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


Orcs are a big part of my games. When run well they can be compelling villains and surprising heroes. Most run them as canon fodder but a horde can be an impressive story in and of itself.

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The Orcs when I generally run them have their own civilizations. They look like the Uruk-hai of the LotR films (my goblins look like the Orcs of Moria). Orcs range, just like humans. A lot of their territories are tribal, but, they do have some that aren't. A lot of Orcs the players encounter tend to be raiders and don't craft most of their own stuff, but, instead take it by force. There are some Orcs sprinkled around where the players have been that removed themselves from the survival of the fittest and keep what you can take lifestyle.


I pretty much don't see the point in orcs anymore. If I need a CR 1/2 humanoid NPC or opponent, I can use the same game statistics as a orc (apart from darkvision) and call it human.

Li Shenron

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?
Nothing special.

Orcs = more or less Lord of the Rings, but since I'm not an expert of Tolkien lore I'm pretty sure I strayed away many time
Half-Orcs = similar to Warcraft Orcs, although in many campaigns I don't even have them at all

Perhaps the only original twist of note is that I make them separate races, so "half-orcs" is just a common name derived from the fact that they look somehow intermediate between orcs and humans, but they are not biologically related to either. It helps get rid of the horrible violence-based origin lore.

Interesting topic.

In my homebrew, orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears, orogs, et al, are all a single grouping of people who self-identify as "Orschans". In the distant past they were humans, elves, gnomes but the elite of their society began experimenting with fleshwarping magic, and turned themselves into their current forms.

Now the reason behind this depends on who you ask, for the "unchanged", ie the humans, elves, gnomes etc of the setting, the Orschans are horrid monsters under a dark curse that has twisted their minds and bodies. For the Orschans, they have gained powerful bodies with their minds untouched, why would they see that as a curse? Yes, their appearance has changed, but beauty is subjective.

Non-Orschans see them as evil since they are a society that raids its neighbours and tends to wage wars of imperialistic expansion, but is that so different to humans?


Another thing about my orcs is that their "genetics" is unstable due to the magic needed to bond human, dwarf, elf, & goblin blood and the unpredictability of the bedroom consequences. So some orcs express more of a parent race than others.

Half Orcs are orcs with more human blood or elven blood. The elven ones have pointier ears and look like green wild elves with bad teeth. The elven half orcs have interested back into one elven nation in a way no human half orc have done in human lands. That's because elven half orcs hate the official elven crown as much as the wild elves do.

Orogs are orcs of more hobgoblin blood. The hobgoblin blood is what causes the color difference. The hobgoblinness makes them more likely to follow orders and this is why orogs were often drafted for technical missions in the Fey Wars. One of the Orc nations is mostly orogs and they mostly pump out mercenaries in their mostly neutral world stance.

Ogrillons are orcs of more dwarf blood. One would think the dwarf blood would make them shorted but the human skeleton is very dominate. The extra dwarfiness makes them more muscular and this causes most of the orgrillions to rely on brawn to the detriment of brain. Also it makes them get fat bellies. Orogs often have orgrillion spouses and SOs for military reasons.


I'm fine with the MM orc.

They've appeared in our FR HotDQ game as evil mercenaries employed by the offshoot Cult of the Dragon. These mercenary orcs are still following Gruumsh's plan to push other races back to claim their share of territory - but this way they get paid and can maybe redirect some retribution at the CotD. I suppose they must have a clever leader, haven't fleshed that out much.

I toy with the idea their Chaotic Evilness is a unfortunate but valid survival strategy for beings with fast maturation, high fertility and mortality, who are forced to live in dangerous marginal lands - in constant warfare with civilizations. Oh yeah, add the Gruumsh religion to the pot as well.

I sort of like this idea because it lets me sympathize with their plight and opens the possibility of some heroes changing it for the better. It also gives justification for an orc out of that environment being different.


I expanded a bunch when running 3e's Lord of the Iron Fortress in 3.5.

Part of it is set in the Gate Town of Rigus on the Plane of Concordant Opposition next to the gate to the Lawful (evil) plane of Acheron known for eternal warfare.

