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!

Orctober: Leigh Peterson’s Orc Son, Bruno

This year, Leigh, better known as pawfulgood on Tumblr, is here to discuss their good orc son, Bruno. Given Leigh’s artistic inclinations, they included some wonderful photos to go with the story. You may also recognize their style from the piece of Grimluk fan art sitting in the gallery (which I now have framed, though I have now here to put it at the moment).


Many of the people in the tumblr D&D community who have seen my artwork tell me that they recognize it through my half-orc character, Bruno Lefèvre! Since this year’s Orctober theme focuses on D&D, I’m going to talk about him and his character growth over the course of the ongoing D&D 5e campaign which began three years ago.

Orcs in the setting that Bruno is a part of aren’t orcs in the typical sense; they are all treated as half-orcs mechanically and are considered to be a nation of huge, green-skinned humans as opposed to a separate race. In the setting, these orcs (or “Nortognois” as they’re called) are parallel to the Napoleonic French of our world. They’ve retained the militaristic, war-mongering tendencies that we see in other orc-centric media, but are at the same time considered the peak of culture and civilization! I loved that and needed to play a half-orc in this campaign.

brunogroupBruno was a character who was extremely proud of his heritage and his country, despite having deserted its army. As far as he was concerned, most everyone else in this new country were a bunch of backwoods hicks. When Bruno was introduced, he was an angry, no-nonsense Fighter who was very mistrustful of magic and was often quick to turn his nose up at anything too wacky. At the same time though, he felt that it was his duty to protect the people around him (and in fact his very first action in the campaign’s very first combat was to pull the bard out of a Blight’s entangle). He never lost that last part.

As the campaign went on, Bruno became increasingly worried about the amount of magical power that his friends and enemies alike possessed. He also had multiple run-ins with undead creatures (particularly, undead soldiers) that shook his faith and gave him a deep, deep fear of becoming trapped between life and death. After nearly being killed by a Nortognois revenant who had been hunting him, and after the party wizard was whisked away by a demon, Bruno finally caved and pursued arcane and divine knowledge from the goddess of Death and Magic to prevent these things from ever happening again.

Bruno did eventually live (or un-live?) through his greatest fear; Long before I decided to take levels in Cleric, Bruno had been infected with vampirism without his knowledge. He died, rose, and spent a year struggling with his vampiric nature especially as it conflicted with his faith and servitude to his god. He was granted true life again when he walked into Death’s Domain to bring someone else back from the dead, and he’s not quite sure how to feel about it even now.

We’re finally nearing the end of this long-running campaign (I’d give it another year or so), and Bruno, a 6th level Champion Fighter, 12th level Arcana Cleric, is a much calmer, happier, wiser person now. Though he is still proud of his heritage, seeing the long-term effects of war, and being surrounded by many different kinds of people and experiences really opened his eyes and his mind. Bruno teaches runes at the magic school that he co-founded with the other party members, and so he has dedicated himself to learning and teaching, as well as preserving the family and life that he has found. And, at the end of the day, should his magic fail to help him protect what he loves, he still has a big, big hammer!

Final thoughts: Please play pretend orcs with your friends it will make you a better person!!!

Orctober: Ashe Plays D&D

Over on Tumblr, I’ve been documenting the D&D game my friends and I started in February. I thought maybe I’d take the time to talk about my Battlemaster Fighter, Gorthos.

Gorthos started on based on an old idea I’d had before I started writing Grimluk. I had this awesome vision of a swashbuckling orc who, unlike his peers, dueled with a greatsword. After watching and loving BBC’s The Musketeers (WHY THE FUCK DID YOU END IT WITH THE THIRD SEASON? WHYYYYYY?!?!), I decided to tweak that idea in the form of a Battlemaster modeled after Porthos. Due to growing up watching Disney’s Three Musketeers, Gorthos started to form as a fusion of Howard Charles modern portrayal and Oliver Platt’s more comedic take. In practice, though, I didn’t hit the beats I wanted. I was still learning the system and made some choices that I’ll be correcting soon.

