Orcs Species in Ulskandar | World Anvil


An embodiment of the savagery all of our ancestors were guilty of in the long distant past, a savagery that Orcs still wear as a badge of honour today. You will find few people who have any sympathy for Orcs, and most civilised people would rather attack them on sight, than risk being killed themselves in an explosion of raw ferocity. My advice to anyone who comes across a tribe of Orcs, run, and hope that there is someone slower, or stupidly brave at your rear.
Extract from Ingrid Aevardottir's Corpus Animalium.   Orcs are creatures that are universally reviled and feared across Ulskandar, but to view them as mindless savages would be folly. They are intrinsically cunning creatures, and all they need is to close the distance between themselves and their target before they can unleash the true extent of their ferocity. The tribes that they live and travel in are essentially a single large raiding party, bent on decimating whatever is before them, and taking all of the spoils they can lay their hands on from civilised people whom they view as weak and soft.

Basic Information


In terms of their anatomy, Orcs are bi-pedal humanoids in form, that stand on average between 5.5-6.5ft/c.1.6-2m in height. They have strong, muscular bodies and wide shoulders, a physical sign of their immense natural strength and athleticism. An Orc’s face will normally be wide and flat, with a small, squashed nose in the centre and small eyes that tend to sit quite close to one another, though separated by the bridge of the nose. Their mouths are also dominated by two tusks, rooted amongst the teeth of their lower jaw, that protrude at least several inches out of their mouths, and tend to force Orcs into constantly having their mouth ever so slightly ajar. Their hair colour is almost always a shade of black, and their skin ranges from grey hues through to greens.

Growth Rate & Stages

Orcs are expected to grow up quickly, and young Orcs will stop receiving slightly more lenient treatment on account of their age from when they are ten years old. From that point on they are treated as adults, but they will also have grown to their adult size by this point, so it is not quite as harsh as it seems. Orcs rarely exceed 50 years of age, and the life expectancy of a Orc drops off rapidly as soon as they get over the age of 40, as most are expected to have been killed outright, received a mortal or debilitating wound, or begun to be slowed down by ailments caused by the immense strain that their bodies are put through. The only Orcs that will tend to outlive 50, are those that are Magic users, and who hold positions as shamans in their society, and are treated with great respect and fear.

Additional Information

Social Structure

At its base, Orcish society is based on two things, and two things alone – survival of the fittest, and supremacy of the strongest.   Orcs move and live in tribal groups, that are technically based on family ties, as the Orcs within a tribe will be constantly interbreeding with one another, and there is normally little movement of Orcs between tribes, unless a smaller tribe is dominated and absorbed by another. However, there is no concept of family ties in Orcish society, and once a female Orc has raised her children to the stage that they are considered adults, they will generally have very little to do with them after that time.   The way to survive and thrive in an Orc tribe is to remain as fighting fit as possible, and to learn which beatings you should take, and which you should fight back against. The strongest Orcs will be able to fight, bully and kill their way to the top of Orcish tribes, where they will hold the top spot as the tribal Chief until they are perceived to be weak enough for another Orc to challenge them for leadership, or another Orc believes that they are now strong enough to challenge for the leadership of the tribe. Orcs that are sensitive to Magic are able to find a niche for themselves within Orc tribes as tribal Shamans, a position which does not lead the tribe, but is afforded a great amount of respect as a conduit to the divine, and a source of guidance for the tribe.

Geographic Origin and Distribution

As an incredibly hardy and adaptable race, Orcs can be found all over Ulskandar. On the continent of Turoza, their ranges are restricted by the artificial boundaries that have been established by the continent’s nations and kingdoms, which means that Orcs are more likely to be found in areas of wilderness, or areas that are made up of difficult terrain that are difficult for a country’s military force to effectively patrol or police. Orcs always treat the political boundaries set up by nations with complete disregard, but they will always be aware of whose territory they are trespassing in, as this will dictate how they move through the landscape, and where they target to raid. Even though Orcs are found all across Turoza, there are concentrations of their populations in the area of the ‘Free States’, which suits them very well as it remains nomadic, tribal land, and the Mountain Principalities, where there are innumerable, poorly charted and guarded mountain valleys in the Felsspitze Mountains, that they can move through freely.

