Exploring RPG Races: Orcs

Savage Orcs, Techno Orcs, Mystic Orcs, All Part of the Same

You have killed orcs before. You stabbed them, burned them, hit them with lightning, and thrown them from a mage tower. They are old news for you and your party, and you think the DM is lazy when you have to fight them one more time. But wait, what if they are an ally, or a player character this time? An orc paladin? Orcs adventuring for the greater good? Let’s dive into that.

Orcs Origins and Unusual Orcs

Tolkien explained the origin of orcs in a few ways, and most of them use words like “deformed” or “crude” to describe the race. The creation of an evil race, whose name is based on demons, to antagonize elves and the heroes of his stories makes sense. But in D&D and other medieval fantasy RPGs, the orcs evolved. More than just a brutal race of evil-doers, the half-orcs in D&D, calibans in Ravenloft, and other variants gained their place among the playable races. Pure blooded orcs became protagonists even in famous D&D settings, like Eberron. So it became harder to stereotipe them as “the ones we always kill because they are a bunch of evil pricks”.

Orc Shaman, from Loot Studios’ Orconspiracy.

Race Does Not Define Moral & Ethics

There are RPG settings in which the moral of creatures is defined by birth and divine intervention. Even on those, humanoid and intelectually advanced creatures can, sometimes, choose how they want to live. The good drow Drizzt Do’Urden from R. A. Salvatore’s novels is a great example. Orcs are presented as a good and tribal race in World of Warcraft and other Activision-Blizzard titles. Those heroic orcs helped people find place in their stories for the ocasional orc hero or peasant. The tavernkeeper that may not be the main character, but it’s a good NPC.

Orcs, What Are They Good For?

Well, it depends on the TTRPG system or setting, but there are a few possibilities. Orcs are mostly seem as melee fighters, what makes them good paladins and monks. With a little twist and a talk to the DM, they can as easily be wizards or artificers or any other class. Of course, the RPG world goes beyond D&D. In Shadowrun, they can be anything they want: shaman, street samurai, decker. Orcs are often portrayed as crude and natural, but YOUR orcs don’t need to be anything like that. They can be good for anything you want them to be.

Goro, Orc Leader, from Loot Studios’ Orconspiracy.

Shaping Your Characters the Way You Want Them

So you have orcs on your campaign and don’t want to use them as cannon fodder. You want to shape them as something unusual. Maybe you want to let aside the brutal nature of the orc people and make them scholars or fancy and artistic nobilty. Or embrace the strenght and instinct and make em punk rockers, art activists, or guerrilla gardeners. The first thing to think is: why? You can do whatever you want in a fantasy game with creatures that don’t exist, but what does it mean?

The Goal

You want to use orcs to represent indigenous people and honor your heritage? Or maybe fight against white eurocentric beauty standards and prejudice that makes all darker skinned races be seen as ugly and monstruous. Hell, even “because I like the idea of disco dancing orcs wearing zoot suits” is good enough. Have in mind the reason your are using them, as simples or as complicated as it can be. Remember: your goal, your rules. Now go make some characters and have fun with them, orcs or not.

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