Storywise, however, is a different beast. Gorthos’ backstory is that he was a mercenary who finally left his band behind…after killing a lot of them. See, Gorthos, despite being a mercenary, just always wanted a good fight. Non-combatants meant nothing to him. They weren’t worth paying attention to during battles. He gained, of all things, an elf mentor who taught him how to really handle a sword, and was happy to get paid to fight. One particular job ended this when they were commanded to murder a town and burn it to the ground.

He didn’t take that well, and he and his mentor and a few others turned on their fellow mercs and effectively disbanded. After helping his mentor find some place to retire, he makes his way to Rizenheist (a homebrew setting from our DM, which includes a homebrew race, the Balkeshi).

Our first game saw us going after something called trouble fruit, the main ingredient in Balkeshi alcohol, despite the city walls being locked down for some reason or another for the day. Shenanigans saw us get into the forest, where we narrowly killed a baby remorhaz, which prompted Gorthos to add some fire protection to his studded leather jacket.

Once returned, we found the Silver Blades, basically the thieves’ guild, waiting on us for using THEIR tunnel. Fast forward, we end up helping them, nearly get ourselves killed, rescued by a fellow player’s friend in the Blades, who gets bit by a wereboar, but we survive and move on.

Fast forward again, our Balkeshi PC, Zakah, has had a crush on Gorthos. This comes to a head after a chase by goblins. We go back to save Sylal (my partner Nici’s half-elf rogue), and fight the goblins. Their bugbear bashes Gorthos’s skull in with a crit but that most beautiful of half-orc abilities, Relentless Endurance, saved him. Zakah, frenzied and raging (barbarian), chokes the bugbear and basically sets Gorthos up for reprisal. Gorthos crits (which means, with Savage Attacks for half-orcs, that I got to roll my damage dice three times instead of two), and REKS the bugbear. Zakah, still frenzied, kisses Gorthos over the body. It was awesome.

Then they kidnapped our pig. We saved her. That was awesome too cause we did it without murdering a whole tribe of goblins.

As we’ve gone on, Gorthos and Zakah have kind of become the core of our group, especially since the fourth player’s character is a full-on edgelord tiefling warlock, played beautifully by our friend, who occasionally apologizes for what his character is about to do. Gorthos and Zakah have a whole bunch of cute moments.

 

gorthos-zakah
Gorthos and Zakah having a tender moment out shopping. Commissioned from Emmett Shearer.

Lucius, the warlock, ends up getting himself killed when we take on a young dragon. Gorthos takes this hard as we had done character bonds pregame. Gorthos had “Lucius will get himself killed if I don’t step in.” He took it hard, and was confused just as hard when Lucius showed back up in someone else’s body. In an effort to deal with his feelings, he ends up doing level 5 training in an illegal fight pit against an ogre named Strong Steven that broke Gorthos’s jaw (double crit!). Gorthos won though thanks to a well-timed nut shot.

gorthos-pitfight
Gorthos after the fight. A birthday present from Zakah’s player, also by Emmett Shearer.

As I’ve gotten more comfortable with the game, Gorthos has gotten more concrete as a character. I’ve come up with more background for him. Figured out he’s bisexual and polyamorous. Is fairly sure his uncle killed his mother after she basically sold him to his merc group in an attempt to give him a better life. His uncle, who’d been one of the most prominent raiders in the tribe, hated the new direction towards peace and hated Gorthos for being a physical manifestation of that peace. He never knew his father, and his mother never told him much. He got basic schooling but never really cared to learn much more than that.

