Beginner's Guide to Half-Orcs
“People fear what they don't understand and hate what they can't conquer.”
― Andrew Smith
Few playable races in D&D live lives as fraught with persecution, apprehension, and harsh treatment as the half-orcs. The product of an eager, ambitious race and one that is renowned and feared for its savage and bloodthirsty nature, half-orcs are unwelcome or at least approached with trepidation by most folk… and rightly so! With their particular genetic cocktail, half-orcs are not a folk to be trifled with, easily among the strongest and most cunning races in D&D’s fiction.
Humans and orcs are perpetually at war. Actually, all races and orcs are constantly at odds. Orcs honor Gruumsh, the brutal war god patron of their race, in all things. Their legends tell of a conspiracy amongst the gods of all the other races to divide the world amongst themselves, leaving no home for the orcs. When Gruumsh discovered he had been cheated, he rent the world in his rage, creating canyons, caverns, rifts, ravines, and caves. These places he gave to the orcs, and declared war on all the gods and their children for slighting him. As such, orcs despise the other humanoid races of the world.
Wartime sometimes involves unlikely alliances. The Player’s Handbook makes a point of mentioning that temporary alliances and truces between orcs and other humanoids have been known to happen. These pacts may be sealed with marriage, as such things often are. The children of such unions would be half-orcs. But wartime also involves darker, less pleasant things… the raiding of enemy camps and settlements, prisoners of war, subjugation, and humiliation. Harmonious matrimony is not the only way half-orcs are made, nor is it the most common.
Orcs view humans as the enemy, and humans view orcs as monsters to be killed on sight. While half-elves have an angst-ridden roleplay hook that they are comfortable in neither of their parents’ societies, a half-orc must deal with a much more practical and grim oppression. Their human parent is likely to view them as an unwanted abomination, and their orc parent will likely consider them weak and impure.
Orcs and humans rarely live in blended communities. As such, a half-orc is likely to be raised as an or or a human, depending on its circumstance and surroundings. Whichever race raises the half-orc will have a great influence on their life path and values. If raised among humans, a half orc is likely encouraged to put its innate strength to practical use. They make great laborers and soldiers, and are often steered toward these roles. Rarely are they welcomed in by high society, and they’re encouraged to find roles that keep them out of sight. In places where prejudice against their kind is rampant, half-orcs are often refused honest work, and are driven toward lives of crime. They are well-suited to cloak and dagger work, having inherited the ability to see in the dark from the orcs.
Half-orcs raised as orcs, oddly enough, are likely to be given a greater chance to succeed. Orc society values strength… not brute strength, necessarily, but martial might. While a half-orc is leaner and lighter than most orcs, they are also often quicker and cleverer. A half orc that can endure orcish life long enough to prove himself as capable may find themself being a well-respected member of a clan, maybe even its leader!
Despite their social hindrances, half-orcs are near-perfect physical specimens, melding the best attributes of both parents. Large, muscular physiques from their orc heritage, and lithe, lighter frames than most orcs. They are taller than most humans, on average, and their skin can contain greenish or gray hues. They boast slightly pointed ears, and prominent teeth, especially the lower canines, where orcs would have their tusks.
When angered or frightened, a half-orc’s orcish blood runs hot, giving them a natural advantage over their opponents. The primal savagery of their ancestors emerges and they fight with an almost bestial ferocity. And if the tides do turn against them, the warrior spirit of the orc flares up, allowing them to endure blows that would kill lesser creatures. Their reputation as fierce warriors precedes every half-orc, and the mere threat of a violent encounter with a half-orc is usually enough to make even stalwart hearts shudder.
Half-orcs are typically named by the conventions of the culture they’re raised in. A half-orc raised in a human settlement or kingdom might be named Roger, Gregory, or Barbara, just like any human. If raised amongst orcs, they will typically be given an orcish name. These are usually short, sharp names of only one or two syllables, featuring prominent vowels and hard consonants. Names like Thokk, Gurda, Mogur, or Skor would be common.
Due to their high strength and resilience, half-orcs excel in martial roles. A half-orc fighter or especially a half-orc barbarian is a formidable presence in any arena, able to deflect or simply ignore their enemy’s blows. Half-orc paladins and half-orc clerics can be fearsome forces for good or evil, depending on their proclivities. Smiting one’s foes with the divine power of Tempus, Talos, or Gruumsh the One-Eyed would bring any half-orc a sense of immense satisfaction. Finally, a half-orc ranger (especially one with a penchant for melee combat) is a solid route to take, as their biology makes half-orcs practically peerless alpha predators.
But, as with many factors of D&D, these trends are more guidelines than actual rules. Some of the more memorable half-orcs that have appeared in my home games have played against type, preferring to be peacemakers, gentle giants, and lovers rather than fighters. They battle their inner demons rather than taking their pain out on others. Half-orc monks that seek tranquility and enlightenment, and half-orc druids who wish to lead quiet lives of introspection and serenity. Don’t be afraid to surprise your party with a half-orc that defies expectations!
As per the Player’s Handbook, if you make a half-elf in DND 5e , you benefit from the following…
Ability Score Increase
Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Constitution score increases by 1.
Half-orcs mature a little faster than humans, reaching adulthood around age 14. They age noticeably faster and rarely live longer than 75 years.
Half-orcs are somewhat larger and bulkier than humans, and they range from 5 to well over 6 feet tall. Your size is Medium.
Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Thanks to your orc blood, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
You gain proficiency in the Intimidation skill.
When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.
When you score a critical hit with a melee weapon attack, you can roll one of the weapon’s damage dice one additional time and add it to the extra damage of the critical hit.
You can speak, read, and write Common and Orc. Orc is a harsh, grating language with hard consonants. It has no script of its own but is written in the Dwarvish script.
Half-orcs have a bad reputation in D&D… but that is to their credit! More than many other, this race comes with a visceral roleplay hook that can be very fun to explore at the right table, and it comes with a suite of mechanical benfits to turn your hero into an incomparable badass! How have you played a half-orc before? What is their coolest racial feature? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or in our ever-growing Discord!
Rob Franklin (thedndwannabe) has been a Dungeon Master for many years, and has a deep passion for roleplaying games. He runs the MistyMountainStreaming Twitch channel, our Misty Mountain Gaming YouTube channel, and is cohost of the Bardic Twinspiration D&D podcast. He also enjoys bourbon, From Software games, and his dog Bigby.
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