Sunday, October 18, 2020

A rough history of Orcs vs. Delvers in Felltower

I've been meaning to write this out somewhere. I may have, but I can't put a finger on it now.

Way back when we started in Felltower, a group of hobgoblins controlled the access to the dungeons. The PCs encountered them a few times, and killed them.

They also fought the orcs that held another portion of the dungeon. Both sides opened up with hostile actions.

In the end, they'd wiped out the hobgoblins and made a pact with the orcs, paying a toll to enter the dungeon in return for peace with the orcs and the orcs leaving them alone, plus occasionally providing them with a guide or help. The orcs took advantage by occupying more of the dungeon, including the surface, and fortifying the damaged castle above and making it an active, actual fortress again.

Predictably, though, the PCs immediately started to look for another way into the dungeon, a toll-free one . . . and made sure to kill any orcs they found to cover their tracks. They justified this by rationalizing that their agreement with the orcs only applied if they paid the toll, and that otherwise killing orcs was fine.

They often continued to pay a toll and work with the orcs. They even had a joint encounter with the Lord of Spite, which was going pretty well before the Lord of Spite backed off and left them to their casualties. There was also some grumbling that the orcs hadn't held up their end of the bargain by not fighting hard enough against the Lord of Spite.

The orcs, not being total fools - and the PCs doing a pretty sloppy job of concealing their actions - they understood the PCs were bypassing the tolls and were the ones who'd killed some orcs in the dungeons.

They raised the toll and got pretty hostile.

The PCs refused to pay the toll and got violent back.

The PCs pushed deeper in the the orc-held areas, and killed any orcs they found. "Let's go kill orcs" became a way to spend a session, prep the ground for future delves, and a backup plan to get some loot at the end of a session.

The orcs tried a few ambushes of their own - sealing off the PCs with the Lord of Spite, launching multi-pronged attacks with goblin shock troops, monsters, spellcasters, elite orc Slayers, and so on. The PCs fought back and generally shattered the orc's attempts.

The orcs tried to just block off sections of the dungeon with rubble, preventing the PCs from reaching them without delays to dig through. The PCs dug through, pretty routinely, and killed the orcs they found.

To be "fair," the PCs did offer to the orcs to take on whatever task has drawn the orcs to Felltower and complete it for them, in return for a reward. Then, the orcs could leave. The orcs refused, for reasons the PCs don't know. Of course, the delvers took this as proof that they couldn't work with the orcs. The orcs clearly have a goal they need to accomplish, but which they either don't think the delvers can - or don't want them to - complete on their behalf. So they won't go.

So to start with, the PCs really wanted the orcs to just stop harrassing them and let them delve deeper without any interference.

Once the orcs stopped harassing them, the PCs wanted to make sure they couldn't do so again.

They attacked them until the orcs simply did not mount any offensive action against the PCs, and abandoned the upper works and gave up shooting arrows at intruders to the dungeon.

Once they forced the orcs onto the total defensive, they tried to wipe them out. That failed, and their negotiations to get the orcs to agree to never fight them and, essentially, stay out of Felltower, failed.

Since the PC's big attack on the orcs, the orcs haven't mounted a serious challenge to them. Perhaps any challenge to them. They haven't harrassed them, attacked them, or otherwise did anything offensive against them. They did reinforce their passive defenses very strongly - going from rubble blockades with barricades to magically-solidified stone blockages.

It just so happens that the best places to block off the PCs from the orcs also block off the PCs from easy access to the "touch only once" altar and the lenses. Not that the PCs have anything remotely like a plan with the lenses, but they want to be able to go and fiddle with them. The orcs, by blocking the PCs off from them, have been deemed to have inflicted a great and unforgivable insult to the PCs.

The PCs have made plans to break those blockages, and spent a recent trip on finding a way to the orcs around the blockades so they can attack them. To what end?

Will the PCs ever be satisfied vis-a-vis the orcs?

