D&D 5E Orc or Half-Orc?

Thinking about the 5e PHB and how it’s trying to be as inclusive as possible to gamers of past edition, I’ve been wondering if it’s always the best idea.

One example that springs to mind is the Half-Orc race. Apart from tradition, is there any reason to play Half-Orcs instead of Orcs? Orcs already are savage human-like creatures who live in the wild and are feared by civilized people, so what exactly is the difference between them and Half-Orcs? Is it because players would like to play Worf?

I can understand Half-Elves, because some people really want to play Elrond, but wouldn’t it be simpler and more elegant not to have all these hybrid races running around? What’s wrong with Orcs?
 

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Nivenus

First Post
The main reason to play half-orcs instead of full-blooded orcs is that the latter are stereotypically evil by default, whereas half-orcs get a little leeway because they're half-human. Of course, I don't like the idea of an entire (mortal) race that's hard-coded toward one alignment or the other, but that's the way the rules were originally written and are still written to a large part.

The other reason is the same as why you'd play half-elves instead of full-blooded elves: because you like playing a hybrid race. I imagine this is a smaller factor though.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Don't know, but at least in 3e Orcs were "chaotic evil" and too savage to be easily RP as a PC, while Half-Orcs often filled the role of "my nature is bad/evil but I really want to be acceptable" kind of character. Similar reasons drive a lot of people towards playing Drows and Tieflings nowadays.

Before the 5e MM I was thinking about making up an alternate story for Half-Orcs in our games, dropping the stale and awful standard of their origin, and instead going with the idea that Half-Orcs are not individually 50% orc and 50% human, but rather only as a whole, i.e. an intermediate race between orcs and humans that doesn't breed with either. This would allow me to have Half-Orcs feel the role of the popular WoW Orcs, to which they also have a much stronger physical resemblance compared to 3e Orcs.

Then the 5e MM came out and I noticed that Orcs are physically redesigned and look a lot more like WoW Orcs, but I didn't have time to read the text to see if they are now really more like WoW Orcs, in which case once again I don't know what to do with the Half-Orcs :)
 

Henrix

Explorer
Half-elves and -orcs do have a more conflicted personality.
How do they tackle the conflict between their respective peoples. Does either people really embrace them, or are they outcasts from all?
Do their own natures manifest in strange ways?
Do they play at the prejudices, like a half-orc acting wild and savage in human company?
 

Ragmon

Explorer
I myself scrapped the H-orc and H-elf, I even took out the halfling (cause gnomes are better and more unique, IMO)

If you want to mix it up, just use other Orc sub races, like the bit less savage Grey Orcs, or if you want a caster orc go with an Orog. Your imagination is the limit to a better D&D.
 

Worf was full Klingon. Spock was half-Vulcan.
Sure, but Worf was raised by humans, wasn't he? Maybe I'm failing my Star Trek check.

The main reason to play half-orcs instead of full-blooded orcs is that the latter are stereotypically evil by default, whereas half-orcs get a little leeway because they're half-human. Of course, I don't like the idea of an entire (mortal) race that's hard-coded toward one alignment or the other, but that's the way the rules were originally written and are still written to a large part.

Don't know, but at least in 3e Orcs were "chaotic evil" and too savage to be easily RP as a PC
Isn't it problematic, though? I mean, Orcs are a race of malevolent dark-skinned savages, which is bad enough in itself for many, many reasons, but in addition to that, it's very limiting for DMs. What if you want to have neutral Orcs? Doesn't the fact that they live in the wild, far from the resources that Humans enjoy, a good enough reason for them to be aggressive? Do they really need to be intrinsically EVIL?

Half-elves and -orcs do have a more conflicted personality.
How do they tackle the conflict between their respective peoples. Does either people really embrace them, or are they outcasts from all?
Do their own natures manifest in strange ways?
Do they play at the prejudices, like a half-orc acting wild and savage in human company?
I see where you're coming from, but in my opinion, an Orc character who choses to live among Humans would face the exact same challenges.
 

Nivenus

First Post
Isn't it problematic, though? I mean, Orcs are a race of malevolent dark-skinned savages, which is bad enough in itself for many, many reasons, but in addition to that, it's very limiting for DMs. What if you want to have neutral Orcs? Doesn't the fact that they live in the wild, far from the resources that Humans enjoy, a good enough reason for them to be aggressive? Do they really need to be intrinsically EVIL?

