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5E What Makes an Orc an Orc?

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Hussar

Legend
Ok, well, it has been pointed out that all orcs need in order to be fine, is strip out the racial purity, bloodlines stuff and maybe buff out a couple of other rough edges. It takes about 30 seconds and the excision of about twelve words.

So, I'm not really sure that it's any more difficult to fix them all.
 

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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
So orcs would still be a usually evil and violent race of creatures, but they would just be described differently so that it doesn't mimic descriptions that have been used to demonize real world groups of people? I mean, that would be great, but I would be surprised if that were possible. It's just that I would be surprised that there are any words to describe that kind of fantasy race that real world racists have not used.
Fritz Lieber’s Nehwon Ghouls had translucent skin, so they looked very much like animate skeletons, I yoinked that for the orks in one of my homebrews, though each of the subspecies had different colored bones.

Were they still savage and barbaric? Of course! But there was almost no way to assign them any of the visual stereotypes associated with any of the RW peoples demonized and dismissed as being little more than upright animals.

I also used the small, bat-winged, 8-eyed Seshayans from Alternity: Star Drive as a replacement for Drow in another homebrew. Introduced as being deferential to others in the early campaign, it became revealed that they had once ruled the Underdark until being defeated in a massive war that scattered their people and reduced their cities to rubble AGES ago. Most Seshayans and surface-dwellers were unaware of that history, but then some Seshayans uncovered the truth...and hungered for a return to power...

Or as I posted in another thread, take your typical D&D high elf society and make them into xenophobic cannibals (like Athasian halflings).

Speaking of Athas, what about Thri-kreen? Too beefy? Tone them down a bit. Make them size small.

This isn’t rocket surgery. 🤪
Perhaps some examples of the "countless" descriptions that have been used? And I mean for a race of evil creatures that would make for a good guilt free opponent. Sure you can write about an admirable but misunderstood race, but that wouldn't fill the same role that orcs are expected to fill in default D&D.
Besides the aforementioned Nehwon Ghouls from Fritz Lieber?

The Omec from Defiance were a purple-skinned race that was so technologically superior to all the other alien species in the series that it took a multi-species alliance to defeat them. Why the animus? Because the Omec thought of “lesser” races as cattle and toys.

Stephen Donaldson's Amnion (The Gap novels) and Star Trek’s Borg come to mind. You probably know the latter; the former were similar, but used nano-level, gene-altering biotech for assimilation. Instead of looking like cyborgs, the Amnion resembled waxwork figures that had been too close to a heat source...sometimes with appendages in the wrong number or location.

Larry Niven’s Kzinti and Slavers? Different power levels; both fine for villainy.

The animal-men of H.G. Well’s Island of Doctor Moreau?

The amphibious Deep One/human hybrids from HPL’s lore? (And him, a notorious racist!)

Daleks and Cybermen from Dr. Who? Yes, even those can work in D&D: they weren’t evil, but for one homebrew, I reskinned Eberron’s Warforgedas being psionic dwarves animating metallic bodies. Effectively Cybermen. making them evil takes a few words in the description.

(I could go on. I’m choosing to stop.)

Yes, they’re all over the pace in terms of formidability, but that’s just a matter of mechanical tweaking. The key is none are likely to be described in terms associated with RW bigotry.
 

So the default MM orc will remain exactly what the 5e MM says, but other settings will change (Eberron, Wildemount) or omit (Dragonlance, Birthright) them as sees fit?
Of course. It totally depends on the setting. Dragonlance and Birthright dont even have Orcs. They have Draconians and Orogs respectively.

Did you have outrage when Eberron made Drow jungle people who worship scorpions with chitin armor instead of Lolth worshippers who live underground?

I honestly dont get the rage about this. Orcs (in Mystara, Greyhawk and Faerun) are usually evil because their Gods and society make them so. That's always been the case. Literally nothing is changing other than them spelling this out.

