Today I have a new person to introduce you to. Ami Mercury recently followed me on Twitter and when I put out a call for potential Orctober guest posts, she answered. Turns out she’s making a webcomic and wanted to share her love for orcs. And that is what Orctober is all about. So here’s Ami.
I found this next piece on r/DnD and was struck immediately. Great style, rad character concept, and one talented artist in Killarney Shields. Have a look at her work, and then maybe follow her for more!
Took some time out of doing commissions to draw my own Dungeons and Dragons character :0 for an upcoming campaign my friend has invited me to.
This is Cromwell; a half-orc who is very much a ‘dad’ figure for the group. He uses his magic to protect rather then harm. He left his college of magical studies in order to explore the world for his own, wanting to see new places and experience new things; things that he’s only ever read in books before.
Cromwell tends to let his compulsion obsessions get in the way of the mission, spending far to much time trying to fix broken statues and cleaning up dungeons before actually getting to exploring.
He’s a big fan of elven fashions but normally has to spend a pretty penny for them to even custom make them for his size. He gets quite upset if his clothes get torn during missions and will often pull put a needle and thread and get to work on the tear before doing anything else.
My commissions are currently closed but you can check out more of my DnD related work at:
Last year, I asked my friend, Steven Pope, if he wanted to write something for Orctober on the appeal of orcs in the queer community. He wrote what you’re about to read, updated a touch for this year. The reason this didn’t happen last year was a work friend of his read it and offered to help him submit to the magazine Queery. They ultimately rejected it, and here we are, a year later with several other changes in tow. Pope’s words ring truer to me now after figuring out I was bi. Especially considering he helped it happen. We play D&D together and our characters are in a relationship. His Zakah, a homebrewed race for our DM’s setting, the Balkeshi, is big and gay and purple. Meanwhile, I was playing Gorthos as bi and polyamorous, and the two ended up getting together and it swirled around in my head enough that I finally went, “Oh.” So what started as my desire to have a perspective other than my (at the time) straight opinion, means even more now. Enjoy.
Half Orc Barbarian Queen: Queerness, D&D, and Orcs
By Steven Pope
I’m someone who spent most of his college and high school days living in a fantasy world (Hashtag Team Wasn’t Hot Until After College) and playing the game of the maladjusted and socially awkward, Dungeons & Dragons. From my early days of my nerdom, I loved Orcs. My knowledge of them is spotty, but I knew the following: I knew they were introduced as a playable race in the third edition of the game, and that they were inspired by the kinda-sorta-super-racist caricatures that Tolkien wrote about in Lord of the Rings, and that the Orc was the “always chaotic evil default bad guy” for the longest time. I know that the first playable Orc race, The Half Orc, was controversial because you were always playing a child of rape because, as stated, the orcs were the “always chaotic evil default bad guy.” They changed this later but every so often some wiseass will feel it necessary to remind me. Basically, they were a problematic mess like many things in fiction.
I’m not going to go into the psychology of why a gay man would relate to Orcs. I’ve read enough Queer Theory books to know that monsters = other = queer. I think, however, most gay men would relate to Elves, or at least the Tolkien flavored ones. Elves are pretty, elves are othered, elves are sophisticated, and they’re even called “the fair folk.” There’s a reason the term is “radical fairy,” after all. For queer men like me, however, who had a lot of self loathing, who were actually afraid of sex (embarrassing, I’ll admit) and who aren’t exactly the lithe, nimble, twink-like elf of fiction… I couldn’t relate. I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t skinny enough. And to go back to Lord of the Rings, I didn’t want to be Legolas. I was (and continue to be) short and described as “harmless and cute.” I was a hobbit. I was a Hobbit who should logically relate to Elves and wasn’t sure where he belonged. But then I saw the Orcs. Orcs were proud. Orcs were loud. They were big and brawny and more similar to the men I found attractive. They owned what they were. They were what I always WANTED to be.
