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.

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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.

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.

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.

d26dorc
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.

orc-5e
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.

Orctober Begins

It is October 1st. While the ghouls and ghosts rise from their graves to haunt the night, as the werewolves descend to share their cursed bite with swarms of bats swirling overhead, something else marches to join them. Something big, sometimes green, sometimes not. Something that looks right at home among the denizens of Halloween.

The orcs have arrived. It’s time for

orctober

For those who are new to Orctober, you can find a primer over on Fantasy Faction today, where Laura Hughes gave me a guest spot. For those returning and/or already familiar, welcome, friends.

Before we get into this year’s festivities, I’d like to take the opportunity to inform everyone that the kickstarter for the third Grimluk book, The Demons Within, is officially live! Get those early bird slots before they disappear!

Last year’s Orctober was a fairly successful event, in my estimation. Between having plenty to talk about, I had also just released Demon Haunted, and this year has a similar bend. I decided to go with a more cohesive theme for this year: Dungeons & Dragons. Partially to help me focus on content to post, partially because I’ve been playing my first full campaign this year after playing for the first time last summer and just digging into it with glee. On top of that, while I’m not releasing the third Grimluk book, I am running the Kickstarter campaign for it.

So let’s talk about what’s in store for the month.

First up, I’ll go over the current lore of the Orcs (including Half-Orcs) in Fifth Edition D&D. That will set up a couple of things for later revolving around tweaking the Orcs, for stats and lore. I’ll also be doing a big write-up on Gruumsh and evaluating his place as a Chaotic Evil deity.

Secondly, several of the creators form last year will be back this year with their own guest posts. Not everyone will be discussing D&D related topics but that’s hardly a problem. On top of that, we’ll be doing a one-shot D&D game which I’ll be recording and will be released towards the end of the month in mp3.

Thirdly, I’ll be doing some “Grimluk in D&D” type stuff, which will include a character sheet for our big hero. I’ll be doing two types of character sheets; one for D&D as written, and one for the changed rules I’ll be posting.

Somewhat related, while all this is going on, over on r/Fantasy, the Reading Resident Authors club will be reading Demon Haunted (which is currently still on sale for Kindle through Saturday night). If you’re interested and haven’t read it yet, that’s a pretty good excuse. There will be two discussion threads, the first on the 14th and the last on the 29th. And, once again, I’ll be doing a r/Fantasy Writer of the Day AMA on the 30th, where folks can come and hang out and ask questions and scream about Stranger Things season 2 with me. I’ve said it before, I know reddit can be a toxic place but, for the most part, r/Fantasy is a wonderful and chill place, so don’t be afraid to make an account and pop in.

Should be a good month. So brush your tusks, practice your war cries, and get ready.

D&D Fun

Hey all. Just wanted to let you know that DMsGuild finally let me upload all the files last week, so I got a couple of things to share. Both are pay what you want, so you could get them for free or you could toss a bit of change my way.

First up is the Fighter’s character sheet I made. I love the fighter class and it’s what I’ve been playing this year, so I decided to make my own character sheet, organized how I feel it should be organized. It’s very clean and I’ve been very happy with it. I built it and slowly tweaked it over a couple of weeks of play until I got it tailored to what it is now. For the time being, it’s only really useful for Eldritch Knights and Battlemasters. Champions don’t really have enough going on to warrant a reference sheet and I haven’t figured out a good design for the Purple Dragon Knight archetype from the SCAG book.

Second up is my own take on the Monster Hunter archetype for Fighters from the Gothic Heroes Unearthed Arcana article from last year. In all the feedback I found, the UA Hunter was deemed underwhelming and most people didn’t like that it was like a weaker Battlemaster, making use of superiority dice. I wanted to go at it to be more robust and unique, with a few features as shoutouts to the UA. No superiority dice and I’m definitely happy with strong it feels while still looking pretty balanced. I also included a version of my Fighter sheet with it. Very proud of how it all turned out.