It isn’t easy being green…

The lowly orc has been a staple of roleplaying games from the very beginning. Most DM’s, like myself, have driven them forwards in hordes to die a terrible death on the adventurer’s swords.
At some point in the eighties Games Workshop decide they should be green skinned and now it is a rare day when you see an orc painted in any other colour. I even fell for this myself and I have W40K army in which every last one is green (oh the shame).
Of late though I have been thinking back to the originator of the modern orc and wondering what he would say if he saw what had become of them.
In Tolkien’s writings, Orcs are of human shape, of varying size but always smaller than Men. They are depicted as ugly and filthy, with a taste for human flesh. They are fanged, bow-legged and long-armed and some have dark skin as if burned. In a private letter, Tolkien describes them as “squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes… …degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types”. They are portrayed as miserable, crafty and vicious beings.

Peter Jackson, to his credit, did not make his orcs green. Indeed we see a broad spectrum of skin colours from almost white, through shades of grey and brown to black. So when I get around to repainting my fantasy and science fiction orcs they will definitely not be green.
Then there is also the matter of character. Just because Orcs are evil do they have to be stupid and miserable? In my games of late I have characterised them as being like Klingons from the later Star Trek series. Competitive, warlike and vicious, but with their own system of honour and strong spiritual beliefs. After all they are tribal and have mothers and children to feed.
In my worlds I don’t like two-dimensional villains. Simple rules does not necessarily mean simple games.
I once ran a campaign called ‘Out of the Dungeon’ in which the players took on the roles of a variety of humanoid monsters fleeing from the (inevitable) death of their Dark Lord and having to make a new life for themselves.
I gave them a small ten room dungeon and a valley full of humans and halfings to prey upon. Soon they were raiding and trading. Recruiting other humanoids to expand and protect their dungeon while they were off making a nuisance of themselves. It was great fun and I think I might dig that out and see if its worth rewriting…


About Craig

For those who need to know these things: - I'll never see 50 again. - I'm tall enough to see well in crowds and fat enough to leave a wake. - I'm well married to a woman with twice my smarts, three delightful and challenging children (er-hem), and one cat overlord. - I am Welsh. - I have to work for a living, but do nothing that makes me perspire.
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3 Responses to It isn’t easy being green…

  1. Pingback: It isn’t easy being green… | Todd DeanTodd Dean

  2. Pigmi Art says:

    Though it may not be “historically accurate” I really like the GW versions of Orcs. I find them much more menacing and humorous in a malicious sort of way. all in all I would say they were close enough to the Tolkien versions with a few artistic changes. Now you would be hard pressed to find an Orc that wasn’t 9 feet tall with green skin and ape like features. People must have enjoyed that version more or you wouldn’t see it so much. I’m a huge Tolkien fan and have read all his books several times, and even though there were no elves at the battle of helms deep I still loved it when they showed up in the movie. I didn’t know Tolkien personally so I couldn’t tell you what he would think of all the people taking artistic licence with his works but if I had to guess he would be smiling all the way to the bank. LOL
    Also it’s just good story telling the more epic the bad guy the more heroic the good guy … I like the big green skin hoards it would be shame to see them go away.

    • Craig says:

      It is less the ‘historically accurate’ as being green I’m questioning. After all I do have a GW Ork army led by General Grabnutz and fully appreciate the humour in it 🙂

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