If you want a setting where Orc gods are benevolent, and their society encourages such acts of kindness and mercy, then you can have Orcs that are usually Good.
 

Lord Twig

Explorer
Ok, well, it has been pointed out that all orcs need in order to be fine, is strip out the racial purity, bloodlines stuff and maybe buff out a couple of other rough edges. It takes about 30 seconds and the excision of about twelve words.

So, I'm not really sure that it's any more difficult to fix them all.
Okay. Honestly wasn't aware of any racial purity or bloodline verbage in the orc write up. Actually just read the entry in the Monster Manual again and still can't find it. But if that is all it takes, great!

I don't suppose you could list those words? I assume they would be right out of the Monster Manual, so shouldn't be a problem. Honest question since I really don't know which twelve words you mean.
 

Lord Twig

Explorer
Fritz Lieber’s Nehwon Ghouls had translucent skin, so they looked very much like animate skeletons, I yoinked that for the orks in one of my homebrews, though each of the subspecies had different colored bones.

Were they still savage and barbaric? Of course! But there was almost no way to assign them any of the visual stereotypes associated with any of the RW peoples demonized and dismissed as being little more than upright animals.

I also used the small, bat-winged, 8-eyed Seshayans from Alternity: Star Drive as a replacement for Drow in another homebrew. Introduced as being deferential to others in the early campaign, it became revealed that they had once ruled the Underdark until being defeated in a massive war that scattered their people and reduced their cities to rubble AGES ago. Most Seshayans and surface-dwellers were unaware of that history, but then some Seshayans uncovered the truth...and hungered for a return to power...

Or as I posted in another thread, take your typical D&D high elf society and make them into xenophobic cannibals (like Athasian halflings).

Speaking of Athas, what about Thri-kreen? Too beefy? Tone them down a bit. Make them size small.

This isn’t rocket surgery. 🤪

Besides the aforementioned Nehwon Ghouls from Fritz Lieber?

The Omec from Defiance were a purple-skinned race that was so technologically superior to all the other alien species in the series that it took a multi-species alliance to defeat them. Why the animus? Because the Omec thought of “lesser” races as cattle and toys.

Stephen Donaldson's Amnion (The Gap novels) and Star Trek’s Borg come to mind. You probably know the latter; the former were similar, but used nano-level, gene-altering biotech for assimilation. Instead of looking like cyborgs, the Amnion resembled waxwork figures that had been too close to a heat source...sometimes with appendages in the wrong number or location.

Larry Niven’s Kzinti and Slavers? Different power levels; both fine for villainy.

The animal-men of H.G. Well’s Island of Doctor Moreau?

The amphibious Deep One/human hybrids from HPL’s lore? (And him, a notorious racist!)

Daleks and Cybermen from Dr. Who? Yes, even those can work in D&D: they weren’t evil, but for one homebrew, I reskinned Eberron’s Warforgedas being psionic dwarves animating metallic bodies. Effectively Cybermen. making them evil takes a few words in the description.

(I could go on. I’m choosing to stop.)

Yes, they’re all over the pace in terms of formidability, but that’s just a matter of mechanical tweaking. The key is none are likely to be described in terms associated with RW bigotry.
None of those describe orcs. Or even a sentient, but savage and evil races. At least of the ones that I am familiar with.

But if the only thing that needs to be done is to make them look less human, I guess that could be done. Not sure how that would work for half-orcs though.
 


Hussar

Legend
Okay. Honestly wasn't aware of any racial purity or bloodline verbage in the orc write up. Actually just read the entry in the Monster Manual again and still can't find it. But if that is all it takes, great!

I don't suppose you could list those words? I assume they would be right out of the Monster Manual, so shouldn't be a problem. Honest question since I really don't know which twelve words you mean.
So, you freely admit you don't actually know what the issue is. You cannot be bothered learning what the issue is. But, yet, you have an opinion about what should and should not be changed.

