Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why my orcs are fodder vs. DF characters

The other day, b-dog opined that orcs should really be tougher. I replied, basically, that they're fodder because the PCs are powerful, not because the orcs are weak.

This post makes constant reference to Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen and Dungeon Fantasy 3: The Next Level, because I use them as the baseline for building my fodder, my NPCs, and my henchmen. This may read like an ad. It's not, really - I write for publication what I need for game, and that's why DF15 is so thoroughly suited to this approach.

Building the Fodder

The way I look at my DF world is that 62-point Bargain Henchmen are the "base" templates for normal but skilled NPCs. That's what your average soldier looks like (see, Guard), or your average dockworker or porter (Laborer), or your average professional butler type (Servant). Not the bottom of the barrel, but the baseline for what people are like when they're suited for and good at their profession.

125 pointers are the really good ones - the ones with real potential later on down the line, or who've reached a level of professional success. They aren't a dime a dozen, but they aren't exactly rare, either. They're likely to have the tough jobs as bodyguards, elite troops or sergeants, clergy in the local temple, minor wizards, etc. This guys make great henchmen, or great fresh faced delvers in a higher lethality/more dangerous game.

So I build my fodder by taking one of the Bargain Henchmen and bolting on the racial template. Not purchasing it with points from the template, but giving it to them for free. So this naturally makes a 10-point race's basic warrior less tough than a 50-point race's basic warrior.

So for example, I do something like this:

Orc Warrior: DF15 62-point Guard Template + Orc Racial Template
Tough Orc Warrior: DF15 125-point Brute Template + Orc Racial Template
Elite Orc Warrior/Chief/Champion: DF15 Brute + 50-60 extra points + Orc Racial Template

Specific individuals or groups might also come with a prefix, like Determined or Distorted (or suffix, like . . . from Hell) to make them just a bit (or a lot) tougher.

I might use "Squire" or "Skirmisher" or "Killer" instead, depending on the race. A highly organized group might be Squire-based, because they're more organized for war. A more sneaky backstabby group might be Killer-based, because they're more set for quiet murder. I also tweak the results that come out a little, within a range, to make the final NPCs a bit different from each other or to better suit their in-game role.

But so your average orc warrior is worth about 77 points (62 + 15 race). A similar quality ogre would be 102 points (62 + 40 race). And so on. Against a 0-point race (say, a human), coming out to (62 + 0), they have a bit of an edge.

Building the PCs

But the PCs aren't average.

Starting DF PCs are 250+50+5.

I hand out about 5 xp per session.

So you can look at DF PC as roughly equal to a 125+50+5 character (say, a 125-point DF15 template) with 25 successful expeditions under his belt.

Or as a 62+50+5 character (a 62-point DF15 bargain henchman) with 37.5 successful expeditions under his belt.

These aren't fresh-faced new guys. Or if they are, they're as fresh-faced as a first round draft pick - not experienced but the cream of the crop of new recruits. The best you can expect. They start out with a massive edge over the average orc.

Comparing the Two

So a basic orc warrior is a bit more powerful than a Bargain Henchman Guard. Against a front-line DF character, he's going to get smoked. He can't compete. Against a 125-pointer, he's dangerous although outmatched. Against a Bargain Henchmen, he's the odds-on favorite to win.

A tough or veteran orc warrior is closer to a Brute or Squire with the orc template added on for free. He's a tough fight but outmatched against a DF front liner. He's the odds-on favorite against a 125-pointer. Against Bargain Henchmen, he's going to win most of the time.

An orc leader-type, or champion, or elite warrior is probably more like a 187-point DFer, and can go nose-to-nose with a DF front liner for at least a short amount of time. Backed by lesser allies, and he's very dangerous.

If I make a 250+50+5 point orc, I'm saying this guy is like the best orc you can find, literally one in thousands and thousands of orcs, with a solid swath of experience under his belt - dozens of battles, wars, dangerous fights, and so on. He's not spawned out of the orc-lands by the hundreds; he's a tough survivor from a race of tough guys.

So how would it work if I ran a more normal, 100 or 150 point game?

Individual orc warriors would be only a little more effective against them than 50-75 point humans. That is, the PCs still have the edge because I gave them enough points to be exceptional.* But the orcs would be a riskier fight.

Of course, by DF standards Fodder is meant to be dangerous in numbers. These guys are. Their leaders get right up to Worthy, which means dangerous with more-or-less equal odds. The best of the orcs can step up to a starting DFer and make a credible threat of danger without needing to bring along a bunch of friends. Boss monsters are one-on-many tough, and it's a truly rare "fodder" race that qualifies (especially against 4-6 DF delvers.)

