Orcs are the living breathing examples of cruelty, brutality, pitilessness, indulgence, ambition, and evil. Although it may be stated that the race is not intrinsically evil, the tendency is almost irreversible and unavoidable. There has never been a recorded example of anything like a virtuous Orc, and it must be remembered that the corruption of the Orcish form is a reflection of the evil, pain, and hatred in their souls. Trying to find and build good qualities among Orcs is something less hopeful than attempting a successful moral campaign among human promoters of organized crime. Some have supposed that if such an alignment alteration occurred within an Orc, it might, over a period of time, surface in a beautifying of the physique. Perhaps in the extreme, something of an Elvish form might re-emerge. But so far, such hypotheses have been no more than mental ramblings over cold brew. Conversion of the mixed-breed offspring of Orcs and goodly races is far more likely.
There are basically three principles of advice for Orcish behavior within Orcish society, given here in order:
- If it is bigger and smarter than you, do as it says (otherwise stated as “avoid more pain at almost any cost”);
- Do whatever feels good;
- If you can hurt something while you pleasure yourself, so much the better.
Among themselves, from infancy through adulthood, Orcs are cannibalistic, greedy, grasping, and brutal. Nearly all positions of authority within Orcish society are gained by combat, ritual or otherwise. That is to say that there is never a power change among Orcs without blood-shed: it is considered normative. Orcs hate all other tribes of Orcs and all other races. Orc legions frequently distinguish themselves by consistently taking certain kinds of gruesome trophies; eyelids, ears, noses, etc. Orcs love to eat brutally, preferring fresh, uncooked, and bloody food; horses first, secondly Men, then Hobbits and Elves, and lastly Dwarves or other Orcs. Spiced blood drunk from skulls and fresh brains are considered delicacies.
The only thing which Orcs admire is power, and only there might be found something similar to loyalty among them. Generally, Orcs hate the masters whom they follow and fear. Yet, occasionally among the Uruk-hai, an Orc admires the potency and control of his overlord and will show some loyalty to him. Among these are the rare examples of Ugluk, Shagrat, and Grishnákh who demonstrated some unusual perseverance, discipline, and perhaps, sacrifice (but only to avoid greater pain later).
At the very least. Orcish life must be considered unspeakably grim. “Might makes right” is the purest and most devotedly followed of all Orcish axioms. There are no other laws. The only kind of inheritance is that of an item, such as a tribal totem weapon, coming down to the next succeeding biggest Orc. If a male Orc is the largest, the society is patriarchal — as far as he can reach; if female, matriarchal (although these are rare). In all cases, the largest, strongest Orc is boss, unless the tribe is ruled by something larger or more clever.
Having no sense of beauty, Orcs are equally miserable wherever they live, whether in caves, pits, catacombs, ruins, lairs of greater beings, or unhaunted marshes. They sometimes dwell in the vacated residences of other beings whom they have driven out. Needless to say, they quickly deface whatever aesthetic values a dwelling may have had before their occupation. Any items of magical import, unless they are melee weapons or valuable metals or gems, are liable to be completely overlooked. If Orcs are driven out of an abode, the dwellings can be cleansed of stench and filth only after great and long effort.
The Orcish instinct to reproduce is not constant, as in Men, nor periodic, as in animals, but is tied to the existence of a dominating evil will. Only when controlled by the Dark Lord’s desire for hordes of warriors and slaves do the Orcs reproduce. Even then, they do not marry, but breed. Gestation is under five months, and multiple births of four infants are common. Females are capable of three to four times as many conceptions as humans; and the children reach maturity before nine years of age. Males are born at a twice the rate of females. Most commonly females and children are cloistered away in a “breeding pit,” a deep and removed chamber in whatever dwelling the Orcs have obtained. This is not the result of some paternal instinct for protection of the weak, but normal Orcish greed for the privilege of breeding and the opportunity to snatch a tasty youngster for dinner. Nor is breeding performed for sensual pleasure; it is a violent act, indulged to display and exercise power and prestige.
Access to the breeding pit is usually controlled by the larger males, so that the tribe tends naturally to genetic strength. The chief and leading officers of the tribe may have some select females in their own chambers reserved for them alone. These are protected out of sense of pride rather than actual concern or interest, a characteristic Orcs never feign unless they are being obsequious before someone greater. Children are community property, with adults feeding or eating them as they see fit. There is almost no maternal or paternal instinct to be found among the adults. The only reason mother Orcs nurse young is that they experience great discomfort if their natural milk is not drawn off by the toothy small ones.
