The genius of the world’s oldest role-playing game was inclusion and complexity.
Wait, let me go back. We’re talking 1e (AD&D) here. (The genius of D&D (both the primal editions and the return to basic “basic” version of the ’80s box sets) was that it let you play a character in a story, rather than just reading about one.) We good? Good.
Where was I? The genius of 1e (AD&D) was inclusion and complexity. Everything went in—races, classes, monsters, weapons, everything—and everything got a table. (Seriously, read early issues of Dragon Magazine or check out the ochre-spined 1e sourcebooks. If a concept didn’t have a table to roll on, it wasn’t worth exploring.)
The genius of 2e (AD&D) was invention: the Forgotten Realms blown out, Greyhawk reborn, thr advent of Spelljammer, Dark Sun, Ravenloft, Planescape, Birthright, and more kits and specialties than you could shake a stick at.
The genius of 3.0/3.5 (D&D) was clarity: classes balanced and streamlined. Ability scores, sizes, etc. rationalized. Mechanics smoothed out. One d20 to rule them all.
Pathfinder’s genius has been synthesis and foresight: a determination to make it all work seamlessly together.
Which brings me to the ogre mage.
The ogre mage made no sense in 1e or 2e or even 3.0/3.5. Here was this dumb brutish monster, and then suddenly here was this smart magical version of that monster, taken from the mythology of a different nation continent away. But since they were both ogres, we pretended they were related to each other. Somehow. Sorta. Even if one ogre was blue and was always drawn wearing lamellar armor and holding a katana when all its “kin” were wearing chain with spiked clubs.
Out comes the Pathfinder Bestiary. And lo! There is the ogre mage. With a special note stating that this is an example of an oni: “an evil spirit come to the Material Plane and clad in living flesh—in this case, that of a brutish ogre.” And a promise: “The oni are a diverse race of evil outsiders… Other types of oni exist as well.”
In other words: “Don’t worry. We got this. For the first time in 34 years, since the Greyhawk supplement in 1975, you are going to get an ogre mage that makes sense in your game world, plus some more monsters besides. We promise.”
And with the Jade Regent Adventure Path and the Bestiary 3 this promise was paid off.
That’s one of the reasons why I love Pathfinder: They had the foresight to put a single oni in the Bestiary and the fortitude to finish the job three years later.
So, oni: greedy spirits who take on mortal shapes to indulge in pleasures of the physical world. Ogre magi: the most common version. There’s a good chance that an encounter with an ogre mage will be PCs’ (especially Western-style PCs’) first encounter with this branch of the Spirit World.
But if you’re a Forgotten Realms fan or you just want to skip the whole Japanese mythology thing, you can always stick with the notion that ogre magi are simply special magical ogres. I won’t stop you; in fact, the third hook below is for you.
An ogre tribe defies the efforts of the local lord to wipe them out, and even several mercenary parties have had little success. A strange woman approaches the last of these (a group of heroic adventurers down on their luck), saying that she can help—that they face a spirit from her homeland known as an ogre mage. As proof, she demonstrates that she is something more than human as well—by sprouting a fox tail.
A kuwa and an ogre mage duel for territory, with the vineyards of Kölm caught in the middle. The kuwa has the aid of the local thieves’ guild. The ogre mage’s supporters are more magical in nature: a flock of midnight-blue perytons and a brutal band of quicklings.
The Time of the Tusk occurs roughly once every 250 years, when the comet Al-Sim the Changer blazes in the eastern skies. While Al-Sim hangs in the heavens, the sha’irs say, ogres become unusually fecund, and roughly one in a hundred develops magical abilities. These “ogre magi” inevitably go on to great destinies. Some eschew the barbarity of their people altogether. Far more unite the ogre tribes under their banners to squash the soft lowland humans.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 221
The genius of 4e? Healing surges. Aaaaand… Wait a minute. I’m sure I’ll think of something.
My favorite magi? These dudes.
I was so amused by Friday’s orog rant that I posted a revised version of it on reddit. They were not amused. (“Do not meddle in the affairs of 1st Edition fans, for they will downvote you within milliseconds.”)
It’s been three long weeks, but The New Indie Canon is back! Including some way overdue Macklemore and a Breeders flashback. Download it.
(If the feed skips, let load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes. Link good till Friday, 3/8, at midnight.)
Edit: I had not realize M&RL were on SNL this weekend as well.