D&D 5E How Are Orcs Different In Your World? (+)


Moderator Emeritus
In my current setting orcs are extinct, about 40000 years ago they were killed off by the combined efforts of the so-called Free Peoples (elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings and late additions, humans). In most legends they are the evil and savage people from below the earth that wanted to destroy civilization.

And yet, there is some anecdotal and archeological evidence to the contrary, that while orcs and the other peoples went to war, the reasons were not so cut and dry and that at one time orcs and humans were so intertwined as to be considered one people in some places.

Add to this the Orc-Born (which replace half-orcs in my game)
to quote the forthcoming fifth issue of my HOW I RUN IT zine:

“Orc-Born” are born to human families, the strong strain of orcishness receding and emerging across the generations. In some families, this strain is strong enough to be notable in most members, in others an “orc-born” child can be born to a family with no hint of it in living memory. In some places it might be considered a blessing, in others, a curse.

There aren't many of them and culturally they are influenced by the human cultures they are born into and/or work to restore or recreate their own lost orcish culture. Found family is a strong belief among many of those orc-born who have been disowned by or chosen to abandon their human communities and travel the world or have created havens for their kind and their allies.
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Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I'm not sure mine are much different from the standard, other than that they are "grown", not born. Similar to Star War's clones without the precise quality control (they don't look identical) their thought patterns and motivations are directly controlled by Gruumsh. There are no female or juvenile orcs, although when they first emerge they are the weakest variety. The few that survive for long become more powerful, there are elite orcs that are far tougher than anything in the MM.

Orcs are spawned and incubate in Jotunheim which also contains the realm of Gruumsh, and are hatched in Midgard (the prime material in D&D terms) using blood sacrifices and ritual usually carried out by orcish priests. Half-orcs can come from inter-breeding but most half-orcs have one or both parents that are half-orcs.

Whether you can kill them without moral qualms is another issue. It's not like people go out to hunt them unless they are a threat to others. Honestly, I don't care too much about moral quandaries, orcs only exist in my world because they serve a specific purpose in the fiction of the world and will only be encountered if they are an active threat. I don't find quandaries about what to do with orc babies (if there were any in my world, there are not) something I care to deal with.

They are not a naturally occurring species, although in theory if someone could figure out how to remove the magical "chip" in their brains (again, similar to Storm Troopers) it's theoretically possible they could become one. Whether that happens or not will largely be decided by the group when we discuss whether or not orcs will be a playable race.
I like this as a take on always-evil orcs.


Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
My orcs have pig-like features, inspired by their depiction in Delicious in Dungeon. The story about all the other gods claiming territory for their people and leaving none for the orcs is a mythologized account of the historical annexation of land from orcs by the other common folk. Most orcs don’t actually worship Gruumsh as a deity - their culture is typically animistic - rather, they venerate him as a war hero.


Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
So…it’s ok to kill them on-sight again?
Certainly not the way they’re typically depicted. What I like about @Oofta’s take is that it removes most of the unfortunate implications of their classic depiction by making them not an actual race of people, but more like organic constructs. I also like that it acknowledges the possibility that they could theoretically be liberated from the control of their creators. To me, that actually says that kill-on-sight is probably not a morally good policy towards them (and Oofta did say they aren’t actively hunted down). But, most contexts you’re likely to encounter them in are violent ones.


My orcs are pretty standard, reavers and marauders attacking the borders of civilisation. They were created by the Destroyer along with the rest of the beastmen: goblins, hobgoblins, trolls, gnolls, and ogres. Hobgoblins have since left the service of the Destroyer throwing their lot in with the Tyrant instead. The large majority of the time, orcs are kill on sight simply because they're coming to kill you so it's a kill or be killed situation. There are exceptions though, I have an orc chieftain who has recently worked to secure the land around his village via a treaty with the starter town in my current campaign. They joined them in waging war against an ogres horde, driving them back and helping the heroes save the day.


5e Freelancer
Is it me, or are more and more DM's casting elves as pretty nasty? (In one of my homebrews elves were decadent isolationist demon summoners that had created halflings as a slave race.)
It might be more common now, but it's certainly not new. 2e Spelljammer's Elven Armada was definitely not cast in a nice light.


