Sunday, March 31, 2013

above the reek and trampled dead

From the Lays of Beleriand of old did I memorise these lines of gnarled juvenilia referring to Morgoth, than whom none have a more awesomely metal name;

Unconquerable spears of steel were at his nod, no ruth did feel

The legions of his marshalled hate, On whom did wolf and raven wait

And thick the ravens sat and cried, Upon his banners black and wide

Was heard their hideous chanting dread, above the reek and trampled dead

Ho, ho, no ruth at all. It reassures me me that Tolkien produced sub-awesome stuff in his younger days.

What the hell am I doing a re-invention, palette-swap thing for? I am not sure really. I want a bit more from fluff than I feel I am getting from the stuff I am reading. Whatever it is that fills the role of killable entity roughly equivalent to a first-level fighter in power, the D&D orc is way too generic to be that for me in the context of the setting for which I am writing these coagulated word-clots. 'Twould be jarring to use the greenskins (which I have always fucking hated) or the buckle-punk muppets of post 3e imagery. What I like are Angus McBride's and John Howe's and Alan Lee's depictions which generally adhere to the spirit of the text (and little else).

John Howe: These are the quintessential orcs in my mind. Especially old matey with the morning star and blunt-toothed sneer
Alan Lee is brilliant
McBride: somewhat goofy

There has also been some love from the OSR for the Bakshi orc with which sentiment I concur. The heavily contrasted rotoscope stylings convey a strong sense of bad-acid-trip atmosphere to the orc scenes which I think is entirely appropriate and artistically effective. Those things are scary, not just bestial but lost in darkness.

In thrall to inhuman forces of destruction

However, looking to the canon of mediaeval art for inspiration I see nothing resembling an orc, the orcneas of Anglo-Saxon lore seems to be either too vague or generic or lacking in evidence to build a monster on. In terms of evil underlings however, we have lots of stuff like this;

But they don't really turn up in story as corporeal entities (outside of hell)

In my mind, orcs are the earthly manifestations of minor demons or the spawn of demons or thralls of demonic power; "legions of his marshalled hate". They are not cartoon banditos but dedicated monsters each possessed of the soul of a serial killer in the midst of an escalation in violence and savagery. Tolkien’s admission that his depictions of orcs was a polite adumbration of their repulsive and degraded true nature suggests a direction for the treatment of orcs that can draw from all the monstrous diversity of our more permissive age.

- In the Lord of the rings Orcs are shadows out of folk-tales, feared and despised but not experienced in the normal scheme of things. Not that everyday reality in a mediaevalised paradigm needs to be entirely mundane – rather the strangeness takes a rather different form, subtler and more sinister perhaps – not so out and out monstrous. Until one passes into the wild lands.

- Orc energy is the energy of the hateful and predatory other, but orcs are not merely bullies and bandits but those aligned with and motivated by the forces of Hell.

Orcs are: Orknies, Swart-Elves, Hob-grues, Swine Folk, Calibans, Pye-men, Privy-wights, Gongs, Jackanapes, Night-woses, Gimlets, Grunkies etc.

I - Orknies creep from the foetid leavings in cauldrons wherein sorcerous blasphemies are concocted. They bear about them the stench of the otherworld, shriek and caper like demented children and seek to turn everything utterly to corruption. They are scaled and taloned, griping fingers and blackened sinew and bristle, horns and tails and laughing hungry red mouths. Many are the spae-wives or mithers-o'-the-mawkins with orknies gimping in abject thraldom in their blasphemous hovels, and by their hellish servitude many are the devilries wrought upon the accursed world.

Orknies delight in cunning contrivances for the causing of harm, each group will have 1d4 of these;

  1. Naphtha bladders: squirting fire 20 ft. range, 1d10 dmg, ignores armour, 3 doses per bladder
2. Quicklime: thrown in great handfuls, -2 to attack and defense from streaming eyes and burning skin

  3. Iron Caltrops: Handful covers 10' radius DEX check each rd. or 1 dmg + slow until you take a rd. to pull it out

  4.Wasp-Gourds: 1 dmg/rd. to those in 10 ft. radius for d4 rounds until dispersed

  5. Vials of Foetid Ichor: as stinking cloud 10ft. radius

6. Jars of Caustic Bile: 1d8/1d6/1d4 each round or until washed off

 II -Swart-Elves are gauntly aristocratic nobility of shadowy and bitterest downfall. They are the lugubrious forlorn deep grey of eternal melancholia. It is their one consuming impulse to brood upon their immemorial defeat and banishment from sunlight into hollow black centuries. Crowned they are and sceptred in copper and tin adorned with green glass and immeasurable contempt.   The darkness has twisted them, they are become like stone-elves and slime-elves - the maggots of the darkling earth.

