D&D General what would a good orc culture be like?

Mad_Jack

Hero
Stan Nicholls' Orcs novels have a nice take on orcs as having been forced into becoming a warlike society by other cultures using them as expendable soldiers, but actually having a much deeper and more family-oriented culture than other races suspect.
 

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
The way I would do it is make them all primal-y, not feral, but in tune with nature and spirits and respecting your ancestors, All Druids and Rangers and Priests and Paladins, maybe a smattering of Sorcerers too, they still value strength and have strong beliefs but it’s tempered with a respect for the world around them and a spiritualism, i can also see them partnering with one of the nature-ish species like halflings, gnomes or wood-elves.
Just be careful not to fall into the “noble savage” trope if you go that direction.
 


I made one for a campaign but unfortunately the players never got the chance to dig into the orc culture. The gist is orcs tend to not follow any gods because their gods abandoned them and watched as their empire was annihilated. This required a restructuring of their entire society and over the last 500+ years they have created a very complex clan system. The laws and traditions of this system can often put them at odds when interacting with other cultures. However, orcs can often be found working as arbiters in legal matters or as aids to important individuals. Their experience with the clan system makes other legal systems seem like child's play in comparison.
 

Marandahir

Crown-Forester (he/him)
I like Orcs as hunter gatherers and steppe nomads.

Narratively, they use extremely withered tech - beyond their modern but stylized steel weapons (especially spiked metal clubs), they prefer stone-aged tech. Metal armour is a sign of weakness that you can't take the hits.

They aren't necessarily based on Eurasian steppe peoples or First Nations people, nor on Sahel or Fertile Crescent nomads, or any other groups surviving today, instead drawing on concepts like what we think Neanderthals were like, and on mythological creatures like Oni and Ogres (and yes, various fantasy Orcs).

But they're not bad. They're another group of people living their lives. They might go to war with humans or dwarves over territory, but they're not seeking it out just because. They mostly want to tend to their herds of swine and cattle, grow their barley (for beer of course), and expand their clans.

There's a relatively recent fantasy concept in some Japanese media that Orcs reproduce true (anything + Orc = Orc, no Half-Orcs allowed), and that Orcs are really into big families and expanding their clans. One could extrapolate some really vile ideas about Orcs from this in their relations to other peoples, but you can also lean into it the other way: Orcs love family. They love big families, and everyone is related somehow, everyone is equal. There's no runt of the litter because they're half-Human because it doesn't matter if the parent wasn't an Orc, their kids are Orcs too. So immigrants from other communities like Dwarves or Goblins or Humans or even Elves may live somewhat freely amongst the Orcs as equals, as long as they follow the Orc customs.

The Elder Scrolls has mostly positive Orc depictions, though they're discriminated against by other peoples because the early games in the series had them as monsters and only later did they become a playable lineage. These Orcs come in various factions - there are urban Orcs that are integrated into the cosmopolitan cities of the Human Empire; there are Wood Orcs that are almost more like Wood Elves but more violent; there are Orcs of the city of Orsinium within Wrothgar, a place forged for Orcs to throw off the shackles of the rest of the world and call it a kingdom of their own (and the King of Orsinium desperately wants to rehabilitate his people's image with a new religion and respectful relations with nearby kingdoms). There are Orcs of the Clansteads in the various mountain ranges that follow special Orcish customs and don't allow outsiders normally to enter. And yes, there are evil Orcs raising armies to destroy civilized peoples, too.

I think you don't rehabilitate Orcs by just suddenly whitewashing them and pretending everything is hunky dory. Instead, you complexify. Have good Orc communities and bad ones. And be sure to have good Human communities and bad ones. And if the human characters see Orcs as evil in the beginning, give them a chance to see how these good Orcs are better, kinder people than those bad people next door to them. Flip the expectations on their heads.
 




Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Several months ago I did an issue of The Gnoll Sage on orcs. There were several clans highlighted, including:

A clan or pirates who attacked corporate ships and supported the poor and oppressed
A colonial clan similair to Victorian England
A nature clan where the chief changed into a different version with each solstice
An industrial clan of metal workers
An arctic clan similair to goliaths.
A nomadic clan that wore the skins of their enemies as a source of power (yeah, these ones were evil lol)
 

teitan

Legend
I think the focus on good or evil cultures is wrong, but a focus on unique, Orcish culture is the proper approach. Comparing them to human cultures is what leads to cultural problems. The problem of "All Orcs are evil" even is the approach to Alignment as a hard coded part of DNA instead of a choice being made and representing Gruumshite Orcs in FR or GH as the Orcs of Eberron aren't evil because Alignment isn't hard coded. The culture is coded as evil based on it's cultural emphasis. So you start by analyzing what you want for their culture including religious elements and build out including how they approach outsiders.

