Note: This article was originally written by Stu Venable and Bill Roper in 1997.
An Alternate View of Fantasy Role-Playing’s Cannon Fodder.
by Stu Venable and Bill Roper
Orcs are often described as brutal, ruthless, and stupid — typical combat fodder. Hardly a worthy foe. This is an attempt to rewrite orcs as a warrior race, noble in their brutality, calculating in their ruthlessness, and not so stupid.
A Product of Society
A society shapes those who live in it. It is a force of evolution as strong as nature, selecting those who will survive and prosper. The hierarchy of orc society is based on strength and ruthlessness, very different from the culture most of us know. For most orcs to survive to adulthood, there are certain attributes they must possess.
Other races will see Orcs as stupid, but they are not. If one were to ask them to name one of Shakespeare’s plays, they would probably be stumped, but ask them the Five Easiest Ways to Kill a Foe, and even the dullest will recite them with ease. Orcish intellect is best suited to matters of war and killing, they care little for more lofty pursuits.
Orcs are tough. Soon after they are weened, Orcs begin to fight — first their siblings, then their companions, and finally other races. Weak, frail Orcs rarely survive to adolescence.
Orcs are warriors. They love all things war, and they hate cowardice, surrender, and defeat. Add all these factors together, and Orcs look far more intimidating.
Here is the revised orc:
Attributes: IQ-1 (-10) , HT+2 (+20)
Advantages: Alertness+1 (+5)
Disadvantages: Intolerance to other races (-10), Orc Code of Honor (-15),
Racially Learned Skill: Brawling at DX
The Orc Code of Honor
The only reason orc civilization has survived is the strong bond each Orc has to his fellow warriors. This bond is described as the Orc Code of Honor.
1. Never abandon a fellow Orc in battle.
2. Never surrender, never retreat.
3. Never refuse the opportunity to fight.
Obviously such a code is not for the faint at heart.
Playing an Orc
The New Orc is very different to the old cannon fodder, and as such it is suitable for a player character. Orcs are strong figures, proud of their history as a warring people. They are aloof to those they consider weak, and they’ll grudgingly respect any non-Orcish warrior who fits into their model of a brave fighter. The do not believe in thinking through problems when force will bring an acceptable outcome. However, they do not go into battle without proper preparation. The orcish mind (being geared toward war) is also a strategic mind. I well-fought battle is not just one that is won, but one that is well planned.
A Final Word
I’ve always found it disconcerting that the “bad guys” in most roleplaying games practiced evil for evil’s sake. Very few people (even those most would categorize as evil) consider themselves evil. In a sentient being’s mind, its actions are usually justified. This makes for more interesting (and challenging) foes.