25 November 2011

Skeleton Punching Orcs

Orcish rangers, keeping lookout over a contested pass.

One of the things I'm trying to do in Skeleton Puncher is create an interesting setting for people who want to game "The Wright Way", the way that Greyhawk and D&D combined together seamlessly and let you game the Gygaxian way (or the way Blackmoor and Arnesonian D&D mesh) One of the biggest differences between the way I game and standard Gygaxio-Tolkien way is that very few things are "Evil" with a capital E in my world. Where Gygax and Tolkien saw no problems having beings dedicated to destroying pretty much everything and being happy with scorching the earth and living in the ashes, I'm not for that. Where others see the classic "good versus evil" arc, I see a story of propaganda told from one side. Much like how the Japanese were vilified during World War Two by the US, both sides had their own things going on. Both sides feared the other. And both sides had an interesting story to tell.

The first people that came to mind when I started writing this were orcs.

I've had a soft spot in my heart for orcs ever since my first experience with the Rankin-Bass Hobbit cartoon when I was a wee little sprat. My dad has had a passion for the Lord of the Rings books, and so watch them we did. It was great. Watching those bass-singing, giant-mouthed orcs and goblins ride wolves and capture the dwarves was fantastic, and it's always stuck with me how interesting that orc king was. He recognized the foul, orc-slaying swords that Thorin & Co. were carrying, and that's how the seed stuck for all this time. To Dwarves, they were heroic blades forged for their destiny, but to the goblins? Terrible, hateful blades created to slay their brothers and put their way of life to the sword.

I've always had a thing for underdogs.

But I digress. When I'm a DM, I always have my Orc-styled humanoids a little more mellow and easy to get along with than standard bloodthirsty, cannon-fodder pig faced orcs. They're not stupid, they're not murderous, and they're not innately hostile. They're simply a different race with a different culture. Where it gets difficult is defining exactly how different they are from humans, and that's where you get a little fantasy anthropology going.

An orc captain, directing siege equipment
Your average orc is a soldier, that much I've taken from standard orc portrayals. Orcs are fantastic raiders, excellent warriors, and tend towards violence. They see nothing wrong with theft, and your average orc in a non-human land makes his living as a thief, mercenary, or bodyguard. They are as loyal and trustworthy as humans, once you understand their mindset. And understanding an orc requires understanding their childhood.

Orcs do not believe in marriage, handfasting, or any sort of permanent, legal bond between a male and a female. Males and females bond for as long as they enjoy each other, and then when they have no further interest in each other, will "break up" and be single or find another mate, as they see fit. Since there is no formal relationship agreement, few orcs are sure who their fathers are. Heriditary positions, such as princehoods or dukes, are thus passed through the female line. This is not to say that females are unable to hold positions- they are often found holding positions of power themselves. Orc society does not distinguish between men and women and, indeed, it is difficult for non-orcs to tell the two apart. Female orcs generally only appear female in the anthropomorphic sense when they are pregnant or nursing- otherwise, they are virtually indistinguishable from the men.

Since any given orc people are involved in violent conflict with those around them more often than not, many orc children are raised by those unable to fight in the wars, or those who are back from a conflict. Much of an orc's childhood is spent hearing epic tales of bravery, selflessness, and nobility from his elders, and in free-formed play with those around him. It's not uncommon, when visiting an orc village, to see a small horde of children run screaming around in circles, tumbling and having small play battles and wars.

Orcs in their youth typically find an occupation by following their interests, as well as being chosen by older orcs. Apprenticeship takes as long as it takes, to borrow a phrase. Apprentices in more difficult professions, such as weaponsmithing, may find themselves apprentices for years, while apprentice cobblers might find themselves as equal partners to their former masters before they know it. Regardless of their profession, orcs have a firm eye towards conflict.

Why does war feature so heavily in the orcish consciousness?It all boils down to their early times. You see, orcs have a shorter lifespan and gestation period than humans, and reach sexual maturity and full adult height much quicker than a human does. Orc populations quickly explode and expand, creating incredible population pressure that, naturally, seeks to expand. There are only two ways to expand. If the orcs expand into an unpopulated area, there is no conflict- their explorers find new lands, villages and farms pop up, and life continues apace. If the orcs expand into an already populated area, though, there's going to be trouble. Since orcs are quite aware that they need more land and more food, the hostilities inevitably start. And with superior numbers and a cultural history of excellence in warfare, the orcs usually win.

So there you have it, the medium-length summary of Skeleton Puncher's orcs. Since it doesn't quite fit into the SP theme, I'll probably release it as some sort of supplement, like a Campaign Guide to Relthys or something. We'll see.

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