Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ogres and Their Hungry Kin

You must first catch a child between the ages of four and ten.  It must be shown no gentleness, nor hear any kindness.  The child must be kept from other children, lest they feel sympathy for others in a similar plight.  It must be beaten when they are bad and ignored when they are good.  It must never, ever be allowed to learn manners, or politeness, or cleanliness.

Cuss at 'em, slap 'em.  Leave them out in the rain.  But leave the door unlocked sometimes, so that the child can creep back indoors.  They will learn that a soft bed is a reward for deceit.

And above all else, they must eat, eat, eat.

They must eat until their tummies cramp and nausea curdles their brains.  They must eat until fat blossoms on their small limbs and plumps up their neck.  Their face is buried beneath it, their heart is entombed.

They are rude and lazy, but they are not cruel.  They merely lack all compassion, and in some ways, that's worse.  They are restless and indolent, always roaming, never reaching a destination.

When they have swallowed their tears to the bottom of their bitter bellies.  When they have forgotten all words except curses and mockeries.  When they no longer miss their mom.  When they will spit on you for asking if they miss their mom.  When they think themselves to be grown.

This is when they are ready.

They are hung on racks and washed with bird blood.  Bog water is forced down their throat until their bellies bulge, and then kicked until they vomit it back up.  This process is repeated until their bodies are round like barrels, and just as hollow.

They are stretched, pressed, and beaten.  Their limbs are pulled long, long, long and their fingers stretched until they can completely encircle a man's neck between their thumb and forefinger.  And finally, they are fed bones and sugar, to build an ogre skeleton inside them.

They are full of thick bones.  Not a single one is straight, and no two are identical.  They are big and bent and hungry, and their body is not wrapped in fat nor muscle but some amalgam of both.  This is a newborn ogre.

They are always eating, but they are never full.  They wonder why, but never for long, because that is a complicated, discomforting path that their mind must tread.  And if there are two things that an ogre absolutely cannot abide, it is complexity and discomfort.


The youngest and the smallest of the ogres are called bugbears.  They are also the stealthiest, and they are used to steal more children.

Most are eager to do so.  They have been weak their whole lives, and would like nothing more than to feel more powerful than someone else.

But children are also a danger to a bugbear, as well.  If the bugbear feels any kinship with the child, or pity, or empathy, their whole ogre quintessence will erode.  And so it is that children sometimes kill the bugbear that was sent to kidnap them.

By the time an ogre grows out of the bugbear stage, they are beyond such trifling doubts.  They are an ogre, and will forever be proud of that fact.


Ogres eat.

Ogres are horrible people.

Sometimes ogres eat horrible people.  When this happens, the horrible person isn't digested down into nothingness.  They exist within the matrix of casual cruelty that forms the ogre's biology.

Sure, there are kidneys and spleens in there, but those organs don't do what you think they do.  An ogre's kidney removes kind thoughts from the blood.  The spleen produces bile and pumps it into the brain.  The lungs filter the ogre's breath and exchange gentle words for callous ones.

And into this metaphysical ecosystem enters the half-digested psyche of whatever curmudgeon the ogre happened to eat.  Fire cannot burn fire; like cannot devour like.  And so the horrible parts of the eaten person persist, like islands of fat floating on top of chicken broth.

And sometimes these people--those who were eaten and then halfway digested--sprout back out from the ogre in which they were buried.  They grow a new head on their shoulder.  They become a two-headed ogre: an ettin.

The head that grows isn't the dead person, not exactly.  It's more like a crude imitation prepared from the worst parts of their original personality and memories (which is all that survives the brutish fermentation of the ogre's guts).

Ettin heads usually argue among themselves, and in true ogrish fashion, this usually leads to violence.  Sometimes, it even leads to decapitation, a process that the ogre usually survives, unfortunately.

Ogre Magi

Sometimes the horrible person that an ogre eats is another ogre, and then the brute has two ogrish heads sprouting from their shoulders.  Sometimes an especially foul human was already ogrish enough that it counts as an ogre for this purpose.  (Not all ogres are shaped like ogres; remember that as you go about your day.)

They are smart, because they have two heads, but they are also dumb, because they have two heads.  None of us is as dumb as all of us.

As an ogre grows a second head, it gains in sloth and bitterness.  But it also gains in magical acumen, as well.  No one knows why this is exactly.  They cast spells like a group of people competing for a bartender's attention.

More heads sometimes, but not always, correspond to increased magical power.  So while there are some potent ogre mages with two heads, the exemplars of their type are enormous, ancient cannibal-giants with vast nests of grimacing heads atop their shoulders, some from kidnappers, some from kings.


Ogre mages are ostentatious and bold.  They favor outward displays of power: flight, lightning bolt, cone of cold, darkness.  And so it makes sense that their wickedness is displayed outwards, manifesting as new heads.