I think no, not until the orcs have completed disintingrated. Not been reduced as a threat, not as a hassle, but completely gone. Every explanation has always been "+1" - we want X. They get X. Well, we really need X+1. They get X+1, Well, yeah, but X+2 is actually what we need here. And so on.

The PCs really seem to want total, unfettered access to everywhere in the dungeon, and the orcs - if they are there - to fulfill the role of keeping other delver-hostile beings from occupying any part of the dungeon. Perhaps that plus the orcs providing a source of treasure on top of it - either by handing it over or giving the PCs "quests" - a common ask - to earn money from the orcs. Naturally, if they found anything they perceived as more valuable than the offered quest reward, they'd expect to be able to keep that, instead of, or in addition to, the quest reward. Pretty harsh, but I don't think my players could claim any of this isn't true.

It's tough being a monster in the face of greedy delvers. The demands of delvers are not unlike that of an empire - they just want a little more, and then come back again for a little more on top of it.

With this in mind, I expect that the orcs vs. the PCs will be ongoing for as long as we keep playing Felltower. It's not something I expected from day one, although I did make it clear that the orcs have a fundamental conncection to Felltower. It's just amusing to watch the delvers explain why, really, their demands are reasonable and the orcs are being unreasonable as they change their demands every time they achieve them.


  1. The PCs really need to save up enough money to actually hire an army with siege engines so they can try to legit crack the fortified ork camp

    Typical adventuring party tactics and strengths are unoptimized for taking on fortified walled camps outside of the dungeon

    This is clearly the sort of situation crewed siege engines are meant for

    It is rather amazing the level of restraint and willingness to actually negotiate and cooperate they showed to start with as opposed to 'they are orks, they must die, anything else is not right with the world'

    1. Hiring an army is way beyond their means. Even if they defeat them, orcs are like adventurers - they'll be back as long as what they want is in the dungeon.

      I wouldn't call using negotiation to achieve their ends "restraint." It was pure self interest, not a feeling that they should not use their power to achieve the ends.

    2. Some of the smaller artillery pieces are more budget friendly, don't need a large crew, and still have better range than some archers. Though artillery piece range is much shorter than I remembered. A ST 17 guy can shoot a longbow 255 yards which is the same as a 2lb ballista!

      Possibly pelting the ork camp from 255yds away with a 2lb ballista would annoy them to get them to come after our heroes?

      Definitely our heroes need to do something proactive rather than letting the orks win

    3. As a tactic, harassing the orcs with ranged fire until they "come after" the PCs might work. What's the strategy, though? Get them all to come after the PCs outside of their fortifications for a massive and complete annihilation? There are roughly 200+ combatants, maybe more like 300. That's a lot to kill, even if the PCs had a plan on how to kill 300 of them. Some plans exist, but they generally revolve around "and then we cast a large-area (fill in a spell) and hopefully that (does something dramatic)."

      Even then, what drew the orcs to Felltower will be in Felltower. So it may end these orcs as a threat, but it won't mean the end of orcs in Felltower.

    4. My plan is roughly
      1. Buy largest ballista they can get and still move, with luck they could scrounge up enough for a 5lb ballista
      2. Try to hire a bunch of nameless spear carrier helpers And other friends (they succeeded at this on the attack on the castle)
      3. Carry the ballista (and a whole bunch of rocks) toward the ork base (this is why they need a lot of helpers)
      4. Set the ballista up and start lobbing rocks to batter down the wall. Eventually either the orks may come out to fight or they smash the wall
      4. Galen kills a lot of orks before they can reach the party for melee
      5. Friendly helpers help form battle line to secure flanks. Epic battle ensues, many peeps and orks die, world runs red with blood!
      6. If anyone is still alive haul loot back to town

  2. Neither PCs nor the Orcs are good faith negotiators, in general, so this is unsurprising.

    It might seem a bit weird if they spend a lot of time at the table justifying these weaselly actions, but in my experience this is kind of common. About one third of the time it is players trying to soothe their conscience about how awful their paper man is, about half is players having sarcastic fun about how awful their paper man is, and the remaining chunk is split between fast-talking nicer PCs and roleplaying weaselly ones.

