Thursday, June 16, 2022

Orcs and Beastmen, Part 1

 Note: Oddly enough, Bar Chakka was part of my very first draft of Centerra, back in 2010.  Centerra has changed a lot in the last 12 years, but two most important elements of Bar Chakka (the beastmen and the water worship) have not.

Orcs and Beastmen

I don't know how explicit I've previously been on this point, but orcs are technically a type of beastman.  

Beastmen are an all-male race that can breed with nearly any mammal to create a man-beast hybrid.  Orcs breed almost exclusively with pigs, and goat-men (druhok) breed almost exclusively goats and (less commonly) deer.  

They are incomprehensively virile (especially goatmen).  They are capable of blood-transmissible impregnation (similar to a bloodborne disease) and their seed remains viable for hundreds of years after their death.

The Church can explain how the beastmen drank the blood of Drumonia, a wild and ancient god of wine, revelry, madness, and sex, thereby corrupting their entire race.  Their features were made bestial to match their appetites, and despite their swollen libidos they would only be attracted to beasts.

The Orbital Liches can explain how beastmen are just another mutant race, created by the ancient wizards of a dying world, in an attempt to survive the Time of Fire and Madness.

The druhok of Bar Chakka will explain that they were born from natural species as the planet attempted to save itself from the depredations of unnatural magic.  Their birth was willed by the planet itself when it needed a defender.  (Orcs have lost their way, but the druhok still remember the path.)

Orcs, of course, believe that they were created to suffer.

Why Do Orcs Fuck Pigs?

Not all orcs do.  In every orcish settlement, you might fight a couple of dogmen or perhaps a minotaur.  

But those creatures are probably related to the chieftain, and are tolerated for no other reason.

Other types of beastmen are disruptive, and are typically driven out (if they do not leave of their own accord).  Minotaurs are famously aggressive and rarely function well in a team.  Dogmen are loud and stupid.  Equicephali creep everyone out.  Out of all the beastmen, orcs are one of the most intelligent ones, and are the only ones with mouths that can speak Gospeltongue.

Besides, swine herds can march alongside the armies, where they provide meat, companionship, and mounts (for pigs the size of royal swine).

Why Do Druhok Fuck Goats?

Because goatmen are smarter than pigmen, and they survive very well in the mountainous regions of Bar Chakka.  

There's also a large religious component to it.  The druhok goatmen are the inheritors of heaven.  The only other type of holy beastman is the stag-men, who tend to succumb often to respiratory diseases.

Goatmen are revered in Bar Chakka, where they are the only type of beastman able to become a priest.

probably the best beastman picture ever
by Karl Kapinsky

Why All These Herd Animals?

Because beastmen are still men (it's in the name), and really only thrive when they are part of a society.  

The only animals that function well as beastmen are social animals.  Solitary animals tend to hate living alongside other people.  So while there are a few bear-men in the world, they're perpetually uncomfortable and anxious when living alongside others.  (Minotaurs, for example, have a sort of nervous machismo that makes them extremely dangerous to their neighbors.)

Beastmen born from non-social animals are also missing a lot of the normal sympathies and considerations that we take for granted.  A tigerman will walk past a beggar and feel nothing--not the smallest glimmer of sympathy.  Likewise, if you give a tigerman a gift, they will accept with an alien lack of gratitude.  This is because things like sympathy and gratitude exist in humans (who are meant to live together in a society) but not in tigers (who are solitary). 

Essentially, tigermen and bearmen are sociopaths, and everyone knows this.  They are stereotyped in beastman society as evil (and correctly so).

Anyway, here are the three biggest orc cities I can think of at the moment.


Tangodar is the only city that the orcs have ever been proud of.  Stone spires in a foggy valley, a full half of the city secreted underground.  Gauzy screens covered the streets, and smoke from sacrifices filled the sky above.  Everything to keep them hidden from heaven.

The secret to the city's longevity was its democracy, where major decisions were settled through combat of champions (typically non-lethal), one against one, for as long as there were willing champions.  The only weapon allowed was a bundle of sticks called a bashka.  Because all orcs are adept fighters, it was difficult to disenfranchise the majority, and because the duels were such a bottleneck, the orcs had days (if not weeks) to deliberate and compromise.

The city is long-destroyed, the victim of a century-long crusade.  But the victors came to regret their victory.  The city is cursed--a clotted vector of fear, paranoia, and avarice.  Anyone who spends a night within sight of its walls can feel it.  Friends seem to be enemies, and there is no true brotherhood in those walls.

Still, the city is defensible, and many treasures still glitter in its depths, and of course there is no shortage of fools in this world.  And so it is that the city is ruled over by Pavorick the Stained, an exiled prince from Basharna, who still attempts to recruit people to his poisoned city while they all go mad.

