Thus Ends Orctober

It’s the 31st, Halloween, and Orctober is coming to a close. I had a lot of fun this year and I hope you did too. I had a few things fall through but I still had plenty of content to share with you lovely folks. I was actually going to make today’s final post one from a friend of mine on the relationship between Orcs and LGBT identities. He did write the piece and it was beautiful but a friend of his also said he wanted to get it published in an LGBT magazine and that seemed more important. So, that post might still show up once he hears more about it, as belated Orctober content, or saved for next year. We’ll see.

In the meantime, thanks to everyone who participated and everyone who’s read and commented. And thanks to everyone on DM’s Guild who’s downloaded my Orcs overhaul! It’s been out a week now and already has 100 downloads and a 4-star review! That’s amazing!

I guess the only thing left to say is don’t forget to back The Demons Within kickstarter and spread the word about it! We’re down to the last four days. Until next Orctober!

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: 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: Grimluk in D&D

Having gone through and looked at orcs, half-orcs, and my homebrew tweaks for them as player races, it’s time to look at how Grimluk would fit in D&D 5e. Below, I’ll be listing two different versions. The first will be a medieval style Grimluk based purely on the Player Handbook rules with only slight homebrew (for weapons). The only major thing is that to do Grim properly, he has to be multiclassed. There is no getting around that, especially considering he usually works alone. The second version is heavily homebrewed, which I’ll discuss below the link.

Grimluk, version 1

Pretty standard standard fair, multiclassing aside. Half-orc, Crossbow Expert and Resilient for feats, rolled stats that are fairly high (Grimluk spent eight years training as an apprentice, I think it’s warranted), plus fiend slayer weapons (based on the dragon slayer). Grimluk’s base class is a Fighter, taking the Champion archetype, followed by the Hunter Ranger, and one level in Monk. Crossbow, shortsword, crit fishing, a pretty solid build. While I went for unarmored defense, I would probably just go ahead and take the starting chainmail from the Fighter.

Grimluk, version 2

Now, this one gets intense. My tweaked Orcs with Powerful Build swapped over Aggressive. For classes, once again, a base Fighter but this time, the archetype is the Monster Hunter I made a while back, along with Hunter Ranger, and Monk, again, for martial arts and unarmored defense. Like before, this version uses two-weapon fighting and archery for fighting styles, but this time, I use the firearms from the Dungeon Master’s Guide combined with the Fiend Slayer features I used before. And since my Monster Hunter uses what is essentially the Colossus Slayer feature from the Hunter Ranger, I took Horde Breaker to compliment (and damn does that stack will). Resilient shows up once again along with the Gunslinger feat, which I based on Crossbow Expert. It works as follows:

GUNSLINGER
Thanks to extensive practice with handguns, you gain the following benefits:

* You can ignore the reload property of handguns you’re proficient with.
* Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.
* If unsurprised at the start of combat, you can perform a quick draw, giving you advantage on your first attack roll.

The feat might need some tweaking, for the quick draw feature, but otherwise, it’s the same as Crossbow Expert.

Now, once I got done with the second version of Grimluk, I was really surprised and pleased at just how close to the real thing it reads. I briefly considered a feature for the gun that uses the mechanics of the Arrow of Slaying for the blood runes featured in Demon Haunted but that seemed a bit overkill for D&D (especially since you’d get six chances to use it). Overall, the builds kick a lot of ass, with the total level for both versions being 12.

There are certain things that are hard to implement. Grimluk’s ability to shrug off getting shot being the major one. There aren’t really any rules for how to play AC when guns are a thing. There’s few rules for Wild West D&D and Grimluk’s ability to withstand multiple bullets is a unique trait (at least as far as the first three books are concerned). And I fully realize that he’s got Drizzt levels of OP going on cause he’s a book character, not a player character. That’s okay.

So that’s Grimluk in D&D. Friday will see Scott Oden talking about how personal D&D can be and on Monday, I’ll be posting a massive D&D game post where me and a few other folks played an orc-centric one shot. And don’t forget, if you want to see more of Grimluk, head over and make a pledge for The Demons Within kickstarter!