Everything they use is poisoned with tinctures and essences cunningly derived;

1. of Dwale: Save vs. poison or babbling delirium confused 1 turn

2. of Wolfsbane: Save vs. poison or crippled with paralysing nausea (hold person) for1 turn

3. of Deathcap : Save vs. poison or dead in 1 turn

4. of Thornapple: Save vs. poison or debilitating horrors (fear) for 1 turn

5. of Hemlock: Save vs. poison or 1 for 1d8 days

6. of Mandragore: Save vs. poison or sleep for 1 turn

III - Hob-grues crouch in desolate outlands and sneer and grimace in dim defiles, the sullen and squat embodiments of the predatory emptiness of the untamable beyond . They creep from tree stumps and tangled gulches to bludgeon and strangle. They are of stony bones and sod-crusted hide come bearing the violence of utter indifference to grace and light. If ever there was gentle or peaceful about them loneliness has bleached it away.
Real Hob-grues have less awesome hair

Hob-grue Encounter Terrain - d6

1. Bramble-Dyke: Surprise on 1-4

2. Beetle-Crag: Each time a character sustains injury DEX check or fall d4 x 10 ft.

3. Scree Field: move 1/2 speed or DEX check to avoid falling, 1 rd. to get get back up

4. Boulder Chasm: Surprise on 1-3, Hob-grues above at +2 to hit with thrown debris

5. Brackish Slough: save vs. paralysis each rd. or stuck, one rd. to free yourself

6. Hillside thicket: Combatants slowed, missile fire impossible

IV-Swine-Folk or the Ugsome Boors are the distorted reflections of mankind from a black and troublous dream. Rejoicing in cacophony and disorder, they adopt stolen jewellery and pretty things that they may all the more ironically cavort in unspeakable corruption. For the frippery of mankind is endlessly humorous to them, and vanity and joy in pretty things is a larksome game that they may all the more effectively wreak a hateful vengeance in plundered silken finery smeared with excrement, lulling their victims with mockery before the inevitable frenzied dismemberment.
That Hallebarde-Fork is based on a real thing

Special Accoutrements: Each is worth d100 groats dependent upon damage and soiling

1. Lavish Cosmetics from the Shining Lands
2. Chains of amber jewellery
3. Ornate headdress adorned with silver coins
4. Baroness Brundeburgha's exquisitely broidured wedding gown
5.  Tiara crusted with amethysts
6. Azure silken gloves

V- Gongs are squat and prognathous man-things with tarry hides and blazing eyes, they stink of blood and smoke. Less in height that a man but broad and stooping, they come clad in battle-harness of copper and brass and bronze wrought like fishes mail. They are utterly degraded. All they love is cruelty.

When they come it is always in the dark with the sound of brazen trumpets and drums and songs of hate and pain preceding them. Their voices are like the bellowing of beasts. They carry torches and tridents and arbalests and guns. They delight in fire.
Gongs seek to take prisoners that they may be tortured and degraded in their foetid hell-warrens and eventually (d6 years later) transformed into gongs themselves.
Each Gong has (d8);

1. A brazen pollaxe inscribed with fell signs (d10) and a copper scale corselet and pilos-helm (AC 7)
2. A bloodstained morning-star (d10) and a panoply of bronze with barbute and cuirass and bazubands and greaves (AC 4)
3. A mantlet* of blackened wood (AC 5) with a Shield-gong to carry it, an Arbalest (d8 1/3 rds) and an iron flail (d8)
4. Four flasks of naphtha (d6/rd for 3 rds), cuirass of bronze lamellar and buckler (AC 5) and a Falchion (d8)
5. A black banner* and brazen trumpet (d6 dmg, +2 Morale to surrounding gongs)
6. A hand-gonne (d8, 1/4 rds, ignore armour), a warhammer (d6) and bronze Thracian helm and gambeson (AC 7)
7. Iron trident (d6), brass fish-helmet and scutum (AC 7)
8. Naked but for a bronze belt (AC 8), 3 javelins (d6) and torch
*+Shields and banners bear blazon (d4);
1. Crimson Frog 2. Iron boot on skull 3. Sinister Polliwog 4. Green Cauldron

