Table of Contents
Orcs are notoriously ugly, vicious, and cruel. Because of their penchant to crossbreed with other races and to live in isolated tribes, orcs vary widely in appearance. They are rarely shorter than 4'5" or taller than 6', but they range everywhere in between and the shape of their bodies varies widely. Their skin ranges from green, to brown, to gray and shades in between. Most orcs do have fangs or tusks of some sort, lupine ears, red eyes, claw hands, and an aggressive temperament. They are generally very disorganized and destructive, reveling in cruelty and suffering. Orcs hate bright light and the sun (they are dazzled by it) but can see quite well in darkness (60' darkvision). Their forms are twisted and humans tend to find them among the most unlovely of the dark races. They are, however, naturally quite strong, with this trait seemingly being passed down from the orcish parent even in crossbreeds, but their weak will and hideous appearance hampers them in any endeavor that is not related to fighting. Orcs generally have a fairly short life span (40 to 50 years if allowed to die of natural causes, which is rare) but breed quickly when directed to do so by the dark forces. Their gestation period ranges from 9 months to 6.5 months when the dark will is active.
There are many varieties of orcs, because of interbreeding and tribal isolation. Most of these differences are simply cosmetic; for example, sloped foreheads, long arms, and gray skin might characterize one tribe, while warts, green skin, and tusks might characterize another tribe. There are, though, several substantially different sub-races of orcs, most of which have been bred by some dark lord in the depths of time. One major sub-race often seen in the Hinterlands of Farland is the Great Orcs, called by themselves Oluks. These giant orcs are smarter and stronger than their lesser brethren, serving as captains in orcish armies and leaders in orcish societies. These great orcs are much more homogenous in appearance: they usually have black or gray skin, small fangs, and an upright appearance. They are fierce fighters and sometimes even become clerics and spell casters. They are unaffected by the sun.
Out of the foul spawning pits of the Eastern orc-city of Gorug comes another rare orcish race: the Irzuk, the Red-Skinned Orcs of the Vale, who are known for their sense of smell. These strange orcs have a natural hearty resistance to cold and most of them can be found in the Nameless City where lurks the evil known as the Dweller in the Vale. Others whisper of an even fouler breed of orcs, the Bazok, berserk crosses between orcs and trolls that regenerate any damage to their disgusting forms.
Orcs have little in the way of written history, being a generally illiterate culture. Most of orcish history consists of endless wars, sparked by fights for land or resources, but generally simply motivated by desire for conquest and destruction. Because of the darkness that clouds their past, scholars do not even know where the orcish race comes from, although tomes in the ancient libraries of the Far City state that orcs were once another race, which fell through internal flaws into corruption of spirit and body. Exactly what race or races they sprang from is not known, but the obstinate refusal of Elven scholars to address this issue might provide some clue. Orcish legends tell of a once great orc-nation called Rothnog, located near present day Kelerak. Orcs claim that this state was the most powerful country ever to exist; they brag that it is responsible for the destruction of the first Dwarfhold of Liferock, and they claim that it would still rule the land if it had not fallen as a result of internal strife.
Besides the ancient Kingdoms of Rothnog and Stor-gris, the only cities that orcs could historically call their own were Gorug and Haigrog (Orc-haven), the two ancestral holdings of the orc race. For many thousands of years these cities have existed, mostly as crude settlements, and they have been sacked and burned numerous times, and as many times by orcs as by other races. Until the victory of the Wintervale approximately 350 years ago, the Dweller periodically used nearly every resident of these cities in the perpetual Western Wars, which the orcs called the Wars of Orc-Pain, and as such the communities remained crude and barbaric. After the Dark Conquest, the denizens of these two cities were left in relative peace, which they promptly used to wage war on each other. Neither city was interested in decimating its population in reckless onslaughts, however, and as such they turned to solutions that were subtler, at least for orcs. The oluk leaders of Gorug developed a secret breeding plan, to create specialized orcs and dark folk to completely destroy the enemy city. The Denizens of Orc-haven, on the other hand, cultivated the ability to create machines and engines of war. They created devices to hurl fire and rock long distances, devices to use against infantry, and gigantic self-propelled towers to scale walls. In the process of this strange arms race, these two cities developed something of a culture rare among orcs, even in the conquered and more civilized lands. They each developed ruling classes and even written histories and plans. The ruling caste of Gorug is the Leg-Breakers and the ruling tribe of Orc-haven is the Red Fangs, and both of these clans are responsible for the written records of their city. Luckily for the rest of Farland, and perhaps even for the Wintervale, the perpetual strife between these two cities retards their cultural and military progress, and both cities are still under the sway of the Nameless City and still provide troops if they are called upon to do so.