Orctober: Orcs and Half-Orcs Revised for 5E

It’s Orctober and this year, we’ve been looking at orcs and half-orcs in Dungeons & Dragons 5E. We’ve had an introduction to both and an introduction to the orc god, Gruumsh, leading us to the aspect we’ll be discussing today: Orcs are still a chaotic race of evil. I hope that, eventually, Wizards of the Coast will rectify this matter. The building blocks are there in their own lore, so it could be done with minimal retconning, if any at all. Between Obould Many-Arrows, the Ondonti, heroic half-orc player characters, and some of the examples of notable orcs in high profile games, it wouldn’t be difficult at all.

As far as playing goes, there is almost no reason to play an orc over a half-orc. On top of the features in each race, the stats PC Orcs are given in Volo’s Guide to Monsters include an Intelligence penalty of -2. Naturally, I got to wondering if this couldn’t be fixed. I could make some corrections to orcs and a few tweaks to half-orcs, as well. As a basis, I’ll be using James Musicus’s homebrew guide. I’ll list the racial features as seen in their respective books, and then break it down. At the end will be a PDF detailing all the changes with some lore/flavor text for good measure.

Okay, so, Volo’s lists Orc stats as follows:

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2, your Constitution score increases by 1, and your Intelligence score is reduced by 2.
Age. All Orcs reach adulthood at age 12 and live up to 50 years.
Alignment. Orcs are vicious raiders, who believe that the world should be theirs. They also respect strength above all else and believe the strong must bully the weak to ensure that weakness does not spread like a disease. They are usually chaotic evil.
Size. Orcs are usually over 6 feet tall and weigh between 230 and 280 pounds. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Aggressive. As a bonus action, you can move up to your speed toward an enemy of your choice that you can see or hear. You must end this move closer to the enemy than you started.
Menacing. You are trained in the Intimidation skill.
Powerful Build. You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Orc.

As stated, I dislike the intelligence dip SO MUCH. So here’s what we’re gonna do. It’s gone. And given that orcs are big, strong, and they can take a beating, we’re gonna buff their CON score to +2.

Alignment, psh, fuck this shit. Orcs are just as varied as everyone else, with a tendency towards chaotic only. I’d say frame them more like Goliaths, in that they have an emphasis on self-sufficiency and independence. This still fits with established lore, and also allows for potentially shifting Gruumsh and Co.’s behavior later on (as a side note, I am seriously debating doing an adventure module for just this thing).

Then you have their racial traits. We’ll keep Aggression. It’s a good, solid trait. Obviously, darkvision stays. What’s next? Well, paired with Aggression, Savage Attacks goes quite well and, frankly, so does Relentless Endurance. So, if you drop Powerful Build for Savage Attacks and Relentless, you end up with a race that’ll put the fear of the gods into folks, especially when playing martial roles. With these tweaks, the orcs would be on par with dwarves and elves (especially mountain dwarves).

Now, to get a basic idea for how we’ll change Half-Orcs, we first need to look at Humans, along with Half-Elves, as well. Humans are built as follows:

Ability Score Increase. Your ability scores each increase by 1.
Age. Humans reach adulthood in their late teens and live less than a century.
Alignment. Humans tend toward no particular alignment. The best and the worst are found among them.
Size. Humans vary widely in height and build, from barely 5 feet to well over 6 feet tall. Regardless of your position in that range, your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and one extra language of your choice.
Variant Human:
Ability Score Increase.
Two different ability scores of your choice increase by 1.
Skills. You gain proficiency in one skill of your choice.
Feat. You gain one feat of your choice.

Meanwhile, Half-Elves read:

Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 2, and two other ability scores of your choice increase by 1.
Age. Half-elves mature at the same rate humans do and reach adulthood around the age of 20. They live much longer than humans, however, often exceeding 180 years.
Alignment. Half-elves share the chaotic bent of their elven heritage. They value both personal freedom and creative expression, demonstrating neither love of leaders nor desire for followers. They chafe at rules, resent others’ demands, and sometimes prove unreliable, or at least unpredictable.
Size. Half-elves are about the same size as humans, ranging from 5 to 6 feet tall. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision. Thanks to your elf blood, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Fey Ancestry. You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep.
Skill Versatility. You gain proficiency in two skills of your choice.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common, Elvish, and one extra language of your choice.

