The Orc and the Pie Pt. 1 – A Breakdown of RPGs

Just the other day I was introduced to the role-playing game The Orc and the Pie. Written by Monte Cook of Dungeons & Dragons fame, it’s the world’s most popular and shortest-yet-technically-complete RPG adventure game. The only things a player knows is that:

You see an orc with a pie.

The room is 10 feet by 10 feet.

The rest is up to the imagination of the player with guidance from the Game Master (GM).

Pretty cool, eh? Simple, straight to the point, and offers creative freedom.

Let’s take that freedom and run. (Oh, and look at pie ~)

Baked Pie
Pie from

The World

Looking at The Orc and the Pie, we see the following elements of the game world:

  1. Potential Obstacle: The orc.
  2. Object: The pie.
  3. Context: The 10×10 room.

The Potential Obstacle is an implied conflict. There’s nothing in the scenario that indicates that the orc will do anything. Maybe it’s a coward, maybe it wants to sell the players the pie, maybe it’s minding its own business.

Our Object is also the implied goal. The players should want pie and acquire it in any way they deem fit.

The Context is merely a setting for the space. It could be a moon, the bottom of the ocean, or nowhere specific – everything ‘just is’.

Going Further

Ignoring the players for now, we can boil the game world down.

First, let’s toss out Context. A setting is interchangeable and largely only a consequence of how players might exist and act in relation to other characters / objects.

Next, I thought the RPG might be about the player, a goal (the Object), and some conflict (our orc) of getting that goal. However, the conflict between the player and a goal is merely a chance of failure of attaining the goal. The goal itself is a player want, whatever that ought to be.

Nixing Context and consolidating the Object and Potential, we’re left with:

  1. Want: Whatever the player seeks to objectively say they’ve succeeded.
  2. Chance: However likely the player gets what they want. The fairest chance is 50% to get it, 50% to not.

Gone Too Far

At this high-level view of The Orc and the Pie (and all RPGs for that matter [heck, even just games!]), we have the following synopsis:

Something is wanted.

The chance of getting what is wanted is 50%.

Our distillation of the game has been chopped up to a coin toss. “I want heads, which has a 50% chance of happening.”

Kinda lame.

Coming Back

It seems The Orc and the Pie has hit the formula of world creation pretty precisely. However, ‘world’ as environmental Context is not necessary. We can rely on players to develop their own Context.

But Potential Obstacle and Object? We need these. Chance and Want respectively are their ghosts, such that a chance to succeed in overcoming any Potential Obstacle exists and an Object can be implied to be the Want of the players.

Let’s keep our Potential Obstacle (orc) and Want (pie). How do players engage with these things?

The Players

We’re missing our live-action cast for the role-play. In D&D for which The Orc and the Pie was made for, players sit in front of something like this:

DnD character sheet from

Click the link above to see the full thing and spend a good 15 minutes just reading the section titles. We have, in no specific nor complete order: Class, Name, Alignment, Strength, Strength (again, but different), Ideals, Flaws, Equipment with “PP” (???), Wisdom, Wisdom again (passive this time), and a whole lot more.

That’s just from the first sheet of 3. And this isn’t the only kind of sheet there is! We have Adventure League, starters, D&D Beyond (not my character), and a metric boat-load of homebrew sheets for the myriad RPGs there are in existence.

But what in the world does all this have to do with pie and an orc?

Getting That Pie

Since simplicity is key, let’s get after as few things that’ll do as much as possible. Back to the burner to boil down the essence of player character…

Any character enacting on the physical world has physical attributes. We could divide this into something like Strength, Speed, and Sustainment (“constitution”, “endurance”, whatever; SSS seems like a cool acronym), but for simplicity’s sake, Brawn will be our trait for a brute-force approach to getting pie.

Since we’re not forgoing clever problem solving or thinking about how to get pie, Brain is our second trait. With book smarts and objective study of the world, Brain affects how a character can come up with a solution, notice things, or out-quiz an orc (or pie!) on trivia.

Lastly, Being. This is our health point / resource / whatever might get the players to care about failure. Maybe it’s ego. When a player character fails an action of Brain or Brawn, or when something succeeds against the player (with negative intention, like an attacking orc), their Being decreases. When a player character has no Being, they stop rolling dice or playing cards. They’re done (at least for awhile).

Three Red Dices
Dice from

Brawn. Brain. Being.

(Can’t say that B3 10x fast…)

A Step Too Far?

Shall we go farther? If we break B3 down, we have a single attribute, Chance, that dictates how likely a player is to accomplish whatever they attempt. The value of Chance would be how many coins need to be flipped to success to guarantee overall success.

Chance could have a spot in a very minimal setting. It serves as a nice tracker of ‘status’ (leveling, character health, etc.). The more a player succeeds, the higher Chance they have to continue to succeed! As they fail, those failures cascade into spectacular foibles great for storytelling.

Is Chance too simple? I’d say that depends. What kind of game is being played? If it’s aiming for a modicum of role-play, the B3 system is the way to go. Are you a fast, strong, dexterous character? Or more of the quick witted, perceptive variety?

Heck, Chance could be renamed to Luck where we’d be left with a handy modifier to B3 traits! A trait that doesn’t do anything on its own, existing only to improve the outcomes of others. (“Improve” because positive reinforcement is generally better received than punishment.)

I digress.

Where Are We Now?

The Orc and the Pie is a splendid basis for finding out what role-playing games are, what games can be on a fundamental level before they become too simplistic.

The game world of an RPG is easily set up. We have a (implied) want, chances to attain that want, character traits to alter those chances, and a clear end state for player and non-player characters, divorced from but ready to serve player goals.

Bob, not so bad.
Your dreams and desires incarnate.

Speaking of players, with a D6, we can fill in our own player character:

Player #1

These numbers could be what a person has to role for success (a D6 roll greater than 8-# [“7” so a number of 6 would at least have a chance of failure with a roll of 1]), the number of dice to role to succeed (#D6), the number we have to roll under, or whatever. Lower numbers are bad.

An example of gameplay could end up being:

  1. Coolcat: “I shove Bob to get to the Pie.”
  2. Coolcat rolls a 1, failing the action for their Brawn, instead falling into Bob.
  3. Bob reacts, rolling a 5, a success for Bob’s Brawn.
  4. Bob pushes Coolcat away.
  5. Coolcat falls over, losing a point in Being.
  6. Bob: “What the heck. You’re getting me pretty angry.”
  7. Coolcat chooses to use their Brain to negotiate with Bob.
  8. Coolcat rolls a 6 off their Brain, a critical success!
  9. Coolcat: “Look, Bob, whose name I know because I read your card, I’m sorry. A tasty-looking Pie is over there. Want to share it?”
  10. Bob: “Ah, apologies accepted! Sorry about shoving you so hard. Why sure, let’s split this delicious Pie!”
  11. Bob and Coolcat both get Pie – Scenario complete!

Players are more difficult to cater to because they are people. People are difficult. However, with Brawn and Brain and Being, Potential Obstacles and implied Wants, playing RPGs doesn’t have to be.

The same goes for designing RPGs. In Part 2 of The Orc and the Pie, I’ll take a look at adding onto and into the game’s systems.

Published by

Jimmy Chattin

Processor of data, applier of patterns, maker of games and stories.

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