As the title says, after much discussion, my group has decided to do an Orc campaign. Basic premise (to be fleshed out this Sunday when we get together for setting and character generation): “Your orc clan, lead by your Great One, recently went to war against a coalition of Elves, Men, and Dwarves, looking for a better homeland. Alas, all went to crap, and as typical for the tricksy Elves, your horde was decimated in the ensuing days of battles. Now you’re stuck behind enemy lines after the last battle. The few survivors of your horde have scattered, including your Troll and Great Wolf allies. Your ally Orc tribe, the Galesh, didn’t even show up when they promised, the bastards!”
So, I assume from this, there’ll be lots of narrative hooks to sink their Beliefs and Instincts into. I was figuring to make a Lifepath cap of 6, with 4 minimum, and to of course warn them that 4 lifepaths is “safe”, 5 and 6 mean taking the Die of Fate and hoping for no lost digits or lameness. This gives people room to create characters before being Named, or being one of the Named, with an eye towards putting a new Horde under their leadership, or whatever. We’ll flesh this all out Sunday.
My question is, anything I should know about? Pitfalls in all orcs different from regular (i.e. Human) BW play? Bonus if you’ve run such a campaign before.
Whipping is seductive. Someone who has a whip and the Where There’s a Whip There’s a Way trait is basically a walking call-on. They can whip someone and make them reroll their failures (once per session per character).
Players love succeeding but many don’t like having their character whipped, especially when you make it clear that acquiescing too many times will lead to earning the Tasting the Lash trait, which means that when someone whips you, you must do what they order you to do. They tell you to dig, you dig. They tell you to jump on one foot, you jump on one foot. Note that a character with Tasting the Lash will do whatever a character who whips them orders them to do. The character with the whip doesn’t have to have Where There’s a Whip There’s a Way to do this. They just need a whip.
It becomes rapidly clear that orc society is all about who has a whip and who gets whipped. Sometimes an orc is both. It is likely that some of the player characters will have whips and some will get whipped by those characters. Your players are going to have to navigate that fucked up power dynamic and come to an understanding with each other.
This is especially true because Hatred grants power to orcs and the Ob 4, 5 and 6 situational tests for advancement of Hatred drive toward betrayal and murder. Getting “even” is going to be a temptation (which is not a bad thing, just something to be aware of). Note also that Summoning Fury is more than just Deeds of Hate in Gold (see page 241). Now, once per session, orcs can use Hatred (open-ended) in place of any stat or skill, as long as the intent of the test involves destruction, corruption or cowardice.
Also keep in mind that orcs don’t have the same lifepath limits as other stocks. The rules say you can keep adding lifepaths until Brutal Life causes you to stop. I just quickly burned up a chattel orc using the charred app. He made it to 9 lifepaths before he had to bow and prostrate himself to his betters (he’s missing a couple fingers, but hey!). He also worked his way through the legion and is a Named Whisperer with 122 rps and 5 and 6 stats.
More seriously, nobody is that interested in whipping each other and keeping each other in line. The Traits, played straight, would “demand” it, and as Thor has said, and as I’ve now read more deeply, that disturbs me. I don’t mind shades of grayness; but downright pure evil, nope, not here to game that out.
Well, you can describe things in a manner reminiscent of Mel Gibson’s passion of the Christ or 50 shades of grey, but I’m also pretty sure a more Tolkien-esqe narrative can be used. I would re-read the chapters of LotR where merry and pippin and Sam and Frodo respectively are held by Orc bands and see if that type of narrative might be fun.
These Orcs have a bad attitude, and don’t get along well with others. However, it can be done. I’ve seen some inspiring examples where Orcs are part of a tapestry of civilized cultures in a game world, no better or worse than any of their brethren. If that’s your desire, just shake the Tolkien out of your head and think “wiry, smart, tough bastards”, and you should be fine. Keep the Hatred though. It’s too fun not to play with.
I haven’t actually seen Orcs in play, but if I was going to be a participant in an Orc game, this is probably what I’d aim for.
From reading through the Orc portion of the BWG I walked away with the feeling that an Orc tribe is constantly trying to pull itself apart at the seams unless they have a banner and a cause to rally behind. The raiding of an Elven outpost or a siege on a rival tribe. Also could see inner party conflict being more prevalent as with the whips they are always trying to better themselves on the corpses and backs of others. They really don’t seem like nice people.
I hear ya. But you went from fantasy to future, which is what surprised me. Any chance you could just houserule that “if it says ‘Whip’ or ‘Lash’ it doesn’t apply in this game” and move on? There’s probably many other aspects of lines and veils that you’ve not verbalizing or getting out in the open which can end up way more disruptive for your group than a master-and-servant relationship (and the inherent deprotagonization in the RAW). And I never got one iota of 50-shades implications when I read through the Orc Lifepaths (do Orcs even do that sort of thing when the lights go out?).
The last game in which I had Orcs (as GM) I made them more like a totally sympathetic, brutalized underclass at the margins of a land dominated by Elves and Men. (Sound familiar?) Their Hatred played out much more like the fanaticism of a repressed mujihadeen than that of a Generic Evil Monomaniac®. When the PCs found a large concentration camp of them being used as ‘fuel’ for Actually Evil Bastard® rituals, it was “Save The Orcs!” for the rest of the campaign (such as it was–ended due to scheduling conflicts shortly thereafter).
I guess I’m just encouraging you to go with what inspired you and don’t let what is a corner-case of their implied society dictate the interactions at the table. Hell, Generic Cyberpunk can be WAY darker and more player-deprotagonizing than Tasting the Lash! Ever had someone hack your Skill Wires… ever dealt with a sociopathic, living, breathing, walking nuclear deterrent…? >:}
I think a standard Orc among non-Orcs arc in BW is the tortured soul fighting his inner brutality with discipline and aspirations to be something better. There’s no reason not to expand that to civilization. There’s always going to be a monster inside every Orc, but if the popularity of Vampire says anything it’s that exploring societies of people trying to keep the monsters inside in check and behave in a civilized fashion are great gaming fodder.
Instead of naked hatred, backstabbing, and orgies of violence give Orcs a culture that holds that in check. Give them rigid social rules and classes and castes. The whip needn’t be a bloody beating to motivate the worthless oafs, it can be a symbol of office and status and power, and the lightest tap enough to give that symbolic taste of the lash. Orcs can be interesting if all that Hate is fuel but it’s cunning, organized, intentional minds that direct it.
Have you read The Sun Sword? I think the Dominion of Annagar and its culture could make very good Orcs.