"These have not had a fair press. They are fanatically brave in spite of being weaker and less practiced than most other humanoids, and must be kind to animals, since they train them so well. It is interesting that Tolkien’s characters describe them in terms very similar to those used by medieval chroniclers to describe Mongols, who in our day are considered a nice friendly people of slightly eccentric lifestyle. We might instead think of such goblins as a fantasy counterpart of the apocryphal northerner: clannish, rough spoken, given to imbibing of strong but peculiar liquor, keeping analogues of whippets and pidgeons, prone to mob violence at away fixtures and perhaps too easily influenced by radical politicians of other races."
- – Phil Barker, Sue Laflin Barker & Richard Bodley Scott, Hordes of the Things
"We were all orcs in the Great War."
Orcs are a fantasy race that is used in a number of settings. Compare to Ork. They are generally depicted as barbaric humanoids with green skin. Typically, they are stronger than an average human, though generally less intelligent as well.
They enjoy molesting, eating and generally mistreating the goblins, their smaller cousins. They have longstanding relationships with trolls and ogres, their larger and stupider neighbors, whom they con into performing demeaning menial tasks and press into service in wartime. Their relations with more distant races are more variable - some may work for humans as mercenaries, for example, while others will attack humans on sight. They are also interfertile with many other races, leading to the existence of half-orcs. The long-standing exception to this is elves. All orcs hate elves, and this makes them good people.
Historically, the term is also an Anglo-Saxon word meaning 'demon', according to Tolkien, who lifted the word from Beowulf and proceeded to invent orcs as a fantasy race out of whole cloth.
The Master TemplateEdit
While many traditional fantasy races (elves, dwarves, dragons and wizards) can be traced back to folklore and mythology, orcs are entirely a product of modern fantasy literature. Here we have a basic rundown of the image that comes up when people say "Orc" and how it evolved.
Orcs as we know them have their beginnings with Tolkien's works. The first orcs were created by Melkor (later known as Morgoth) shortly after the first elves awoke, before humans existed. It should be noted that Tolkien never definitively stated the true origin of Orcs (in part because the theological implications of creating an inherently evil race troubled him as a devout Catholic), and most of what we have comes from notes and decisions he left to his son Christopher when he passed control of the setting over. According to one account published after Tolkien's death in The Silmarillion, some of these elves wandered about exploring this world that they had awoken in and were captured by some of Melkor's Maiar ("fallen angels" futher down the hierarchy, Melkor being basically Satan) and were taken to Angband, his base of operations. Because Melkor was bitter about being unable to create life they were tortured, abused, cursed, mutated and selectively bred until you got Orcs. The result was a species of ugly, bad-smelling, long-armed, claw-handed, hairy apelike humanoids which were 'sallow', 'swart' or 'black' in coloration, had an aversion to sunlight, ranged in size from smaller than a hobbit to almost as large as a man. These creatures would make up the bulk of Melkor and later Sauron's armies.
Tolkien's Orcs are not stupid, described as "making no beautiful things, but many clever ones". They are capable of making weapons (bows, spears, daggers, shields and curved swords), armor (helmets, mail and scale armor supplemented by salvage), effective if unpleasant medicine, and are pretty good engineers on top of creating assembly lines; one of the general morals of Tolkien's works is rampant industrialization is a path to evil and/or misfortune, and making Orcs more advanced than other races reflects this. They are almost as good at mining as Dwarves are even if their work ethic leaves something to be desired. Nor are all orcs identical. There are variations among Orcs both in terms of individual personalities and differences between groups. Orcs from the Misty Mountains are described as being fairly tribal while those of Mordor are regimented (to the point where they have serial numbers). There are also different breeds of Orcs, besides the garden variety Orc you also have 'snufflers' bred for following scent trails and the larger and more sun resistant Uruk-Hai bred by Sauron and Saruman, supposedly made by crossbreeding Orcs with humans and specialized to act as commanders. However they are violent, sadistic, spiteful, enjoy breaking stuff, have no concern for aesthetics and are as a rule hateful and miserable. Fighting, killing, eating, drinking, looting, blowing stuff up, gaining power, bossing their subordinates around, torturing and presumably raping captives can only give temporary reprieve. They hate Sauron and especially Melkor, but serve them out of fear, their psychic influence over them and the fact that everyone who is not under their authority despises them and wants them dead. They are capable of internal loyalty and do have some social taboos (being accused of eating other Orcs is a considerable insult even though they are perfectly fine with eating non-Orcs) which are enough to let them act together as groups, although these groups tend to collapse due to infighting after reaching a certain size in the absence of a leader who can terrify them into submission.
Despite this, little is said by Tolkien about how Orcs live their lives on a day-to-day basis as their role in the story is as a force which threatens the heroes and those around them. It can be extrapolated, however that it is usually nasty, brutish and short. Some of the interactions between different groups of orcs frequently results in back-stabbing and violent power struggles, so we can assume that they operate on a grimdark version of Klingon politics. All the orcs mentioned are male which is usually interpreted as "orcs don't bring their womenfolk along on campaigns" (which is basically what Tolkien said in one of his letters) but has led a few to say that orcish sexual dimorphism is basically nonexistent or that female orcs don't exist. Given Sauron's proclivities and the various castes in mordor they were likely subject to some form of selective breeding program.
In Tolkien's published works, "Orc" and "goblin" are synonyms. In later editions of The Hobbit, he says that "goblin" is a translation of "orc", which is "not an English word". "Uruk" means Orc in Black Speech, a mix of Elvish, human tongue, and Sauron's attempts to give them their own language. Most fantasy fiction typically distinguishes between Goblins and Orcs: most of Tolkien's Orcs would resemble other works' Goblins (Frodo and Sam disguised themselves as Orcs, so we can assume at least some are Hobbit height). The largest Orcs in Middle Earth - the Uruks of Isengard and Mordor - appear to be somewhat smaller than Men.
