Sunday, July 14, 2013

Empire of Orcs

I’m often preaching about looking at things differently, and here is one of my best examples: orcs. In some other games, orcs are creatures that can easily be killed by the least adventurer with one sword hit. In Legend Quest, starter orcs can be some of the most dangerous combatants around, easily competing with low to mid-range adventurers. Then they start to use magic too, and things can really get out of hand. Here’s what I did in Fletnern (our free world which is available here and has a relatively new wiki here): When I first started using Fletnern, the orcs were the allies of the city-state of Garnock. Two warrior cultures, though different warrior cultures. Allied, but not that friendly. That really didn’t get me where I wanted to go because the orcs remained a nation of brutish tribes. As I matured, so did my orcs. The Wembic Empire (the orcish nation) had a military coup, as one would expect. The Vile Ones tribe was overthrown by the Crooked Sword tribe, and the Crooked Swords put their chief on the throne. Emperor Baratock is a true emperor. He can be the savage warrior or the diplomat, whichever is necessary. He loves to play games with visiting dignitaries. He’ll have one of his aides instruct them to approach his throne and kiss his feet, only to rise from his throne and lash the diplomat for forcing “such a trusted ally” to debase themselves. Of course, he’s just testing the diplomat to see how far they’ll go, and how they’ll react to his theater. One of his other tricks is that during banquets, he eats off dragon bone plates and uses “primitive” looking utensils, while his guests eat off fine porcelain and use silver and gold utensils and crystal goblets. In his mind, he is communicating that he is a hearty warrior, use to life’s difficulties and they are weakened by their finery. You don’t have to buy into it, but it shows his style of thinking. Baratock has recently “threatened” the merchant powerhouse Brinston. He sent a proclamation to the various business schools letting them know that his city was the world’s largest, his empire was the world’s largest, and thus his people were the best opportunity customers for any merchants in the world. To ignore this base of buying would be to their disadvantage. Not too shocking, but the old school merchants considered it a joke of some kind. The Council of Barons and their merchants have taken the threat to heart and having been moving product to the Wembic Empire for a decade. So how are these orcs different? Well, there are many tribes that make up the Wembic Empire. This allows me to choose anything from scavengers to pig farmers to mounted raiders to skilled miners to dragon riding super warriors when I need to put in some orcs. The various tribes have varying loyalties to the Crooked Swords. Emperor Baratock is working to break down the tribal power by forming military units of mixed tribes, something unheard of before. He feels that if he can break the power of the individual chiefs, the warriors will be more loyal to the emperor. He also has the money and power to foster alchemy and some other magical research. He also has over a million test subjects to test alchemicals on, just to see if they work. One of the fun parts is that Baratock has a harem of ~300 wives. Most of these are chieftains’ daughters held as hostages, but Baratock has fathered over 500 children. Having him interrupt diplomatic negotiations with comments like, “Do you have any daughters?” and “Are they pretty or are they solid?”, is always fun. Again, he’s just enjoying throwing these diplomats and negotiators off their game. The Wembic Nation is busting at the seams. They cannot grow enough food to feed everyone, though Baratock tries to disburse the food fairly to keep folks alive. Because of this, the Wembic Empire has been annexing human villages along its eastern border. Typically these villages agree to become part of the empire in order to gain something they need, often either coal or protection. The empire gets farmland and, in some cases, coastal access. Of course, the humans not in those villages assume that the villages were pressured or forced to join the empire and they want to liberate them, though taking on the Wembic Empire is a rather suicidal endeavor. This is going on too long, and I don’t know if I’ve made my point, so let me try to bang it home: With rules that allow for NPCs that are not overly simplistic and some development of their culture, I was able to develop orcs that are now a force to be reckoned with. I came up with how the tribes work (amongst the other tribes), which allowed for conflict and important differences. (For good ideas on different tribes, check out A Baker’s Dozen Tribes.) I came up with a couple of ideas on how their culture worked (such as widows being taken into the harem of the chief) and then watched how they played out on a grander scale. I have given them organization, but not trust. (Doesn’t that other game call them lawful evil?) I haven’t truly changed their nature, in fact many tribes are exactly what they have always been considered, but some tribes are much more. And I’ve developed enough individuals and individual tribes that I can write my court intrigues. All that was left was to think about was how the rest of the world would try to deal with this young nation. Follow these same steps with any race or culture: A couple of cultural differences, how will those play out. A couple of NPCs, how will they act or react. Boom! Something interesting. One last point: If you determine that because of some cultural difference a race is going to die out - let it happen. Either they need to adapt and change, or let them die out. You need to have failed cultures and ruins scattered around too.

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