    1. I'd argue that the orcs originally bargained in good faith - but then the delvers made like lawyers and played around on the edges, avoiding their agree-upon toll and killing orcs to cover that up. Sadly, the orcs didn't look at the exact wording of the agreement and chuckle over how they'd been had, but took it personally. Much like the delvers do.

      Also, in Felltower, the PCs have learned that orcs will honor the spirit of a sworn oath pretty rigorously. It's a racial quirk that they do so. But as you noted, there is always some weaseling going on, justified by sticking people in the back before they have a chance to betray the PCs.

      It's very common. And there are groups in the dungeon the PCs really shouldn't trust or negotiate with, and who would do to the PCs as they can and will regardless of any agreement. The orcs may have been shifted to that category. Or may just effectively be in that category because the PCs are, fundamentally, asking them to do something they cannot willingly give up - being in Felltower and trying to accomplish their (unknown) ends. Well, semi-unknown - there have been a lot of rumors about an orc king in Felltower. The PCs once lied to the orcs and said they had the bones of the orc king to trade, but that lie was exposed really quickly. You know, because no one has a single point in Fast Talk, Diplomacy, or any other relevant social skill, yet try to bamboozle people elaborate and unsupported lies.

    2. I should add this - it's totally fine that the PCs do this. It's really up to the players how they want to act.

      But you reap what you sow. And sometimes you do X expecting Y and get Z, instead, because that's the more logical consequence of it. Mistakes get made. I try to make sure as the GM that the results of your actions tell - either for good or for bad - and then let you make the next set of decisions. It's all part of the game.

    3. "I'd argue that the orcs originally bargained in good faith"

      You're the GM, so you'd know. Did the PCs know? In my experience it is very common that no one has the appropriate lore and treacherous is the assumed baseline.

      In any case, most PC groups are not safe to bargain with because their primary is usually to each other and usually at least one PC is an impulsive, murderous, jerk.

    4. I believe it was made clear that orcs honor their bargains, through rumor initially and then through interaction with them. I think the PC who made the initial bargain was bargaining in good faith. At least to start with.

      If PCs assume that the other side isn't bargaining in good faith, and act as if that is the case, that's a different issue. That is also not bargaining in good faith. It's the prisoner dilemma illustrated in play.

      And I agree - bargaining with PCs is a fool's game, generally. I don't run NPCs as if they all know that, though, until it has become clear that's the case. Unless they have pre-written experience, or advantages or disadvantages, that would explain otherwise.

  3. The orcs present quite a conundrum for the players and the characters they run. For the players, the orcs are an impediment to getting things done in Felltower, and in the past had made Felltower more dangerous, ergo, they were an obstacle to be removed. Also, for the players, sometimes killin’ baddies is just fun, so that’s part of it.

    For the characters, that’s obviously a bit more complicated. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but I can certainly speak to Hjalmarr’s and Ulf’s motivations.* For Hjalmarr, they were an obstacle to getting wealth and his pursuit of slaying dragons. They hurt him a lot, and as a result, he was vengeful when it came to the orcs. He was thus pretty intolerant of them. Galen’s fellow delvers probably figure that’s how he feels also, to a large extent. They are sentient beings, of course, and don’t appear to be capital “E” Evil (unlike, say, the Uruk-Hai in LOTR), but the sure as hell weren’t friendly. So Hjalmarr’s approach was very much, “If you’re not with me, you’re against me.” And if they were against him, he was motivated to separate their heads from their bodies. Hjalmarr was not, shall we say, a deep thinker about morality, philosophy, or the like.

