Orctober: Scott Oden and the Game

It’s Never Just a Game

A roleplaying game fulfills many purposes; more than “just a game”, it is an outlet for creativity, a vehicle for socializing. Games can get us out among our friends when times are hard, providing a diversion if only for a few hours. Good games have the power to make us laugh or cry, to make us think, to transport us across the world or across the universe. I was ten years old when I first encountered Dungeons & Dragons, while camping out in a friend’s back yard, and it quickly became one of the touchstones of my youth. It became my outlet, my drug; it let me express my imagination at a time when I had no other way. Before ever I decided to pursue writing, I was a D&D player.

D&D followed me through middle school and high school; it was with me when I got my first job. And when I lost that job a few days later, it was on D&D modules that I spent my first meager pay check. The game allowed me to meet new friends; it gave me a common language through which I could communicate with members of the fairer sex. D&D brought me my first girlfriend. It was there during my first angsty teen break-up, as well. Through jobs, college, courting, marriage, divorce, poverty, near-homelessness, recovery, rebirth, eventual stability and success as a writer, roleplaying games always had my back.

But that life-long love very nearly did not survive 2011. Since 2007, I’d been the primary caregiver for my parents – both of whom were terminally ill. At first, it was mild duty: keep prescriptions filled, make sure medicines were consumed, cook, clean, and run errands. But, terminal illness is merely a more palatable euphemism for death spiral, and before long my days were filled with coordinating doctors’ visits and Home Hospice schedules; my nights, long and sleepless, were consumed with worry over the thousand details of two lives slowly winding down. Through mini-strokes and falls, through MRIs and x-rays and the slow decay of dementia, games and fantasy grew less important. Then came 2011. My Dad died in my arms, that April; Mom died just a few months later, on a mild October day.

Grief is a curious beast. It worms its way into mind and soul. It seeks what is good and comforting and it feeds upon that. Grief rends. It shreds the good in you and leaves you hollow. And in its clutches, things I once found solace in became burdensome – grim reminders that I had not died with them. After years in close proximity with Death, I had to learn to live, again. And three people bear the most responsibility for that: my wife, Shannon; my friend Mido, and Grimnir, who was by and large a figment of my imagination.

I learned to breathe. I discovered a life beyond medicine bottles and the Damocles Sword of Hospice. Piece by piece, I rebuilt the man I am now from the ruin of what was left by my parents’ grave. Shannon gave me strength; Mido taught me hope, and Grimnir became my voice. I found the words, again. And earlier this month, after six years, I rediscovered the joy of gaming.

To celebrate Orctober I played D&D for the first time since 2011. It was via Google Hangouts, and it was FUCKING GLORIOUS! Myself, Ashe, James Jakins, Leigh Petersen, and our DM Garrett Schmigle played a game in which we were all Orcs. Left to fend for ourselves after the rout of our horde, we salvaged something from that ignominious defeat and forged an army from the survivors – an army that includes Barkley the Goblin and Grumchuck the Ettin. An army that somehow, some way, found itself being led by Grimnir.

I feel like a part of me has come back home – a part that was lost, that was mourned and believed dead. It’s a little shabby, a little bruised, a little rough around the edges, but I recognized it even as it recognized me: my younger self, and already it has made me promise we will play, again.

All of this is just a fancy way of saying thanks: thanks to Ashe for setting it up and not letting me forget; to James, Leigh, and Garrett for playing; to Shannon for listening to my breathless recitation of how Grimnir and Barkley blew up a hillside. And to Grimnir, for once again being the vehicle by which I found a part of me I thought was lost…

You can find Scott around the web at his own site, Facebook, or Twitter @orcwriter. His novel, A Gathering of Ravens, is available wherever books are sold.

Orctober: Grimluk in D&D

Having gone through and looked at orcs, half-orcs, and my homebrew tweaks for them as player races, it’s time to look at how Grimluk would fit in D&D 5e. Below, I’ll be listing two different versions. The first will be a medieval style Grimluk based purely on the Player Handbook rules with only slight homebrew (for weapons). The only major thing is that to do Grim properly, he has to be multiclassed. There is no getting around that, especially considering he usually works alone. The second version is heavily homebrewed, which I’ll discuss below the link.

Grimluk, version 1

Pretty standard standard fair, multiclassing aside. Half-orc, Crossbow Expert and Resilient for feats, rolled stats that are fairly high (Grimluk spent eight years training as an apprentice, I think it’s warranted), plus fiend slayer weapons (based on the dragon slayer). Grimluk’s base class is a Fighter, taking the Champion archetype, followed by the Hunter Ranger, and one level in Monk. Crossbow, shortsword, crit fishing, a pretty solid build. While I went for unarmored defense, I would probably just go ahead and take the starting chainmail from the Fighter.

Grimluk, version 2

Now, this one gets intense. My tweaked Orcs with Powerful Build swapped over Aggressive. For classes, once again, a base Fighter but this time, the archetype is the Monster Hunter I made a while back, along with Hunter Ranger, and Monk, again, for martial arts and unarmored defense. Like before, this version uses two-weapon fighting and archery for fighting styles, but this time, I use the firearms from the Dungeon Master’s Guide combined with the Fiend Slayer features I used before. And since my Monster Hunter uses what is essentially the Colossus Slayer feature from the Hunter Ranger, I took Horde Breaker to compliment (and damn does that stack will). Resilient shows up once again along with the Gunslinger feat, which I based on Crossbow Expert. It works as follows:

GUNSLINGER
Thanks to extensive practice with handguns, you gain the following benefits:

* You can ignore the reload property of handguns you’re proficient with.
* Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.
* If unsurprised at the start of combat, you can perform a quick draw, giving you advantage on your first attack roll.

The feat might need some tweaking, for the quick draw feature, but otherwise, it’s the same as Crossbow Expert.

Now, once I got done with the second version of Grimluk, I was really surprised and pleased at just how close to the real thing it reads. I briefly considered a feature for the gun that uses the mechanics of the Arrow of Slaying for the blood runes featured in Demon Haunted but that seemed a bit overkill for D&D (especially since you’d get six chances to use it). Overall, the builds kick a lot of ass, with the total level for both versions being 12.

There are certain things that are hard to implement. Grimluk’s ability to shrug off getting shot being the major one. There aren’t really any rules for how to play AC when guns are a thing. There’s few rules for Wild West D&D and Grimluk’s ability to withstand multiple bullets is a unique trait (at least as far as the first three books are concerned). And I fully realize that he’s got Drizzt levels of OP going on cause he’s a book character, not a player character. That’s okay.

So that’s Grimluk in D&D. Friday will see Scott Oden talking about how personal D&D can be and on Monday, I’ll be posting a massive D&D game post where me and a few other folks played an orc-centric one shot. And don’t forget, if you want to see more of Grimluk, head over and make a pledge for The Demons Within kickstarter!

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: 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: 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.

gruumsh_p72
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.

obould_many-arrows_-_matt_wilson
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: 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.

half-orc_phb5e
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.