Perception and Sensory Capabilities

Most Orcs are not renowned for their cognitive abilities as far as their base intelligence goes, but they are capable of some ingenious acts of cunning, especially when it comes to setting up ambushes. They have a natural affinity with reading the landscape around them, but when push comes to shove, any carefully crafted ambush will quickly descend into ferocious, barely controlled, and un-coordinated fighting after it has been triggered. Orcs are also very good at seeing in the dark, and can see well enough in darkness to be able to move around without the aid of artificial light. In Orc camps, for instance, the only light sources will be large communal fires, that are primarily there for cooking and heating purposes rather than the light they emit.

Civilization and Culture

Naming Traditions

Orc names are normally very simple, and most Orcs will usually only have a single name, which they may follow up with the name of their tribe if they are communicating with an individual from outside of their own tribe. All Orcish names are drawn from the Orcish language, and can therefore be very hard to write down, as the languages tonal nature, and lack of its own alphabet can make it difficult to transliterate into the two most commonly used scripts used to write down Orcish, Dwarven Script and Common Script.

Major Organizations

Average Technological Level

It is uncommon to find anything too complex in the hands of an Orc, as they are not a species that takes great joy in the construction or production of technical items. Orcs tend to limit their application of technology to the production of weapons and armour, which are never particularly finely made or meticulously designed. Invariably, any well-made weapons or armour that an Orc carries will have been taken from the corpse of an individual from another species, or looted during a raid. Anything whose use is not immediately apparent to an Orc is likely to be discarded, as they take the view that it must be a frivolous object that they would have no use for. The only exception to this rule are items or objects that an Orc can recognise as having a specific value, so items made out of precious metals, or with precious stones in them will be kept as they can be traded for other more useful items, or worn to show the creature’s prowess.

Common Customs, Traditions and Rituals

There are many customs that are kept and adhered to by Orcs and their tribes, and specific tribes will often have certain traditions and customs that are specific to them. However there are a number that are common to almost all Orcs including:   Seasonal nomads- Orcs are not a settled people, and they still move from place to place as their ancestors would have done in the Nomadic Era. Orc tribes normally move seasonally, setting up camp in one location in the spring, before moving onto another in summer, another in autumn and then a final camp in winter to see out the year, before starting the cycle again and moving on when spring comes back around. Orc tribes do not settle at the same place during, year on year in each season, but instead move to an area where they deem to be a sufficient resource base to fuel their raiding activities, before moving on so that they do not completely drain the resources of a given region. It is not uncommon for an Orcish tribe to settle and raid in an area during a particular year and to then return several years down the line, when the area has had a chance to recover. The only exception to this rule are the sites where Orc tribes winter, which are normally returned to year on year, and have been selected as having a good, easily replenishable resource base, that can be easily defended.   Deeply rooted fear of magic- All Orcs deeply fear Magic of any kind, primarily because they do not understand where it comes from, and they intrinsically believe it to be unnatural. This fear cannot just be exploited to get Orcs to think twice about launching an attack, or even flee altogether, but is also used by individuals from other species to dominate Orcs, and get them to carry out their wishes, under threat of turning them all into toads, or the incentive that the individual might magically augment them. Orcs that are magic sensitive, though they rarely move to rule a tribe, receive a huge amount of respect, and are highly influential figures within the tribe they belong to.   Ostentatiously display looted wealth- Orcs are fond of showing off the wealth that they have accumulated as the results of their raiding activity, and whenever possible, they will turn precious objects into things that they can wear on their person. Objects such as coins are regularly punched and strung together on chains, along with rings that will not fit Orcish fingers, and are then work around an Orc’s neck, and Orcs will often melt down objects made of precious metals and turn them into crude arm rings, that they wear on their forearms and as bracelets. These gaudy trinkets, are not just viewed as being decorative, they can be used as currency amongst Orcs, and other peoples, and are regularly dismantled and chopped up to create recognisable amounts equivalent to common coinage minted by the Guild of Coiners & Moneyers. They are also viewed as being an indication of the Orc’s strength and prowess in battle, as the more loot they wear, the more enemies they have slain to get it, in theory anyway.   Ritual combat- All serious disputes in Orcish society are solved through the medium of ritual combat, whilst petty disputes are normally resolved with an informal, often swift punch-up. A serious dispute, which will often revolve around a formal leadership challenge over the tribe is resolved in a form of ritual combat, where the combatants fight in a ring formed by the rest of the tribe, and where they fight one another, with no weapons and no armour. The goal of such contests is not specifically to slay your opponent, but this is often the aim of the combatants, who will rarely tolerate having one who has openly challenged them to remain in the tribe.   Follow the tribe until you die- There is no concept of mutual care for tribe members who are injured, elderly or disabled. Orc tribes rely on being able to move swiftly, and they always abide by the rule that if you cannot keep up with the rest of the tribe, you are left to die, or to make your own way alone, which is generally a death sentence for most Orcs anyway.

