Friday, December 5, 2008

Of Goblins and Pig-Faced Orcs

One of the things that has always bugged me about Dungeons & Dragons is the proliferation of humanoid monsters. I simply don't see the point in having so many variations on the same basic idea. I understand why there are so many -- the referee wants to keep his game from getting "stale" -- but it strains credibility to suppose that there could be so many different types of humanoid creatures in a single campaign setting. I've come out of the closet as a Gygaxian Naturalist, so I prefer that the worlds I create make sense, even if that sense is predicated on magic or some other nonsense.

That's where the Eld come in. Being very ancient, intensely chaotic, and amazingly adept at magic, the Eld are my catch-all explanation for many of the monsters in my campaign setting (the other being the Thulians). In addition, I decided early on to limit myself only to the humanoids that appear in OD&D and to use their descriptions as the basis for my own, with a couple of exceptions. Reading Monsters & Treasure, it's clear that there's a "continuum" of humanoid creatures, beginning with goblin/kobolds and working upwards by Hit Dice. I decided I'd take that idea and find a way to make sense of it. What I came up with was this:
  • OD&D implies that goblins and kobolds are the same creatures, the only difference being that kobolds are weaker physically. I'd already decided that goblins are one of the few genuinely aboriginal races of my setting; kobolds will be the degenerate mine-dwelling versions thereof. While I like the scaly dog-men versions of kobolds a great deal, Gary often said that that version was, like so many other D&D monsters, based on a miscommunication between himself and the illustrator, Dave Sutherland. Gary originally envisaged kobolds as evil wizened, gnome-like creatures, as in German folklore. So, I'm going with that, albeit one that complements the "little green men" version of goblins I'm using.
  • Goblins are, in their natural state, not very nice from a human perspective: greedy, selfish, and with a penchant for cruelty. But they're not willing servants of Chaos. That's where hobgoblins came in. They were magically created by the Eld as taskmasters and "drill sergeants" to keep ordinary goblins pressed into Eldritch service in line. They're now "independent operators" but still enjoy lording it over goblins when they get the chance.
  • Bugbears are another magical mutant of goblins, created by the Eld as shock troops. I can't make up my mind as to whether I'll go with the Monster Manual appearance of these guys or stick with Greg Bell's wacky pumpkin-headed version.
This brings me to pig-faced orcs. Again, Gary claimed that the pig-faced version was the result of another miscommunication with his artists -- this seems to have happened a lot -- but I have a great fondness for them nonetheless. Plus, I already have a bunch of Otherworld minis to use, so I figure why not do so? I've decided that orcs were also magical creations of the Eld -- boars given humanoid form and sentience to be used as easily replaceable cannon fodder. By the same logic, gnolls, rather than being a gnome-troll hybrid as OD&D suggests, are uplifted hyenas.

That about covers the basics. I'm still pondering what to do about giants and trolls, but I've already decided that ogres are human beings cursed for having indulged in cannibalism and have now become monstrously ravenous eating machines.

31 comments:

  1. I like your drill sergeants and magically modified shock troops, partly because they smell strongly of Uruk Hai to me...
    Maybe it's because I was exposed early on to the idea of multiple competing strains of australopithecus, maybe it's because I like the proliferation of species that happens around island chains, but it never bothered me that there might be not just many kinds of goblinoids, but local variants. Did you ever read Julian May's rationale for elves/goblins in his Many Colored Land series?

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  2. Your dwarves spring asexually out of rock, right? Could trolls come from a different rock, or from rock closer to the roiling chaos? Or could they be Eld-experimented dwarves?

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  3. You gotta keep hobgoblins they way they are, they're the best looking humanoid in the book. That, and a rules example states that their mouths are big enough to throw a potion bottle into.

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  4. it strains credibility to suppose that there could be so many different types of humanoid creatures in a single campaign setting.

    I have never understood this logic. Almost all of the monsters in the catalogs are all based on the myths and legends of THIS world. How does that strain credibility?

