The orcish calendar is solar based, with the new year begining at the Vernal Equinox. As the tribes share a commonality among sages and shaman, the calendar is a fairly set thing not matter the tribe.
Each day is measured in 'fists' in regard to the number of fists that can be held between the sun and the eastern horizon, or fists from the western horizon.
Lunar months are recognized, but only among the sages and shamen who seem to use them for the timing of ceremonies and the casting of divinations. For fear of being discovered, I never ventured close to the shaman, and actually tried to avoid them if at all possible.
There are only a small number of celebrations and holidays among the orcs. The 'great game' of orcball is played in late January and affords three days of elimination games, feasting, and the organization of slaves into cheering sections as a display of husbandry. There is a second set of feasts and revelry in the late Autumn where the orcs 'give thanks' for the bouty of the year and some go so far as to offer sacrifices to their deities. Go to Comment
Crime and the Legal System
One of the duties of the Chieftan is to enforce what few laws exist among the orcs. They are in this regard quite primitive and have very few laws to enforce. There are no courts and grievances are settled either by the arbitration of the chieftan, or by trial by single combat. Slaves are accorded no status other than what would be applied to a prized animal.
Sages and magic users are required to govern themselves and are not under the jurisdiction of the chieftan, though he does have a matter of say that as chieftan, the sages must respect, or loose the respect of the tribe. Once, a Sage sought to raise himself above the chief and exclude him from the sage's affairs. Though his magics were strong, the tribe killed him and boiled his acolytes in water to feed to the hounds.
Punishment is common. Most come down to quite simply a vicious beating. Serious crimes are punished by hot branding, such as cowardice, or fear. Theft from the tribe results in the loss of a hand, or a foot. A 'Left handed Orc' is the same as being called a petty thief. The worst crimes are simply punished with a death best defined as cruel and unusual. Boiling, torture and worse are common with accolade going to the most inventive way to kill. An orc guilty of treason, however, is not given the option of death. This I witnessed only once. The orc sought to betray a hunting band to gain their gear and loot as spoils. He was beaten, and then ritually castrated, with all organs removed. He was healed so as to not die from the wound, and then branded on the arms, and the chest, and his sword hand was viciously broken. Thus, with nothing but a battered piece of leather and a knife he was exiled from the tribe. Go to Comment
One of the tenets of orc life is that outsiders are not tolerated. The only way around that is if the outsider is made a slave, a common occurrence for outsiders who do not fight the tribe. Treatment of slaves ranges from the abusive and nightmarish, to given a small amount of respect and some authority within the yurt.
Social mobility is surprisingly common. As the orcs only have the leaders, warriors, and laborers, it only requires prowess in battle to become a warrior, and success to gain leadership, that and a head to survive the brutal infighting among the chiefs.
Luxuries among the orcs are often well made cloth, be it cotton, linen or silk. Spices, and sweets are also highly desired. Other luxuries are incenses and perfumes, and potions. Food is an important part of orcish life and a slave who can cook well will seldom, if behaved feel the lash.
The average orc, quite apart from the savage looking warrior is usually in the five to six foot range and slightly heavier than a human in build. Another surprise is that orcs have head hair, the warriors shave their heads as a symbol of their status. Dreadlocks are the most hairstyle with black and dark brown being uniform colors. Sages and wizards are accounted to having reddish hair. Orc females range from youths who despite their large, compared to elves, build are quite attractive in an animalistic manner to older females with pendulous breasts and distended nipples. (National Geographic Centerfolds) These 'brood mothers' raise the younglings while the younger, attractive females serve as concubines to the chiefs and chieftains, and successful warriors.
Furniture is all but non-existent. Only the chieftain has a chair to sit in. Beds are made of pallets of fur and blankets, while most possessions are carried in pouches and satchels.
Sanitation is limited to dug latrines and chamberpots which slaves empty away from a camp. It helps that orcs are quite resistant to disease, a malady that in truth seems to be the scourge of men more than any other race.
