Overthinking. It's a trap.
I've been spinning my wheels so hard on the subject of monstrous humanoids lately, I've forgotten a couple basic things:
- It doesn't really matter where orcs, goblins and gnolls come from.
- Spinning my wheels in place doesn't improve my creativity.
- Excessive fiddling with where monsters come from does not necessarily make for more fun for me or my players.
If I get my way, I'll be running this for a group of all-new players, for me at least. Most of the people I game with I've been playing with since around 2007, 2008 or so. I know their habits and their gaming personalities, and they know mine, so we're not really challenging each other any more and I want to sharpen my skills with new players.
If all goes according to plan, I'll be running Vadhyislavia for the following:
A woman who has never played D&D or any other RPG before, but is eager to try.
A guy who tried D&D once, but was turned off by how combat-heavy it was. Open to trying again.
A couple who have been playing hack-n-slash Pathfinder for a while now, but took to Call of Cthulhu like ducks to water when I ran it for them a couple weeks back.
So we have a mix of player experience and the only player to express any preference has requested less combat-oriented play.
Normally I'd start a campaign with a good fight or something similar to get the players' adrenaline pumping, but now I'm thinking more in terms of how best to introduce the game so as to not turn anyone off with rules and still provide a session that brings them back for more. That is what I need to keep as my priority, not whether goblins are corrupted frogspawn or mutant children.
So I think what I need for the first session is just to focus on introducing the setting, keep it light and focused on interacting with NPCs, showcasing Vadhyislavia and the "home base" town of Barschental. Start the session with a local festival to give a feel for customs, religion, etc., and include some games and such the PCs can participate in; feats of strength, minor wizardry contests, etc. Throw a small combat in (say, the PCs have to rescue a young child from being eaten by a wolf), more to teach the mechanics of combat then anything else, showcase the rewards of roleplaying (i.e., the PCs get XP for the wolf, sure, but the bigger rewards come from the grateful smith who's the girl's godfather, or a free blessing from the local clerics in exchange for their good deed, etc.) and then bring the session to a cliffhanger conclusion hinting at bigger and darker adventures to be had next session.