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D&D General What have you done with Orcs in your games?


Goblin Queen
My orcs are pretty much straight from Dungeon Meshi. Mesomorphic pig-nosed people with a history of conflict with the Common Folk, largely driven out of most habitable territory aboveground by these conflicts.


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Jewel of the North
My orcs are pretty much straight from Dungeon Meshi. Mesomorphic pig-nosed people with a history of conflict with the Common Folk, largely driven out of most habitable territory aboveground by these conflicts.
oooouuuuhh...I like those. They are somewhat like the goblinoids from Legend of Zelda and the Seeq from the Ivalice world of Final Fantasy.


Swamp Cryptid
I really don't go in for the Gruumsh-style Orcs, and instead tend to go for Orcs much more in the vein of how the Elder Scrolls video games deals with them. They're a part of the world, and while many of them live in their own settlements and they have their own culture, plenty of them also live among humans and other peoples.


I've made no change in recent days. I see any stereotypes and racism that exist in my campaign world as something to be challenged and explored within the game, not outside of it.

Orcs were created by Gruumsh, who is an evil God, and the majority of them still follow his teachings and benefit from the clerics that worship him. They tend to live in tribes, and they tend to take what they can from society. These tribes tend to believe in Strength being all that matters, and Gruumsh makes them stronger. Not every member of the tribe is identical, but they tend to follow their leadership or be driven out, so the tribes tend to have a singular voice in the end.

However, while the majority fall in this pigeon hole, there are many orcs that do not. There are orcs that break from the tribe and find other ways to live. You might have orcs joining a settlement with no other orcs, orcs moving to a new region and starting a farm, or orc tribes that worship Rao and peace. I've had orc PCs in my games for decades. One of the most infamous clerics of my campaign world was a cleric of a Trickery God - certainly not evil, but the most chaotic PC I have ever seen.


In my last face to face campaign I was doing a homebrew Carrion Crown pathfinder campaign in 5e. One player was a half-orc secretary (barbarian) in Ustalav (think Ravenloft) that borders the Orcish Holds of Belkzen. She worked for Professor Lorrimor Jones in the archaeology department of Lepidstadt University as a background.

She was a big Trek fan and went all in on Orcs are Klingons so I went with it for her home tribe and cultural background. "I have battled the academic bureaucracy many times, it is a worthy foe that will be the death of me. Stovokor!"


They largely remain unchanged in my game. They tend to be monsters for killing. The PCs did frighten a group of them and ended up having one scout for them and then gave the sky tower to them after they killed the air cult, but were not surprised when the scout lost the tower to his chief. The PCs thought that the orcs could trade with the town, maybe having some merchants meet them partway and not have the orcs in town. They never came back to town to find the orcs raiding from the tower and in need of dealing with, but they are mostly raiding cult areas and acting as river pirates right now.


Orcs in my main world are different.
  1. Orcs were created by High Elves to fight a war. They were to bolster elven numbers in the frontline.
  2. Orcs are a mixture of human, elf, dwarf, and goblin blood. This explains spontaneously or breed half orcs and orogs.
Basically they are several groups of angry mongrels. They aren't neccesarily evil but they are violence first for everything.


The orcs in my worlds are vary similar to the 1e version: large, stupid, fecund, brutal, and evil (LAWFUL evil--they're a primitive tribal society and don't have the luxury of being chaotic). There are mountain orcs that are even bigger and tougher and a group of them can present a challenge to mid-level parties.

Where the interest lies is with the half-orcs who live in most larger towns and cities. They are viewed with suspicion and hatred (since they serve as a reminder of orc raids which are always a fear in the back of people's minds) and often live up to those notions. There are more than a few, though, who are more good, caring, and humane than most the humans among whom they live.


I really don't go in for the Gruumsh-style Orcs, and instead tend to go for Orcs much more in the vein of how the Elder Scrolls video games deals with them. They're a part of the world, and while many of them live in their own settlements and they have their own culture, plenty of them also live among humans and other peoples.

I do a little of both. The majority of orcs are closer to Elder Scrolls (or, for that matter, Earthdawn) style Orcs - they exist in the world and have their own culture. Grummush (if I decide to use him) instead is basically a companion deity of Hextor, one of his generals in his quest to conquer all the worlds, with Hextor as a sort of ur-God of Fascism. That or Grummush as an aspect of Hextor.


So there are a lot of options for portraying Orcs in D&D games, from Gruumsh touched 5e default ones, to Eberron druid history ones, to the alignment splits of 3e and on Chaotic Evil, AD&D Lawful Evil ones, and Basic Chaotic Orcs. Outside of D&D there are 40K fungi biologic weapons, Warcraft Orcs, Lord of the Rings Orcs, Shadowrun style metahuman Orks, and others that can be taken as inspiration.

