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RPT Newsletter #018 | 10 Ways To Make Your Ogres More Intimidating

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
10 Ways To Make Your Ogres More Intimidating
From JohnnFour | updated May 20, 2021

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #018

Make them cunning
  • Help the players make overconfident mistakes by playing up ogres as dumb and slow
  • Attacking ogres focus on spell casters first–with ogre-size rocks hurled at them if needed
  • Employ pits and traps to defend lairs
    • pile rocks on high ground and trigger them to fall
    • create a fake lair entrance beside the covered, real one
    • Create ogre ambushes
They Go For The Small Guys First
Hey, they’ve heard about that stupid Goliath guy and learned his lesson: attack the little guys first. Is this fair? Good! It’s not supposed to be and it will help scare the little guys quite a bit the next time ogres are around.

Fool The Characters In Their Own Language
Step One: have the ogres speak in loud, slow, stupid grunting noises before anything happens
Step Two: give them really stupid, puzzled expressions on their faces when the characters speak
Step Three: sit back and let the ogres listen, understand and react to the plans and commands the characters make out loud in front of “those stupid ogres”

Give Them Nasty Minions
  • How about some goblin slaves who help build tricky and deadly traps which only goblins know how to build so well
  • Or some pet dogs who are vicious and can track down even the most well-hidden PC
Grant Them A Highly Intelligent Leader
  • Make them better organized
  • Give them better tactics
  • Build them better defenses
  • Give them better equipment, arms and armour
Give Them A Very Strong Sense Of Smell
This goes both ways: make them hard to surprise by giving them powerful noses, and give them a heady stink to tip the characters off and make them nervous.

Make Them Faster
  • Allow them to easily catch fleeing characters
  • Give them more attacks in combat
  • Let them retreat quickly and outpace pursuing characters, and then attack again from behind or with missile weapons
Give Them Religion
  • Allow them shamans with spells: offensive and defensive
  • Give them mystical ceremonies which inspire a frenzied state of blood lust
Replace Their Club
  • Give them a nice double-bladed, two-handed axe
  • Give them shields
  • Let them use their magic plunder: potions, dust, weapons…
  • Give them the secret of greek fire!
Give Them Lots To Throw
  • Sharp rocks about the size of your head
  • Nasty ice balls
  • A thousand stones in hand-packed dirt balls
  • Did someone already mention greek fire?
  • What would a huge rock landing in the lake just in front of the characters do?

A Brief Word From Johnn
This week we discuss making those dumb old ogres something a little more, something to talk about after the session. It was fun doing the research and thinking up these tips.

But one thing kept bugging me. Many of the sources I looked at reported some monsters as being cunning. So, I thought, hey let’s make ogres cunning. But, in terms of game play and game master strategies, what the heck is cunning? Do you know? Email me if you wouldn’t mind, thanks.

Oh, and if you are currently game mastering a sci-fi game, just replace the word “ogre” with the alien race of your choice and tweak the tips accordingly. And if you are GMing a contemporary or cyberpunk game, use these tips to surprise your players on the next group of muscle-bound bodyguards they meet.


Game Master
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Adamantium WoA
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This post, I see now, was a precursor to Faster Combat.

I wanted to see how a GM could create smart tactic without adding a bunch of house rules.

My ogres have never been the same. :)

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
This was an inspiring idea for a RPT newsletter, Johnn. I love ogres.

If I do not misinterpret what you wrote, I find you put several aspects into it, but didn't point them out.

First, you want to make the encounter (possibly combat) more challenging by means of tactics and objects.
Second, you want to surprise the players by an unique encounter with a "dumb" ogre who defies the players' expectations.
Third, you want to increase the adrenaline of the players by making the encounter spectacular.

Personally, I wouldn't want to defy player expectations too much. Thus, I would refrain e.g. from giving ogres a high intellect, heavy armor, spells, or even a two-handed axe. I would instead try to maximize the expected circumstances.

An Ogre's Intellect
I like them dumb. I like to give the players a sense of superiority in intellect.
This can lead to funny situations in the game. I want to dare the players to make those smart choices, use tactics, magic and convincing or even threatening speech. They may lead the ogre into a trap or manage to keep it occupied long enough or maybe even have it jam itself in a tunnel or believe that the small gnome is a mighty wizard that can squeeze water out of stones (you know that trick, right?).
Ogres and such are the one type of stupid critter like a bear or wolf that the PCs can actually talk to and convince of something so hilarious that you will never forget the session!
But I also like to play dumbness to a degree. They understand language. So they WILL react on tactics discussed openly. And this will be like a third room in the 5-Room Dungeon concept: a sudden setback and surprise to the players and PCs. It's just a moment, but it will have tremendous effect.