But some ogres are elusive and crafty.  They favor inward displays of power: invisibility, charm, illusion, polymorph, mirage arcana.  These are the hags, and they hold their wickedness inside themselves, where it cannot be seen.

They are made in the same way as ettin and ogre magi: by the consumption of especially wicked people.  But these sinners are not reborn into the ogre, as they are inside an ettin.  Their bodies are not cradles, but tombs.

It is for this reason that every hag has a belly full of corpses, or perhaps just their heads.  The more corpses in her belly, the greater her power.

If that sounds repulsive, yes, it certainly is.  But I doubt you will think that when you meet a hag.  They are wrapped in so many layers of illusion, glamour, and polymorph spells that it sometimes takes wizards years to figure out what a hag's corpse really looks like.  They don't renew their aging glamour spells; they merely put down another layer.


Now, ogres are lazy hedonists, that much is known.  And although they despise all forms of thought and intellectualism, they are not stupid.  If they behave stupidly, it is because they despise the act of thinking, not that they are necessarily bad at it.  (This isn't quite captured by "Int 8", but use your imagination.)

The constant pursuit of pleasure often leads to pain.  Alcohol leads to hangovers.  Stealing sheep leads to a painful rain of slingstones.  Raping bear cubs leads to a mauling.

And so, among some ogres, a new type of thought emerges.  A bastard form of Epicureanism.  An ogre seeks pleasure, but pleasure can also be defined as the absence pain.  Freedom from noise, fear, distraction, and stimulation.

Remember that an ogre's body is a mirror of its mind.  As soon as an ogre begins to think these things, its body begins to change.

An eye becomes red-rimmed, rots, and falls out of its socket, so that the ogre may see less of of the world and the sundry sensations that cause it displeasure.  The remaining eye grows large and yellow.  The two eye sockets merge into one.  Now it is a cyclops.

They seek the loneliest places possible.  Their mindset is nearly monastic.

But remember, they are still ogres.  They are not at peace, and they are not satisfied.  That frustration and gnawing dissatisfaction is still there, except it is now a mental turmoil instead of a physical one.  They don't seek things to make themselves happy, they seek absence of things to keep themselves from being unhappy, but towards this end they have failed miserably.

Everything annoys them.  Sounds annoy them.  Silence annoys them.  They hate everything.

Cyclops have a unique power, too.  They can see the future.  It is a cruel gift, because to look into the future is to accept more unwanted stimulation, more hateful scenes of an unwanted life.

And so a cyclops may make for a passable oracle, if you approach them with a great deal of sheep and a very small amount of noise.

Headless Ogres

These are ogres that have decapitated themselves.

Ogres move through stages of gluttony, indolence, and annoyance.  Ettins remove annoying heads by bashing them in their sleep and then chewing through the neck.  Where else could this wretched cycle end?

But decapitation is not death, for an ogre.  (However, disembowelment is, because an ogre's guts are much more essential than their head.)

Remember that an ogre's body is like a fairy's body: it exists and operates as a manifestation of the mind.  Not the inverse, as is sometimes claimed of humans.

Headless ogres are damned things.  They wander the moors and the wastes, living only a slightly more pointless life than before.  They catch small animals and pulp their corpses between two rocks.  This bloody pulp is then pushed down their sucking neckholes by dirty thumbs.  In this way, life goes on.

Poets love headless ogres, and say that they are a reflection of ourselves.  We all grind up coyotes between flat rocks and shove them in our neckholes, and having done this, stagger off into the next wasteland.

Ogres feel a great deal of sensation.  They feel so fucking much.  They have the biggest appetites and the biggest joys.  Nothing is as hungry as a hungry ogre, and nothing is as jolly as a drunk ogre.  They have the biggest hearts, though they be bent and blackened.

They are carnal creatures, perhaps the most carnal.  And because an ogre feels so fucking much and a headless ogre has no meat-brain to feel that muchness, the sensation spills out into the environment.  They're broken fire hydrants, pumping themselves into the street.

We are candles; they are torches.  Everyone feels what they feel, but they also feel what it is like to be an ogre: restless, hungry, and frustrated.

Stat Blocks

HD 4  AC leather  Club 1d12
Move 9  Int 8  Morale 7
<Bully> The ogre insults, intimidates, or shoves a creature.  If the target fails a Charisma check, they take 1d6 non-lethal.  However, if this would reduce a creature below 0 HP, they do not get knocked out, but instead run away in tears/frightened if they fail a save vs fear.
<Omnivore> Given enough time and ketchup, an ogre can eat anything softer than metal.  They are immune to harmful effects of things they've eaten (e.g. acid, poison, green slime).

