Orctober: D&D One Shot

Before we get going, there’s a few items to address. Firstly, if you’re active on reddit, come over and join me in my AMA today on r/Fantasy! I will definitely be screaming about Stranger Things and you could come join me with that. Secondly, The Demons Within Kickstarter campaign is still chugging along. This is the last week. It’ll be running through November 5th.

So, now that we’re here, I have some bad news: after recording for five hours (talking for around two while we waited for Leigh and playing for around three), I went to save the capture…and the program ate it. Those five hours are gone. We were going to see about recording the second half but schedules just weren’t really going to let that happen. I’ve since figured out how to properly record for a potential next time, thankfully, so that shouldn’t happen again. But now what?

Well, I’m going to at least try to give you a summary of the game. I realize this isn’t quite as good as listening but it is, unfortunately, the best I can do. I’ll try to make it worth your while though!

The basic premise of the campaign centered on a horde under a warlord attacking a castle with a hoard. Basically, our horde was being excluded from being able to live a little more comfortably, just toiling outside the castle while the humans live in excess. The party consisted of Radha (pronounced “Rahla” because Celtic), a half-orc druid played by Leigh, Jack Bloodfist, a half-orc bardbarian as played by his author, James Jakins, Grimnir, a full-blood orc rogue/barbarian as played by his author, Scott Oden, and me as Gruflek, a full-blood orc fighter. We used my orc variants as a basis for our characters. Our DM is my friend Garrett, who runs my personal D&D game (which I mentioned previously as well). We also started at level 5 and used point buy for our stats.

So the game starts off in the middle of the siege. We’re a side unit under Radha’s command, with pikemen up front, and a goddamn ogre/goblin-manned cannon behind us. The goal is to break the walls and storm in. While we’re getting the cannon ready, a group of humans and some of our number are fighting down the hill. We take a hail of arrows, which Gruflek is unable to dodge from. Radha casts call lightning and proceeds to wreck the humans. Our forces pull away from the lightning, prompting the humans to head after us, unsuccessfully. The cannon fires, taking out a group and Grimnir suggests we move forward enough to aim the cannon at the walls to aid the frontline.

The shot misses but it’s close. Then a regiment of griffin riders flies out and straight for us. Some of them get taken out by the lightning but the rest make it our way. Jack casts faerie fire on some of them. Their leader manages to escape it. Some of the pikemen manage to keep some of the riders at bay but two of them land near us and the fight begins in earnest. Grimnir goes for a sneak attack on the rider nearest him, but ends up just doing normal damage. Gruflek steps up to the rider nearest him and takes a swing with his greatsword. I rolled a critical, so Gruflek just wrecks the griffin, slicing off one of its wings.

Jack and Radha are mostly running support. When Grimnir’s turn rolls back around, he manages to rip the rider off his mount and turn it into a duel. Gruflek finishes off the griffin and takes on the rider, eventually dispatching him as well and moving to aid Grimnir. Radha rolls up on Gruflek and says, “You see what ya did to that one? Do it again!” and casts haste, meaning he now has an extra attack per turn (for 3 total) and double movement speed, and still has advantage from the faerie fire. So the next rider falls. The leader of the riders finally gets to our cannon and begins taking out the goblin operators.

Grimnir also decides to take the head of the rider he killed. Gruflek challenges the leader, who accepts after using some sort of magical strike to shatter the cannon. Turns out, this guy is a prince. Grimnir crits on a stealth roll and somehow manages to ninja vanish and get behind the guy for a sneak attack, trash talking as he does. Gruflek runs up and drops the prince to the ground with a sideways shoulder thrust to keep him from landing on Grimnir. So now the prince is prone but he manages to avoid Gruflek’s next attacks.

He rises and casts some sort of wind blast spell, which Grimnir and Gruflek both shrug off, Gruflek remarking, “What a lovely breeze.” Jack and Radha have their hands full with the last rider, whose griffin manages to catch Jack’s bracer and shake him around like a rag doll, mostly inconveniencing him. Radha turns into a bear and deals some damage to the griffin. Meanwhile, Grimnir gets in a hard shot against the prince allowing Gruflek to come in and finish him off, cleaving down at his neck and shoulder with enough force that it manages to bite through the platemail and finish him off.

