One of the beautiful things about the 3.5e OGL system is that publishers and fans were allowed to modify and change the system to spawn a variety of variants. And the majority of these variants are fantastic games, such as Mutants and Masterminds, True20, Iron Heroes, Arcana Evolved and Castles and Crusades. The latter presents a simple and elegant system of resolution that streamlined gameplay for those that wanted to escape from the complexities of the OGL. This product, Encounters: Bands of Orcs, is a short supplement for Castles and Crusades, presenting a series of versatile and adaptable orc encounters to throw at your party of characters.
Encounters: Bands of Orcs is a short 7 page pdf file written by Davis Chenault for the Castles and Crusades system. The presentation and layout of the product is fantastic, particularly for such a short product, and a high standard of professionalism is evident in the product design. A great piece of artwork by artist Peter Bradley is included, and the cover features and neat design to kick off what will presumably be a series of products. Interior writing and design is good, with clear written descriptions and concise summaries of the various encounters in the product. Overall, an excellently presented product with high quality standards from Troll Lord Games.
This product presents 7 different orc encounters that can easily be inserted into any campaign or adventure. The product is aimed at those Castle Keepers that require an on the fly encounter or perhaps those that are too busy to make the required preparations. The encounters come with complete descriptions of the nature of the encounter, the mechanical details and statistics of the creatures involved, detailed treasure and equipment listings, and lastly a series of useful plot hooks to expand the encounter and give it more meaning, motivation and purpose. The encounters are suitable for a variety of different levels, using encounter levels from 1 to 6, but very easily scalable individually beyond what they're designed for.
The product starts with a brief introduction to the product and its aim and purpose. This is followed by a useful introduction to orcs, orc behaviour, orc combat tactics and other useful bits of information on orcs. The background introduction provides a better sense of direction and purpose to the combat encounters presented. The seven combat encounters presented are: orc raiders, orc hunters, orc warriors, orc miners, war party, orc shamans, and lastly a complete war band encampment.
Along with all the details on each encounter, the product provides adventure hooks to guide you in using these encounters and particularly in thinking beyond the combat encounters. These adventure hooks are phrased as a series of questions to get you thinking about motivation, background, and purpose for each of these encounters. In a way, the encounters are more like mechanical encounter templates, and the Castle Keeper needs to fill in the meaty story and plot details to flesh things out. This is both a good and a bad thing, depending on the requirements of the Castle Keeper at the time. The pdf concludes with some useful suggestions for orc names in the event, for example, that an orc gets captured.
Like many similar products for various systems on the market, the utility of this product largely depends on the needs of the individual GMs. Band of Orcs provides enough flexibility to cater for the majority of those, but not really for those GMs that require an out of the box encounter, complete with plot, motivation and story. Sure, that can be gained by working through the adventure plot hook questions, but that naturally requires extra work. Overall, the mechanical details of the product are logical and neatly organised, but I wish the adventure hooks had gone slightly beyond the norm. Asking a question such as 'Why is the raiding party here?' does not necessarily lead one in any useful directions. Perhaps if the product had actually answered some of those questions in the adventure plot sections with creative and inspiring suggestions, this product would've impressed more. As it is, it's impeccably presented, well written and certainly useful, but I expected perhaps a little more in creating interesting, fantastical, and memorable encounters.