Despite putting several words together in punctuated sequence in my last post, I don’t think that I actually made the point I was striving towards. I chalk this up to writing the post on the fumes of my conscious cycle (my rhythms are mad erratic, yo).
However, having finally reached Warhammer’s Orcs at the end of the last post, and in the spirit of forward momentum, let’s try again:
Both Warhammer “worlds” (Fantasy and 40k) are dark-ass places characterized by violence, ignorance, and a slow creeping certainty that something is going to get you. Magic has a Lovecraftian feel, in that any practice of it is potentially corrupting and absolutely dangerous. You don’t see all that many DnD mages accidentally exploding when they cast a lightning bolt, but that sort of thing isn’t uncommon in Warhammer. The ignorance comes across better in some of the fiction than in, say, a tabletop army clash. Entire races in the game are treated as superstition, despite (in the case of the Skaven) actually living underneath most of the world’s human cities. The threat of Chaos taint is omnipresent, but each Chaos God has such a different slate of interests that even this never gets old. Khorne wants to batter down the door of your farmhouse and slaughter your family, but Slaanesh is just looking to get your daughter to experiment. Nurgle wants to put something in the city well that will make everyone’s head turn yellow with pus and pop, while Tzeentch might be satisfied with encouraging the kindly hedge wizard to delve a little too deeply into that book he found the other day. If handled properly, the Warhammer setting is one of the richest, most mature settings I’ve ever read.
And then, there are the orcs.
Orcs are humanoid marauders who live for little more than senseless violence. They’ll slaughter a defenseless village or throw themselves against a castle’s walls in ceaseless waves. They’re a horde of marauders fully willing to turn against their leader the moment he shows weakness. So are beastmen.
Orcs are also massive, with a physiology unfazed by all but the most precise and powerful blows. Even those strikes might fail to drop them, and if an orc has even a few minutes to rest he will be fully recovered. But that’s all true of ogres, too.
What sets orcs apart from these other races is that they are idiots. They are truly, genuinely, aggressively stupid. They’re so stupid that it actually loops around and becomes an asset. As Brett pointed out in his first comment on my last post, when an orc in 40k paints something red it actually flies/drives/rolls faster. Because it’s red. And red things are fast, you see.
Orcs in Warhammer are a profound demonstration of just how far a few natural advantages can take a humanoid race, especially compared to humanity. Orcs are harder to kill than humans, and stronger than humans, and their physiology adapts to violence and injury by growing in both size and strength. Their currency is teef, which is to say teeth, which is to say molars and bicuspids. Their weapons and armor are generally no more sophisticated than metal that is either sharp or thick (but probably both). Compared to the firearms of the Empire, the heavy calvary of the Bretons, the graceful swordplay of the elves, the corrupt “gifts” of Chaos, or even the mad science of Skaven Warp Engineers, orcs should have no chance.
But that’s why they serve as such an excellent foil to the rest of the gameworld. Orcs work because they work, and their ridiculous ramshackle huts and rusty weapons fit the Gothic Warhammer world precisely because they stick out. Warhammer’s orcs sell being stupid so thoroughly that it becomes their most endearing trait. Orcs are big, and strong, and dumb, and if you’re playing an orc you’re playing a character who is big, and strong, and dumb.
This fascinates me because I can’t think of any other race with such thoroughly imbedded tropes I would actually play. The closest I’ve ever come to playing a tiefling Infernal Warlock was a pyromancer wizard (but not mage). I’ve never rolled a halfling rogue in 4e. I won’t even let other people roll drow rogues in games I’m running, because…c’mon, it’s a drow rogue. Concepts like that just feel so trite to me that I struggle to tolerate them; struggle, and usually fail.
But when I first started playing Warhammer Online and rolled a Black Orc, and moused over the character, I watched him bash the side of his skull with the flat of his choppa and thought Yes, that is EXACTLY right. My highest level WAR character is actually a Chaos Magus, a daemon-summoning ranged DPS class. He’s fun to play, flies around on a floating sentient disk, and uses creatures from the Warp like organic turrets to boost his damage. I also run a Zealot, which is a healing class who wields ritual magic to ravage foes and bolster allies. These classes have powers with evocative names, things like Tzeentch’s Cordial and Flickering Red Flame. The thing is, when I’m casting Glean Magic on a target, I’m doing so because I want to reduce his spirit resistance so I can layer a few more DoTs on him. It’s satisfying to drop some dwarven Slayer with a barrage of soul-rending spiritual damage, but it’s not all that different from when I did the same thing with my forsaken Warlock in WoW.
