Orctober: Scott Oden and the Game

It’s Never Just a Game

A roleplaying game fulfills many purposes; more than “just a game”, it is an outlet for creativity, a vehicle for socializing. Games can get us out among our friends when times are hard, providing a diversion if only for a few hours. Good games have the power to make us laugh or cry, to make us think, to transport us across the world or across the universe. I was ten years old when I first encountered Dungeons & Dragons, while camping out in a friend’s back yard, and it quickly became one of the touchstones of my youth. It became my outlet, my drug; it let me express my imagination at a time when I had no other way. Before ever I decided to pursue writing, I was a D&D player.

D&D followed me through middle school and high school; it was with me when I got my first job. And when I lost that job a few days later, it was on D&D modules that I spent my first meager pay check. The game allowed me to meet new friends; it gave me a common language through which I could communicate with members of the fairer sex. D&D brought me my first girlfriend. It was there during my first angsty teen break-up, as well. Through jobs, college, courting, marriage, divorce, poverty, near-homelessness, recovery, rebirth, eventual stability and success as a writer, roleplaying games always had my back.

But that life-long love very nearly did not survive 2011. Since 2007, I’d been the primary caregiver for my parents – both of whom were terminally ill. At first, it was mild duty: keep prescriptions filled, make sure medicines were consumed, cook, clean, and run errands. But, terminal illness is merely a more palatable euphemism for death spiral, and before long my days were filled with coordinating doctors’ visits and Home Hospice schedules; my nights, long and sleepless, were consumed with worry over the thousand details of two lives slowly winding down. Through mini-strokes and falls, through MRIs and x-rays and the slow decay of dementia, games and fantasy grew less important. Then came 2011. My Dad died in my arms, that April; Mom died just a few months later, on a mild October day.

Grief is a curious beast. It worms its way into mind and soul. It seeks what is good and comforting and it feeds upon that. Grief rends. It shreds the good in you and leaves you hollow. And in its clutches, things I once found solace in became burdensome – grim reminders that I had not died with them. After years in close proximity with Death, I had to learn to live, again. And three people bear the most responsibility for that: my wife, Shannon; my friend Mido, and Grimnir, who was by and large a figment of my imagination.

I learned to breathe. I discovered a life beyond medicine bottles and the Damocles Sword of Hospice. Piece by piece, I rebuilt the man I am now from the ruin of what was left by my parents’ grave. Shannon gave me strength; Mido taught me hope, and Grimnir became my voice. I found the words, again. And earlier this month, after six years, I rediscovered the joy of gaming.

To celebrate Orctober I played D&D for the first time since 2011. It was via Google Hangouts, and it was FUCKING GLORIOUS! Myself, Ashe, James Jakins, Leigh Petersen, and our DM Garrett Schmigle played a game in which we were all Orcs. Left to fend for ourselves after the rout of our horde, we salvaged something from that ignominious defeat and forged an army from the survivors – an army that includes Barkley the Goblin and Grumchuck the Ettin. An army that somehow, some way, found itself being led by Grimnir.

I feel like a part of me has come back home – a part that was lost, that was mourned and believed dead. It’s a little shabby, a little bruised, a little rough around the edges, but I recognized it even as it recognized me: my younger self, and already it has made me promise we will play, again.

All of this is just a fancy way of saying thanks: thanks to Ashe for setting it up and not letting me forget; to James, Leigh, and Garrett for playing; to Shannon for listening to my breathless recitation of how Grimnir and Barkley blew up a hillside. And to Grimnir, for once again being the vehicle by which I found a part of me I thought was lost…

You can find Scott around the web at his own site, Facebook, or Twitter @orcwriter. His novel, A Gathering of Ravens, is available wherever books are sold.

Orctober: Leigh Peterson’s Orc Son, Bruno

This year, Leigh, better known as pawfulgood on Tumblr, is here to discuss their good orc son, Bruno. Given Leigh’s artistic inclinations, they included some wonderful photos to go with the story. You may also recognize their style from the piece of Grimluk fan art sitting in the gallery (which I now have framed, though I have now here to put it at the moment).


Many of the people in the tumblr D&D community who have seen my artwork tell me that they recognize it through my half-orc character, Bruno Lefèvre! Since this year’s Orctober theme focuses on D&D, I’m going to talk about him and his character growth over the course of the ongoing D&D 5e campaign which began three years ago.

Orcs in the setting that Bruno is a part of aren’t orcs in the typical sense; they are all treated as half-orcs mechanically and are considered to be a nation of huge, green-skinned humans as opposed to a separate race. In the setting, these orcs (or “Nortognois” as they’re called) are parallel to the Napoleonic French of our world. They’ve retained the militaristic, war-mongering tendencies that we see in other orc-centric media, but are at the same time considered the peak of culture and civilization! I loved that and needed to play a half-orc in this campaign.

brunogroupBruno was a character who was extremely proud of his heritage and his country, despite having deserted its army. As far as he was concerned, most everyone else in this new country were a bunch of backwoods hicks. When Bruno was introduced, he was an angry, no-nonsense Fighter who was very mistrustful of magic and was often quick to turn his nose up at anything too wacky. At the same time though, he felt that it was his duty to protect the people around him (and in fact his very first action in the campaign’s very first combat was to pull the bard out of a Blight’s entangle). He never lost that last part.

