Say you’re a racial god and you and the other racial gods are going to choose locations for your peoples to live. Then, say that the other gods conspired against you to leave your people homeless. Not only did they conspire against you but they had the audacity to mock you over the fact that they have worked to make sure your people have no place to call their own. What would you do? If you’re Gruumsh, you pledge that your people will make these bastards and their people pay. You will declare that your people will destroy all that those who dared mistreat them and take what was denied of them.
Now, I will say straight up that Gruumsh’s reaction lasting as long as it did was…excessive. However, he was completely justified in his reaction. I mean, the other gods basically went “haha, we made your people homeless, you’re such a loser.” What in the actual fuck, guys? I can find no lore that says anything about Gruumsh before this happened. I mean, this is a deity-enforced diaspora going on here. It also led to Gruumsh and the elven god, Corellon Larethian, having a big goddamn fight, explaining why orcs and elves hold the most hatred for each other.
Gruumsh isn’t evil. The orcs, enacting his will, end up being functionally evil but Gruumsh himself was acting to protect his people. They’d done nothing to earn eternal destitution. So what gives? If that story had happened in a game, would anyone bat an eye at the protagonist going for revenge for their people? I really doubt it.
But why continue that after however many millennia? Well, deities tend to be extreme aspects, and given the emotional nature of orcs and half-orcs, it’s pretty clear that this grudge would last as long as it has. Quite frankly, it could make an amazing story on Wizard’s part to do an adventure module based on that (Hey Mike Mearls, @ me, my dude, I got ideas) to move the orcs forward into a new era. Worst case, they could even do it heading into Sixth Edition when that happens.
In Fifth Edition, you could easily use this as a reason to make orcs more sympathetic. I mean, their entire history and culture is centered around a heaping dose of Fantastic Racism. This was even touched on in the Drizz’t novels with Obould Many-Arrows. Obould was a badass war chief who also had above average intelligence even by human standards. It allowed his rage to cool some and he could view a bigger picture than purely eat, sleep, conquer, repeat. He ended up forming an actual kingdom, making treaties and alliances with dwarves. The actions confused many orcs but, amazingly, Obould became an exarch (sort of like an avatar paladin) of Gruumsh, earning the title “Obould-Who-Is-Gruumsh.” So, clearly, if this war chief who became not only a king, but a peaceful king, received such an amazing blessing, maybe, just maybe, Gruumsh’s rage isn’t as single minded as once thought.
So, DMs and players alike, consider this the next time a potential orc slaughter comes up. Sure, defend the town but maybe, just maybe, add in some sympathy for the orcs, make an effort to move beyond this brutal savage view of orcs. Because Gruumsh wasn’t evil. Gruumsh, and thus the orcs, was wronged immensely. You could easily look to the Ondonti for concrete proof. Though the Forgotten Realms wiki claims they are “cousins” to the orcs, they’re still orcs. And they lived in peace as farmers and hunters, worshiping Eldath, the goddess of peace (as an aside, I loved finding out about this as I had come up with an idea for an orc paladin of the ancients who worshiped Eldath).
The real problem is that nothing has allowed Gruumsh’s rage to cool. The PHB says that half-orcs always feel his presence in the back of their minds, that their orcish heritage forever leaves his mark on them, just as it does their full-blooded parents. Gruumsh’s rage, being the rage of a racial god, spills out into his children, continuously burning through the ages. Gruumsh’s rage can, quite aptly, be compared to a tire fire. Long burning, spewing black smoke, and utterly toxic. It’s Gruumsh’s rage that must be cooled, maybe even extinguished outright, for the orcs to move on.
Gruumsh and his children are not evil. They’ve just been blinded by an unending rage, created by an evil act by other gods. It’s probably that orcs will always be fierce warriors, but, there is no reason they could not be more as well given the proper circumstances.
What are you thoughts, folks? Agree? Disagree? Counter argument? Supplement? Let me know! With this base laid out, orcs, half-orcs, and Gruumsh, we’re going to look at homebrew tweak to orcs and half-orcs, to expand on these points. Next time, though, we’ll be looking at notable orcs in D&D, both in official lore and famous campaigns like The Adventure Zone.