Disaster is a rare thing for orcs. Fires can be avoided, earthquakes damage little, and they seldom are in flooding areas. The sages have a hand in protecting the clan, while their nomadic lifestyle takes care of the rest. There are two disasters that can befall a clan. Famine follows poor years and whittles away the weak and the old. Too many years of famine in a row can destroy a clan better than any punitive raid. The second is a raid. A clan that is raided is seen as weak, and quickly beset by other clans, especially in famine years. Slaves are taken, and they are looted of their possessions. Strong clans repel raids and quickly counter raid, or make forays against the settled who they are not far away from. Go to Comment
I have once again started adding information to this scroll. I do ask all readers to keep in mind that all of this was written before joining the Citadel and I am really just cutting and pasting my old work. Dumping it all would just be an avalanche. Go to Comment
The feast is a central point of celebrations, be they the annual ones, or the revels that follow a great raid, or the raising of a warrior, to the auspicious birth. A wild beast is expected, certainly a dangerous animal. Manticore, hydra, dire bear, dire boar, chimera, dragonne, minotaur, and other dire animals make for feasts. Giant insects are roasted and served over flame as appetizers. Having attended one such feast, and to refuse food is a dire insult, I have eaten some of the above. Giant wasps have a vaguely nutty flavor, while dire boar is quite flavorful if requiring some mastication.
An honored guest is immediately offered drink upon entering a yurt. Most beverage comes in the form of either water, or orc ale, which is not dissimilar from vodka. Children are nursed and also fed a drink of water and mare's milk, or goat's milk depending on the wealth of the mother.
Meals are generally held once a day, with a large meal doled out near mid-morning. Snacks are common throughout the day mainly in the form of dried meats, or hardpan bread. In winter, a second meal is added near nightfall, though it is usually not much more than a heavy stew, or hot broth, though it serves to warm the bones quite well.
The normal daily fare consists of either fresh meat roasted, or dried meat usually venison, rabbit, or some other prey animal. Contrary to popular belief man flesh is not a common menu item. I never saw human, or elf consumed, but it was spoken of as a sign of great desperation, or weakness to eat the fallen, and was accorded to the lowliest of tribes.
I grew up with food spiced with dill, and thyme, sage and parsley. I was quite surprised to find that orcs too use spices. The most common orc spices are salt, almost a given and quite valuable as well, garlic, and peppers. Some orcs will eat a bulb of garlic almost like a pomegranate. Others eat onions like apples, and peppers like treats. If encountering orc food, I would not suggest eating anything small and red. The spice of the thing brought tears to my eyes as if weeping for my mother.
Dried and preserved food are valuable commodities among the orcs, thus their high value of salt. This jerky is also often heavily spiced with garlic and peppers, and once accustomed to the 'heat' of the peppers is actually quite good. The meat also preserves well.
During famine, the food is first given to the warriors, who must protect the clan from others, or go out and raid to support the rest of the clan. Laborers gain the next share, with the old, weak, and infirm gaining the last of the food. Slaves are fed by the bounty of their master, and during lean years it is not uncommon for slaves to be released, or bartered for food. Children are seldom starved as they are the future of the clan, and are thusly as best cared for as possible. Go to Comment
Eating is segregated. Men and women eat seperately, and slaves are to eat unseen. Children eat among the women until they are of age and then are segregrated into gender. The magi also seperate themselves from the rest of the clan when they eat.
Knives are the only dining utinsel, though there are invariably a dozen or so for each guest at a feast, or only a single one for a family dinner. Cups or horn and wood are used for drink, while wooden bowls are used to hold soup to be slurped.
The most common eating arrangement is within the yurt, circled around a heating fire. Chunks of meat are roasted over the flame, or dunked in a vessel of scalding hot animal fat, a unique experience. Bread is passed around, while there is a general quiet, or light banter.
