Orctober: Orcs and Half-Orcs Revised for 5E

It’s Orctober and this year, we’ve been looking at orcs and half-orcs in Dungeons & Dragons 5E. We’ve had an introduction to both and an introduction to the orc god, Gruumsh, leading us to the aspect we’ll be discussing today: Orcs are still a chaotic race of evil. I hope that, eventually, Wizards of the Coast will rectify this matter. The building blocks are there in their own lore, so it could be done with minimal retconning, if any at all. Between Obould Many-Arrows, the Ondonti, heroic half-orc player characters, and some of the examples of notable orcs in high profile games, it wouldn’t be difficult at all.

As far as playing goes, there is almost no reason to play an orc over a half-orc. On top of the features in each race, the stats PC Orcs are given in Volo’s Guide to Monsters include an Intelligence penalty of -2. Naturally, I got to wondering if this couldn’t be fixed. I could make some corrections to orcs and a few tweaks to half-orcs, as well. As a basis, I’ll be using James Musicus’s homebrew guide. I’ll list the racial features as seen in their respective books, and then break it down. At the end will be a PDF detailing all the changes with some lore/flavor text for good measure.

Okay, so, Volo’s lists Orc stats as follows:

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2, your Constitution score increases by 1, and your Intelligence score is reduced by 2.
Age. All Orcs reach adulthood at age 12 and live up to 50 years.
Alignment. Orcs are vicious raiders, who believe that the world should be theirs. They also respect strength above all else and believe the strong must bully the weak to ensure that weakness does not spread like a disease. They are usually chaotic evil.
Size. Orcs are usually over 6 feet tall and weigh between 230 and 280 pounds. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Aggressive. As a bonus action, you can move up to your speed toward an enemy of your choice that you can see or hear. You must end this move closer to the enemy than you started.
Menacing. You are trained in the Intimidation skill.
Powerful Build. You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Orc.

As stated, I dislike the intelligence dip SO MUCH. So here’s what we’re gonna do. It’s gone. And given that orcs are big, strong, and they can take a beating, we’re gonna buff their CON score to +2.

Alignment, psh, fuck this shit. Orcs are just as varied as everyone else, with a tendency towards chaotic only. I’d say frame them more like Goliaths, in that they have an emphasis on self-sufficiency and independence. This still fits with established lore, and also allows for potentially shifting Gruumsh and Co.’s behavior later on (as a side note, I am seriously debating doing an adventure module for just this thing).

Then you have their racial traits. We’ll keep Aggression. It’s a good, solid trait. Obviously, darkvision stays. What’s next? Well, paired with Aggression, Savage Attacks goes quite well and, frankly, so does Relentless Endurance. So, if you drop Powerful Build for Savage Attacks and Relentless, you end up with a race that’ll put the fear of the gods into folks, especially when playing martial roles. With these tweaks, the orcs would be on par with dwarves and elves (especially mountain dwarves).

Now, to get a basic idea for how we’ll change Half-Orcs, we first need to look at Humans, along with Half-Elves, as well. Humans are built as follows:

Ability Score Increase. Your ability scores each increase by 1.
Age. Humans reach adulthood in their late teens and live less than a century.
Alignment. Humans tend toward no particular alignment. The best and the worst are found among them.
Size. Humans vary widely in height and build, from barely 5 feet to well over 6 feet tall. Regardless of your position in that range, your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and one extra language of your choice.
Variant Human:
Ability Score Increase.
Two different ability scores of your choice increase by 1.
Skills. You gain proficiency in one skill of your choice.
Feat. You gain one feat of your choice.

Meanwhile, Half-Elves read:

Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 2, and two other ability scores of your choice increase by 1.
Age. Half-elves mature at the same rate humans do and reach adulthood around the age of 20. They live much longer than humans, however, often exceeding 180 years.
Alignment. Half-elves share the chaotic bent of their elven heritage. They value both personal freedom and creative expression, demonstrating neither love of leaders nor desire for followers. They chafe at rules, resent others’ demands, and sometimes prove unreliable, or at least unpredictable.
Size. Half-elves are about the same size as humans, ranging from 5 to 6 feet tall. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision. Thanks to your elf blood, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Fey Ancestry. You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep.
Skill Versatility. You gain proficiency in two skills of your choice.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common, Elvish, and one extra language of your choice.

Half-Elves are clearly a balanced mixture of Elf and Human, as you would expect.

Now for Half-Orcs. The PHB says…

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Constitution score increases by 1.
Age. Half-orcs mature a little faster than humans, reaching adulthood around age 14. They age noticeably faster and rarely live longer than 75 years.
Alignment. Half-orcs inherit a tendency toward chaos from their orc parents and are not strongly inclined toward good. Half-orcs raised among orcs and willing to live out their lives among them are usually evil.
Size. Half-orcs are somewhat larger and bulkier than humans, and they range From 5 to well over 6 feet tall. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision. Thanks to your orc blood, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright
light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Menacing. You gain proficiency in the Intimidation skill.
Relentless Endurance. When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.
Savage Attacks. When you score a critical hit with a melee weapon attack, you can roll one of the weapon’s damage dice one additional time and add it to the extra damage of the critical hit.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Orc.

So let’s get to tweaking half-orcs. First, STR +2 is fine. Half-orcs inherited their orcish parent’s strength. After that? Well, we follow suit with the half-elf, giving you a choice of +1 to two abilities of your choice. This would illustrate the mix of races better. Humans are adaptable and orcs are bloody strong. You could still take after the orcish parent by putting your +1 into CON and maybe make them clever too, so a +1 to INT.

Second, we get to their racial traits. Darkvision stays along with Savage Attacks. Instead of Menacing and Relentless Endurance, though, we’re gonna take a cue from the Half-Elf again. We’ll add in a feature called Orcish Ancestry and add in a choice of one skill proficiency. Since there’s not an Orcish Ancestry feature, we gotta make one up. Now, since we gave Relentless Endurance to the full-blooded orcs, what if we base the Ancestry feature off of that? If Fey Ancestry gives saving throws on being charmed and immunity to magically-induced sleep, what would that mean for a half-orc? What if we did something like this:

Orcish Ancestry. When reduced to 0 hit points, and not killed outright, you may use your reaction to make a melee attack with advantage before falling unconscious. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.

You’re not gonna have that 1hp survival anymore but you can still make your attacker regret their decision, possibly taking them down with you. This also lines up with the theme of retribution inherent with orcs and Gruumsh.

Language, of course, remains the same: Orc and Common, though you could add one more language depending on the languages the parents know. That may be a feature to discuss with your DM, though.

Finally, do away with the “do not tend toward good” bullshit. Alignment works like Humans for them, they can pretty much in any area. Best and worst. Humans can bend toward chaotic just as easily as orcs. From there, it’s just flavor depending on parents and location raised. In researching 5E, everyone seems to agree that Alignment is kind of bullshit for the most part anyways, and, as I’ve written already, it’s doubly so here when dealing with orcs.

EDIT: I had forgotten to fix my sources in the original document. It’s now corrected.

You can view a full document here that includes potential suggestions for different types of half-orcs!

What are your thoughts? Do you think I’m on the money? Would you tweak it? Or would you prefer to keep things as is? Leave a comment!

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