It’s been a total blast playing him, especially the relationship with Zakah, which has been both rocky and sweet and funny all at once. After Zakah took him to get his jaw fixed, Gorthos casually said he loved Zakah, unaware of what he’d said. When asked, he said, “Sure, I love you. I love Sylal. I…tolerate Lucius. Why not?” Love comes easy to him. I could easily turn this campaign into a book and it would be fantastically compelling. I have left a LOT of details out. If you’re curious, head over to my tumblr and look through the “ashe plays dnd” tag.

I would enthusiastically encourage folks to pick up the game. Fifth Edition is pretty slick and newbie friendly and the sheer fun of a collaborative story with friends is fucking brilliant. If you need more proof, come back on Friday for Leigh Peterson’s story!

Orctober: Notable Orcs in D&D

Well, now, here’s a rough topic. In my google searches, I can only seem to find three famous orcs for D&D but they’re all older editions. Obould Many-Arrows is the most famous example. The other two are Shield of Innocence and Vraak ir Vrakk. Shield was an orc paladin of Torm, while Vraak was a general. I was also informed about Dorn Il-Khan, who was a half-orc blackguard in the Baldur’s Gate games. Below is a list of notable orcs and half-orcs played in some of the various, high profile D&D campaigns in podcast and video form.

Critical Role
Given I haven’t actually watched/listened to much Critical Role, I can’t say much about these characters. I did, however, dig up wiki articles on them.

Lionel Gayheart is a bardbarian played by Jon Heder (best known as Napoleon Dynamite). His most notable traits seem to be his “happy rage” and his unquestioning nature, taking things at face value.

Garthok is a half-orc rogue played by Jason Charles Miller of the band Godhead, who also made the theme song for the show. As of writing, he’s had two appearances.

Cordell was an NPC portrayed by GM Matt Mercer. He was a guard of Greyskull Keep and as of writing died during the events surrounding the Chroma Conclave.

Yogscast
Likewise, I haven’t really watched Yogscat. All I could really find was the character Falk, a half-orc/elf fighter. I might have to dig up episodes starring him. An orc/elf child has the potential to be pretty interesting.

The Adventure Zone
I am a HUGE fan of The Adventure Zone. There are two especially notable orcs

Killian is a full orc and one of the earliest NPCs that Tres Horny Boys encounters. She is big, strong, and very good at her job. It’s later revealed that she and Carey Fangbattle are in a relationship, and, along with the NO-3113, make up the squad affectionately known as Team Sweet Flips.

Later on, during The 11th Hour, the Boys meet Cassidy. Cassidy is a half-orc and a full on redneck, fond of calling anyone she doesn’t know “gerblins!” The boys meet her in jail, where she eventually escapes after an earthquake.

Both Cassidy and Killian make heroic appearances in the campaign finale, Story And Song. I will refrain from spoilers. If you haven’t experienced TAZ yet, I really must encourage you to do so.

The Unexpectables
The Unexpectables is a campaign currently being played by Curtis “Takahata101” Arnott, along with several other folks affiliated with Team Four Star, with Taka’s sister serving as the DM. You can find episodes on Taka’s youtube channel or watch live on Wednesday night Twitch streams.

Borky is a full orc barbarian played by Taka. He’s big, he’s strong, thinks quite highly of himself, and is occasionally on the dumber side. He can be quite charming at times while infuriating in others, especially during his morning ritual where he chants, “It’s time to get orky! It’s time to get Borky!” and then lets out a savage scream.

Helga is the team’s tavern manager, retired Shieldmaiden, and 9th level monk. She is about the same size as Borky and speaks in pseudo-Russian accent. She dislikes Borky a great deal, while Borky finds her incredibly ugly despite being described as relatively attractive. She takes her work very seriously.

Finally, there’s Brorc Bronze-Fang. On his first encounter, he is described as looking odd for an orc, which the party later finds is due to his Aasimar heritage. Brorc is a high paladin of Avan, captain of the Alavast guard, and a member of the Alavast Council. He has had relatively pleasant encounters with the group thus far, being a mostly jovial and friendly person.

As far as major games goes, I’m sure I’m probably missing some here or there. Feel free to share them in the comments below, and feel free to share your own characters!

