Monday, August 20, 2018

Monster Monday - Orcs

Today I want to delve deep into orcs. They are a creature that has changed greatly over time, and I want to explore 1974-2018. (Art to the right used under license from Fat Goblin Games.)

Orcs are some of the oldest monsters in D&D. In Monsters & Treasure, only men and goblins (and kobolds, using the stats of goblins) are listed before orcs. Orcs have a negative to hit in sunlight, as goblins. Some people speculate that orcs are a goblinoid race because of this. Note: orcs and goblins both appear on the "giant" tables in M&M. They lair in villages and caves, create defenses and use catapults. They also, apparently, transport large amounts of gold frequently. These caravans are led by Fighting Men and Magic-Users. From playing in Castle Greyhawk (run by Paul Stromburg from Gary's notes,) I know that Gary often used orcs as rank-and-file in the early level of dungeons.
Rob Kuntz was known to use forces of orcs under the control of Robilar. Notably, he killed a whole tribe while working his way through the Tomb of Horrors.

In 1E orcs get a bit more descriptive. Paraphrasing the Monster Manual, orcs are fiercely competitive, bullies, cruel and hateful. They harbor a deep hatred for elves in particular, slaying them when others would be taken as slaves or food. In 1E, they speak several languages (orc, goblin, hobgoblin and ogre.)

In 2E, orcs get a publicist, apparently. Their description changes from the total evil of 1e to (again, paraphrasing):
aggressive mammalian carnivores that hunt and raid to survive. They need to expand territory to survive and constantly war with PC races. Orc language now becomes defined (using archaic human words) and only some orcs speak other languages (notably common, goblin, hobgoblin and ogre.)
Orcs are aggressive in 2E, often breaking alliances. They still take slaves in 2E and believe that bullying is the right of the strong.

In 3.5 we see the first alignment shift. The MM entry states "often chaotic evil." Dwarves are now mentioned as racial enemies, alongside elves. They still take slaves and war continuously. Otherwise, little changes between 2 and 3.X.

4E has little other than mechanics in the MM. "Orcs worship gruumsh, the one-eyed god of slaughter and are savage, bloodthirsty marauders. They plague the civilized races of the world and also fight among themselves for scraps of food and treasure." Orcs have lost the negative to hit in sunlight in 4E.

5E orcs have a much better background write-up than in 4E. A full page of text is dedicated to how orcs behave. Again, they have racial hatred of elves (but not dwarves.) They are given some much better motivation. In 5E orcs respect power, especially physical power. They allow any creature of strength to join their tribes and often work for evil giants.

Over time, orcs have changed in public perception as well. Two examples that move the scales from orcs being an embodiment of chaos are the Elder Scrolls series and the Warcraft series. In these video games, orcs are often portrayed as victims of attacks on their homes and not the attackers. This can be used to create unexpected encounters with a staple baddy.

Amalgamating the knowledge from above, I want to build an orc stronghold, like I did with the troglodyte last week.

First, let's build the encounter list. Orcs (duh), ogres (because of common language,) and we'll have them led by a hill giant as a nod to 5E. Because I use S&W (a 0E clone) I will make their home a series of caves. They also need slaves and non-combatants to lend verisimilitude.

Encounter #1: The orcs have set up a ballista and palisade around the entrance to their lair. 6 orcs typically guard the entrance. However, they are lazy and will not take the duties seriously. The PCs can sneak by or eliminate these creatures if they are stealthy.

Encounter #2: The training room usually holds 4-6 orcs and an ogre. They are alert and ready to fight, but sounds of battle from this chamber are common, so no reinforcements from other areas will be immediate.

Encounter #3: The cooking area houses mostly non-combatant females and young. For added spice, you can add a young ogre who fights like an orc. Reinforcements will show up if combat happens here.

Encounter #4: Slave quarters has a few badly injured/beaten/malnourished humans or halflings. Two to four orcs guard them. Reinforcements do not come for combat in this area.

Encounter #5: The remaining ogres quarter here. Two ogres and four orcs are playing a variant of dominoes when the PCs enter the cave. These creatures are the ones first to reinforce any combats.

Encounter #6: This area is the orcs sleeping and privacy area. Several males and non-combatant females will be here, albeit not ready to fight. The males will reinforce other areas several rounds later.

Encounter #7: The hill giant, Grakan, resides over this small outpost from here. He has a throne and several elite orcs as guards.


  1. New take on Orcs. Read the book Grunts

  2. Grunts was great. A supplement called Underground Races by ICE has a fantastic write up and interesting take on orcs and their society. Worth looking for.