The question of whether they are intrinsically evil is never brought up, and several of Tolkien's unpublished works suggest that this was due to his own misgivings with the concept of a wholly evil race. Melkor had no power to create other beings himself, but the fact that elves could be corrupted would also imply Eru had either made the souls of some elves either inherently evil or easily corrupted to become evil. Unlike Melkor, Sauron, and Balrogs who were spiritual beings that made an active choice to be evil, Orcs are universally portrayed as evil which means they could be evil from birth which is strongly against Tolkien's strong Catholic beliefs in the nature of good and evil. This in turn contradicted his own views on the nature of Eru as a wholly good deity while also opening up some thorny questions of faith for Tolkien himself, and even in his last writings it appears he could not come up with a satisfactory explanation for how they could be universally evil by nature. There is also some uncomfortable parallels that some people have made about tribes of dark skinned violent human-like monsters, though (thankfully) Tolkien said that this was not his intent. Christopher similarly has not come up with a satisfactory answer and has largely avoided the subject, avoiding talking about Orcs as anything but adult militant antagonists and leaning back on his father's suggestions of corrupted man/elf hybrids descended from enslaved elves.
Fans divide into different camps of explanation. Orcs could be born adult and "male", like the Warhammer Orcs discussed below, and thus be more intelligent animal like Dragons as opposed to inherently evil people. Another suggestion is they could also be people who are indoctrinated from youth, such as their closest inspiration as the Central Powers in World War 1 (trying to kill Tolkien in the Somme) and Axis (who blew up his barn while he and the family hid in the cellar during the Blitz) which would make Orcs antagonists with horrible leaders and a corrupt ideology as opposed to naturally evil; this would make them as evil as the Easterlings. Some have reasoned, in the vein of the second suggestion, that Orcs are not all unified on Melkor/Sauron's side, which is supported by a single line from Tolkien that no race stood united for or against Sauron; this is dismissed by some with the elf/man origins as all Orcs evil and all elves good, but can be interpreted either way. In this view some have reasoned there must be neutral tribes of Orcs who did not participate in conflict and are as unmentioned as the Stoorish Hobbits (Gollum's original people, who's only importance at all and thus only mention is just that; being Gollum's people before he degenerated into a ghoulish being), that these Orcs could possibly even be good for all that is known. Another idea is that Melkor's corruption of the Elves he kidnapped either diminished or removed their capacity to do good, which would make creating the Orcs one of the most monstrous acts he had ever committed, and considering this guy was capital-E Evil in every way he could think of that says a whole goddamn lot. The final suggestion is Orcs have no souls, and much like the Little Mermaid (not the Disney version, the original story where they are Feyfolk who are sea foam come to life in the forms of people that can love and grieve but return to sea foam in oblivion when they die because they have no souls) are just some natural material come to life with no real importance or moral rights because they were not intentionally created by the omnipotent creator (Dwarves get a pass for being cute and well made). In this view you could do anything you want to an Orc from killing to torture because they have as much natural rights as their base components, similar to the destruction of the Golem in Hebrew myth, though one could find moral problems with this as well depending on your worldview. Tolkien seems to have considered this explanation at one point but ultimately rejected it, as he believed that the Orcs would have been no more intelligent than any other animal if they were truly soulless.
In any case, Tolkien invented Orcs and what is discussed above served as the inspiration of of MANY spinoffs that to various degrees A: took the idea and ran with it while expanding on it to fill in the blanks, B: took the basic idea and gave it a few tweaks, or C: deliberately subverted what people expected from Orcs, making it possible for them to be the good guys. There have been various takes on the "are Orcs fundamentally evil?" question. As a general rule more people tend to go with some flavor of "no, strictly speaking" in that regard as it opens up more narrative possibilities as opposed to a race of set-in-stone killer meatbots utterly unable to deviate from their programing though still cast them primarily in a villainous role.
For the most part the Lord of the Rings movies created by Peter Jackson have done a reasonable interpretation of the orcs from the books, though they have cranked their aggression up a bit, uglied them to a great degree, often used the green skin-tones that were popularized later, made them much taller across the board, and possibly confirmed females. No females are pointed out, but some actresses that played Orcs have insisted their characters (who are usually killed by Elf acrobatics in the same scene or just screech at the camera and shoot an arrow) are female; Jackson has never confirmed or denied this but still made a point of including these interviews on the special features sections of the home release of the movies. Then again, he also put Elves at Helms Deep...
Notably, the 2014 game Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, while mostly known for being "actually pretty good" for what was essentially an Assassin's Creed clone, also showed Orc culture. Essentially, they were a naturally evil race ruled by a hierarchy of tribe chiefs who use grimdark Klingon politics; meaning who could knock around his fellow Uruks became boss, and a boss who could honorably duel, assassinate, or otherwise neutralize his peers climbed the ladder. While they were the Chaotic Evil monsters Tolkien didn't want to portray them as, this didn't mean that they weren't interesting. Their mindset was that when they weren't focusing on eliminating other tribes, most Uruks just wanted to put in a hard day's work (of bossing around human slaves), made small talk, had drinking songs, and at the end of the day just go have a drink with his mates. With the mental influence of Celebrimbor's shade on them they are rendered neutral in terms of good/evil, but will still fight and kill each other for promotions; this is generally interpreted as mind control, although a large number of Orcs following you without Celebrimbor in the sequel suggests it may also be you reducing Sauron's influence on them and allowing them to make their own moral choices.
Games Workshop was originally a company that produced quality boards for games like Chess, but after two out of three of the original team fell in love with Dungeons & Dragons after Gary Gygax sent them a copy (believing they were a legitimate company based on their name, rather than three guys in an apartment sending out stuff through the mail) they began distributing licensed games and later producing miniatures for use in these games under the brand Citadel Miniatures.
