Saturday, March 12, 2011

Re-imagining AD&D orcs and monsters

What a great topic to talk about (hattip to Grognardia)... except what a bad topic for me!

You see, I've done a lot to my orcs, and many other beasties in my AD&D world. My tabletop players have ran into more differences, changes and odd things that vary off of the standard AD&D definitions... but there's a lot more they haven't run into or figured out! I can't spill all the beans here So, I will try to give you some broad brush strokes of things they already know and see how we do.

In my Dark Ages campaign:

Orcs - are pig-faced and a bit larger/bulkier than humans. Their genesis is rumored, but the exact facts are lost to history. They are religious zealots, smart, cunning, have no problem with sunlight, are very militaristic, resemble Planet of the Apes gorillas in coloring, dress and armor. They will commit suicide rather than be captured. They remove the heads of their victims after battle, and burn the bodies. They do not leave bodies of their fellows behind. They are extremely racist and view humans and elves as no more than cattle or a sub-species. They may also be breeding hybrids of some sort for some reason.

There are some specific influences to my orcs and some clues here that may give you further insights. Orcs are right now the Big Bad Guys in my campaign and have the players full attention.

Kobolds - the players ran into a strange new type of kobold a couple of games ago - these are winged kobolds that spit poisonous saliva into players' faces. In my campaign, kobolds can climb walls and ceilings like spiders.

Troll Mages - take one orge mage, reskin it as a troll, merge the best of both monsters' abilities together and you have the feared troll that lives under the bridge right outside of Enonia in the Dale Woods. This guy is responsible for one near-TPK and a lot of angst. The players still plan on taking this guy out.

Trollkins - are the "children" of the troll mage. Mysterious and fey. So far, they seem curious and childlike, but extremely wise beyond what seems normal.

Dwarfs - are a lost race. They were once slaves to the Dark Ones (ancient evil beings of Chaos that ruled the lands) but once freed, they've not been seen since.

Elves - are a seafaring race, grouped by families/clans.

Dragons - are generated using EG Palmer's amazing Dragon Generator. First published in 2009, I have a copy of that in my "Best of Old School Blogs" folder. Now that is probably news to my players that dragons will not be dragons, but they'll learn soon enough. My tabletop players are already familiar with one, even though they don't realize it... or maybe they do!

One thing that is common for all my monsters. Unless otherwise specified in the Monster Manual, they're intelligent, ruthless and committed to their own best interests. They don't particularly fear the players. They have their own agendas and I prosecute those agendas to the best of my ability.

This has caused some issues, and led to one player being asked to not come back when he couldn't deal with the changes. In his mind, kobolds should be groveling at the feet of a first level character. In my mind, these are starving kobolds who are desperate enough to try and bluff their way into robbing the players, as far as they can, because they have NOTHING ELSE TO LOSE! I'm very proud of the players that I do have that were able to deal and adjust to the world as I've presented it. I think that's something to be aware of when you alter from the "norm".

I'm looking forward to reading the other entries in this meme. I hope you've enjoyed mine and if you have any questions about them, just ask! Stats are available - feel free to email me. Bryan, close your email, I won't send them to you. :P


James said...

Great take on these critters! I especially like the orcs! I too, have a print out of Mr. Palmer's Dragon Generator in my folder. :)

LokiSooner said...

I dig the troll mage! One of my biggest obstacles in trying to reinvent some of the classic D&D monsters has been what to do with ogres, trolls, giants, &c.

At this point I'm thinking a big difference between ogres and trolls will be their level of intelligence (one is savage and subhuman, the other is shrewd and conniving). Of course, I'm not married to the idea just yet...

Desert Scribe said...

It's sad you actually lost a player because that person couldn't let go of his or her expecations about how the DM should play a monster. As a player, I would welcome such a change from the D&D status quo.

Ragnardbard said...

Great post! I also enjoy playing monsters as more intelligent or motivated than they are typically straight from the books. For a slightly whimsical take on that trend, I keep Vance's Dying Earth stories in mind, wherein flesh-devouring beast-men pursue polite conversation with their victims, before the violence begins.This adds a fun aspect of grim menace to encounters, though it shouldn't be overdone...

Elfdart said...

I used to always think of Xvarts as kind of a pointless monster. There are already two humanoid critters with less than a full HD (kobolds and goblins) so there's really no need for a third.

That is, until I realized that Xvart is a version of Svart or Svartalf (dark elf). So I re-cast xvarts as stunted, inbred Drow, with some of the leader-types having drow-like abilities.

Another thing I'm fond of doing is swapping out female ogres/trolls/giants with the various hags (green hags, sea hags, annis) as a tip of the hat to Grendel and his mother.

Elfdart said...

I always thought of orcs as being essentially human-looking, though brutish and grotesque in appearance. The orcs depicted by Roslof, Dee and Willingham in the A-series, Fredric March's version of Mr. Hyde, as well as the hunchback in The Name of the Rose (played by Ron Perlman) are what come to mind when I think of orcs.

I think of ogres as just really big orcs. This was driven home when I saw an Italian RPG. In Italian, the word orc is used to describe ogres, and orcs are called orchetto -"little orcs", implying the two are variants of the same creature.

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

I really like what you've done here!

"In his mind, kobolds should be groveling at the feet of a first level character." Obviously he had never heard of Tucker.