Then a horn sounds. A retreat horn from our forces. For the moment, we finish off the other griffin rider while one last rider hurls spells at us from above while we cover escape. Once we’re clear, we find out the warlord died screaming from some unknown force in his tent, scattering our forces. We manage to gather up about 300 or so remaining soldiers and make camp, trying to figure out what happened and where to go from there.

Grimnir, incensed at how close we were getting to breaking the wall, goes on a spiel that, while a bit on the, uh, racial superiority side, also has a core of wanting more for our people. Jack helps inspire the forces with a massive song, and Grimnir takes over as the new warlord. The next morning, we make it official. Gruflek, being the only one of them that has any concept of regimentation as a mercenary, gets the other orcs, goblins, bugbears, hobgoblins, ogres, and an ettin (Grum and Chuck) who wandered into our circle the night before, to pack up under the new warlord’s orders, puts them in a tactical marching formation (ogres up front, in the middle, and in back with everyone else in between, with GrumChuck serving as flank coverage), and they head into the swamp.

Once they’re deep in the swamp, camp is made. The ogres proceed to make rafts to sleep on, with Gruflek making sure to show the ogres how to anchor the rafts so they don’t float away. The smaller races climb into the trees as well. Gruflek opts to sleep on a raft with the ogres as greatswords aren’t really good for trees. Later on, Grimnir awakes and spots a strange light. The party ends up following him, meeting a wizard. The wizard in question actually helped form the horde, basically instigating the whole thing. We update him on the situation we make a new plan to infiltrate the castle and break down the doors to let our forces inside. The wizard agrees and directs us on how we might accomplish the goal.

The next day, Grimnir, Radha, and a bugbear make a recon trip to recover the black powder for the cannon. There, they find a woman interrogating a hobgoblin (or maybe it was a bugbear, I can’t remember). They’re trying to find who killed the prince. Radha casts invisibility on the group and then get enough of the powder barrels for our job to work, and then blow the rest, taking out the humans and the nearly dead bugbear. Jack and Gruflek, meanwhile, end up in a camp song, though Gruflek had been attempting to make sure weapons and armor weren’t in need of repair.

When the others return with the powder, several goblins came running up, having scouted the area, and inform us of lizard people attacking them. The party goes to investigate, finding a tribe of elves whose territory we’ve essentially invaded. They agree to a parlay, demanding weapons be left. Gruflek does NOT leave his weapons out of arm’s reach and so manages to pass with a bit of magic and an oath of conduct. The party meets the tribe’s leader and through the parlay, Grimnir works out an alliance of sorts with the elves. If they’ll allow us refuge and help us build fortifications, we’ll help them keep the swamp free of humans and share the spoils of the invasion once it’s done. Given that the rumor of the resources contained behind the walls is more than we’d ever need, a 70/30 split feels more than fair. The deal made, the party returns to begin fortifications and then planning their infiltration.

And that is where the session ended. Hopefully I did a decent job recounting things but some of the details are fuzzy nearly a month later and session summaries are never as good as actually playing them. We would’ve had to have gotten a second day to finish it up but, as I said, our schedules just weren’t having it. Eventually, we hope to play again and finish this little campaign but I have no idea when that will happen. You’ll find our character sheets below. I’m really sorry there isn’t anything to listen to. I was going to include a second file of bits of our pregame conversation as well but technical difficulties happen.

Do you have any orc-heavy D&D games you’d like to share? Leave it in a comment!

Character Sheets

Gruflek Radha Jack Grimnir

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)

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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.

Jack Bloodfist: Fixer Review

fixercover

This book is like the Dresden Files with an orc…and a more realistic libido. I stress the word “like” there too. Had a lot of fun with Fixer. Jack is a fun character, smart, tenacious, caring, and, being an orc, tough as hell. Like Dresden, he’s basically the only game in town for what he does. Unlike Dresden, Jack is not a wizard. He’s basically jack-of-all-trades, playing handyman, mediator, facilitator, things like that, for his family. Which is not, as I had originally thought, a mafia thing. It’s just a regular family…made of orcs and goblins. The story itself is interesting, engaging, and clips along nicely. Great pacing. I’m giving it 4.5 stars, ultimately, cause of a few minor text issues and a slight personal preference. Nothing read breaking, certainly, and things I’m sympathetic to with being an author-publisher as well. It’s really hard to edit and proof by yourself. As for the preference issue, the book is primarily told from Jack’s first-person POV, with third-person sections sprinkled through out. I tend not to like that kind of split but, again, that is entirely personal preference and it doesn’t break the read. Beyond that, everything else was great and I can’t wait to see where James goes with the next book.