As the campaign went on, Bruno became increasingly worried about the amount of magical power that his friends and enemies alike possessed. He also had multiple run-ins with undead creatures (particularly, undead soldiers) that shook his faith and gave him a deep, deep fear of becoming trapped between life and death. After nearly being killed by a Nortognois revenant who had been hunting him, and after the party wizard was whisked away by a demon, Bruno finally caved and pursued arcane and divine knowledge from the goddess of Death and Magic to prevent these things from ever happening again.

Bruno did eventually live (or un-live?) through his greatest fear; Long before I decided to take levels in Cleric, Bruno had been infected with vampirism without his knowledge. He died, rose, and spent a year struggling with his vampiric nature especially as it conflicted with his faith and servitude to his god. He was granted true life again when he walked into Death’s Domain to bring someone else back from the dead, and he’s not quite sure how to feel about it even now.

We’re finally nearing the end of this long-running campaign (I’d give it another year or so), and Bruno, a 6th level Champion Fighter, 12th level Arcana Cleric, is a much calmer, happier, wiser person now. Though he is still proud of his heritage, seeing the long-term effects of war, and being surrounded by many different kinds of people and experiences really opened his eyes and his mind. Bruno teaches runes at the magic school that he co-founded with the other party members, and so he has dedicated himself to learning and teaching, as well as preserving the family and life that he has found. And, at the end of the day, should his magic fail to help him protect what he loves, he still has a big, big hammer!

Final thoughts: Please play pretend orcs with your friends it will make you a better person!!!

Orctober: James Jakins, D&D, and Writing

James Jakins is joining us once more to talk about the effects D&D had on writing Jack Bloodfist: Fixer.


I released Jack Bloodfist: Fixer in October of 2015. In the two years since I introduced Jack to the world I’ve thought a lot about that book and its characters. I’ve come to realize a lot of things that, as I wrote the book, were only present in the back of my mind.

So, to stick with the theme of D&D that this Orctober is taking, I am going to admit something that a lot of my readers have probably already realized: Fixer is basically a D&D novel.

There was one aspect of the book, while writing, that I consciously borrowed from tabletop gaming(Other than the classic Fantasy Races): There is a squad of mercenaries that Jack encounters. When I developed those characters I specifically chose classes for them. There was a healer, a ranger, a fighter, a wizard, a barbarian. It was all under the shiny veneer required for them to fit into the Urban Fantasy setting, but ostensibly they were the traditional adventuring party.

But other than that, everything else that happens in the story is my attempt at subverting the common tropes found in your standard campaign.

The most obvious is the characters.

My hero is an orc. Half-orc, half-goblin. Two races traditionally only used as fodder for a party of heroes to cut their way through for the purposes of getting EXP and loot.

The other characters that round out his inner circle are more likely to be found in the Monster Manual than the Player’s Handbook.

The antagonist is a paladin in the service of a god of justice. The type of character more likely to be represented as a hero. Hell, his motivation is even revenge for the desecration of his temple. I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I think I took that from a “Cool character backstories” article or something. But he’s the villain of this story. His methods are more monstrous than any the orcs might resort to.

The point is, that in one way or another, every character was inspired by my time sitting around a table rolling dice with friends.

I’m going to just focus on Jack for now, and discuss how my experience as a player and Gamemaster shaped who and what Jack became as I wrote Fixer.

I’ve shared the story of why I wrote Jack as an orc before, but I’ll share it again, just in case. I had just finished a project I’d been working on for a while, and wanted to write something fast-paced and fun. I had a few ideas and pitched them all to a friend of mine using one line hooks. One of these pitches was “A thriller with goblins.”

He asked if the goblins were the good guys. They weren’t, and I realized that was a mistake on my part, so I began the process of creating a story where the goblins could be the heroes.

Eventually, as the process continued, my hero became an orc.

The orcs of Summervale are, for the most part, honest and hardworking. They’ve found their niche in the hierarchy of their home and are comfortable there. But that wasn’t always the case. The orcs in Fixer aren’t native to the world they live in. Before coming to Earth they lived as bandits. They were exactly what orcs always are in most RPG campaigns.

Why? Because the world they lived in was the generic fantasy setting. They didn’t want to be the villains, but they also didn’t want to starve. Their choices were to become mercenaries and fight in wars they had no stake in or to be their own masters and carve out a small piece of the pie by taking from others.

That trope is something that has always bothered me a little bit whenever I’ve played fantasy RPGs. Why should the orcs and goblins always be the first choice whenever a party of PCs needs a sidequest?

So, in Fixer, I included the story of Jack’s father, Garack, the infamous bandit, as he played his part to protect his people. It was him that brought the orcs and goblins to Earth so they wouldn’t have to be what their world wanted them to be.

So, Jack is an orc living in a world that, for the most part, lets an orc be whatever he wants to be. That’s the world I want to live in, so it’s the one I created.