Orcs, to a young me, represented something more primal and angry. Less “pride parade in WeHo” and more “Stonewall Riot.” There’s a certain level of ownership in the Orc that I relate to, a certain monstrous fact that you can’t hide behind being pretty. Something ugly and punk. Orcs remind me of the fantasy equivalent of those “Not Gay As In Happy But Queer As In Fuck You” buttons I never have the nerve to wear in public. They’re the embodiment of the bull dagger, the skag drag, the leather daddy parts of being gay that aren’t all cute and ready for sitcom material. The overtly proud and overtly sexual, something that straight people get to celebrate and titter about with 50 Shades of Gray while I get notes about how I shouldn’t “bring the bedroom into it” by mentioning that, yes, I have a boyfriend. The stuff that still gets flagged on YouTube simply for existing. The stuff that was literally illegal a few years before I was born. Progressive and regressive depending on who you ask – As fun as The Discourse can be.
I lead a pretty standard life. I’m white and, as far as anyone can tell, cisgendered. I have a loving boyfriend of four years, and the relationship with my parents is okay for the most part. I have it better than a large part of the queer community. However, I’m still queer. I have to come out pretty much every day. I have to explain “that’s my boyfriend” at least once every three weeks. I have to force a smile when someone says “Oh, you don’t SEEM gay” and, for some reason, think that’s a compliment. I have people expecting me to either want to fuck them or be their sassy new best friend.
That’s why I like Orcs. That’s why I like playing them in Dungeons & Dragons and why I enjoy them so much in fiction. In real life, I force a smile and I let it go and subscribe to the norms. Orcs, however? They don’t hide it. They don’t hide anything. There’s a level of strength that I admire and and a level of justifiable rage towards not only the standard, but the pretty that I relate to on a fundamental level. I have that in me. I have those tusks and that green skin and that cold stare deep within me. Dungeons and Dragons was where I found my monster, and where I found my “kind.”
Orcs aren’t gay as in happy, they’re queer as in fuck you, and just TRY to tell a Half Orc “Oh, you don’t SEEM Orcish.”
Today we’re gonna meet a human. I know, it’s Orctober, but there’s reasons why. I mean besides me promoting The Demons Within. Manyara Arendse is a ranger. Given that this is a fantasy western: yes, I mean like a combination of Texas rangers and Tolkien’s rangers. But we’re here for her. Manyara is a tall, black human with a nearly shaved head. She’s hardworking, hard-fighting, hard-drinking, and her commanding officer, marshal, is an orc named Bringar. And she does have a softer side, especially with who she would say is one of her best friends, Emerald. We don’t learn as much about Manyara in the book as we do about Emerald but we do learn, from Emerald, that she’s dyslexic and if she wanted, she has the potential to become a fairly powerful magic user. As of The Demons Within, Manyara is still the least senior member of her posse but has been there long enough to be respected.
She was fun to write. Manyara fell somewhere between Emerald and Grimluk. Like Grimluk, she likes the work she does, even when it’s dirty and deadly. Like Emerald, she’s never dealt with demons before and never wanted to. Due to being a ranger, she can be a little stoic but she’s still plenty capable of being personable. Especially if there’s Cimmerian whiskey involved.
I hope you like her as much as I do. Get yourself a copy of the book and go meet her properly!
For today’s art post, I wanted to highlight a series of drawings a user on tumblr did a few years back that illustrates orc women in a variety of different jobs. Emilee Denich, aka ghostgreen on tumblr, posted the set in November of 2015, simply saying, “today after work i amused myself by drawing some orc ladies (◕‿◕✿).” And the set was a treat. She did two sets, which you can see for yourself in full here and here, and I’ll be sharing a couple of my favorite ladies below. Maybe drop Emilee a line and tell her how much you like her orc ladies!
So, have you bought your copy of The Demons Within yet? You shooouuuuld…
To tempt you further, I thought we could take a look at a couple of the new characters for this story. First up, like Grimluk, we’ll meet Emerald. Now, you’ll learn some things about her in the book itself so this is more surface level.
Emerald is an orc who lives in Downingville, New Gilead. She works and lives at the Coming Conqueror Saloon and Hotel as a Companion ala Inara from Firefly except without the cultural appropriation/fetishization and much more saloon girl. She’s a sex worker and damn good and proud of her job. Like most orcs, she’s on the bigger side, with dark hair, and a somewhat rare beauty trait among orcs in the shape of her pupils. Though I don’t name it in the book, she stands about 6’3″, and while she doesn’t cultivate muscle, she still has a measure of her people’s inherent strength. She has some magical aptitude, as well, something she uses as part of her job, mostly in the form of minor spells using heat, cold, and electricity for massages and/or sense play. She could be considered one of the core members of the Conqueror’s Companions, as illustrated well in the book itself. She loves her peers, but especially one of her best friends, the elf named Tulip (who is the very picture of androgynous beauty). Emerald is gregarious, flirty, and good-natured, with a low tolerance for bullshit and not one problem speaking her mind. She’s happy to help those in need and happier still to ply her services.
