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ID: 8268


August 31, 2015, 2:15 am

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How To Make Your Orcs TRULY Horrific


Someone complained that orcs, in the campaigns he knew, were just cannon fodder -- there was nothing horrible, or terrifying, about them. This was the answer I gave. It proved a controversial one, and some may think it takes a stronger stomach to contemplate than they appreciate. This is your content warning: if you're easily revolted, I won't mind if you give this one a miss.

How do you make orcs truly evil, in your campaign, so that it punches your players in the gut?

You don't give the orcs pseudo-Cockney or -hillbilly accents. None of them crack recognizable jokes, and if any do "joke," the other orcs laugh in the sort of laughter you'd use to scare the hell out of a ten year old ... no intonation we'd associate with mirth. They don't speak broken English, they don't grunt or scratch themselves when they speak, they don't refer to themselves in the third person, they don't dress in rags, they don't carry bizarre looking weapons, they don't look like Warhammer rejects, they don't have oft-repeated catchphrases or shout "WAAAAGH" in unison, and they don't wear spiky armor – in short, banish everything that gamers and filmmakers use to provide comic relief. At all times when they are in play, you compose your face to sober mien, and you keep all jocularity out of your voice.

Sanitize nothing. You don't gloss over the atrocities with a "They did everything possible to the village." So what? Yeah, that's what bog standard orcs always do, right? Kill, rape, pillage, burn, torture, cannibalize, we've heard it in half a hundred campaigns, yeah, they're evil, we get it.

No, you hit them in the faces with it, and you hit them hard. The party's walking down the pass towards the village, to see the raid in progress ... and the orcs in the party's LOS are visibly sodomizing a nine-year-old, whose thin screams they can hear on the wind. And in the few minutes it takes the party to run to close the distance, the orcs toss the limp body to one side – where you graphically describe a warg-type biting chunks off of it – and start to rape the next one. Even after the orcs are defeated (or run away), you present the group with more horribly wounded and dying people than the party has healing powers to fix, and they're not dying quietly ... screams of agony, horror, the whole nine yards. People on impaling stakes, still alive. Village elders with their eyes eaten out of their faces, scrabbling in the dirt with the bleeding stumps of their fingers.

And if any of the players wants to crack jokes or make light of it? Treat it as if it were done IC, whether or no ... and that's a dandy opportunity for the trusted NPC/henchman to go chalk white, before spitting in the face of the offender and hissing, "You sick bastard," then hoisting his pack and marching off back the way the group came. Nothing will persuade the NPC to change his mind, short of the immediate execution of the joker as being just as depraved as the orcs are.

Me, I'd never want to take a campaign in that direction, nor have the stomach for it if I did. But if you do, that's how you do it.

Additional Ideas (1)

That is horrific, no question. I tried a similar approach with the deities of a race in my campaign (jhesiri, reskinned goblins... though I suppose 'reskinned' might not be the best word to use in this thread...). The jhesiri deities were all about destruction and chaos and evil, and while they each put their own spin on it, it basically became a litany of atrocity that basically became a caricature, "how does _this_ deity do horrendous things?"

I took a step back and rewrote them entirely. There is still emphasis on destruction, and some on chaos and evil but now there is more texture.

2015-09-01 01:23 PM » Link: [8268#94824|text]
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Comments ( 13 )
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Voted The Bull
August 31, 2015, 3:03
Thank you for having dared to set the orcs straight once more. They are no noble savages, they are hateful beings, their hate consumes them and so they consume all that is around them to get the most out of their miserable lives who are short enough.
August 31, 2015, 6:41
Well ... in honesty, I play them in my own setting as a race like any other: much more violent, much less pretty, but certainly not as monolithically "Chaotic Evil." Orcs should be portrayed in whatever light individual GMs see fit for their own worlds.

But if you WANT to play them as hateful beings, out to destroy and mar everything, this is how to do it, IMHO.
Voted Scrasamax
August 31, 2015, 7:05
I think this is interesting, but it only works if orcs are a truly and unredeemably evil race, such as portrayed in Lord of the Rings rather than orcs being a more primitive and barbaric race.

I think it is possible to demonstrate their evil and vile nature without venturing into describing things that will will get you on a government watch list, and without playing the squick card. It mostly involves identifying the normal and good things we take for granted and inverting them, while adding in things that we look down on.

