The Orcs

The Orcs are roughly human sized jötunnkind, typically of greenish complexion.  However, unlike most other jötunnkind orcs have a great deal of racial diversity.  Different groups of orcs appear to almost be different sub races; however all orcs can easily interbreed.  Whereas typically interbreeding between various jötunnkind races is possible, but rare and difficult.

Orcs form tribal groups and what these groups are called depends on world and regions; but they are all essentially the same sort of grouping.  Orc social groups are variously called Clans, Tribes or Hordes.  The terms clan and tribe seem to be indistinguishable and are based on region and tradition.  Hordes appear to function as  very large clans or tribes; however, hordes seem to show a lot more racial diversity than a clans or tribes, leading many scholars to speculate that Hordes are actually tribal aggregations.  In other words, closely allied tribes that over time have formed a single governing body and function as a unified military unit.

This is very important as orcs are, by all reasonable measures, extremely militant.  They are all fierce warriors and hunters and abide a rather savage code of ethics.  Orcs are primarily nomadic and seldom engage in agrarian or sedentary lifestyles.  There are, of course, individual orcs that do settle down, and there are a few true orc villages and towns, but most orc social groups are nomadic and live in tents.

As previously stated, orcs vary widely in appearance dictated by tribe or clan.  It is believed that the racial diversity is caused by intermarriage between not so distant relatives.  Orcs tend to marry within their own clans and typically, all individuals have shared ancestors within the clan or tribe.

Due to marriage group segregation, orcs can range in height from about 5’ tall to nearly 10’ tall. Body types can range the gamut with these heights, but again tend to be clan or tribe consistent.  The majority of orcs encountered are some shade of green, however there quite a few tribes with very greyish complexions and some with yellow complexions.  There are also some extremely rare tribes with darker, brownish skin tones.

Orcs tend to have very large, strong and sharp teeth.  Many tribes actually have tusks that protrude from their mouths, particularly lower jaw tusks for both men and women.  However, not all orcs have protruding tusks, and some have both upper and lower tusks.  Beyond this, in terms of head shape and features, little can be said because bone structures vary far more among orcs than among other races.

One very odd thing about orc tribes, clans and hordes is that these family groups can exist on multiple planes within the localverse.  Specifically, some individual orcs in Astlan can actually trace their ancestry back to individuals from other planes within the localverse.  This highly unusual, only a few select Los Alvar families are known to be able to do the same.

The principle reason for this is believed to be that at one time all orcs in the localverse, as well as on several planes outside the localverse were worshipers of a now dead god, Orcus, from which the name “orc” is believed to be derived.   This dark deity was known to use his shamans and warlocks to transport troops between worlds in order to engage in conquest.  Therefore, orcs from various planes of existence often met, married and interbred.  In a few cases, entire tribal groups appear to have colonized other worlds.

Thus while each world in the localverse has its own set of predominant tribes, clans and hordes, it is not unusual to see smaller versions of the same clan on other planes.  This is often one of the most shocking thing that wizards and animages discover when they begin traveling the planes.  In Astlan, we are all accustomed to thinking of orcs as very primitive, dull-minded barbarians, however in the past, they have demonstrated a very high level of inter planar acumen and proficiency.   While their dread god, and thus their terrifying threat has been vanquished forever, evidence strongly suggests that the various tribes and clans still engage in interdimensional trade and alliances far more than humans, dwarves or gnomes.


Social Structure

Orc social structure is often quite confusing to outsiders.  At the highest level it is relatively straightforward.  However at the daily level it all comes down to interpersonal bonds of family, friends and allies.  From a scholarly point of view it comes down to trust networks.  The social structure essentially defines who one can trust with a strong degree of certainty..

One thing that makes things difficult for travelers is that in different places, in particular, different worlds; not all levels of the social structure are in place.  Typically for historical reasons. 

The principal social units are described below, the larger the organization, the lower level of trust between groups:

  • Nation:  A nation is the largest social structure and it represents a collection of Hordes that have sworn to work together under an agreed upon command structure.  Binding agreements are usually formal.
  • Horde:  A horde is a collection of tribes that are sworn to work together under an agreed upon command structure.  Binding agreements are often formal, at least initially.  Over time, on some worlds, large, long surviving hordes behave more like giant tribes.
  • Tribe: A tribe is a collection of families that are closely joined by where they live, and their joint history.  There is a well established command structure under the Tribal Chief and a Council of Elders.
  • Clan:  A clan is a family of orcs with well known/established genealogical inks.
  • Family:  An orc's family consists of his immediate family members out to one degree.  Beyond this they are clan mates.
    • The exception to this rule is that both direct lineage is always family.
    • Thus one's family is:
      • Grandparents/great grandparents/direct descendants
      • Grand children/great grandchildren/direct antecedents. 
      • Mother/Father
      • Brother/Sister
      • Aunt/Uncle
      • First Cousins
      • Nephews/Nieces
  • Band:  A band is not so much a social group as a physical group of orcs that travel and live together. 
    • Technically/traditionally it is a subdivision of a tribe, or in some cases a horde.  
    • Bands are defined by geographical location, and/or traveling and living together.  
    • Band members may change as individuals may choose (or be ordered) to travel with another band within the same tribe/clan/family.  A band may be of a single clan or multiple clans.  In the case of a horde band, there may be members of multiple tribes.
    • There will be a designated band leader, often a band Chief and his/her elders/commanders.
    • Band loyalty is perhaps the most intense trust connection because the survival of the group depends on trusting each other.
      • The loyalty of the band or more importantly, the lack thereof, as one would expect, tends to be the place of greatest drama as it is susceptible to treachery, particularly when loyalty to one's other social groups conflicts with loyalty to the band.
  • Shield-Mate:  A shield-mate is a person, mutually chosen and sworn upon in front of others that represents the most intimate bond of trust on a military/combat level.
    • Shield-Mates are optional, when agreed upon, formal bonds of friendship and loyalty are sworn.
    • Shield-Mate bonds can be terminated
    • Shield-Mates in combat, come before spouse and children
    • Shield-Mates are expected to defend each other to the death, if need be
    • Shield-Mates can be of the same or opposite genders
    • Shield-Mates may or may not share physical intimacy, and doing so is not considered a breach of marriage vows.

Graffiti in Murgandor


"Anybody got any idea why the alvar are so antsy lately?"  -Tizzy 

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