totally different culture and different outlook. For istance, i'm Italian, and even if we are both humans and westerners, the idea of a "guild hall" sounds totally foreign to me, let alone the idea of renting out one. Differences do exists, and they are the fuel of intriguing stories! –  Alfa Taurus Jun 6 at 9:15
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I agree with Alfa that these suggestions are great, but not all applicable here. Specifically, the question makes it clear that the Lizardfolk has to SEEM evil to the townsfolk, to the point where the murder hobos/heroes are asked to deal with them, permanently. This means, any indication that they are not cannot in fact come from the human side of the conflict, which rules out free guild houses, pro-Lizard courtrooms, people asking for help/healing, friendly diplomatic contact, etc. is straight out. –  MrLemon Jun 6 at 11:31

Whenever I have such a need, I'm going for one of three simple ways of presenting them. The number one way is of course to humanize them, to show that they are humans (well, humanoid…) and humane. I also, personally, like very much having them victimized and/or showing that the townspeople aren't that good either.

Humanizing them

In a nutshell, this is to make them feel three dimensional and alive. More than that, though, it is aimed to make them relatable. As such is the case, I try to present them in a way that resonates with my players. I always look at the players I'm having at the table, and try to look for the things that will make them tick in this direction. Some players can't harm a child or a family with children, so I'll present a family or two between all of the warriors. Others can't let animals suffer, or whatever. By presenting the lizardfolk group this way, I get a sense of compassion, of understanding, and they seem much less evil.

Victimizing them

This is another favorite of mine. Players like to think of themselves as good players. Because of that, they will usually rush to help those in trouble or in imminent danger. Having some other type of creature, or even the townspeople themselves, attack a group of lizardfolk will change the perception of the players (and the one of their characters) even if they aren't relatable in any other way.

The townspeople aren't that good either

In our world, almost all of the people and all of the problems aren't black-and-white type of problems. They are far more complicated than this. By showing that the people in town aren't that good as they claim to be, one has to question whether their enemies are that bad either. It won't necessarily persuade the players to think that the lizardfolk aren't evil, but it will still make them question the evilness of the lizardfolk.

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It is not always bad to be blunt

You said you are worried about being too obvious. But sometimes there is nothing wrong wtih being obvious. This could well be one of those times.

In purely human warfare in the real world, there is a tendency to dehumanize the enemy. This can be done quite deliberately by some of the leadership of one or both sides even (this is a big part of propaganda in many wars). But it doesn't always happen, especially for shorter conflicts.

Sometimes two groups have a conflict that has nothing to do with the other side being evil (wrong on that subject perhaps, but not necessarily evil) that they fail to work out through discussion so it eventualy boils into fighting.

You could set your scenario up like that. You could be extremely blunt and still present moral dilemmas, possibly even more intense. The humans could hire the adventurers to deal with the lizard folk without ever claiming they are evil, merely that dispute X (land dispute is a popular one) exists and the lizard folk are wrong about that. Now the adventurers have multiple choices. They could say, "They may not be 'evil' but they are on the wrong side of the dispute and opposed to our employers, so we will kill them until the rest decide to flee."

Or they could seek a diplomatic solution. But you could make that interesting. If they were hired to kill or drive away the lizard folk, then the humans would have no obligation to pay anything for a diplomatic solution, especially if the final answer is not 100% favorable for the humans. And with no battle, there is no loot. So the adventurers need to face the possibility of doing the morally best thing without any material reward.

You could even make it seem that the lizard folks are actually on the right side of the conflict, but the humans won't acknowledge it. So, do the adventurers then side with the lizards? Even if the lizards can't pay?

If you don't have a conflict already planned out, land disputes are really easy to generate even if everyone behaves completely reasonably. If the lizard folk are nomadic and have been out of the area for a while, the town may have been built on or expanded onto some of their traditional land when they were away. The townsfolk may legitimately not know they began encroaching on the lizards folk lands.

The lizard folk might then have valid reasons to not sell the land. Perhaps the land is sacred, or they have taboos against building any permenant strutures at all that the town now violates. Or they might just be trying to charge a price much too high from the townsfolks perspective. The townsfolk would refuse to move because they have invested a lot in their current locations, and besides they felt justified. Their laws may not recognize that kind of nomadic land ownership the way the lizardfolk do.

In that scenario, no one is evil, and at least from their own perspective, no one is wrong.