Rape: as a display of power, or dominance over others. Everything is fair game, it only has to be weaker than they are. While the squick card says women and children, the more depraved version is that they make no distinction between male a female. Race doesn't matter either. They are as likely to turn on their own kindred to sate lusts and demonstrate their strength. The weaker orcs will in turn prey on humans, etc. While the weakest orcs will either deliver their monstrous abuse on animals and livestock, or will do their deed in groups, and will be the most likely to prey on children of any race. You do not need the PCs to come across this act in progress. They only need to recounts from those who survive it.

Consumption: Everything is food, and orcs are voracious. While their consumption of humans and other races is well enough covered and the stuff of horror, its almost cliche. Orcs are cannibals and carrion eaters. They will eat their own kind, and in times of hunger, they will turn on each other, devouring the weak to sustain the strong, becoming much more aggressive like locusts. But that's again, pragmatic and fine. Orcs like carrion. They like their meat rotting and spoiled. The more it stinks and the more flies are crawling on it, the better they like it. The orcs are going to have their fun with you, and then when you finally die, they are going to leave you out until your corpse bloats up and your skin turns black before they bust you open like a sausage to eat your festering organs.

Respect: We have a cultural respect for certain things, honoring religion, accepting the value of gold, the appreciation of art and history. Orcs are servants of evil, creatures spawned of evil. They are nihilists and value nothing. They are enraged by the things that civilization values, and their greatest fury is drawn towards the temples and churches, these buildings they will burn and cast down, meting out bloody and violent deaths to those clergies. They do not value gold, jewels, or the rest because they do not have a currency based economy, theirs is based on either making what they require, or taking it from those they have killed.

Dragonnades: Orc raids are a thing or terror only surpassed by the fury and destruction that follows in the wake of a dragon. A civilized foe will seek to capture a village, to only kill those who fight back and are not willing to accept new leadership. The civilized foe will loot and pillage. When orcs come they kill everything, from the villagers to the livestock, wanton slaughter for no other purpose than to kill. Buildings are burned, and what cannot be burned is knocked over or fouled. Bodies are thrown in water supplies, and they don't dig latrines. There will be orc feces everywhere. You can smell an orc raid for miles downwind.

Disease and parasites: innately unclean, orcs are host to all sorts of diseases and parasites. The victims of orc rape would almost certainly be afflicted with some sort of STD, as well as lice and other skin parasites from such close contact. Just as European colonists gave the native americans diseases like smallpox, orcs could do the same, the survivors of an orc raid could contract orc pox, or some fever with a high mortality rate. Even a repelled orc raid would leave echoes in the men who become sick just by being close to them.
The Bull
August 31, 2015, 8:30
Thank you for this add-on Scramasax, it depicts very well how I display "orcs" (I made up an entire new species to not any longer evoke the DnD Orc in my players mind) in my world. They are a force of nature and a true nightmare to the civilizations of men, dwarves and whatever other species you have in your campaign or world.
August 31, 2015, 9:46
Mm, of course it works only if orcs are an irredeemably evil race in your setting. Why would you want to make them "horrific" otherwise?

But your approach is exactly what I'm arguing against, here. First off, third-person accounts of terrible deeds don't really hit people in the gut. It's why TV (and, now, online) clips are so effective: fifteen seconds' worth of panoramic views of starving children in a filth-ridden refugee camp hits people ten times harder than all the dry newspaper articles printed. Further, if we're RPing right, those accounts are usually sanitized and almost never explicit -- they're going to be on the level of the Old West "Them 'Pashes put them poor wimmen t' the worst possible indignities" bowdlerizations. This isn't going to impact players viscerally.

