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General Orc Extravaganza! (Crowdsourcing Orc Variations)


Premise of this thread: Participants share their own versions of orcs, whether from an existing homebrew, a modification of a published setting, or something that you think up while reading this. The point is to crowdsource a range of orc depictions, to see how far we can go with them, and perhaps provide inspiration for people wanting new ideas for their campaigns.

Please don't let this devolve into yet another squabble over Orcgate. The point here is create and to share, not to share yet another hot-take or let us all know how you feel and why you are right. And please don't critique the creations of other people; this is not the place to tell anyone how their creative endeavor is wrong or offensive. Let's be respectful and do something productive--and creative--together. Thanks.

Oh, yeah. Try to keep your entries as concise as possible to give the basic flavor.

I'll start by sharing from my last D&D world I created and ran a campaign in. Feel free to use my format or take your own approach. By way of background, this was a campaign that I started back in 2009 (4E), ran for a few years, then revived and reworked for Next in 2014-15. It has lain fallow for the last five years.

The campaign is set about a thousand years after a magical apocalypse that saw a civilization ruled by a order of wizards challenge the old pantheon of gods. It didn't end well, sending the world into ruin (I was playing with the Points of Light theme, drawning on Earthdawn for inspiration). Most of the peoples hid in Havens, waiting out the magical storms that wracked the land for centuries. The magically modified soldiers of the wizards were essentially left out of the Havens to survive in the apocalyptic world, and mutated into the Orukhar, or orcish peoples. They found a way to thrive, and multiplied, and are currently the most populous of the world's peoples.
Kiths (sub-races): The Orukhar are divided into at least four kiths, named by non-orcs according to their skin color. The Gray Kith are essentially traditional evil orcs; they mostly live in the northern wilderness and constantly attack other peoples. The Green Kith are animistic, led by shamanic druids, and believe in harmonious co-existence with other people and the natural world, although are frequently in battle with the Gray Kith, who constantly encroach upon their protected lands. The deeply religious Red Kith live far to the south, part of a power and regimented religious nation that has little contact with the outside world. The rare Blue Kith, known for their goat-like horns, are obssessed with arcana, living in mountain holdings studying magical storms. They are known for their curious and distracted nature.
PCs: Any of the kiths are playable, although the Gray Kith are viewed rather negatively by other peoples, which would make them difficult to play without constant acrimony. The Green or Blue Kiths provide the most obvious roleplaying opportunities, with Green Kith druids, rangers, and barbarians, and Blue Kith wizards, sorcerers, and alchemists/artificers being likely choices. A Red Kith paladin or cleric would also fit the campaign context.
Half-orcs: Half-orcs are related similarly to as their orcish kith. Gray half-orcs are treated quite poorly, generally rejected by both their human and orc families, although tolerated in larger human cities; they might exist as street urchins (rogues) or hired thugs or guards (fighters). Green half-orcs are increasingly common and are often diplomants between the Green Kith and human realms. Blue half-orcs are also known to exist, and are frequently explorers, seeking out lost magic. Red half-orcs are completely unknown (but not impossible).

OK, your turn.

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I don't have a full version written, but here are some ideas I have for the Orc in terms of non-combat abilities.