Matriarchal tribes replace the breeding pits with dormitories for male Orcs. The females occupy private chambers and engage in all activities common to males in patriarchal tribes: combat, hunting, raiding, and leadership. But the roles are not entirely reversed: males merely add supervision of infant Orcs to their normal duties. In patriarchal tribes, breeding and feeding are the only functions of Orcish females, along with keeping down the vermin in the dwelling. All significant privileges and activities — fighting, hunting, stealing, celebrating — are reserved for males. Females and children live a grey existence varied only by differing levels of fear and anger. As stated by the Quendi, distilling and distorting the tortured Orc-race from the Elves may have been Melkor’s most abominable act.
Orcish Weapon Craft
The supreme Orcish craft is pain, but they are excellent smiths. Whether it be weapons or implements of torture, Orcs develop items with great utility, if no beauty. Their swords and maces are said to rival those of the Elves and Dwarves in function. Only the differences in racial proportions causes Orcish tools, to be of little use to other races. Without long, apish arms, Orcish weaponry feels clumsy and ineffective (-5 to –25), but those same items, crafted often of steel, can be wielded viciously by Melkor’s children. Orcs care little about the style of their axes or spears. Being born and raised in violence, most can wield any weapon that falls into their hands equally well, with the exception of bows, which are used more proficiently by some tribes than by others.
Orcs produce more curved blades, similar to scimitars, than any other weapon. Larger curved swords may resemble falchions. Nearly as frequently can be found the familiar Orcish short-bow and black feathered short arrows. Heavy Orc infantry often use hand-axes and spears which sport barbs or rakish edges. Rarely, great Ones may wield war-hammers or a deadly device very similar to a morning-star and chain.
The Uruk-hai use the finest weaponry. Their swords arc straight and resemble mannish short swords or broadswords. Frequently, fine Uruk blades are hammered hot and run through a living prisoner for the correct temper (+5 to +15). Uruk weaponry can often be used by other races without penalty. The Uruks also are capable of making and using great yew longbows. Some tribes have their own traditional weaponry, such as the clawed club or mace of the peculiar Scara-hai and the or-bukar which can be used as a weapon or acrobatic tool for vaulting and swinging.
Defensively, most Orcs are stuck with poor leather armor, although chain-mail is prominent among leaders and legions of regular Orcish soldiery. The standard command level armor, and that among elites and guards, is a chain-mail shirt with plate greaves for both the arms and legs (AT Ch/14). Shields are carried by Orcs who can be bothered with them. Rather than being solid, the shields are generally rather poor affairs, made of toughened hides stretched over wooden frames, after the manner of primitive humans. Naturally, Orcs are delighted to use the weaponry of fallen opponents. Such items are usually better made and serve well as a trophy. Armor stolen from dead Dwarvish victims is considered a real prize and may feature greater defensive value (AT Ch/15 to AT Pl/20).
Orcs free from the domination of a powerful will, such as Sauron’s or Morgoth’s, fall under the influence of their own chaotic instincts and desires. Responding to rage and blood lust, the most common Orcish battle formation is the horde, an undefined and uncoordinated cluster of warriors. It is distinguishable from an Orcish retreat in that the soldiers in a horde run generally in the same direction. A clever commander with free Orcs underneath him will usually release just a portion of them at different times against his enemy. These successive blasts of warriors are called waves. Against Men or Elves, Orcs used in this way perish at a rate of about ten-to-one.
There have been, however, more effective ways devised to expend Orcs. Through most of time, the Black Enemy has dominated the Goblin kind, either directly or through his lieutenant Sauron. Gripped by this evil will, the Orcs adopt a rigid hierarchical military structure and adhere to it unswervingly.
The Hai (S. “Company”; pl. “Hî”) is the smallest military unit, composed of 50 to 1000 soldiers (S. “Dogu”; sing. “Dog”) and led by a Drartul (B.S. “Sergeant”; pl. “Drartulu”). A Hostar (S. “Legion”; pl. “Hystair”), formed of many Hî, is led by a Gothsnaga (B.S. “Master of Slaves”) and numbers 10,000 warriors. Several Hystair combine to make a Hothri (S. “Army”; pl. “Hythri”), commanded by a Hothron (S. “Captain”) and numbering 20,000 to 30,000 fighters. The Hoth (S. “Host”) is the largest battle formation, composed of two or three Hythri (to number approximately 50,000 warriors) and commanded by an Othrod (S. “Lord of the Host”) or Orchir (S. “Orc-lord”) who may be a Dragon, Balrog, or Ringwraith.