As time went on, they had a surplus of unsold miniatures and had trouble retaining the rights to sell their products, so they began to have members of their team create new games owned by Games Workshop to use the models they produced (which unfortunately made many of the early Warhammer designs that survive extreme ripoffs). The most successful of these was Warhammer Fantasy, then just Warhammer, which was a wargame version of Dungeons & Dragons that existed mostly just to sell models. Warhammer didn't get its own setting and story until 3rd edition, where its Orcs were described as having green skin and red eyes with tusks in their mouths as well as being savage brutes that gathered in hordes and attacked civilization, or just about anything capable of fighting, every so often. Although later on this lore became more complex with Warhammer greenskins becoming genderless mushroom-apes with the creation of Warhammer 40000 which was ported back into Fantasy, the prototype Warhammer Orc still had females and Half-Orcs.
With this, the master template of Orcs was completed. Almost every fantasy setting to use Orcs after Warhammer made them green and sometimes gave them red eyes with tusks, which eventually migrated back into Dungeons & Dragons and even the Lord Of The Rings movies. However, one thing was missing. Orcs were still Always Chaotic Evil which greatly limited their use, and non-evil Orcs were a footnote that didn't even have a Drizzt to be their posterboy example.
The importance of Warcraft isn't actually in a major evolution in any fiction master template. In fact, what it mostly did is combine concepts from previous obscure fantasy settings into a unified setting, which was thrust into mainstream public perception and made Orcs "cool" causing a boom of fantasy gaming both on the tabletop and in video games, as well as the movie screen.
Warcraft: Orcs & Humans was released in 1994, and featured generic knights VS generic Orcs in the Warhammer style (indeed, rumors persist that Warcraft was a canceled Warhammer game as Games Workshop had been experimenting at the time with video games). Orcs were controlled by Demons from some obscure Satanic force, and used Ogres as their minions. The only real innovation was Orcs coming from another planet through a portal, although the theme of Satanic forces invading from portals was largely dropped and instead lived on in the Diablo franchise. The game was a surprising success, being low budget from a minor studio.
It was followed by Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness in 1996, which sold RIDICULOUSLY well and sparked a boom in the entire Real Time Strategy genre which quickly became a staple of PC gaming. The setting was expanded a great deal, although Orcs remained mostly the same but were joined by Goblins (who coincidentally looked similar but were a different race), Trolls, their persisting Ogre slaves, the undead (created by the Orcs from their own dead Warlocks), and enslaved dragons. The most diverse change to be found here was Goblins being a race of money-obsessed mad scientists, and Trolls being intelligent. An expansion pack was released that involved the humans invading the Orc homeworld to end the war.
Setting their eyes on the horizon, Blizzard planned an explosion of lore with a book series beginning with Of Blood And Honor which went into the friendship between a human Paladin and an aged Orc ex-Shaman who hated what his race had become which created complexity in what had previously been just a generic "kill it all and loot/eat then march again" race. The second book was Day Of The Dragon, expanding a minor plot involving Dragons into the war between good and evil which had used the Horde and Alliance as a proxy for their own machinations. Lord Of The Clans delved deeper into Orc lore, explaining that they were a race with souls naturally attuned to other sources of energy that had communed with the forces of nature itself until they were tricked into a Daemonic curse that affected them like meth, giving them fanatical boosts of power until it diminished their body and soul into a husk; the main character of the book, named Thrall by humans who used him as a pit fighter, learned nature magic and freed the defeated Orcs to lead them to a peaceful natural existence again. Finally the book The Last Guardian detailed the madness of the human supreme wizard Medivh who had summoned the Orcs into the world in the first place and gave context on the Burning Legion, transforming them from a vaguely satanic demon army into a varied force of cosmic enemies that would fit right into Doctor Who. Here finally Warcraft added new flavor to their Orcs although unlike previous versions of non-evil Orcs the Warcraft version had identical culture only without malice. The major difference here was making them neutral race that actually got to be in the spotlight, as all previous non-evil Orcs were minor races left mostly undescribed beyond the basics that never starred in a story and always were just an option for exotic PCs; Warcraft was the first setting to make them a core race in the starring role with equal importance to humans in the first person narrative, which catapulted Orcs across fantasy fiction in importance.
In Warcraft III: Reign Of Chaos, released in 2002, Blizzard took the mantle of villains entirely away from the Horde and rendered the judgement of gray morality into all factions. The Alliance were racist arrogant bastards that hated each other, were ineffective, and easy to corrupt. The Horde was full of the same assholes from Warcraft I and II that were missing "the good old days" and jumped at a chance to suckle Daemon teat for power again (although the curse was broken during the game). Undead wore the mantle of villainy, but that's because they were lead by a soulless human merged with the ghost of the Orc who set in motion the events which made the Horde evil in the first place. Also, there was forest Elves who wanted everyone to get the fuck out of their forest.
Warcraft III became THE game on the PC at the time, and Warcraft mania had made the image of Orcs something the average non-gamer person could identify. Green skin, tusks, gigantic frame with large shoulders, and sometimes red eyes (which just meant "evil Orc" in Warcraft) became THE Orc as a result of Warcraft, which very little since then has drifted away from. Very few fictional works with Orcs that came after left out these details.
Next in 2004 came World Of Warcraft, THE MMO which destroyed or outlasted every competitor, surviving for
12 15 full years and which is still ongoing today. While most of the changes added in WoW remain only important to Warcraft continuity, as they haven't migrated into the mainstream yet, non-evil (or at least neutral) Orcs put upon both by their own evil kin and the hateful humanity became the default Orc. As the game's story moved on, the main racial plot for the Orcs concern itself with its heritage as bloodthirsty conquerors, with the younger lads wondering whether or not wanton genocide really was all that bad... One of them even took the Horde to... An interesting place. So the nature of Orcs as evil/not-evil-just-really-fighty is still being discussed within the game.
So while Warcraft didn't pioneer the idea of non-evil Orcs, greenskins with tusks, or Orcs being in control of their own destiny rather than being pawns in the schemes of a greater power, it did make the Master Template a staple of fantasy fiction. Stories like the Styx and Divinity video games have continued using the new template since then, with more on the way. Even Warhammer itself dropped the most outright evil of their Orcs since then, making them Chaotic Neutral destructive forces that can be allied with rather than Chaotic Evil.