Oh, I agree with you. As a rule I tend to play evil races (fiends aside) as only mildly biased towards evil and largely due to their culture, rather than any kind of intrinsic moral deficiency. But that's not how they're usually written in adventures, sourcebooks, or novels.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Isn't it problematic, though? I mean, Orcs are a race of malevolent dark-skinned savages, which is bad enough in itself for many, many reasons, but in addition to that, it's very limiting for DMs. What if you want to have neutral Orcs? Doesn't the fact that they live in the wild, far from the resources that Humans enjoy, a good enough reason for them to be aggressive? Do they really need to be intrinsically EVIL?

No they don't need to, but that was the choice in previous editions, perhaps influenced by Tolkien. I am sure that the basic concept of D&D Orcs was altered now and then in various published fantasy settings.
 

Viking Bastard

Adventurer
In the past, I've generally reskinned Half-Orcs as simply being Orcs, but that's when I've treated Orcs as a less monstrous race than the D&D baseline, but still very warlike and barbarian.

In my 4e game, Orcs never came into play, but in my recently wrapped up S&W game, I introduced Orcs to my players in their more classic D&D absurdly aggressive and mean role. When I started my 5e game, despite it being in a different setting from my S&W game, I didn't want to invalidate my group's first impression of D&D Orcs so immediately, so I'm sticking to that version for this campaign.

So I've largely taken the same approach as [MENTION=1465]Li Shenron[/MENTION]--you can play a Horc, milder cousin to/subrace of the Orc.
 



Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
One example that springs to mind is the Half-Orc race. Apart from tradition, is there any reason to play Half-Orcs instead of Orcs? Orcs already are savage human-like creatures who live in the wild and are feared by civilized people, so what exactly is the difference between them and Half-Orcs? Is it because players would like to play Worf?

A few thoughts:
- let's not essentialize all players of monstrous or half-monstrous races. There will be many reasons that it might appeal to players.
- half-orcs as a player race predate Worf; the appeal was there before the character (and I'd imagine the majority of today's players of the game became sentient after TNG went off the air).
- mechanically, half-orcs have typically been supported in the PHB. For a lot of games, the DM allows PHB races and not others.
- The half-orc was the most "monstrous"/savage race around. Even dragonborn/tieflings were easily romanticized. The half-orc is much harder to see in that light, and that savagery appeals.
- By 3.x and 4, more monstrous races were available and were in the core books (e.g. as an appendix in the monster manual). Only then do more monstrous pc races become legitimated. (Yes, they existed before, but (e.g.) in Dragon articles, which in my experience were rejected by DMs as often as they were accepted.)

So, sure "tradition": but it's a recoverable an easily comprehensible history, and not some blind allegiance to past practice or fandom of a particular individual.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Orcs were not always the creatures you know today. In their original state, they were pig/swine headed evil soldiers. They were human-sized, sunlight sensitive, armored soldier guys to work off of the smaller, less organized or advanced Goblins...yet not quite as tough and organized as Hobgoblins (D&D's original Uruk-hai who were not sensitive to sunlight). Also, as in Tolkien, as others have already said, Orcs were EVIL. It was a part of their nature and fiber. One's alignment was not just applicable to it's society, it was in the creature. Early [pre-3e] editions of D&D were not filled happy-feel-good-exceptions-to-the-rules individuals.

As the original D&D playable races were all Human or DEMI-human, PC races were meant to be the 'pretty people." The "folks like us [humans]." The swine-headed orcs were simply too "monstrous" (for lack of a better term) to be a PC race...and were indisputably Evil by their very nature. Not exactly PC "hero" material.

The "Half-orc" was specifically called out as that [I think it was] 10% of half-orc crossbreeds, presumably with human partners, who could possibly pass [disguise themselves] as human in settled lands. They did not have the sun sensitivity and, I submit more important for early D&D, they weren't bestial/didn't have pig snouts. Non-human[ish] stuff was the stuff you fought and killed. So, these Half-orcs were 'human enough" to make into a PC race.

...and, while there was no such [explicit] thing in those days of racial/preferred classes, the half-orc also gave an automatic pc race [reason] to the 1e assassin class.
 

SkidAce

Legend
Supporter
I myself scrapped the H-orc and H-elf, I even took out the halfling (cause gnomes are better and more unique, IMO)

If you want to mix it up, just use other Orc sub races, like the bit less savage Grey Orcs, or if you want a caster orc go with an Orog. Your imagination is the limit to a better D&D.

Almost with you...no orcs at all, so no half orcs, and no halflings (same reason, gnomes!).

If I need a half orc type, I use a half ogre (with half orc stats).
 

the Jester

Legend
Thinking about the 5e PHB and how it’s trying to be as inclusive as possible to gamers of past edition, I’ve been wondering if it’s always the best idea.