Each Hai is usually composed of one tribe or one type of Orc. Thus Wolfriders fight together in a company, heavy Uruk infantry in another, and light infantry in yet another. If the Gothsnaga has not assembled more Hî than he can count (usually about three), they are released in a set order, perhaps one after the other, or simultaneously but from differing directions. This tactic was demonstrated when Théodred, Elfhelm, and Grimbold fought Orcs by the River Isen. A troop of Wolfriders attacked the forces of good, followed by heavy Uruk infantry. From the other direction, the Rohirrim were trapped by a wave of light axe wielding foot soldiers. The forces of good prevailed that day, but suffered many deaths and some fearful moments.
Individual Hai, especially the Wolfriders, can be fairly proficient by themselves, such as when assaulting a troop of heavy cavalry in a skirmish formation. While the wolves tear at the horses’ legs and run between their hooves, the Orcish riders eviscerate the horses from beneath.
The strict hierarchy described above is accompanied by an informal pecking order off the field of battle. Drartulu hold the right to transmit orders and officially punish, command, and harass the Orcs under them, but promotions are always given for merit of arms, and rank is held for exactly as long as an officer can enforce his position. If his subordinates successfully overwhelm him, he is considered obviously unfit for command, and his successor is usually recognized from the biggest of the mutineers. Masters usually do not punish the rebels unless they interfered with their victim’s successful completion of a mission necessary to his superior. Because power is considered appropriate to the most powerful, the concept of rebellion is moot: since the successful are in charge anyway, and one’s power always reaches exactly as far as one can tyrannically enforce it, how can there be a rebellion? Whoever is most potent becomes the Dark Lord’s ruling arm. If you mistakenly pick the weaker side, you lose. Read UT 357, 365; LTales2 190, 230, 247.
Swift and silent, wolf riding Orcs battle mounted on unusually large wolves, their terrible allies. The Wolfriders are much feared by Mannish armies, for the Wolves terrify the men’s horses and, of course, add deadly opponents to the fray. Working in complementary fashion, an Orc and Wolf can charge recklessly after scattered targets or even through gaps in a formation, slashing the bellies of the horses as they run. Worse, in the early ages, the Wolfriders are frequently accompanied by great Wonos: large fire-breathing, flightless Dragons. Read LT 357 – 358, 363, 365; LTales2 44, 67, 84, 190, 195.
Orcish Magic and Religion
The phrase “Orcish Magic” is nearly a contradiction in terms. Since Magic requires some true intellect, it is practiced with exceptional rarity among Orcs. However, there is a regular and important function of spell-casters among the Orcs: to serve the priesthood of the Dark Lord, Melkor then Sauron, both of whom the Orcs worshipped as gods for their ability to inspire utter terror. Therefore, priesthood over Orcs is not as it is in most other races, an intercessory office administered on behalf of the supplicants. Rather, priesthood is the visible arm of theocratic tyranny. Priests focus Orcish attention and fear on their sovereign through demonstrations designed to inculcate unquestioning obedience. Therefore, priests may come from many professions and spell-casting realms (most often Clerics, Sorcerers, Magicians, Mentalists, etc.), although Channeling remains most predominant. Spells of fire, pain, cursing, submission, demonic invocation, and genetic alteration are most prominent. On rare occasions, priests may motivate their inferiors by casting healing spells or causing pleasure. But usually these are presented in a situation just preceded by administration of pain as alternating negative and positive forms of obedience-conditioning. As everything else Orcish, pain and fear are the constant norms and distinctives of Orcish religion. Even Orcish medicines cause as much pain as the cuts they seal, and produce more obvious and grievous scars than would the wound if left untreated. In keeping with Orcish pragmatism, their healing methods bring the victim back to readiness quickly. Orcs are much more proficient with poisons (especially Ashgurash, a third level nerve poison causing pain and upper body paralysis) than medicines.
Because of the Orcs’ natural racial limitations, priesthood is generally exercised by evil humans: Variags, Dunlendings, Easterlings, and Black Númenóreans. However, both Melkor and Sauron had Orcs among their high priests at different times (see the entries for Bolvag and Storlagga). Infrequently an Orc or Half-orc may succeed in becoming a spell-caster capable of causing some fear. Generally, characters such as these are Uruk-hai, or Half-orcs (either from Saruman’s breeding or racial mixture), since common Orcs are always ineffective mentally. See ICE’s Trolls of the Misty Mountains.