Then there’s the issue of Jack’s “class.” I’ve always believed that bards are the best. Don’t argue, you know I’m right.

My original intent hadn’t really been to give Jack a class. My plan had been for him to be a classic adventure/thriller protagonist. A resourceful-but-still-regular guy up against impossible odds.

Then he started acting like a dork in his narration. Without quite realizing it, in creating Jack’s unique voice, I made him as big of a nerd as I am. He was quoting comic books, referencing anime, collecting RPG rulebooks for “research” purposes.

In short, he was the bard of his little party.

When I first started playing D&D I learned quickly that every campaign starts out with the intent of being a sweeping epic full of action and drama, but usually end up being something else entirely.(See meme below)

Orctober-pic
How most D&D groups being (Lord of the Rings vs how most groups end (Monty Python)

It was patiently explained to me that while every other class has to at least pretend to accept the seriousness of their quest, the bard is allowed to acknowledge, from the start, that they’re stuck in a comedy. They’re the class made for breaking the fourth wall.

At least, that’s how it is at my table.

Jack is more aware than he probably has any right to be that he is telling the reader a story. He’s a storyteller and he wants you to be entertained.

He also happens to have magic singing powers, but that’s not really the point.

The point is that he’s an orc bard that has to save his family from murderous paladins. You gotta admit that sounds like something you might hear around a game table.

You can find James around the web at www.jamesjakins.com, on twitter @bethteva, or on Patreon.

Orctober: Amalia Dillin’s Orc Clans

Amalia Dillin is back with us this year to celebrate and has decided to talk about the differences in the clans featured in her Orcs Saga books.

The Orc Clans of the Orc Saga

In my Orc Saga, there are two major clans of orc – the mountain orcs, called the
Hrimthursar for the rime that coats their skin and protects them from the winter winds; and the forest orcs, called Vidthursar, who are named for the trees in which they live. But simply being born on the Mountain or beneath it in the trees isn’t the only factor in determining an orc’s clan, either. It’s not really about geography at all so much as it’s about culture, perception, and the influence of outside forces on the clans themselves. Among all orcs, to be of mixed race is a blessing, hearkening back to the earliest days after their creation and subsequent rescue from the sorceress, Sinmarra, who had stolen them away as elves and twisted them into beasts. Because it wasn’t until the immortal elf Vanadis came to the orcs, who had been barred from returning to Elvish lands for fear they would do injury and harm to the Elvish people and because their hard won freedom had cost the elves their king, that they remembered how to live as people again after their ordeal, to build relationships with one another of friendship and family and love. It wasn’t until Vanadis retaught them the values that Sinmarra had worked so hard to strip from them, that the clans were born at all.

The more physically powerful orcs, the orcs who preferred the cold and the isolation of
the mountain, separated then, taking upon themselves the duty of guarding the boundary between Elf and Human lands. It was a service they could perform easily enough, a task which gave their shattered lives purpose, and kept them from the sight of the majority of the elves, who found their appearance and their monstrous existence too painful, under the best of circumstances, and too distasteful at worst.

The orcs who were not quite so ruined, who perhaps had not suffered the same torturous treatments before they were freed, remained in the forest just outside the Elvish lands. Led by Vanadis, whose husband had been stolen and turned orc, and for whom she had given up her place among the elves, they prospered, too – but living so near to the elves, always, in everything, still striving and yearning to become elf once more. To return home again, and be made welcome by the elves who had rejected them so completely.

For the Hrimthursar, it was different. Isolated for months during the year when the winter storms and the endless night made movement up and down the steep stone cliffs treacherous and all but impossible, the mountain became their home. Even those rare few born with Elvish blood from illicit love affairs did not often seek to leave it. Some, less suited to the winter cold, or less adept at climbing the rock and ice, migrated south to live among the Vidthursar, instead, but by Bolthorn’s time, there were not many who did not take pride in being Hrimthursar–or in being orc.

Ultimately, more than anything else, the fundamental acceptance of themselves as orc,
became the greatest cultural division between the two clans. Those who wished still, after generations of orc children born, that they might one day still become elf enough to return home most often joined the Vidthursar in the forest; and those who simply wished to live as they were, who found their lives no less fulfilling than that of any elf’s, or who had resigned themselves to the fate the ancestors had thrust upon them and their offspring, lived upon the mountain, becoming Hrimthursar.

But it was not until Bolthorn, clan chieftain of the Hrimthursar, brought Arianna, a
human princess, across the mountain, that the ties that bound the two clans were truly tested, and the Vidthursar forced to decide where their loyalties truly lie: With their fellow orcs on the mountain, or with the elves?

***

Amalia Dillin is the author of the ongoing Orc Saga, the completed Fate of the Gods
trilogy, and as Amalia Carosella, also writes Bronze Age Greek and Viking Age historical
fiction. Once upon a time, she dreamed of being a zookeeper, but she’s settled for two house cats and a husband instead. You can learn more about her and her work at www.amaliadillin.com, follow her on twitter at @AmaliaTd, or subscribe to her newsletter, The Amaliad, to stay up to date on her authorish adventures!