Half-Elves are clearly a balanced mixture of Elf and Human, as you would expect.

Now for Half-Orcs. The PHB says…

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Constitution score increases by 1.
Age. Half-orcs mature a little faster than humans, reaching adulthood around age 14. They age noticeably faster and rarely live longer than 75 years.
Alignment. Half-orcs inherit a tendency toward chaos from their orc parents and are not strongly inclined toward good. Half-orcs raised among orcs and willing to live out their lives among them are usually evil.
Size. Half-orcs are somewhat larger and bulkier than humans, and they range From 5 to well over 6 feet tall. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision. Thanks to your orc blood, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright
light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Menacing. You gain proficiency in the Intimidation skill.
Relentless Endurance. When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.
Savage Attacks. When you score a critical hit with a melee weapon attack, you can roll one of the weapon’s damage dice one additional time and add it to the extra damage of the critical hit.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Orc.

So let’s get to tweaking half-orcs. First, STR +2 is fine. Half-orcs inherited their orcish parent’s strength. After that? Well, we follow suit with the half-elf, giving you a choice of +1 to two abilities of your choice. This would illustrate the mix of races better. Humans are adaptable and orcs are bloody strong. You could still take after the orcish parent by putting your +1 into CON and maybe make them clever too, so a +1 to INT.

Second, we get to their racial traits. Darkvision stays along with Savage Attacks. Instead of Menacing and Relentless Endurance, though, we’re gonna take a cue from the Half-Elf again. We’ll add in a feature called Orcish Ancestry and add in a choice of one skill proficiency. Since there’s not an Orcish Ancestry feature, we gotta make one up. Now, since we gave Relentless Endurance to the full-blooded orcs, what if we base the Ancestry feature off of that? If Fey Ancestry gives saving throws on being charmed and immunity to magically-induced sleep, what would that mean for a half-orc? What if we did something like this:

Orcish Ancestry. When reduced to 0 hit points, and not killed outright, you may use your reaction to make a melee attack with advantage before falling unconscious. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.

You’re not gonna have that 1hp survival anymore but you can still make your attacker regret their decision, possibly taking them down with you. This also lines up with the theme of retribution inherent with orcs and Gruumsh.

Language, of course, remains the same: Orc and Common, though you could add one more language depending on the languages the parents know. That may be a feature to discuss with your DM, though.

Finally, do away with the “do not tend toward good” bullshit. Alignment works like Humans for them, they can pretty much in any area. Best and worst. Humans can bend toward chaotic just as easily as orcs. From there, it’s just flavor depending on parents and location raised. In researching 5E, everyone seems to agree that Alignment is kind of bullshit for the most part anyways, and, as I’ve written already, it’s doubly so here when dealing with orcs.

EDIT: I had forgotten to fix my sources in the original document. It’s now corrected.

You can view a full document here that includes potential suggestions for different types of half-orcs!

What are your thoughts? Do you think I’m on the money? Would you tweak it? Or would you prefer to keep things as is? Leave a comment!

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: Ashe Plays D&D

Over on Tumblr, I’ve been documenting the D&D game my friends and I started in February. I thought maybe I’d take the time to talk about my Battlemaster Fighter, Gorthos.

Gorthos started on based on an old idea I’d had before I started writing Grimluk. I had this awesome vision of a swashbuckling orc who, unlike his peers, dueled with a greatsword. After watching and loving BBC’s The Musketeers (WHY THE FUCK DID YOU END IT WITH THE THIRD SEASON? WHYYYYYY?!?!), I decided to tweak that idea in the form of a Battlemaster modeled after Porthos. Due to growing up watching Disney’s Three Musketeers, Gorthos started to form as a fusion of Howard Charles modern portrayal and Oliver Platt’s more comedic take. In practice, though, I didn’t hit the beats I wanted. I was still learning the system and made some choices that I’ll be correcting soon.