Do you not see why my blood pressure shoots out my freaking ears? You're the umpteenth person who this has been explained to. Yes, I know it's not your fault for coming to the conversation a bit late, but, y'know what? These issue have been around for decades. Break out your google fu, learn what the actual issue is, and then come back and join the conversation.

I'm tired of having to do people's research for them.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
None of those describe orcs. Or even a sentient, but savage and evil races. At least of the ones that I am familiar with.

But if the only thing that needs to be done is to make them look less human, I guess that could be done. Not sure how that would work for half-orcs though.
All are sentient, several are evil, and savagery is often just a matter of how one conducts war. Even if one has a robust culture, one can be called savage (just look at the real world).

And any COULD be Orcs if you so chose to make them. And the Nehwon Ghouls (in the stories) were enough like Orcs to be an effortless swap.

Bonus suggestion: Use Neanderthals.

As for half-orcs...I often don’t use them or most hybrids anymore. When a fantasy race is more than a two-dimensional assembly of stereotypes, I just let players use that race without needing hybrids. One exception are what we’re called Planetouched in 3.5Ed, and which I usually call Nephilim when I use them.
 
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Bagpuss

Adventurer
Okay. Honestly wasn't aware of any racial purity or bloodline verbage in the orc write up. Actually just read the entry in the Monster Manual again and still can't find it. But if that is all it takes, great!

I don't suppose you could list those words? I assume they would be right out of the Monster Manual, so shouldn't be a problem. Honest question since I really don't know which twelve words you mean.
I'm not sure exactly what he is referring to either when he speaks of bloodlines and racial purity.

Key phrases about the physical descriptions I've seen mentioned about orcs (which appear somewhere in most editions) and have been used in the past by racist to describe races they considered lesser.

Low forehead, bow legged, stooped posture, board or piggish nose, protruding teeth, coarse hair.

Then there are other phrases that refer to their culture and nature that have also been used by racists to refer to people they consider lesser.

Aggressive, violent, primal, primitive, savage, etc.

Then people seem to object to orcs having the default alignment of Chaotic Evil (although often they mistakenly believe this is an ALWAYS Chaotic Evil, while in every edition alignment for orcs has always been a tendency not a requirement). The alignment is kind of tied into their culture and nature, although I believe at one point orcs were Lawful Evil, rather than Chaotic.

Now I'm not sure what of those you can change without changing the very nature of what an orc represents narratively. However the talk from WotC seems to have mainly focused on removing the alignment advice. Which as you mentioned seems to me to be very much putting a new coat of paint on the car when people are complaining about the weird grinding noise coming from the engine.

------------------------------------------

There are other issues regards half-orcs and the descriptions of them mainly coming about by rape, and how they are rejected by human societies, or how their human intelligence allows them to dominate orc tribes. The more you look for problems the more you can find depending if you start with the assumption Human = white, and orc = non-white.

I personally think that is a false assumption, I think narratively in D&D, Human = Human and orc = represents the aggressive, violent, destructive, raiders from human history, the idea that just being stronger give you the right to take something that belongs to someone else. Be they the Mongolian hoard attacking Europe and Asia, which is likely to have inspired Tolkien in creating orcs, Crusaders invading the holy land, Nazi's in WWII or even the US Cavalry attacking the Native America population. If you start from that assumption then yes is makes sense they are strong, violent and savage by nature, that they rape and pillage, etc. They don't represent any particular human race, but some aspect common to the human race.
 
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Mecheon

Adventurer
Bonus suggestion: Use Neanderthals.
Neanderthals are just, people basically. Like, if they weren't extinct, you'd be hard pressed to tell one apart from just any other person

Now I'm not sure what of those you can change without changing the very nature of what an orc represents narratively. However the talk from WotC seems to have mainly focused on removing the alignment advice. Which as you mentioned seems to me to be very much putting a new coat of paint on the car when people are complaining about the weird grinding noise coming from the engine.
See, I think you're looking at this the wrong angle. Since at least 3E since the earlier, orcs haven't had that strict role of "Savage raiders". 3E is when we got Many Arrows, which was specifically "Orcs be something more than just savage raiders and whatnot", plus its multiple versions of "Orcs, but" because, well, 3E and 3.5E.

