Introducing the Orkata and New Character Generation Concepts
Orcs are fantasy’s original sin when it comes to writing about race. Originally, in Tolkien's work, they were corrupted elves, loosely based on the Mongols. Overtime, in DnD, they morphed into a more tribalistic bent based on racial coding that is...not great.
This has been a matter for debate in recent years and it is very clear that this has to be changed in how we write our fantasy worlds. I’m not going to comment on DnD's handling of race or explain the problems historically, as there are many other people that have talked about that better and from a more informed perspective than what I can. In either case, they were made to be evil minions fodder, along with Goblins and Drow, that could be killed by the dozen with little guilt to the players. What culture was written for them was scant and based on the idea they are a fundamentally an evil race.
This never sat well with me. Sentient creatures should never be fodder to kill, nor is it ok at all to make an entire race and culture evil by sheer existence. The division between ‘Monster’ races and ‘Player’ races is not one that should exist.
One of the founding principles in creating the Gessa setting is that all the races and cultures we include or make are reworked into unique and nuanced cultures that draw from multiple sources. Instead of having a Roman stand in, a African stand in, a Chinese stand in etc, we take the themes of human cultures from our world to make new ones. Instead of the Roman or Chinese standins, we will have things that combine and introduce unique facets to an Imperial culture, or instead of Native American or Mongolian stand ins, there are races that are designed around the themes of Plains peoples. If we do our jobs right, none of the fantastical cultures we present should be based in stereotype or rooted specifically in any one culture, but instead a unique one based on themes from our own.
Traditionally, Orcs are a race of warriors, and we wanted to keep that core of it, but make them far more ‘realistic’ and as diverse of a culture as any, far from the one dimensional fodder they normally are viewed as.
Here, we are presenting our take on the Orkata, both culturally and mechanically. With this, we are also introducing a new way to think about races mechanically. Instead of having a couple set scores plus a score based on subrace, players are given several options at each step, and then additional ability score options when they choose the background of their character. On top of this, there will be additional racial options representing different facets of the culture or biology of the race. Our goal is that every race can be good at a wider range of classes and are less pigeon holed into certain roles.
Gone will be the days of Elves being solely rangers or wizards, Orcs are fighters or barbarians, Dwarves as clerics and warriors simply because that is mechanically the meta for that race or class. Each character would have their race with multiple options to tailor their scores, in addition, their background will now also add to ability scores, representing the development of their talents rather than strict biological or cultural increases. At the end of the process, any race should be able to comfortably be any class between these two rule changes and should demonstrate far more diversity within races, something that now only really is an option for humans and half elves.
The Orkata: The Orkata, or the Orc, live primarily along the western edge of the Astaran Empire, occupying the large central desert on the continent of Kerana, the Karaga (much like the Sahara or the Gobi, Karaga simply means Desert in Orc).
The harsh environment has produced a culture around the idea of personal merit, but of community mind. They structure their society not by bloodlines or democracy, but by simply who can prove themselves the best to keep their tribes strong, well fed, and healthy. They do this through competitions called Yath. These can take many, many forms. Some, like Mardu Yath, (a fun cross between basketball, soccer, and hacky-sack) are games or sports used to settle petty disputes or simply for fun. Others are tests of skill, knowledge, magic, battle, etc. The Orc take these challenges very seriously.
If an Orc thinks they are better in a certain position than the one that currently occupies it, they can challenge them to a Yath they both agree on to decide who is better. To outsiders, this seems to be a chaotic system of dominance and violence, but to the Orc, they simply think that it serves their group better to have the best available lead, and in truth, most of the Yath isn’t simply about killing their competition or of battle, but of skill. They in turn, are confused about the human propensity to have their leaders be untested and passed down through bloodline.
Despite the cultural obsession to be the best in their specialty, they are also profoundly community minded. Orc families are large and include a vast interconnected system of marriages and relationships. It is common among orcs that a household contains several adults each married to some but not others, all raising their broods communally, with no care of whose is biologically whose. In their larger communities and tribes, the focus is on making sure everyone is fed and taken care of, including the sick, elderly, or wounded. Duergar, humans, and the occasional elf often make it into a tribe by simple adoption when they are in need, finding those stranded out in the desert.
They travel on the backs of drakes, large lizards that are well suited for the desert environment. Drakes have spread throughout Kerana as a mount, but the Drake is native to the deserts here. Capable of spitting poison and with larger front claws for digging, they have become ideal as a combat mount, even if they are slower than a horse overall. With their range of color for scales, the large sails on their necks, horns, and wattle, they have been bred by Orcs, the Astaran Empire, and the Ryukan (Dragonborn) of Xerac to produce a variety of color morphs and those of various breath weapons, where they have introduced magic into their bloodlines. They also employ sand skiffs, using the wind and a little magic to sail the dunes as if they were water.
