Orcs have been with D&D since the very beginning, when they looked like boar people, with snouts and tusks. The original inspiration was, like a lot of early D&D, Tolkien’s works. They have always been portrayed as brute savages only concerned with pillaging, raiding, and strength. In Fifth Edition, this is still very much the case but these days, more and more people are growing less interested in that view. Let’s take a look at some of those details.
The Fifth Edition Monster Manual starts out saying, “Orcs arc savage raiders and pillagers with stooped postures, low foreheads, and piggish faces with prominent lower canines that resemble tusks.” In short, a race of monsters. In the details, it goes on to explain that orcs form tribes and tribes basically flow out like locusts, destroying and picking clean the ruined settlements. Orcs respect only one thing: strength. Orc leaders are the strongest, toughest, and (technically) smartest of a tribe. Particularly strong war chiefs are able to gather scattered tribes together into a proper horde.
All of this is commanded by their chief deity, Gruumsh. It’s important to understand just why Gruumsh demands such bloodthirsty ways. It’s said that in ancient times, the gods gathered together to hold a lottery to distribute the lands among their children. The other gods conspired to rob Gruumsh of a home for his orcs. He named the mountains but the dwarves had claimed them already. He named the forests but they were already taken by the elves. As he went down through choices, each one had been claimed and the other gods mocked him for it. In his fury, Gruumsh stabbed the world with his spear creating caves and destroying the lands, proclaiming that his orcs would destroy and/or take what was denied to them. (Keep Gruumsh in mind, we’ll be discussing him in a later post.)
In addition, Luthic, Gruumsh’s wife and goddess of fertility, commanded the orcs to “be fruitful and multiple” in a major way. This, honestly, presents ideas for a lot of homebrew with regards to Half-Orcs, given that the monster manual flat says they can breed with any race (which we will discuss in the next post). Of course, given their plague-like status, this also perpetuates the idea that all half-orcs are products of rape. That facet has spurned a lot of folks on to do away with it outright. No one wants to play a hero with that big of a chip on their shoulder.
With that kind of history and culture, it’s clear the orcs never had a chance of being more than living vengeance. So even now, a DM can roll up a tribe of orc warriors to hurl into the weapons of their players. Some see this as a proud D&D tradition, while, as I mentioned before, many would like to move past this. Though, as things are now, orcs are still a force to be reckoned with. The average orc npc begins with a strength and constitution score of 16, while war chiefs are bumped up with 18/18 and a whopping 16 in Charisma, for obvious reasons. They’re a tried and true humanoid race to have players fight against, with a full history of being early level antagonists.
I hope that serves a good introduction to orcs in Fifth Edition. Along with the Monster Manual, you can find a much more in depth explanation in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, which details their gods individually as well as further expanding on their culture. Come back next time when we break into the can of worms that is Half-Orcs.