The orcs of Dungeons & Dragons are a result of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. While the term “orc” had existed earlier in the fiction of Charles Kingsley, those orcs are not clearly described.
Dungeons & Dragons orcs have always been described throughout the editions as having pig-like faces.
In the Player’s Handbook, p. 40, orcs are described as being 5-7 feet tall, weighing between 180 to 250 pounds, and having “grayish pigmentation, sloping foreheads, jutting jaws, prominent teeth, and towering builds”. They have also been known to greenish pigmentation. Welcome to a Half-Orcs 5e Guide.
The Bottom Line on Half-Orcs in 5e
Half-orcs have always been a playable D&D race since the First Edition. While most D&D societies see them as evil, they do not always choose that path.
Half-orcs tend to have extra Strength and Constitution. Like most non-humans, they also have darkvision.
A half-orc is always part orc and part something else. The basic stats for half-orcs in the Player’s Handbook are based on a half-orc/half-human combination.
That is only one of many possibilities. Other combinations like goblin-orcs and dwarf-orcs are listed as half-orc subraces below.
The Birth Question
The Player’s Handbook describes half-orcs as the result of marriages between human tribes and orcish tribes. However, in Dungeons & Dragons, throughout the editions and in the work of Tolkien, the orcs have always been depicted as a warlike race, fully capable of committing atrocities.
Just as in human history in the real world, such societies with those values do not make all of their offspring through marriage or through consensual relationships.
This is relevant to players and dungeon masters (DMs) because the circumstances of a player character’s birth are an essential element in their character arc.
If you want your game to be simply about killing monsters and taking the treasure, you can forget the character arc. However, if you want your game to include role-playing within a well-developed world, albeit an imaginary one, this birth question must be answered for half-orcs.
One could argue that the birth circumstances of any player character of any race should be mapped out at some point, but maybe not at first level.
With humans and other non-mixed races, elves, dwarves, etc., a player can take the easy way out and say that the character had a “normal” childhood from a traditional marriage.
Half-elves, tieflings, and other mixed races are described as being caught between the different societies of the different races of their parents.
However, this “not fitting in” isn’t necessarily the result of bad unions between parents that didn’t love each other. In fact, in Tolkien’s work, the precedent of loving marriages between humans and elves had already been established.
Elrond and his brother Elros were not only half-eves, but their parents were half-elves as well.
Aragorn, one of the central human characters of The Lord of the Rings, eventually married Elrond’s daughter Arwen and had half-elven or 3/8 elven children. (Arwen’s father Elrond was a half-elf and her mother was “full-elf”, so Arwen was a ¾ elf.)
With half-orcs, however, the situation is very different and in many campaigns many people that a half-orc encounters are going to suspect that the half-orc’s origins are not by marriage or even consensual.
Of course, it’s very possible that a player’s character existence could be the result of a loving marriage through loving parents. Such a story can be even more interesting than a darker origin.
The point is that a decision about a half-orc character’s origin should be made early because anything else would be bad role-playing.
Who is Gruumsh?
Gruumsh is the leader of the orcish pantheon of deities. He has one eye, carries a spear, and his son Bahgtru is the orcish god of strength. Basically, Gruumsh is orc Odin.
This is relevant because the myths of Gruumsh explain the current interaction between orcs and the other races:
Countless millennia ago, the gods of the different races drew lots to decide where to put their people. The elves drew their lot and got the forests. The dwarves drew their lot and got the mountains and the caves.
The halflings drew their lot and got the meadows and the fields. Men, however, were the luckiest for they had drawn the best of the lots and could dwell wherever they wished.
When the gods were finished, they looked at Gruumsh as they laughed and pretended to apologize.
“We are so sorry. We have drawn our lots and there is nothing left for you.”
Gruumsh towered over the earth as he brandished his spear. With a mighty strike, he pierced the mountains and created chasms. He pierced the forests and they burned, as did the meadows and the fields. This time, it was Gruumsh who laughed.
“You sought to cheat me, but Gruumsh is nobody’s fool!”
He pointed to chasms in the mountains with his spear.
“Here is where my people shall dwell!’
Then he pointed to the burned-out forests.
And so it went, with the meadows and fields and other places where Gruumsh had caused ruin. Of course, there were still plenty of undamaged mountains, forests, etc., but Gruumsh had made his point, literally.
It’s just a story, but one that is commonly told in the D&D multi-universe. Regardless of whether or not the events had actually happened, the truth is in how orcs see themselves in relation to the other races and their place in the cosmos.
The other races see orcs as the bad guys, but orcs see themselves as victims. They feel not only that life has cheated them, but that the very gods themselves had sought to deny them a place to stand and work and sleep and live.
Only Gruumsh had their back. Yet, his help was not a hug and a handout. His help was to give them the most inhospitable places in the world and say, “Do something with that.”
Orcs as a society may be evil, but they are also self-reliant. It’s them against the world, because nobody is going to show up to save them.
Half-Orc traits can be found in the Player’s Handbook (PHB) p. 40-41. Their ASIs (ability score increases) stand out for warrior-type/tank classes because of their +2 Strength and +1 Constitution.
|ASI (Ability Score Increase)||Strength +2||Constitution +1|
|Age||Mature 14 years||Maximum 75 years|
|Size||5-6+ ft tall|
|Darkvision 60 ft||Dim light as bright light||Darkness as dim light|
|Relentless Endurance||If at 0 hit points, you can function as if at 1 hit point||Must take long rest to recharge|
|Savage Attacks||If a critical hit is scored, add 1d damage depending on weapon||Add extra damage to damage of critical hit|
|Languages||Common and Orc|
|Orc names||Male: Dench, Feng, Gell, Holg, Imsh, Keth, Krusk, Mhurren, Ront, Shump, Thokk||Female: Baggi, Emen, Engong, Kansif, Myev, Neega, Ovak, Ownka, Sutha, Vola, Volen, Yevelda|
Strength and Constitution are the primary stats for a barbarian, so half-orcs are a great fit. My character will be a female half-orc (half-orc/half-human) barbarian named Baggi.
For the benefit of readers who are not natural dice-throwers, I’m basing my character-build decisions on the standard set of scores model PHB, p 13. The standard scores can be moved around into any sequence. Here is the standard sequence in descending order: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8.
|Ability Scores Total||16||10||13||12||16||8|
Half-Orc Barbarian: Skills Proficiencies
I’ve chosen the Outlander background for Baggi. This gives me two proficiencies I want, Survival and Athletics. Now I’m free to choose two more for my barbarian class, perception and animal handling.
Half-Orc Barbarian: Armor and Weapons
As a barbarian, Baggi gets to add both her Constitution modifier and her Dexterity modifier to her armor class (AC) when not wearing armor. Therefore, I’ll choose to have her not wear armor.
She can also choose to have a shield while using this class ability, but I’ll have her not use a shield so she can use a two-handed weapon, a greatsword. Her ranged weapon will be javelins.
See Also: Comprehensive D&D Weapons Guide.
|LVL||HP||Armor||AC||Melee Weapon||MW Dam/turn||Ranged Weapon||RW Dam/turn|
The History and Philosophy of Baggi the Barbarian
Baggi was born into an orc tribe to an orc mother and a human father. Her father was a slave that had been taken by the tribe and claimed as property by her orcish mother.
Her parents had a complicated relationship and whether or not Baggi’s conception was consensual on the part of her father is unknown. Baggi knew better than to ask such questions of her mother, a strong warrior that was feared throughout the tribe by males and females alike.
Baggi once ventured to ask about her father.
“Fearsome Mother, there are plenty of strong orc males within our tribe. Why would you choose a weak human to breed with?”
Baggi never saw the clawed fist that sent her flying on her back, but she received an answer to her question.