Was it because they went Chaotic Evil? Or because Hobgoblins and like, 50 other random races instead took up the role of being that? Or because the 200 pound gorilla that is Warcraft 3 came into the scene a year earlier ? Who can say? But, it ultimately meant that this is when the role changed, and the seeds were set even then.

Orcs as just "Savage raiders who you are always okay to kill" hasn't been accurate, nor has it had a place in the game, since at least 3E.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
So, you freely admit you don't actually know what the issue is. You cannot be bothered learning what the issue is. But, yet, you have an opinion about what should and should not be changed.

Do you not see why my blood pressure shoots out my freaking ears? You're the umpteenth person who this has been explained to. Yes, I know it's not your fault for coming to the conversation a bit late, but, y'know what? These issue have been around for decades. Break out your google fu, learn what the actual issue is, and then come back and join the conversation.

I'm tired of having to do people's research for them.
Except you never answer what you claim is a clear and easy to fix problem. @Lord Twig asked a simple question. Why can't you just do your best to answer?

Because I've read some of the articles. Basically they boil down to: when Tolkien was writing, racism was rampant about people from eastern Asia, therefore orcs represented mongol hordes. Racist! When D&D was written, racism was rampant about black people, therefore orcs represented black people. Racist!

Some of the language and images used in older editions was problematic. But we can't go back in time to edit Tolkien's private letter to a friend that people use to say he was racist (there's plenty of evidence he was not). There is no hot tub time machine to take us back to the 70s to rewrite the older editions of D&D.

We can't go back in time. We can look at the current edition of orcs which is "Orcs are savage humanoids with stooped postures, piggish faces, and prominent teeth that resemble tusks."

Umm ... not particularly up on racist writings, but I don't know that anyone has described PoC as having tusks.

So can we talk about what's problematic with the depiction of orcs that we have now, not the depiction that was written nearly a century or for editions that have been out of print for decades?
 

I want to be able to play a immensely strong dwarven fighter, because dwarves are strong. I want to be able to buck the racial norm and play a mountain dwarf wizard with a +2 Str bonus and +2 con, just to be the black sheep of the family. A floating +2, +1 prevents me from being able to do that.
Seriously? Because it's +2/+1 instead of +2/+2 you wouldn't be able to play the character you want? Waiting until level 4 to get that extra point in Con would ruin the concept for you?

I gotta admit, if I were a WotC designer perusing this thread I would think, "Ok, let's go with floating +2/+1....people are really grasping at straws to find reasons to hate it."
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I don’t know what’s been said in this particular thread, but the “orcs are fictional” point has been discussed ad nauseam in several other recent threads.

Simply put, you cannot use descriptions that denigrate or demonize real world groups or ethnicities and hide behind a claim that you’re talking about a fictIonal group or ethnicity. At worst, it’s still racist. At best, it’s lazy writing.

Because the number of races/species/groups that have been described by countless writers of fiction and designers of games without using the language of real-world bigotry is literally in the tens of thousands at least.
Your words here have been said as nauseum in those threads as well. They didn’t end the debate then and they aren’t going to here. Without rehashing it here, There’s a fundamental disagreement about what you assert above.
 

Remathilis

Legend
So, you freely admit you don't actually know what the issue is. You cannot be bothered learning what the issue is. But, yet, you have an opinion about what should and should not be changed.

Do you not see why my blood pressure shoots out my freaking ears? You're the umpteenth person who this has been explained to. Yes, I know it's not your fault for coming to the conversation a bit late, but, y'know what? These issue have been around for decades. Break out your google fu, learn what the actual issue is, and then come back and join the conversation.

