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Designing the Riftforged Orcs

4th Nov 2021

Rob Burman

Hi again, it’s Dave here reporting from the stormy depths of the Mantic Studio [Edthis is correct. Dave’s desk often appears to have been hit by a hurricane]! The legions of the Riftforged are finally on the march, after what feels like an age in development

A lot of the time when faced with new concepts like this, people tend to try to summarise it with a quick description, like “what if we did dwarfs, but in SPAAAAACE?”. To follow this trend, the core idea behind the Riftforged orcs was “What if we did orcs, but took them seriously?” Not quite as snappy, but it works.

Orcs are a regular fantasy archetype, and the Kings of War ones aren’t too dissimilar. They’re brutal and intelligent, but tend to come off as barbaric and uncivilised – even simple at times. The ramshackle nature of the armour and clothing and their inherent tendency towards disorganisation and in-fighting as a culture reinforces this image. There’s always been this implied threat that were they ever to mobilise properly, they would be unstoppable. That’s the Riftforged orcs.

Riftforged Orcs - storm

Time to brush up on some lore! The orcs were originally created by Garkan, Wicked One and the Dark God of Smiths. When the rift was opened beneath the Halpi Mountains, Garkan saw a chance to improve upon his creations, which resulted in the creation of larger, tougher orc warriors. He also imbued some of his powerful intellect into these new soldiers, so the Riftforged have a stronger bond with their master and a greater understanding of the forging of weapons and armour. Some may think the finely-wrought armour and weapons of the Riftforged uncharacteristic of orc-kind, but in truth this is taking them back to their origins. Orcs take war very seriously, its probably the only thing that they see value in, especially in the case of the Riftforged. With newfound purpose and drive, they’re now turning all of their fury and intelligence to the breaking of the mortal world in the name of their creator.

With these ideas in mind, we started on the range. There would be a new hard plastic kit which would be the backbone of the range and would really define the orcs. We decided that they would carry hammers, a call back to Garkan, and to differentiate them from the existing orcs. That said, if you want to take axes, we have some upgrade packs planned in the New Year. They stand taller and have larger, often broader muscles in their arms and legs. The original sculpt had to be scaled down to an appropriate size for large infantry – it was almost as big as an ogre! They would wear layered plate armour and this would lead to metal being a part of the range’s visual language. Their arms are uncovered for mobility, but also to show that they’re still orcs – there’s the tell-tale green flesh on display. They carry forward some of the elements of the earlier orcs, including the leering Abyssal faces on their armour.

Other details are Norse-inspired, somehow in my head there’s a link between some depictions of Vikings and orcs. Depending on what you read (Norse mythology is fairly malleable), only those who die an honourable death go to Valhalla – to the orcs, only those who can fight are worthy. Of course there’s not really a link – the term I often used was pseudo-Norse – but the added details gave the orcs a new direction in their look and ideology that wasn’t present before.

One last detail of note is the cracking. These orcs are new creations and the full range of their abilities is still unknown. They’ve been flooded with barely contained power from the rift. This breaks through their skin and crackles around them. This image inspired the riftforged’s link to the storms that come in their wake. Their skin cracks as their bodies struggle to hold the strength forced into them. It’s an intentional open question as to what is going on underneath this. For painters, you can do some great glowing effects coming through their skin – or simply paint this as scar tissue or wounds.

Some cool technical information. The heads, attached by ball and socket joints, will fit onto the older orcs without issue (although they will be quite chunky). Of course these will also fit on the heroes and other orcs in the range. There’s a variety of pauldrons on the sprue, which can be attached to either shoulder of almost any orc (it might be blocked by pose), or even left off entirely. The basic sprue lets you make Riftforged Legionaries (with shields) or Reborn Legionaries (with two handed hammers).

The next model we designed – straight after the infantry – was the Stormbringer. A warlord for the Riftforged Orcs, mounted on a… well we didn’t really know what at first. There were a lot of ideas going back and forth, such as wolves, overgrown boars, insectile lizards, etc. The tricky part was that none of these seemed to fit well with the style we were going for with the Riftforged. It was said, almost as a joke, Mantic’s never made a Manticore, so let’s do that. Once the concept came back, it was match made in heaven (or should that be the Abyss?), so we ran with it for these and the other large cavalry in the army. The Stormbringer himself is a tougher, more heavily armoured orc. We’ve sculpted two of these at time of writing and will likely do more in the future, but each one’s come out looking a bit different and with the development of the lore I like the idea that each of these leaders has their own identity and way of waging war among the Riftforged.

I should probably go into the Thunderseers a bit here, too, since you’ll see them in the army sets. They are cyclopes, who are slaved to the Riftforged armies after some ‘upgrades’ from Garkan. Their tortured forms are very strange in shape – in fact, part of sculpting process had unarmoured ones made and they have odd anatomies beneath their armour. We’ll spare you from ever seeing those. They’re the first of their kind that we’ve seen in Pannithor, although it’s entirely possible that healthier, happier cyclopes may be found elsewhere.

The two heroes mainly came from feedback from the Rules Committee, who were developing the lists as we were working on the models. The Stormcaller is a shaman-like wizard, who summons the storms that cover the orcs’ approach. As such, they’re walking lightning rods, with metal piercing their bodies. They carry what I insist is a staff that just looks like a very large hammer as their weapon, and wear interlocking metal plates acting as ceremonial robes. Once again, it’s all about the metal.

The Riftforger is a buff bestowing hero, who forges the ambient energy of the rift into power for the orcs. His design is based on blacksmiths and smelters, including a welding-mask style helmet. He carries a blacksmith’s hammer and an enchanted anvil around with him to facilitate his work, and wears a reversed set of the Stormcaller’s robes, which creates an apron that covers his front. This was an intentional nod to these two models’ opposing roles in the army. The poses reflect this too, the Stormcaller being bombastic, while the Riftforger is more taciturn.

What you’ve currently seen represents only a small part of the Riftforged range to come. There are larger things marching on the horizon, the vilest creations of Garkan that have yet to see the light of day.