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…