Dungeoneer’s Diary #6 – Vorgons, Vogons, Orcs and Unspoken Trademarks

Posted: October 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

A Wikimedia Commons image…

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Sometimes when creating new monsters for RPGs and books, it’s all about simply changing a name. A recent unpublished novel that doesn’t need naming here wanted orcs to run around the countryside laying waste to all travelers dumb enough to travel alone. Even though the plot revolved around me doing homage to Tolkien, specifically my version of what really went down during those Appendices at the end of The Lord of the Rings…involving lawyers (won’t say more, unofficial NDA), I had an attack of – “Dude, everybody, like, drops orcs in as the massive Army of Regular Evil with stats ranging from one to three hit dice per orc. I should be able to come up with something else.” 

Interesting problem in that I need bad guys in my novel to behave exactly like Tolkien’s orcs: loud, mean, ready to stab each other at dinner over the mutton at the cook fire and pretty much angry at any other bipedal playable species. The veritable, probably untrue, stereotype of the 1-percent Motorcycle Club lifestyle. I want the behavior and social organization, such as it is, but because everybody coming after Tolkien simply dropped in orcs and called it a day, I need a new name.

I’m aware that when Dungeons & Dragons got rolling for real after a few years of play testing in Gary Gygax’s living room that the Tolkien Estate sent a few Cease and Desist Letters probably written in the slightly more polite British version of Legalese. To my understanding, they fought hard for the players among us to deemphasize hobbit in favor of halfling. It worked because no dungeoneer is going to piss off the estate for an author that gives nearly all of us a Wayne’s World “We’re not worthy!” feeling. But, the Tolkien Estate apparently didn’t fight so hard for orc, the next most used Middle Earth vicious beast in all of tabletop RPGs.

I’m not sure of the why. My limited reading of fantasy writing from before and generally contemporaneous to Tolkien’s work doesn’t seem to have any mention of orcs. C.S. Lewis (attending the same writers’ groups with Tolkien) just needed a White Queen, Tash and crappy people to make the Chronicles of Narnia work. Others just needed Lost Boys, Indians and pirates. Or White Rabbits, Mad Hatters, Playing Cards and Pissed Off Chess Pieces.

Even Tolkien started off with goblins in The Hobbit, later simply conflating the goblin of already extant European fairytale mythology with the orc of the later The Lord of the Rings. I think if pressed that Tolkien might have tap-danced as imaginative writers do when pressed with impertinent questions rooted in the minutia of our work, saying “goblins and orcs are kissing cousin species created in the dark times of Morgoth, the First Dark Lord.” But, if it’s true that my cursory reading of the body of literature before Tolkien suggests that he may have invented orcs as well as hobbits, then why did the estate only want to lean on D&D for hobbit and not orc?

And every fantasy-themed RPG system published since has a listing in the monster book for orc. Tusks. Pig snouts. Large muscles. Or not. They’re everywhere, largely because the Tolkien Estate didn’t want to or couldn’t fight for the word (more research needed). It is in this ubiquity that I cast about for another name for the species without wanting to change anything about the beasts themselves.

Creativity has a way of being something that only makes sense after the fact. I don’t really know why despite having a plot looted liberally from the Tolkien Appendices that I needed to rename the orcs in the first place. I also can’t really talk about how I landed on Vorgon, except after the fact when you realize that I’m one letter away from Douglas Adams’ vile poetry spewing race, the dreaded Vogons. Oooh! In order to unnecessarily avoid an unofficial Tolkien trademark that the estate didn’t even try to defend, I go one measly R away from going straight at Douglas Adams’ Vogons. I’m either a highly trained professional who knows what I’m doing or I’m going to make a big smear on the pavement.

Mind you, the Vorgons aren’t Vogons in any way. First off, my book was a fantasy story and the Vorgons wouldn’t muster up the starships, punctilio and low bids to fly around the galaxy blowing up defenseless planets to clear hyperspace lanes once the work order cleared review. But, I really had orcs in mind when I devised my story, a loud hard elbows kind of people. Orcs with subspecies that grow natural ice skates on their feet (probably tracks back to Alan Dean Foster’s Icerigger Trilogy). Orcs that stand over their eastern gate near a waterfall into the local equivalent of the Mines of Moria shouting rude insults (the French from Monty Python’s Holy Grail?).

I certain didn’t envision the Vorgons as wanting to take a moment before joining battle to recite earsplittingly bad poetry. Or showing up with a fake work order to see about knocking down the walls for the great city liberally copied from Minas Tirith. Or so I thought. Then I muddied the waters for the Vorgons as a new clean unstated trademark on the poetry front.

At the big battle of the Vorgon waterfall the beasts shout rude things about two missing women who are at the present moment making friends with a baby dragon deep in the dark of the mines. The King Aragorn analog taps the hilt of his blade demanding that his enemies in the recent war bring forth the ladies unhurt. He composes a Demand Poem in Vorgonate using the rudest words possible that fit into rhyming iambic hexameter (12 syllables per line).

Vorgons and poetry? Ooops! Well, more of an homage because there is no way a Vorgon Demand Poem serves to bore the shit out of the listener leaving him or her rolling on the ground holding ear and begging for mercy. Rather, the verse was more likely to make the Vorgon chief angry enough to attack abandoning the high ground among the falls. And then I had the ladies in question resolve the standoff from within the mines by bringing up the baby dragon willing to burn anybody if his new Mommy said so (did I get this relationship from Game of Thrones?). Fried Vorgon is the specialty of the house this week.

There you have it, Dear Reader, the progression of my thought process for monster creation trying to find inventive ways to travel places where literally everybody has been before. Take the familiar and rename it, because don’t reinvent the wheel. Spend a minute or two practicing the justification that your local languages represented in English for the reader’s convenience aren’t the same as Tolkien’s languages and some words like orcs won’t develop to describe the roving bands of foul-tempered beasts. Good, now you’re ready for the book fair or con.

Oh, if you’re really going to play Vorgons in your campaign simply take orcs from your monster book and rename them. Worked (almost) for me.

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