"Look at them. Ranks, files, locked in everlasting conflict at the whim of the player. They fight, they fall, and they cannot turn back because the whips drive them on, and all they know is whips, kill or be killed. Darkness in front of them, darkness behind them, darkness and whips in their heads. But what if you could take one out of this game, get him before the whips do, take him to a place without whips‚ what might he become? One creature. One singular being. Would you deny them that chance?"
- – Lord Havelock Vetinari, Unseen Academicals, on the subject of Sir Terry Pratchett's Orcs
As the above suggests, orcs are typically your generic barbarian rapine-horde of bad-guys in most fantasy settings. However, this isn't always the case, and a number of notable exceptions have developed over the years.
Discworld (Also the universe where the above quote comes from) barely mentions orcs, only saying that they were made as cannon fodder for an evil empire before it was destroyed. There is, however, one orc Character; Nutt, who is Perhaps the most intelligent being in the whole setting, incredibly strong and fucking brilliant at football, although he avoids becoming a Mary Sue due to Terry pratchett's Incredibly good writing.
Al-Qadim is notable for being probably the first full-on retooling of the orcs from "rampaging barbarian tribes" to "just one more fantasy race that mostly gets along with the others." This is mostly because, rather than having all the races living in their own corners of the world with their own cultures, the deserts of Al-Qadim saw lots of racial mixing around the few oases, and thus a single unified culture comprised of multiple races formed. The only enemies who are always evil are explicitly supernatural, like the YAKMEN! Also, the most likely setting ever for elf-orc crossbreeding.
Eberron gave its orcs a status as a relatively peaceful race who were once responsible for combating the threat of aberration hordes from beyond the stars, as well as founders of the tradition of druidism in-setting. Even in the present, they tend to live in the swamp-regions and do no harm; they freely mingle with humans and adopt them into their tribes, so half-orcs are not only common, but have just as much an expectation of being born from consensual relationships as anyone else, rather than the "orc man raping a human woman" expectation of most other D&D settings. The Demon Wastes are even full of human, orc, and half-orc barbarian clans all living and fighting and drinking together for the glory of Kalok Shash, an incarnation of the Silver Flame, in an endless war to make sure nothing else in the Demon Wastes ever gets out. And winning.
Forgotten Realms, although certainly playing it straight, had an exception too, in the form of the AD&D-only orc subspecies known as the Ondonti. A Lawful Good race of peaceful, quiet, contemplative, gentle orcs who devote themselves to Eldath (a minor Goddess of Peace and Quiet Places) and live a humble life as farmers in a hidden valley. They have several Priestly spell-like abilities (Sanctuary (Self) and Purify Food & Water 3/day, Barkskin 1/day and Tree 1/week), are resistant to poison and immune to Charm spells. The general belief of their origin is that they are an example of option 3 in the infamous The Orc Baby Dilemma, with a bunch of Eldathi priests taking orphaned orc infants into seclusion and bringing them up into their cult, causing them to forsake their ancestral barbarity and embrace peace, quiet and advanced hygiene. You can check out their AD&D stats here. It's also worth noting that many D&D fans take the stance that orcs, goblins, ogres, and other "always evil" monsters are only evil because they're brought up in an evil culture, and that an orc raised in a human household would be just as Good as their adoptive parents (assuming the parents actually are Good-aligned, that is).
- There was also a brief but interesting period in very late third through fourth edition in which Gruumush experimented with building an orcish civilization, the Kingdom of Many Arrows, Mongol-style. It was fun while it lasted, but was inevitably swept away to restore the infinite status quo.
Spelljammer is an unusual entry on this list, because its unique orcs, or Scro, are still bad guys. It's just that, in an era where orcs were defined as being chaotic, anarchic, disorganized hordes scro were defined by being cultured, intelligent, disciplined and well-organized soldierly regiments - in other words, very close to how hobgoblins have come to be defined in modern editions. They are even bigger than normal orcs, pimp out their teeth with much bling, and wear black leather uniforms when not in battle armor. You can check out their AD&D stats here.
Warcraft, as covered above, may be the iconic example of a mold-breaker when it comes to orcs. After making them fairly bog-standard bad guy invaders in the first two games (if a little unusual in that they were also invaders from another planet), the third game offered the revelation that orcs had once been a noblebright culture of shamans and honorable warriors, but were corrupted into savage, bloodthirsty conquerors by an evil warlock and the setting's demonic BBEG. As a result, the third game focused on their drive to draw their beaten clans out of human territory and found a new nation for themselves where they could try and rediscover their past. This led to the formation of the Horde faction in World of Warcraft, which took off hugely in popularity because of its then-novel idea of traditionally brutal monster races (orcs, trolls, undead, and minotaurs) as an ordinary, viably civilized (relatively speaking) faction in its own right. There was even a short-lived tabletop RPG (first a D&D 3.5 spin off, then a more "customized" but still fundamentally D&D-cloned WoW version) as a result. They still fight, bicker, and war with the "good" races, but now it's because of Blizzard's
refusal to give up the "dual faction" mechanic and let the story progress along with long-standing prejudices between both the Alliance and the Horde rather than because they're the bad guys revolving door of insane and genocidal Horde warchiefs who get overthrown every 2-4 years. The plot twist is that this time, the warchief is not an Orc at all, but an undead elf, so everything bad that's been happening lately is absolutely 100% not the Orcs' fault.
While Elder Scrolls Orcs (or Orsimer, if you wish to use their proper name) weren't even considered people in the first game, by the time the third game rolled around they had become fully integrated into normal society and weren't looked upon any differently from elves or humans. They are as intelligent as anybody else (in the fifth game one even runs the library at the local mage's college) and generally known to be the best smiths in the setting besides the long-extinct Dwarves, as well as crazy good soldiers next to the Nords and Redguards. Their skill in fighting with heavy armor has lent them a place as heavy shock legionaries in the Imperial Legions. One Orc even became the continent's best chef. Technically, they're a subspecies of Elf which were transformed into their current state after the Daedric Prince Boethiah ate (and shat out) their greatest champion/god, who was himself turned into the Daedric Prince Malacath.