  • They are super good at surviving in harsh terrain, particularly snowy terrain, but not exclusively. They should definitely have inherit training in Survival if not some aspects of the Ranger's Natural Explorer traits. Afterall-- they can somehow always find food and find their way home even in a blizzard or a snowstorm. The old trope of "driving the Orcs back into the lands no human dare tread, then a few decades later those few who survived have turned into a giant army" indicates they must be super good at thriving there.
  • They can eat a wide variety of food without getting sick from it. Spoiled food, raw food, infected food-- their iron stomachs will find the nutrients and weed out the foul stuff.
  • Orcs have pretty bad eyesight, but make up for it with their ability to smell things. I am not sure how such a thing could express itself in the rules, but it is something worth noting.
  • They are pretty good at spotting omens and signs of mystical forces at work. At least they think so-- sometimes they may be jumping at nothing, but they are right more often than a broken clock.
  • Orcs should be capable of being every class without penalty. An Orc Barbarian is the typical berserker brute we expect to fight, Orc Bards probably usually take the form of war drummers, Orc Clerics are generally called Shaman and devoted to their gods, Orc Druids double down on their wild and bestial natures often with a wild boar theme, Orc Fighters are the typical chainmail-wearing hand axe wielding thugs people have fought for editions on end, Orc Monks are probably those who struggle to control their rage and probably specialize in grappling (if only Monks had a Strength build in 5E), Orc Paladins are warrior champions for their Gods (often dark gods, but does it matter?), Orc Rangers are the ultimate wilderness survivalists, Orc Rogues are probably more the intimidation and muscle type (again, why is there no Strength-build Rogue?), Orc Sorcerers probably tap into some ancient Giant ancestry, Orc Warlocks would be those whose spiritual nature led them to finding and making pacts with powerful entities, Orc Wizards are likely the briar witch variety whose abilities are a mix of what has been passed on through oral tradition and personal experimentation. Anyway-- point is-- there should be no class that they cannot be.


I need to go and scrounge up my ideas I had elsewhere on these, but I'm cross-posting these vague ideas I had on another thread. I'm 90% sure we could get 96 orc groups out of this.

Gruum-blood: Believe that Gruumsh was specifically of their tribe and they all share his blood specifically. Notoriously religious to the point other orcs think they're going a bit mad about it. Please also understand I had typed this while on a massive FFXIV kick and had just met the Oronir
Bloodfinder: Believe the gods are distant and forlorn, and only by spilling blood can they be enpowered. Notoriously effective mercenaries as they believe the gods do not care where the blood comes from, merely that it is spilled in battle. Coincidentally possess some of the most skilled non-magical healers around simply due to what they have to go through, and their belief that using magic to heal should only be done in a dire emergency due to the tax it will take on the world as a whole.
Ashblood: Semi-native to a volcanic region, their easy access to significant quantities of iron and stone has lead to them building significant fortifications and having a proud metalworking tradition. See also: Blackrock tribe from Warcraft for inspiration, but I imagined these guys having a bit of a farming bent to them as well due to the soil, though they'd moreso be more of a trading group in a dangerous enviroment
Bjorskin: A group that worships bears as living representations of Luthic, who they hold in higher respect than Gruumsh. Those who turn into were-bears are considered equally sacred to the tribe, even if not orc. Mucking about with animal inspirations for orcs along with giving viable reasons to hang out with them, like "Oh, shit, you've got infected by a werebear! This group of orcs knows more about it than anyone"
Wafnar: Home to northern regions, these orcs live alongside giant frost wolves and have developed a strong connection with them. They move along with their preferred prey, wolf and orc supporting one another to eak out an existence in their harsh land. oops I accidentally Warcrafted again, though I was also gonna link this one with that one random group of elves who can turn into wolves for an idea of "Hey, orcs and elves that actually slightly get along"
Mistfang: Firm believers in the spirit world and ancestor worship, they are a rarely seen tribe with the exception of their notorious militant nature against necromancers. Some say the spirits of other beings, not just orcs, come to plead for the Mistfang to handle necromancers, and their mist-emitting lanterns are a symbol recognised by most clerical orders as forces well prepared to face the undead. This one I think has the most promise out of the lot


Orcs were created by elven wizards. They were made to be infantry in the elven war against the goblins. Orcs were created by injecting elven subjects with a special alchemical mixture which contained human, dwarven, and hobgoblin blood. Once created, most orcs were cloned in cloning vats and rapidly aged to to be battle ready. This is why an orc lack the long longspan of an elf. In addition to cloning, orcs had human fertility and would birth many orc children while waiting in forts.

After the elven-goblin war, the Second Feywild War, the elves cared little about the thousands of orc soldiers that littered the elven empire. Orcs sat around unpaid and unfed with no jobs nor integration programs enacted by the elven crown. So the mass of orc warriors rebelled and raided the elven empire from within. After some time, the orcs got their wish and left the Feywild.

