Hi everyone, it’s been a while, but here is the latest Monster Minute. I had a hard time selecting which monster to do next. Orcs was a tough thing to talk about because in Eberron, they are more of a race than a monster. In DDO, they are considered a monster, and soon we’ll have playable Half-Orcs.
Orcs in Real-World Mythology
Much of mythology portrays orcs as rough and warlike humanoid creatures; the most famous depiction is set by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series. The modern use of the word “orc” begins with Tolkien, and though he is famous for his fiction work, he was also a professor of the Anglo-Saxon, English Language and Literature at Oxford University, and had a profound love of language and philology. In his own words: “I originally took the word from Old English orc (Beowulf 112 orc-neas).” Though there are similar words in Latin, he believed that orc was “actually derived from Old English orc ‘demon’.”
Orcs in D&D
The D&D heavily borrows concepts and descriptions of the orc from Tolkien’s work. The first D&D orc was introduced in the D&D “white box” set, but described as tribal creatures living in villages. In AD&D first edition, the villages were described as being underground. It was also in this edition of AD&D that the orcs were detailed as a playable race. Throughout later editions and campaign settings, the orc has been a constant race, rich in story as much as the other player races — though in earlier books they were listed as a subtype of goblinoids, it wasn’t listed as its own type until D&D v3.0 and later.
The orc was one of the first races in D&D to be introduced as capable of breeding with other races and producing half breeds. Half-orcs was the term to describe human-orc pairings, while Orlfs described an orc-elf offspring. Other half breed offspring were dependent upon parent’s gender: the brutish but tough skinned Orgrillions were products of a female orc and male orgre; while the smarter Orogs came from male orcs and female ogres.
In all campaigns, orcs are described as grey skinned humanoids with boar like tusks prodding from their lower teeth. They range in height and weight much as humans do, except they are never shorter than 5′11″. They’re body build is almost ape like due to living in rough and rugged terrains. Many campaign settings describe orcs as lawful evil and capable of unspeakable cruelty — some say as much as any human is capable of.
Orcs in Eberron
The orcs of Eberron are not the evil beings as portrayed in other D&D campaign settings. They are nature-worshipers and have a profound belief in spirituality. Some 30,000 years ago orcs came into power at the height of the Age of Monsters, taking root on the continent of Khorvaire in lands which is now known as the Eldeen Reaches and the Shadow Marches. They became a druidic culture some 16,000 years ago after learning to channel the powers of Eberron itself from great the black dragon and founder for all druids, Vvaraak.
One of the most famous orcs in history was a female orc, The Great Druid Rasha’Torn. Some 8,000 years ago, during the Daelkyr War, Rasha’Torn lured the main thrust of the daelkyr invasion into the Shadow Marches and unleashed the full primal fury of Eberron upon the Lords of Xoriat and their aberration armies. Only six of the daelkyr lords survived; they were locked away, along with their remaining armies, in the deep bowels of Khyber by the druidic order known as the Gatekeepers. The Gatekeepers’ wards also shifted Xoriat in its orbit around the world so that it was no longer coterminous with Eberron, preventing both worlds from touching unless the seals were destroyed.
A majority of orcs reside in three places on Eberron: The Shadow Marches, Eldeen Reaches, and the Demon Wastes.
The orcs of the Shadow Marches make up half the population. They are a people divided into two unofficial groups: the tribal states and the clans. Many of the orc tribes in this land are insular, but they do accept half-orcs and humans into their numbers. House Tharashik originated from the Shadow Marches, though the Mark of Finding can only be found on humans and Half-Orcs.
The Eldeen Reaches orc tribes are offshoots from the Shadow March orcs, who have migrated to the Eldeen Reaches to become spiritually closer to nature. Many of these orcish druids were wiped out during the war with the daelkyr. The orcs that are alive today in this land are the decedents of the original Gatekeepers, and though there are few, they spend their lives guarding the powerful seals that keep the Lords of Xoriat at bay.
The orcs of the Demon Wastes are the most brutal of the orc civilizations. Known amongst themselves as the Ghaash’kala, they are strong in body, spirit, and mind. They find spirituality through military discipline, and consider it their sacred duty to guard the Demon Wastes; preventing anyone from going in to the lands, and from anything from escaping out - at any cost. They are a proud people resigned to a live in the taint of the Demon Wastes to protect the greater good. Because of this they are not oppose to working with and often readily accept those who have been infected by demonic magics.
The orcs found in modern Xen’drik and Stormreach are typically immigrants, coming from Khorvaire seeking adventure or to start new colonies.