Orconomics: A Satire, by J. Zachary Pike, is a riff on fantasy gaming and its conventions. Taking place in a world of orcs, dwarves, elves, and a whole manner of other creatures, it tips the expected status quo on its head. In the world of Arth professional heroics is exactly that, a profession, with investors and stocks and a ranking system. The goal is to kill the baddies, take their loot, and divvy it up among the heroes and investors.
Death is not only expected, but encouraged. Heroes either get the loot, die in the dungeon, or get hanged as deserters.
But it’s not glamourous, it’s a taciturn job, where causalities are hand waved away as long as the investors get their loot. It’s anything but heroic.
Gorm Ingerson, a fiery hearted dwarf warrior, is a disgraced hero. Once called Pyrebeard, known to all the land, he now drinks himself senseless in backwater gutters. Gorm is given a second chance by a priest of a mad god, and he takes it (with a little nudge from a blackmailing mercenary). Along with a cast of characters that comprises the party, they set out on what is expected to be a doomed quest.
Orconomics strongest assets are its characters. They’re all fleshed out and fun to read. They bicker, make peace, and bicker again. As the story unfolds there is a real sense of comradery that develops between them, but one that doesn’t overshadow the interpersonal conflicts.
If you’ve ever played a fantasy game, either a video game or pen and paper RPG, there’s a lot in here for you. Like how each hero has a class (warrior, mage, thief, ranger, etc.) which will sound familiar to most gamers. And each hero has to accrue points from killing enemies to gain “ranks” (level up). There are a whole lot of other little nods and jabs at conventional gaming, but even if you’re only casually familiar with fantasy games there’ll still be something in here for you.
One of the main aspects of the story are NPCs and their role in the world. An NPC is a shadowkin (orc, knoll, goblin, etc.) who have been granted their non-combatant papers. This means they can work and live among lightlings (humans, dwarves, elves, etc.), but that doesn’t mean their treated the same. And early on we get a clear picture that they’re living on the bottom rungs of society. As Gorm and his party get further into their quest, we get to see even more of how professional heroics interact with the shadowkin and NPCs. It flips the dungeon crawl on its head, making the shadowkin fleshed out characters that occupy a gray area.
The first quarter of the book meandered a bit. It was front loaded with exposition and set-up, but once the party got together and started the quest, I was all in. The interpersonal relationships are the crux of the story, and they are all fascinating and enjoyable to read. By the end, this rag-tag team of washed up heroes really felt like a team—even if they don’t all get along.
I’d definitely recommend this to fans of fantasy, but especially to fantasy gamers.