Wicked Fantasy Orks were originally the standard Always Chaotic Evil raider types, having been created by malevolent gods for the purpose of fighting for their amusement. And then, one day, thirteen great orkish heroes realized that their race had always been nothing more than slaves, and chose to take a new path. They fought their gods and slew them, and though they still struggle with the lingering blood-rage they were created with, they are now a comparatively peaceful race. They're still a dark race, but not an evil one. For example, they worship pain as a sacred concept... because, by their understanding of it, pain is ultimately on the side of life and it is the giver of strength. Pain warns you when you are hurt, when you are about to die, but it also pushes you to fight harder, to try and survive. Orks prize battle scars as near-sacred objects; nothing comes without sacrifice, and without a scar, the physical symbol of pain, for reference, a victory is ultimately meaningless.
Sharakim seem like this at first glance, as they are orcs who are highly organized, discipline, civilized and benevolent people, but arguably don't count: they're the descendants of humans who were cursed to look like orcs for sacrilege, not really proper orcs.
Monster Hunter International orcs, while green and tusked, are among the few monsters that aren't evil as a species. Unlike most of them they are not PUFF exempt, so they do their best to stay hidden from the government. Monster Hunter International helps hide the orcs at their headquarters in Cazador, Albama and, in return, gets a help from a few orcs. Appearance wise MHI Orcs are pretty standard, though they wear masks to hide this (though the one look at their village suggests they may do this beyond secrecy). What makes them interesting is that they have an (Orc) god given talent that makes them very specialized in a particular area, yet utterly incompetent at something related to but outside that area. These include a master of bladed weapons that can't hit the broad side of a barn with a gun, and a helicopter pilot who can make a MI-24 Hind do things even current helicopters can't, but can't drive a car. They can also make magical healing potions, though they need to be made for specific people and don't keep well. Upon hearing this, one character speculates that Top Gear's Stig is an orc. Females greatly outnumber males, so polygamy is the norm. They also worship heavy metal musicians. Most information about orcs is based on one friendly tribe, and the only other tribe mentioned was willing to slaughter this friendly tribe, so it's likely other tribes differ in some or all aspects.
It's not very common, as one can see, but some DMs have been known to revamp orcs for their own homebrew settings as well.
Orcs in D&DEdit
In the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons, Orcs were among the first monsters inspired by folklore and fantasy literature added to the game in a reissue set. They became the primary antagonists out of the many enemies in the game due primarily to their statline rather than their iconic nature, since they were the best "always an enemy" humanoid to accompany a BBEG. Early DnD Orcs were pig-like monsters resulting from savage tribals that bred with all other races they warred with (so reproducing via rape) with no unified culture or language, but interestingly were also described as having a "reputation for cruelty that is deserved, but humans are just as capable of evil as orcs" which suggests they weren't anything extraordinary to the setting.
Half a decade after their introduction, they were given a more neanderthal appearance as well as being given a size-increase to that of a gorilla (which is actually shorter than the average human, btw), were made able to breed with humans resulting in the Half-Orc playable race, and given their own mythology (which in most D&D settings is the explanation for why a race behaves the way it does). The leader god is named Gruumsh, who was screwed over in inheritance of the world by the gods of the fairer races causing him to be a bitter asshole and make his race into entitled "might makes right" pricks like a father passing on their shitty life to their kids. Gruumsh's family are below him in importance and include his wife Luthic, goddess of the submission of Orc females as the inferior gender, who goes barefoot and never wields a weapon and just serves to run the home and make babby, and their son Bahgtru who's pretty much the god of "stupid, but strong", along with Gruumsh's second in command Ilneval who is the Orc god of war that directly guides mortal Orcs, with the four together representing the Neutral and "Lawful" (as in they are willing to take orders and respect their place in society) side of the pantheon. Also added were Shargaas the god of general bad magic and spooky things, and Yurtrus the god of ruin and death, neither of whom have any loyalty to Gruumsh's side of the pantheon and represent the truly Chaotic "for the evulz" aspect of Orcs.
An article for Dragon Magazine later gave the option of making the traditionally evil races like Orcs and Kobolds player characters of any alignment. This lead to the Forgotten Realms setting having two races of Orcs that are capable of any alignment, the pacifistic Ondonti who culturally are closer to Hobbit than Orruk, and the Gray Orcs who are treated as another among the fair races. All other D&D Orcs remained stupid-evil.
Dungeons & Dragons became the standard for most fantasy that came after, but ultimately for Orcs the only purpose was to move forward to the next step in the master template.
Despite their traditional role as bad guys, since at least the days of Basic D&D, where they had their own Known World Gazetteer in "The Orcs of Thar", orcs have actually been a full-fledged PC race. True, you typically need DM permission, but the option was there.
Though... not a lot of people took it, as in accordance with their fluff, orcs could be mechanically rather... lackluster. It's a well-known fact in 4th and 5th edition alike that, really, you're better off using and reflavoring the half-orc or even the goliath races instead. Especially in 5th edition, where they are literally the only race in the game, aside from kobolds, to get an ability score penalty.
- Standard Mystaran Orc
- Orc Ability Modifiers: +1 Strength, -1 Dexterity
- Note: Like all Humanoids from "The Orcs of Thar", an Orc has racial ability score caps of 18 in all scores bar Intelligence and Wisdom, which are capped at 16.
- Note: Like all Humanoids from "The Orcs of Thar", an Orc determines its Charisma score for interacting with humans and demihumans by dividing its Charisma score by 3 (rounding down) and subtacting the result from 9.