Alignment shouldn't be considered an element of the design unless you are using it as a short hand reference like I would straight up call Nazis Chaotic Evil with the grand poobah himself as Lawful Evil surrounded by NE and CE cohorts wreaking havoc. If you throw in supposed occult connections of the Theistic Satanism scale you have not just a moralistically evil culture you have a Cosmically scaled evil. That's an example of a culture that alignment is easy to label.

The approach to creating a realistic culture is more complicated and should possess nuance. Orcs, for example, can maintain their more natural roots, natural world archetype including the horde for resources and conflicts with dwarves and elves by providing a history that is more than just Correlon stabbing Gruumsh's eye out blah blah. What causes real conflicts in the world? How can you apply that do the conflict in your campaign in order to run your game? Look at things like the conflicts between Scottish families or the family feuds in Appalachia or European noble houses. Have a real world explanation for those conflicts.

The cultural elements? Why do Orcs start training young for war for example? Are they known for roving mercenary bands that get hired out as their form of income? Were they once farmer who lost their lands and became mercenary lifestyles because elves, dwarves or humans took their lands in a conflict and disenfranchised them? How does that impact the story of their gods and their conflict with the elven gods?
 

Unwise

Adventurer
I'd make them Inuit probably. You have to be tough as nails to live in the frozen tundra. It supports clan bonds. They are hunting and fighting terrifying animals both at sea and on land. That supports a hunter culture and need for strength. The land and weather itself requires that you sometimes make the tough call and people have to die. A particularly hard winter or a bad migration pattern could see them moving into 'softer' lands of other folks, probably leading to conflict.
 

Crimson Terrain

Explorer
Publisher
My "good" orc society are "god" killers (99% of the gods are false pretender gods). They revere their ancestors embrace all people's who are citizens as Orcs and are highly industrial. They are still a culture of warriors but they admire wisdom in their leaders over raw power.
 

Depends how much you want to go into values dissonance. For example, much like the Mandalorians, they could be a warrior race open to anyone who can prove themselves and live according to their cultural values. They would thus be less racist than many other fantasy cultures, which would make our age look on them favorably. Elves look askance at anyone who can't prove elvish ancestors to the third generation (and introduce you to them), humans want you to be at least half-human to fit in, but anyone can be an orc if they can survive for a year and a day and fight in three battles.

We (and I'm going to go with 'Anglophone countries' for 'we' since I'm an American writing in English on a British board) haven't fought a big, existential war in a while, so we tend to look down on the usual values of warrior cultures like ferocity (indeed, the popularity of RPGs set in the preindustrial world may be a way of vicariously expressing that part of ourselves). But you could foreground other values like bravery and fortitude--as Bedrockgames suggests, perhaps paladinish, or mix that with the samurai if you want a different feel. Closeness to nature could be another one they could have that some moderns appreciate--as Vaalingrade says, they could have the best druids. You could also have them fighting something much worse--it's only the Orc Nations at the border of the Abyss that keep demons, dragons, or Cthulhoid monstrosities from overrunning the world.

What we're not going to have (unless you are specifically going counterstereotype, which is an option of course) are bookish or bureaucratic orcs. The orcish stereotype has gone from 'evil' in Tolkien to 'martial non-state societies', I'd say.

If you want to go with 'neutral' rather than 'good', you can look at the way nomadic societies were organized--after all, all the histories are written by state societies. Genghis Khan unified the Silk Road and was quite tolerant religiously--but he killed a lot of Chinese people. The Goths were just trying to stay a step ahead of the Huns when they ran into the Roman Empire, but we all know what happened next. Good? Bad? Well, speaking of gigantic melancholies and mirth, who's your chronicler? I mean, all the propaganda about orcs is obviously made up by effete elves who enslaved them three hundred years ago and greedy humans looking for cheap labor in their cities who are now trying to excuse themselves.
I find it odd you think Anglophone cultures look down on martial cultures. Indeed, coming from a non American but still Anglophone culture American culture, with its “armed citizenry”, patriotism and “respect the troops” comes across as quite martial to me. In fact some of the more milder next takes on orcs make me wonder if you wanted a “good” aligned orc society, you might not to be too far off with the United Orcish States
 


A good orc culture?

One that follows the ideals of 4e Kord, honors spirits/ancestors, and values clan and family without being judgmental.

Strength is what matters, but you don't show your strength by hurting the weak--anyone can do that. You show your strength by achieving great things, by using your strength to lead, by overcoming challenges and pushing the bounds of what is possible. Be like the storm: the speed of lightning, the power of thunder, the howl of the wind--but also the nurturing rain. Use your strength with honor.

