The advice in the back of the Orc section mentions how to play orcs without the “evil army” motif. BWHQ suggests keeping Hatred even if you do. Ever wonder how one might do that?
Quinn Murphy’s been talking about reinterpreting fantasy orcs on Twitter (excerpted and edited below):
A central theme to most orcish cultures is “The Fight”. The Fight represents the neverending struggle against a hostile world. Orcs are born into the Fight. They may leave the Fight by abandoning orcish ways. Not even death is respite from the Fight! Because of the Fight, orcs do not recognize themselves as being in wars or conflicts with others --orcs are always at war. [W]hether with the environment, magical beasts of the wild, or civilized society, orcs must always fight. Their goals: Live, and Celebrate… [T]o the outside, [orcs] look like a warrior culture, but most orcish cultures think of themselves as survivor cultures.
In BW terms, this lines up pretty perfectly with Hatred. Hatred is the dark side of struggle, the way your accumulate suffering and frustration can eat at you the same way that elven Grief does. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of their society, but an indelible part of who they are, and orcs respect it and dread it and fight against it the way dwarves fight Greed. To give into Hatred is to become a creature of evil, unable to truly live or celebrate because the Fight has taken over too much of your life.
In many ways Orcish society is set up to restrict and channel Hatred. Dysfunctionally, yes, because those redirecting the Hatred are the ones most likely to be brimming over with hate themselves, but the discipline of the lash helps keep everyone (barely) struggling in the same direction.
I often seen orcs, especially younger orcs, as tragic figures in Burning Wheel.
Orcs are the abused becoming abusers incarnate. I always see orcs as the ultimate form of the cycle of violence and bullying. But, by playing young orcs attempting to escape, you can be more naieve and therefore less likely to try to destroy themselves and others, and attempting to escape this cycle.
Having the entire culture be less evil requires redefining how you feel about the role of specific lifepaths, and how influential the Servants are (since definitionally, they are insane and slightly genocidial). However if you assume the Named and Great are engaged in petty squabbles using their Head Takers and Whisperers to gain power over other Named and Great, you might just have some fairly Klingon-like beings.
I am also a big fan of the ambitious orc. The orc that hates their place in society, and so would like to destroy all demihumanity that isn’t an orc. Still will engage in Flights of Murderous Fancy but that will be more something they indulge in, rather than part of life.
Basically - deciding how you feel hate and lifepaths works matters.
This is the exact reason that “play a heroic Orc in Burning Wheel” is on my bucket list. It’s a wildly compelling character arc. You want to be one thing, but everything that’s been bred into you is telling you to be something else.