Ecthelion's Guide to Orcs

This guide was created by observation, and limited interaction with the Orcs of the Caralain, Alterac, and Midlands. This has no bearing on orc tribes such as the Latrani, Odonti, or the Sharan orcs who would all require their own documents. This will work as a guide for dealing with the commonly recognized 'green or black' orc species.

Originally orcs were thought of as a crude, lazy, and boorishly stupid race, given over to the Hobbsian outlook that life is nasty, brutish, and short. They are also attributed to being blood hungry, misanthropic killers who only have a mind to rape, pillage, loot and plunder. Now as a generalization, I through my observations have learned that these are not normally the case. To be certain, there are many orcs who fit the bill, but there are also quite a few humans of the same mindset and it is a great shame to realize that my own kin are not so far advanced of these seemingly hideous creatures.

For those who wonder, I have added a brief description of myself. In the common terminology, I am a wood elf, born in the towering oaks of Ossiriland, not far from Lindon. I took to magic easily, especially the arts of alteration and disguise. I soon struck out from my home to learn of the world and took up the sword and bow to defend myself. My parents dissaproved but I feel akin to the heros of old as I am not far from their own footprints if I may be allowed a measure of pride. I have spent nearly a decade shadowing the clans and tribes of orcs as they live, and die. I have crossed the Sirion in the guise of an orc half a dozen times, or more in pursuit of my observations. And thusly, do I give the fruits of my labors, both hard and long so as to perhaps lessen the conflicts between man, elf, and orc.

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Arts and Entertainment

Far from the civilized tastes of elves and men, orcs have little value for dance, or for theatre or for the visual arts such as painting, or sculpting. They do show a great deal of support for lorekeepers or storytellers who keep their myths and legends and for musicians. Few can imagine an orc bard, but they do exist playing drums, digeridoos, and brazen horns. Bards and sages are given a great deal of respect, and trust. They are among they few who are not expected to pick up a weapon and give battle. There are few orc bards who would pass a battle though. It was in the guise of a acolyte bard that I spent much of my time.

The support of these 'artists' comes from the traditions of the clan, and tribe. The chieftan, or khan of each tribe is expected to keep a number of sages and bards within the tribe. Other lesser chieftans, such as those of the subclans can show up the ruling chieftan by having more or better bards, and sages.

Entertainment among orcs is seldom a spectator event. Hunting dangerous prey and 'sport' are by far the most common forms of recreation. There is a surprisingly intricate game the orcs play that they claim is sacred and the sages whisper dates back to ancient Yrth, the ancestral home of the orcs. The game is played with a ellipsoid ball sewn from animal leather that is at first simply seemed to be fought over until a more intricate underlying of rules can be percieved. It is from this primitive game of 'foot ball' or Orcball that many orcs learn their skills of combat. Evasion, bull rushes, and concepts of offence and defence are paramount in the sport and winners gain prizes and respect of the others. No khan has ever set on a set without having lead a team to great victories.

The slaves, and children of the tribe who are not allowed near orcball, or hunting are given over to lesser pastimes. They play games with sticks, such as hoop throwing, and tossing 'jacks'and other skills of manual dexterity. It is haunting to see orc children playing at games such as cat's cradle and think myself so different from them. Older slaves find ways to find the games of their own culture, or play at an orcish version of stones.

Displays of horsemanship are common pastimes among the more wealthy orcs. They will work to breed the best animals, and show them in contests of grueling obstacle courses, long jumps and endurance racing.

Aside from being raised as a food animal, chickens, generally larger and more foul tempered than human breeds, are used in pit fighting. The chicken fights are a social gathering, and a place where wagers are made. Fortunes are seldom won or lost over a chickenfight, though loot is often exchanged over the outcome.

The barrel chested orchound has been bred to fight, and pull. Dog fighting, considered barbaric and sometimes illegal in human lands is a vital thing among the orcs. Horses, slaves, and other real pieces of value are wagered before prize hounds enter the pit. Losers are often saved by the orcish grasp of healing magics, and the winners are treated as lavishly as any great warrior would be.

As common as tales of human cannibalism, tales of slave combat also abounds. While it is true that the orcs on occassion will send their slaves against one another, it is seldom the event that the outside thinks it is. Slaves are considered exceptionally poor fighters, and sometimes are matched against a fighting cock. A slave duel is a matter of comedy for the orcs.


The most common building material used by orcs is wood, thatch, and animal hide. Orcs, being nomadic require housing that is easily erected and collapsed to follow them as they move. Not surprisingly, these hides are also a display of wealth, as is the size of an orc's yurt, or tent.

Ornamentation among the orcs is most commonly decorations of bead and bone. Skulls of kills and great hunts are symbols of prowess, while colors splashed on lesser pieces of hide demonstrate some other capability. A splash of red is a warrior who has survived a great wound and returned to battle, while green denotes a hunter or trapper, while blue is a mystic, or sage. it was by luck that when I first appeared among the orcs I wore a blue scrap of cloth and did not know I named myself a magic user and bard to boot.

The average orc yurt is a little more than two spans tall, and large enough inside for at least three to four people to sleep comfortably. These usually will hold a family unit of two parents and anywhere from two to six children. Young warriors who have not proved themselves often are forced to share smaller cramped yurts until they prove themselves enough to gain one of their own.

Yurts by definition are round, with a slighly pitched roof to direct water away from a baffled smoke hole in the center. The smallest yurts have pointed roofs and resemble cones, while the common yurt more resembles a puffed cake. The wealthy among the tribe, and the artisan class generally have larger yurts. The chieftan has the largest, usually large enough for a dozen warriors, slaves and concubines to entertain, a display of wealth. The artisans, most notably the tanner, and the smithy also have large tents, as well as wagons to move their tools. An orc smith is accorded the same status as a warrior of middle renown, and is not only not expected to fight, some are often forbidden to fight.

The Calendar

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.

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.

Daily Life

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.


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.

Eating Customs

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.

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.


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.

Foreign Relations

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.


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.

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.

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.


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.