- Orc Natural Armor Class: 8
- Can become Shamans (6th level) and Wokani (4th level).
|Orc's's level||XP Required||Orc's hit dice|
|9||260,000||+2 Hit Points|
|Subsequent||200,000||+2 Hit Points|
- Krugel Orc
- Racial Ability Modifiers: +1 Strength, -1 Dexterity, maximum of 16 Intelligence and 16 Wisdom
- Prime Requisite: Strength - Strength 13+ for +5% to XP earned, Strength 16+ for +10% to XP earned
- Save as Fighter of equivalent level
- Can reach 6th level as Shaman and 4th level as Wokani
- Mandatory Skill: Riding (Horse or Bounder - a kind of far-leaping bipedal carnivorous dinosaur)
- Unlike normal Mystaran orcs, Krugel orcs have lost their Infravision
- Cultural Melee Weapons: Dagger, Sword (Short/Broad/Bastard), Mace, Club, Warhammer, Spear, Javelin, Lance, Net, Whip
- Cultural Missile Weapons: Crossbow (Light/Heavy), Bow (Long/Short), Sling
- Cultural Armor: Leather, Scale, Mail, Chain Mail, Banded Mail, Shield (including horned, knife, sword and tusked), Leather Horse Barding
- Shamans can use: Mace, club, warhammer, lance, net, all cultural armor
- Wokani can use: Dagger, club, net, whip
Krugel Experience Table: Krugels can reach level 36
- 1: 0 XP, 1D8 Hit Dice
- 2: 1,000 XP, 2D8 Hit Dice
- 3: 2,000 XP, 3D8 Hit Dice
- 4: 4,000 XP
- 5: 8,000 XP, 4D8 Hit Dice
- 6: 16,000 XP, 5D8 Hit Dice
- 7: 32,000 XP, 6D8 Hit Dice
- 8: 64,000 XP
- 9: 130,000 XP, 7D8 Hit Dice
- 10: 260,000 XP, +2 HP (Constitution bonus no longer applies)
- +1 Level: +200,000 XP, +2 HP (Constitution bonus no longer applies)
- +1 Strength, -2 Charisma
- Strength: Minimum 6, Maximum 18
- Dexterity: Minimum 3, Maximum 17
- Constitution: Minimum 8, Maximum 18
- Intelligence: Minimum 3, Maximum 16
- Wisdom: Minimum 3, Maximum 16
- Charisma: Minimum 3, Maximum 12
- Available Classes & Max Levels: Fighter 10, Cleric 9, Shaman 6, Witch Doctor 6, Thief 11
- 35% chance to spot new and unusual constructions
- 25% chance to spot sloping passages
- Infravision 60 feet
- -1 penalty to attack rolls and morale when in direct sunlight
- Weapon Proficiencies: Battle axe, crossbow, flail, hand axe, spear, any bow, any pole arm, any sword.
- Nonweapon Proficiencies: Alertness, armorer, blacksmithing, bowyer/fletcher, carpentry, chanting, close-quarter fighting, hunting, intimidation, looting, religion, set snares, spellcraft, tracking, weaponsmithing.
There are several different orc stats, scattered across multiple sourcebooks. The "common" orc in the Monster Manual featured the following statblock:
In the Forgotten Realms, however, there are three different varieties of orc:
The "Mountain Orc" is the most common of the three races, and is the most generic, being pretty much standard Monster Manual orcs. They inhabit the Frozen North, predominantly the Spine of the World mountains and other hilly regions (hence the name), and for the most part at generic would-be conquerors foiled by their own inability to focus on anything besides killing - except for when Obould Many-Arrows tried to forcibly drag them out of their pits and show them that the best way to get respect is to actually make a kingdom of their own. These guys use the standard orc profile.
Finally, Gray Orcs are a strange race of emotional, impulsive, and deeply religious orcs originally hailing from another world. Long story short, centuries ago, an archmage created a portal to their world, but wound up being killed for an unrelated incident before anyone ever found out about this portal - which meant nobody ever shut it off. Five years after his death, the orcs found the portal and swarmed through in a religious crusade, battling the empires of Mulhorand and Unther in the 6-years-long Orcgate Wars, which ended with the closing of the portal, the defeat of several of the incarnate gods of Mulhorand and Unther, and the scattering of the gray orcs into loose, fractious tribes that still haunt the Moonsea and the Endless Wastes. Though physically weaker than their mountain orc "relatives", gray orcs are much more strong-willed and independent, and retain a knack for divine magic which makes them dangerous. They also possess a far swifter stride and keener senses of smell. Gray Orc PCs have the following racial stats:
- +2 Strength, +2 Wisdom, -2 Intelligence, -2 Charisma
- Medium Size
- Base Speed 40 feet
- Racial Weapon Proficiency: Great-Axe and Longbow
- Light Sensitivity (Ex): -1 penalty to Attack rolls when exposed to bright sunlight or a daylight spell.
- Scent (Ex)
- Orc Blood: For all effects and special abilities that target a creature's race, Gray Orcs count as Orcs.
- Favored Class: Cleric
- Level Adjustment: +1
- +4 Strength, -2 Intelligence, -2 Charisma
- Base land speed 30 feet
- Weapon Familiarty: Vardatches are Martial Weapons for Orcs
- Night Fighter: Darkvision 60 feet, +1 racial bonus to attack rolls when fighting with no light.
- Light Sensitivity: -1 penalty on attack rolls in bright sunlight or within the radius of a daylight spell.
- Resistance to Cold: Immune to nonlethal damage caused by cold weather, severe cold, exposure or extreme cold. Halve lethal damage (rounding down) inflicted by extreme cold.
- Natural Predator: Orcs add their Str modifier to Intimidate checks as well as their Cha modifier.
- Spell Resistant: +2 racial bonus on saves against spells and spell-like effects, -2 spell energy points for orc casters.
- +1 racial bonus on damage rolls against dwarves.
- +1 racial bonus on attack rolls when fighting in groups of 10 or more orcs; allies and enemies both count for triggering this feature.
