Monday, May 4, 2015

Orcs Are So Passe



Orcs are boring, passe, trite even. Don't believe me? Just look around online where there are a vast array of voices vying for your attention just so that they can tell you that Orcs aren't worth your time. "Listen, Buddy," they say with a condescending smile, "I'm sure that Orcs were just fine for your campaign back when you were just starting out; too new and dumb to know your asshole from a hole in the ground, and there's a certain nostalgia that keeps you coming back to them. But really, do you want to waste your time with something so lame?"

"Lame?," you say, "but I like Orcs. They're fun and I do this really cool thing with mine where I -"

"Oh I'm sure you think it's cool, but what you're doing is just retreading the same ground that all of us have walked on before. You're Orcs are boring and your insistence on using them in your games means that you're boring too."

There is a fundamental flaw in the logic behind this argument against the inclusion of Orcs due to their banality: everyone plays every Orc, class, and setting in a way that is uniquely their own. That's a central truth for role-playing games and it has been since the first time Dave Arneson looked at Chainmail and said, "That's nice, but I think I like doing it my way better." So when you're talking about how another person runs Orcs you're doing so from a position of ignorance. You don't actually know whether their Orcs are slobbering, thoughtless, monsters -  but do you know what you actually know really well? That your Orcs are boring as shit because you've made them that way.

Orcs don't have to be that way any more than does your Fighter have to be a dull hack and slash machine that never does anything more than give you an opportunity to roll a d20 and growl menacingly at the Dungeon Master. Make them Nazis walking about with a hard on for wiping out the gnomish race. Or better still have them be a bunch of beatniks pissed off at their parents and shooting heroin up their veins while writing protest poems against the Man and rioting at concerts. Hell, make 'em samurai warriors with codes of honor and bad hair! 

What you're doing with your orcs is uniquely your own thing just as what I'm doing with mine is my own. Don't get hung up on what boring people are telling you about how they haven't enough imagination do anything fun with them. You're better than that. 

So, what are your orcs like?

20 comments:

  1. I have lots of orcs of different tribal types and I make them a variants of my BX beast-man class (barbarian is another). Players like to know difference and find some tribes ok. A player recently married orcs then became one over about five level play time. He now has a nice dungeon. Orcs make up 20-40% of the human population in my setting. The campaign is based around a horrible LE city full of pirates and rumoured to be ruled by the Devil. The city has orcs do most military duties and orc nobles are respected.

    However they are brutal thugs even the civilized polite ones. They can be honorable but are anathema to humans in many ways. They eat disgusting things and are feared in war as killer brutes. New orc tribes boil up from the deep or a wizards spawning pits every decade. They are mostly worshipers of devils or the dead or spirits of war. Many orcs are even non believers in worship as no god ever really helped them. Other orc variants serve demons or chaos or elder daemons. A great orc earth goddess mother draws power from the earth and spirit world she uses orcs as defenders of the wild ways. Orcs sacrifice blood and bless blood not holy water. Their gods prefer murder for food and like hoards of gold. They are jealous of all other races and can be spiteful.

    But generally shorthand for a horrendous savage brute good at killing
    You can generally feel not so bad about killing and robbing orcs
    They are not a proper race ever right?
    I mean wizards can make them (a 3rd lv spell with variations)

    Came out a bit weirder than i intended them to be

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    1. Dude, you are so utterly and completely in my wheelhouse. I love the way your mind works!

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  2. I think in my campaign I play my orcs a bit higher up on the emotional intelligence scale then is often the case. They are always looking out for themselves. Period.
    The "evil Orc" part comes from theme being double crossing bastards that are so self interested that they can never be trusted. Their penchant for following the highest bidder into pitched battles, also adds to the, "These are bad folks" reputation.

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  3. For a while, 20 years ago, I was an orc (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Orcs_of_Thar). It was really fun.

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    1. Tell me more about this ViP, please.

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  4. I wrote an entire BX supplement about orcs as player characters, where I embrace the entire "noble savage" ideal. Evil orcs are just as common as evil men. They just breed faster, so there appears to be more of them. And after generation upon generation of being manipulated by powerful beings, and hunted like animals by the "good" races, it's no wonder they get a bit short with outsiders, ya know?

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    1. I do and I like it! I like it a lot!

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  5. Since I'm playing B/X with race as class, I'm using Orcs for Dwarves and Goblins for Halflings.

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    1. Shameless plug (please don't ban me, Charles...)
      http://www.rpgnow.com/product/117741/Life-of-Rage--OSR-Edition

      Delete
    2. There are no bans for telling people about something you've done that's directly related to what they're talking about Holmes! In all honesty I've never banned anyone from the blog.