This are the orcs who resemble the original designs of the elves. Aggressive, menacing, and powerful,they are perfect frontline soldiers.
Orog: An orc whose elven blood is stronger or has an elf parent or grandparent. They are more clever that the average orc and develops usual skin colors like blue, pink, or purple.
Harf orc: An orc with a dominance of human blood. Half Orcs are slightly smaller than a common orc but oddly sturdier.
Tanarukk: An gobliniod orc. Orcs who side with their hobgoblin side are often torn mentally. Their mix of elf, orc, and hobgoblin influence opposes each other in a war that will drive them mad by adulthood. Most orcs will mercy-kill a tanarukk as a child. They wish to do this before a warlock or demon offers possession to quiet their adult minds.


Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Well, since I don't use orcs very much in my home campaign I only have one variation.

Greenies: Greenie orcs are, as the name implies, green. Nobody really knows if there are young greenies since one has never actually been seen. There are rumors that they hatch full grown out of giant pods.

Universally chaotic evil and not particularly bright, they are a strong and warlike race with a fondness of phrases "Zug zug", "Dabu" and the ever famous "My tummy feels funny."

While not particularly organized or dangerous in small numbers, they are dangerous in large numbers particularly in remote regions. However, they also seek out powerful evil allies, seeming to almost mystically be drawn to powerful evil organizations and leaders.

No one knows where half orcs come from. There are rumors that hats of disguise are commonly used, as well as large amounts of liquor and low lighting. Also known as dive bars at closing time.

Oh, wait, was this supposed to be only for serious responses? Never mind.


I'll take a stab! This is written for my homebrew The Banner Marches / The Witching Grounds. I leaned toward the Romance languages half of the etymology for "orc" – so less the Old English "monster/demon/enemy" and more like "orca/whale/dolphin/ferocious sea creature."


Displaced But Not Forgotten.
From their lairs in the Durghessan Highlands and nearby foothills, the orcs look toward the eastern sea with longing. The Highlands, with its human "barbarians" and bitter dwarves to the north, is where the orcs have pitched their sail-tents for several generations, but it is not their home. Long ago, the orcs were driven from the lowlands. Their legends claim that the orcs were born from the womb of the mercurial sea goddess, and ancient orcish prophecies claim the deep sea is their destiny. When their shamans hear the call, the orcs pack up their sail-tents and strap them to the backs of draft horses and water buffalo to make the pilgrimage to the lowlands. There is no predicting this – orcish spirituality is not bound to tradition, but rather is ecstatic and individual in nature – though it never happens in winter when travel is hardest. To humans lacking understanding of the significance of this journey, the orcs appear as raiders descending upon them. This is only half true.

Raiders or Pilgrims? The orcs do take what they need to survive, particularly if it was a hard winter. However, the orcs feel an intense time pressure during this pilgrimage, as the call of the sea echoes in their bones, and the risk of lowlander humans uniting against them grows. They do not wish to tarry in human lands long, and humans who resettle for a night or who can convince or trick the orcs to take a "quicker route" may find their fields and homes untouched by orcish raiders. Additionally, many pregnant mothers undertake this journey, hoping their children will be born in the ocean in a ritual known as the Salten Spear. They do not wish to unnecessarily jeopardize the lives of their mothers and young with needless battle. Providing medical care and midwifery to orcish mothers is a sure way to avoid hostilities. Orcish outriders look proactively for threats to counter, particularly military encampments with horses or other means to rapidly mobilize light cavalry; these are sabotaged in the dead of night, and success on these missions is a bit of a competition to see who can inspire the most shock, awe, and fear – to bring glory to that orc's family in the eyes of the sea goddess. Thus, appearing as no threat or an otherwise unworthy target will avoid drawing the attraction of the orcish outriders.

