Game: Wrath & Rage
Publisher: Green Ronin
Review Dated: 17th, October 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
The Races of Renown series from Green Ronin is part of the OGL Interlink program. This means that titles will not clash with others in the OGL Interlink. Wrath & Rage is the Orc and Half-Orc book in the Interlink and it’ll probably be the only one. I can only hope that the other companies in the Interlink are producing material as good as Green Ronin’s because Wrath & Rage is rather good and before that the Dwarf book, Hammer and Helm, is even better.
The introduction here is your typical short RPG supplement introduction. It contains an important point though; the author, Jim Bishop, notes that orcs are often portrayed as filthy, stupid and savage and that’s entirely as it should be. Right from the start then you can’t expect Wrath and Rage to offer you any cliché busting orc character types. However, the book does look at a few different reasons as to why the orc race is so angry and why they’re so… well, why there’s so orcish.
The first chapter, “The Way of the Scar”, begins with a brief look at playing the half-orc or even an orc. Before reaching core classes (NPC and PC) it quickly runs down a few of the most obvious stereotypes for the race: the noble savage, the battlerager, back-alley kneecapper, separatist and the exception (the polite orc). It’s doesn’t seem all that often when a race book bothers to include the NPC classes, the adept, expert or warrior and it seems a shame. I’ll show my colours here and admit that I don’t like the player option ideas attached to a view of these quick studies. The player’s option note on the Fighter class suggests that the player shouldn’t mess around and should take Power Attack and Cleave as quickly as possible. No. Stop it. Design your orc fighter so that she’s appropriate to the campaign world you’re playing in and with the background/character idea you’ve discussed with the GM. Don’t let a tiny paragraph of power play advice corrupt you. On the other hand, I rather like the GM’s option notes when they’re attached. The GM’s option on the Paladin reminds us that orc or half-orc paladins are rather rare so perhaps the GM might allow access to unusual mounts like tigers or rhinos. The meat of chapter one for me is the alternative orc racial concepts; they are all tempting. The “Savage Horde” suggests orcs could be portrait as nothing more than screaming hordes of monsters. That’s monsters rather than a ‘race’; they’d advance like monsters by growing in size and power rather than collecting character levels. There’s a Savage Orc stat box to give the GM the amended stats. The “Created” concept has the orcs as an artificial race. You’ll notice the first of the key Tolkien influenced ideas here (and there’s nothing wrong with using Tolkien like this) when one of the best implementations of this concept is to have the orcs originally produced from the elves and perhaps this is why they can crossbreed with other humanoid races but not the elves. Other racial concepts suggest depicting the orc race as being “Betrayed” or even as some “Cancer” on the land. If you want you could even have the orcs as “The Conquerors”.
I wish there was more. Chapter two starts as soon as page 12. There’s 80 pages in this softback and it’ll cost you $16.95 if you’re American. Chapter two is the ever-present collection of feats. It’s nicely laid out and early on you’ll get a large table of all the new feats and that’s an easy way to see that there really are quite a few feats here. There are two new styles of feats of note; the rage channelling feats and those known as “Eye” feats and exclusive to clerics of He-Who-Watches the supreme orc god as introduced by the book. This isn’t the first book to use the idea that barbarian rages can be spent in a similar way to cleric’s turning abilities to produce other effects but I think it’s been released close enough to rival orc and half-orc race books for the idea to have been independently thought of. It’s a great idea and I’m glad it’s proving popular; it adds some much needed width to the barbarian class. The Gullet feat is an interesting one; the orc has an internal pouch somewhere (I think gullets are traditionally in the throat) that allows him to swallow something but actually keep it safe and retrieve it later. The rules as presented by the book suggest 1 cubic foot of material can be swallowed per point of Constitution and that it can be coughed up within a minute. Really? So my half-orc with Constitution 10 can swallow and keep safe 10 cubic feet of material? He need not hide a skeleton key in his gullet, he could keep a pair of Halfling rouges tucked in there for those times he needed a lock picked! Most of the feats here are better though out though.
There are seven new prestige classes. The Bride of He-Who-Watches is a prestige class detailed through ten levels for kick-ass but virginal orc warrior women. The gem of an idea here is that over time the Bride starts to loose her own identity as she recognises herself (and other recognise her) only as part of the sisterhood. “Nameless” is a supernatural ability which offers the class resistance against Enchantments. The Cutthroat is the predictable orc rouge-cum-warrior prestige idea but the Honored Host is a far more original idea of an orc who’s parasitic infection has actually killed him but has then been brought back to life by the orc death deity. The Honored Host is a crawling mess of maggots and tape-worms and other icky parasites and GMs should save them for the next player to whine “Gee, yet another orc”. Both the Cutthroat and Honored Host are ten level classes. The Mother of Rage is only a five less class though. If you flick quickly through the book and look at the illustrations first you’re sure to notice a small female orc standing in front of a mass of scary Cthulhu style tentacles. That’s a Mother of Rage and that’s her baby. This idea is simply wonderful, its one of those rare times when a new I’m entirely won over by a prestige class and it fits extremely well with the racial concepts suggested earlier in the book where orcs are a created race or some horrid divine cancer sent to kill off a world. There’s the Orc Sapper (10 levels), Rage Smith (5 levels) and Soul Gorger (5 level) classes too but go back and read the Mother of Rage class again instead. Well, actually, the Soul Gorger prestige class is pretty good too – by eating the heart of your opponent you might get some of his courage and by eating his brain you might get some of his knowledge.