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  5. I am pretty sure that Gygax in later life claimed that many of the races and creatures were originally foreign of Greyhawk, and largely the result of extraplanar travel. Given his "humanocentric" stance, that seems largely credible to me, and it is noticable that many of the explanations for the various creatures in the Forgotten Realms folow a simlar pattern.

    For my part, I am inclined to combine races up in much the same way implied in Chainmail, OD&D, and the Lord of the Rings, so that kobolds, goblins, orcs and hobgoblins are pretty much the same deal, as are gnomes and dwarves, elves and faeries, etcetera.

    The variation lies not in the names, but in their particular relation to a campaign world. Exactly as with humans, there are many races of x, y, and z, but they are fundamentally from the same root stock (and perhaps even these root stocks are related).

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  6. ...but it strains credibility to suppose that there could be so many different types of humanoid creatures in a single campaign setting.

    And yet, at one point on this planet there were simultaneously several species of man/ape/whatever.

    I like your ideas about the boars/orcs and hyenas/gnolls. To me they represent were-beings anyway.

    But I personally love the little reptilian dogmen! It's very original. One of the things I enjoy best about D&D is that it both hearkens back to our own mythologies and can still create completely new/original ones.

    I think MJS has it right to--to codify sub-species/races within ancestral groups.

    I've really fallen for the Paizo way of organizing the goblinesqe races. That book really tripped a switch in my imagination.

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  7. Ripper X: It's true that all these monsters come from human myths, but they do not all come from the same myth. For example, orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds etc are conceptually different names for the same thing: the evil humanoid monster. Every myth has such a monster, but usually not more than one. Being a union of many myths, D&D has all of them and has thus tried to differentiate them. In Tolkein's myth, for example, "goblin" and "orc" are actual synonyms.

    The variuos D&D MMs contains monsters you would not expect to find side-to-side in an authentic myth (say a hydra and a turtle dragon, or a cockatrice and a konold). This is because every D&D campaign is its own manufactured myth. Nevertheless it doesn't mean that you should use all the monsters at the same time. This will cause your faux reality to burst at the seams.

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  8. This will cause your faux reality to burst at the seams.
    ...although it could be nice to have multiple ways of viewing/presenting/expecting a monster, and for the players not to know if it's one thing or the other until they encounter it. That might be a mechanism for getting a bit of mystery back.

    it strains credibility
    I initially had the same reaction as others about this, thinking about real humanoids, not to mention beetles. Now I think James has a point: the ecology of fiction is different from that of reality, and having meaningful interactions between the creatures is probably the key to making them meaningful (cf. the variously coloured Men of Barsoom: Green and Red are locked in endless conflict, like nomad and fellah/Indian and cowboy). Assigning them military functions is one way to do it, another might be savannah-ecology, of top predator, helper predator, scavenger etc. Are there other ways? Craftsman, broker, labourer? Gambler, loan-shark, enforcer?

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  9. the variously coloured Men of Barsoom
    oops: too fast on the publish button again. I meant to say, Green and Red have an ecology we understand, but the others (IIRC) lack meaningful niches: Blue, Yellow and Black (and maybe others) are really curiosities, not prime movers of stories, because they aren't very active as agents - they don't have roles relative to Barsoom's other inhabitants.

    Caveat: it's a while since I last read the Barsoom books, I crave your indulgence if this is simply wrong, please translate to your own favourite example of an also-ran narrative type.

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  10. Eugh, pig-orcs.
    I dunno, something about the pig-orc thing just strikes me as being wrong, somehow.
    Probably because my first orcs were those in Peter Jackson's adaptation of LOTR.

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  11. Who were the Thulians responsible for creating? It looks like the Eld are getting them all.

    Who cursed the ogres? Is it known, is there any chance of redemption?

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  12. Now I think James has a point: the ecology of fiction is different from that of reality....

    That's my take on it. The problem really isn't one of verisimilitude, but of narrative. After a while it gets a bit silly (not unnecessarily unrealistic, mind):

    FRED: Hey look! It's some goblins!