Beneath the city is infested with squadrons of clever war-dead, puppeted by some necromancer still unknown.

And of course the orcs still seek to reclaim it.


An embarassment to most orcs, Garlak is little more than a gussied-up hill fort.  There are three reasons why most orcs are embarrassed of Garlak.

First, it's shaped like a giant skull.

The orcs who live there swear that it's a titan skull, but it is obviously carved (and crudely at that).

Second, the orcs there all sing songs.  Everyone who has ever led an orc band knows that orcs need constant structure in their lives to be effective.  Without it, they fall apart.  (They're a bit like toddlers in that regard.)

And so the orcs of Garlak sing work songs.  They're a bit like sea shanties, although you can use your work tools as instruments.  When marching, this is obviously bootfalls, but can also be things like banging your knife on the trencher as you eat.  (Yes, the orcs sing songs while they eat.  It keeps the meal orderly.  It's less cute when they sing the flensing song.)

Even promotions are based on how many grunties (shanties) you have memorized.

Lastly, the orcs don't have a king.  They might, but they don't.

The orcs of Garlak will tell you that they obey the Hidden Masters--a secret group of seven orcs with the power to turn invisible, erase memories, and even vanish from existence for short periods of time.  The Hidden Masters leave them coded messages, which they can follow only once they've been inducted into the correct secret societies.  Since they are hidden, they cannot be assassinated.  And since they are everywhere, they always know the best things to do.

Outsiders will tell you that there are no Secret Masters.  The orcs of Garlak are simply mad.

A third theory is that the orcs have stumbled upon a masterful sort of self-regulation.  Nearly every orc is a member of a secret organization.  (There are over 90 secret organizations in Garlak, and probably more than 300.)  Inside each secret organization, there are secret secret organizations.  The orcs are constantly receiving coded messages (tipping with seven pennies), delivering coded messages (farting during certain words), and taking actions based on these secret messages (lowering the cost of their cheese inventory by 30%).

It might just be that these coded messages form a stable, self-regulating loop.  Something similar happens with ants who, seeking to follow the ant in front of it, sometimes form into death circles.  Except in the case of orcs, this self-regulating loop is a stabilizing form of society.

not shown: pig nose and lil pig ears
by Lestatbishop


The orcs are reluctant to call it by it's name, and so they refer to it as the City in the South.

Godai is a city founded by fascist orc supremacists.  They seek nothing less than the utter extinction of all of subhumanity.  (True humanity is already extinct, at least on Centerra.)

They are succeeding where other orcs have failed for three reasons.

First, they are utterly disciplined.  Lawbreaking is not tolerated in Godai.  An orc who cannot regulate their baser instincts is split down the middle by The Threshing Wheel (which is sort-of-a-building, sort-of-a-vehicle, that is used for the execution of unruly orcs).

Since orcs are naturally unruly, the orcs of Godai employ several methods to calm themselves and aid their focus.  A lot of these are herbal.  At least one type of lobotomy is performed.  And subtle magics are suspected (although never proven).

Second, they confront their weaknesses.  Every Black Hand Orc can recite the Forty Humiliations by heart, and list all of the times humans have broken treaties and exterminated their race.  They will tell you in the bluntest terms the ways in which humans are superior to themselves (intelligence, cooperation, innovation).

They have a list of orcish strengths, too, but that is not as relevant.  Human superiority is something that must be meditated on daily, until the shame is burnt away and only the anger remains.

The orcs of Godai are also uniquely interested in learning.  They make it a point to capture scholars and tutors, so that they can learn all the things that they lack.  And so their greatest warriors are often tutored by the same  minds that mold the minds of princes.  Orcish brains struggle with mathematics and astronomy, but they learn languages, philosophy, and construction as easily as any human.

Third, they aggressively recruit.  Their greatest warriors (with their sword hand tattooed black) are sent out to help other orcs.  They function as military advisors, mediators, and troubleshooters.  (They're a bit like jedi.)  And when all of that fails, they draw their black blades (painted so as to be unreflective).  In combat, they are commandos, employing traps, poison, surveillance, and ambush to defeat their foes.  They are very good at this.

It is rumored that some of the Black Hands have been alchemically enhanced so as to give them further advantages in combat.

The Black Hand orc renders all of this aid for free.  But when he is done, he always calls the most promising youths to return with him to Godai, and begin training to become Black Hands themselves.  After their indoctrination into the Black Hand, they are free to return and lead their people if they wish.  Or they may carry their dim blade to more distant shores, and carry their violent proselytization a bit further.