Have the lizardfolk help them

So, if that is too blunt for you, then I'm going to agree with Flamma and Joe on their techniques to show them to be good.

But you could go further. You could have the heroes get attacked by some obvious evil, and a group of lizardfolk adventurers leap in on the battle On the side of the adventurers.

You don't even need the adventurers to be in real trouble, they could well be winning, but they still see the lizards actively helping them, fighting something obviously evil, perhaps even making calls of friendship (or at least temporary alliance) to the adventurers during the fight. They then have the choice of attacking the lizardfolk anyway or of talking to them on friendly terms.

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Lizardfolk don't have the 'evil' descriptor as a race. Tensions can be sometimes strained between humans and lizardfolk, but for starters...

Just have them make a knowledge: dungeoneering check. If they don't know the monster manual well enough to know that lizardfolk aren't an evil race, then you can give them that info with the proper skill checks.

Of course, that doesn't mean THIS group of lizardfolk aren't evil - there are, after all camps of human bandits and the like. But the question then becomes: WHY does the village think that they're evil? You can start the clues well before the players ever reach the lizardfolk by the attitude of the village asking for their help.

Is this a matter of the villagers being rubes and distrustful of anything different? If so, then have it show in the way the villagers act. They don't get into any detail on how the lizardfolk are evil, and their claims should be ... iffy. Stupid stuff, either things that can't be tested ("They spoiled my cows!"), or if it can be tested, turns out false. ("They hexed mah daughter!" Detect Magic "Ma'am, your daughter isn't cursed." "She is! She'd ne'er have slept with that boy if she hain't been cursed! She tol' me herself!")

Or was there a genuine misunderstanding, aka "They approached with gunports open! Obviously a hostile gesture!" (AKA Babylon 5. Human-Mimbari War) In that case, give a lot more detail into The Event that Went So Wrong. And THEN - here's the important part - remember that the characters know more about the world than the players do. Give the players some knowledge: Dungeoneering checks (or whatever the equivalent is in the edition of D&D that you're playing) in order to let them know what their CHARACTERS know about lizardfolk traditions and ways.

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If making it less hack-and-slash and more nuanced is a focus of the new campaign, consider telling the players up front. "This is going to be a more morally grey game. Someone asking for help may be asking you to do something terrible, either intentionally or accidentally. That a race is commonly perceived to be inherently evil doesn't make it true." You can even still get PCs who are racist jerks this way if you want it; in some ways it's better because the player knows it will be a key theme for them to play off of.

If keeping it "in game" in important, don't be too subtle. While occasionally players see right through your most complex plans, they also have an incredible ability to overlook the painfully obvious. An encounter with a lone lizardfolk might be good, as it creates a situation where the PCs should feel safe and less prone to stabbing first. Maybe a lizardfolk who just caught a huge pile of fish and is setting up to cook them, and he waves them over and offers the party some since his bounty is so large.

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+1 Get the players on board in your pitch for the game. If they're not interested, then you've saved a lot of effort. –  okeefe Jun 8 at 5:10

A little off-the-wall but it's something I've done before (and seen done before): After the PCs have had some interaction with the lizardfolk, but don't have them "all figured out," try something new. Hand everyone in the group a new character sheet: a pregenerated lizardfolk character, complete with short (one-paragraph) history / culture / roleplaying info.

Then run an encounter or two with the players running lizardfolk characters, dealing with those characters' needs and culture and fears and strengths -- and their enemies -- and then return to the "regular" characters. The odds are good that, even if they strive to keep player-knowledge and game-knowledge separate, the players will develop a certain amount of empathy for the lizardfolk. Even if they don't try to make peace with them outright, they'll be a lot more inclined to accept an offer of truce or peace.

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A practical suggestion that doesn't involve bloodshed:

When the PCs are on the way to the lizardfolk village, make an unwinnable ambush, from animals or bandits. Make the enemy(ies) strong enough that the PCs can't defeat it, but not too strong as to quickly kill the PCs. When a PC gets dangerously near death, have a group of lizardfolk step in and kill the enemy(ies) and help with the wounds of the PCs. The lizards then could ask: What were you doing around here? Where were you headed? Even if the PCs lie about their reasons, the talk could end with the lizards wishing the PCs luck on whatever they are going to do.