Respect from ancestors and spirits would be high as well. The world is a beautiful thing, it should be protected, nurtured, honored, and respected. Those who came before you have carved the path, it is your responsibility to walk it, and then to carve a new path for those who will follow after you. The land gave you life; return life to the land when you can.

Blood is important. Care for those of your blood. Embrace the joy of new blood mingling with your own, should that blood prove worthy. Avenge wrongs committed against your blood as though they were against you, but hold your blood to the standard of honor you hold yourself to as well. If you cannot rely on your family by blood, build a family by choice.

If you prefer, you could simplify it to "Klingons, except their beloved cultural hero is Uncle Iroh from Avatar: the Last Airbender."
 

MGibster

Legend
I find it odd you think Anglophone cultures look down on martial cultures. Indeed, coming from a non American but still Anglophone culture American culture, with its “armed citizenry”, patriotism and “respect the troops” comes across as quite martial to me.
"Most of us don't think of America as a warrior culture, and aren't comfortable thinking about it, but we have the largest military budget in the world with bases all over the world." -- My American Cultures professor.

Unfortanately I don't think I can go into much detail for fear of running afoul of the very reasonable rules regarding political discussion here. But for orcs, I could see the nobles thanking them for their service and telling them how valorious they are and how they represent the best the Empire has to offer. But when an orc comes home minus an arm, when he no longer fits into civilian life and has no place among us, when his reward for years of service is a plot of land on the ass end of the empire he doesn't know what to do with, how much is he really valued?
 

"Most of us don't think of America as a warrior culture, and aren't comfortable thinking about it, but we have the largest military budget in the world with bases all over the world." -- My American Cultures professor.

Unfortanately I don't think I can go into much detail for fear of running afoul of the very reasonable rules regarding political discussion here. But for orcs, I could see the nobles thanking them for their service and telling them how valorious they are and how they represent the best the Empire has to offer. But when an orc comes home minus an arm, when he no longer fits into civilian life and has no place among us, when his reward for years of service is a plot of land on the ass end of the empire he doesn't know what to do with, how much is he really valued?
Sylvester Stallone Rambo GIF by IFC
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
It just keeps coming to my head that orcs would be the D&D race that invents professional sports then goes crazy about it.

Like I could see an orc teenager going into a full on tearful breakdown in the street, not beccause of a breakup but because their favorite Hardball team switched Primal Totems because the guy they just traded for is superstitious about bears. And some old scarred up orc warrior in his Owlbearz jersey walks up to her and offers her his greataxe to let off steam on one of the combat dummy situated around the town. Because he knows the feeling as well.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
“They’re big. They’re mean. They like the canteen!”
I’d see them as translating the values of the forwards in rugby (or to translate, the O line and D line in NFL) to a brutal world of monstrous foes and savage environment.
They recognise the roles of the “skill” positions in the battle against evil/ battle to survive ( scrum half, centres, wings, quarterbacks, wide receivers, corners etc) but when it comes down to it, it’s the orcs that win the game.

Or maybe I just see too much via sports glasses!
 

GreyLord

Legend
Well, bad orcs are more like Wild Boars. Very dangerous. Could kill you if you are on the ground when they rush. Ferocious. Not to be messed with, violent, and can be quite aggressive. The Big Boars are things legends are made out of by killing (such as Heracules).

Boars aren't so much evil (though with how aggressive some species are, it could be easy to say that yes, they are not just evil, they are chaotic evil) as not exactly lawful or good mannered.

Unfortunately, today's society doesn't like to be reminded that Boars really aren't humans, or humanlike. They have a different mentality. Boars do not think or act like humans. For some reason, there are those who want to assign human traits to them. Probably because we started off with furries, and then it progressed to games making or referencing Boar monsters as humans with different looks.

HOWEVER...keeping the beast mentality alive instead of the human warcraft ideas alive...

If we want to go for a "Good" type of Orc...then I'd say let them be Buffalo. Buffalo are not as aggressive as Boars are normally. You don't want to mess with them though. They may seem gentle, and they are nicer than Boars, but make no mistake, they can mess you up if you try to mess with them. They are protective of their young, and very tough creatures to be involved with. Normally, you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. They wander as a herd and care deeply for other members of the herd.

If we REALLY want to make them good, make them a herd of cows (though that may be treading on the Minotaur's stamp of approval). Cows are kind of like Big dogs sometimes (we are excluding Bulls from this, just Cows as Orcs). You don't want to try to mess with them either though, as they are pretty strong and heavy. They care for their young and can be quite loving.
 

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