All About Orcs
So literally the first question everyone has when considering orcs in Your Dungeonmaster's Precious Setting is, "is it morally justified to massacre a bunch of infant orcs?"
The answer is, of course, no, never, not even then, what are you retarded it's wrong to kill babies. It's also true that in my setting orcs were created by a primal act of murder, they literally have the evil of that deed stamped on their souls and they are twisted, despicable beings made of hate and bottomless anger. It's still wrong to murder babies, you goons. In fact, orcs are everything I just described and also ensouled beings with freedom of will (their creator hates them, he certainly doesn't care what they do). The universe is complicated and not about to make itself easy for your moral convenience. Except with dragons, I guess.
Here's the fucked thing with Orcs. If you were talking hypothetically with one, and you said "if I slaughtered your whole tribe and then came upon a bunch of your helpless infants, would it be acceptable within the bounds of war for me to slaughter them?" The orc would be like, "keep them alive so they stay fresh if you need rations, lol."
Yeah, orcs eat babies, mostly their own. Just like hogs. Actually cannibalism is quite common among them but for obvious reasons, in extremis the newborn are eaten first. Note that orcs don't eat each other for any spiritual reason (they do not have a mystical bent or care much for symbolism), but when food is scarce. Orcs are quite large (5' 8" to 6' 3" in a world where the average man is 5' 6"-5' 7") and have big muscles, obviously, so they need a protein-rich diet and they need a lot of it. They are omnivorous, of course and can get a little nutrition from just about anything, just like hogs. But still, meat is the thing.
Why are orcs green pig people? Because they sprang from the blood of the slain god Freyr, who was called The Boar King, you see. Incidentally, Freyr's wife Gerd was a Giantess and Storm Giants and Forest Giants (the tallest giant kindreds) are green so I don't know, possible connection there? Anyway. Freyr created the Elves, and so the Elves and Orcs are related in this way---the Elves call the Orcs their shadow, or distorted reflection, but then again Elves are vain. Gruumsh, the brother god of Freyr and his murderer, considers himself the "Father" of the orcs. The orcs believe they are ugly because Gruumsh was ugly and Gruumsh made them with his hate. Gruumsh hates his children: the Orcs believe that the moon is his watchful eye (the full moon being the time for worthy deeds), and the stars are the all the dead orcs. Gruumsh pinned them up in the sky and lit them on fire, because he hates them. Because they're ugly, like Gruumsh is ugly, and they remind him he could only create ugly things. Yes, Orcs consider themselves ugly and the Elves beautiful (in a sense they are the same race): braids of the Elves' lovely golden hair are quite a trophy if you can get it.
|see what I mean? the Storm Giant's the green one|
|This is a Forest Giantess. I've been in love with this drawing for thirteen years, lol.|
What are orcs like? Orcs are often likened to boars or pigs and this is accurate, in the same way people are basically chimps with more complicated rituals. Orcs have jaw and cheekbone structure reminiscent of suidae, which gives them very wide mouths and big square chins; orcmen have tusks turning upwards and orcwives usually none but when they do the tusks turn outwards; both have fangs but otherwise normal teeth, though some have "outer teeth" pointed outwards from the gums like a pig's. Many orcs look very frightening and bestial, with their jaws filthy and open like the boars they venerate, but some are handsome in a Ron Perlman As The Beast kind of way.
|You see how thick that jawbone is and also how the teeth project forward? Yeah baby, yeah.|
Speaking of sports, orcs play many martial and athletic games among themselves. They are quite obsessed with games, as is common in hunter-warrior societies where for long stretches of time there is not much to do. These include javelin, shotput, darts, archery, climbing, and complicated hypothetical arguments (an aspect of "bulling" as it's called) such as "how would you hunt a pack of worgs," or "how would you ambush a heavily armored force of Men" [sidebar, orcish has problems with plurality so the singular "Man" is often ignored and the plural Men always used, as in 'you are a Men, talk to this other Men for me."] Orcs have long memories (like pigs) and to catch your opponent in an argument up by bringing up some point from long before is considered a masterful stroke. You may notice hurled weapons are popular with them: it is a myth that orcs prefer to "best use" their natural strength by wading into melee with a pair of battle-axes. Thrown weapons, recurved bows and long spears are more prized, as orcs love the ambush and to deliver the decisive stroke from surprise. "Fighting fair," goes their oldest saying, "is for suckers (oink oink)." The glorification of single combat is characteristic of cultures that possess heavy personal armor and most orc societies through the centuries have lacked this.
Most orcs wear carefully prepared skin or clothing of bark. The time consuming manufacture of these is of course the domain of orcwives: but if an orcman can best survive by excelling at womens' work and if an orcwife wants to kill (who doesn't?) then it's a whatever. All orcs, however, love to decorate. Again, this is a culture of hunters who often have long stretches with nothing to do, so in addition to cutting on themselves in artistic ways they fashion braids and decorations of bone, horn, fur and feather---think Leatherstocking Goes Hellraiser and you get the idea. Orcs are very good at grinding bone and shell together and then making it a paste they can mold into plates or pipeclay for ever more elaborate and creative decoration. These decorations are another reason close combat is largely scorned by them.