Orctober: James Jakins, D&D, and Writing

James Jakins is joining us once more to talk about the effects D&D had on writing Jack Bloodfist: Fixer.


I released Jack Bloodfist: Fixer in October of 2015. In the two years since I introduced Jack to the world I’ve thought a lot about that book and its characters. I’ve come to realize a lot of things that, as I wrote the book, were only present in the back of my mind.

So, to stick with the theme of D&D that this Orctober is taking, I am going to admit something that a lot of my readers have probably already realized: Fixer is basically a D&D novel.

There was one aspect of the book, while writing, that I consciously borrowed from tabletop gaming(Other than the classic Fantasy Races): There is a squad of mercenaries that Jack encounters. When I developed those characters I specifically chose classes for them. There was a healer, a ranger, a fighter, a wizard, a barbarian. It was all under the shiny veneer required for them to fit into the Urban Fantasy setting, but ostensibly they were the traditional adventuring party.

But other than that, everything else that happens in the story is my attempt at subverting the common tropes found in your standard campaign.

The most obvious is the characters.

My hero is an orc. Half-orc, half-goblin. Two races traditionally only used as fodder for a party of heroes to cut their way through for the purposes of getting EXP and loot.

The other characters that round out his inner circle are more likely to be found in the Monster Manual than the Player’s Handbook.

The antagonist is a paladin in the service of a god of justice. The type of character more likely to be represented as a hero. Hell, his motivation is even revenge for the desecration of his temple. I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I think I took that from a “Cool character backstories” article or something. But he’s the villain of this story. His methods are more monstrous than any the orcs might resort to.

The point is, that in one way or another, every character was inspired by my time sitting around a table rolling dice with friends.

I’m going to just focus on Jack for now, and discuss how my experience as a player and Gamemaster shaped who and what Jack became as I wrote Fixer.

I’ve shared the story of why I wrote Jack as an orc before, but I’ll share it again, just in case. I had just finished a project I’d been working on for a while, and wanted to write something fast-paced and fun. I had a few ideas and pitched them all to a friend of mine using one line hooks. One of these pitches was “A thriller with goblins.”

He asked if the goblins were the good guys. They weren’t, and I realized that was a mistake on my part, so I began the process of creating a story where the goblins could be the heroes.

Eventually, as the process continued, my hero became an orc.

The orcs of Summervale are, for the most part, honest and hardworking. They’ve found their niche in the hierarchy of their home and are comfortable there. But that wasn’t always the case. The orcs in Fixer aren’t native to the world they live in. Before coming to Earth they lived as bandits. They were exactly what orcs always are in most RPG campaigns.

Why? Because the world they lived in was the generic fantasy setting. They didn’t want to be the villains, but they also didn’t want to starve. Their choices were to become mercenaries and fight in wars they had no stake in or to be their own masters and carve out a small piece of the pie by taking from others.

That trope is something that has always bothered me a little bit whenever I’ve played fantasy RPGs. Why should the orcs and goblins always be the first choice whenever a party of PCs needs a sidequest?

So, in Fixer, I included the story of Jack’s father, Garack, the infamous bandit, as he played his part to protect his people. It was him that brought the orcs and goblins to Earth so they wouldn’t have to be what their world wanted them to be.

So, Jack is an orc living in a world that, for the most part, lets an orc be whatever he wants to be. That’s the world I want to live in, so it’s the one I created.

Then there’s the issue of Jack’s “class.” I’ve always believed that bards are the best. Don’t argue, you know I’m right.

My original intent hadn’t really been to give Jack a class. My plan had been for him to be a classic adventure/thriller protagonist. A resourceful-but-still-regular guy up against impossible odds.

Then he started acting like a dork in his narration. Without quite realizing it, in creating Jack’s unique voice, I made him as big of a nerd as I am. He was quoting comic books, referencing anime, collecting RPG rulebooks for “research” purposes.