Interspecies Relations and Assumptions

Orcs are not just shunned by other sapient species that would consider themselves to be more ‘civilised’, they are positively feared. Their primal savagery, ruthless brutality, innate cunning and complete disregard for societal organisations and boundaries, make them feel almost alien to the rest of the people in Ulskandar. Given that most Orcs live in the wilds still, away from large population centres means that in the minds of other sapient species they have taken on an almost mythical context of creatures that emerge without warning under cover of night, and exterminate all that get in their way. This is not helped by the fact that the contact most people have with Orcs and Orcish tribes is when they are on the receiving end of a raid. Every now and again, one might see an Orc, or a small group of Orcs in a settlement, but they are invariably just passing through, and are most probably there to conduct some specific businesses in the town that requires their presence there. When Orcs are admitted into settlements, towns and cities, they are always treated with extreme caution, and they will often find themselves being tailed by a large and unsubtle contingent of guards, with orders to forcibly eject them if they look to cause even the slightest amount of trouble. Orcs that are granted admittance to settlements will rarely find somewhere that is willing to put them up for the night, and will often have to camp outside the walls of wherever they are visiting. It is rare to find an Orc that has taken up permanent residence in a settlement, mostly because the other species there are unlikely to abide such a thing, but also because they are not suited to staying rooted in a single place.   As for the Orcish view of other species, Orcs will primarily view other species as being inferior to themselves, particularly if they are members of a species that have settled and formed themselves into defined nations and kingdoms, which Orcs view as making people soft, comfortable and weak. There are a few species that Orcs have a slightly more peaceful relationship with. Goliaths, for example are generally respected by Orcs because of their natural strength, and the same is true of Lupines and Gnolls who both hold a mutually respected by Orcs, because of their innate savagery. The strangest relationship with another species that Orcs have is with their blood relatives, Half-Orcs.   The general principal is that Orcs would treat Half-Orcs with the same disdain as other species that live more civilised lives, but given that an Orc will always be able to recognise something familiar in a Half-Orc, they are more likely to afford them a begrudging acceptance. Half-Orcs, for example, are more likely to be able to approach a group of Orcs, or even enter their camps without being immediately set upon, though they will be treated as lesser creatures still, until they prove their worth and strength. However, the strangest edge to this relationship is the one that Orcish tribes in the south of Turoza are increasingly entering into with the Sultanate of Fashaddon. As Fashaddon is ruled by a line of Half-Orc Sultans, and has a majority Half-Orc population, with a strong military tradition, Orcish tribes are increasingly finding that they are being defeated by the Sultanate in battle, but that rather than being wiped out, they are being assimilated into a client relationship with the Fashaddonites. This is exemplified by the Fanged Skull Tribe, one of the most infamous of Orcish tribes in the south of Turoza, who now act as a roving band of mercenaries for the Sultan. Orcs who are brought into this relationship with the Sultanate to not seem to be intrinsically bothered by this, as great care has been made to ensure that the Sultanate has proved itself to be the dominant partner, through combat in the relationship, rather than as a superior species, quashing those it views as savages.
Genetic Descendants
40-50 years on average.
Average Height
On average around 5.5-6.5ft/c.1.6-2m.

Cover image: by Chris Pyrah


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