Orcs don’t have a formal religion, often claiming they have killed their gods. But they have deeply rooted traditions and rituals, their priests communing with the spirits that make their home in the Deserts. This has marked them as evil by the Astaran Empire, who claims any spirits outside the host they worship as heathonous. Being neighbors and of such differing cultures, the Orkata and the Astaran Empire have been at odds for the entirety of their history, at best having periods of uneasy truces. The land forms the border of the Karagan Desert and the Sharup and Nawor countries within the Empire are in fairly constant flux, many names and towns and cities exchanging often over history. A similar thing happens on the other side of the Karagan desert, where the Orcs share a border with the Free States and various principalities that dot the western coast and mountains of Kerana, though they enjoy more peace and trade with the Free States over the Empire.
Half Orcs are shunned in many human circles, accused of unnaturalness by the worst of the Astaran faith, but Orcs care very little about such distinctions. Their communities often have human, duergar, or even an occasional elf or other rarely seen race in their midst and no one bats an eye. If they are contributing, they are welcome, in the eyes of Orc. The humans of the Free states on the other side.
Race Mechanics: As stated previously, along with our setting, we want to introduce different rules on race, ones that allow more within race diversity of play styles. Each race in our system has 3 points that can be spent into 4 different stats. If they have a subrace, this is 2 choices among three in for the race as a whole, and 1 choice of 2 for the subrace. You can only put up to 2 points in any one stat between the listed race choices and the ones offered in our background rules, which allow for 2 points to put into any of the 6 scores based putatively on your characters background.
Alternate Racial Traits: Along with the normal rules for races, we will be writing out alternate racial features for the races that exist in our world. The goal of these is to allow for races to support multiple play styles and to add Gessa specific character options. The following are meant to be the alternate features for the Orc, representing different aspects of Orc Culture
- Gain +1 Wisdom or Con
- Gains the Spiritseeker Tattoo Racial Trait. If they already have the trait, they instead gain racial traits they missed out on. .
Racial Weapon Feats: With several races, we will be introducing race/cultural specific weapons. These don’t require a feat to use, but the feat does amplify and highlights the strengths of a particular weapon or cultural fighting style. To learn these fighting styles, you must either be from the culture the styles are from or have been trained in it by master of the style (Or simply DM permission). Here, I am describing two such Racial Weapon Feats for the Orc, for the deadly axe, the Urk-gosh, and the Goring Strikes feat, for any Horned Creature or one wearing a specially designed helm.
- Gain +1 Str or Con
- In the hands of a normal soldier, the Urk-Gosh simply acts as a Greataxe, but in the hands of one trained in its use, the axe becomes a deadly controller of the field around them. One end has a double bladed Axe, heavy for chopping off limbs and heads. The other end has a pick and hook, made for pulling off shields, armor, tripping, and making sure the fallen are dead
- When using this axe, you can make one additional attack with the pick/hook side, doing 1d4+Str piercing damage as a bonus action or attempt a trip. If the target is already on the ground, the pick damage rises to 1d8.
- When rolling advantage on an attack, if the both die meet the AC, you can trip with the other side.
- Requirements: Natural attack headbutt/gore, specially designed helm, unarmed fighting (must use head for attack)
- Gore or Headbutt attacks go up by 1 die size (d6->d8). If you moved 20ft or more this turn, your first gore attack does a second die’s worth of damage.
- Once per turn, when you hit with an attack with your horns, you can shove them if they fail on a DC 8+prof+Str Strength saving throw.
- You can use your horns as a bonus action, either to shove or attack. This attack can be used in conjunction with weapons
- When you shove using your horns, you can shove them an additional 5 ft, or 5ft and knocked down.
Half Orcs, being a crossbreed of two similar species (Of Human or Elf) find themselves somewhere in between. They differ depending on what was mixed together. Rule for half races will come up in an upcoming blog post, allowing for more mixed race options between the various Humanoid races of Gessa, including variants of half Dwarves, Giants, Elves, Humans, Halflings, Orcs, etc. Humans, Orcs, Elves, and Halfings all produce half of each parent offspring that can also breed in the next generation, but some like the Duergar (Dwarves) and Humans produce unfortunately sterile offspring. In the case of Half Orcs, those that choose to be Half Orc can select from the Orc racial abilities according to a point system, mix cultural and biological abilities from the parent races. Half Orc Characters can represent their Human half by trading away Orc abilities for Human’s penchant for skill (Replace Yath with Choice of Any two skills, Horns for 1 skill). Or trading Relentless Endurance and Yath, they would be able to gain the Human Feat trait or a Human Cultural trait (Alternate rules for humans based on component cultures will be outlined in another planned blog post)
Let us know what you think in the comments or on our facebook pages. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are at all interested in helping or writing.
Every week for this year, I will unveil another facet of my world, Gessa. By the end of 2021, we hope we will be able to launch and publish a complete world guide for Gessa and the first part of our Campaign The Last Gasp. Tune in next week for the first glimpse at the Astaran Empire and their astrologically based religion.
Thanks for listening.