HD 3  AC none  Cudgel 1d10
Move 9  Int 8  Morale 7
<Spells> invisibility 3/day, self only, this invisibility only works on adult humanoids.
<Nemesis of Experience> Bugbears are childrens' foes.  Innocence is the key to fighting them, not experience.  Attackers get a penalty on their AC and attack roll equal to their level, max -6.  Children deal double damage to bugbears and can hurt them even with flimsy improvised weapons (such as cardboard swords).

HD 5  AC leather  Club/Fist 1d12/1d6
Move 9  Int 8  Morale 7
<Two-Headed> An ettin is harder to surprise.  If you can get the heads to disagree on something, they have a 2-in-6 chance to waste 1d6 rounds arguing, unless you do something obvious like attack them.
<Omnivore> Given enough time and ketchup, an ogre can eat anything softer than metal.  They are immune to harmful effects of things they've eaten (e.g. acid, poison, green slime).

Ogre Mage
Just give an ogre a few more HD and some of these spells: lightning bolt, cone of cold, fly, darkness, disguise, earth tremor, command, stone snare, dancing weapon

Just give an ogre a few more HD and some witchy spells, such as these: illusion, charm person, invisilibity, disguise, gaseous form, sleep, dominate person, fear, reduce

HD 6  AC leather  Club 1d12
Move 9  Int 8  Morale 7
<Foresight> A cyclops can see the future, or at least a few of the most likely timelines.  All creatures that the cyclops can see get -4 attack and AC when fighting the cyclops.  A creature gets immunity to this ability for 1 minute if they do something completely unexpected (i.e. everyone around the table agrees that they did not think the creature would do that).  This shunts the person onto one of the less-likely timelines, and the cyclops' third eye must spend a minute casting around for the proper thread.

Headless Ogre
HD 6  AC leather  Club 1d12
Move 9  Int 8  Morale 7
<Broadcast Self> Everyone within 1 mile feels more ogrish.  Within 100', creatures cannot benefit from morale bonuses or anything that depends on positive emotions.  They get -4 against anything that depends on negative emotions.
<Broadcast Pain> When damage is done to a headless ogre, half of that damage is mirrored onto the person that damaged it (as long as there is a person that directly caused it).  Save for half.

This post at least partially inspired by: http://www.rolang.com/archives/121


  1. This is great stuff, as always, but I was left wondering: why would anyone would go to the trouble of making ogres in the first place? They sound like they'd make horrible minions: stupid, disloyal, easily distracted, easily bribed. Unless your Evil Scheme requires enormous amounts of brute muscle and absolutely minimal amounts of independent thought, I'd have thought you'd almost always be better off just raising your victims as regular child soldiers, instead...

    (Do ogres make other ogres? If so, why? It would fit with the underlying metaphors about neglected children and cycles of abuse, but they sound like they'd all hate one another on general principle!)

    1. Exactly, it's because they hate one another on principle. And there's nothing worse than being an ogre, so...

    2. Ogres make ogres, because then you get ogres who you can boss around. Also, ogres aren't that hard to make. I mean, they take a lot of time, but the ingredients (a child, bird blood, bog water, lots of food) are easy to get a hold of.

      Hags make most of the ogres.

    3. Hags as ogre-makers does make a disturbing amount of sense, both practically and metaphorically!

    4. Maybe it's the innate parenting instinct that manifests as the crappiest parent who still loves their kids (in the most disfunctional way possible however) but I work with abused kids and even coming from horrid backgrounds that severely screw a kid up they will still love/hate their parents and imagine if it never ended...

  2. God damn this is a cool post.
    On a side note, it also gives great insight into your 'The Black Pyramid of Khalgorond' post.

  3. I really enjoy these origin/ atmosphere posts Arnold K. They achieve just the right mash-up of dark fairy tale and, for lack of a better term, D&D naturalism for me.

  4. This is so disturbing! I agree with James above, I love these posts about species.

  5. Hey I was greatly inspired by this post and your other articles to create my own compilation of various 're-mythed' fantasy species, I'm currently compiling them into a wiki.

    I was wondering if it would be alright to link the ogre article on it's own from the wiki?

    I don't really see any room for improvement or a way I'd want to twist or remake the concept.

  6. Awesome. I like when multipule creatures are given a common origin and connection.

    Is i true that bag of holding are sewn from the ever empty gut of a defeated ogre?

    1. I like this idea because, at one point, Arnold raised the possibility of finding a Bag of Holding in a purple worm stomach (current contents: 1000 gallons of purple worm stomach acid), and I thought "I guess it's an acid-proof bag." And this would explain why!

    2. It freaks me out when people remember my posts better than me.

      But yes, this is now canon.

  7. That "Ogre" picture, Yeah no, that's a hill giant from D&D

  8. Isn't that "ogre picture" a Hill Giant?