Speaking of which, why isn’t the next book out already? I need it.

Orctober – Creator Spotlight – James Jakins

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Welcome to the first Orctober, here in my little plot of cyberspace! For the month of October, we’ll be celebrating Orcs and the people who create art with them. It’s Monday and that means the first Orctober post and the first Creator Spotlight post. Let’s kick things off with a peer of mine in the Fantasy Literature world, James Jakins!

 

I met James on Twitter, I think after he found A Demon in the Desert. Like me, he’s someone who decided he needed to write something starring an orc. What he made was Jack Bloodfist: Fixer. He’s a pretty nice dude with the usual geeky interests. He was nice enough to answer my little Orctober survey. Here’s what he had to say.

When did you start creating?
I started writing when I was 11 or 12(none of those creations will see the light of day) but I only really made the conscious decision to pursue it in my early twenties. So I’ve spent close to a decade trying my best to create something that anyone other than myself would give a damn about.

Why do you love orcs?
My love for orcs goes back to the original Warcraft. I always started a human campaign out of some weird race loyalty, then I’d dump that campaign and start an orc one because they had badass green dudes riding giant black wolves, and you really can’t beat that.
Then years later I started reading more Fantasy and was told that orcs are supposed to be the bad guys, which bummed me out a little, but I accepted it(I was a dumb kid). Then, six years ago, I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons(way too late in life, I know). Orcs are supposedly the bad guys in there, too, but my DM had a tendency of introducing us to orc NPCs that reminded my why I used to love the old green-skins.

As I get older, and now as I try my best to write orc characters, I think I love orcs because in a lot of ways they’re a blank canvas. Yeah, there’s a lot of lore there from games and books and all that, but most people don’t think of that when they think of orcs. They see the big, probably dumb brutes, or Tolkien’s orcs, and I love being able to take those conceptions and change them. Creating something new, but still familiar. That’s fun.

What’s your favorite piece of your work?
That’s a really hard question… Generally, my favorite piece is always the one I’m excited to write next, until I actually start it. But out of things that actually exist… I have a novel that I trunked a few years ago because I realized I hadn’t leveled up enough as a writer to do it justice. Some of the characters and scenes in that book are my all time favorites. Hopefully in a few years I’ll be able to share it and not feel immense shame.
But after that, I think Jack Bloodfist: Fixer is my favorite. I set out to write something fun and I think I actually pulled it off. Plus it’s out in the world so I’m able to read the nice things people say about it. So until another of my books gets better reviews, he’s the favorite child.

What’s your favorite piece of someone else’s work?
I have a growing list of orc related reads that I really want to get to. Grey Bastards by Jonathan French looks great, and the little I read of it really got me interested in his Sons of Anarchy inspired orc world. Scott Oden’s A Gathering of Ravens is currently one of my most anticipated releases next year. And I’m still missing a few of the classics, Stan Nichols is still on my to read list, for which I feel shame, so I can’t speak for everything out there, but I actually really enjoyed A Demon in the Desert. I felt like I was reading a weird west themed D&D campaign, which for me, at least, is a huge sell. And, Grimluk just felt like an orc.

What’s your biggest hope for orcs in media?
A Jack Bloodfist TV series? Other than that, I think things are definitely moving in the right direction. More and more books are being released starring the handsome devils. We had the Warcraft movie, which I haven’t seen yet, but it at least exposed a good chunk of the world to them, and I’ve heard rumors of other properties that may or may not actually see the light of day.

High up on my wishlist would be for Wizards of the Coast to make Orcs a default playable race instead of just the go to baddies. Half-orcs are cool and all, but I want a full-blooded orc barbarian in my party.

But seriously, Jack Bloodfist TV series.

That’s James, everyone. You can find him on Twitter @bethteva. Stay tuned for my review of Fixer this month as well. And Wednesday will be ORC FACTS, where I share some wonderful bit of lore from already established franchises like Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls, Warhammer, etc., as well as lore about Grimluk and his world. And don’t worry, no spoilers for Grimluk.