Black Hand orcs are renowned for being lawful.  Their black-inked hand and sword are reserved to killing Dread Humans and Their Servants.  This second category is sometimes stretched a bit, but it never includes their fellow orcs.

Black Hand orcs are loathe to kill another orc.  But when they must do so, they use their non-dominant hand and a stilletto called a winnow.  A weregild is paid to the deceased's family.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Go Die In a Hole: a Podcast for You

 Back in 2019, me and Nick put our microphones together and made a podcast called Go Die in a Hole.  We made 2 episodes.  It was a magical journey in which I learned how much I hate the sound of my own voice.

The concept:

Go Die would be a podcast where we analyzed adventure design, specifically dungeon design.  There aren't a lot of podcasts that focus specifically on dungeon design.  

* Which elements of the dungeon work well?  Which elements suck?

* How does the dungeon's layout affect how it plays?  How's the flow and the tempo?

* How well does the dungeon tell a story?

To explore these questions, we would spend 1 episode exploring a dungeon in rapid fashion: one person would be the DM and the other person would be the entire party.  Combat would be resolved in a single roll, or would be hand-waved entirely.  

Then we would spend episode two discussing the adventure.  The focus would be on (a) how information about the dungeon is presented to the player, (b) the types of decisions/problems that the dungeon presents, and (c) how a party would make these decisions.

We only sorta succeeded at these goals.

Anyway, now we made two more, so there's four in total.  And I guess that's pretty cool.

Episode 1

I run Nick through B1: In Search of the Unknown, written by Mike Carr in 1979.  It was the adventure that was included in the first edition of Basic D&D.

Episode 2

We talk about B1: In Search of the Unknown.

Episode 3

Nick runs me through CM8: The Endless Stair, written in 1987 by Ed Greenwood (creator of the Forgotten Realms).  It was an adventure for the Companion Set.

Episode 4

We talk about CM8: The Endless Stair.


Hopefully it won't be 2 years before we record another one.

Thank you, Nick, for your melodious voice and vorpal wit.  You have a better work ethic than me, and I resent you only slightly for it.

Note: not a Patreon post.  Psh.

Friday, January 14, 2022


Imagine a 2d wizard, living entirely in the photon-thin surface of your television screen, who learns about the existence of a third dimension--hitherto unobserved by himself.

Wizzrobe from Zelda (1986)

And even though the two-dimensional wizard might have some understanding of these spaces and its inhabitants, the wizard still has no way to interact with it.  None of his tools give him the ability to interact with the world in a three-dimensional way.  Even his mightiest spells are two-dimensional.

So what that wizard needs is a three-dimensional tool.  Even a humble instrument would give him the purchase he needs to begin his three-dimensional machinations.  But it is difficult--so crushingly difficult--to construct such things from two-dimensional tools.

But by now you already understand that all of this is just an analogy for three-dimensional wizards struggling to interact with the four-dimensional universe, so let us speak plainly.

A tool that allows a three-dimensional creature to access the fourth dimension is called a tetravect.

The smallest four-dimensional organisms are gorbels, and many wizards attempt to summon the blasted creatures and attempt to make a tetravect from  their bodies (which have organs that grow fourth-dimensionally).  This is a difficult road--gorbels are maddeningly obtuse in both mindset and biology.  (For example, every dissection presents a new set of organs.)

Geminoids are also an option, but no one knows their true nature yet.

Second, other wizards may also attempt to summon slaad, but they are fools.  Slaad interact with the multiverse, which is entirely different from the fourth dimension.

The third and final option is to build a tetravect out of three-dimensional parts.  (This is akin to building a cube out of squares, or building a hypercube out of cubes.)  The resulting creature is a triphage (or more commonly, a tirapheg).  

We'll come back to tiraphegs in a second.  Let's talk more about gorbels first.


Only a fucking idiot would attempt to reach the fourth dimension with a gorbel-based tetravect scheme, and yet it happens often enough that we had better stat out the little monsters.

Gorbels are red, rubbery orb creatures.  They have three eyestalks that can be retracted inside their head.  They have two blubbery baby arms that terminate in bulky claws.  And they have a dull, drooling mouth that hides a decent set of fangs.  They are 2-3' in diameter, and they weigh less that you think.

Gorbel from the Fiend Folio (1981)
Does anyone know who the illustrator is?


Lvl 3  Def leather  Bite 1d6

Climb average  Int 2  Dis oblivious

Rubbery - Immune to bludgeoning damage and falls.  Bounces as well as a basketball.

Self-Insertion - Whenever a gorbel takes damage, it splits into two nearly-identical gorbels (with the same current HP).  (This the actually a different insertion of the same gorbel, but don't worry about that.)