Limit Break Dancing
In my campaign, Orcs are green-skinned elves. That's all. Long ago a group of elves betrayed Corellon Larethian, and so they were marked with green skin and banished to the badlands for their heresy. Over the centuries they adopted a warlike culture, created their own god in their new image, and developed their own language...but their blood and DNA is Elf. Like all elves, they are convinced of their own superiority, and are distrustful of outsiders.


The one (recent) campaign I've run in which orcs feature is set in Greyhawk. It started about 25 years after the Greyhawk Wars and has moved on about 5-6 years from that.

I have the kept the broad geopolitics much the same as canon. (I mean, why else use a published setting?) But the details, the why's and how's, are different. So yes, the Pomarj is a militaristic, expansionist nation. But the Lord of the Pomarj (still Turosh Mak) has his reasons for being like this. Some of it is his ego, some of it a genuine desire to make a better world for orcs. Turosh Mak is trying to centralise all power and he's created a cult of personality around himself. But his methods are not entirely welcome among the tribes that make up the kingdom. In fact one tribe, the one a PC comes from, has left the federation. Well, this tribe considers the Pomarj a federation of tribes, Turosh Mak considers it a kingdom with him the king.

Greyhawk City has taken a lot of refugees/immigrants since the end of the Wars. Many of them are orcs and goblins. They have settled in a new suburb on the north end of the city called Orctown. (What the goblins think of this naming convention has not yet come up in play.) My depictions of Orctown have focussed on tropes of immigrant populations in big cities. So yes, there's poverty and crime. There's official and not so official racism; a sense of "us vs. them" on all sides. There's also a strong sense of community. The PCs have based themselves in Orctown and have become champions of the community. They used their celebrity to support enfranchising Orctown. They have also used their phenomenal PC wealth to invest in business in the neighbourhood creating jobs and bringing money to the area.

The orcs and goblins in Greyhawk are refugees from the Bandit Kingdoms and other parts of what is now the Empire of Iuz. As the empire expanded not everyone wanted to become a foot soldier of evil. Those who could fled to Greyhawk (and also the City of Dyvers.) Those who stayed, for whatever reason, get to "enjoy" life under a crazed tiefling/demigod warlord. The campaign has spent a little time in the southern marches of Iuz' empire and I played up the chaos, the poverty, the desperation of the people that comes from living in a society<sic> which is based on "everyone for themselves."

The last major Orcish society we know of has only been mentioned briefly, the Orc Reich. The PCs met some merchants from there and I made up some stuff on the fly. Basically it's a large, fairly standard DnD style kingdom, with a majority orcish population.

TL;DR: they're people.


Certainly not the way they’re typically depicted. What I like about @Oofta’s take is that it removes most of the unfortunate implications of their classic depiction by making them not an actual race of people, but more like organic constructs. I also like that it acknowledges the possibility that they could theoretically be liberated from the control of their creators. To me, that actually says that kill-on-sight is probably not a morally good policy towards them (and Oofta did say they aren’t actively hunted down). But, most contexts you’re likely to encounter them in are violent ones.
Effectively the only context you will encounter orcs in my campaign are violent ones. They have little choice but to attack or plan an attack (unless they have overriding orders) when they encounter anyone they do not consider an ally or someone they can subjugate.

There are other "typically evil" humanoids in my game that don't follow this pattern such as goblins. They have a few exceptions now and then. If you encounter them in the feywild (where they originate) they're typically CN tricksters and not overtly malicious.

I tend to go viking with my orcs. Most of the time they are running farms (Gruumish was originally an agricultural god), and if you encountered an orc farm or an orc town, the orcs there are pretty much the same as any other humanoid. The orc lands are not rich in mineral wealth, so they go viking to get resources from distant lands. This is where most other peoples (including adventurers) encounter them, and the reason they tend to have a bad reputation.

