• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is LIVE! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

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.
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad


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 (He/They)
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.

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads