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 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.