    Ulf has a different view. His motivations are somewhat curiosity-based, because he’s really not in it for the money. Finding religious artifacts, defeating capital “E” Evil things, exorcising areas (one day he'll manage it...), those things are his bag. To the extent that the orcs interfere with that, they are a problem that has to be managed. Blocking off access to the lenses is an issue; I think if they just sealed up the orc hole, we could coexist. But since they haven’t done that, they probably want something from either the lens room or the black library and want to have access to that.

    Ulf did participate on several “raids,” and in one, they freed a bunch of slaves, which, to Ulf, was proof that the orcs were bad: depriving humans and a dwarf of their rights is evil, and Ulf can’t abide by that, so he’s not going to be friendly to orcs (also, their trolls almost killed him). But, young Ulf (only 23, at least 15+ years younger than Hjalmarr when he died) is learning that there is a fair amount of gray in the world. For example, Big John the troll helped them out quite a bit, so presumably not all trolls are horrible (rumors are that most are, though). He was willing to work with the orcs, to an extent, which is why he suggested the deal: Stay out of Felltower, we’ll recover the stuff from the lost tomb of your orc king, and we won’t kill one another. Felltower was called Grak Yorl (“the Boneyard”) by the orcs, so Ulf gets that they have a connection to it, which is presumably why they won’t leave. But man, it’s been years, and like the guys in Spaceballs, I figure most of the time they are exclaiming, “We ain’t found shit!” So they really should leave the delving and exploring up to the more competent delvers and just hire us already. I guess orcs aren’t great at that risk-benefit analysis.

    Having said all that, if they are still enslaving people, though, that’s a big problem for him, and that deal will probably be off (as far as Ulf is concerned). Also, if they worship an evil religion——he’s not sure if they do——that’s another *huge* problem. If so, and they don’t repent...well, they’ll get the justice they deserve.

    So, TL;DR: the orcs are complicated, insofar as Ulf is concerned. He’s plenty happy negotiating a truce with them for the time being. And if they’re bad (worshipping an evil religion or enslaving humans and the like, eating "manflesh"), he doesn’t care a heck of a lot if his fellow delvers kill them.

    The rest of the group, I think, generally sees the orcs as: (1) potential sources of loot, because they’re “bad” and probably have stuff stolen from “good” people in the past; and (2) an obstacle to be removed. But that's just an assumption. I'm interested to see their comments also.

    * See next comment.

    1. " So they really should leave the delving and exploring up to the more competent delvers and just hire us already. I guess orcs aren’t great at that risk-benefit analysis."

      Oh, maybe they are, and that's why they haven't hired you guys. It's been years and you haven't found what they're looking for, either, have you?

    2. Touché! But there's so many more of them, and we only go on Sundays, so we are more efficient. Allegedly.

  4. * Desmond, who is an older guy (nearing 60, I think) that is set in his ways, sees orcs, hobgoblins, and the like as irredeemable, so he’s fairly callous towards them. And while everyone jokes that he has no problem throwing explosive acid balls against hobgoblin women and children, for the record, he thought that was an ambush being set by hobgoblin warriors. Anyway, if they didn’t want to be scarred by acid they should have just come out with their hands up, or whatever.

  5. I'm just surprised there hasn't been more magical interrogations of the orcs as to what they're after.

  6. "You know, because no one has a single point in Fast Talk, Diplomacy, or any other relevant social skill, yet try to bamboozle people elaborate and unsupported lies."

    That's kind of surprising to me. You have a pool of a dozen or more players and none of them wanted a character with social skills. I've played with much smaller groups, and a variety of systems, and so long as the system supports mechanics for social interactions there is always someone who wants to be the ace at these. In some groups two or three. Maybe that is the system. I'm not that familiar with DF, just what I read here, but D&D 3E and 5E have several classes that are just screaming to be social butterflies due to dependence on Charisma, which boosts those skills. But I also see the same in Savage Worlds which is class-less. OD&D and BECMI are luck of the draw on Charisma so there isn't much to choosing being good at social skills, and Traveller is also random generation for skills. I expected *someone* to want to be good at talking intelligent monsters into helping them or not eating them in your group.


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