Saturday 5 October 2013

What a Thing is an Orc?

As part of Erny's Orctober I thought I'd ramble on a bit about some of the many different flavours Orcs come in.

This does not pretend to be a comprehensive list, nor a definitive one. I intend it more as a trawl through some old favourites, curiosities and old hackneyed tropes.

So where better to start than...

The faceless Mook horde!

Orcs are the last word in barbaric Chaotic Good/Evil/Neutral marauding army.

And they don't half have a great bass section - Brass isn't too bad either!

In fact, since I've mentioned them, I do really like the look of the Orcs from Bakshi's fantastic (if slightly flawed and unfinished) Rota-scoped version of Lord of the Rings - crude, bestial, barbaric and cowardly unless they greatly outnumber their foe.

The humble Orc serves a vital function in this role - where would obnoxious heroes like Jackson's version of Legolas be without such selfless beings like Orc willingly offering themsleves as cannon-fodder?

Of course Orcs don't bear this burden lightly and not all of them are exactly pleased with their lot in life...

Cracking bass section again!

As a Faceless Mook Horde they do of course need some form of Evil Overlord, who has enslaved or subjugated them to his will - Sauron in the Lord of the Rings or Balthus Dire in the Trolltooth Wars for example.

We see them in the form of Frazetta's Sub-human Apemen (if that isn't too tautological?!) in the service of the evil wizard Necron, in Fire and Ice - another Bakshi film coincidentally.

Suckerpunch - good example of "couldn't hit a barn door" too!

Tusken Raiders (As I've mentioned Star Wars - more about Gamorreans later...)

Skeletor hires an army of Goblins in The Arena (3.15). Expensive at 10 000 gold pieces each! Not too sure about them being entirely innocent pawns in Skeletor's game (8.15) though...

Edit - Thanks to Laughing Ferret who has reminded me of the very Orcy Mangalores in The Fifth Element - cracking film too!

Going back to Tolkien, it was perhaps his Orcs who have most influenced this idea of the Ravening Horde standing opposed to the forces of Good and Order.

But this isn't the only side to Orc-kind. There are those who strive for more self-determination, a culture of their own and even a form of nobility.

And feelings...

... according to Oliver MacDonald's article Monsters Have Feelings Too in WD71. Here he argues that, in terms of Role-playing, GM's should play their Monsters, and any other NPC's, with a degree of intelligence and empathy. This avoids the problem of games becoming boring as players tire of trawling through dungeons wiping out the same monsters, whose only response is one of automatic hostility and a propensity to fight to the death. With a little effort, the once faceless mook becomes a more rounded, thinking, possibly cunning and much more satisfying enemy.

Perusing the background given in the 2nd and 3rd ed. rule books, it seems that Orcs are cast in a similar light to Tolkien's minions -

Orcs are powerful warriors, far tougher than any other Goblinoid race. They are repulsive monsters who only live to inflict pain, cruelty and death on other living creatures. Orcs are always fighting, if they cannot find enemies to fight they will fight each other. All of Orc technology and culture is geared towards conflict. They are dangerous individual foes, but lack the organisation or motivation to present any real long term threat to humanity. 

2nd ed. Battle Bestiary

Thankfully the many excerpts of narrative that accompanied many of the Regiments of Renown, scenarios and other pieces of background writing that appeared in White Dwarf and on the back of boxes round the Orcs out into more interesting characters.

So we get Ruglud, the "thinking" Orc, who's discovery of the remnants of a skirmish between Dwarves and Chaos Dwarves provides the rest of his Tribe's warriors with armour.

King F'yars exploits in the Kingdom of Ramalia tell us something of Orc Government - Definitely a case of Might is Right and Use it or Lose it!

We learn that Orcs are capable of some kind of rudimentary literacy, recording the exploits of Eeza Ugezod and his Mothercrushers in the crudely eloquent excerpt from the book, the Volees Adgitz - definitely reminiscent of the style in which Anthony Burgess' Droogs speak in A Clockwork Orange.

Notlob is an example of an extraordinary Orc engineer, who's crewmen (creworcs?) have some small skill in writing and use it to daub slogans on to the missiles they fire from their (for Orcs) sophisticated warmachines.

Unfortunately the limited nature of Orcish language leads to a dissolution of the alliance between Notlob and Harboth - a problem that dogs all joint Orcish endeavours!