Secondly, in order to work well, horror has to be something people find horrific. Torched buildings, smashed artwork, disease vectors ... around a gaming table, a lot of that is just par for the course.
August 31, 2015, 15:40
What you are describing is gorn, gore porn, or going for shock value. It's fine and it does serve a purpose, but there are a few things to consider: It gets old quickly, you can only have the shock value of the bestial orc raping the nine year old so many times before your players are bored with it. The same happens with those panoramic shots of the starving kids and refugee camps, you induce horror fatigue. Secondly, the most effective tool for horror you have is your player's imaginations. While you can certainly describe a horrible monster doing horrible things with the most purple dripping prose you can muster, it's going to pale to the details that the players will fill in. Some of the most terrifying classic horror movies are actually relatively clean. There's no blood spilled in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for example. You watch and you cringe not for what you see, but for what you imagine. Lastly, the line between horrific and absurd is very narrow. The sudden spike in popularity, and equally fast collapse of the gore porn genre (Saw, Hostel, etc) demonstrated this to perfection. What was gut wrenching in the first movie was reduced to camp by the end because of the ever escalating need for new shock and awe to stimulate the audience.

The approach you are talking about, graphic and detail laden, will work. Once.

After that you have to keep ratcheting it up higher and higher until instead of evoking horror on the part of the player, you are boring them, or showing them the depths of your wretched imagination.

August 31, 2015, 19:10
Well, sure: of course it's a matter of diminishing returns. One of the several reasons I don't do horror, as per the "I'd never want to take a campaign in that direction, nor have the stomach for it if I did" line you read above.
August 31, 2015, 19:22
Bull nails it, horror is intellectual, and you can do horror, good horror, without a drop of blood.

Buried is a profoundly disturbing movie and there's almost no blood or even explicit violence in it.
The Bull
August 31, 2015, 10:41
You can only make it "horrific" by introducing a mental vulnerability into a Fantasy Setting. Conan RPG from Mongoose has tried this with the Corruption. I have adapted the system from Cthulhu RPG mixed in some from KULT RPG in my own rules. So yes, I play Dark Fantasy where you not only can get an infection from a rusty blade but also loose your mind from unnerving sights.
Ever wondered why some hard-ass is addicted to alcohol or why he has become such a fervent follower of a church or why he gifts all his hard earned money to support a monastery or why she revels each time she is in town till she blacks out? Now, you know why.
I am aware that this is a very sensible topic now as most players I have encountered yet don't mind it when their character get physically abused and even killed but woe when they start to loose their mind and with that implicit the player looses his all-control about his character... Still this is how I want to play and how I play. Players who can handle this have nothing to do at my table an in my game. There are enough other games for every taste and fortunately there is never one right way to play.
August 31, 2015, 12:47
It's not just orcs isn't it? It all comes down to what you want your players to experience. If it is true horror, essentially you find what scares them in the very core of their souls, what repulses them. And you give them that thing with your setting, with your NPCs, with those images like Morningstar did and you make them experience it with all their senses. They see the savagery, they hear the screams, they smell the urine, they touch the cold dirt on the grave and they taste the blood. When you manage to do this, you fulfil their reason to play a RP game. So those 3 things must come together: player's psyche, game's setting and 5 senses.
Voted Linean
August 31, 2015, 12:10
Liked the detailed description. Reminded me "The Aristocrats" joke for some reason...
Voted Cheka Man
August 31, 2015, 17:06
I don't think of all orcs as evil any more then all Germans were evil in WW2 or all Native Americans delighted in torture. Some certainly are, but many will be content to live their lives and love their wives, as long as they or what they care about is not messed with.
Keith J Davies
September 1, 2015, 13:24
(oops, confused 'add idea' for 'comment' -- 'idea' can be removed)

That is horrific, no question. I tried a similar approach with the deities of a race in my campaign (jhesiri, reskinned goblins... though I suppose 'reskinned' might not be the best word to use in this thread...). The jhesiri deities were all about destruction and chaos and evil, and while they each put their own spin on it, it basically became a litany of atrocity that basically became a caricature, "how does _this_ deity do horrendous things?"

I took a step back and rewrote them entirely. There is still emphasis on destruction, and some on chaos and evil but now there is more texture.

Random Idea Seed View All Idea Seeds

       By: Shadoweagle

The party is walking through the forest at night when they come upon a clearing. Half a dozen black-robed corpses lie scattered across the ground, and a pentagram of blood is shoddily drawn in the dirt.
It seems these people summoned something they could not control. Whether or not the demon returns is up to the GM, but it would be just as rich if the demon never returned, and for the rest of the night, every stray sound or odd shadow will be jumped at!

Encounter  ( Forest/ Jungle ) | June 12, 2013 | View | UpVote 4xp

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