A grey-skinned man stands atop a hill overlooking a burning city. His people cheer, but he knows that there was no honour in the killing of innocents. A tusked woman sits on a boulder in the pouring rain, desperately trying to protect her scrolls and books from being damaged as best she can. She had been studying the spell tomes in hopes of finding a ritual that could restore a nearby river to its original route after it was displaced by a rockslide. Children run through a vast camp of hide tents on an endless plain, the grand blue sky extending forever. They are young and chase a group of chickens. Their parents watch and pretend to scold, but they are secretly happy that their children can grow up without having to fight for their right to exist. Orcs. Leatherbacks. The great tide. Tuskies. They have gone by many names, both by themselves and by their enemies. They refer to themselves simply as orcs, and they are as unique as grains of sand in a desert.
Ainsley, Acca, Austfus, Brimlad, Cwen, Elswyth, Eartha, Elwyna, Hild, Keeley, Mercia, Wodwyn
Aethelric, Dogrim, Dak, Wodmund, Woden, Helzolt, Glizmot, Geldulf, Billung, Utred, Thorvard
Aethylfled, Aethelred, Aethelstag
Some orcs retain the names they were given during their time as slaves of the southern oppressors. These orcs take pride in reclaiming their titles for themselves. Examples of such surnames are: Tanner, Smith, Polisher, Cooper, Joiner, Builder, Farmer Some orcs prefer to adopt their own names, in their own language, from their oral histories. These names tend to be evocative of family characteristics, or related to the exploits of an ancestor. Examples of such names are: Spinebreaker, Mountain-Eater, Wyrmfighter, Mammoth-Rider, Stoneshaper, Stargazer, Wayfinder. Tribe names vary wildly, but the fifteen grand tribes that comprise the largest entities in the Grand Tribal Confederacy are as follows: Blue Sky, Swift Rider, Sandstorm, Sunbeam, Mammoth, Forseer, Stone Eater, Cedar Shaper, River Warden, Fisher, Grey Pack, Gold Tusk, Moonglow, Ascetic, and Rainshadow.
Some orcs, especially those from tribes unaffiliated with the Grand Tribal Confederacy, prefer base, guttural, and monosyllabic names. Examples of such names are Grok, Tuk, Bulk, Grom, Thog, Han, Kruk
Major language groups and dialects
Orcs speak two main languages: Orcish and the False Tongue. The orcish languages, as far as any can tell, originates from the far northeastern northlands, from in amongst the fjords and frozen bays of the continent's icy reaches. Many orcs, especially those old enough to have experienced slavery at the hands of the southern oppressors, were forbidden from speaking or learning orcish. The current generation of the Grand tribal Confederacy is mostly bilingual, though knowledge of Southtongue is fading as the older generation either learns orcish or dies of old age. There remain sizeable groups of orcs that only speak the Southtongue, however. These orcs are viewed with a mix of frustration and pity by their clanmates. Knowledge of Southtongue is maintained by at least one member of each clan, however, as a matter of grim practicality; know thy enemy, as it were. The orc language, however, is far more common than False Tongue in the modern day. Each of the main tribes has their own dialect, which are referred to by the same name. For example, members of the Moonglow tribe speak Moonglow. The dialects are mostly mutually intelligible, though some varieties are more unique than others. The dialect spoken by the Ascetic tribe is notoriously difficult to understand for other orcish speakers; indeed, non-native speakers often consider the Ascetic dialect to be its own language. is the ancestral language of the orcs and is split into many dialects. The False Tongue is the language, originally the mother-tongue of the southern elves, that is shared between all of the False Folk. Many orcs, especially those old enough to have experienced slavery at the hands of the False Folk, were forbidden from speaking or learning orcish. The current generation of the Grand tribal Confederacy is mostly bilingual, though knowledge of False Tongue is fading as the older generation either learns orcish or dies of old age. There remain sizeable groups of orcs that only speak the False Tongue, however. These orcs are viewed with a mix of frustration and pity by their clanmates. Many orcs also speak the languages of their allies. Stonetongue, the language of the goblins, is commonly learned by orcs. Many western orcs also learn Rainspeak and Common Imperial, the two languages of their minotaur friends. Orc scholars and diplomats regularly learn the languages of the False Folk, as well, to better converse with their old enemies: dwarven, elven, False Tongue, and other rarer languages are all known by some in every centre of academia
Shared customary codes and values
Orcs believe in few common things, but the core is kith and kin, and then everyone else. Orcs divide their world into two categories: kin and not-kin. Kin are their family, their close friends, their allies. An orc will do anything and everything that they can to support and defend their kin, even to their own detriment. Not-kin is everyone else. Other clans, enemies, and not-friends. An orc will rarely even lift a finger to help not-kin, unless they think there is something in it for them. Other races sometimes see this as selfishness, but the orcs see it as simple practicality; why bother being friends with someone if you aren't 100% committed? Due to this paradigm, orcs are extremely slow to befriend. Once one is befriended, however, they and their whole clan will do everything in their power to support that individual. This can be a double-edged sword for non-orcs, as an orc always expects--and demands--the same treatment in return, which can lead to confusion, hurt feelings, and outright aggression. Orcs value oaths above all things. Promises mean nothing unless they are in the form of oaths. Orcs will swear on their families, their clans, their gods, their deeds, or anything that they hold dear. The dearer the thing, the more important the oath. An orc with too many oaths is viewed as flighty, but an orc with none is viewed as mistrustful and stingy. Few things are worse than an oathbreaker in orc society; oathbreakers are given some grand task to atone for their mistakes. Failure generally results in death at worst, and banishment at best. Another key concept in orc society is frith. Frith can be (poorly) summarized as cooperation between allies. One maintains frith with one's kin, one's friends, and one's neighbouring tribes. To have frith is not necessarily to be kin, but it is to fulfill terms of mutual agreement. Not friendship, per se, it is an expression of mutual collaboration. Two neighbouring clans may maintain frith by notifying the other of incoming weather patterns, obeying previously-discussed hunting boundaries, and participating in limited mutual defence. The clans may not be kin, but nor are they entirely within not-kin. Frith is a nebulous concept, and how it is acted upon is not easy for non-orcs to fully grasp.