Then we have such fantastic creations as Gaj's Orc Warlord, Rogaine, who I had the pleasure of commanding with in the excellent scenario, Bridge Over the River Chai -

Rogaine shrugged. "Well, it sounds like you need a few hundred years more. Tells you wot, we'll do the dwarves in for your silver shirt."

Master B'tor looked down at his mail vest. "I'm afraid I can't do that. This is a family heirloom and is absolutely not for trade."

"Another family heirloom? . You weren't born yesterday – everythin's for trade. Look. I know we're orcs an' everyone always goes on talkin' about how thick the orcs are: Blah blah blah. Look at that dumb orc. Walkin' around on his knuckles, howlin' at the moon and drinking his own bathwater. Blah, blah, blah..

"We get that all the time. Thing is, I ain't dumb. I can see you need to get your hands on this Percolator thing. You don't have the men or the equipment, or even know where you're going. Me, on the other hand – I know where to get beer. Way better than that horseshit you're sailing around with. I know where the dwarves are and I got the boys to fix the problem. I can help. For just that shirt? That's cheap, elf. Cheap! So is it a deal?"

"This is Galvorn mail, Rogaine. Galvorn. It is worth more than the boat and the entire crew. Even if you were able to get this, you don't have the tools to change its shape in order to somehow even make this thing fit you, which it won't regardless of what you do with it, because its just too hard. You're right – we're in a pinch, but we're not stupid either!"

Rogaine looked at the elf, a glitter of respect showing in his tiny red eyes.

"S'good. Good to know you gots a line. Can't trust a bloke wit' no line, y'know. Still, we'll do it for the Galvorn. Nothing else."

Master B'tor's eye started twitching. "But it won't fit you! You can't break it apart, or cut it, or reshape it in any way. Its useless to you!"

"Not true. Besides, I don't need to change its shape or anything. Simple story, really: I used to have two gonads, now I got one. I wanna keep it that way for as long as possible. Your silver shirt'll wrap me up nicely, see?"

Master B'tor choked. "W-what? You want to wrap my ancient and incalculably valuable family heirloom around your left testicle? That's what you're asking for?"

For the first time in their meeting, Rogaine grinned. "Now you're getting it."

Edit! - I should also add in Narchukk Tongue-Cutter, a very astute character from the imagination of fellow blogger, Mouse. His repartee and intelligent insults with Baron Von Hirshfield set him a few pegs above the rest!

Edit! - Warlord Paul has reminded me of my own Orc Warboss - Toady Rob'imsun, who bravely(?) led his own Tyum Teem tribe along with his Savage allies, the Paylah Lifficks, against the evil forces of Undeath and Lord Savage's pervy Slanneshi minions in the Battle of the Barrow. I include Warlord Paul's excellent take on the Charge of the Light Brigade to show you how cultured and versed in the glorious art of war this Orc was,

"Skellies to da lefta me. Skellies to da righta me. Skellies be'ind me. Vollied an shot at by bleedin elf pansies, will dis boar and ero fall, me wat barely fort at all?" ~ Orc Warboss Toady Rob'imsum.

The Orcs of the Warhammer world have a culture in the form of tribalism and shamanism. They may be fractious, bloodthirsty and utterly barbaric but at least they're upfront and honest about it! There's none of this lurking in the shadows, tunnelling underground, subverting humankind with all manners of perversion, stealing souls, reanimating the dead and all the other shenanigans perpetrated by the forces of the Chaos Gods, Undeath and the Skaven - you know where you are with Greenskins!

The Fighting Fantasy World is also full of Orc-kind and here they can be found in all kinds of places. Cheerfully staffing Deathtrap Dungeon, drinking in Portside dives in Blacksand, marching to war in the service of the next up and coming Demon Prince and so on. 

They were originally created by Hashak, a Demi-God of  the Earth Goddess, Throff. He stole some of the magic clay that was used to create the Good Races of Titan and made his own creations. The first were ugly and stupid and he hid them out of shame on Titan - they became the Trolls. Hashak took his time over the next batch of creatures giving them intelligence and the power of speech. The beings' favourite word was Urk and so that's what they became known as. However, Hashak was discovered by an angry Throff and forced to destroy his creations. Instead he only destroyed some and hid the rest with his Trolls on Titan. Unfortunately the Gods of Evil had observed Hashak and in the night they breathed their evil into the Urks.

