About four weeks ago on the RPG Circus podcast, we kicked off our “favorite monsters” series with musings on orcs. Love them or hate them (or invite them over because mom says you have to), it doesn’t matter; orcs show up in game after game, system after system. I have no problem with that. However, I’d like to take this opportunity to share ideas about how to spruce up those sometimes cliché orc opponents for your next campaign.
Option 1: Make the orcs wicked smart. And by wicked smart, I mean tactically, socially, and strategically. We are so used to orcs being the typical grunts of the world that players believe they can easily outwit or outfight most orc foes. There’s a bit of metagaming going on there, mostly because we all know what orcs are and about how tough they are to fight or fool. But if the GM ups some stats and runs these orcs like badass super commandos, well, the story may change.
Option 2: Give the orcs tuxedos and fancy shoes. This option is a joke…mostly.
Option 3: Deeply consider orc allegiances. This pointer is obviously scenario-driven, but in many situations, the GM might want to specify exactly how and why these orcs are doing what they are doing. Is it for money? If so, can the players buy them off? When two or more orcs go down, will the rest run off when they realize that life is more valuable than gold? Are there other orc factions that can complicate the situation? In short, don’t just plop them into the story because they are “easy” for the campaign; instead, give these orcs reason to participate. Once that reason becomes clear to the players, the orcs ought to have more depth and possibility to them.
Option 4: I know some of you say this in secret, but go on, be loud and proud—more orc women. I’m just guessing, but I would bet that most orc groups as seen in today’s fantasy games are full of angry male orcs of little intellect. Why not throw in some ladies? They may change the dynamic of the situation. Given whatever orc social structure you have in mind, maybe orc ladies are master magicians or dead-eye archers. Maybe they are stronger than the male orcs because they spend less time drinking orc brew and eating fatty humans. I dunno, but I do know that the cliché orc gang is hardly ever female-inclusive. Well, rock the boat, please.
Option 5: Better technology. Many systems set up orcs to be primitive. Their magic is less refined and their arrows are poorly fletched. Maybe, in your next orc encounter, your players should come across a band of orcs that created or stumbled upon a more advanced system of weaponry or a piece of powerful “alien” tech. I once ran a post-apocalyptic adventure in which the players were beset by orcs with machine guns and power armor. The orcs themselves were still savage and straightforward, but their upgraded technology made for some harrowing encounters.
Final option: Don’t tell your players that these beings are orcs! In fact, never supply the name of your monsters. As soon as you supply that name, be it zombie, orc, troll, or basilisk, metagaming and overuse kick in. This goes for any “popular” beast. Instead, describe these creatures regarding their looks, gait, speech, demeanor, and perhaps odor. Leave the rest, including the stats that some players know by heart, to the imagination.
Yesterday on Facebook, Silver Gryphon-Games posted a picture with the caption of "Player Character Deaths : Don't cry just roll-up another one ...at level one". While certainly funny at certain level, It sort of got me to thinking about how times have changed in gaming. I know what you guys are thinking right now, not another in the old days story. But I beg you to bear with me.
So, turn back the clocks to the late 70's and early 80's. You are playing D&D with some friends and your level 5 Magic-user dies. The party has no way to bring you back, so you have to sit down and create a new character. So you break out your dice and start creating a level 1 character of some sort.
But why Level 1? After all that doesn't seem quite fair does it? I think there were of course several answer to this question. First and foremost, there were no real guidelines for this. The rules of course only talked about first level character creation, so that seemed like where you started. The examples that one could find in those pre-Internet days seemed to show that you started back at level 1. I think the biggest thing is that the game was not designed to be fair. You read that right, not designed to be fair.
Let me explain. When you look at the earliest rules, it really seems like players were suppose to maybe reach somewhere around 10th or 12th level. Hell, in AD&D the Druid class's max level was I think 14th (someone can correct me, I don't have my book handy). Honestly the game was suppose to be dangerous and player were suppose to die. A PC that reached 9th was suppose to be something special. At that level most classes had some sort of castle or other structure building option.
So what does that have to do with rolling characters up at first level? Well if player death was suppose to be common, what do you think the median level of a party might be? If you answered low-level, I suspect that would be the correct answer. Even if the party wasn't low-level, the math would usually advance the new character up fairly quickly. After all provided the character survived and got their share of the XP, While they would be behind the other characters, eventually they would be within one or two levels of the other party members. Of course that assumes that their characters didn't die.