In a lower-point game, the Fodder is more like Worthy (equal odds, there is a good chance of a dead or incapacitated PC), and the Worthy are more like Bosses, and the Bosses are fights to avoid unless you've stacked the odds in your favor in every way possible.

Because of this, I'm pretty satisfied with my "fodder" types. They are a challenge to lesser PCs, but I deliberately gave the players better PCs.** And then I built the fodder so they'd be a credible threat in sufficient numbers, and so they'd be interesting (tactics, poison use, different magic approaches, etc.), and so they'd be different from each other. So far, so good.

* A lot of games make this "exceptional" nature part of the system - even old versions of D&D - you start at level 1, not "normal man." So I don't expect most PCs to expect a 50/50 chance of losing versus an orc.

** I've played many games of the "build up to greatness" type. That's a lot of fun. But part of the fun of this campaign is "let's skip right to being badasses." Which makes it even more fun when they're in danger, or when they encounter what in another game was a potential TPK and it's more like a OMV (one man victory.) It's part of the joy, to me, of DF - you get to swim with the sharks, and you're a shark too.


  1. Too bad I can't give you more than a +1 as this post merits at least +1000.

    If the characters in my game weren't 600 points by now, I would find this invaluable. Expand this with examples and you have something worthy of publication.

    1. Thanks. I'm hoping to convince SJG to let me to DFM: Fodder at some point. Waiting for the Ogre to get out of the way and to see what Sean's secret DF projects are. :)

      And yeah, at 600 points I think Determined Juggernaut Psycho-Killer Ghostly Demons of Old are fodder for the PCs. ;)

    2. The base Demon of Old is 445 points. The Determined Juggernaut Psycho-Killer Ghostly version ought to still be worthy! Or not -- none of that gives them a reach 6+ attack so their dread of $50 holy symbols is probably still fatal. (It's the true stuck-in-the-corner dread, not the run-past-with-a-Will-check dread that True Faith uses.)

    3. Funny that you mention it, my current delve is an assault on a fortress full of Draugr who are a Determined Juggernaut... There are over 150 in the fortress, plus some other nastiness. The chieftain is something that they do not need to kill, but that can dish some very serious punishment and also take it and that is actually a pinata monster, in that it carries over 1.5m worth of loot. Of course it is designed to be a total party kill kind of encounter

    4. I can't believe you ran the point total on them.

      And yeah, they do have a glaring weakness. Smart demons hang around in mixed packs, or have spell-using leader types, to deal with annoying holy symbol carriers. :)

  2. The way I have my orcs is that the lower powered orcs will come out first and get slaughtered quickly while the 125 point body guard orcs move in behind them and are more of a challenge. The orc chief will be 250 points and will enter into combat last. The PCs will kill off the weaker orcs and when they get to the chief they out number him and his trusted bodyguard. But the PCs need to use strategy to kill him because he is a 250 point knight. This is just the way I run orcs and humanoids in my games.

    1. . . . which is totally fine. But if pretty much "entry level" humanoids are lead by 250-point guys, you're basically devaluing PCs and saying that, say, ST 17+, DX 15+, WM, Skill 20+, etc. are pretty much standard for quality fighters.

      What I'm doing basically is accepting the basic DF premise that a 250-point guy rocks on toast, and is better than most people in the world can ever expect to be, and scaling my humanoids to the normal folks.

      Very different approaches, basically.

    2. True, Beowulf would mop the floor with a party of DF PCs in my gameworld so Grendel would be a huge challenge for a powerful party of DF delvers. Grendels lesser troll breathren would be a big challenge as well in my gameworld. The DF PCs are powerful compared to the general popukation but they are very weak compared to mythic heroes like Hercules.

    3. I was curious about you having the delvers be so powerful in relation to the rest of the people. What about the town guard? Would they just be fodder? Would the local lord be able to keep delvers from ripping off merchants? In my gameworld the town guard can beat down the delvers if they try to steal or harm civilians. Thus powerful NPCs are pretty common in my gameworld . Sure PCs can try to act up but they will be sorry if they are found out.

    4. I discussed this before, I think:

      Basically, social and legal consequences.

    5. Interesting, historically the Knights were used by the nobility to subjugate the peasantry and take property.

  3. I personally prefer considerably weaker orcs and hobgoblins for my own setting (almost exactly what DF3 calls a normal Goblin, in fact). But overall I'll say I like this approach and attitude; 62 points is a normal soldier, 125 points is a typical entry-level fantasy adventurer, and 250 is a starting DF character in most campaigns because "let's skip straight to being badasses who carve up orcs by the dozen and fight against the -interesting- monsters once in a while"


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