Today I have a new person to introduce you to. Ami Mercury recently followed me on Twitter and when I put out a call for potential Orctober guest posts, she answered. Turns out she’s making a webcomic and wanted to share her love for orcs. And that is what Orctober is all about. So here’s Ami.
I found this next piece on r/DnD and was struck immediately. Great style, rad character concept, and one talented artist in Killarney Shields. Have a look at her work, and then maybe follow her for more!
Took some time out of doing commissions to draw my own Dungeons and Dragons character :0 for an upcoming campaign my friend has invited me to.
This is Cromwell; a half-orc who is very much a ‘dad’ figure for the group. He uses his magic to protect rather then harm. He left his college of magical studies in order to explore the world for his own, wanting to see new places and experience new things; things that he’s only ever read in books before.
Cromwell tends to let his compulsion obsessions get in the way of the mission, spending far to much time trying to fix broken statues and cleaning up dungeons before actually getting to exploring.
He’s a big fan of elven fashions but normally has to spend a pretty penny for them to even custom make them for his size. He gets quite upset if his clothes get torn during missions and will often pull put a needle and thread and get to work on the tear before doing anything else.
My commissions are currently closed but you can check out more of my DnD related work at:
Last year, I asked my friend, Steven Pope, if he wanted to write something for Orctober on the appeal of orcs in the queer community. He wrote what you’re about to read, updated a touch for this year. The reason this didn’t happen last year was a work friend of his read it and offered to help him submit to the magazine Queery. They ultimately rejected it, and here we are, a year later with several other changes in tow. Pope’s words ring truer to me now after figuring out I was bi. Especially considering he helped it happen. We play D&D together and our characters are in a relationship. His Zakah, a homebrewed race for our DM’s setting, the Balkeshi, is big and gay and purple. Meanwhile, I was playing Gorthos as bi and polyamorous, and the two ended up getting together and it swirled around in my head enough that I finally went, “Oh.” So what started as my desire to have a perspective other than my (at the time) straight opinion, means even more now. Enjoy.
Half Orc Barbarian Queen: Queerness, D&D, and Orcs
By Steven Pope
I’m someone who spent most of his college and high school days living in a fantasy world (Hashtag Team Wasn’t Hot Until After College) and playing the game of the maladjusted and socially awkward, Dungeons & Dragons. From my early days of my nerdom, I loved Orcs. My knowledge of them is spotty, but I knew the following: I knew they were introduced as a playable race in the third edition of the game, and that they were inspired by the kinda-sorta-super-racist caricatures that Tolkien wrote about in Lord of the Rings, and that the Orc was the “always chaotic evil default bad guy” for the longest time. I know that the first playable Orc race, The Half Orc, was controversial because you were always playing a child of rape because, as stated, the orcs were the “always chaotic evil default bad guy.” They changed this later but every so often some wiseass will feel it necessary to remind me. Basically, they were a problematic mess like many things in fiction.
I’m not going to go into the psychology of why a gay man would relate to Orcs. I’ve read enough Queer Theory books to know that monsters = other = queer. I think, however, most gay men would relate to Elves, or at least the Tolkien flavored ones. Elves are pretty, elves are othered, elves are sophisticated, and they’re even called “the fair folk.” There’s a reason the term is “radical fairy,” after all. For queer men like me, however, who had a lot of self loathing, who were actually afraid of sex (embarrassing, I’ll admit) and who aren’t exactly the lithe, nimble, twink-like elf of fiction… I couldn’t relate. I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t skinny enough. And to go back to Lord of the Rings, I didn’t want to be Legolas. I was (and continue to be) short and described as “harmless and cute.” I was a hobbit. I was a Hobbit who should logically relate to Elves and wasn’t sure where he belonged. But then I saw the Orcs. Orcs were proud. Orcs were loud. They were big and brawny and more similar to the men I found attractive. They owned what they were. They were what I always WANTED to be.