Yes, it is.

Without a great reason for leaving something 'classic' out, all doing so would accomplish is pissing off fans of that classic element. Really, what's to be gained?

One example that springs to mind is the Half-Orc race. Apart from tradition, is there any reason to play Half-Orcs instead of Orcs?

Others have answered this fairly adequately, but I'll add that in many campaigns, orcs are slain on sight by the 'civilized' races.

I can understand Half-Elves, because some people really want to play Elrond, but wouldn’t it be simpler and more elegant not to have all these hybrid races running around? What’s wrong with Orcs?

It's far easier for someone who doesn't like 'em to leave them out of their campaign than it is to recreate them in a consistent and balanced way.

Really, I don't see any argument that holds water here. It all seems to boil down to, "I don't like them, so why should they be in the book?" That's a poor argument for making all the half-orc fans feel slighted. Remember the lack of half-orcs in 2e? Pissed people off. Remember the lack of gnomes, druids, bards, etc. in 4e's PH? Pissed people off.

Isn't it problematic, though? I mean, Orcs are a race of malevolent dark-skinned savages, which is bad enough in itself for many, many reasons, but in addition to that, it's very limiting for DMs. What if you want to have neutral Orcs?

Then the DM includes neutral orcs. It's not that hard. I mean, I have a strongly Lawful (though still evil) nation of orcs in one place in my game, and it was as easy as changing literally one word in their description: "chaotic" turns into "lawful".7
 

GreenTengu

Adventurer
The people who created the game thought in very narrow and binary forms. They were not capable of handling the concepts of a wider narrative. It is all over the game.

Think of the ridiculous alignment system. No well-acted character who has enough to do it going to adhere to one of those alignments in absolutely every single aspect of their life.
Lawful? Generally speaking people obey the laws that carry a weighty punishment and/or they generally agree with. But probably everyone breaks minor regulations every now and again. And if you put someone under enough stress, enough danger-- hell, just get them drunk and it is more likely they are going to break more laws.
And Chaotic? Unless someone has truly ascribed to some far flung philosophy, someone's level of chaoticism is going to be directly drawn from how high of a position they have in the society, how much the laws generally favor them being them or, conversely, seem directed at oppressing and eradicating them and even then they are likely going to have a chaotic philosophy in some aspects of life and a nonchaotic philosophy in others.

Same goes with good and evil. People naturally sway from one to the other all depending on their opportunity to do harm and the amount of benefit they would draw from it. Reward anyone enough and they are likely to commit an evil act. Particularly against a stranger who they have never seen before who speaks another language and especially if it is a person who is part of the group the person has labeled an "enemy".

But they said instead.... no. You must pick a single philosophy that your character is defined by 100% of the time in all their words and actions and any straying from that for any moment deserves a serious experience point penalty. No, no. It gets worse than that. You embezzle money from your job? You agreed to work for the thieves guild because they were the only one who would hire you? Well, the Detect Evil spell says you are the same thing as a demon and therefore have forfeit your life. Of course, there were a lot of classes that had very specifically proscribed alignments that they were incapable of ever changing or altering.

Combine this binary morality concept with the most miserably thought-out races one could possibly imagine.

Most races were incapable of taking any class but Fighter and probably Thief. In fact, basic had Race-as-Class which just meant that if you were a Dwarf or Halfling then you were a Fighter and if you were an Elf then you were a Fighter/Mage.

Yes, what this means is that while you might think it was the model company that decided races should be manufactured lines of identical clones, in fact from moment of conception of the idea of non-human races, they were all nothing but clones rolled off an assembly line. Each of them with exactly the same background, exactly the same personality traits, exactly the same characteristics, exactly the same strengths and weaknesses, exactly the same skills and abilities... no difference at all. Hell, two Pokemon of the same kind probably have more difference between them than 2 1st edition Halflings. Okay, your ability scores could be fiddled with a bit-- but unless they were belong 9 (in which case you might not even qualify for the race) or above 14, it made no difference. And since every member had the same abilities and skills, your ideal ability scores were set in stone. So all that really mattered was... well... what level your Dwarf clone was and what name you decided to give him.