Orcs have many standards of beauty, reflecting the many different cultures that comprise the Great Tribal Confederacy. The Moonglow Tribe, for example, value pale grey skin and large eyes. Men from the Mammoth tribe, conversely, prefer their women to be stockier, darker-skinned, and hairy with a strong odour. Orc women vary similarly in terms of physical attraction, though the variation is more individual than on the lines of tribe. One woman may find dark skin, bright tusks, and a hairless head to be attractive, while another prefers a hairy, muscular hunter. Ask three orc women what they prefer in a man, and they will likely deliver four different answers. In terms of temperament, however, orcs of all genders are shockingly consistent. Orcs universally are attracted to individuals who have a strong will, sense of morals, and who are willing to stand up for their families, kith, and kin. What a particular orc considers an admirable set of beliefs to support is up to the individual, but the trait is shared across tribal bonds.
Gender ideas vary wildly between tribes. Some take a very hardline male/female hunter/gatherer divide, while others are strict meritocracies. Most orcs believe that it is the clan's duty to care for pregnant women, however, as well as for elderly women who are almost universally seen as wise and therefore important. Elder males are not shown the same deference, though their experience and advice is still respected. Most orcs divide their labour in terms of roles, but are less picky about who fulfills those roles. Most family units need someone to care for the camp, the home, the cave, or the longhouse, as well as someone to go out and hunt, or farm, or trade, or fight. Family units come to this arrangement organically; if the male is more physically capable, he will be the main hunter and fighter, but there is no stigma against the female from fulfilling that role. Most orcs see it as more important to assure the success and safety of their kin than it is to worry about how that is achieved. Orc family units tend to be more complex than human units. The family is the single most important aspect of orc society, but with that protectiveness comes acceptance. Orc children are raised by parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and extended family. The roles those individuals play are extremely varied. Same-sex relationships in most tribes and clans are uncommon, but are also not unheard of. There is some stigma against such unions, but the objection usually originates from non-orcs. Due to the communal nature of orc clan life, same-sex unions can contribute just as much to their kin's prosperity and wellbeing as an opposite-sex couple can, and is usually not an issue. Even if a clanmember opposes a particular same-sex union, they will move heaven and earth to defend their clanmates' honour, should it ever be questioned; more than one blood feud has been initiated between clans as a result of pejorative comments being thrown in the direction of a same-sex union.
Courtship is always based on deeds associated with the skillset of the orc's intended partner. If a hunter wants to woo a weaver, for example, he will present her with something that he has woven himself, as an example of his intention to undergo new and unknown challenges together. If a warrior wishes to claim the hand of a fisherman, she might slay a mighty shark with only a knife, and present it to her partner's family as a testament to her prowess, as well as her support for her intended's livelihood. The skill of the craft or deed is not as important as the intent behind it; the hunter's woven blanket need not be created skillfully or beautifully, because the important aspect is that he was willing to learn a new skill in an effort to connect with and legitimize his partner's life. Likewise, the warrior's kill doesn't need to be the largest shark in the land to be accepted as suitable terms for union. The most important aspect of orcish courtship is the commitment. An orc union is a grand ordeal involving feasting, boasting, and the swearing of oaths between the two family groups. One orc always joins the clan of the other, though which member of the union joins which clan is up to the individuals. While the clan has influence on who one marries, the final decision--and consequences-- is always up to the individual.
Orcs value strength in all things, though they differ in what they consider "strength." If an orc supports their family, protects their kin, honours their land, and shows loyalty to their friends, they are extolling the ideal picture of orcish society.
The Grand Tribal Confederacy is the largest orcish organisation in the known world. Dozens of orcish tribes exist outside this organisation, as well.