Arrayed in tribes and clans, Orcs can be found in all the lands of Middle-earth. The confederations incorporating the most tribes are the Orcs of the Red Eye and the Orcs of the White Hand. Of course, a number of groups from northwestern Endor deserve specific mention. These follow below.
During the mid-Third Age, twelve tribes occupied the border between Arthedain and Angmar. As a group they were referred to as the Uruk-Engmair. Among them, the Askhai, the Snagoth, and the Faulgurum favored spears in melee, while the Kurkurum preferred two-handed swords. The Durbalag ate lamb as a delicacy, but the Ulogarûm considered Orc-meat to be most tasty.
The Lughoth were known for blinding prisoners immediately upon capture, the Uroth-burn for their mobile Wolfriders parties, and the Thrakburzum for the superb armor they forged near Mount Gram. The Bagronkruz were the largest and poorest clan in the area; the Urughâsh were most prone to raiding; and the Uruk-uflag were elite troops who kept order among the subordinant tribes. See ICE’s Rangers of the North.
In Rhudaur, Hakknash’s Band and others occupied the fortress at Cameth Brin under the orders of the Witch-king of Angmar. See ICE’s Hillmen of the Trollshaws.
The highland vales near Pelargir hold Dunnish burial mounds; one of them, Cenic Minith, harbored the remnants of the Agrashaga, a tribe once many hundreds strong. See ICE’s Sea Lords of Gondor.
After the Balrog took Moria, the Durbaghâsh (B.S. “Fire-rulers”) and the Snaga-hai occupied the First and Second Deeps of the Dwarven city, while the Uruk-ungingúrz (B.S. “Orcs-sowing-steely-death”) guarded the Sixth Level. See ICE’s Moria.
In the late Third Age, the Uruk-sharak served Saruman in Isengard, joined by the Army of the White Hand as the fallen Istar created Half-orcs from Men. See ICE’s Riders of Rohan.
The Barz-thrugrim occupied the Caverns of Pain in the foothills of the Misty Mountains in northern Calenardhon, holding prisoners there to draw troops away from Lórien. Earlier in the Third Age, the Ongushar raided the fortresses of Tir Limlight, engaging the Gondorian forces frequently. See ICE’s Ents of Fangorn.
The Uruk-erag dwelled in caverns lining the Cirith Mithlin in the Grey Mountains. They paid tribute to the Lord of Gundabad and joined in the Battle of Five Armies. Further east, in the Cirith Himninond, the Lor-uruk-shab occupied the ancient Orc-hold named Tuwurdrog. The Asharag, who held a cavern fortress in the Cirith Auris, guarded Rhûnnish supply trains bound for Angmar.
A garrison at Sarn Goriwing in the mountains of Mirkwood protected the Necromancer’s powerful servant Lachglin, while the Shirkag patrolled the valley of the Gûlduin River below the tower. The Uruk-torg and the Uruk-harnak controlled southern Mirkwood, and a legion of Uruk-hai kept watch at Dol Guldur. See ICE’s Mirkwood.
The Uruk-ongrum (B.S. “Orcs of the Iron Skull”) and the Uruk-ghashvir (B.S. “Orcs of the Fiery Star”) crawled the slopes of the “inner fence,” the Morgai, of the Mountains of Shadow. The two tribes raided each other as well as harassing Gondorian patrols from Minas Ithil. See ICE’s Shelob’s Lair.
Orcish Language and Dictionary
Orcish is a hodge-podge of debased high Black Speech (itself descended from Eldarin but corrupted by Morgoth’s evil, as is everything of his) and tainted Mannish languages (whatever is used in the surrounding region). The result has been described as rich in curses and slight in grammar. Therefore, Orcs from different geographical areas find it difficult to understand one another. It has been a surprisingly significant language, having some influence over the years on Mannish and even Elvish tongues. But very little of the vocabulary has been previously exposed in a glossary format available for those interested in translating Orcish names or words. It must be mentioned at the beginning that very little Orcish is known, and especially many of the names, roots, and words are still a complete mystery.
|Burz||dark, night||Krimp||to bind|
|Golug||Elf, spec. Noldo||Raugz||red|
|Goth||lord, master||Skamma||scold, revile|
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