There are a few items never consumed. As mentioned earlier, orcs do not eat manflesh, nor are they cannibals, in general. There are tales told of lowly 'Bonechewers' and honorless 'Orgrells' who subsist on a diet of human and orc. Go to Comment
Fashion and Dress
Leather is the most common dress among orcs. Looted cloth is quickly put to use as clothing. Furs are second in popularity. Clothing is largely optional among the clans. A loincloth is often all an orc will wear, save for wintertime. It is surprising to see how free the orcs are amongst themselves. Women go about often naked, and only seldomly draw the attention of the males, save for the youthful, who are often covered in some sort of cloth to not be so ogled. There is no shame among orcs.
Armor, however is common among warriors. Plate and scale are common, while chain is virtually non-existant. A large part of a warriors wealth is tied into the cost of his weapons and armor. Furs and leather round our the warriors garb, while untried warriors, naked of metal try their hands at being berzerkers to gain the metal and accolades of a warrior.
Color is important among orcs. Slaves are dressed in yellows while warriors are in red, or orange. Hunters are marked with green, and the sages and magi hoard the color blue. The hue of purple is a mark of a retired warrior, while white is reserved for criminals, and the worst of slaves. This color association can be seen as perhaps a cause of conflict between peoples. Most humans have white in their devices often and gold, or yellow is also equally common.
Orcs like jewelry, not so much in the area of gems as in the use of precious metals. Armbands, necklaces, and other adornments of gold are popular, as is silver and the other precious metals. Some jewels do make their way into the mix. The magi seek out and hoard sapphire and other blue stones, while a ruby is a symbol of an invincible warrior. A female will often fashion a necklace of moonstone to represent the number of children she has born, dying stones to show valorous sons, or productive daughters.
Little is considered tacky or vulgar among orcs. Tattooing, and body piercing is common, even in the vulnerable reproductive areas. It is considered improper to force slaves to be naked, unless they are being punished, and it is considered poor taste to mate in public. It is considered an insult to refuse an offer of food, drink, or a go at an orc's female. It was at the above mentioned feast that I consumed boar and wasp that one of the young warriors wanted to gain my trust that he offered me his woman. Had I refused, he would have had right to call me to a duel. I am not so much of a warrior to defeat an offended orc. My breathern will likely disown me to know I have lain with a she orc. It was quite a surprise to find they are much cleaner than we would suspect.
Accessories are similar to the decoration of a yurt. Bangles and buttons are made of bone, and spent armor and broken weapons, or the antler of prey. Teeth from predators are also popular tokens. Go to Comment
Most orcs are illiterate, and rely on a system of glyphs and symbols to convey information. There is no formal system of education, save for apprenticeship. The Magi check the young for the 'gift' while artisans raise their own children into the craft. Warriors learn from childhood games, and hunting with their elders and siblings.
All orcs learn how to use some sort of weapon to protect the clan, be it the ax, or the bow. It was quite a surprise to learn that one of the best archers in the clan was one of the old den mothers with breasts that sagged nearly to her knees, forgive the exageration.
The Sages, aside from being magic users have the task of keeping the oral history of the clan, as well as the histories of the tribe as a whole. These will teach others to read, or to write at a cost, as well as being the most likely to parley with other races without resorting first to violence. Go to Comment
Orcish foreign relations are rather complex. Everything is based on a measure of strength. Strong opponents are afforded a deal of respect, or at least a wide berth. Weak opponents are seen as prey for hunting and raiding. A strong kingdom with an able military and strong defence will be accorded respect, for settled folk, while one that offers tribute or bribes is seen as weak, and open for looting.
Treaties among the orcs are rare in the extreme. Few keep treaties as they do not feel obligated, or bound by a treaty. Oddly enough oath magics do not work on orcs 90% of the time.
Trade is a valuable commodity for orcs. They will most often trade for salt, if nothing else. Other goods do find their way into trade, though trading with orcs is fraught with danger. A deal can quickly turn into theft, or a bribe on the traders part. Both end poorly for the trader. Thus, only halforcs, or the most canny of traders deal with the orcs. The orcs do trade with animal pelts, exotic spell ingredients, as well as ransoming slaves.