Spike Burst - When a gorbel is killed, it deals 1d4 piercing damage to all creatures within 10'.  Dex save for half.

Psuedoresurrection - Gorbels that die have a 4-in-6 chance of reappearing 1d6 minutes later at some location within 200'.

Gorbels are difficult to keep in captivity.  When bored, they bite themselves (creating more gorbels) or engage in "barbering" where they bite the eyestalks off of other gorbels.  They are famously difficult to entertain, and gorbel-keepers are advised to hire professional entertainers.  (Gorbels enjoy slapstick and children's stories.  At no point do they laugh, smile, or show any reaction.  If bored, they will wander off and commit mischief.)

Wizards who wish to keep gorbels are advised to have a disintegrator on hand so that excess gorbels can be killed instantaneously.  They will also need a system to hunt down psuedoresurrected gorbels and throw them into the disintegrator.

Gorbel-keepers are also advised to construct their lair in such a way as to avoid Gorbel Resonance Cascades.  GRCs occur when a gorbel takes damage in such a way that when new gorbels are inserted into existence, they also take damage.  A pit of acid can cause GRCs.  So can a small room with strong walls.  Once more and more gorbels are bent into a space, they can begin taking crush damage from all of the other gorbels, creating a runaway reaction that can explode castles and collapse dungeons.

And of course, the sequela of a GRC is always a bunch of gorbels reappearing in the area.  Gorbels can become aggressive when they outnumber non-gorbels by a large margin.

It is not known what type of food gorbels actually eat.  They obviously get hungry, and they are always trying to eat things, but nothing seems to give them sustenance and most things cause them to vomit and take damage. 

They are famously oblivious.  Roll a d3 when you encounter one to determine its disposition.

1 - Oblivious.  Ex: staring into the sun.  Aggressive if touched.

2 - Distracted.  Ex: trying to eat a rock, gagging, and throwing it back up again.  Aggressive if touched.

3 - Aggressive.  Will try to eat you while shouting its name.  Aggressive gorbels in adjacent rooms will hear the commotion and come bouncing in.

Magic Items of the Gorbels

In the process of making a tetravect from a gorbel, there will be many failed attempts.

Gorbelblood Potion 

Creates a clone of the drinker without any clothing or items.).  Prepared spells are split randomly between the two.  Yes, if you use it on a PC, you can now control two identical PCs.  After 1 hour, one of the two clones (determined randomly) melts painfully over the course of five minutes. 

The name of the potion is a bit of a misnomer, as gorbels lack blood, instead having a pneumatic circulatory system.

Gorbel Bile

Comes in a vial with 5 applications.  Each application of bile reduces an objects weight by 20 lbs, down into the negative weights.  Smaller doses can be applied, if you wish.  Lasts 1 hour.

If applied to a 20 lb object, the object now becomes weightless.  A second application causes the object to weigh -20 lbs, and causing it to fall upwards if not secured.  A third application causes it to weigh -40 lbs, and so on.  

If drank, each application gives you +2 to jumping and -2 to shoving (and similar).

The name of this potion is absolutely accurate.  Gorbels are 50% bile by weight--although distilling it correctly is another challenge.

Gorbel Bone Chariot

Gorbels are boneless.  Inducing osteogenesis in gorbels is a biomantic and spiritual challenge.  So is removing them, since gorbel corpse disappear shortly after their death.

A successful gorbel bone chariot is a successful tetravect--the point of this whole exercise.  The chariot described below is only one form that a gorbel-based tetravect could take.  The chariot is a spherical cage, 10' in diameter, made from chrome-plated gorbel bones.  When used, all creatures inside the cage are shifted along a fourth-dimension access to a place a few centimeters outside our universe.  The rider with the highest Charisma is the "driver" and controls the function of the chariot.

Unlike most (spirit-facilitated) teleports, this is a "sharp" teleportation.  Anyone who is halfway in the chariot when it teleports will be cut in half.  If you teleport into a solid object you will be fused with it.  It sounds like a thundercrack every time it is used, and hearing protection is strongly recommended.

There is no three-dimensional air out there.  Anyone who uses the chariot without fully exhaling and relaxing their airways will take 1d6 Con damage (if reduced to 0 Con, the result is lung eversion and death).  Even with that precaution, anyone remaining in an extradimensional space will lose consciousness after 2 rounds.  (I'm glossing over the other effects, like the nitrogen bubbles and edema.  You honestly need a space suit.)

From here, you can observe any location as if you could see through walls.  Additionally, you can teleport to any visible location with 1000'.  Each of these two usages causes the passengers to gain 1 point of Trauma.  

If you see a gorbel's true form from this vantage point, take another point of Trauma.