    CHARLEY: No, wait. It's approximately 6 feet tall; must be a hobgoblin.

    FRED: Maybe. But look at the shape of the skull. Might be a small bugbear.

    CHARLEY: But it isn't furry, so it must be an ogre.


    Whereas the reaction should generally be:

    FRED: Hey look! It's some monsters!

    CHARLEY: Come on, we should run away.

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  13. This brings me to pig-faced orcs. Again, Gary claimed that the pig-faced version was the result of another miscommunication with his artists

    You wouldn't happen to have a citation for this, would you? I've been trying to unravel the mystery of how Orcs got their pig-faced makeover. The earliest, definitive picture of D&D Orcs with pig-snouts is the iconic Sutherland image from the Monster Manual (1977). But, there's a painting from the '76 Bros. Hildebrandt Tolkien calendar (which bears a copyright date of '74) depicting a pig-snouted and rather reptilian Ugluk and Grishnakh arguing over Merry and Pippin. If the dates are correct, Gary's artist seems to have taken his cues from the Hildebrandts.

    Here's the image: http://img-fan.theonering.net/rolozo/images/hildebrandt/captured.jpg

    I'm a big 'ol Orc geek :)

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  14. I've always been of the mind that the 'pig ork' came from the Orkney Isles over here. Ork means pig, and it was the 'Isle of Pigs' The Drow come from there too.

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  15. Interesting. I had the goblins (thoroughly evil bastards) in my old campaign breed the hobgoblins as shock troops and bodyguards (using human women as breeding stock for the initial runs as some players eventually found out). But the goblins were firmly in control (due to their mastery of potions and pain weapons). Bugbears were an attempt to make super-hobgoblins through applied potioncraft. Kobolds, who were a stunted offshoot of goblinkind (probably because they were not evil), usually ended up as slaves of whichever Big Bad (or Big Good for that matter) was around. [However in tribute to Brian Asbury's game column The Incredible 30th Level Kobold the highest level character in my campaign was, in fact, a 30th level Paladin Kobold.]

    Orcs on the other hand, were actually a different species of human, much as neanderthals were in our world.

    YMMV

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  16. You wouldn't happen to have a citation for this, would you?

    I can't find the original, lengthier post, which seems to have been swallowed up by the ether, but I did find a cached comment in which Gygax explains, "Actually I envisioned the D&D game orcs ase porcine in appearancem but not actually pig faced--more like largfe, upturned noses and small tushes jutting from their mouths, heavy bodies and small, pig-live eyes."

    That's from here: http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:8fZ9m2uNaQwJ:www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php%3Ft%3D171753%26page%3D25+pig+faced+orc+gygax+dave+sutherland&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=9&gl=ca&client=firefox-a

    I'll keep looking for a more specific citation beyond that, though.

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  17. Did you ever read Julian May's rationale for elves/goblins in his Many Colored Land series?

    I have not.

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  18. Your dwarves spring asexually out of rock, right? Could trolls come from a different rock, or from rock closer to the roiling chaos? Or could they be Eld-experimented dwarves?

    I like the roiling chaos idea.

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  19. That, and a rules example states that their mouths are big enough to throw a potion bottle into.

    I must have missed that one. Where is it?

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  20. One of the things I enjoy best about D&D is that it both hearkens back to our own mythologies and can still create completely new/original ones.

    And one of the strengths of the game is that it's possible to continue to create completely new/original mythologies with a minimum of tweaking. I've been enjoying re-imagining classic monsters in ways that harken back to the original presentations of them while also bringing something new to the table.

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  21. Now I think James has a point: the ecology of fiction is different from that of reality

    That's really all I meant by my comment.

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  22. Probably because my first orcs were those in Peter Jackson's adaptation of LOTR.

    Wow. I feel really old.

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  23. Who were the Thulians responsible for creating? It looks like the Eld are getting them all.

