Now, one thing I’ve always avoided in my setting is the presence of ‘humanoids’ that exist just to be slaughtered for gold and xp. So goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, gnolls… the whole lot of them, have never appeared in my world. But when I decided I’d use ACKS and fold, spindle and mutilate existing modules to spare me the effort of creating my own adventures, I bit the bullet and put them back in.
So how to justify it? I’ve set this campaign some 6000-7000 years before the ‘modern age’ so I assume that, at least in the part of the world the modern campaign is set, they have long since been killed off. Though right now, in this time and place (which may well be another continent, I’ve not completely decided) they are a blight that endangers the sentient races. Perhaps somewhere in the isolated places of the modern world there are enclaves that still exist, but they appear so rarely they are effectively mythical.
But what are they?
No, seriously… what the hell are orcs anyway?
Creations of mad wizards?
Servants of dark gods?
Well, that’s another problem. I don’t tend to like the idea of multiple intelligent races in addition to humanity in general. I don’t mind a few, but when ever hill and valley has some new race with a culture all its own hidden away, I start to have trouble believing in it. Gygax recommended that every dungeon level have some new creature and/or magic item, to keep the game fresh for experienced players, to keep the sense of wonder and discovery. That’s all well and good when, perhaps, you only have one monster manual and you make up a few specials. But decades of Dungeons and Dragons gave us tons of intelligent species, both playable and antagonistic, as well as comedy gold like flail snails and flumphs.
So where do these creatures come from? I suppose that for the stranger flora and fauna I’m willing to go with the usual, ‘A wizard did it.’ But if I’m going to do something with intelligent species, I need a bit more oomph. Luckily, my world’s gods gave me the answer.
In the centuries before the Sundering, as the empire marched it’s unstoppable forces across the land, the barbarian tribes and cultures finally put aside their differences and began to work together to resist the empire. But their unity, though potent on the field of battle, was too little too late, a fact that they slowly began to realize. So their shamen and their priests beseeched the Lords of Misrule, begging for the power to stop their hated enemies while sacrificing hundreds of captive Imperials in a multitude of horrific ways.
The gods granted them the strength they begged for, but it came at a price. Their rage and hatred and self-loathing over their failures led the tribes into dealing from a position of weakness, and the Lords of Chaos disdain nothing if not weakness. Taking the totems of the various tribes, the Lords of Chaos gave them their animalistic strength and ferocity. But they took their humanity in trade. The barbarian tribes wanted to destroy their enemies, and so they gained the power to do that, at the cost of everything else.
One group revered the boar, a tough beast that was seen as nearly unkillable. The gods warped and twisted these tribes until they gained the strength of the boar. Once, they were known as the Orac-Thai and now they are simply called ‘orcs’ (Ha! Screw you Tolkien, Warhammer, and Wow, I’m sticking with pig men!)
Another tribe revered the jackal and the hyena. They saw wisdom in the animals pack tactics as well as its their general slyness. As such, this tribe was both feared and reviled for their duplicitous nature. The Lord of Secrets heard their plea and twisted them into a powerful mixture of their human and animal natures. So the Gnollani became simply known as gnolls over time. Some sages wonder at why the orcs, who revere the Lord of Beasts and War, would be weaker than the offspring of his bastard child. Some think it’s over-compensation, others think that there is some secret in their nature hidden by the Night Child that explains the greater strength of the gnolls. Others wonder if the tribes might not have somehow stolen power meant for the orcs. Regardless, the gnolls are now feared among the beastmen.
Bugbears are a (silly) part of D&D canon and I can’t just use them as is. So in my games, any mention of bugbears will simply be references to larger, more mutated…er, blessed, beastmen.
Minotaurs were a tribe that revered the bull and were, perhaps, far more dedicated to their worship than the Orac-Thai. Or maybe I’ll use their stats for ‘Champion’ beastmen. Not sure yet.
So, I was able to fold the primary conflict between races into religion as well, a key motivating factor of conflict in nearly all my campaigns. Beast races seek to destroy the civilization of humans, dwarves and elves because they not only carry centuries, if not millennia, of hatred against the other sentient species, but also their self-serving version of the Chaos faith tells them emphatically that they must crush and dominate all others they come into contact with, only then can they prove their strength and worthiness to the gods and gain their favor. A strong leader can quell this behavior in a beast tribe and bring them to heel, but even then, it is only a temporary change. Beastmen forced to farm and tend land will do so, but they are unruly farmers at best. They were built to overcome and conquer, nothing else.
Being similar to beasts, they breed very quickly, usually having litters of five to eight at a time. Beastmen children are born with their animalistic nature even closer to the surface, and they are savage little creatures. The weak are left to die or are killed for food by the strong. By about three or four they are large and tough enough to kill a grown man. Females are as savage and powerful as males, only slowing down in the last month or so of pregnancy (which only lasts 4 months), at which point they are (sometimes) allowed to avoid tribal duties.
There can be no mercy for the beast tribes, not if mankind hopes to avoid being overwhelmed and wiped out. While it is possible to speak and reason with beastmen, any alliances or treaties with them rarely last more than half a decade (the time it takes for a new generation to rise up and howl for blood).
So there…I now have a group of villains that can fill the role they normally fill in rpgs, while still fitting within the context of my world.
Goblins…now Goblins are something that became quite fun for me so I think I’ll treat them in their own post.