In short, he was the bard of his little party.

When I first started playing D&D I learned quickly that every campaign starts out with the intent of being a sweeping epic full of action and drama, but usually end up being something else entirely.(See meme below)

Orctober-pic
How most D&D groups being (Lord of the Rings vs how most groups end (Monty Python)

It was patiently explained to me that while every other class has to at least pretend to accept the seriousness of their quest, the bard is allowed to acknowledge, from the start, that they’re stuck in a comedy. They’re the class made for breaking the fourth wall.

At least, that’s how it is at my table.

Jack is more aware than he probably has any right to be that he is telling the reader a story. He’s a storyteller and he wants you to be entertained.

He also happens to have magic singing powers, but that’s not really the point.

The point is that he’s an orc bard that has to save his family from murderous paladins. You gotta admit that sounds like something you might hear around a game table.

You can find James around the web at www.jamesjakins.com, on twitter @bethteva, or on Patreon.

Orctober: The Demons Within

I’m currently waiting on a few guest posts and thinking up some more topics to discuss, so I thought I’d take today to talk about The Demons Within and its kickstarter campaign.

The most obvious is that it is the third book in the Grimluk, Demon Hunter series. It also represents another personal milestone. My THIRD book…holy shit, I’ve done this three times (or will have by its release). And I keep getting better at it! It’s no secret that A Demon in the Desert was a bit of a mess. Debut effort, lacked proper editing, was learning my process as I went, etc. etc. I still turned out a respectable book that people have enjoyed, but I had some growing to do. Demon Haunted was a marked improvement, especially with Tim Marquitz’s editing notes and encouraging me to maintain POVs and not head-hop.

The Demons Within puts all of those lessons together. I keep my POVs tighter but still give them a little bit of breathing room. My process is more defined, which has allowed me to write better. I went in with a clear plan and went at it.

But, this is Orctober, so I should probably focus on the orcs, huh?

The Demons Within shows Grimluk, at least at the start, more in his natural element. He travels to a town with demon troubles and proceeds to take the thing down. Up until The Plot arrives, you get to see him interacting with folks in a more regular matter, talk about his people some, and even get a look into what his dreams are occasionally like as someone who deals with a never-ending parade of the eldritch, the abominable, and the demonic.

And then there’s Emerald. Emerald is a Companion. If you’re reading that like from Firefly, then yes, it’s a lot like that, except no weird cultural appropriation/fetishization, and more bawdy saloon girl. The Companions are, explicitly, sex workers, and viewed as an important part of society in Grimluk’s world. The town of Downingville is basically built around the saloon/hotel where Emerald and her peers operate. Emerald, again explicitly, says she loves sex, loves making people feel good, and loves her work. But she still has other interests, and even does other things besides sex. Companions can just as easily serve as escorts for fancy events, masseuses, or just a temporary friend.

I’m quite proud of Emerald. She didn’t become a sex worker due to trauma or anything of that nature. She just liked the idea of being a Companion and went after it. She’s clever, feisty, self-assured, and, being an orc, more than capable of taking care of herself. She also presents as a unique orc, which I would love to talk more about but would be kind of a character spoiler and I would really like to let people meet her properly in text.

There are only two other orcs in this book and one of them is a passing character. The other, though, is the Marshal of the Rangers we meet. His name is Bringar and he is…surly, to say the least. I will talk about the Rangers another time, but I can tell a little bit about Bringar, though there’s only a little to tell. He’s a tertiary character but one that affects one of the main characters heavily, considering he’s basically her boss. You could say that he’s a bit of a mirror to Grimluk. An orc whose line of work tends toward traveling and fighting. Bringar, though, has a chip on his shoulder. He’s got some issues, probably a lot of which come from being an orc and being a marshal. Grimluk warns him to avoid the big bad of the story and Bringar ends up paying for his hubris.