Spying is seen as a cowardly task, though scouting is not accorded the same stigma. A captured spy has his eyes gouged out, and tongue removed, and is then released close to where his master would be.
Relations between the clans is regulated by forming blood bonds between the chieftans. Warriors are married to the best females of other clans, while said females are held close for the best warriors of the clan, or for forming such bonds. Go to Comment
Orcs are quite articulate, and a large amount of their language is expressed through hand gestures. An orc talks with his hands, eyes, and body posture. It is often difficult for reserved people to deal with orcs as they are seen as being untrustworthy by the orcs.
There are a number of gestures that are insulting to orcs. A flat open palm, or a grasping hand are insults that the person is either a beggar or a criminal wanting handouts. Waving the left hand in an open manner calls the orc a thief, while the left thumb up calls an orc a homosexual. All of which can be met with a challenge, or outright attack.
Respect is seldom shown, as indicating someone is more powerful than you declares you are weaker than they are. Meeting an orc eye to eye with a strong posture is a sign of respect, though the fist to the heart is understood. Go to Comment
Magic and Magicians
Please forgive me if this section is vague. As my ruse as an orc was based on magic, I stayed well away from their magic users, lest I be discovered, an elf in an orc clan is a sure way to be killed very quickly, unless they think me a spy.
Magic is more advanced than previously thought, perhaps on par with human sorcerey, but not to the level of wizardry. Their magicians all seem to be of the 'sorcerer' type with little in the way of spellbooks or other non-innate spell casting. Interestingly enough, most of the sages who are magi also tend to be clerics of some ability, worshipping the various orc deities.
Magic items are present among the orcs, though they tend to be fetishes, and moderatly enchanted weapons and armor. These artifacts also tend to be more of the clerical type than the arcane type. Many of the common magic items are present, such as amulets of defence, or other such items, though they tend to be tokens of the gods, and made of sacrificial materials such as skulls and enemy bones.
Among orcs, magic has had little influence over the laws and customs of the tribes. The magi and sages are expected to stay out of warrior affairs just as warriors stay out of magic affairs. As for in combat and murder, the use of magic is seen as cowardly and not deserving of respect. Such magi/warriors are often assassinated, shot with arrows or poisoned.
Magic has had a positive impact on the technology of the orcs. Through the study of metalworking, brewing, and other areas, save for agriculture, magic has been a key factor. The fact that Sages and magi are considered neutral has prevented a large body of orcish lore and know how from being destroyed by a long periods of bitter warfare.
Magic is promoted and advanced presumably by the isolated sages and magi. It is almost non-existant beyond their confines. The magi do spend some time among the artisans, especially the smithies and the brewers. I strongly suspect that more orcish gear is magical that previously thought. It is apparent that the orcs do have access to potions, which they make common use of. The most common seem to be potions of healing, and the like along with potions that make their slaves compliant, or to create a more potent warrior.
One of the visible tasks of the Sages was the augering of prey, and reading portents for the future of the tribe. Such omens are also cast before battle, and very often involve the reading of entrails and other forms of hemomachy.
It is fairly certain that magic is involved in the creation of the orcish brews that account for their ability to return to health quickly, and with few lasting injuries. Their grasp of life magics is quite astounding. Many of the sages and chiefs claim to be quite older than many would suspect an orc of capable. Go to Comment
Magic and Technology
Orcish magic is at best, crude compared to human, or elven magic. If there are means of orcish 'teleportation' or other transportation magics, I was not privy to them. Horseshoes were blessed by the sages, as was certain forms of paint that were said to make a horse run faster, or longer without tiring.
Magic weapons, and armor exist among the orcs. The prime difference is that an orcish magic weapon will be a masterwork, but will seldom be guilt, or gem crusted, or even radiate a strong magical aura. These great axes, long spears, and orcblades are always marked with a symbol of one of the orcish gods, called a token. Enchantments run from the low to midrange, with the True Strike spell being common.