“All males are weak, of any race, because they cannot bear the pain of giving birth. It has been said that mixing orc blood makes for stronger orcs and I wanted to see for myself.
You, Baggi, will answer that question for me. Just choose your questions carefully, because every question has its price.”
Ok. Some decisions have already been made regarding my half-orc character.
Baggi was born into orc culture, not human culture, and her mother was the dominant parent. Baggi was not born through marriage but through a master-slave situation. Answering these questions, however, opens the door to other questions:
- Did Baggi have siblings or half-siblings and, if so, were any of them the product of marriage?
- Are both of her parents still alive?
- The basics of Baggi’s relationship with her mother are outlined above, but what about her father? Did Baggi love him or despise him for being human? Was he around long enough to get to know him?
Obviously, when Baggi reached adulthood at age 14, she probably knew the answers to these questions for herself on some level and the player should know as well.
How can you play a character if you don’t whether the character’s parents were alive or dead when that character was last in his or her homeland?
Of course, I could take the easy way out and say that Baggi’s father had been killed by the other intolerant orcs before Baggi was old enough to talk. Instead, I’m deciding that Baggi did get to know her father.
The other intolerant orcs wanted to kill Baggi’s father, but Baggi’s mother protected him.
I’m going to go one step further and say that Baggi categorized her father as a beta male and resented him for the crime of being weak. Baggi’s status within her tribe is now complicated. Her mother is respected and feared and her father is despised and laughed at.
The tribe as a whole doesn’t know what Baggi is. Is she strong because of her mother or weak because of her father?
This answers the adventuring question. Obviously, her tribe is no longer home for her, and she is going to have to gain glory through her own deeds and not her mother’s reputation.
Orcs can and will breed with almost anything: humans, dwarves, halflings, goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears, ogres, gnolls, trolls, kobolds, etc.
Their offspring can even be planetouched, offspring produced by breeding with creatures from other planes, as one might see with half-orc tieflings and genasi.
The notable exception is that of elves, but that is for orcish society. If an individual orc and an individual elf choose to create children together, against the wishes of their societies, that can create an interesting story and an interesting D&D campaign arc.
Related read: Bugbear 5e Race Guide.
Breeding between orcs and goblins is quite common. Goblin-orcs are just as strong as orcs and half-orcs (human-orcs). Players who choose to be goblin-orcs have a choice.
They can either have the same stats as a standard half-orc (+2 STR/+1 CON) or get some goblin dexterity (+2 STR/+1 DEX).
There is not much difference between ASI’s, but proficiencies and other physiology traits offer the best of both worlds:
- Age: Mature at 14, lifespan to 250
- Size: Medium Speed: 30 ft Darkvision 60 ft
- Languages: Common, Orc, Dwarvish
- Hybrid Physiology Traits: Choose up to three traits listed below
- Same as dwarves as listed in PHB:
- Dwarven Resilience, Stonecunning
- Dwarven Combat Training (proficiency with battleaxe, handaxe, light hammer, and warhammer)
- 1 Tool Proficiency from: smith’s tools, brewer’s supplies, mason’s tools
- Same as half-orcs in PHB: Menacing (Intimidation skill), Relentless Endurance, Savage Attacks
- Description: Dwarf-orcs can grow tusks and facial hair
- Skin: green, gray, or tan
An orog is a cross between an orc and an ogre. They use their strength to craft weapons and armor, including plate mail, of great quality.
In the Forgotten Realms setting their tribe is called the Skullbiters and they are often referred to as Deep Orcs because they live in the Underdark.
Here are their stats as player characters (taken from the Forgotten Realms setting):
- Darkvision: 120 ft
- Weapon proficiencies: greatsword, throwing axe, 1 additional martial weapon
- Craft proficiencies: armor-smithing, weapon smithing
- Resistances: fire 5, cold 5, natural armor +2
- Light Blindness: bright light blinds for 1 round and -1 on attacks, saves, and checks when in bright light
- Languages: Common, Undercommon, Orc, Dwarven, Elven, Goblin, Giant
Here are their stats as monsters:
- AC: 18 (plate)
- HP: 42 (5d8 +20)
- Speed 30 ft.
