Saturday, June 6, 2009


A GM's favorite horde. I'm not sure how they got top billing over goblins, gnolls, bugbears or hobgoblins, but they are a popular enemy in home brewed campaigns, and are a pillar in many monster manuals. We can thank J.R.R. Tolkien for our current vision of the orc. The original 1974 White Box set also included orcs. And I can't count the number of supplements created that have orcs as the focal point. There is orc roleplaying community. And check this out, even the Organic Reactions Catalysis Society is riding on the coattails of these pigged faced villains. The one thing that never made sense to me was why Orcus was not the God of the Orcs. Come on, his name matches. No slight to Gruumsh intended.

Without further ado here is my version of orcs. The abbreviated version.

Orcs are not mindless warmongers. They are a more primitive and barbaric race than humans, but share the human need to develop communities and expand their territory. It is not uncommon to find orc farming villages, but it is difficult for them to build a community the size of a city without fragmenting into factions. But when a powerful leader rises, towns and cities can be built quicker than another race is able. When united, orcs are able to perform awesome acts that make the other races nervous. An example of this is the Fortress of Tribald Pass, a structure so massive and well built the dwarves and humans decided it would take less time and lives to tunnel through a mountain.

Orc males are the leaders of the society. The strongest or the cleverest becomes chief and makes the decisions for the tribe. Councils don't occur in orc society. It makes no sense to them. One strong voice to lead is all that is needed. The more powerful the male the more females he may claim. And as tribes have their chiefs, all orc homes have a maven. She is usually the eldest of the group and in the home not to reproduced, but selected to keep all the other females on tasks and to know their place. A maven can wield substantial power and influence if coupled with the orc chieftain. The eldest of the mavens are feared by the males because of their knowledge of plants and ways to curse. If the male is being unkind or cruel to a maven he may find his food poisoned or she may slit his throat as he sleeps.

The children live in the home their mother is currently in, but the maven has the final say. If the maven dislikes the child she will send the child to a place within the village for unwanted children. Males are taught to fight and hunt as soon as they can walk. Favored females are trained to become mavens and taught the secrets of their power, while the rest are treated liked slaves.

Orcs have some semblance of a legal system. Rarely will two orcs go the chief to settle disputes because in most cases the chief will proclaim both are wrong and take whatever they were arguing about. Orcs will tell the chief they wish to have a trial by combat called "Urm-Bladu". There is place in every village that is considered sacred to the orcs. Orc skulls are hung on poles, resting in niches or piled in an area where the Urm-Bladu is performed. Two combatants will fight to settle the disputes. Death occurs regularly, but is not required to win. When the contest is over there is no more said about the dispute, it has been settled.

Orcs practice ancestor worship. The bodies of the dead are burned so they cannot be consumed by a lesser beast. The heads are cut off and boiled. The broth is drunk by the tribe. The chief drinks first and then the next most powerful male in the tribe and so on. A ceremony performed to absorb the knowledge and strength. When a female orc dies the females follow the same ritual. The cleaned skulls are placed in a sacred area known as the "Terntra-Bladu". They have no religious special days or festivals.

Orcs are trained for both single and mass combat. They do not fear death as other races do, but fear how they will die. To die of old-age is an embarrassment. To die of disease is shameful. To die by a lesser beast is disgraceful. Orc tradition has the army's first wave into battle be that of the old and sickly so they may be honored to be the first to die. To die in combat is the highest honor any orc can achieve. The old and sickly orcs will throw themselves upon the spears and shields of their enemies to provide a tactical advantage for the younger and strong warriors of their tribe.

Orcs are diverse in their ground combat tactics. They prefer crossbows over bows and hacking weapons over piercing. It is rare for an orc army to have a cavalry unit, but some orcs have trained beasts to be steeds. Orcs will use any armor or shield. Their armies are not uniform. They use mismatched armor and makeshift weapons. A good chief knows how to take advantage of this diversity.

Orcs and Other Races
While there is no doubt that orcs are still the bad guys and often hated and attacked on sight, it is not unheard of for an orc village and a human village to co-exist. The humans will have to display some sort of power and show no fear in the face of the orc warriors to be respected. Once this is accomplished an orc chief will meet a human 'chief' on equal ground.

Orcs are found in every circle of society. Some orcs have joined temples and become priests. Others have become popular in the entertainment venue, and master craftsmen. However, elves and dwarves will not allow an orc to establish a presence amongst them. But elves and dwarves will parlay with an orc chief who has shown respect and had proven to reasonable. In one case, it was the orcs who saved a dwarven stronghold from an angry red dragon. An alliance was formed and continues to this day.

So there's a glimpse at the orcs in my world. Game On!


  1. I like your point about orc and human villages interacting, so long as the humans don't show fear.

    Rather than thinking of orcs as hating all life, I think it makes more sense to think of them as contemptuous of all life.

    As my good 'friends' in the Urk Kuldar would say, "Orks is green! Green is best!" Warhammer, sure, but a similar mindset.

  2. The real question is; are your Orcs pig faced? Or are they just ugly humanoids?

    Nice article overall.

  3. Great post. Never been an orc fan myself in actual play, although I've had my share of encounters with them as a player (I distinctly recall a game where my anti-paladin was hiding in the face of a cliff courtesy of a stone shape spell while being pelted by orcish arrows, dung and insults).

  4. You're out of your mind! Orcs work best as the "scary other," a la the LOTR movies. Don't get too deep into these baddies as misunderstood primitives. That way lies madness!

  5. @Bruce I am out of my mind. There is more room outside. I do like having villians with depth and purpose. Especially when the players run into them frequently. Some of the baddies remain so.

    @Rob: You'll find out when one of them jabs a spear into your character's gullet.

    @Nathan: I remember in UO there was a lot of RPers who played orcs and ha d a whole language built for it. They were fun.

    @rpg characters: The only memoriable experience I remember with an orc was playing a 50 point GURPS character who was priest not a fighter, roll two consecutive crit hits and broke both the orc's arms. Rob started playing the orc like the black knight from Monty Python's the Holy Grail, "Tis but a scratch".

  6. In Dagorhir, there's a nationwide unit called the Urk Kuldar who go into battle painted green, some with prosthetics, and follow the Warhammer format of Orkhood. Warbosses, Weird Boyz, Gits, the whole package.