Storywise, however, is a different beast. Gorthos’ backstory is that he was a mercenary who finally left his band behind…after killing a lot of them. See, Gorthos, despite being a mercenary, just always wanted a good fight. Non-combatants meant nothing to him. They weren’t worth paying attention to during battles. He gained, of all things, an elf mentor who taught him how to really handle a sword, and was happy to get paid to fight. One particular job ended this when they were commanded to murder a town and burn it to the ground.

He didn’t take that well, and he and his mentor and a few others turned on their fellow mercs and effectively disbanded. After helping his mentor find some place to retire, he makes his way to Rizenheist (a homebrew setting from our DM, which includes a homebrew race, the Balkeshi).

Our first game saw us going after something called trouble fruit, the main ingredient in Balkeshi alcohol, despite the city walls being locked down for some reason or another for the day. Shenanigans saw us get into the forest, where we narrowly killed a baby remorhaz, which prompted Gorthos to add some fire protection to his studded leather jacket.

Once returned, we found the Silver Blades, basically the thieves’ guild, waiting on us for using THEIR tunnel. Fast forward, we end up helping them, nearly get ourselves killed, rescued by a fellow player’s friend in the Blades, who gets bit by a wereboar, but we survive and move on.

Fast forward again, our Balkeshi PC, Zakah, has had a crush on Gorthos. This comes to a head after a chase by goblins. We go back to save Sylal (my partner Nici’s half-elf rogue), and fight the goblins. Their bugbear bashes Gorthos’s skull in with a crit but that most beautiful of half-orc abilities, Relentless Endurance, saved him. Zakah, frenzied and raging (barbarian), chokes the bugbear and basically sets Gorthos up for reprisal. Gorthos crits (which means, with Savage Attacks for half-orcs, that I got to roll my damage dice three times instead of two), and REKS the bugbear. Zakah, still frenzied, kisses Gorthos over the body. It was awesome.

Then they kidnapped our pig. We saved her. That was awesome too cause we did it without murdering a whole tribe of goblins.

As we’ve gone on, Gorthos and Zakah have kind of become the core of our group, especially since the fourth player’s character is a full-on edgelord tiefling warlock, played beautifully by our friend, who occasionally apologizes for what his character is about to do. Gorthos and Zakah have a whole bunch of cute moments.

 

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Gorthos and Zakah having a tender moment out shopping. Commissioned from Emmett Shearer.

Lucius, the warlock, ends up getting himself killed when we take on a young dragon. Gorthos takes this hard as we had done character bonds pregame. Gorthos had “Lucius will get himself killed if I don’t step in.” He took it hard, and was confused just as hard when Lucius showed back up in someone else’s body. In an effort to deal with his feelings, he ends up doing level 5 training in an illegal fight pit against an ogre named Strong Steven that broke Gorthos’s jaw (double crit!). Gorthos won though thanks to a well-timed nut shot.

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Gorthos after the fight. A birthday present from Zakah’s player, also by Emmett Shearer.

As I’ve gotten more comfortable with the game, Gorthos has gotten more concrete as a character. I’ve come up with more background for him. Figured out he’s bisexual and polyamorous. Is fairly sure his uncle killed his mother after she basically sold him to his merc group in an attempt to give him a better life. His uncle, who’d been one of the most prominent raiders in the tribe, hated the new direction towards peace and hated Gorthos for being a physical manifestation of that peace. He never knew his father, and his mother never told him much. He got basic schooling but never really cared to learn much more than that.

It’s been a total blast playing him, especially the relationship with Zakah, which has been both rocky and sweet and funny all at once. After Zakah took him to get his jaw fixed, Gorthos casually said he loved Zakah, unaware of what he’d said. When asked, he said, “Sure, I love you. I love Sylal. I…tolerate Lucius. Why not?” Love comes easy to him. I could easily turn this campaign into a book and it would be fantastically compelling. I have left a LOT of details out. If you’re curious, head over to my tumblr and look through the “ashe plays dnd” tag.

I would enthusiastically encourage folks to pick up the game. Fifth Edition is pretty slick and newbie friendly and the sheer fun of a collaborative story with friends is fucking brilliant. If you need more proof, come back on Friday for Leigh Peterson’s story!