- Proficiency Bonus +3
|18 (+4)||12 (+1)||18 (+4)||12 (+1)||11 (+0)||12 (+1)|
- Skills: Intimidation +5, Survival +2
- Languages Common, Orc
- Senses: Darkvision: 60 ft., Passive Perception 10
- Challenge: 2 (450 XP)
- Multi-attack: 2 greataxe attacks/turn
- Greataxe: Melee: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft.
Dam (1d12 +4) slashing
- Javelin: Melee or Ranged Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft. or
Range 30/120 ft., Dam (1d6 +4) piercing
Notice the discrepancy between the orogs of the Forgotten Realms setting and the orogs of generic D&D. My advice would be to clear things with your DM before creating an orog character which some DMs may classify as over-powered.
A Tanarukk is what you get when breed a demon with an orc. If they have a name for it, it must happen often enough.
As monsters, here are their stats.
- AC: 14 (natural armor)
- HP: 95 (10d8 + 50)
- Speed 30 ft.
|18 (+4)||13 (+1)||20 (+5)||9 (-1)||9 (-1)||9 (-1)|
- Skills: Intimidation +2, Perception +2
- Damage Resistance: fire, poison
- Magic Resistance: Advantage on saves vs magic
- Senses: Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 12
- Languages: Abyssal, Common, plus one other
- Challenge: 5 (1800 XP) Proficiency Bonus +3
- Aggressive: As a bonus action, a tanaruk can move up to its speed towards a hostile creature it can see
- Multi-attack: 2 attacks/turn 1 with bite and 1 with greatsword
- Bite: Melee: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft. Dam (1d8 +4) piercing
- Greatsword: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft. Dam (2d6 +4) slashing
Gray orcs are part of the Forgotten Realms Setting and most closely resemble the orcs found in World of Warcraft. In the distant past, they had powerful clerics that could summon avatars of Gruumsh and other orc gods.
Description: They have large tusks, but other than that, gray orcs look less pig-like than other Dungeons & Dragons/LOTR orcs. They have long manes and grayish skin tones.
- Eyes: yellow, orange, or red
- Hair: black or gray
- Same as half-orcs: starting age, life expectancy, height, and weight characteristics
- Their clothes are cleaner and better than that of other orcs.
Here are their ASI’s:
- Speed: 40
- Languages: Common, Orc, Draconic, Giant, Goblin
- Weapon Proficiencies: greataxe and longbow
- Darkvision 60 ft. Light Sensitivity: -1 on attack roles in bright light
- Scent ability as described in Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Obviously, gray orcs are not half-orcs, but full-blooded orcs. It is still good to know about them in case a player wants to create a half-orc that has the orc half not based on a generic orc.
Gray orcs make great clerics, druids, and rangers and also excel in the martial classes. Notice that their movement is 33% faster than most other races.
Question: If Orcs Hate Other Races, why do they Breed with them?
Answer: Orcs make war on all races, including other “evil” races like goblins, hobgoblins, drow, etc. They definitely have resentment toward humans and demi-humans because of the Gruumsh myth.
However, on PHB p.40 it says very clearly that orcs have marriages between orcs and humans, usually through tribal alliances.
Breeding out-of-wedlock between conquering peoples and the conquered has been common in real-life history, but having marriages with races your group considers to be enemies of Gruumsh seems like a contradiction.
Orcs may seem simple and brutish on the surface, but they are actually a complicated race.
I would say that tribes of humans that make alliances with tribes of orcs could be classified by orcs as “some of the few brave and strong humans”, the exception to a race of cowardly weaklings. In orcish society, power and morality are intertwined through a Darwinist lens.
So, if a strong human knows the orc ways and shows proper respect when marrying into an orc tribe, he or she can be considered an honorary orc.
If you think about the question deeply, how good does a traditional orcish marriage get between two orcs?