If I am making orcs sound too cute or domestic remember these are people who will throw a knife at your head because their sliced-up skin is really irritating them that day, or murder and eat a close friend with the sang-freud of a pig. All orcs have the rage and the ruthlessness, like two devils pulling them in opposite directions. A lot of what I have said may be overreaching: orcs (and pigs!) can and do know love and loyalty but it is not praised among them. But, as to their skin: it is true orcs don't sweat and wallow in mud to keep cool and ease their irritation, and why they do poorly in meridian climes. A kind of backhanded blessing from their creator Gruumsh is that where many orcs live for a while, deep pits of mud will "bloom." Men call these corruptures and note accurately that orcs ruin the land wherever they settle (like pigs!). This is also why orcs encountered in the dungeon have pit traps around them, that's actually a weaponized bathing area (if they were expecting you). The sunlight does indeed burn orcs' skin and sting their eyes and the mud and darkness are their refuge (hence they settle in dense wood and caves, rarely staying in open country). Orcs go about with exposed skin totally covered in mud (save for where it's flensed, probably) giving them a yellow, reddish, brown or white cast depending on local clay (their natural skin colors are green, ash-grey and rarely bruise purple or white). This also improves their smell, and they frequently mix fragrant herbs, pine needles etc. into their skin ointments to smell better (they don't actually like stank anymore than humans do though some unwisely take it as a competition to see who can stink up a cave the most).
|Another orc NPC's portrait. Note the mix of leather, wood and bone and how armor and weapons blend into decoration|
A common saying of men is, "boars and bats are the allies of orcs," and while not totally true (animals are not magically smart in my setting), they are the most frequently chosen companions of orc rangers, hunters and druids. Boars accompany orcs to war and hunt just as dogs accompany Men but, of course, they are not so selflessly loyal. Bats of course frequently carry disease through no fault of their own (interestingly in real life they had a heraldic association with physicians/medicine, at least in Islamic Spain) and orcs who live near (many cultivate) batcaves will pick up these diseases and so become even more hideous and threatening to Player Character intruders. Guano bombs and fungal alchemy provide traps for orc lairs.
As I mentioned, orcs, Men and Elves all have basically the same standard of beauty within a broad range (because Orcs are just a twisted version of Elves, of course): although orcs are usually extravagantly hideous and proud of it, some are attractive enough you might want to settle down and make a baby with them. Half-Orcs are often born from violence but also sometimes because mixed communities of wild men and seminomadic orcs form, especially up north (where the orcs are called "tamed" and now have many apparatuses of civilization). Because of the orcs' gloomy and violent outlook on basically everything (they like to say the stars are the souls of the departed burning in agony, they will always find a reason why what you're doing is pointless and dumb and you're doing it wrong anyway, schadenfreude and sarcasm is their cultural heritage etc.) such unions can be difficult unless the Men becomes Orclike or the Orc becomes Menlike (both are possible--orcs are ensouled beings with free will and capable of change, probably). The way of this generally is to encourage Bulling, which is the Orc art of conversation and includes complex hypotheticals, anecdotes and lore. Bulling is definitely the most positive social behavior Orcs engage in and you could with time probably make an orc upbeat (dare we say pleasant?) by encouraging her or him to Bull more. Some Orcs and Half-Orcs are born among humans and are almost totally human in personality, just a person with bad skin and a bad temper. The reverse is probably also true, orcs will (out of indifference/laziness) accept anyone into their band who is self-reliant and can Bull (and understands that cannibalism is nothing personal).
More about Bulling: an interesting fact about Orcs is that they do not use chairs save for the very human-influenced tribes. Thus Orcs have perfected the squat from earliest youth and can spend hours squatting on their haunches without straining a muscle. Orcs on guard duty or waiting nearby a trap will squat and bull in that position for hours, or attend to some craft such as carving a bat from a wood block or making a new wristband. Despite their violent tempers they can display an incredible patience at this, sometimes lurking by their trap and sitting and muttering for a day or more. Thus it is orcs encountered at random in some dungeon chamber could have been there for many days with nothing more to amuse themselves than decoration or deep thoughts ("is eating until you burst the best way to die?")
Tolkien already gave us a perfectly good naming scheme for Orcs so I go with something that's heavy on the snapping and buzzing sounds (Gazarak, Rakku, etc.) or I go with Akkadian with the ending vowel replaced with a Black Speech-y noise (like take the word Inannu and make it Enank) or something from Mesopotamian mythology (like the monster Humbaba, which made the name Hun-Ba-Kil). Or, if it's hard to remember a bunch of made up noises, I translate the name (ex. of Orc NPCs in my game: Rotten-Axe, Topknot, Tall Pole, Prettygirl, Big'un, Bad Shot, Milk).
If this all sounds too ordinary and dull and close to real human cultures (although it isn't and I can't think of any like this), consider orcs as basically prime henchman material (the idea of them losing their infravision is dumb, btw--they totally keep the predator vision but they have to be immersed in total darkness for it to work). Your Chaotic fighter can totally get a bunch of orcs to follow him but consider my orcs A) are not dumb axe-wielding guys in fur diapers named Zog, B) are laconic but also argument-loving petty assholes C) are often fuckable if you can see past the whole mutilated green beastgirl thing, and they're probably much more fun to have around. My players have like three orc henchmen now and they love the terse gloomy motherfuckers.