Thursday, 15 October 2015

5e Setting Building: Making Orcs matter; or how to improve on Genocide FTW.

The border marches are about tough choices. Orcs don’t represent a tough choice. When I say Orcs here, I am in fact using them as a stand in for all sentient monstrous species who are bipedal, social, land dwellers. Creatures such as goblins, kobold and gnolls, as well as orcs.

The traditional approach to dealing with orcs and their ilk can be summed up as
"committing war crimes against a sentient species because you happen to be in resource competition with them; while not considering it evil, because they are evil because we happen to want the same thing as us and happen to be less good at killing us than we are at killing them", or as I like to put it for brevity “Genocide, FTW.”
There is a school of thought that, orcs and other such social sentient humanoid foes should be treated as bad guys and that critical examination of their role in the game should not be undertaken because, as Charles Akins , author of the Dyvers blog puts it, “It's not that complicated. The monsters are evil because we're the good guys and fuck 'em because they're not us.”

That approach is fine. If people want pure escapism, and aren’t interested in examining such elements and the ways it mirrors the behaviour of European colonial behaviour by dehumanising and demonising indigenous populations, that is cool. There is for many people, a lot of fun to be had in that.

But what this approach to orcs certainly does not involve is tough choices. You turn up, you kick their butts and you save the village, everyone it totally okay with the massacre because they are the bad guys and that the end of it.

Not my idea of fun.

For great social justice (and you know, fun).

Clearly, Orcs and their ilk, need to be handled differently if they are going to be useful for the bordermarches.
For one thing, the whole turning a blind eye to Genocide FTW thing kind of urks me. There are those who will genuinely claim that it is morally good for characters to kill communities of orcs in games, because they are “evil”, and the PCs are good. There have been plenty of points in earth’s history when one group of hairless monkeys have massacred another such group with almost exactly such an argument. Ignoring that annoys me.

So what to do with them instead? The most obvious approach would be to not include them, but frankly I have included two whole-dimension for weird species of monster to inhabit, and such creatures run deep in DnD lore. A second approach would be to focus on developing orcs as a rich and vibrant culture, to challenge the way that people the players interact with them. But, honestly, if the players are going to choose to commit war crimes for fun and profit, getting them to face up to their characters actions is going to be much easier if their targets are humans, (or at least without the baggage of traditionally evil species.)

What is the best way to change this? Create a different story model for orcs, one that allows for the fun of a dungeon crawl, but adds interesting questions.

Orcs are the symptom, not the disease.

By Antoine Glédel CC BY-SA 3.0
In the border marches, orcs are fey creatures created as the by produce of underlying conflicts in the physical world. Wherever communities turn against themselves or their neighbours, orcs are spawned in the feyrealm. This process starts as a cave opening up into the depths beneath wilds. From these caves, known as orc blights, pour out scores of orcs, brutish and terrible, spilling across the fey realm, and from there into the material world. They are forces of id and low cunning, not truly sentient, but capable of cruelty and violence as the result of instinct.

This plague continues so long as the underlying conflict affects the community. Given the hidden nature of these conflicts, it is often difficult to resolve an ongoing orc incursion. No matter how many are killed, the problem persists However, adventurers who delve into the fey realm, are able fight their way into the heart of an orc blight, down into the caverns. There in the dark and rot, they may find the Blightheart, a physical object, from the material world, which signifies the underlying conflict. Blighthearts can be used to identify the cause of the conflict and overcome the orc blight.

Orcs have pig snouts! No, they don’t.  

As fey creatures, the exact details of the appearance of orcs vary wildly. Their tends to be consistency within a blight, but between blights there can be drastic differences. Their skin tones can be almost any colour, they can have pig snouts or tusk, they can appear oddly human. No two are exactly alike, and not two blights are the same. However, they always appear large and brutish.


1 comment:

  1. So, basically your solution for all evil-aligned humanoids in the world is to make them all demons. Sure, you wrote "fey", but-- beings that are a mystical side-effect of human malice and suffering who are thus are driven to create human malice and suffering in order to propagate themselves, is more or less the role demons have in the game. Fey don't really work like that.

    Okay, it does solve some logical inconsistencies and conundrums. For instance, a species that was always evil, destructive and solved everything with violence without exception who primarily occupy areas where food and other resources are scarce and have only the most primitive level of technology could not possibly produce large numbers of armed troopers no matter how you look at it. They would have been driven to extinction in short order.
    Moreover, there has never been a good explanation about how they manage to exist in much the same way in isolated communities across the world appearing in various isolated an abandoned locations without any real way to explain how they got there. Why exactly are they standing in this room in this abandoned subterranean temple that has only one entrance/exit far from any other of their kind and just randomly standing around with weapons doing nothing in particular until someone approaches a door to that room?
    This would explain it...

    On the other hand though, it seems though your solution doesn't remotely come close to resolving what your initial repulsion was-- you still have these dozen or so human-like creatures that are universally evil and you are driven to commit genocide against for your own profit while claiming moral superiority. You have just given better justification for them being evil.
    Furthermore, you have reduced a lot of the potential interesting diversity in your worlds-- granted, diversity no one takes much or any advantage of anyway-- in that you have taken a dozen unique species and given them the same origin,effectively just making them different shapes and sizes of precisely the same thing.
    I suppose if you just use the base stats for them as given in the books, there is justification for that laziness. But the idea then that Kobolds have a unique draconic origin and they tend to become more powerful along the lines of sorcery, bardic or mechanical mastery while goblins are fay-like creatures who tend to develop along either thievery, assassin or druidic lines. No longer would you really be able to clearly diversify orcs as small giants with rage-driven strength, a primal spirituality and a hardy ability to survive in any conditions while hobgoblins in contrast are civil, if brutal, cousins to elves with honor, conviction and modern technology, but mixed with a mercilessness and a lack of respect for those who don't hold themselves up to the same rigid standards preferring to turn them all into slaves.
    You can have have a level 15 kobold, goblin, orc, hobgoblin, gnoll, bugbear, ogre, etc. and have them all clearly differentiated by different cultural influences and unique strengths to their particular kind.... because, really, you have reduced them to all being different shapes of precisely the same fay creature that pops into existence out of nothingness whenever humans are bad to one another.