If you have a race that makes perpetual war on all other races and even against other tribes of the same race, and then has power struggles between various leaders within the tribe, what are the chances that the members of that tribe are going to have normal, loving marriages?
It is more likely, that orc husbands and orc wives have specific roles within their tribes, and that their marriages are based on that function, not on love.
For a Dungeons & Dragons orc to physically abuse his or her mate is not considered toxic, it is considered normal or even better than normal; it can be considered being alpha.
Therefore, if we look at most orc marriages with other races, they would be bad by our standards, but not by orc standards. Yes, these marriages are abusive, but in the orc world, abuse is a good thing because abuse makes you strong, according to them.
Yes, orcs dominate those they can dominate but get dominated by those that can dominate them. Orcs tend to dominate the goblins they marry and would do the same for halflings, kobolds, etc.
However, if an orc were to marry an ogre or a bugbear, the stronger creature, of either gender, would dominate the orc. They might even boast about it, “My bugbear is stronger than any orc!”
Question: Why don’t Orcs Breed with Elves?
Answer: In the Dungeons & Dragons world, racial traits are a guideline and a tendency, but never an iron rule. In the works of R.A.
Salvatore, Drizz’t was a good-hearted drow ranger, despite the fact that drow tend to be evil. That’s why it’s possible to have good orcs and evil halflings.
Every life-form that can think can make its own choices. Its society, however, has its own history and its own tendencies.
While some good-alignment orcs might choose to marry and breed with elves, their society has a dark history with elves that, again, begins with Gruumsh.
Corellon Larethian is the leader of the elven pantheon of gods and something of a trickster. How in particular Gruumsh and the elven god crossed paths and came to blows is unclear.
What is clear is that a fierce battle ensued and Corellon Larethian removed or attempted to remove Gruumsh’s eye. Since then, orcs have had an unquenchable enmity for elves.
As a societal rule, when orcs capture elves, they kill them on site, no parlay, no prisoners, and no breeding.
Question: Which is Better, an Orc or a Half-orc?
Answer: For 5e, half-orcs, no contest. Orcs have ASI’s of +2 Strength and -2 Intelligence for a total gain of +0. (Dungeon Master’s Guide, p. 282.)
In contrast, half-orcs have +2 Strength and +1 Constitution for a total gain of +3.
So, apparently, mixing understandably, mixing orc-blood makes them smarter but for some unknown reason, more resilient.
Question: Were there Half-orcs in LOTR?
Answer: Possibly yes. In J.R.R Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, there was a man that seems to have goblin-like features, squint-eyed and sallow-faced, known simply as “the southerner”.
The southerner was a spy of Saruman and Saruman was known for experimenting with the breeding of orcs as he had created the uruk-hai.
People with features similar to the southerner appeared in The Two Towers and The Return of the King including the Scouring of the Shire chapter.
Tolkien used orc and goblin interchangeably in his writings, so there was no difference. Goblins and orcs were the same creatures, not different races like in Dungeons & Dragons.
In Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Tolkien’s works, goblins seem to be a different variant of orcs with pale faces, but that is not the case in Tolkien’s books.
Question: Are there Uruk-hai in D&D?
Answer: Yes, but they are simply called uruks. Their ASI is +3 Strength with a max of 20. One could argue that their ASI’s are still not good enough to compare to them LOTR orcs like Ugluk or Lurtz, especially as seen on film.
Dungeons & Dragons is arguably the first tabletop role-playing game. If you are player of the game, you play your role well. Playing your role well does not mean simply “my character showed up in a tavern and these are his or her stats”.
Questions about birth and subrace have to be answered. Questions about your character’s position in relation to orc society and orc religion have to be answered.
Once those questions are answered, your character is going to have a motor that will drive him or her through dungeons and campaigns.
Success will no longer be about killing the monster and taking the treasure. Success will be about the playing role to its ultimate conclusion, regardless of whether that role leads to gaining a level or to character death.
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