    Yes, it does. What I had planned to do was to introduce some more weird and "specialized" humanoids in Dwimmermount that were experiments of the Thulians that extended the work of the Eld.

    Who cursed the ogres? Is it known, is there any chance of redemption?

    Since they're cursed humans and only humans have gods, I think they're likely responsible. As for redemption, I am open to the possibility, but no one, at the start of the campaign, will have ever heard of its having happened with any plausibility.

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  24. Ork means pig, and it was the 'Isle of Pigs'

    Though true, I wonder how much influence that had over Gygax and/or Dave Sutherland.

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  25. Orcs on the other hand, were actually a different species of human, much as neanderthals were in our world.

    Isn't that what RQ III did with its (non-Gloranthan) version of orcs?

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  26. Thanks, James! Someone sent me the Enworld conversation -- or at least the parts relevant to Orcs -- a while back. Here it is:

    Henrix asked: "I wanted to ask you about the old illustrations of the pig-snouted orcs and asian-looking hobgoblins. Is it true they were inspired by the Minifigs miniatures, or was it the other way 'round?"

    Gary responded on 3-13-07: As I recollect, Dave Sutherland, rest his soul, did the hog-faced orcs and the hobgoblins in samurai-like armor. Minifigs worked from those illustrations.

    In response to that answer, John Drake asked: "Interesting, I wondered about that too. A related question: is that how you personally imagined orcs etc, to look like or did you have a completely different conception of how such creatures were to look?"

    Gary responded on 3-13-07: "Actually I envisioned the D&D game orcs ase porcine in appearancem but not actually pig faced--more like largfe, upturned noses and small tushes jutting from their mouths, heavy bodies and small, pig-live eyes. Hobgoblins I saw as apish in visage and build."

    Here's the link: http://www.enworld.org/printthread.php?t=171753&page=25&pp=30

    In response to that answer, Henry asked: "So in other words, Orcs as portrayed on the D&D cartoon would have been kind of close to the mark?"

    Gary responded on 3-16-07: "Actually, those D&D Cartoon Show orcs were a bit too porcine like in my view, but they did match up pretty well with the orcs in the MM."

    In response, Sir Elton said: "Gammorean Guards in Jaba's Palace in Return of the Jedi squealed in fear or in excitement. They had the porcine, hog like faces. Ugly brutes too."

    Gary responded on 3-19-07: "I envisooned D&D orcs as more human looking, but those Gammorean Guards would certainly make do..."

    Here's the link: http://www.enworld.org/printthread.php?t=171753&page=26&pp=30

    Thanks, again :)

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  27. Wow. I feel really old.
    If it helps, I only just turned 18 two days ago, so it's less that you should feel old and more that I should feel really young, 'cause I think I was 10 when fellowship came out.

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  28. "To correspond with the 8 levels of fighters in the original D&D game I decided upon eight levels of humanoids--kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, gnolls, bugbears, ogres, trolls."

    The Gnoll Interview

    Sounds like Gygax was more interested in creating level titles for humanoids than worrying about naturalism or credibility.

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  29. Isn't that what RQ III did with its (non-Gloranthan) version of orcs?

    Quite possibly, but my memory of other game systems that did this keeps springing back to The Fantasy Trip as the earliest known example. Come to think of it, the goblins there were also noted potion-crafters. For the life of me I can't think of an Ur source that might have influenced both of us though; I put it down to convergent evolution.

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  30. Sounds like Gygax was more interested in creating level titles for humanoids than worrying about naturalism or credibility.

    Almost certainly. I think it's a mistake to ascribe any single motive to most of the design decisions in D&D. In the case of the many humanoid species, I think Gary had many motives, including providing a continuing "ladder" of challenges for players, so that there were humanoids for every stage of their level advancement. At the same time, in the context of Gary's campaign, he generally tried to contextualize and provide an explanation (of sorts) for what could be found therein, even if the explanation only amounted to "it's magic!"

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  31. Of course, as per Tolkein, orc was simply the elvish name for goblins, so Gygax was wrong to create them as seperate species...

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