- Favored Class: Barbarian
Warcraft the RPG OrcEdit
- +2 Constitution, -2 Intelligence
- Medium size
- Base land speed 30 feet
- Low-Light Vison
- Battle Rage: Can Rage once per day as per a Barbarian, or adds +1 to rages per day if a Barbarian
- Weapon Familiarity: Orc Claws are a Martial Weapon rather than an Exotic Weapon
- Weapon Proficiency: Automatically receive Martial Weapon Proficiency (Battleaxe) as a bonus feat
- +2 racial bonus to Handle Animal (Wolf) checks and Intimidate checks. Handle Animal (Wolf) and Intimidate are always Class Skills for orcs.
- +1 racial bonus to attack rolls against humans
- Favored Class: Fighter
World of Warcraft the RPG OrcEdit
- +2 Stamina, -2 Intellect (Note: Con and Int by different names)
- Medium size
- Base land speed 30 feet
- Low-Light Vison
- Battle Rage: Can Rage once per day as per a Barbarian, or adds +1 to rages per day if a Barbarian
- Weapon Familiarity: Orc Claws are a Martial Weapon rather than an Exotic Weapon
- Weapon Proficiency: Automatically receive Martial Weapon Proficiency (Battleaxe) as a bonus feat
- +2 racial bonus to Handle Animal (Wolf) checks and Intimidate checks. Intimidate is always a Class Skill for orcs.
- +1 racial bonus to attack rolls against humans
- Favored Class: Barbarian
- +2 Strength, +2 Constitution
- Size: Medium
- Speed: 6 squares
- Vision: Low-light
- Running Charge (+2 to Speed when charging)
- Warrior's Surge (racial encounter power; make a 1[W] + Strength modifier attack with a melee weapon against an opponent's AC and get to spend a healing surge)
- +4 Strength, -2 Intelligence, -2 Wisdom, -2 Charisma
- Medium size
- Base land speed 30 feet
- Darkvision out to 60 feet
- Ferocity (can keep fighting at zero HP, but is Staggered and loses 1 HP each round automatically)
- Light Sensitivity (automatically suffer Dazzled condition in daylight)
- Weapon Familiarity: Automatically proficient with Greataxe and Falchion, treat any weapon with "Orc" in its name as a Martial weapon.
As nameless monsters who won't survive the encounter anyways, Ferocity effectively adds their constitution score (score, not modifier) to their HP. This make them quite dangerous at low levels, since it triples their HP (the standard Orc has 6 HP and 12 con). This isn't enough to put them next to house cats, incorporeal foes or Swarms as slayers of low level PCs, it does make them quite hard for their supposed CR 1/3.
Added in Volo's guide to monsters as a monster race. They get the following traits... which are, as more than one person has noticed, essentially the 5e Half-Orc stats with -2 Intelligence tacked on and with the gloriously beefy Relentless Endurance (survive a killing strike with 1 hitpoint left 1/day) and Savage Attack (+1 die of damage on a melee weapon critical hit) replaced with the okay Aggressive trait and the pathetically overvalued Powerful Build trait, something that has caused its fair share of arguments.
- +2 Strength, +1 Constitution, -2 Intelligence
- 30 feet base movement speed
- Size is medium, but they get
almost largePowerful build which gives them the carrying capacity of a large creature.
- 60 feet darkvision
- Aggressive (use bonus action to dash, must finish dash closer to your enemy than where the dash started)
- Menacing (Intimidation proficiency, same as half orcs)
Amazingly, orcs got an official retcon with an official PC writeup in the 5e Eberron splatbook. "Rising from the Last War" uses the above orc as a base, but strips away the pointless -2 Intelligence penalty and trades the Menacing for Primal Intuition, which gives them two free skill proficiencies chosen from a list made up of Animal Handling, Insight, Intimidation, Medicine, Nature, Perception and Survival. This is much more useful, and better meshes with the theme of the orcs as the primary druidic race in Eberron, and overall makes them a powerful and viable PC race... still, from a flavor perspective, there's something to be said for switching the Half-Orc and Orc stats around.
One usually wonders where the green coloration of Orcish skin came from, in the old myths (i.e., Lord of the Rings) the orcs were established as barbaric, crude brutes, true; but the approximate skin color was never truly established, the Orcs were generally described as filthy and mucky, with darkened skin and bestial countenances. (Similarly, in the films their skin shades are in varying shades of ash-black and dirty-brown, the occasional bit of face-painting notwithstanding.) It wasn't until the advent of the Hulk comics, and GW deciding to make their orcs different, that the common skin of the orc became green. Because Warhammer's orcs became so memorable, thousands of copycats have followed suit.
This of course may not truly explain why some orcs in DnD have green skin as well, DnD being around before Warhammer, but the a more precise green coloration in its orcs may have come later. Indeed, earlier DnD art shows a variety of skin colors, some of them sallow yellow and earthy reds. Green may have come about because all the other possible colors simply have clashing connotations, such as a calming blue, or offensive real world racial connotations (black, red, brown, and yellow are right out for a barbaric and evil race of XP bags.) Another theory is that Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, the 2 co-founders of Games Workshop, also had a lot of communication with Brian Blume, the developer of D&D, especially in the early days of these 2 companies, so it is entirely possible that certain ideas were mentioned and then copied.
On occasions, a person may find orcs depicted as pig-men, despite the general acception of orcs as being (usually green-skinned) Frazetta Man style cavemen fellows. This goes back to Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition, where orcs were described as having a fundamentally "piggish snout" for a face and depicted as more or less a boar's head on a hunch-shouldered, ugly, green-skinned chimpanzee. Some depictions of orcs thusly refer back to this. It's most common in Japan, where old-school neckbeards grew up to have a huge impact on art, manga and videogames.
|This article or section is about Monstergirls (or a monster that is frequently depicted as a Monstergirl), something that /tg/ widely considers to be the purest form of awesome. Expect PROMOTIONS! and /d/elight in equal measure, often with drawfaggotry or writefaggotry to match.|
Orcs are not the most commonly seen of monstergirls, as many of the individuals inclined to make monstergirls, despite what many /d/ cliches may lead you to believe, aren't inclined to find orcs attractive. Those rare orc MGs seen tend to be, basically, green-skinned Amazons; musclegirls of a particularly dumb "fight 'em an' fuck 'em" mentality with a penchant for either raping men or gathering in harems around particularly strong, tough warriors (who may or may not be made to submit).
