Ork! The Roleplaying Game
One of the great things about my time in the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild was the fact that I got to try a large variety of lesser known systems. There are several RPGs that I really enjoy that haven’t gotten nearly enough attention. Among them are:
- Traveller (previously reviewed here and here)
- Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space
- Star Wars d6
Ork! The Roleplaying Game was the first product ever produced by Green Ronin, which has since produced many popular products like Mutants & Masterminds, Freeport, True20, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Dragon Age. Ork is only a mere 64 pages, but it’s a whole heck of a lot of fun as a “beer and pretzels” game.
Religion is very important to Orks, who worship the angry god Krom (played by the GM). They believe that he threw up the world over the course of fourteen thousand days, but threw up the Orks last. When he told the Orks that they were his chosen people, they simply yelled back “You am shut up!” Thus there is always a tenuous relation between Krom and Orks. Sometimes he helps them out in battle and sometimes he gets angry. When he gets really, really angry, he turns them into pinecones.
This basically means that Krom is encouraged to do whatever the heck he wants to. Give high modifiers, give low modifiers, or have them get carried off by flying monkeys, smashed by a troll, or turned into a pinecone, it’s all fair game. The way I play it, this usually winds up turning into a Paranoia-style game where Orks are frequently getting killed, but another one is always back to replace him. The fact that character creation takes about 2 minutes (less if you know what you’re doing) helps a lot with this!
Part of the reason that Ork works so well is the mechanics. Traits are rolled by die pools. Each Skill category has a die type (e.g. d8) and then each skill has a number in it (e.g. 3). When you roll them together, you roll the number of dice as indicated by the skill and roll the related attribute die. If you have a 3 in Eyeball and a d10 in Twitch, youʼd roll 3d10 and add the total together. The result is a pretty chaotic and hard to predict die result, which fits with the theme of the game.
All die rolls are opposed. Most often, it’s between the player and Krom, and Krom is encouraged to make up his die pools as needed (perhaps 5d12 on a task he doesn’t want to happen, and 1d4 on a task he really does). This makes things fairly random and chaotic, and it’s always fun when the player’s 3d6 pool beats the 5d12 that Krom used to stop them (or vice versa). This also means that you can pull of some ridiculous tasks: want to jump over the forest? If your dice get lucky enough, you totally can!
Most enemies go down with one hit, but Orks themselves have different wound rules than enemies and can heal pretty easily. To me, this is a real strength in the game. It allows the Orks to swath through hordes of “squishy men” and also means that PvP combat isn’t very effective. Fighting other Orks is definitely encouraged (with the occasional bonk on the head), but ultimately isn’t very effective, meaning that players won’t resort to it all the time and will focus on more interesting things.
Finally, Krom can hand out Ork Points for things like talking like an Ork, committing wanton violence, drinking anything vaguely alcoholic, or exhibiting some other Orkish behavior. Conversely, Krom can take them away for un-Ork-like behavior, like sitting in a field of flowers and admiring their beauty. These points can be used to add dice when you need it or reroll your die pool. I’m a big fan of systems that allow the GM to hand out some bonus for good roleplaying and Ork totally allows you to do this.
It wouldn’t be a good review of Ork without talking about the scenarios that come with it. Generally it involves a fantasy setting, mixed with some bizarre, anachronistic elements through the use of mysterious time portals that things come out of or the Orks go into. The intro scenario in the book has something like that where they discover that the medieval Squishy Men have obtained (spoiler: a Chevy Malibu) that fell out of the sky.
The official website has two additional scenarios for download: Mister Ork’s Wild Ride! (where they go to an amusement park) and Santa Claus vs. the Orks! (where they go to the North Pole). I once wrote a scenario called “Orks in New York!” where they wind up in the city of “New Ork” and try to steal the golden flame from the green queen and have all sorts of hijinks along the way. I think these scenarios perfectly capture the spirit of Ork and they’re incredibly fun!
Ork is a fantastic roleplaying game for when you just want to leave your intellect out the door and play a roleplaying game with wanton violence and stupidity, while laughing the whole time. It’s definitely a great “beer and pretzels” game for the occasional one-shot.
The game isn’t perfect. I think that early in its development it suffered from not having a clear idea of what type of humor it wanted to embrace. The scenarios and some of the book embraces ridiculous scenarios (which I adore), but sometimes it tries to go for gross out humor or tries to downplay the humor, especially for long-term, more serious game (there are rules for playing a campaign with it, even though I doubt anybody ever tried). There are also some rules quirks, like ranged enemies have to make an opposed roll against Krom, meaning that Krom is rolling dice against himself.
Ultimately though, I think that the three published scenarios perfectly capture the tone and the rules quirks are easy enough to avoid because Krom gets to bend the rules anyway. This game is an incredibly entertaining and, if you can find a copy, it’s definitely worth it. Green Ronin has said they’d like to make a new edition someday and I’d love to see it happen!