I hope that this piques your interest, if you haven’t backed already. I would very much like to get this book to you next year, properly edited and with cover art. It will set up a recurring villain and a few other bits and bobs of Grim’s world, as well as shed some light on some older things. If you love orcs, then love my son, for his big and good. You can pledge here.

On Friday, we’ll see James Jakins talking about the effects D&D had on writing Jack Bloodfist. Until then!

Orctober: Gruumsh Is Not Evil

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.

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Gruumsh One Eye

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.

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Obould Many-Arrows by Matt Wilson

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.

Orctober: Amalia Dillin’s Orc Clans

Amalia Dillin is back with us this year to celebrate and has decided to talk about the differences in the clans featured in her Orcs Saga books.

The Orc Clans of the Orc Saga

In my Orc Saga, there are two major clans of orc – the mountain orcs, called the
Hrimthursar for the rime that coats their skin and protects them from the winter winds; and the forest orcs, called Vidthursar, who are named for the trees in which they live. But simply being born on the Mountain or beneath it in the trees isn’t the only factor in determining an orc’s clan, either. It’s not really about geography at all so much as it’s about culture, perception, and the influence of outside forces on the clans themselves. Among all orcs, to be of mixed race is a blessing, hearkening back to the earliest days after their creation and subsequent rescue from the sorceress, Sinmarra, who had stolen them away as elves and twisted them into beasts. Because it wasn’t until the immortal elf Vanadis came to the orcs, who had been barred from returning to Elvish lands for fear they would do injury and harm to the Elvish people and because their hard won freedom had cost the elves their king, that they remembered how to live as people again after their ordeal, to build relationships with one another of friendship and family and love. It wasn’t until Vanadis retaught them the values that Sinmarra had worked so hard to strip from them, that the clans were born at all.

The more physically powerful orcs, the orcs who preferred the cold and the isolation of
the mountain, separated then, taking upon themselves the duty of guarding the boundary between Elf and Human lands. It was a service they could perform easily enough, a task which gave their shattered lives purpose, and kept them from the sight of the majority of the elves, who found their appearance and their monstrous existence too painful, under the best of circumstances, and too distasteful at worst.

The orcs who were not quite so ruined, who perhaps had not suffered the same torturous treatments before they were freed, remained in the forest just outside the Elvish lands. Led by Vanadis, whose husband had been stolen and turned orc, and for whom she had given up her place among the elves, they prospered, too – but living so near to the elves, always, in everything, still striving and yearning to become elf once more. To return home again, and be made welcome by the elves who had rejected them so completely.

For the Hrimthursar, it was different. Isolated for months during the year when the winter storms and the endless night made movement up and down the steep stone cliffs treacherous and all but impossible, the mountain became their home. Even those rare few born with Elvish blood from illicit love affairs did not often seek to leave it. Some, less suited to the winter cold, or less adept at climbing the rock and ice, migrated south to live among the Vidthursar, instead, but by Bolthorn’s time, there were not many who did not take pride in being Hrimthursar–or in being orc.

Ultimately, more than anything else, the fundamental acceptance of themselves as orc,
became the greatest cultural division between the two clans. Those who wished still, after generations of orc children born, that they might one day still become elf enough to return home most often joined the Vidthursar in the forest; and those who simply wished to live as they were, who found their lives no less fulfilling than that of any elf’s, or who had resigned themselves to the fate the ancestors had thrust upon them and their offspring, lived upon the mountain, becoming Hrimthursar.

But it was not until Bolthorn, clan chieftain of the Hrimthursar, brought Arianna, a
human princess, across the mountain, that the ties that bound the two clans were truly tested, and the Vidthursar forced to decide where their loyalties truly lie: With their fellow orcs on the mountain, or with the elves?

