Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ogre


I can’t improve upon the reinvention of the ogre Paizo has pulled off—with Nicolas Logue’s “The Hook Mountain Massacre” in Pathfinder #3 setting the stage and Classic Monsters Revisited bringing down the house.  

The result is intense, to put it mildly.  Pathfinder’s ogres explicitly draw from movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes.  The Bestiary name-checks “brutality…savagery, cannibalism…torture…rape…dismemberment, necrophilia, incest, mutilation, and all manners of hideous murder.”  Rape may be the most important of all of the above (that’s how ogrekin are made), with incest coming a close second (given ogres’ fealty to their twisted families).

If you’re not a horror fan…or if the Pathfinder-reimagined ogre squicks you out too much…you can always go back to the D&D ogre.  In that case, what sets ogres apart is that they are “human but.”  Human but larger.  Human but monstrous.  Human but gluttonous, ravenous, murderous.  They are Mr. Hyde: the id unbound in a body to match its appetites.  Whereas goblins/hobgoblins/bugbears are clearly alien, and orcs are an expression of the terror of the horde (and stand more in contrast to elves or dwarves than humans; see Roger E. Moore’s semi-famous article “The Half-Orc Point of View”), ogres are us…just an “us” gone horribly, horribly wrong.

A clan of ogres is trekking through the Sunrise Hills, spreading devastation wherever they go.  Their modus operandi is to force all the inhabitants of the hamlets they raid into the largest barn…and the less said of what comes after, the better.  They’ve avoided conflict or capture so far because their perambulations are completely at random.  Superstitious, they leave their last victim’s head out for the scavenging animals, and travel in whatever direction the coyote, crow, or giant beetle leads them.

The Mushmouth tribe’s faces are nearly paralyzed from eating their swampy home’s poisonous fungi.  They compensate by pounding their victims into slurry or soaking them in brine.  Not so the Bear Jaws, who wear rude prosthetic teeth made of animal incisors and pilfered saw blades. Tragically, Trag’s Boys are more concerned with the other end of their anatomy, and no adult Boy is allowed a share of supper if his Wife Cage does not have a female humanoid or fey locked inside it.

Ogre bards are particularly terrifying, as they tend to be more cunning than their kin; they egg on these same relatives to further acts of depravity with their rough banjos and improvised drums.  Some exceptional specimens are even able to augment their weak Charisma with their prodigious Strength, using bone percussion and still living victims as instruments to achieve demoralizing effects.

Classic Monsters Revisited 46–51 & Pathfinder Bestiary 220

TL;DR version of above: Ogres have layers.

Yet another reason I like the setting created for the Monte Cook and Sean K. Reynolds’s Ghostwalk book: It includes a region of humans who rely on ogre slave labor.  Slavery is abhorrent, evil by definition.  But what happens if the creatures enslaved are evil and pose an even greater threat when free?  That’s built-in moral conflict right there (read: adventure).

Also, I don’t talk enough about Games Workshop’s world-building.  I really like their Ogres’ obsession with food, eating, and bellies as a source of strength, social rank, and even magic.

I like to know what you want to know.  This week I’m encouraging you to write.  Shoot me questions, thoughts, things you’re curious about, etc.  Send me an email—to avoid spam spiders, I’ll type my address as dailybestiary [at] gmail [dot] com, but you get the idea—or leave a comment and I’ll do my best to respond here.

Oh, and if you’re wondering where the octopus entry went, look for it here.

1 comment:

  1. To be honest I do not like Pathfinder's ogres.
    And it is not because they squick me out (I'm not above adding disturbing elements to my campaigns, and when I include fiends I am not afraid to go full Kentaro Miura) but because they are so ridiculously, cartoonishly evil that I simply cannot take them seriously, their descriptions to me sounded like something an anime-obsessed teenage edgelord would write, I could understand them in a black humour campaign where their exaggerated, over-the-top depravity could be played for laughs (like, they do all of the above and also punt puppies, steal candy from children, and jaywalk through every street) but Pathfinder is so serious and humourless that it breaks any semblance of credibility.
    (That, and the use of rape as a 'they so evul, behold how DARK we are, booga booga!' writing device is lazy at best and utterly insensitive at worst)
    If they really wanted to make them a terrifying threat without resorting to grimdark wannabe-edgy nonsense they could have gone with the 'dark side of humans' approach you proposed and combine it with fairytale ogres, after all villains like Bluebeard ARE monstrous humans, they are seemingly human but twisted, oversized and voracious(plus they have magical powers, for example the ogre faced by the Puss in Boots was a shapeshifter, make the players terrified that any person or animal they meet, even a mouse or an earthworm, could be an ogre stalking them), and they could have their lairs in a remote location or in a seemingly normal aristocratic manor or even among the elites of a large city, hell you could even say that humans BECOME ogres if they are depraved and bloodthirsty enough(after all, Bluebeard was based on Gilles de Rais, an alleged pedophilic serial killer), like some random change of unknown origin(which makes it scarier), a true face of humanity waiting to emerge or hiding in plain sight, it is much more versatile and disturbing than a bunch of monodimensional Deliverance-ripoffs.
    Speaking of which, hillbilly ogres could have been more interesting if they were something like 'Shrek meets Tucker & Dale', dangerous brutes that crave isolation but are not necessarily evil, hillbilly horror has been done to the death in slasher movies already(and given the classism and discrimination people of Appalachian heritage face in real life, it's also insulting).

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