VI - Pye-Men are cackling feral lunatics that run upon all-fours and gibber at the sky . The lands beyond the pale echo with their thronging madness, they run down whatever they can catch to gorge themselves in ghastly moonlit revels. In the Meagre-Lands those who too gluttonously devour and rut and leer are known to be the get of pye-men by the seed of an ill-omened moon and burned and flayed alive.
Following Scavengers  1d6
1. Reeking Foulmarts (3d6)
2. Rabid Swine (1d3)
3. Wildcats (1d20)
4. Wayward Lurchers (1d12)
5. Gore-Crows (2d10)
6. Hagfish-Bats (3d10)
One of the major ongoing debates in biological taxonomy is between the lumpers who tend to group together various similar specimens under the same taxonomic designation and the splitters who tend to create new taxa based upon minor differences. Teratologically speaking, I am a lumper. I think there is a self-indulgent proliferation of practically indistinguishable stat-blocks cluttering up rulebooks everywhere. Surely room could be made for more self-indulgent fluff.

Edit: Gongs come from very early Tolkien, they get no description saving vague reference to them being like orcs. I think they are mentioned three times in the Books of Lost Tales. Should I publish* they'll have to become Gnogs or Boakie-Men or Oafish Gloones.

*I won't


  1. I hadn't heard of Gongs before. Interesting.

    Also "lumper teratology" is a great term.

    1. Oh I was disappointed when I grew up enough to find I couldn't pursue a career in teratology. I've still got a dream of running a Transactions of the Imperial Teratological Society campaign in the Uttermost South world of primordial prehistoric gonzo mash-ups that exists in my head.

    2. In medicine, "teratolgy" is "birth defects" unfortunately.

  2. You need to publish this all sometime, in a beautifully illustrated PoD tome.

    1. Thank you but the chances of that are vanishingly unlikely at present. But I do like the idea of a pod-tome

  3. Chris Hogan (Vaults of Nagoh) did a good job of describing orcs as the embodiment of human degeneration, which I've been using in my games. This adds beautifully to that, I think. Thanks.

  4. You're welcome. Chris is a right clever sausage and I probably read that some time ago and got infected. I've been messing with these ideas for quite a while myself. See my post on ogres from a few years ago;

  5. Normally cannibal elves are my go-to 1st level fighter monster, but these are now the hot new contender . Well fucking done!

    1. Thanks, Scrap. Cannibal elves will always have a special place in my heart.

  6. Even if it's not going to happen in the near future a Middenmurk book really would be an exceedingly lovely thing to have.
    Is that pretty pig yours?

    1. He and the Hob-grue both, I just couldn't be arsed doing the rest - actually I've been doing orknies and swart elves for a while now but these things get buried at my house.

      I'd love to have the time to devote to doing a book but I'm afeard of even daring to suggest such a thing would be possible.

    2. Your blog entries are frequent and quality enough to build up into a book's worth eventually, just keep doing what you're doing; it worked well that way for Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque. I think it could be easy to make it look really cool with some well selected illustrations and layout, it's quite easy.

    3. Second that. You're already making fantastic content, one day you can just wake up, pick the additional things you'd be missing for a book, rope in someone who really wants the book to help you, then boom, you gotchaselfabook.

  7. Count me in as a buyer of some hypothetical POD tome.

  8. Me fucking too! Just found this blog and it is gold, PURE GOLD I SAY! Keep it up, man. It is hard to find anything this bravely wyrd.

  9. >Ho, ho, no ruth at all. It reassures me me that Tolkien produced sub-awesome stuff in his younger days.

    well... remember that "ruth" is a real word and was still extant in the medieval times which Tolkien was writing in the style of. "ruthless" means no more and no less than "without ruth" and, for example, truly genteel ("gentle" then) knights were full of ruth.


    1. Yes I know all about the unpaired negatives with which our language is currently peppered - ruth and couth and kempt and feck etc.. Being something of a twee literary prat I use them all the time to no-one's amusement whatsoever. It's just that the use in this context seems a bit shit and worth poking fun at. That said, thanks for your attention to detail, Darcy, you are truly a man of much gorm.