I'm tired of having to do people's research for them.
You must not be in education. If you were, you'd know your response shows a profound lack of interest in actually educating people. Because telling someone to "Google it" not only tells them you aren't really interested in helping them understand the problem, but by leaving them to their own research, you run the risk they will find the WRONG info. There are plenty of flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, and red-pillers who "did the research" and found the wrong sources of info.

Yeah, you may be tired of explaining the same thing over and over again, but if you really care about the issue, it's the burden you carry. Otherwise, you run the risk that the genuinely curious person you blow off will harden against your position, which is the last thing you want in a battle for hearts and minds.

Unless your just here just to score points and virtue-signal. Then you do you.
 

Going to try to stay on topic, but explain my thought process about updating the orc.

So what makes an orc and orc, at least in D&D, is that they are savage, evil killers. They are not supposed to be sympathetic characters. Now, say in World of Warcraft, orcs are a noble species with a proud and honorable warrior tradition from a different planet. You are supposed to be able to identify with them and understand their struggles. However, both takes on orcs are NOT human.

I have been reading about people removing the Int penalty, but really, that would just make it slightly less racist to compare people to orcs. I mean, they are still savage and usually evil, but at least you aren't calling them stupid. And of course that is not enough. To not be insulting at all you would basically have to make the orcs completely human.

Or, the other option, just don't compare people to fictional races. That just seems simpler and the obvious way to avoid being racist.

Now I am fine if people want to point out where I am incorrect in my reasoning. I'm of course willing to listen to reasoned arguments. But I won't sit idle while I am insulted.

There is a fundamental problem with this approach though, something that I encountered in 4e and see no way around.

Half-Orcs.

I've told this story a few times in these discussions, but I had a player come to me during a 4e game, after session Zero, and express extreme discomfort with a fellow party member's Half-Orc fighter. Not for anything that PC had done, or was planned to be, but because the first player had been interested and read the lore in the PHB 2, and immediately picked up on the rape themes. It made them incredibly uncomfortable, and the solution I found was pretty simple, but cuts right through this idea that orcs should be savage evil killers.

I made the half-orc a full-blooded orc.

The Player of the orc character was happy, and my other player was happy, but it shows this deep problem with keeping orcs as always evil and warring with humans and elves and such. That means that most half-orcs are children of rape, and that is deeply troubling for a lot of players, myself included.

Making them a PC race is far easier than rolling back the clock and taking half-orcs out of the game, and since we have WoW Orcs as an example, we know that depicting orcs as a complex, multi-faceted race can work.

It seems like a win for everyone, except those people who want faceless "I'm evil" drones to throw at their parties. But even those people have other options. From as simple as saying "The Kill-All tribe is evil, but the Greenskin tribe isn't" or fighting things like bandits or cultists, who can be any race.


Except with a 17 STR you can carry more than a 16 STR, so.... not mechanically identical. ;)
I know you are joking, but come on man. 15 lbs of encumbrance wouldn't even make a difference in a game where they actually tracked that stuff, let alone in a more standard game.

And even if it did, the Orc's powerful build giving them an additional 255 lbs would make far more of a difference.



There are other issues regards half-orcs and the descriptions of them mainly coming about by rape, and how they are rejected by human societies, or how their human intelligence allows them to dominate orc tribes. The more you look for problems the more you can find depending if you start with the assumption Human = white, and orc = non-white.

I personally think that is a false assumption, I think narratively in D&D, Human = Human and orc = represents the aggressive, violent, destructive, raiders from human history, the idea that just being stronger give you the right to take something that belongs to someone else. Be they the Mongolian hoard attacking Europe and Asia, which is likely to have inspired Tolkien in creating orcs, Crusaders invading the holy land, Nazi's in WWII or even the US Cavalry attacking the Native America population. If you start from that assumption then yes is makes sense they are strong, violent and savage by nature, that they rape and pillage, etc. They don't represent any particular human race, but some aspect common to the human race.
See, the problem with your view here is that you are assuming that the problem is specifically skin tone.

