I have one week to design the movers and shakers of a whole new town. The characters don’t have to be fully-fleshed 3-dimensional works of art but they need to be believable, dynamic and interesting with the possibility of internal conflict within which the player characters can insert themselves. Also they all have to be orcs. It’s an orc town.
Actually, because my job got too busy for me to think about game problems, I now only have 3 days left – and one of those days is going to get eaten up by work again. But I’m not worried. I know a trick.
The trick is to leverage existing character design patterns, or without the fancy language: swipe from an existing source. In the past I’ve used presidents of the United States and members of famous bands as my templates but this time I’m just going to rip off an old TV show: Cheers.
It took 12 seconds to google a cast photo, 12 minutes to crudely photoshop them into orcs, and 2 more minutes to change their names around to sound more “orc”. I spend maybe 20 more minutes jotting down the following notes and, Pow! I’ve completed a task that would have otherwise taken whole days of development. The hardest part was figuring how each character would fit in with the town’s recent alliance with/annexation by the villainous mountain orcs – and by “hard” I mean uncomfortable-chair-cushion hard, not metal-hard or stone-hard.
Starting with the back row:
Cranes are birds. Sandhill Crane. Shorten down to just Sandhill. Frasier is an over-educated psychiatrist so his orc equivalent would be an intellectual witch-doctor and advisor to the mayor. A physical lightweight, Sandhill is a master of mind games and manipulation, but lacks the charisma to attain true political power on his own. He will use whatever tool (be it intimidation, bribery, or outright witchcraft) is necessary to get the job done.
Sandhill is loyal to Samalo, but mistrusts Ekka and snobbishly disapproves of the others.
Sandhill disapproves of an alliance with the mountain orcs but since that die is already cast he’s determined to make the best of the situation.
Concatenating and truncating (how’s that for some fancy 5-dollar words?) both names gives us “Samalo” for a name. As the owner of Cheers, his orc counterpart would be town mayor. A popular and populist leader, Samalo wants to do what’s best for his people, but is hampered by his baser urges. Currently his sights are set on Ekka who keeps him too infatuated to focus on the day-to-day tasks of leadership.
Samalo trusts all the other orcs implicitly, although he probably shouldn’t.
Samalo cares nothing for mountain orc ideology; he just thinks that allying with them will make his job easier.
Woody = trees = Leaf. But I wanted a more macho name than “leaf” so I changed the letters to make it “Leif” instead. Lief is a good-natured imbecile, but since Woody was the assistant bartender, that makes him the second-highest “ranked” bar employee. So I’m taking some liberties and saying Leif is Samalo’s younger brother. Knowing that Samalo will bear all the burdens of leadership Leif grew up a party boy with no real concerns or skills – other than wining and dining visitors. Still, he’ll have to leader-up and run the town when Samalo goes to war.
Leif is too genial to harbor any resentment towards any of the others, who in turn don’t consider him much of a threat, politically at least. In face-to-face combat he’s probably the most formidable.
Leif doesn’t care one way or the other about the mountain orcs, as long as enough attractive females remain available for carousing.
Craig is a synonym of “Cliff” so I just orc-ed up the spelling to “Kragg”. A boisterous know-it-all Cliff’s day job was as a mailman, a job that doesn’t exist in orcish Freedonia so I’ll have to make Kragg a traveling merchant, albeit an extraordinarily successful one. I’ll shift Cliff’s wealth of misinformation to a general ignorance of how to behave at court and make Kragg actually know things about the outlands. This expertise (along with his wealth) earns him a place in town hall.
Kragg believes himself to be social equals with the others, although he knows in his heart of hearts that he doesn’t measure up and wastes a lot of talk trying to out-lecture Sandhill, outspend Ekka, and out-party Leif and Uncle Morn.
Kragg doesn’t really understand how the mountain orcs will change things, but he’ll tell you a thousand reasons why it’s a good idea to go along with them.
Rearrange (and/or remove) the letters from “Carla” and you get Lara. The hard-working trash-talking head waitress of Cheers becomes the mayor’s Steward, in charge the administration of household servants and routine tasks such as making sure Samalo’s orders actually get carried out. Having worked her way up from scullery maid beginnings, Lara is smart enough to run the town all on her own – but scores an F- in diplomacy and negotiation. Laden with countless chips on her shoulder, Lara bullies everyone caustically. Mention the rumors that she’s got hobbit ancestry and see where it gets you. Go on. I dare you.
Lara hates everybody, but tolerates Samalo the best because he’s the rightful king. She has some respect for Kragg as a working-fellow and respects (even as she derides) Uncle Morn’s ability to game the system. Everyone else better watch out.
Mountain orcs too.
By this time I’m getting lazy with the names and just started knocking off letters until I got to “Ekka”, which sounds suitably orcish to me. An ambitious social climber, Ekka dreams of becoming mayor some day, ideally through some means other than by marrying Samalo (ugh!) but if she absolutely has to… Let’s just keep that at plan D for now.
Ekka is the principle architect of the alliance with mountain orcs. Her entire future is insolubly linked to them so this whole thing had better work out, or else. Also, since her only form of stress release is buying fancy clothes, perfumes, and beauty treatments, she’s almost out of money.
Ekka is romancing Samalo while simultaneously keeping him at arms length, a tough act to balance, but she’s managing. She mistrusts Sandhill and Lara, considering them to be her only true opponents. The others, she overlooks completely.
“Norm” spelled backwards doesn’t quite work as a name but sideways, it comes out “Morn”. Everyone’s favorite reprobate, Norm was beloved by all while managing to accomplish exactly nothing. Uncle Morn is exactly the same way. Samalo and Leif’s uncle, he could have laid claim to leadership but let it pass to his nephew instead. Morn is completely enslaved by his vices and spends most of his time in various states of inebriation, which causes most to overlook him – when they notice him at all. This is a mistake because, as one of the oldest orcs in the region, he has decades more experience in politicking than the other orcs. During the few hours of semi-sobriety Morn has each week he gives Samalo sage council and advice.
Morn mistrusts Ekka completely but has a certain fondness for all the others.
Morn opposed the mountain orc alliance – but not forcefully enough for anyone to take notice. If forced to sober up, he could become a valuable ally or spy.