Besides their origin, the histories of their ancestral cities, and the never ending Western wars, the only other point of note in orcish history is the point of their ultimate victory: the Dark Conquest. Centuries ago the cunning of the Dweller in the Vale managed finally to enable the defeat of the good kingdoms, and orcs took up residence in the homes of their enemies. They promptly begin lording it over the vanquished humans, enslaving them, confiscating their property, and generally running amok. Only the small wisdom of their masters has stopped them from squandering all of the resources of the defeated lands, which would have resulted in the starvation of both their own race as well as the newly-enslaved human and demi-human races.
Orcish society is patriarchal, and might makes right on an individual scale and a social one. The only laws that are enforced are done so through direct displays of power and fear. Orcs tend to be very disorganized, and they live by a credo of avoiding pain while causing it in others at any opportunity. They are invariably greedy, grasping, brutal, and even cannibalistic. Orcs in the wild are quite barbaric, living tribally and engaging in ceaseless warfare with all nearby creatures, even other tribes. They give their tribes violent names such as the Blood-Drinkers and the Bone Crushers. These tribes tend to distinguish themselves by a unique tendency to do something unpleasant. For example, one tribe might collect grisly trophies, while another tribe might carve their mark or symbol into the flesh of their enemies, living or dead. These tribes have no formal hierarchy and are simply ruled by Chieftains or Bosses.
Orcs have also been living in the conquered civilized cities, the foremost of which is the Far City or Gurz-goi in orcish. Orcs have been forced by their leaders in these cities to adopt a more civilized lifestyle; they must serve regularly as guards, and some have even taken up human trades such as trading or blacksmithing. The ruler of any orc city is known as a Hoth, second only to one of the Lords of Sin, called the Big Bosses by the orcs. These city orcs have come to be called Civilized Orcs, and they have grown to hate the orcs of the wilderness, whom they call Wild Orcs (the favored class of a civilized orc is fighter). Orcs from the conquered cities often undertake extermination attacks against the disorganized orcs of the wild. Because both groups of orcs practice slavery, the Civilized Orcs often capture Wild Orcs and keep them as slaves. This practice of the city orcs has created in the occupied kingdoms dangerous clans of wandering bandit-orcs, made up of refugees from the wild tribes as well as escaped slaves. These bands are enemies of both humans and orcs, and will fight wildly to avoid capture or death.
Orcs do have rituals and customs among their race, all of which involve violence or blood shed in some sense. For example, any command by one orc to another must swiftly be followed by a cuff or a blow, or the lower orc is bound to disobey, taking the order as a joke. Only pain will drive the point home to the subservient orc that the order is a serious matter. One of the main rituals among the orcs is a coming of age ritual; a young orc warrior must defeat and often slay an older warrior in order to take his place in the tribe. For this reason, male orcs will often slay their own male offspring unless prevented by their leaders. Slaying offspring is illegal among orcs for obvious reasons, but it is nonetheless difficult to prevent. Luckily for the race, male orcs are born at a rate of two to one, or the species might die out. Orcs can also move up in the ranks by fighting the orc who currently occupies the desired position.
Besides these battle rituals, the orcs have few other customs. They do not marry, and indeed generally keep their females locked in a spawning pit, to which the strongest orcs jealously guard access. They reward loyalty or fierceness in combat with a visit to these pits. They do not enjoy music and the only instruments they play are drums and horns, but they employ them only in a military capacity. They have little by way of art and generally do not appreciate beautiful things at all, although they do take pleasure in defacing buildings, objects, and statues with graffiti. In a sense, they even do the same to their own bodies, as many tribes purposefully scar themselves; the medicine they employ is known to result in horrid scars to any wound to which it is applied, although it does tend to speed the healing process. Other races do tattoo themselves, although their work is purposefully unattractive and ugly. They do chant, although they do not sing, but the chants they employ always relate to war and generally are used to keep cadence for marching troops. The following is an example of a typical orc-chant.
Onward, dogs, to strife, to war
Whips at back drive feet that's sore
With gnash of tusk and fire that's red
No resting now unless you're dead.
Gralar! Gralay! With blood and clash of steel!