So the Orcs nearly had a good start in life on Titan if it weren't for the machinations of the Gods of Evil! Similar to the Warhammer Orcs they are depicted as being barbarous, cruel and warlike but are a happy race because of their simple pleasures of fighting, eating and drinking. In comparison to the denizens of the Demon realms, the evil of the Snake and Lizardmen Empires and the perversions of the Dark Elves they are the comic relief! Just read the entries on their attitude towards cannibalism and drink in Titan -

Orcs are not cannibals, however, and they consider it gravely offensive to eat other Orcs , except in the direst of circumstances. However, they seem to believe that once an Orc dies, he is no longer an Orc, and is therefore to be regarded like any other tasty snack!

As far as drink is concerned, Orcs consider themselves to be the finest brewers around... Orcs' favourite drink is a truly vile concoction known as 'Guursh', though some also call it 'Hweagh' - the only reason for these names that we can think of is that they represent the kinds of noises one would hear after drinking too much of it.

Orcs find their fullest expression in terms of hybrids and crossbreeds in Titan with 25 or so other variants being documented!

Man-Orc - does what it says on the tin!

Doragar - Orcs bred with Trolls

Blackhearts - bred with Dark Elves(?!)

Svinn - a fairly peaceful if ugly bunch. You have to save the Village Leader's daughter in The Shamutanti Hills

In terms of the Trolltooth Wars there are the Orc-like Hillgoblins of Balthus Dire's Chaotic army -

and the magically altered Blood Orcs of Zharradan Marr's Legions. They are ferocious creatures with deep red skins and stubby horns protruding from their brows. They appear among Daramouss' creatures and also ride the Griffin-like Tooki in escort to the Marr's flying ship, the Galleykeep.

I can't finish off without mentioning the D&D style, Pig-faced Orcs - mainly remembered on my part from the old cartoon. To be honest I don't remember identifying them as Orcs at the time, even though that's what they were obviously referred to as!

There's been plenty of discussion I'm sure about the influence on Star Wars' Gamorrean Guards so I'll just post the pics for comparison here -

And finally what better question to finish on than what colour should an Orc be?

Grey, green, black, brown, red or somewhere in between?

Happy Orctober one and all!


  1. Wow, what a post! Great research, Thantsants! Enjoying seeing some of the old cartoon clips I haven't seen since I was a kid...I've also always loved the Orc war song from Bakshi's assault on Helm's Deep scene! I still throw that movie on sometimes for a mood movie while I paint.

    1. Yep me too - such a shame it ends at Helm's Deep though!

    2. It was a huge let down watching it for the first time as a kid and seeing it chopped off half-way through The Two Towers with no hint of a sequel. I remember reading somewhere that they had planned to go right through to the end, but they ended up spending a monstrous amount of money on the Helm's Deep scene, blew their budget, and couldn't find any more investors. Bummer, but the Helm's Deep scene IS magificent...

  2. Hey, thanks for mentioning Narchukk! That should swell his already large-ish ego considerably...

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. My pleasure!

      Apparently the studio insisted on dropping the Part 1 from the title - I hate to think what people's reaction was when they saw it in the cinema, expecting the whole story!

  3. Fantastic contribution to Erny's Orctober Thantsants! You forgot your own creation though, the Tennyson quoting Orc Warboss Toady Rob'imsum!

    1. Thanks WP - perhaps I should include him too, although I'd kind of figured him as a bit of an indecisive Lord Raglan type figure myself! Maybe he's a bit of an amalgam of that and Cardigan - in he goes!

  4. Great stuff :) that D&D cartoon brings back memories ;)

    I always thought the Mangalores from 5th Element were very orcy.

    1. Oh yeah, forgot about them - in they go to.


  5. Sorry been away from the computer this is awesome from a skim read will read in depth soon!

  6. Hmmm. That didn't show up on my blog roll, for some reason - happened to catch this through another blog - cheers for the mention of young Rogaine - he quickly became my favourite orc ever as he started developing. One day ( is orctober...) I'll even get around to painting a model for him.

    Very nicely put together story, though - I've never really thougth about all the orcs in Titan like that before.

    As for the Blackhearts, one wonders if it was the elf or the orc that was the victim...

    1. Cheers Gaj - one would like to think that even Dark Elves have some standards...