Saturday, March 9, 2013

Teddy Roosevelt and the Orcs

 TR, before he became a politician, had aspirations as a historian. His history of the War of 1812 is regarded as a solid overview, although not considered a first tier history. In that regard, he's on the level of Churchill - who he had to dinner at the Whitehouse, leading to a mutual dislike.

Recently I've been going through his four volume The Winning of the West, the original trans-Allegheny west, written just after his sojourn in South Dakota. Now if you're someone who is offended because an author writing in the 1880's doesn't have your enlightened opinions, don't read them. TR was a man who tried to epitomize his time, not to transcend it.  He views his subjects in terms of race and nationality that are out of vogue today.  And yet, despite or perhaps because of his over generalizations, he successfully describes the cultural differences between the tribes and the settlers which made the conflict not only inevitable, but inevitably brutal on both sides.

Which brings me to the humble orc, the archtypical fantasy bad guy.  The common reason given for the conflict between the 'civilized' races and the orcs is the fecundity of the orcs leads them to erupt in lemming like hordes throwing themselves over the barbaric precipice to drown in a sea of civilization.  They form a constant threat to the adventurers and are in return butchered in vast numbers. A brutal one dimensional interaction within the game.

The woodland tribes on both sides of Kentucky had similar cultures, which depended custom and force of personality rather than law. The very definition of a chaotic society.  That meant that although you could 'make peace' with the tribes through their chieftains, the chieftains opinions weren't binding on the warriors other than as far as they could influence them.  And that influence had limits within the culture, this is a warrior culture requiring deeds to advance socially, rather than wealth or birth.  Those deeds meant that whatever the chieftains might want, the young men needed to prove themselves against worthwhile foes. The same cultural requirement drives the small parties of orc warriors to maraud through the land.

So far no changes to the way we've always interacted with them. Now look at the rest of the culture, the chieftains were men of influence.  What's the name of the orc chieftain in your campaign?  They should be widely known and respected - after all they've proved themselves with deeds.  Outside of the of young warriors with something to prove, peaceful relations were the norm.  Small traders visited the tribes bringing trinkets and manufactured goods; returning with high quality pelts and skins.  What a wonderful NPC for the party to encounter in the wilderness, providing them with local information and possibly a few supplies.

If the adventurers find an orc village they should be greeted and welcomed with a feast.  Then challenged to wrestle the tribal champion or some of test of strength and endurance where they can be humiliated by the DM.  The orcs may even provide a sanctuary for the party to heal up in when they get mauled deeper in the dungeon.  Of course, outside the village there's those bands of young warriors looking to make names for themselves.

So don't play your orcs as cardboard targets, give them a culture that values their brute strength and chaotic nature.  Don't take my word for it - ask Teddy.

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