So given that there was a binary alignment system and the fact that races were clone armies, it should come as no surprise that nonhuman alignments were set.
If they were friends of humans, they were good. Regardless. REGARDLESS.
Dwarfs can be not only racist, but genocidal, maniacal, mouth-foaming, blood-thirsty, grudge-bearing, vengeance-seeking, insatiably greedy bastards whose sins are so great that they think nothing of destroying all of civilization to kill the last goblin and claim the last gemstone.... yet, somehow, they are "good". Yeah, the guy who wants to kill you and all your kin for your grandfather cheating his father in poker 80 years ago is "good". The guy who is going to knowingly release the fiendish invasion to dig some more gold ore out of the ground is "good".
Elfs and Halflings are also universally considered good.
Oh, there are non-good Dwarfs and Elfs, but they have black/purple/gray skin and live deep underground. The Caucasian-looking ones were universally good.

And bestial races? The ones that are bigger and uglier than humans? Well, they were even more sets of indistinguishable identical clones than Elfs and Dwarfs. For they only level up if enough of them gather in one place for one of them to qualify to get another hit die. The idea that any Orc could be different in any way from any other Orc was just simply an incomprehensible idea to those who designed the game. At least at the time they made it. There could be an Orc who would align with humans? A whole tribe?.... Nah. The only way they could be playable would be to make them half-human. And so that is how it was and has always been since.

In fact, just to completely nail this simple idea down...
The first time TSR put out a book that allows you to play Orcs (and Goblins, Kobolds, Hobgoblins or Ogre), it stated right flat out within the first paragraph of the section telling you how to make one "No one could take playing an Orc seriously".
That was their mentality. And it wasn't until 4E that rules reflected anything different.

Before the 5e MM I was thinking about making up an alternate story for Half-Orcs in our games, dropping the stale and awful standard of their origin, and instead going with the idea that Half-Orcs are not individually 50% orc and 50% human, but rather only as a whole, i.e. an intermediate race between orcs and humans that doesn't breed with either. This would allow me to have Half-Orcs feel the role of the popular WoW Orcs, to which they also have a much stronger physical resemblance compared to 3e Orcs.

So your "creative" and "good" solution is to... rip off 4E.
You know why don't you just take that one last step to 13th Age's stupidity of them being a race utterly and completely distinct from Orcs, never interbred and the one thing they have to do with Orcs is that they were created by the Great Druid primarily for the purpose of fighting Orcs... but they... are called "Half-Orcs"... because..... "duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh".

No, seriously-- why the hell do they need to have human blood at all? What is this mentality that they need to be half-human to be heroes? No such requirement is placed on Halflings. Should we make Elves unplayable and say we will use Half-Elves instead?

If Elves are diverse enough to have High Elves and Dark Elves and Wood Elves... I certainly do not see why one cannot have a subrace of Orcs that retained or regained a bit more intelligence than most at the cost of some of its brutality and animal instinct. After all, Orcs appear by all measures to be smaller cousins of Giants... and Hill Giants and Cloud Giants are not of the same intellect level.
 

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
The way I look at the traditional D&D race loadout is that it's the winning side of an evolutionary conflict. There's no reason why you couldn't have "Dragons & Dungeons" featuring hobgoblins, orcs, goblins, kobolds, and gnolls in place of humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and halflings -- that's just not the choice that was made.

It's not for nothing that elves hate orcs and dwarves hate goblins and gnomes hate kobolds: those races compete for resources. Success in those competitions over time has enabled elves, dwarves, and gnomes to construct more lasting societies and those societies have produced civilization. With civilization comes the potential for organized compassion -- if you have no safety net, you're going to be more circumspect about sticking your neck out.

Civilizations are not necessarily good societies, but good societies are necessarily civilized. That's what it means when we say "orcs are evil." There's nothing inherently evil about the orc species, but orc society is not advanced enough to encourage good acts outside the family or clan unit.

...I'm not trying to make a case here, I'm just stating how I view things.

What does this have to do with the half-orc? The half-orc is an offering to the player who wants to play something a little less civilized in a setting where a full blooded orc would face too much difficulty. The half-orc might pass for human in the right light; they've been raised in a NG baseline civilization... an orc by contrast would not adapt well.
 
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Ragmon

Explorer
Almost with you...no orcs at all, so no half orcs, and no halflings (same reason, gnomes!).

If I need a half orc type, I use a half ogre (with half orc stats).

Hmm, no orcs... where would you get your generic fodder enemy?

And why specifically the half-ogre? Thats even least likely then a half-orc.
 

*Shrug* Orcs are monsters, half-orcs are PCs, sort of by enduring D&D definition. That's just one of the tropes you buy into (though your campaign is not contractually obligated to follow this rule).

I wonder why no one gets worked up over half-human discrimination? Why am I always identified by being half-orc or half-elf, and not half-human?
 

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