What have you done with them in your games?
It has taken a long, long time for me to get comfortable with chaotic orcs as I played 1E extensively. Now I run mostly to types of Orcs CE orcs that are the "standard" for 5e and other LE soldier type Orcs that can be found in many mercenary groups.


Elder Thing
My big D&D influences are Dragonlance (no orcs), Dark Sun (no orcs) Eberron (orcs saved the world back when) and Al-Qadim (orcs are people like any other).

I'm cool with each and every one of these depictions and I bounce between them on the rare occasion orcs see use in my games.


I started playing with a combination of Basic/Expert D&D and 1E AD&D so Orcs were originally LE in my original conception (yes, Chaotic in Basic, but that really just meant Evil).

Tolkien was/is a great influence for me as well, so in my homebrew work I generally group all of the goblinoids and orcs together as one lineage/race/people. Just different sizes and shapes and colours like humans. All are usually called orcs, but in different areas of the world the local name of goblins may be used for the little ones, etc.

I have never used Half-Orcs. Not sure if my young self realized without really realizing the implications of half-orcs right off the bat and that caused the rejection or if it was because there was really no interest amongst my early player groups in anything other than Humans, Dwarves and the very rare Elf or Halfling. I mean, until later 3.5E about 90% of all characters in campaigns I ran were human, dwarf was in second place, halflings were third (distantly) and only slightly ahead of Elf or Half-Elf. It took the 3.5E Environment books to bring in a few other options like Hadozee (monkey people) and then 4E brought Shifters via Eberron.

Back to topic. Traditionally, orcs (and goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears) have all been fodder for the PCs to fight/defeat.

I have never been able to settle on an origin story for them. They serve great evil lords in the setting, forming large armies/hordes. But are they created by the big evil god of the setting? Maybe, maybe not.

One thing they definitely are not is 3E or 5E Gruumsh-centered rampage orcs. Can they rampage, yes, but that is not their entire reason for being.

With all of that said, I am looking at what I want to do going forwards. My gaming has been interrupted for a few years due to work (first) and then COVID. That has given me some time to think about how the world fits together. What are the origins of things?

Certainly all of the recent online chatter has made me examine where I should have things end up for world design.

Cheers :)

Jack Daniel

Engines & Empires
I'll just quote myself, I guess:

Jack Daniel said:
Because there are so many different things that come to mind nowadays when one says "orc," I actually mostly avoid the term in my games. What are orcs, anyway? Are they Tolkien's goblins? Warcraft's cool green people? The "spectre, wight, or hell-devil" that haunted the Anglo-Saxons?

I use all three.

For the original, mythical orcne (demon-corpse) of Dark Ages mythology, I use the thoul stats and call them draugr (although elves will still refer to them as orcneas). These are the creepy-ass shadow-monsters that haunt the misty, boggy places where you'd expect Grendel to stalk off the moors in the dead of night, sneak into your mead-hall, eat all your thanes, and murder all your athelings. Not something a 1st level party wants to run into in the dark, let me tell you.

For Tolkien's yrch, I actually ditched the concept of goblinoids altogether and replaced them with Chaos-spawned beastmen. So my campaigns have ratlike humanoids called skavers instead of kobolds, doglike humanoids called mogrels in place of goblins, piglike humanoids called gruuchs in place of orcs, etc. They're all brutish, violent, disgusting, semi-intelligent (lacking tool-use or language and barely smarter than animals if there isn't a demon-prince or a Dark Lord around to drive them with its evil will and organize them into a Chaos army), and mostly just irredeemable little sacks of bonus XP.

For the Orsimer of videogameland, I make them one of my standard playable demihumans (they get their own character class!), but I term them ogres instead of orcs. (This is etymologically tenable: the Old English word orc almost certainly shares the same root as the Latinate word ogre, namely Latin Orcus.) This does require that I shuffle some monsters around a little bit: the 4+1 HD monster becomes a troll and the 6+3 HD monster becomes a greater troll. These ogres might be savages (noble or otherwise), soldiers, or city-folk, but they're always lean, green, and at least a little bit mean (in an endearing sort of way). They take more inspiration from Elder Scrolls than Warcraft, because… I don't care to play Warcraft, World of or otherwise.


Most of the time, they are old school pig faced orcs as described. However, several times I have them be more neutral. Might still makes right, but that doesn’t mean inherently evil. They do what it takes to survive, and can be negotiated with. It adds a level to the game and has caused players to do more than just hack and slash their way through every encounter, so to speak, if there are potential benefits for working with them as opposed to always killing them.

They're horrible, degenerate, rapacious creatures that breed with almost any humanoid creature. They are innately cruel and while normally barbaric, they can be found as part of evil civilizations. Gruumsh is the head of their pantheon, but isn't worshiped any more than any other pantheon leader would be.

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