From Dungeons and Dragons: Monster Manual I, the Orc was a popular monster from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit lore.
“Orcs are cruel and hate living things in general … they take slaves for work, food, and entertainment …”
Originally published on February 14, 2013. Re-posted with additional content.
What is an orc? Is it a humanoid void of goodness and without purpose in life beyond war and destruction? Do they have families? Do they have a form of government or society? The Peter Jackson films; The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies portrayed them single-minded and one-dimensional. There’s appeal in that with Dungeon and Dragons as the ever present nemesis of a just society.
Orcs were a staple in adventures. They often appeared in groups with single minded hatred. I dungeon mastered them as semi-moronic pig-men, influenced by Gary Gygax era artwork. Unlike LOTR films that depicted them as army slaves ruled by a human wizards, in D&D they served no master. Orcs, by their brutish behavior, over confidence, and dumb-looking appearance were never taken serious by anyone. They were race of monsters laughed at. Disrespected and discounted, Orcs fought for their place in the world. More often than not, they failed.
How would I have orcs live in my universe? After humans, elves, and dwarves, there isn’t enough room for orcs. Perhaps, this is what orcs tell themselves. The orcs care not to compromise and think little of diplomacy. Occasionally, you may run into one trying to integrate into human society as a quiet shopkeeper or blacksmith but they stay in the shadows. More likely you’ll run into a half-orc. A complicated offspring, who bridges two different cultures. Orcs may have homes to go to. But none civilized care to ask or discover. This is the place of the orc.
A single Orc could be malicious yet clever. He is a survivor and instigator. But a group were reckless. Cheering themselves they march into battle wearing their hearts on their sleeves. And with a few dice rolls, it was generally true.
Orcs are unwelcome guests. They are not elegant like elves. Not regal like dwarves. Not clever or as successful as humans. Unlike the films, you can tempt with the idea of reaching out to them. But the fun comes with the failure, disappointment, and a violent resolution. The orc is the scorpion riding the frog’s back across the river.
Trivia: Orcs are accomplished tunnelers and miners. A common Orc had a Hit Dice of 1 and worth 10 XP.