Orcs, to a young me, represented something more primal and angry. Less “pride parade in WeHo” and more “Stonewall Riot.” There’s a certain level of ownership in the Orc that I relate to, a certain monstrous fact that you can’t hide behind being pretty. Something ugly and punk. Orcs remind me of the fantasy equivalent of those “Not Gay As In Happy But Queer As In Fuck You” buttons I never have the nerve to wear in public. They’re the embodiment of the bull dagger, the skag drag, the leather daddy parts of being gay that aren’t all cute and ready for sitcom material. The overtly proud and overtly sexual, something that straight people get to celebrate and titter about with 50 Shades of Gray while I get notes about how I shouldn’t “bring the bedroom into it” by mentioning that, yes, I have a boyfriend. The stuff that still gets flagged on YouTube simply for existing. The stuff that was literally illegal a few years before I was born. Progressive and regressive depending on who you ask – As fun as The Discourse can be.
I lead a pretty standard life. I’m white and, as far as anyone can tell, cisgendered. I have a loving boyfriend of four years, and the relationship with my parents is okay for the most part. I have it better than a large part of the queer community. However, I’m still queer. I have to come out pretty much every day. I have to explain “that’s my boyfriend” at least once every three weeks. I have to force a smile when someone says “Oh, you don’t SEEM gay” and, for some reason, think that’s a compliment. I have people expecting me to either want to fuck them or be their sassy new best friend.
That’s why I like Orcs. That’s why I like playing them in Dungeons & Dragons and why I enjoy them so much in fiction. In real life, I force a smile and I let it go and subscribe to the norms. Orcs, however? They don’t hide it. They don’t hide anything. There’s a level of strength that I admire and and a level of justifiable rage towards not only the standard, but the pretty that I relate to on a fundamental level. I have that in me. I have those tusks and that green skin and that cold stare deep within me. Dungeons and Dragons was where I found my monster, and where I found my “kind.”
Orcs aren’t gay as in happy, they’re queer as in fuck you, and just TRY to tell a Half Orc “Oh, you don’t SEEM Orcish.”
For today’s art post, I wanted to highlight a series of drawings a user on tumblr did a few years back that illustrates orc women in a variety of different jobs. Emilee Denich, aka ghostgreen on tumblr, posted the set in November of 2015, simply saying, “today after work i amused myself by drawing some orc ladies (◕‿◕✿).” And the set was a treat. She did two sets, which you can see for yourself in full here and here, and I’ll be sharing a couple of my favorite ladies below. Maybe drop Emilee a line and tell her how much you like her orc ladies!
The Thinking Orc by Turner Mohan
Do orcs ponder their lot in life? what do they think about when they’re not fighting each other or the free people? It’s a question Tolkien left largely unanswered in his books, and the role of the orcs as the all purpose “others” who are patently evil and may therefore be slaughtered indiscriminately by our tall, grim, piercing-eyed heroes is about the only thing in Tolkien’s vast legendarium that leaves me with some reservations. I always wanted to know more about the orcs (beyond their perpetual role as cannon fodder for various dark lords) Cirith Ungol and the uruk hai were two of my favorite chapters in LOTR because at least we get some glimpses of orcish society (same reason I always liked the goblin town part of the hobbit).
I imagined for this piece a scene of an orcish chieftain like Azog or the Great Goblin, now a few years past his prime, living in some conquered city built centuries earlier by more advanced people (like Tol Sirion, Minas Ithil, or Moria) laying aside his weapons and pouring curiously over old tomes deep in an abandoned study. Maybe he cant even read, just pondering the very act of writing itself.
I really like this piece. It’s been in my favorites on Deviantart for years at this point, the piece itself having been published in 2013. The artist’s comments make for an interesting bit of thought. Conceptually, an orc doing something besides being a ravaging dickhead obviously speaks to me. Hopefully you enjoy it as much as I do.
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!
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…