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This is a really good answer, many players will think more if they feel they personally owe the lizardmen than if they simply seem to be 'not evil'. –  Vality Jun 8 at 19:57

I shall presume a situation where the Lizard-folk do not speak the common tongue - or do so very poorly.

I shall also presume a situation where these are likely to retain a stiff upper lip and pose a 'tough exterior to threats' as may be in line with their culture.

Both of these serve as obstacles to diplomacy - and both of these can serve to foster serious misunderstandings between races that ill-understand each other and are liable to intentionally or accidentally over-blow incidents.


Enforcing But Never (or rarely) Crossing One's Borders

A good-aligned tribe is a lot less likely to take actions to expand their borders, building of settlements in shows of physical occupation and leading excursions outside their territories for the purpose of oppressing those lands' inhabitants and claiming possession of such lands.

A good-aligned tribe is more likely to take action to enforce its own territories, intimidating those who straggle onto their turf, perhaps also attacking. They are more likely to be fierce defenders where their ferocity can border on brutality, but not for brutality's sake.

A history of conflict with (for example) humans will naturally up the intensity of hostilities but they are more likely to neutralize the threat that trespassers pose rather than killing them outright.


Cultural Manifestations of Alignment

The culture of the lizard-folk can occasionally shine through - particularly with regard to signs of restraint - such as not delivering a fatal blow when they have opportunity to do so, or shying away from conflict in neutral territories.

Perhaps their hunting parties might include a support shaman who specializes in spells intended to dis-empower foes. Perhaps spells that suggest defensive rather than offensive purposes (entangle, slow, summon X creature).


Diplomacy From a Position of Strength

I would imagine that they would be rather difficult to engage in diplomatic conversation considering their previous contacts with outsiders of the PCs' sorts. Some players would not really think much of going in with axes and magic missiles flailing.

This is why you will want to consider throwing in instances where the PCs face unfavorable odds (mass ambush). They are less likely to get fighty in situations where they are unlikely to prevail.


Straggler Non-Warriors

Citizens, especially children, have a tendency of wandering further than their more entrenched elders. This applies to most species and it just might set up an interpreter relationship if one of the lizard-kind happens to have less lousy common than the rest.


Cruel Town Cohorts

Perhaps one way of drumming things into the heads of the PCs, indirectly is to gain them an opportunity to participate in a lizard-repelling (hunting) expedition "in the name of ensuring the safety of travelers in the area".

This, of course, extends to clashing with a river-side sheltered enclave with a very small community little more numerous than the raiding party and of mixed levels of ability - including a good half that are bumbling civilians with improvised weapons.

Heart-string tugging moments such as the involvement of familial connections may be inserted but of greater interest would be the wanton and contemptuous brutality of the town mercenary party in slaying and looting. If it happens to be a longer campaign element with a very significant lizard-folk presence in the area - this could provide several opportunities for the PCs to realize that they might be committing an error.


Clues - Options, not Hooks

Of course be prepared for all kinds of play preferences... maybe they completely miss it in favor of lizard-slaying campaigns - or they actually have an evil bone or three in them - but perhaps the PCs will never know their error - having contributed to genocide... perhaps only revealed when another wiser or more influential entity enters the area.

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It is of my honest - though perhaps unpopular - opinion that the success or failure of the group to realize that there IS the potential for the lizardfolk (or some other race of beings who are not 'inherently'/by the book evil) to NOT be evil in the first place speaks less about you and more about them as players and creative thinkers.

Even without additional prompting and provided that the first meeting isn't your players being tossed into the middle of a battlefield with people and beings dying by the droves, the idea of negotiation and diplomacy (even if it only means a simple attempt at conversation) ought to come up just as a matter of course when it comes to player and NPC interaction.

That said, I personally wouldn't outright disclose (or make it very obvious) the situation you're hoping to work with (as both a former GM and player) because I feel it takes away too much from the player experience and can stonewall their growth in terms of their ability to creatively problem solve and think with their characters and situations.

Yes, the campaign could end up going hack and slash after all or it could potentially lead to the PCs going "OMG, -I- ended up helping to trigger this war?", but... are those possibilities really a bad thing?

Aren't the possibilities - peace versus war - part of the point of a 'morally grey' campaign/game session where people will be struggling to decide what are the 'right' choices to make if there even ARE completely 'right' choices?

Morally grey = not necessarily black or white answers and both answers have potential reasons and potential pitfalls, etc = different outcomes, depending.

