Orcs, Half-Orcs and a Homebrew Setting

This is an introduction to a new setting that I'm working on. I'll probably never really finish it, or the redesign of the D&D rules that I'm working on at the same time. My goal is for it to be somewhat low magic, and well-explained and consistent. I would say "realistic", but often people mean "with lots of violence and maybe sexism", whereas I mean more like "properly respects the historical importance of fabric dyes." Though I won't get to fabric dyes yet, this one is about orcs and how they're actually your friends. Maybe I’ll make elves the bad guys, haven’t decided yet.

Orcs and half-orcs

There are two major intelligent humanoid species that approximately live alongside each other: humans and orcs. Half-orcs are a type of orc, but I'll get to that later. In many ways, humans and orcs are very similar. They are social creatures, mortal, with no innate magical abilities (most of the time), with similar needs and wants. They both have varied and complex cultures. But there are a few key differences.

One is that orcs are in general quite a bit bigger than humans, and tend to be stronger as well. A six foot tall orc is on the short side. Another is that orcs are obligate carnivores, and have fairly high caloric needs, which has shaped their society and what technologies they rely on. Finally, orcs have prominent tusks, which makes it very hard for orcs to make the sounds that humans can make, and vice versa, so for a long time humans and orcs could not really effectively communicate in their respective languages.

A History Of Orcs and Humans In This Part Of The World

Orcs were the first to domesticate animals, primarily for meat, but also for transportation and other purposes, and humans probably learned animal domestication from early orcs. Orcs, however, rarely practice plant-based agriculture, since their diets contain little plant matter. Thus, orc clothing is usually made of leather and wool, and orcish wool today is highly sought after. Humans are more likely to use linen or cotton.

Humans also then tend to have more sedentary societies, often centered around bodies of fresh water which they can use for irrigation (although not always). Orcs are more likely to herd ruminants and be more spread out, and are sometimes nomadic, although some orcs settle along the coast and eat primarily fish. Humans, however, being omnivorous, can form these types of societies as well - their adaptable diet allows them to adapt to many different circumstances.

For a long time, humans and orcs would trade with some difficulty, or often come into conflict with each other. In fact, for a while, it was a widespread myth among both that the other species did not use language at all. Conflict was common. Humans feared orcs because of their large size and great strength, and orcs feared humans because of their larger numbers.

The first major change happened about 700 years ago. In response to a scourge of monsters using enchantment magic (to be described in a future post), the paladins formed the Silent Guard, a specialized force of deaf paladins who were immune to mind control abilities. At this time, Common Sign became codified and standardized. As they came in contact with the orcs, who were also dealing with this problem, they realized they had found a language they could all learn and communicate in. The Holy City formed an alliance with these nearby orcs against this threat, and recruited orcish blacksmiths to make weapons and armour, as they discovered that the orcs were better at metalworking than their own smiths. This resulted in the first orcish community developing in a human city, and many delicacies of the Holy City, such as steak, originate from the orcish community there and were introduced at that time.

However, for a long time orcs and humans did not live together outside of this city and the surrounding areas.

About 200 years ago, the half-orcs arrived, fleeing a catastrophe in a different land. Half-orc is a misnomer: humans originally thought that they were a mix between humans and orcs, but while romantic relationships between orcs and humans certainly happen, they are not able to have biological children together, being distinct species. Half orcs are orcs, just a bit different in appearance. Their tusks are much smaller, and thus they are able to speak both human and orcish languages, albeit with an accent. They're also a bit shorter and stockier, although no less strong.

Half-orcs generally joined the existing orcish communities, and now it's quite common for humans and orcs to be able to communicate, if through a half-orc translator. It's also now more common to learn to understand the other's language even if you can't speak it. While prejudices initially remained, the economic possibilities overcame them. As mentioned before, orcish metalwork, wool and leather are of excellent quality, and orcs could benefit from byproducts of human plant-based agriculture, with human-made linen clothing becoming a sign of wealth among orcs.

I will elaborate more later on other things alluded to in this history, as well as some different orc cultures (and human cultures).

Written Mar. 8 2020