Monday, November 28, 2011

Mechanical Exercise?

"Coping with a horde of orcs or other stock monsters is mainly a mechanical exercise. World of Warcraft or other computer-based games portray that far better than some guy at the head of a table with some funny looking dice." - semiprometheus on a blog comment here:

Wow, I couldn't agree less. Really how is it simply a mechanical exercise? That's only possible if we reduce the orc to a very limited set of options and behaviors. I'm big a fan of random tables as assistance and idea generators but I don't consider their use to be mechanical and divorced from creativity. Why have a "stock monster" that is differentiated from other monsters at all if it isn't something beyond mechanical? If you can't make a horde of orcs interesting and notable part of play, give up DMing.

A horde of orcs isn't a crowd of clones all acting in concert with a little fuzzy math thrown in to generate a few fringe exceptions. A random encounter with 50 orcs has lots of room for creativity and non-mechanical roleplaying opportunity. Who are their leaders? What are their motives? Where is their base? Do they have any prisoners? How much treasure do they have? How will taking that treasure lead to further adventures? Is this horde of orcs known for accepting hero combat? Are these orcs frightened of magic more than normal? Are these really gross orcs or faceless mooks of the dark lord? Do some stop to collect loot and flee before a fight is over? What tactics are they attempting? Do the orcs really give a darn that they've just encountered the PCs?

If the orc reactions time and again are .."ooghh, soft hoomans , dorfs and alfs....lets git-em boyz...charge !!!!", someone is in a rut and has forgotten they are playing a fantasy game.

Players treating orcs the same, time and time again and getting away with it? Well this is another example of the DM dropping the ball. Intelligent foes should react to threats and every orc is eventually going to hear about the orc-killing party and either plot their ruin or avoid them at all costs. The players like oil-bombign raids, the orcs might think turn about is fair play. A pesky wizard putting mobs of orcs to sleep? Fill the wizard with arrows before a fight starts. Pepper the woods/hills/dungeon around their lair with small annoying traps and points of ambush that wear on the nerves of the PCs and NPCs along for the pillage but don't have a large combat until the orcs have a clear advantage. Have the orcs atempt to bribe the PCs..."well sure, here take this 100 gp and by the way I know the back way into Lord Darks Tower of Terrible Peril" (hmmm...could this be an ambush, not if the DM is clever). Don't let the layers get away with the same unthinking tactics time and time again and avoid this by actign like the monsters don't simply want to win but want to survive.

A train of orcs shouldn't all march into a choke point and allow themselves to be riddled with arrows and magic until they are decimated. The mob shouldn't slowly advance until reinforcements stumble onto an exposed flank. Even nasty disgusting son's of evil aren't always looking for a fight.

A horde of 50 intelligent creatures is a horde with 50 different priorities and should be gamed as such.


  1. Preach it. I just left a similar comment on that LotFP comment thread.

  2. All you say is true, but I feel like you're deliberately misinterpreting the original comment. In fact, clicking through, I see that semiprometheus actually does include most of the provisos and context that render your response into a non sequitur.

    It is absolutely true that video games do pure hack 'n slash play better than tabletop RPGs. Surely no one can be surprised by that statement, right? That's a segment of the market which tabletop RPGs once owned and will never own again.

  3. @Justin, huh? Video games, don't do hack and slash play better than an RPG can. I've yet to see a video game that let's me interrupt the cut scene and shoot someone that the designer didn't designate as a target, or to kick open a door that didn't fit in the design budget... video games don't yet do a better job they do a different far more superficial job.

    Don't get me wrong I love video games I beat MW3 before my teen son did.