I sincerely hope you enjoy meeting her in the book as much as I enjoyed writing her. When I was planning the book, I had the idea of having a saloon girl be one of the major characters and eventually, Emerald was the result. So get your copy of The Demons Within, and meet Emerald!
So I figured maybe I could share a bit more of The Demons Within than the first chapter for y’all. This is in chapter 3 and I’m still pretty proud of the whole interaction. Still makes me smile reading it. You can get your copy here. Enjoy!
Cigar smoke met him immediately but faded enough to mingle with the smell of whiskey. No one seemed to pay him any mind as he looked about. Everyone was busy drinking or gambling or singing around the little piano. Grimluk cut toward the bar in the back, passing by several poker tables, each covered in soft green or red or blue felt. Wooden chips clicked and clacked against each other while the players took their chances with bluffs aplenty. The smell of the place shifted near the bar, filling his nostrils with the scents of beer and, strangely, just a hint of flowery perfume.
The bar was long and well polished, covered in bronze accents and a fine stone top. Maybe marble? Grimluk didn’t really know much about rocks. If it’d been steel, he’d have had a better chance, but he liked the stone, whatever it was. It was dark and speckled with gold and silver.
Grimluk stepped up and waited his turn as several others gave their orders to the barmen on duty. He looked up at the mirror hanging behind the bar and noticed an orc talking with a human to his left.
When it was his turn, Grimluk ordered two tankards of the house brew and a shot of their best whiskey. The man talking to the orc bumped into Grimluk but didn’t seem to notice or care. The orc wore a dress of reds and golds, a similar color scheme as the barmen and a few others Grimluk had noticed, showing what some might describe as a generous amount of cleavage. She was frowning heavily, with hands on hips. The look and her stance made Grimluk pay attention.
“I said no, Roscoe,” she said.
“Think yer shit dun stink?” the man asked angrily. “Think yer better ‘n me?”
For a moment, it sounded like his words were slurred with drink but Grimluk realized the man’s accent was helping out as well.
The woman didn’t answer, which seemed to make the man madder. The human hauled back like he would slap the orc but Grimluk caught his wrist as the barman set his drinks down.
“Pardon, friend, but I reckon this might be a foolish course of action,” Grimluk said. The barman watched with a cautious glare.
The man ripped his hand free and spun on Grimluk. “The fuck you say, gerblin?”
Grimluk’s throat rumbled and he ran his tongue along one of his tusks. “Reckon I said your behavior might not be the best. Reckon that’s double now.”
“Ain’t your woman, goblin.” He made a clear effort to enunciate the word this time. “Ain’t no point in protectin’ her none, neither!”
Grimluk downed the shot of whiskey and turned to face the man proper. “Not protectin’ her, friend. Tryin’ to protect you. I reckon you could say I know a thing or two about orcs. Here’s what I know, friend. You hit her and she’s gonna break your hand. And you say that ugly word around either of us again, and I reckon she’ll break something else, too. Now, if I were you, I’d take a walk outside and let the wind cool me down a bit before somethin’ bad happened.”
The man opened his mouth to protest more but Grimluk cut him off with a growl. “Before something bad happened. Friend.”
A conflict of emotions warred on the man’s ruddy face as he weighed the situation. “Fah! Troll fuckers!” he shouted before wandering away to some dark corner, no doubt to tend to his wounded ego.
Grimluk nodded to the woman and turned back to his brew.
The barman set another shot of whiskey down. “On the house.”
Grimluk held the glass up in a small salute and downed it.
“Didn’t have to do that, stranger,” the woman said, moving closer to him. “Barrier spell in here prohibits violence. He’d have been turned away ‘fore he hit me.”
Grimluk shrugged and set his hat down. “He might be an ass, but there wasn’t a need even for that. He’ll either rethink his strategy next time or else the spell will do whatever it does and he’ll learn the hard way.”
She gave him a momentary laugh and a smile. He thought both were beautiful. Her tusks were clean and strong, if a little on the thin side, and framed by lips that were painted bright red. He couldn’t help but think of the now-dead demon, but he’d learned long ago to let thoughts like that slip away. He smiled back.