In the Monster Girl Encyclopedia, the Orc is a chubby pink girl with pig ears on her head and a pig's tail (see above about how "pigmen orcs" are popular in Japan). She's a vanilla demihuman-type mamono who goes around in large groups by preference. They're femdommy by nature, but happily submit to maledom if a potential spouse can overpower them in a fight, and also enjoy sharing a spouse between them. Hilariously, this is pretty square with what official sources have established about D&D orc sexual mores. January 2018 saw the release of the "High Orc"; a bigger, stronger, smarter and fiercer version of the standard orc, the "boar-girl" to their "pig-girl". Fearless, cunning and strong, they are natural leaders of their lesser kin, aided by the fact they release a pheromone that whips up a lust for battle (and sex) in any nearby orc. Of course, if you beat them, that knocks the wind out of the normal orcs' sails, and they will generally flee or surrender on the spot. High Orcs fit the same sexual mold as their weaker siblings, aside from their pheromone doubling as an aphrodisiac. In a twist that /tg/ finds hilarious, High Orcs have dark brown skin, which, combined with their status as the natural leaders of the race, immediately puts them in mind of the Black Orcs of Warhammer Fantasy. Most likely they were instead based on the Uruk-hai of The Lord of the Rings, but why let that spoil a good laugh?
Daily Life with Monstergirl combines the above two, having male Orcs be ugly green pig dudes who lust for human (and human-like) women. Thus far we haven't seen female Orcs yet, but like the centaurs in the series they will likely be a lot more attractive than their male counterparts. As a matter of fact, a female orc named Ruka actually shows up in the tie-in online game as one of your potential haremettes; if taken as canon, then female orcs in this setting are indeed cute green-skinned pig-girls - unlike the MGE version, they have a pig's tail and trotters for feet, with elf-like ears, as the Daily Life verse tends to avoid more animalistic ears for its beast-girls in general.
Ork made Exotic weapons.
Ork make more Exotic weapons.
Proving half-orcs don't HAVE to have human mothers.
In some depictions female orcs are rather amazonian.
Bigger, tougher, smarter champions of orcdom, the boar-based High Orcs are essentially the MGE's Black Orcs.
The she-orcs of Warcraft have always been pretty hot.
|Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition Races|
|Basic Set:||Dwarf - Elf - Hobbit - Human|
|Creature Catalog 1:|| Brownie - Centaur - Dryad - Faun - Hsiao |
Leprechaun - Pixie - Pooka - Redcap - Sidhe
Sprite - Treant - Wood Imp - Wooddrake
|Creature Catalog 2:|| Faenare - Gnome - Gremlin - Harpy |
Nagpa - Pegataur - Sphinx - Tabi
|Creature Catalog 3:||Kna - Kopru - Merrow - Nixie - Triton|
|Dragon Magazine:|| Cayma - Gatorman - Lupin - N'djatwa |
Phanaton - Rakasta - Shazak - Wallara
|Hollow World:|| Beastman - Brute-Man - Hutaakan |
Krugel Orc - Kubbit - Malpheggi Lizard Man
|Known World:|| Bugbear - Goblin - Gnoll |
Hobgoblin - Kobold - Ogre - Troll
|Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Races|
|Core:||Dwarf - Elf - Gnome - Half-Elf - Half-Orc - Halfling - Human|
|Dark Sun:||Aarakocra - Half-Giant - Mul - Pterran - Thri-kreen|
|Dragonlance:||Draconian - Irda - Kender - Minotaur|
|Mystara:|| Aranea - Ee'ar - Enduk - Lizardfolk (Cayma - Gurrash - Shazak) |
Lupin - Manscorpion - Phanaton - Rakasta - Tortle - Wallara
|Oriental Adventures:||Korobokuru - Hengeyokai - Spirit Folk|
|Planescape:||Aasimar - Bariaur - Genasi - Githyanki - Githzerai - Modron - Tiefling|
|Spelljammer:||Dracon - Giff - Grommam - Hadozee - Hurwaeti - Rastipede - Scro - Xixchil|
|Ravenloft:||Broken One - Flesh Golem - Half-Vistani - Therianthrope|
Book of X:
| Alaghi - Beastman - Bugbear - Bullywug - Centaur - Duergar |
Fremlin - Firbolg - Flind - Gnoll - Goblin - Half-Ogre - Hobgoblin
Kobold - Mongrelfolk - Ogre - Ogre Mage - Orc - Pixie
Satyr - Saurial - Svirfneblin - Swanmay - Voadkyn - Wemic
|Dragon Magazine:||Half-Dryad - Half-Satyr - Uldra - Xvart|
|Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Races|
|Player's Handbook 1:|| Dragonborn - Dwarf - Eladrin - Elf |
Half-Elf - Halfling - Human - Tiefling
|Player's Handbook 2:||Deva - Gnome - Goliath - Half-Orc - Shifter|
|Player's Handbook 3:||Githzerai - Minotaur - Shardmind - Wilden|
|Monster Manual 1:|| Bugbear - Doppelganger - Githyanki |
Goblin - Hobgoblin - Kobold - Orc
|Monster Manual 2:||Bullywug - Duergar - Kenku|
|Dragon Magazine:||Gnoll - Shadar-kai|
|Heroes of Shadow:||Revenant - Shade - Vryloka|
|Heroes of the Feywild||Hamadryad - Pixie - Satyr|
|Eberron's Player's Guide:||Changeling - Kalashtar - Warforged|
|The Manual of the Planes:||Bladeling|
|Dark Sun Campaign Setting:||Mul - Thri-kreen|
|Forgotten Realms Player's Guide:||Drow - Genasi|