Chapter Four, “Creatures”, is pretty good too. I think every game should feature a Dire Ostrich at least once! The Dire Ostrich goes by the name Axebeak so you can terrorise your players with the deadly bird before letting them know just how strange the creature is. I expect they’ll start running when you mention the Dire Rhinoceros. This creature chapter actually does best with the templates it offers. The “Anathema” template is another example of the Tolkien touch here and I simply love it. Rather than the dark lord casting his shadow and corrupting the land, Wrath & Rage suggests that the presence of the orcs, a collective whole so angry and bitter, causes the area to corrupt. The plant life twists and gnarls and so do some of the creatures. The example of the anathema creature template being applied looks at the “Anathema Nymph” which has unearthly beauty and blinding beauty but is also undead, can create spawn and can turn elves! There’s a rabid creature template and an half-orc template too so that you no longer have to have every half-orc as half-human. The half-orc template runs with the notion that as some sort of living weed (a strand in one of the racial concepts mentioned at the start of the book) the orcs can mate with anything other than an elf (and you can tinker with that if you, of course) so is thorough enough to look at modifiers to attributes if the non-orc parent was medium-sized (or smaller), large, huge or larger. At the top end of the scale the STR modifier is +8 but INT and CHA are both -6. The example is of a half-orc/half-owlbear.
After chapter four comes chapter four. What? Ooops. A small typo with big font but at least the title of the pages in chapter five get it right and use “Chapter Five: The Gods & Their Servants”. There are no god stats here but that’s no bad thing. The pantheon is nicely though out with He-Who-Watches as the leading deity (Chaos, Destruction, Evil, War) and other deities to match the orcs way off life closely, there’s even the half-orc god who’s simply called “The Mule”. I also like the idea of “Grandfather White Hands” as a greater god, the father of He-Who-Watches, a god of Death (Chaos, Death, Evil, Magic) but spookily without any sort of concept of him before He-Who-Watches came to rule the pantheon. That’s the traditional pantheon but there’s something else too, there’s “The Patrons”. The Patrons are designed to be uber-villains behind the orc rampage, terrifying and deadly but – perhaps – within the reach of powerful characters. The term coined by the author and borrowed from computer game is “level boss”. The patrons are demi-gods or could be demi-gods if you want orcs to have access to cleric spells. You might go with the other option for the Patrons have them as a false pantheon of powerful beings who might help the orc race but can’t lend spells in the same way true gods can. If you go with the latter then there’s a whole series of special patron spells you can equip your orcs with instead. You can’t have both since the concepts are mutually exclusive but that’s just what you get when supplements pitch to a higher intelligence level of reader or to a more experienced GM.
You don’t have to use the false pantheon if you want new orc spells though. In chapter six (and we’re safely back into correctly numbered chapters now) you’ll find a large collection of magic. The list of spells is quite so large because there are an amazing nine new domains. To add to your growing list of cleric domains you now have: Blight, Breeding, Command, Curse, Lycanthropy, Murder, Poison, Savagery and Treachery. Many of the spells available to these new domains are straight out of the core rules but on the other hand not all of the new spells belong to one of these domains.
There’s as much new material in the equipment chapter near the end of the book. You’ll get access to new siege weapons, exotic weapons and even special or superior items (like combat drugs). I particularly like the magical effigies since they really do lend themselves well to mental images of orc shamans shaking crudely constructed figurines as they dance around and cast their magic.
The Appendix makes use of small font to list in detail sample orc NPCs. Rather than throwing together a few example NPCs the appendix here picks a few classes (Warrior, Rouge, Barbarian, etc) and squeezes is as many possible stats. If you want stats for level 2 warriors then look to level 2 on the warrior table and then run your finger down a few lines to get the stats for the level 8 warrior in charge of the warband.
There’s lots of extremely useful material in Wrath & Rage. If you’re coming to it with half-orcs exclusively in mind then you’ll not get nearly so much from the book as you would if you’re only interested in full-blooded orcs. If you’re looking to the book for help in running half-orcs in a human society then you’ll get even less and virtually nothing. I found the illustrations to be particularly evocative, they’re just quality black and white pencil drawings but seem to do well in capturing and enhancing what’s been written about at the time. As with the previous book in the series Wrath & Rage makes use of “shaded borders” at the top and bottom of the pages rather than at the side and as before this seems to give the impression of more space per page. The style of the shaded borders hasn’t impressed me though, on close inspection I can see a detailed patterning effect but when you’re just reading the book it looks too much like some child’s taken his black crayon to your book and coloured in bands. Despite a few errors and dodgy rules (like the gullet feat) Wrath & Rage is safely and securely in the “good book” rating.