“Ain’t you a real sweetie,” she said, giving a wink. Her eyes were a dark red, made all the more striking with the help of her makeup. A pale green hand brushed Grimluk’s sleeve.
This close, he could see her eyes better. Among orcs, there were certain physical characteristics considered particularly beautiful. Grimluk saw such a feature in her eyes. Orc pupils were usually diamond-shaped, but sometimes, the points of those diamonds stretched out a little, resembling a shining star.
“Well,” he started, “I see enough violence.” He shrugged. “I figure a saloon should be a haven. Doesn’t always happen that way, but that’s my view all the same. Especially given my proclivity for travel.”
“Aaah, I bet you’re a cardsharp, ain’t ya? Clean house and then move on, am I right?”
He grinned again. “Sometimes. Speaking of travel, though, does this place have any free rooms? Given your presence, maybe even something comfortable for an orc? Deputy Amos told me to find someone named Emerald, too.”
She nodded and gave another smile. “Matter of fact, I’m Emerald, hun. And we do have a nice room for a fine gentleman like yourself. If you’d like, I could show it to ya. What’s your name?”
“Thank you kindly,” he said, gathering his hat and remaining drink. “Name’s Grimluk. Lead the way, Miss.”
Emerald led him through the throng to a stairwell he’d missed when he entered. She made her way down a long hall that connected both sides of the building, her hips moving rather exaggeratedly. Grimluk wondered if maybe she’d hurt herself at some point, but the thought drifted away. Wasn’t any of his business either way and he appreciated her kindness.
She stopped and opened a door before disappearing inside. “Illumo,” she said as he followed. The lamps around the room flared up, along with a small wood stove in one of the corners. It was easily the biggest hotel room Grimluk had ever seen in his travels, aside from one trip to Varnerton. He knew it was a modestly sized room, though. The type easily found in towns of this size. Still, it had a couple of high-backed chairs, a table, a dresser and chest, and, as he’d hoped, a bed that would fit him well. Soft wallpaper lined the walls and thick red curtains hung across the windows. Everything looked quite comfortable. Plush even.
“What do ya think? Nice enough?” Emerald asked after he finished taking in the room.
“It’s very nice. Only one nicer was in Varnerton.”
“You’ve been to the capital? Goodness, hun, you really do like to travel.”
He nodded once. “That’s the life.”
“Maybe you can tell me about it later. Now, it’s a bilt for two hours, three for the evening, and ten for the night.”
His throat rumbled as he frowned. “A mite on the expensive side, ain’t it? Ah, well. It’s warm and your drinks are damn good.”
“Expensive?” Emerald said, the sweetness draining from her voice. “Excuse me?”
“Reckon so,” Grimluk replied, unbuttoning his coat. “Usually get a night for a bilt, maybe two.” He slipped out of the coat and hung it up on a nearby rack along with his hat.
“Expensive? What a pile of troll shit. I’ll have you know I’ve gotten extra pay for a night!”
Grimluk’s brow furrowed. “Extra for the night?”
Emerald’s eyes narrowed and she marched over to Grimluk, every inch of her suddenly fierce and aggressive. “Cause I’m gods-damned worth it! And I don’t care how big your gun is, if you don’t agree, then get the fuck outta here, mister! Gun or no gun, I’ll whoop ya good!”
Realization struck Grimluk. “You’re a Companion?”
“The fuck else would I be? You asked for a room!”
Grimluk had to steady himself as the laughter rolled through him, heavy and sincere. Emerald looked at him like she would knock his head clean off. He held up his free hand in a sign of surrender. She looked at him warily but stepped back. Her own face lit up for a moment.
“Oh. Maybe you don’t like girls, then?”
“No, no, it’s not that. I like girls just fine. Don’t really have a preference one way or another. I really was just lookin’ for a room, though. I didn’t realize you were a Companion.” Another chuckle rolled out of him. “I’ve no doubt you’re well worth your prices, though.”
“Didn’t realize…” Now it was Emerald’s turn to laugh. “I’m so sorry! I just thought…”
“I know, I know. Reckon a little miscommunication goes a long way.” He sipped some of his brew. “Been a while since I seen another orc. How ‘bout I pay you for your time and we can just sit and talk? Still need a room, too, if these are actually for rent.”