***

Amalia Dillin is the author of the ongoing Orc Saga, the completed Fate of the Gods
trilogy, and as Amalia Carosella, also writes Bronze Age Greek and Viking Age historical
fiction. Once upon a time, she dreamed of being a zookeeper, but she’s settled for two house cats and a husband instead. You can learn more about her and her work at www.amaliadillin.com, follow her on twitter at @AmaliaTd, or subscribe to her newsletter, The Amaliad, to stay up to date on her authorish adventures!

Orctober: An Intro to Half-Orcs in D&D

Last time, we took a first look at the Orcs in D&D. Today, we’ll look at half-orcs in Fifth Edition. Given that orc-breeding habits include anyone, and their penchant for probable sexual assault, half-orcs come with some baggage. In the Player’s Handbook, we’re given a potential sign that maybe, just maybe, not all half-orcs are the product of rape. That’s a promising start given the changing climate. So, to start with, half-orcs as listed in the Handbook are human/orc hybrids only. Half-orcs are, usually, unaccepted fully by anyone in any society they’re a part of, outside of the tribal alliances listed in their opening paragraph. In tribal life, they find it hard to be accepted by their full-blooded brethren, often being seen as weaker. They also have the potential to make better war chiefs given their access to human cleverness.

In an effort to find acceptance, half-orcs may become more brutal to prove their worth among orcs or attempt to show goodness and mercy in city life, attempting to subvert their bloodthirsty heritage, though such shows may not always be genuine. Others may try to maintain an image cultivated to keep people away, to be left alone.

Half-orcs gain a +2/+1 to their Strength and Constitution scores, and, like full orcs, start with proficiency in Intimidation (a factor that influences people’s distrust of them, as well) and have basic darkvision. Half-orcs also have two interesting racial skills that can be incredibly beneficial in battle. Relentless Endurance basically gives you a free pass on being knocked unconscious once per day. Instead of falling at 0hp, a half-orc stays at 1hp (unless dealt enough damage to be killed outright) and keeps going. If a half-orc rolls a natural 20 critical hit, along with the bonus damage roll, Savage Attacks allows half-orcs to roll an extra damage die. So when a half-orc rolls a singular critical hit, they get to roll three damage die.

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Half-orc paladin of Torm from the PHB

Half-orcs are, understandably, exceptional in the role of a martial class. Fighters and Barbarians make the most of their abilities, while Paladins and Rangers work well, too. That said, don’t underestimate the idea of playing a half-orc in a casting class. A warlock or wizard would benefit from increased survivability. Wizards can be pretty squishy but Relentless Endurance lets you not only survive but potentially make your attacker pay dearly.

Now, I understand why Wizards didn’t set up anything but a human/orc crossbreed, but homebrew is an important aspect of the game (and honestly, unless you’re playing Adventure League, you’ll probably end up homebrewing something). So, it’s canon, in text, that orcs can breed with anyone. You could easily add in features from dwarves and elves, maybe even dragonborn. I’m not entirely sure how well halfling/gnome pairings could work but I’d certainly be interested in seeing. One pairing I’d be really interested in seeing is an orc and a tiefling. There is a precedent for this already in the Tanarukk, a half-demon/orc. Though, unlike tieflings, these guys are just wandering murder machines.

Half-orcs are fun to play, just as versatile as anyone else. In my current campaign, I’m playing a half-orc battlemaster named Gorthos (inspired by Howard Charles’ wonderful portrayal of Porthos in BBC’s The Musketeers). He’s big, he’s stronk, and can be utterly charming. There’s an aspect of half-orcs that I liked including with Gorthos. Half-orcs feel emotions quite strongly. In the tendency toward playing them big and dumb, we may forget that they exist with “gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth.”

With both Orcs and Half-Orcs introduced, next time we’ll be taking a bigger look at Gruumsh. If you remember the explanation of Gruumsh from the Orcs post, then here’s something to ponder in the meantime: Gruumsh is not evil.

Orctober: An Intro to Orcs in D&D

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.

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Orcs in First Edition

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.

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An orc as pictured in the 5e Monster Manual

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.