Another Kind of Orc

A couple friends and I are starting up a short Orc-based campaign, and I’ve been doing some work on modifying the Orc flavor that we’ll be working with. For anyone who’d like a little something different for their Orcs, here are some ideas:

Orc society is first and foremost a meritocracy. All orcs are born cowards, fearful and weak (there is no such thing as Born Great). Their society, however, is based around the overcoming of their natural proclivities, and becoming great warriors nonetheless. Orcs despise the hereditary leaderships of the other races, believing it to raise weak, indecisive kings. Orcs prize fearsomeness and cunning in a leader.

As children, Orcs train for years to pass the Oc’Nil-gauthan, or “Long Walk”: an adulthood ritual whereby young Orcs must travel through the hellish landscape of the Neathmire to hunt and live aboveground for three months to prove their worth. Those who pass are granted full citizen- and warrior-hood (male and female alike). Those who fail but live become the slaves that power the massive tribal war machine of the Orcs. About one-fifth pass the Oc’Nil-gauthan, another two fifths perish, and the last two fifths become slaves in disgrace (the new “Longwalker” lifepath replaces “The Rites” functionally; see below). The navigation aboveground is disorienting for Orcs: to move about, they use cultural landmarks referenced in their wild singing tradition, so that a knowledgeable Orc can pass over hundreds of unfamiliar miles simply by singing his tribe’s songs in the correct order.

Orcs who fail the Oc’Nil-Gauthan, or never even attempt it, are broken creatures. They have failed the most important test, and the rest of their lives are spent in servitude to gain forgiveness from their ancestors. Any slave may attempt the Oc’Nil-gauthan a second time, but very few do; such exertion and ambition is beyond them.

Orc names are self-given, and only after passing the Oc’Nil-gauthan. These names are phrases representing the Orc’s skills or accomplishments: Rat-Bane, Beats-the-Drum, Sinew-Sender, Folds-Steel, Climbs-Stone, etc. These names are an implicit challenge to any who question the legitimacy of the title. Many Orcs find themselves in battles to the death over names.

Orc society at its heart is about self-betterment. Orcs all know what it is like to be born weak and disadvantaged. They prize skill after hard work and perseverance rather than inborn talent. The way of blood comes first, but Orcs consistently produce engineers, scientists, and craftsmen of stunning quality because of their societal bent on improvement (and leisure time granted by mass-slavery).

Orcs are brilliant miners, and their cities are built underground in labyrinthine caverns. Orcs are keen, however, to have more dealings with the sun-folk; Orcs may purchase Enemy of the Sun for 2 trait points instead of 3.

The Orcs who pass the Oc’Nil-gauthan are ambitious and clever creatures. While war is constant with other Orc tribes, Orcs are surprisingly patient and peaceful in their dealings with the other races. The wars that do break out are long and bloody, which has lent Orcs a poor reputation that their hideous visage does nothing to aid. However, Orcs see much to be gained, and much to be exploited in the less disciplined, weaker races. They would wait, trade, and build strength rather than war with the other races. At least, so far. . .

New lifepath:

Longwalker 3 yrs 3 +1 M,P Legion, Servant of the Dark
Skills: 6 pts: Singing, Stealthy, Hunting, Brawling, Foraging
Traits: 2 pts: Life is Death, Sprinter
Special: Longwalker can be taken as a lead from any Orc lifepath. It replaces “The Rites” for any requirement purposes. Roll a die of fate. On a 1-2, the Walk left its mark; take the Scarred character trait. This roll is in addition to any Brutal Life rolls.

Ruling Notes:


I get the feeling that these orcs would believe in the karmic wheel / rebirth. Would that fit?

(Slaves basically do short & hard penance, knowing a new chance will be given them if they just pay off the karmic debt from failing the walk).

How do these orcs interact with dwarves?

Tobias, I see where you’re coming from, but karmic cycles don’t jive well for me when considering that the defining feature of Orcs is their hatred for the entire world. Orcs don’t think very much about what happens after death. They have a vague sense that their ancestors are watching and judging them, but generally speaking after death, you’re dead. I intentionally wanted the Oc’Nil-gauthan to be the be-all and end-all of Orc society; there is no hope for those who fail. It’s important to me for Orcs to have as hard a lot a possible, for that is what makes them strong. They would say that the notion of rebirth corrupts the will, so that you would always be thinking of second chances, rather than focusing on the only chance you’ve got.

I haven’t thought much about the interactions of other races yet, but I can make some extrapolations. Both Dwarves and Orcs are miners, so there is inevitable conflict in that. However, where Dwarves emphasize craftsmanship, Orcs emphasize war. Orcs think that Dwarves are far too concentrated on the material world; Orcs have no concept of greed the way that Dwarves do. Orcs will always prize simplicity and functionality rather than aesthetics. Dwarves refuse to suffer any Orcs to traverse their halls, and indeed are even more hostile to Orcs than are the Elves, the “purer” cousins of the Orcs.

I think I need to flesh out my overall setting more before I can draw a harder line than that, though.