Of course, we don't really do this sort of thing anymore. Mostly because rolling up characters get a little boring after a while. And of course who doesn't want to play the more powerful characters? I think we all want to do that. Of course I've found that the higher level characters can be just as boring after a while. Like all things, it really depends on the adventures your group is trying to run.
Well that's it for this week's trip down memory lane. I thank you for staying with me. Catch most of you on the next Podcast.
Recently, I was involved in some Air-soft stuff. It's funny seeing people "play" war that way. It also got me to think about one of my favorite games from the 80's, although I admit we didn't play it that often. That game was Twilight: 2000 (T2K).
The basic premise went something like this. World War 3 happened. There was limited nuclear exchanges. The war kept going on after that. The players are assumed to be what remains of the US Army in Europe. I think the traditional starting point was the players were part of the last battle in Poland after which most of the armed forces sort of disintegrated. So the players were on their own and usually they were trying to get out of Poland. Eventually there was a supplement that gave the players a way to get back to the US.
I'm sure I'm not doing the game justice in my description above. I think for many people the Cold War had a lot to do with people's interest in it. I think this was certainly true of the people I played with at the time, since half of them were actually in the military. It always sort of interesting when people play a game about something they could actually face in real life. Of course it also meant that sometimes there were discussions about how certain thing really worked rather than what the game said.
One thing for sure, is that T2K, was a very complex game. The game had it's own worksheet you used for character creation. The longer the player had been in the service, the more skills they had but usually the more radiation exposure and other issues they had too. Player had to qualify for certain MOS/Groups if memory serves and it was usually hard to do. And you wanted to because they usually gave you more skills. As complex as character creation was, the combat system was more so.
I just remember the damage system was complex. Each weapon had an armor multiplier (I think) and a damage. So you rolled damage, and subtracted the result of the armor used times the weapon's armor multiplier. Then the result I think was referenced in some way to determine the resulting wound. The same basic system was used for all weapons large and small. So, M16's against APC armor could be determined or hand grenades vs tank tracks. I just remember that as the GM, I would do all the math because it was just easier and faster than having my players do it.
It's odd but I don't remember too many complex adventures. In many ways, I think we use to run T2K as a form of sandbox game. The players went where they wanted and the GMs just decided on what happened from there. Mostly the players were just running for their lives and trying to scrounge for equipment to survive.
I should note that there were several adventures published for T2K, I just never really used them. A few of them had more MOS choices in them. One them including Navy Seal and other Spec Op choices. All of which were very hard to qualify for but if you did, you had a lot of skills.
You can currently get the Twilight: 2000 Bundle on DrivethruRPG for 40 USD. Which includes a revised combat system, that I've never seen nor used. I'm half tempted to pick it up. Since it seems to have every supplement made for the old game.
It should be noted that there was a revised edition of T2K that used the GDW house rule system that was used for Dark Conspiracy and Traveller: The New Era. The 2300AD game also use the background history of T2K because of the way the 2300AD history was created.
I wondering how many people have played this old game and what your memories of it are.
I've been running the Gamma World 2ed lately. One of the things that I've been noticing is that I suck at describing things? One of the things that gets interesting in Gamma World is that you find yourself trying to describe everyday items in a way that allows the players to guess what it is without telling them out right what it is.
But why are we trying to describe anything at all? I think part of it is set the mood and allow the players (and the game master) to get into the game being played. I think it give the players something to interact with. Take the players coming up to a pole in the ground. How big is it? What is it made out of? Why does it seem to be there? All questions that when answered help describe it and then allow the player to interact with it or not.
Of course how much description is too much? And yes for the record, I think you can have too much description. I think that's maybe why I suck at giving descriptions. I want to provide information but I also do not want to bore my players to death. I know I've been in gaming sessions where the GM was giving a length descriptions of everything, at some point I think most of us drifted off.
Which leads us to another question, what do you describe? I think I've always wrestled with this question. After all an RPG is not a movie or book where they can spend minutes or pages describing the city. One always describes major places that the players go to a certain extent, but shouldn't we do at least a little on the minor places?
I guess for me, I do better at describing thing when I write, I do not seem to do well in the fly when I speak.
I guess I'm asking all of you, do you suck at descriptions? If so, why do you think that? If not, are there any tips or tricks you can give?
This is a fixed Download for iTunes.
Another attempt to fix the iTunes issue.