I expanded Rigus to be filled with Lawful Evil and LN warlike mortal(ish) factions such as hobgoblins, fire giants, duergar, devil tieflings, zenythri law-touched planetouched, asherake (from Complete Minions) and others. It is ruled by a mercenary warlord council who sell use of their armies and is a place known where you can hire some big armies.

When the party showed up as part of a murder investigation whose clues had led there a force of about 200,000 hobgoblins were doing military exercises outside the gates. Partly as a show of force to the half a million strong horde of orcs camped outside of the gates who had shown up shortly after the city's largest army (of goblins) had disappeared in a cloud of magical birds.

So the party conducts their investigation with that as a backdrop and as they were finishing up their investigation and concluding they needed to go into the Gate, surprise! Two factions betray the city and the orc horde pours in to pillage and take over the city and access to the gate. The party was like 15th level I think and I got to have fun with lots of common orcs, bunches of low level barbarians, a huge raid leader they encountered who was 16th level and so on with chaos as buildings were burned, tons of fighting, and so on as they tried to make it to the gate.

In part I added this as a tie in to the history of LE orcs with Acheron and then current CE orc themes.

In AD&D orcs were LE and Gruumsh and Maglubiyet originally were both LE gods who eternally fought on the Hells but eventually then to Gehenna and then in Manual of the Planes their eternal afterlife war with regenerating racial warrior spirits moved to the eternal battlefields of Acheron.

It was a lot of fun to play around with massive orc armies narratively and a bunch of 3e orc stat blocks of wildly different CRs I had which went well with the barbarian CE themes and the chaos of the battle.

I haven't used orcs in any of my adventures for a while, but I see them figuring as a Cimmeria/Vanaheim/Nordheim area from the Conan stories: warrior tribes whose habits and values seem barbaric to more "civilised" people.

(Wasn't there a quote from one Conan story along the lines of, "Barbarians are politer than civilised people, because an insult is more likely to be met with an axe to the head"?)


I've always seen orcs as specifically a Tolkien thing, so I don't use them. Goblins and hobgoblins (and gnolls, and trolls, and ogres, and...) serve in their stead in my games.


Solo Role Playing
In my curent campaign there are no traditional humanoids (orcs, goblins, etc). I prefer groups of non-humanoid creatures (beasts, critters, flyers, etc)


My orcs are mutated elves. The elves came to be from the pairing of fey creatures and my homebrew plant race. Due to this heritage, elves mutate rather easily (it's the justification for all the various types of elf subraces you seem to find). There are 3 subraces of elf that resemble the typical elves, then there's the orcs. An orc is born to elves who have spent at least a century in areas of concentrated Fire magic (such as one of the countries that became the orc's homeland, which is full of lava and volcanoes). Orcs can also procreate amongst themselves. It can be assumed that a sun elf could be born of 2 orc parents who spend 100 years within the jungles of the sun elf homeland, but orcs don't live that long typically.

Orcs gain fire resistance due to the circumstances of their births. Their skin is black as coal, with eyes and hair the shades of flame. Despite being descended from elves, they live a fraction of the lifespan of an elf, thanks again to the circumstances of their births. And I stole a thing from this board where (I forget who, so I am very sorry!) someone suggested orcs (or something else, but I believe it was orcs) feel emotions as if they were turned to 11. Anger becomes extreme rage, sadness becomes crippling despair, love becomes near obsession, happiness becomes euphoria, etc. I thought that was something pretty good and seemed to fit the whole "firey passion" type thing, so I went with it.

The typical raging orc of default D&D is still there, but it's only because someone made them mad. That's about all I have on my orcs, as I haven't had a Player interested in playing an orc, so I haven't gotten much deeper into their culture.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
In my Errantas homebrew (2 campaigns set 80 years apart), all of the races (except effectively underdark Halflings) were brought to this material plane as a refuge because it had thin elemental walls. (Custom cosmology - just basially it was easier to get to.)

So I had orcs that orginated from two different planes in my world. The Steppes Tribes were loosely based on Ghegis Khan and the mongols, had seven tribes each with some different core beliefs, plus another tribe that retreated before start of play into the underdark, taking with it a seedling from the mother tree of a CN druid grove that helped them adapt. One of the tribes became allies becasue of the action of the party and controlled much of the steppes by the second campaign.

