Orcs: A Fantasy Staple (Part 1: Lore)

*Surprise! It’s another two-parter! Turns out, a lot of the monsters in the O section have multiple entire pages dedicated to lore and stats. So we’ll cover the first one here and the other later. Also, there won’t be a design segment here since we all know what to expect from orcs in fantasy. With all that said, let’s begin.*

He worked his serrated long knife savagely, tearing out the king’s throat to the howls of approval from his legions. The ferocious orc didn’t stop there, digging and ripping the blade back and forth unrelentingly until he took the head off the dwarf king’s shoulders.

An account of War Chief Hartusk’s brutality in the aftermath of the Battle of the Cold Vale

That might just be the most hardcore decapitation scene I’ve ever read.

Lore: Savage Conquerors of the Material Plane

Orcs are among the most savage raiders in the Material Plane. They believe that their god, Gruumsh, had tried to claim land for them long ago in a gathering of the gods, but all the lands he wished to give them were already claimed. When the other gods laughed at Gruumsh, he bellowed a mighty roar, hefted his spear, and laid waste to all the land. This is the purpose of the orcs: to lay waste to all before them and claim the world by force. Thus began their endless war against all other races of the world.

They have a particular hatred for the elves. Stories say that the elven god, Corellon Larethian put an arrow through Gruumsh’s eye, half-blinding the orc god. Since then, it has become a gruesome ritual of the orcs for the boldest among them to pluck out an eye in search of Gruumsh’s favor. To those brave enough to actually perform the deed, the god more than happily delivers.

Orc tribes satisfy their bloodlust by plundering villages and driving off – or devouring – those who reside in them. Once the savagery is done, they’ll pick it clean for all its food and wealth. Then they’ll burn it all to the ground and head straight home.

Because of their insatiable desire for blood, orcs always dwell within striking distance of their prey. As such, they very rarely settle down; instead, they’ll fortify ruins, caverns, or villages they’ve conquered into their strongholds. They build entirely for defense; the closest thing they have to decoration is how they’ll mount the severed body parts of their victims on the walls.

Once a territory’s resources have been expended, the tribe will divide into bands and scout in different directions. After some time, they’ll return to their grounds with trophies and news. Together, they’ll choose the most valuable of their plunderings, then go to raid the land from whence it came. Though sometimes an orc leader simply decides to stay in their territory and expand it.

Orc tribes are mostly patriarchal, with their members flaunting simple but grotesque titles. Sometimes, however, a war chief will arise to unite multiple tribes into a rampaging horde under their rule. Power and strength is the greatest virtue of the orcs; as such, they’ll welcome creatures like ogres, trolls, half-orcs, and orogs into their ranks. They’ll even serve evil giants, as they fear their tremendous power.

Despite their hatred for the other races of the world, orcs reproduce like rabbits. Their goddess, Luthic, wife of Gruumsh, demands them to procreate without discrimination. As such, there are many half-orcs in the world. More terrifying is the ogrillion, a half-orc half-ogre.

The war chief of an orc tribe is the strongest and most cunning of their numbers. So long as they command the fear of their lessers, the reign of a war chief is endless. War chiefs who prove themselves exceptional are blessed by Gruumsh, thus becoming even more powerful.

Most savage of all the war chiefs is King Obould ‘Many-Arrows’. Smarter and stronger than most other orcs, he killed his chieftain and took control of the tribe. From there, he formed a horde of thousands of orcs in battle, carving out his own kingdom in the Spine of the World. Eventually, he brokered a peace treaty with his enemies. None know whether this was a clever ploy for time or if the fearsome chief has forsaken his god.

If you need a main antagonist for your campaign: there you go.

Should an orc slay an elf and offer its corpse to Gruumsh, an avatar of the god might appear before it. That avatar will demand the sacrifice of one of the orc’s eyes. If the orc fulfills its request, Gruumsh will bless it with the ability to cast spells and bestow upon it the title of Eye of Gruumsh. Some of these act as advisors to war chiefs. Others simply take their religious zealots and throw themselves into bloody battle for their god.

Not all orcs are mindless killing machines. Some possess a keen intellect, which the orcs believe to be a blessing from Luthic, their goddess. These orcs, called orogs, are respected by regular orcs; often, they become war chiefs. A deadlier leader the orcs will never know; even the most brilliant of men and elves may be deceived by an orog. However, few tribes will actually seek them out, as common orcs feel threatened by the orog’s intellect and cunning.

Unlike other orcs, orogs have no emotional connection to anything beyond their gods. They are cold and heartless killing machines. As such, they are a terrifying force on the battlefield. Some orogs, those most mistrusted by the orcs, form their own mercenary bands, selling themselves off to the highest bidder. Because of this, many an evil wizard or villainous tyrant may have an army of orogs under their command.

That’s a wrap on the lore. And holy hell, what a dense block of lore! The story-telling potential these guys have is absolutely insane! From small side-quests to entire campaigns, you can weave so many stories focusing on the orcs!

Perhaps the party are caught in the midst of the conquest of Obould ‘Many-Arrows’ and get pulled into the war. Maybe they’re facing an evil sorcerer who hired a mercenary band of orogs. Or the party could face-off against a tribe to protect a helpless village. There’s a ton of potential here!

The question is: will they be as fun to fight as they are to write? And we’ll answer that…

… next week. I’m tired.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: