Monday, July 27, 2009

A bit of half-orc nostalgia

"I've been a half-orc almost as long as I can remember."

I started playing D&D during the reign of 2nd edition, and of course there were no half-orcs in 2nd edition, not even in the Monstrous Manual as I recall it. So I had to bide my time playing halfling thieves and human barbarian fighters and yes..even an elf wizard. It's all true. I have the dog-eared character sheets to prove it.

Of course 3e came along and with it came my favored race. I mean, what's not to like about being a half-orc. You get a minus to your INT and CHA scores right away.... okay fine.. so maybe that's a bad example..but you get Darkvision, right? do all the other non-human humanoids..but hey, you get Orc Blood. But wait..that's not a good thing either. Wow, being a half-orc kinda sucks...except for the STR bonus. Now that I put it down in those terms, I wonder why all those disenfranchised half-orc players got so vocal when they had to wait a few extra months for their 4e 2nd Player Guide to come along so they could get their game back on. Being a Dragonborn ought to be so much cooler, right?

So..let's have a look at a 4e half-orc, shall we?

I've been following a PbP 4e game on the Reaper forum because 1) I don't want to be counted among the OSR pundits who hate the game but have never really played or even watched it being played and 2) the DM and players are all excellent roleplayers and writers and it should be an entertaining story to read.

I personally don't own any 4e books, but might download the quickstart to get a better perspective on what's going on in the PbP. Anyway, here's the character stats for Kaanite the 1st Level Half Orc Two-Weapon-Fightin' Ranger who just so happened to have once been a cat burglar.
Str 20, Con 14, Dex 19, Int 14, Wis 17, Cha 13.

Str 18, Con 14, Dex 17, Int 14, Wis 17, Cha 13.
Huh? None of his scores even went down...and he gained DEX...and he has 31 HP starting out?!

And get a look at this!
Dungeoneering +8, Acrobatics +9, Perception +8, Athletics +11, Stealth +9, Thievery +10 (+12 w/ Thieves tools)
Acrobatics and Stealth? NO WAY! This guy's TOTALLY UBER! And I say that with the utmost respect for the player (Hi there, Orcsoul) and with no disrespect toward the game. If it works for you and it makes you happy, then go play.

WHIIIIICH brings me slowly round to the point that I alluded to earlier. Early in this blog's archives, somebody corrected me on my assumption that there were no half-orcs before 3e. I had always assumed that it was the not the way of any reasonable game company to giveth and then to taketh away.

Once I joined the old-school, I really had no good reason to look through the AD&D Players Handbook. I was content to play my homebrew-hafforc and call it good, but curiosity got the best of me and I decided to have a look at a 1st edition half-orc for nostalgia's sake. I've made a few observations.

It's a man's world

And by "man" I mean huMAN. Every other race (including half-orcs) has a glass-ceiling in the form of level limits. These limits are based on class of course, but even among the non-human-humanoids, half-orcs get the shaft. A half-orc Cleric can only advance to 4th level...a Thief only to 8th..provided his/her DEX isn't less than 17, in which case he'll get stuck at 6th. The only class that favors half-orcs, the Fighter, limits them to 10th..which is higher than fighters of other races...except humans, of course. THEY can do ANYTHING...pth.

And it's a MAN'S world

By "man" I mean hi-honey-I'm-home-what's-for-dinner-I-wear-the-pants-in-this-household....that kind of man. On the Race Ability Score Minimums/Maximums, it was for some reason necessary to break those scores out by male and female. As you might have guessed, humans are excluded from this table because...well..they're human. They don't have limitations. Also you probably guessed it... almost all women are an average of 1.6 points of STR below their male counterparts. I suppose as a self-liberated woman, I should at least be thankful that the gender difference is limited to STR. Even Gygax "knew better than to go there." Interestingly enough, the only race to NOT have weaker women-folk was the half-orcs. Yep, it kinda makes a girl proud. :D

It ain't no world for a half-orc girl, that's for sure
Orcs are fecund and create many cross-breeds, most of the offspring of
such being typically orcish. However, some one-tenth of orc-human
mongrels ore sufficiently non-orcish to pass for human. Complete details
of orcs and crossbreeds will be found under the heading Orc in
As it is assumed that player characters which are of half-orc race are
within the superior lo%, they have certain advantages
The description for Half-Elves is nothing like this. I mean, far be it from me to play a race-card, but this particular description about percentages and racial purity sound a lot less like the world of Tolkien and a bit more like the world of Alabama in the 1920s. Yeah I know it's only a game..a fantasy game at that, but in my opinion, D&D has certainly evolved in the right direction as far as sensitivity to race and gender are concerned.


So, now I have actually defended 4e and then spoke disparagingly of 1e. I can almost imagine the angry mob gathering outside now with their torches and pitchforks and descending ACs to roast me on a spit.

On the other hand, I've had fun looking at a bit of D&D history.


Lord Gwydion said...

You seem to have passed over the fact that AD&D Half-Orcs can achieve unlimited level as Assassins.

For me, that's always been the iconic role of the Half-Orc, rather than the mini-Incredible Hulk Half-Orc barbarians of 3E.

Superhero Necromancer said...

Just to add to your general look at the history of the half-orc, it's probably worth noting that Tolkien's half-orcs aren't the "half-breeds" of D&D. It's another place where D&D has split with Tolkien's treatment. The term "half-orc" does occur in Tolkien, in reference to the Uruk-Hai. They're creations of foul magics. It's left a bit vague and suggestive, but orcs in Tolkien are twisted elves, and half-orcs are magically twisted hybrids of men and orcs (making them parallel to half-elves in a similar way to how half-orcs parallel elves).

'Yet dawn is ever the hope of men,' said Aragorn. 'But these creatures of Isengard, these half-orcs and goblin-men that the foul craft of Saruman has bred, they will not quail at the sun,'

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

Of course, orcs are also different in D&D than they are in Tolkien. They're soldiers, not barbarians (I talked about it on my blog Friday, if you're interested).

Thasmodious said...

Wow those are some huge ability scores. Before racial mods, that would be a 55 point buy, instead of the standard 22.

Oh, and half-orcs are smelly.

Spike Page said...

@Lord G your right..I overlooked that. And it's interesting to note that of all the non-humans, everybody else has unlimited levels of Thief available except Half-orcs..yet half-orcs have unlimited levels of Assassin.

Interesting to me because three of the coolest half-orc models by Reaper are labeled as assassins. From what I hear, Reaper's CEO likes his D&D "vintage" too.

@Superhero - I'll have a look at the link next. FWIW I can only imagine Tolkien's bewilderment if he could see what Games Workshop has done to his orcs in 40K. I mean..seriously.... spores? Chia-Orcs?

And @Thasmodius - I'll have to take your word for it, being not familiar at all with how 4e character generation works, but I kind of thought so too. I suspect that maybe the PbP GM let the players fudge a bit in order to liven up the game? I'll have to ask him. Though by most peoples' reckoning, 4e characters just don't get killed off the way Oe and 1e ones used to. I've heard tell of some Oe players coming to session with half a dozen "spares" just in case. LOL

mikemonaco said...

Ditto to Lord Gwydion. 3e half-orcs don't have much charm for me. We called those half-ogres in AD&D. 4e is a little better but give me 1st ed. half-orcs any day.