Culture of Adoption. Like the sea pig (scotoplanes) of our real world which protect baby king crabs from predators, orcs are known for adopting the forgotten, abandoned, and outcast. During these pilgrimages, new blood is brought into the caravan. To the orcish perspective, "sharing the same blood" is a bond formed through overcoming hardships and fighting at one another's side repeatedly. Thus, when visiting the orcs in the Durghessan Highlands or even when encountering them on pilgrimage to the lowlands, travelers may be surprised to see a small percentage of non-orcs living among the orc clans, eating their food, dancing their wild "wind dances", and inter-marrying. Those half-orcs with aquatic elf, water genasi, or triton descent are viewed as especially good omens.

Sea Reavers and Believers. A very small minority of orcs still live on the sea, fashioning shallow draft longships which can go over reef/shoals and journey uprivers. Though these ships are ill-suited for long journeys, the creation of one is a long process closely safeguarded by orcish shipwrights. Only a few of these ships remain and the crafting of the ships is a dying art. In the past, these coastal orcs reserved hostilities for those who displeased the sea goddess by failing to give her offerings, conjuring storms without offering the proper rites of respect, or hunting sea life in a wasteful manner. However, in recent years they have increasingly acted as sea reavers, taking "the sea goddess' due" from those who've forgotten her ways. The worst of these coastal orcs demand blood sacrifices. Like their highland kin, the coastal orcs are also known for adopting deserters, orphaned cabin boys/girls, castaways, and captives, integrating them into their clan much like their upland kin. Using animal messengers, the highland shamans and lowland reavers/shipwrights coordinate when a pilgrimage is happening, so that the lowlanders meet their kin at the coast, bearing the statue of the sea goddess on a specially constructed longship. The Salten Spear birthing ceremony and appeasement rites of the sea goddess are closely guarded secrets, and outsiders are absolutely unwelcome (though adopted humans, half-orcs, elves, dwarves, and so forth are encouraged to attend).

A few thoughts on reinterpreting orc features...

Darkvision: If they once came from the deep sea, then it makes sense that orcs retain some way to see in the dark murky depths.

Aggressive: While their combat style could be seen as needing to rapidly ascend slopes or to quickly catch/dispatch a scout to avoid their people being discovered, there's another way to look at this. The bonus action to move toward an enemy (and CON bonus) actually makes orcs great free divers, letting them reach enemies deeper underwater or, conversely, to ambush enemies out of the water like Navy Seals.

Menacing: If you've been pushed from your homeland to a hostile place with neighbors who don't like you... If you need to win a battle without fighting a battle (because you don't have the numbers to survive a mass confrontation & you have pregnant mothers and children in your caravan)... then intimidation tactics make a lot of sense.

Powerful Build: Not unreasonable for a culture with a built in pilgrimage where you need to carry lots of gear across long distances. This also makes orcs great at portaging canoes, and lifting heavy things... including heavy stones or shipwrecked things underwater.
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Spit-balling some ideas here...

Orcs have been around from a time before any other sentient race. Their own history lost, even to the gods, some suggest they killed their creator in a time before time, other suggest orcs were a mistake that the gods refuse to admit, and others still say the first orc spawned when a rock refused to roll downhill.

Current state:
Orcs are incredibly hearty and have strong natural instincts in all measures. Orcs learned that warfare was the way to survive after being pushed back by human, elven, and dwarven empires in years past. The purpose of war lost on them as it is on most people. Warbands of Orcs form as a survival mechanism, each accurately sizing up eachother by strength, a natural hierarchy forms in their wandering mobs. When enough Orcs gather, their perception joins into a gestalt "war sense" telling them where a fight is happening nearby, so they might join to prosper as the victors. Countless battles have been thrown into chaos as an unaligned orcish warband rolled into the front lines taking on soldiers from two opposing armies. Great tacticians have been foiled by the chaos and greater still have counted on it. Needless to say, empires no longer dispute over orcish lands.

The wandering mobs give the homelands some level of protection in the form of that diversion. The orcish mountain tops are places of peaceful pleasures contrasted with tough environments only the orcs and their goats can survive or traverse.