I know that you WANT the story to go a certain way and I totally understand that, BUT in a way, absolutely wanting the story to go one way or another negates the whole premise of 'morally grey'.

That said, given my thoughts so far, I would opt for a subtle 'let's see what the players observe' approach and offer it from the get-go in order to plant the seed and give it time and room to grow as your players grow within the context of the campaign.

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As an example (and without knowing what kind of story you're intending to run, exactly):

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Let's say the players live on a piece of land which is of critical importance to the lizardfolk. In this example, it's something like access to natural resources - a clean source of water nearby and one of the few around.

The players don't know this.

The lizardfolk get desperate and attack the village because they want access to the resources... and resources in general.

When the aftermath of the attack is described (towards the beginning of the campaign while establishing the whole misunderstanding bit), hints can be dropped regarding the nature of the attack - needing access to the resources versus senselessly killing for no reason.

Hints of purpose - tracks leading towards the access point for the water, the raiding of resources, perhaps even the lack of casualties despite the violence towards the actual village - that suggest another reason besides nothing-but-war.

Perhaps the players could even encounter a straggler from the raiding and pillaging group of lizardfolk and observations will show that s/he is quite sick... from malnourishment and dehydration.

As the players continue their journey to confront the lizardfolk, they can experience environmental hardships... which would perhaps be more difficult for the lizardfolk than for themselves but it would be difficult nonetheless. This gives opportunity to wonder about why the lizardfolk would make the travel themselves and wage war.

There are more examples, but I hope I managed to explain my thoughts thus far.

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This question led to another big question. Do evil people exists per se ?

For sure there are deranged person that do unethical things just for pleasure, but they are really particular ones with big sanity problems, and usually they can't get into groups, because, for definition, they are anti-social.

Also, the biggest tragedy it's not Good vs Evil, but good against good.

What if the lizardmen enter conflict with the human for food, to sustain their children?

Show them the cubs (a lizardman children is a cub?) to be really weak, with glossy eyes and inflated stomach, show them the desperation of the mothers (even if they are reptilians!) and the strength from desperation of the fathers.

And you can take it one step further, where a really charismatic lizard (again, calibrate it on the fact that they are reptiles!!!!) try to "ride" this problem for his personal sake.

The solution could be one of diplomacy, where for istance humans teach sustainable agricolture to lizardmen, and try to "stop" (e.g. kill) the rise of a dictator that stems his power from famine and poverty.

Usually, violence generates from real problems, and real problems for large groups are usually the lack of relief goods like food, water and physical space.

If you want to add a third element to sustain a long term campaign, you can introduce an evil pg that schemes to leave the lizardmen in poverty, maybe an uncaring human (or why not, a racist elf!) to use them as pawn to free "his" land from both humans and lizardmen.

Remember everything has a cause, even if you can't see it!

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In D&D, Evil people definitely do exist - see the alignment system. Drow are Evil, for example, as are orcs, trolls, goblins and a host of other fantasy staples. –  Dakeyras Jun 6 at 10:26
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> Show them the cubs (a lizardman children is a cub?) a young lizard(man) would probably be an egg or a hatchling just FYI (don't believe that I created an account just for this(!)) –  MD-Tech Jun 6 at 10:28

I would sugesst that in the begining when going for the evil side only talk about their negative actions and actions in particiulare. When latter wanting to show their good side, maybe show some of their emotional or nuturing side. Try to find a begining more monsterious side and then a more sentinel humanoid side. Maybe try showing how they care or portect their youngm, maybe something they want to protect or how they support each other. Try to find some human treads that make u think of goodnes and self preservation

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Shawn your example is confusing. Why would the GM want to expand on their "evil side". They're trying to convince the PC's that the lizardfolk can be negotiated with. –  C. Ross Jun 7 at 20:22

Make hack and slash fail because they're very powerful. Yet for some mysterious reason, they don't slaughter your puny team because they were more interested in...

That should establish non-evilness and more complex intentions that hint at intelligence.

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Hi djechlin and welcome to the site. While your addition can become a great and useful addition, I think that we'll all benefit if you'll expand your answer. Try to explain in a little bit more detail what your idea is, maybe give an example or two. And if you'll be so kind as to connect it far more visibly to the question… Thanks ;-) –  Yosi Jun 6 at 19:14

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