Gruumish isn't the only god (I don't do racial gods) for the orcs, but he is the most popular one (Yolanda is actually the second most popular god to orcs). In my setting gods are not interested in souls, but in getting people to act or believe a certain way. Gruumish is the god of emotional toughness (helpful if you have to turn Bessie the cow into dinner; and yes, orcs name all their livestock). He has become convinced that there is a final war between law and chaos (you are respectable in a Gruumish-influenced society by showing emotional toughness; he is LN god), and he has reluctantly encouraged the viking behavior to help orcs become better soldiers in that war and to engage in emotional toughness by being ruthless in combat.


I wanted to emphasize their more porcine origins, so all the orcs that most people picture as Orcs actually have some degree of human decent to them.

Pureblood Orcs are thematically more likely Minotaurs only with boars and pigs.

My take on Orcs unabashedly steals from multiple sources. They grow like Mushrooms deep in caves in the world, they develop to maturity very rapidly, and they have very keen improvisational skills as far as weapons and warfare. They have minimal language and culture to speak of, but all of them share being bound to their diety, and constantly hearing the incessant pounding of war drums in their heads, a ceaseless drive to combat and warfare and death, for their foes and for themselves. They'll fight amongst themselves if they lack enemies to combat, but mostly they fight the dwarves. The dwarves slay many, but there's always more crawling out to fight, like an infection in the world that never stops oozing.


I’m still figuring it out, but at present I perceive the orcs of my setting as the “shonen rivals” to the main civilizations. There was a split between them that neither side completely forgave the other for, and as a result they come to blows a lot. But they respect each other, and have each other’s back when the Void (the shadowfell, lower planes, and negative energy plane glommed into one) comes knocking.

Orcs be orcing. Green, tusked, muscles.

They've a pretty okay reputation around the main area of my world as a big part of the collapse of the "Local hobgoblin empire attempts to take over nearby countries and eventually the world" was that said hobgoblin empire decided to attack the orcish fortress of the Ash Forge. Orcs didn't take kindly to this and made their displeasure very known by militarising and destroying the initial armies sent to try and invade.

Nowerdays they're a lot more chill given people aren't trying to break into their home and steal their stuff. Dwarves aren't the biggest fans of them given the Ash Forge is about the only surface civilisation capable of competing with dwarven weaponry, and the two prefering to live in similar conditions means frequent run in with the other.

Mine aren't much different, but I take the Zakhara approach: very few sapient, material-native beings have any kind of innate alignment.

Orcs are more common amongst the nomad tribes than they are amongst the city folk, but they're far from a rare sight in cities. Often, tribal warriors (human, orc, half-orc, elf, half-elf, whatever race they might be) will earn money or resources for their tribe by doing mercenary work; there are usually encampments outside the city (and agencies inside it) that facilitate such work, for the right price.

They're known for being hardy and resilient, but sometimes a bit hidebound. They look much like World of Warcraft orcs physically, though they don't have a stoop. Skin tones range from mostly brown/brownish-red to green to pale (though the palest orcs are generally still more pigmented than the palest humans.) Hair color is largely the same as human, though greenish tones are also possible. Similar lifespan and development time to humans. They can handle the desert heat better than humans though, which might go part of the way toward explaining why they're more common among the nomads (or, perhaps better phrased, why humans were more likely to shift away from nomadic life and toward city-dwelling life.)

Orcs generally have a reputation for being reliable warriors, albeit ones who distrust city-dweller employers and thus tend to stick to the letter, rather than the spirit, of any deals they make. Those who dwell in the cities do occasionally deal with some prejudice, but it tends to be more in the sense of presuming an orc is a nomad rather than specifically orcish things (e.g., nomads generally have only limited literacy, unless they're specifically elders or folks relied upon to deal with outsiders.)
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Glory to Ka!
Since I’m currently building a homebrew setting, here are four things about orcs in said setting:

1. They are a matriarchal society. Look, I realize Volo’s has problems, but the one part of said book I really, really liked was the implication that orcs are secretly matriarchal.

2. What angels are for humans and azers are for dwarves, echidnas* are for orcs.

3. Where dwarf societies tend to be one or two technological steps ahead of human ones, orcs tend to be one or two steps behind humans. This tends to get them viewed as “noble savages” by the more arrogant human nations.

4. An orc gently rubbing its tusks against your face is the romantic equivalent of a human kissing you on the mouth.

*basically god-aligned Dark Wombs from the Scarred Lands setting.

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