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.

Orctober – Creator Spotlight – Stan Nicholls

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For those of you who don’t immediately recognize the name, Stan Nicholls is not only an veteran of the writing industry,the Chair of the wonderful Gemmell Awards for Fantasy (sort of like the Hugos or the Nebulas but the big award is a FUCKING AXE), the first person to write orcs as protagonists, and, from all accounts, an all around nice person. And he was nice enough to take the time to answer my silly questions. I just want to thank him again for doing this because wow, he is a busy dude. A note before you get to his answers, while I asked everyone else to focus on orc-centric works by other people that they favored, given Stan’s status, I accepted a general answer from him. Again, his time is precious and, well, he’s the guy that did it first.

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Orctober: Orc Facts #3 – Orc Origins

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Sorry for posting late today. The past few days have been a little spacey. I’d forgotten about today’s Orc Facts until just before I went to bed last night. So, after thinking about what I might want to share and how it could connect to Grimluk, I looked up the orcs from Dungeons & Dragons. Specifically, because it’s what I found with the most info, we’re looking at the Forgotten Realms setting.

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Jack Bloodfist: Fixer Review

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This book is like the Dresden Files with an orc…and a more realistic libido. I stress the word “like” there too. Had a lot of fun with Fixer. Jack is a fun character, smart, tenacious, caring, and, being an orc, tough as hell. Like Dresden, he’s basically the only game in town for what he does. Unlike Dresden, Jack is not a wizard. He’s basically jack-of-all-trades, playing handyman, mediator, facilitator, things like that, for his family. Which is not, as I had originally thought, a mafia thing. It’s just a regular family…made of orcs and goblins. The story itself is interesting, engaging, and clips along nicely. Great pacing. I’m giving it 4.5 stars, ultimately, cause of a few minor text issues and a slight personal preference. Nothing read breaking, certainly, and things I’m sympathetic to with being an author-publisher as well. It’s really hard to edit and proof by yourself. As for the preference issue, the book is primarily told from Jack’s first-person POV, with third-person sections sprinkled through out. I tend not to like that kind of split but, again, that is entirely personal preference and it doesn’t break the read. Beyond that, everything else was great and I can’t wait to see where James goes with the next book.

Speaking of which, why isn’t the next book out already? I need it.