Sunday, February 05, 2017

just orcs, please

As a kid I was never really a miniatures guy, and my friends and I all went BattleTech crazy about the same time we got part-time jobs in high school, so I never really owned much from Citadel.  I eventually owned lots of 1:285 robots from Ral Partha, but precious few fantasy figures.

But I loved seeing Citadel's ads in Dragon.  They just oozed style.  Check out this bad boy from 1987 (it's actually the White Dwarf version, but the same basic ad ran in America as well):

(Click to embiggen)
I wish I had a larger scan of this thing handy, because it's hardy to see all the great details and to read the individual names.  While most minis makers were trying to sell you "Orc Infantry" or "Orc Advancing with Spear," Citadel presented each orc as an individual character with a unique name.

The Citadel folks did this with lots of other lines--like fighters and halflings and whatnot--but I really want to talk about these orcs because they figure into an experiment I did almost 30 years ago that I never sufficiently followed up on.  I was running a game for a whole new group, a one-off with people who were curious what all the fuss over D&D was about.  So I decided that the scenario would be that the two dozen orcs pictured above were a raiding party that had recently moved into the local area and the PCs were supposed to drive them off.

Those 24 orcs were literally the only monsters used in the scenario.  I had a map of the small cave complex (maybe 6 or 8 chambers total) that they were using as a staging area.  I whipped up some rules for how many orcs would be in which chambers at any given time and how many would be out pillaging.  And I made a list of 24 orcs.  Each one had an individual name, a hit point total, individual weapons and armor, and a line or two of description and/or personality.

All these guys were pretty much normal 1 hit die orcs.  The warrior orcs had no more than 6 hit points each, while the champions had at least 5.  Depending on the equipment depicted on the figure, some had worse ACs than a typical orc, because some of those guys above seem to be wearing clothes rather than armor.  The two shaman-looking figures among the champions were issued a single spell (cause fear for one and magic missile for the other, IIRC) that they could cast twice a day.  And I am 100% convinced to this day that the bottom right orc champion (Hakblod Stunty-Slicer) is holding a Mad Max style razor boomerang, so I made up stats for such a thing.  Other than those exceptions, these baddies were perfectly normal orcs.

I thought it worked really well.  Whenever the party encountered a batch of orcs I could say "5 more green-skinned goons round the corner" but once battle was joined or if the PCs had time to observe them, things like this could happen:
DM: The one coming at you has a big meat-cleaverish sword and a spiked helmet.
Player: Spiked helmet?  Like Colonel Klink has on his desk in Hogan's Heroes?
DM: Sorta, yeah.
Player: Fuck that guy!  I aim my spear right between his Nazi eyes!
-or-
DM: One of the bigger, armored orcs stops about 10 feet in front of your elf.  He holds his curvy sword and shield to the sky and proclaims "I am Mandig Elf-Sickle!  Today your ears will be added to my trophy collection!"
Player: I hide behind the barbarian!
My notes for these 24 orcs amounted to one or two pages but it added so much to what could have otherwise been a by-the-numbers orc slaughter.  And here's the sneaky part about the whole thing: I never showed the ad to my players or acknowledged its existence.  As far as they knew, I had customized these badguys all on my own.

UPDATE:  Ryan Clifford sent me a larger version of the picture.  Thanks, dude!