Yahoy! Yahay! We fight for our next meal!
No pause, no cease, no give or retreat
Fight on in cold or wretched heat!
They tell us fight for Hoth and Hai
I say be damned until you die
No light no water for another day
Who needs that claptrap anyway?
Broken tusk and aching back
We battle now, cities to sack
And Then we crawl back to the pit
Your death and doom in blood is writ!
Onward, dogs, to strife, to war
Whips at back drive feet that's sore
With gnash of fang and fire that's red
Life is pain and then you're dead!
Gralay! Gralar! Yahay! Yahar!
Orcs drink a disgusting concoction called Orc Blood Grog, made from spiced and fermented blood; horse blood is preferred, but human blood will do fine. Orcs in general speak a debased language made from a core language originally taught to them by the Dweller, and mixed in over the years with words borrowed liberally from other languages. This language, called the Black Speech, is heavy with words for pain, violence, and torture, and almost bereft of words pertaining to light, beauty, and art.
Orcs in general are not religious; being that their life is a so grim, they generally feel that they have little to be thankful for. Their oluk masters, however, force them to attend worship on a regular basis, that the power of the dark god Vornoth might not wane. An orcish worship service consists of sacrifice of some animal or sentient creature, after which the orcs eat the still wriggling creature raw, liberally splashing themselves with blood. The orcs are driven through the steps of the service with whips and shouts, though, so they find little pleasure even in this orgy of violence. After the service, the orcish clerics lead the orcs in a prayer to Vornoth-Walker-in-Darkness, a prayer that the orcish troops never remember from one service to the next. Part of this is to be blamed on their poor memories and low intelligence, but some of it is truly due to the fact that the clerics themselves often change the prayer because they too forget part of it. A typical orcish prayer might resemble this:
Oh Dark One
Oh Bat Lord
Grant us food
Grant us air
Grant us victory
Slay our enemies
Tear their flesh
Gouge their eyes
Smash their bones
Save their blood
For us to drink.
In slaying our enemies
Do not slay us
That we might fall
Under sword and blade
In your service.
The one thing that orcs do well is wage war. Orcs themselves are quite undisciplined and generally, after a quick arrow volley, charge in a disorganized mob towards the enemy, blowing horns and shouting wildly. An organized army can generally repulse them with only small effort. Much more dangerous are orcish armies directed by Oluk orcs. In these armies, the smaller orcs, called snogs or "slaves" by the oluks, are welded into organized battalions that attack with at least a semblance of order. Even still, orcs rely on their numbers and their wild assaults to win the day. Although orcs do forge poor equipment, they prefer to loot their arms from fallen foes and will fight with whatever armor and weapons they can scavenge. If given the choice, they tend to favor serrated black scimitars and short bows or javelins, but spears and axes are a second choice. Oluk orcs fight with broad hand-and-a-half swords, and favor short and longbows as well as crossbows. Oluks often tire of wasting their time sending snogs to do their dirty work, and they thus gather in small war bands to tackle tougher foes. These bands, which attack using well-executed tactics, are downright fearsome. It is certain that a war boss employs a bodyguard of oluks. The over-generals of orcish armies are called Hoths; the under-generals are called Hais; the Captains are called Higdums, and the foot soldiers are called snogs. Orcs never ride horses and thus orcish armies rarely employ cavalry; their only mounted troops generally consist of goblins mounted on Worgs. Orcish armies also rarely employ archers, pike men, or otherwise specialized units. Each infantryman carries a bow and fulfills the role of an archer as the occasion demands.
Uniqueness of Farland Orcs
Orcs in Farland are unique because they apparently have a built in capacity to be directed or controlled from a distance. Each Lord of Sin has apparently been instilled with a power that has come to be known as the Dark Will, the ability to send general orders to all evil creatures in his domain. Orcs are particularly susceptible to this compelling force. The Will cannot give specific orders, such as to recover a certain items, but it can direct groups of orcs to head in a certain direction, to go to war, to harry travelers, or to loot and burn. When Orcs under the dark will are directed to go to war, they begin to breed at a prodigious rate, producing massive amounts of soldiers for the evil armies; their gestation period, normally a full 9 months, drops to a mere 6.5 months. When not directed to breed by the Dark Will, orcs breed only about as fast as humans. (Orc and other dark folk PCs can sense when the Dark Will is active, but they cannot tell specifically what its commands are. Neither are they compelled by it.)