One of the first things I decided about Seliit was that I wanted to do orcs differently.
The ‘traditional’ interpretation of orcs in fantasy is… I’ll be diplomatic and say “regrettable.” They are often portrayed as violent, savage, and evil. Thankfully, games like Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons are starting to break away from that. Regardless, I knew that wasn’t how I wanted them to act in my world. So, instead, I thought I’d go hard in the other direction: rather than violent savages, I decided my orcs were actually a technologically advanced alien race.
This allowed me to do a few things. First and foremost, it let me fold my love of science fiction into my setting. Second, it let me maintain certain fantasy tropes, but with a new twist–for instance, oftentimes orcs and elves are portrayed as ancient enemies. That is true on Seliit, too–because when orcs arrived in their starships, the elves thought it was an invasion and started a war. Third, it allowed me to experiment with a culture that wasn’t rooted to the rest of the world. Orcs were from beyond the stars; who knew what their society was like before reaching Seliit? It didn’t have to be based on the gods or societal structures I’d already established for the other races.
I didn’t want to go full-on sci-fi, though–I didn’t want orcish ships arriving and departing the planet all the time, spaceports built across the globe, any of that. I just wanted a hint of it; bits of old orcish tech that could provide something outside the usual fantasy trappings. So, I decided that orcs had been stuck on Seliit for hundreds of years. Their ships had been destroyed in the war with the elves, and now the descendants of the original orcs lived in cities constructed from the ruins of their vessels. At this point, no living orcs even know how to repair or work the technology anymore… those secrets are lost to time (I took a bit of inspiration from Warhammer 40,000 here, looking at the Mechanicum and how it regards AI as ‘machine spirits’ and the like). The same goes for the rest of orcish culture, too. Much of it has been preserved and passed down, but so much was lost in the war (and the hard years after) that it’s impossible to truly understand their pre-Seliit history anymore.
The first orcish nation I’ll have the chance to explore in-game is Ark Sakon, where my players are currently headed. Ark Sakon is essentially one massive, nation-sized city, built within, atop, and around a truly gargantuan ship. This ark-ship was meant to bring an astounding number of orcs to new worlds, and its wreckage still houses one of the largest orcish settlements around. More importantly, Ark Sakon is one of the best-preserved ships of the orcish fleet. Some of its innermost rooms even retain power after all these long years, allowing inhabitants to view holograms and computer files from a thousand years past. Because of this, Ark Sakon is considered the center of orcish culture–a place where the history and ideals of the people survive on Seliit.
Unfortunately, Ark Sakon also shares a border with the Rehledar Empire–the modern-day incarnation of the militant elves who began the war with the orcs. Thanks to the ark-ship’s durable walls and unfamiliar layout, Rehledar has had little success in assaulting the nation, though that hasn’t stopped them from trying.
I’m still figuring out exactly how I want the inhabitants of Ark Sakon to react to the rest of the world. I want it to be a place of knowledge and academia; a place where orcs can see a version of their society that no longer exists, and that an average being on Seliit can scarcely fathom. I think it could be a lot of fun to run adventures there, having players deal with malfunctioning machines that they don’t comprehend or finding powerful advanced weaponry hidden away in parts of the ship that have been inaccessible for centuries. There are a lot of possibilities! I can’t wait to do a bit more work establishing what this place and its people are like.
So, what do you think? How would you handle an alien race in your tabletop world? Let me know in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter @RollWithItBlog!