Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Orthos's Observations: Orcs

First off, to get it out of the way: "Holy alliteration, Batman!"

Now that that's done.

Orcs! I have yet to see a fantasy setting that doesn't have Orcs, or at least something very like them. They're as ubiquitous as Elves and Dwarves, if less historically-rooted; despite Elves going back as far as fairy tales do and farther and Dwarves being a staple of (at the very least) Norse myth, there's really no large-scale Orc presence in legend and mythology until Tolkien, yet in the modern day they're just as well-known and easily-identifiable among fans of the Fantasy genre - and now, thanks to things like the Lord of the Rings movies, even those who don't normally associate themselves with that culture.

Unfortunately, what they're so well-known for is being typecast. Orcs are the Bad Guys. The slavering hordes. The barbaric enemy on the doorstep. The mongrel tribes who pillage, rape, and burn. They're low-level enemies for your average fantasy game, grunt stupid minions for more intellectual villains, and their only player-side connection to the game is, most of the time, the rapist parent of a bastard race created primarily for the purpose of proving just how bad they are and making characters who will be biased against by the vast majority of people they encounter. Orcs are evil, through and through, and almost no setting uses them in any other way. They're almost as bad as Goblins, in that way, really - notice it's never Elf babies or Dwarf babies or even baby Dragons used in those annoying moral quandaries about "Will the paladin fall if he kills this?". It's always Orc or Goblin babies. Because the people making these arguments always want to pit the mindset of "Orcs/Goblins are always evil, no exceptions, rawr grar nyargh blargh" against the basic assumption of "children are innocent".

Really, these discussions sicken me as much out-of-character as in, especially when people who play so-called good characters and especially so-called paladins are coming out in favor of this kind of behavior. I have, on more than one occasion, seen a paladin character suggest that half-orc children should be "killed immediately as a mercy, as their lives hold nothing forward but a life of evil, suffering, and suffering they will cause".

Well screw that.

I've been on the Paizo forums and elsewhere long enough to see the many, many complaints about Orcs being the "token bad guy race" of "Always Chaotic Evil bags of XP" created for the express purpose of "giving players semi-humanoid creatures to kill without moral quandaries of whether or not it's an evil act". So when putting our Orcs together, one of the things Ebon and I wanted to do immediately was make sure that argument never need rear its head in our setting. To do that, though, we needed an Orcish culture that didn't result - through either harsh living, outside influence, or scorn by other races - in a race that had a burning hatred for most or all other species that would push them in large numbers toward evil alignments.

We knew we wanted our Orcs to be a tribal warrior race, but we wanted to avoid some of the pitfalls they seemed to always fall into in other settings. Things like being the creation of evil deities or fiendish powers, being corrupted versions of "good" races, hating all magic, being stupid and brutish thugs with intelligence penalties, and perhaps most importantly being a non-player race that spawns a PC race 99% of the time via rape. One of the first things we did when we started putting the setting together was outright say, "there are no Half-Orcs, Orcs and Humans are genetically incompatible. If you want to use Half-Orc stats for an Orc character, that's fine." We eventually refined those statistics into the Orc stats presented here, obviously. The removal of Half-Orcs gave us the opportunity to pull Orcs in as their own playable race as well as banishing their connection to unpleasant backstories as a matter of common course. From there, it was just a matter of tweaking the flavor behind them.

There were two major influences on Orcs, really. One from me, one from Ebon. Hers was the Krogan, a race from the Mass Effect game series... which I have never played. I don't even own it (unlike, say, Dragon Age, which I have multiple games of but have never touched). From what a quick Google search could gather, they're a warrior culture with a strong system of honor and a focus on strength of arms and of will... pretty perfect for what we were going for with Orcs, I have to admit. One of these days maybe I'll play the game, and be able to directly incorporate a bit more of that culture into them. As of now though, that'll be Ebon's input, when/if she decides to run something with Orcs as a prominent culture.

My contribution was a bit more humorous. When I started trying to envision non-evil but highly combat-motivated and enthusiastic culture, my mind went to the J├Ągermonsters of the webcomic Girl Genius. They too enjoy fighting, revel in violence, have a sort of (admittedly bizarre) code of honor, and are powerfully built and difficult to harm or kill. That and the idea of an Orc obsessing over a hat makes me laugh. So yeah! J├Ąger Orcs! Love it. Stir in a bit of Krogan, a bit of old-fashioned nomadic barbarian horde types stripped of the typical "rape and pillage" stereotype, a strong dose of shamanistic culture to tie them to the brutal landscape of the Ice Claw, and a powerful reverence for those who die in battle admittedly stolen from the Norse, hence the bonfire burials.

So... now that they're here, what do they do?

Well, geography primarily answers most of that. The Orcs' homeland is the Ice Claw, which is located on the southern part of the northern half of Stormwind. It's bordered by the Titans mountain range to the south and the Mountains of Madness to the north, with ocean on its east and west shores. It's a frostfell taiga and tundra region, with temperate summers at best and brutal winters. In the earliest parts of Finiens's history, the Orc packs had full run of the entire region; however, they've moved somewhat westward into the rolling plains of the Claw, leaving the more craggy and hilly eastern third primarily occupied by the Frost Elves (whose forest was pulled north of the Titans when the Child of Perdition Firbohlg moved the mountains) and Humans from Olympia to the south who have established cities in the frostfell.

So the packs roam the plains and western coast of the tundra. Those along the shorelines might be a bit Inuit-like in culture, doing a lot of close-to-shore sailing and relying primarily on fish, but the majority of Orcs further inland remain predominantly nomadic, roaming in erratic but semi-consistent paths through their territories depending on time of year, guided by shamanistic lore and magic and sheltered by powerful warriors and tribal tradition. Where packs intersect, conflicts are inevitable, but large-scale conflict is a bit anathema to my Orcs: they, sparing some few exceptions, don't have much need or desire for control of massive amounts of territory. Orcs in Finiens are not conquerors or pillagers; they don't really desire to expand their holdings so much as secure what they have and protect what they hold. They're more predators than tyrants, knowing the territory they roam provides the resources they need to survive and keeping challengers away but, unless their own stores run dry, having little reason to force themselves into the demesne of another.

The addition of mentions of psionics was kind of a last-second idea from me, but really one I should have spotted earlier. Given the Lovecraftian nature of the Mountains of Madness and whatever lost civilization once lay beyond in Unknown Kadath (which I've recently begun getting ideas toward fleshing out, actually), it seemed only natural that the packs dwelling nearest the mountains' feet would develop echoes of that otherworldly power. And with the Dark Song strongly tied to psionics as well, even more so.

Given most of the campaigns I've run have taken place in Wachara rather than Stormwind, there's not been much opportunity to do things frequently with Orcs, something I'm hoping to be able to rectify sometime in the future. Consider this, though, at least a start toward providing a world where those who like Orcs, for whatever reason, don't have to settle for bloodthirsty warmongers to satisfy that desire. And, well, if that's what you want out of your Orcs anyway... well, you've no shortage available, that's for certain.

No comments:

Post a Comment