Early in the level progression with the Black Orc, you pick up ‘Da Biggest, which is an aura power that increases your total health (and heals you by an amount equal to the increase) when you hit things. I activated that power, hit someone, watched green numbers float above my head, and was more satisfied than I’ve ever been playing WoW, or even Dungeons and Dragons Online. And I love those games. WAR embraces da Green as enthusiastically as I do, as power names like ‘Da Biggest indicate. And even though many of the powers I have with my orc are ostensibly matched by the powers my Chosen wields (I have a lot of alts, okay? I filled all 10 character slots in the first weekend I played), it never feels that way. When I bash a target with my shield, and my armor goes up, it feels as though my orc is getting pumped. Hell, both Black Orcs and Chosen are tank classes, with a mechanic that lets them take half the damage dealt to a protected target. But for Chosen, the power is called Guard. For Black Orcs, it’s Save da Runts!
Black Orcs play more like their fiction than any of the other classes on the Chaos side. WAR is a pvp-centric game, and playing a Black Orc is a lot of wading into three or four enemies, then standing there not dying while your squishier allies burn your foes down. It is incredibly satisfying to do that; to watch waves of enemy attacks crash against the unwavering wall of your green stupidity.
I look at these orcs, and how much I love them, and how well they work; then I look at the various positions orcs have occupied in my various campaigns. And while I’m not eager to break orcs out of the role they occupy in Tinderbox, I do wonder if I shouldn’t have some race that occupies a similar role. I wonder if I should have a group that players can fight, and kill, without ever feeling guilty or wondering if they’ve closed off a valuable dialogue tree. Because whenever I think “No, my game needs to be more complex than that. Richer than that.” I remember those sweet, glorious frames where Wevin the Black Orc smashes his cheekbone flat with a length of sharpened steel.
And then I hit “publish” and go log into WAR.
7 thoughts on “>A-Z Action: Howsabout More Greenskinz?”
Yup, you’ve pretty much hit the nail right on the head as to why I love those blasted greenskins. They’re so goddamn stupid and it just WORKS.
I think, however, that the WAAAGH! deserves a mention. It’s the warcry of the orks, and has there ever been a more satisfying thing to scream as your tide of green smashes into the Reiksguard or threatens to drown a squad of Blood Ravens? But it’s also the name for the gestalt psychic field that connects all orks, tells them who’s bigger, who needs to BE bigger, who’s in charge, protects them from the corrupting power of Chaos, enables their ramshackle machinery (and paintschemes) and makes their Weirdboyz’ heads explode. AND it’s what you call the world-ending situation you find yourself in when one really, really BIG ork clobbers several hundred orc tribes into submission and goes forth to drown the world (or worlds) in a sea of green.
Warhammer’s orks are a force of nature. You can’t ever, EVER beat them. Every one you kill sheds the spores that can reignite an entire orc society, from squigs to snotlings to gretchin to da boyz. One ork is, as you said, so much tougher, stronger and meaner than any human. They can survive in almost any environment (they’re partially solar-powered) and heal from any wound that doesn’t outright kill them. And, thanks to the WAAAGH!, they only get worse in larger numbers. Hell, in the tabletop games, if an ork squad’s morale breaks and they flee, they automatically regroup if they run into another squad.
In 40k, they outnumber every other spacefaring race by a large margin (with the possible exception of the Tyranids). If they were capable of working together, they could conquer the entire galaxy. Thanks to the WAAAGH!, they can’t even be corrupted by Chaos, as any ork who displays even the slightest bit of un-orkiness is immediately dismembered by the choppas of all the boyz near him, thanks to that gestalt psychic field. All the technical information they need to spread and survive is genetically hard-wired into them. Their ships look like floating junk-heaps, but they’ve mastered tech like teleporters, tractor beams and force-fields to a degree that many other races haven’t (hell, their ships aren’t even air-tight; they just generate a forcefield and build the ship AROUND it).
Hell, even the image of the Grim Reaper that spreads terror throughout all other sentient races in the 40k universe (which is the form of a transcendant, star-eating monstrosity) is absent among the greenskins.
Oh, and there’s the way they talk.
I thought about mentioning a few sentences more about how the WAAAGH (which is an emote in the game, btw) helps out in the game. But if I had, you’d have been deprived of this chance to show your enthusiasm for it!
