I have always been fascinated with taking “evil” creatures and making them more sympathetic. I think orks (to use the nomenclature of this book) should be more than faceless minions of evil sorcerers. They should have their own motivations for what they do. In many ways, I always thought of orks most like the Mongols of Genghis Khan: expansionist and obsessed with taking tribute. However, John Wick’s new book Children of Pain is a really cool take on orks and what role they can play in a Pathfinder (or retro-clone) campaign.
According to the prelude, this book comes out of a series of “Ecology of…” type columns from Kobold Quarterly. Mr. Wick wished to glimpse each major race through a mirror darkly, to change the basic assumptions of a race, to “give them a different feel. A different taste. A different style.” Children of Pain does a good job of that.
Fluff-wise, Children of Pain discusses how the orks rose up and slew their gods, eating them in the process and forming clans based on the powers gained by the deophages. From the book, it appears this happened in recent memory, which makes the world much more magical than I am used to running. I would ignore that part, and make the slaying of the gods as a kind of origin story.
Children of Pain devotes a lot of time to describing the tribal society of the orks. They are nomadic hunter gatherers who cross a tundra-like landscape. Their society is fairly well detailed, with sages, warlords and tribes. I think the concept of their religion is really cool. The orks believe pain is a sentient being that links them all together. They also have a system of storytelling tied to the scars on their bodies. Some scars are self-inflicted, but that only occurs for something significant that doesn’t necessarily cause physical pain. Mr. Wick certainly creates an evocative world, including some linguistic snippets to give the reader an idea of how the ork language works.
I am not the person to speak to mechanics, normally, especially as someone who doesn’t own Pathfinder. However, I will attempt that here, to give you an idea of what’s included. The first half of the book is all fluff, no mechanics are included. The end is almost all mechanics, and very little fluff hidden amongst it. However, there are some things revealed about ork culture in the powers, so they remain evocative without dominating the text.
First we have a list of ork racial traits. There are several things added to this list that bring standard orks in line with the fluff. First, they have the ability to feed animals their own blood to create hunting or riding companions. They also gain bonuses to attacks rolls when they are hurt (to represent their masochism), bonuses from their tribe (gods’ powers from their slaying), and psychological bonuses based on their own view of their reputation.
Class wise, there are three: a Blood Cleric, a Barbarian Archetype and a Bard Archetype. The Oracle of Blood is mentioned as a “new Oracle Mystery,” which I presume is a Pathfinder thing. There are all sorts of powers linked to using blood in lieu of other material components. From what I gather, the ork cuts him or herself and uses pints of blood to cast spells. They also have a series of other powers tied to level. The Barbarian Archetype (Gahthrak) replaces some of the Barbarian class features, as does the Bard Archetype (Fala).
Mr. Wick has been doing this for a while, and of course he produces top-notch work. The implied setting for th eorks is evocative and interesting. Orks from this culture of pain are a really cool enemy in a misunderstood, “noble savage” kind of way. They can also be bloodthirsty monsters. What I really like about this treatment of orks is that they can still be frightening enemies while being a real culture with real motivations for their bloodthirsty ways. This book is sympathetic to the orks, but doesn’t hinder the GM from making them villains. I highly recommend it!