      I mean, I've run a couple of people off but never banned.

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    3. This is actually a really awesome idea and something I've toyed with myself. I'll try to get around to checking it out!

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  6. I've got my pig-faced barbarian orcs who are all relatively decent fellows but they are horribly addicted to the stuff of chaos and quickly flock to it when someone shows up who knows how to work it.

    Then I've got my orcs who are actually a breed of elf that was made for war, a race of genetic killers who are still out there profiting off of their natural instinct for murder.

    Then I have my orcs who were born of the spilt blood of the thirteen-armed god/dess Shaligon, a deity with dual aspects of order and chaos, male and female, etc. Every six centuries or so the orcs switch from a patriarchal warlord system to a matrilieal clan system. During the centuries that Shaligon's male aspect dominates the orcs they are a hellish force to be reckoned with. During the centuries her female aspect comes into play they are a cunning society run by the woman with knives and assassination.

    Etc. Etc. TL;DR: I love my orcs

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    1. I love your orcs too! By the way have you ever read the Burning Wheel version of orcs? You might just love the hell out of it.

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  7. In my case I tried handling orcs in three different ways. In one they were part wolf, thanks to the machinations of an alien species (long story). In the second they were descended from neanderthals (and their best friends were gnomes). In the third they were a lot like the second, with one group composed of once human exiles from the land of Rokugan (_Legend of the Five Rings_ style) punished for betraying their gods.

    Guess I'll have to post about each.

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    1. When you do Alan please let me know! I would love to read more about them.

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  8. I hate that I'm late commenting on this post but the garden wasn't going to prep itself for planting. Orcs & Half-Orcs are near & dear to my heart. The first character I ever rolled up for AD&D was a Half-Orc and Half-Orcs and Orcs have remained my top pick as a player. I've run them as PCs in AD&D, 3.x, Castles & Crusades, MERP, Tunnel & Trolls, Arcaenum and Palladium Fantasy. Roger Moore's Dragon articles, “The Half-Orc point of view” & “The gods of the orcs,” were major influence on how I run Orcs as PCs & NPCs. Also, every scumbag in a Western is an Orc so there is no shortage of unique personalities or quirks. In Eldorado, Nelse McCleod and his men were definitely Orcs in my mind.
    In my current game, most Orcs trace their roots back to the southern mountains where they were recruited as foot soldiers in a demonic invasion. However, some Orcs are dimensional travelers from other worlds. Orcs come in two main varieties, civilized & wild, although individuals and groups vary as widely in outlook and appearance as Humans. Civilized Orcs live in Human cities (the remnants of the old republic after the Demon Wars). While some Orcs, given their culture's emphasis on martial prowess, find work as guards, mercenaries & soldiers and occasionally achieve respected positions in these professions, many Humans still resent (in some cases, it is outright hate) the civilized Orcs for their ancestors' role in the Demon Wars and they are commonly segregated in the crappiest section of a city where lack of education, resources & opportunity can easily lead to a life of crime. Perhaps, the most famous of these criminals is Skül Fukare, pirate captain of Scarlet Sail Orc tribe, whose Black powder Brigade recently liberated him from imprisonment in the dungeons underneath the capitol city of Safeton. In terms of attitude, they are very similar to the way Orcs are portrayed in Elder Scrolls IV. There is one village in the eastern mountains that dates back to the time before the civilized Orcs were integrated into Human society which started out as a refuge for Orcs & Half-Orcs who were seeking to build a better society than the one they were raised in. The village still sends out ambassadors who seek to recruit like-minded Orcs from the Wilds and the slums to make the journey to a fresh start in the east. As for the wild Orcs, they still live in the untamed lands and follow the Old Ways of raiding and ruin. They are more likely than civilized Orcs to bear the mutations from demonic experiments to breed superior or specialized warriors. Although there are exceptions, most wild Orcs have attitudes somewhere between the mutants from The Hills Have Eyes and the hillbillies from Deliverance. They are the tyranny of evil men.

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  9. I use hobgoblins in a similar way to what a lot of people are saying about orcs here (orcs and hobgoblins are like po-tay-toes and po-taugh-toes,right?). They have their own kingdom, are a bit more civilized than your average "humanoid monster," and are generally tolerated throughout human kingdoms, though they are most likely to be found in population centers or wherever you would find mercenaries congregating. They are halfway decent folk for the most part, but if you run into a band of them out in some ruins somewhere and you are a little worse for the wear there is a decent chance they are going to rob you. To be fair though, you'd do the same or worse to them I'm sure, right?

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