The other group was the Archipelago Orcs, who were fearsome sailors and were the strongest naval power around. They were slavers as well. It wasn't explored in play, but they were beholden to something demonic in a volcano.

13th Age
Last finished campaign was 13th Age. The Orcs had long ago been created by the Elves to defeat the dreaded Wizard King (now the less powerful Lich King), who then lost control. Various other races inhabited the lands they allied with, but the races were showing to grow together, especially in Concord and other cities, which threatened the Elf Queen's rule over the elves. So she set up a new Orc Lord by breeding a new, more powerful one and sending a clandestine champion to help him unite the orc tribes under him. (This is the work of of decades.) She also captured a living dungeon and started a decade long ritual to force feed it the evil bubbling up from below when the Drow tainted the underworld to win their war against the dwarves. She knew that living dungeons were what you got when the taint infected new Koru Behemoths as they swam through the earth to the surface, and wanted to make a crazed Behemoth that would wipe Horizon, the floating city of the Archmage off the map, and then go one and wipe out Axis, the capital of the human's empire. The entire city of Horizon, she had found out, was the phylactery of the Lich King.

The Orc Lord, having been created stronger, wasn't just a pawn. He used the elven magic on sacks of orcs gestating beneith the earth (orcs bubble to the surface in waves of evil, as well as being born) to create elf-enhanced orcs.

So the campaign spread the time from right before the Orcs started their attack to until the Dwarves had been contained and the Orc armies were encircling Horizon and starting the ritual to guide the living dungeon/behemoth there. The campaign started and ended with the Orcs and their plans, though it circled the entire map to do so.

In one of my current campaigns, the players are agents for a fading and failing Imperium, well past it's peak. The continent has been mostly civilized, and orcs are not a part of it. There's no indication in play yet if they never existed, or if they are extinct like dragons and dwarves are.

There's also a possibility that I may introduce them later - both the drow and halflings are races created by the Imperium at it's peak, and I could have Orcs be a new warrior race being created for the war that is brewing.

In my Warhammer Fantasy - they are basically 40ks nerfed Orkz (as I run WHF as isolated world of WH40k). So they do not speak like hools, but as latent psychics they speak very crude version of whatever language dominates in area (High Elves hates it).

In Forgotten Realms - generally with evil tendencies - but slowly building more civilised forms like Obould Many Arrows, even within basic Gruumshian aspect. But generally mortals with real souls - so they can overcome it.
Really only rage-tendencies are common for all orcs, as part of biology, and seeing things as competition and conflict (independently of alignment) which makes them understand quite well with goliaths.

I have two orcs PC and NPC in a team I run - LG paladin of Tyr with sport referee / trial by combat judge/champion schtick and CN mercenary ranger.


Honestly, I‘be just recently pulled out Orcs of Thar and found something in the DM’s section I want to use.

Orcs are the reincarnated souls of the evilest of humanoids, punished to live a life of cruelty and pain for their previous sins. Some neutral deity set down this curse of rebirth to deny the lower realms (or perhaps evil deities) the souls of these evil beings for their infernal legions. In a way, though, the curse backfired because the reincarnated souls end up wrecking havoc and pain on the material realm.

But it is possible for Orcs to break the cycle, if the can find a way to recant their evil ways. The bigger issue is, most have no desire to recant - if they’re even aware of their past crimes.

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?
Usually just kill them, because my kids are proud murderhobos. My husband is a half-orc thief, though. And there was once when they just wanted a toll of fresh-killed boar.


I gave Orcs, goblins and gnolls all a similar treatment, which was to make them more akin to fiends/devils than human cultures. All 3 are genderless, they do not grow, they do not reproduce, and are irredeemable creatures filled with malice and spite that the adventurers need no qualms in killing.

Each race has its own way of “spawning”. Orcs are said to come out of the blizzards to the far north, goblins come out of the shadows when the half moon crosses the night sky and gnolls come from the abyss or when a hyena feeds on tainted flesh.

Half-orcs are not the offspring of a human and orc because that is impossible. Instead there are entire human tribes to the north that are said to have “Orcish Blood” within them, but how that came about is ancient history shrouded in myth - these are my Half-orcs. Half-elves and Tieflings get a similar treatment (of being a wider race with an ancient heritage rather than having parents of 2 different races.)

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