Surprisingly, anti-magic is more common among the orc armors. Various incantations and unknown spells go into the making of the plates, but they seem adept at shedding the lower level magics commonly used by humans, and some used by elves. This seems to balanced by the fact that the armor is difficult to make, expensive, and is marked with the token of a less than popular goddess among the tribes.
Wonderous items are not common among the orcs. Day to day items are the realm of slaves and afforded little importance. The only exception is the area of potions, which is paramount to orcish life, and adornments. The pieces of bone, piercings, and ritualized mutilations and tattooing serve as foci for the sort of magics that wonderous items are reserved for. An orc will have a Brand of Natural Armor as opposed to a Ring of Natural Armor.
Unlike Elven culture, magic does very little to replace, or supplant technology. Orcs tend to be self reliant, and see magic as fickle. They do not turn away from it, but they do not rely on it either. An orc is just as likely to use a masterwork blade over a magical blade because they do not see magic as a vital part of their existance. Go to Comment
Contrary to opinion, Orcs do have some manners, but only among themselves. There is a difference between the table of a orc 'lord' and that of a commoner. A higher ranking orc will set a table with heavy meat, cheese, and orc brewed ale, or their peculiar, and harsh spirits. A lower orc will dine upon boiled stew, jerky, or other lower grades of meat. Salt is more prevalent, as are the other peppers and spices. Garlic is found at most any table, be it fresh, or crushed and dried.
Rank is important in the seating of the low tables, with the highest ranking, most renowned warriors entering and sitting first at the head of the table, while lower ranking seat later. Children, women, and slaves are expected to eat elsewhere, at their own areas and tables, if they are honored by their father/spouse/owner. It is the place of the slave to eat standing up. The division between the men and women has an ulterior purpose in that often fights can break out at seatings, and it prevents losers from seizing hostages, and lessens the number of non-combatants who might be harmed or killed.
In a formal setting, which is rare but not so rare as some might think, the orcs eat with their hands only, there are no knives, or other utensils used. In this formal setting, all of those present, which may include women in this special occasion are unarmed, and thus cannot be attacked without great shame, and drawing down the ire of the gods. Go to Comment
Orcs aren't inhuman or alien. They live in the same cultural world as humans, dwarves and elves, so there is going to be overlap between the two. To make inhuman and alien orcs the orcs will need to be non-humanoid and actual aliens. But once you take that step and you make inhuman alien orcs they aren't orcs, they are inhuman aliens that someone has slapped the name orc on.
Its that paradox that people want something different, but not too different. The orcs can be different, but they still have to be recognizable as being orcs. As for a long time staple and old hat, I wrote this more than seven years ago and only cut n pasted it to the Citadel in 2005. It's by no means fresh now.
I do thank you for appreciating my approach to the topic even if you didn't find it groundbreaking, breath taking, or risk taking Go to Comment
At first I was worried that this was going to be another knock=off of the desert dwelling Fremen of Dune, or worse, Tuskan Raiders. Instead I find myself both amused by their unusual yet effective appearance and by the biological aspects of male versus female in their society. Nicely done. Go to Comment
With a huge number of sacrificial victims, another realm long ago secretly bound a Prince of the land spirits, Iorstonn by name, thus ensuring the fertility, and improving the magical defences, of their realm. But binding that Prince to one spot has disrupted the weather and magical patterns (ley lines?) over half the continent. Things have become bad enough that a coalition has been formed to rectify the situation, once divinations have established the cause.
Your party is one of the teams assembled to do the rectification: find the binding object and steal it ("so that we can destroy it here in our realm, of course"...*) or destroy it over there. Presumably the Prince will be grateful to his rescuers and angry at the binders, but with a greater spirit like Iorstonn one can never be sure: such beings are "tricksy".
* Of course, the rulers of our realm might want to control Iorstonn for their own ends...