Have you played the Dawn of War games? For Orkz, Waaagh in that represents your ability to advance up the tech tree. You don’t build barracks and so forth to create your base Boyz; you build Waaagh banners. The banners, in turn, automatically help draw in Boyz, and then quantity of active Boyz you possess determines how many Nobz and vehicles and other advanced units you can recruit.
Also, I have to say again that if you’re not playing the MMO, you owe it to yourself to load the game up and try the first few levels. I run on the Blackrock server, and you can shoot me a facebook so we can roll up a pair of Greenskinz. The game (due to population and difficulty issues) defaults to starting everyone in the Chaos opening area, which is a shame because the orc/goblin one is incredibly flavorful. It’s tough to have ideal success running it solo, though I think two gits could easily pull it off. Badlands is the US server I play Chaos on.
Ohhh yes, I’ve fufilled most of my Warhammer-thirst through both DOW’s, and all of the expansions (though I still need to finish Retribution). I always meant to check out the MMO, but my love for massive multiplayer is a dreadfully fickle thing, and I heard much about their publisher’s dreadful mismanaging of the game, so it apparently never took off like I always thought it would. I haven’t actually thought about the game for quite awhile, until you mentioned it. Should I ever be in the mood to jump back into an MMO, however, I will certainly let you know. It’s always better when you’re running with someone who knows what the hell they’re doing, lol.
I have to say, though, that for Fantasy Warhammer, my greatest love will always be the Skaven, and I was always distraught that the MMO wouldn’t let me make a Warplock Engineer (assuming that the Skaven haven’t been patched in).
I would also like to say that it’s a damn shame we haven’t gotten to actually game since 2nd Edition, every time I read your stuff I get jealous. I remember you hammering Ben and I with those dead ‘ard orcs of yours (I seem to recall having to go into a meditative healing trance after almost every fight because we were so thoroughly thrashed, lol) and really wish we’d gotten to finish that campaign.
I haven’t actually gotten to play any 4e (I’ve got the core books, but that’s it), and in the past couple of years I’ve lost track of it. I’ve instead been completely consumed by the world of Exalted. If you don’t know it, it’s White Wolf, and it’s…. insane. And amazing. And despite the faults of White Wolf’s d10 system, the freedom you get with character design is amazing (and daunting), the system rewards you heavily for in-depth role-playing, and the world of Exalted has surpassed Eberron as my favorite roleplaying setting.
I have to say, I’m really not feeling any tinges of guilt or lost opportunity from slaughtering Sea Wolves. Partially that’s because they’re coming off more beast than man right now… but start sending waves of Pigmen at me screaming “WAAAGH!” and I’ll happily cut them down with little thought as well.
Maybe orcs aren’t filling the Ork role in Tinderbox, but I see no indication that Beastmen can’t (or at least, certain tribes of Beastmen?).
See, I’m glad that Sea Wolves aren’t giving you qualms as you slaughter them, and think you’re representative of the general thought in that regard.
But what I realized when I was writing the Beastmen post (and part of what spurred my thoughts about orcs in the first place) is that I don’t look at them that. I’ve got pathos and empathy built into the marauders, even if y’all haven’t seen it yet, and perhaps won’t see it for several months.
So I’m wondering if I should just remove that. Kash (for those what don’t know, Kash is the man who runs the greatest Sandbox 4e game on Myth Weavers) occasionally shows us something and says “You have to fight this now.” And we fight it.
Though, to be fair, the last time he did that he presented us with a group that were clearly, unquestionably, vicious bandits…and Napan ended up recruiting the two ogres in the band to become the first of his Ur-Cletii and spread the word of love and jerky to the other ogres of the land.
Several months? So like… two or three posts away is it? Ha ha…
We’ve been pulling the same shit on Kash, btw, though not with any ogres (jealouuuuuuuuus!). That’s honestly one of the things I enjoy most about sandboxes: the opportunity to not have to wastefully kill everything in your path. Twisting your DMs arm into letting you bring the NPC back into the story as a recurring character on your own terms as an ally is just so… SATISFYING! Its one of the most concrete things a player can point to in a sandbox to show that they’ve made a mark on the world: that guy used to be a villain, and now I have him running the village soup kitchen and carrying my shit!
But here’s where this loops back around into the conversation… once you start feeding that urge, it can be hard to get players to stop, and might even get a little out of control. If the DM doesn’t like the gotta-catch-em-all path the party’s heading down, unrepentant savages can be a pretty good fallback to throw at the party, enemies immune to even the most reasonable offers of employment.