White vs non-white is not the issue.

"human" vs "lesser and more brutish version of human" is the issue.

Because the Orcs are not like the Nazis, or the US Cavalry, or the Knights of the Crusades. All of those groups are highly trained, organized, and come from nations states.

Orcs are tribal people. People who define themselves by clan and small nomadic groups, who are violent and savage and do not hold land, but despoil it. They are "uncivilized". And since they are also human (even your own post admits this when you say "represents the aggressive, violent, destructive, raiders from human history" we can find so many examples of how "civilized" folk talked about and treated similar people and find that this is deeply problematic.



So can we talk about what's problematic with the depiction of orcs that we have now, not the depiction that was written nearly a century or for editions that have been out of print for decades?
Have they really changed that much from earlier editions to now? They all seem to be written in a very similar vein to me.




Your words here have been said as nauseum in those threads as well. They didn’t end the debate then and they aren’t going to here. Without rehashing it here, There’s a fundamental disagreement about what you assert above.

Right because certain people want to keep holding up a paper mask and saying " but look, they aren't really human, you can't be mad because we made them up. We aren't talking about you, your just reading too far into things."

"Now lets go kill some savage brutes who are squatting on that land that clearly should be civilized and have a city built on it."
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Seriously? Because it's +2/+1 instead of +2/+2 you wouldn't be able to play the character you want? Waiting until level 4 to get that extra point in Con would ruin the concept for you?

I gotta admit, if I were a WotC designer perusing this thread I would think, "Ok, let's go with floating +2/+1....people are really grasping at straws to find reasons to hate it."
It’s not polite to call others opinions “grasping at straws”. It will only lead to just as dismissive Or possibly more dismissive claims aBout your position.
 

You must not be in education. If you were, you'd know your response shows a profound lack of interest in actually educating people. Because telling someone to "Google it" not only tells them you aren't really interested in helping them understand the problem, but by leaving them to their own research, you run the risk they will find the WRONG info. There are plenty of flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, and red-pillers who "did the research" and found the wrong sources of info.

Yeah, you may be tired of explaining the same thing over and over again, but if you really care about the issue, it's the burden you carry. Otherwise, you run the risk that the genuinely curious person you blow off will harden against your position, which is the last thing you want in a battle for hearts and minds.

Unless your just here just to score points and virtue-signal. Then you do you.
Dude, this isn't his day job.

We are on this site to discuss, but none of us want to spend every hour of the day constantly rehashing the same information. It has been what, two or three weeks of this discussion? I fully understand that people are getting tired of having to go and explain the exact same information again and again and again.

Heck, I am a substitute teacher, but even I know that you don't spend three weeks in social studies class talking about the same unit. You move on.
 

So, you freely admit you don't actually know what the issue is. You cannot be bothered learning what the issue is. But, yet, you have an opinion about what should and should not be changed.

Do you not see why my blood pressure shoots out my freaking ears? You're the umpteenth person who this has been explained to. Yes, I know it's not your fault for coming to the conversation a bit late, but, y'know what? These issue have been around for decades. Break out your google fu, learn what the actual issue is, and then come back and join the conversation.

I'm tired of having to do people's research for them.
Or, if somebody doesn't want to do the research, I'd be ok with them saying, "Really? Gosh, I didn't realize this was a problem. But, you know what, there are people who continue to face daily systemic racism of a sort that I will never in my life experience. If even some of them tell me there's a problem with how orcs are portrayed, which they think is hurtful language that may perpetuate racism, I'm ok with tweaking my hobby about make-believe elves and dragons. Not kicking and screaming and crying about it is pretty much the very least thing I could do."

But instead poster after poster gets on here to pontificate about how the problem isn't really the problem, it's this other problem, the solution to which happily involves other people changing their perceptions, and doesn't require even the most minor of inconveniences to themselves.
 

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