An Ogre's Physique
Ogres are not helpless. They have managed to survive, maybe even strive with their intellect. They are predators after all. They have a great reach and a long stride, they are burly and powerful. Your examples are fantastic, Johnn. Even if numbers RAW are not any indication thereof, I will have them easily reach for a fleeing foe quite a distance away. I will not give them automatic success however, but dare the player to fend the fingers off with their sharp swords and daggers. This just enhances our expectations of stories told for centuries. Even some scratches on fingers will let the ogre pull its hand back. Who wouldn't?
They may look puzzled in that moment. So don't forget: They do not fight a fair fight, they do not think they are threatened (until they are), but rather think themselves much superior to the tiny PCs. Thus, they may seem puzzled how that thing could hurt their fingers like when you grasp for a cat and it suddenly scratches you. You don't feel life-threatened but wary. You may want to look for a way to cage it, while the ogre looks for a stone to smash it.
In addition, I give them Thick Skin. Hardly any damage done to them makes any real damage. You could choose to increase their hit points, but then daggers would just make normal damage to them, although they would in my mind barely penetrate the skin. In contrast I prefer to give them some kind of damage resistance. And that is why I don't need armor. Like with trolls. Hardly anything does make damage, so why bother for armor?
Now, their size and strength enables them to do most spectacular feats. They can just uproot a tree and use it as a AoE attack. They break walls as if they were nothing. And when you try to hide somewhere in a pile of rubbish, they don't need to find you (although I like the idea of a good smell - both ways). They can either get you to get out with a nice fart or they can just sit down/jump down/bellycrash on the rubbish to smash you below.

An Ogre's Personality
I like to play ogres week in mental health. They can suddenly become timid when they realize that they don't have the superiority. They might fear magic. A lot. Because they don't understand it (a bug that can spray magic dust is scary). Or they might even have sensitive skin (although hardly any damage comes through).
Also, I like to give them personality, things they like and things they don't like. Maybe they are scared of spiders. Maybe they hate all dogs (because one pissed at them once). Or maybe they try to play with the tiny PCs (make them their dolls, play hide and seek, etc.), try to spice them while they are still running, drooling obviously, or tend to make dumb jokes.

An Ogre's Tactics
Ogres can be ruthless. After all, most just want to eat the PCs. Some may have found that it is better to first be friendly and serve them food. That way, they will be yummier afterwards.
Ogres often wouldn't care much about their underlings. If they have underlings at all, they might feel mighty and powerful, like a king would.
Nevertheless, when they reach for a big boulder to throw at the PCs, they don't care if they instead grabbed a bunch of their underling goblins passing that rock. Then it is just a spray of goblins that will be hurled at the PCs. And if that is effective (lucky improvising the damage!), he might chuckle and try again.
I would only sometimes go for a standard attack. Mostly though, if I'm GMing an ogre would grab for a PC instead, try to smash it with a stone or something, maybe even with a gigantic wooden fly swatter. It can brush PCs off the ground, let them fly through the room. It can squeeze one PC in his pocket, belt, between layers of fat, between his legs, or between chest and arm, while then attacking/grabbing another one. It can drop a catched PC into a big cage instead of killing the PC - hell, that is fun! And when angry it can take you by the foot and smash you against the wall or floor. Or if the ogre feels funny, it can just set you atop one of its high shelves, leaving you puzzled how to get down again. This is all so much more fun and more roleplaying and puzzle opportunity than just grinding down hit points.
And if they really feel they are going under, let them beg for mercy or quickly destroy the ceiling so that they can flee and the PCs can't follow.

I totally agree that a deep rolling voice, slow but reaching movements, a dumb perplexity, a haze of stench and enough things to throw or stumble over or hide under is a must for an encounter with an ogre. Also, this sense of that the ogre is not taking the fight seriously at first.
And lastly, I find that the killing of the ogre is not the goal. It is the visualization of that huge dumb but powerful creature and their rounds of frantic combat that will become rememberable. Better yet that the end is found through trickery or roleplaying. Much more rememberable, I find.