Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Orcs of Gothic Greyhawk

When I was getting ready to run the kid's game, I considered The Keep on the Borderlands.  On the one hand, it's a really great example of a home base, wilderness and dungeon crawl all wrapped in a nice package.  The politics, personalities, and roleplaying opportunities will sing in the hands of a skilled DM.

On the other hand, "clearing" the Caves of Chaos would require a crew of (at the time) 8 year olds to slaughter humanoid women and children in cave after cave.  Just wasn't sure if I wanted to have that discussion with a bunch of kids just there to roll dice  - "Yes, monsters have wives and babies too, but trust me, they are all so invariably evil that you're actually doing a great service to the Keep by putting every last one to the sword."   (I can only imagine what might be said after the game when they go home…)

As much as possible, I'd rather keep the humanoids monstrous and ditch the tribal qualities and naturalism.  In the adult game, that means the real heinous villains are other people.  Humanoid monsters are still around, they just have magical or monstrous origins - and there's no chance the 8 year olds are going to have to burn down the Orc nursery.  I have great respect for EGG's work, but we part ways on occasion.

Orcs are made, not born
Orcs in Gothic Greyhawk
There was a defunct blog a year or so ago called Mandragora, where the author (Scott) was laying out a framework for a fairy tale inspired campaign.  It didn't really go anywhere, but was chock full of awesome ideas while it was active.  One that stuck with me was his idea for Orcs.

Orcs are the reincarnated souls of evil humans, spawned in cauldrons (chemical vats) to serve the witches of Gothic Greyhawk.  Their psyches are twisted by the torments they've chosen for themselves in the hereafter, and they relish the opportunity to inflict pain and misery on lesser beings.  The hierarchy of Hell conditions the Orcs for orderly (lawful) behavior.

The characters got to see this first hand in a session a few months back; the witch they met had a fire pit that let her peer all the way through to the fires of hell in the coals, and she had magic tongs that would could reach through the barriers and seize a larva.  Larva are the evils souls of the most selfish humans, reduced to crawling through the lower plane and used as currency by the devils.  She would dunk the larva in a massive cauldron and grow them into Orcs.

So there you have it - Orcs are made, not born.

In a future game, I may just go with a bunch of human lands named Orcland, Goblinland, Ogreland, etc - after The Worm Ouroboros.


  1. Yeah, my sense of verisimilitude demands I always include humanoid non-combatants in lairs.

  2. What's that sound I hear... is it the sound of a new poll forming in the back of my mind?

    How do you like your humanoids - with or without the Gygaxian naturalism?

    Thanks James!

  3. That would be a pretty interesting list: how you can create orcs without the natural biological process that requires females and children, or any sense that orcs have a right to live their lives, too. Aside from the vat idea, there's "Warhammer's" orcs-are-fungi and of course Tolkien's orcs-are-corrupted-elves (well, in the movies, anyway). Clones a la the "Star Wars" prequels?