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    On the Orcs of the Flanaess: History, Culture and Nation
    Posted on Fri, April 15, 2005 by Dongul
    CruelSummerLord writes "I never met an orc so perverse as to treat his mate with respect, so insane that he would favor peace over war, or so twisted in his heart to suffer an orc of another tribe to live. Such orcs exist, perhaps, in the mythology and religion of their race; they are clearly examples of what not to do if you want to avoid the orcish version of hell." - Querchard, former Marquis of Sterich and bard extraordinaire

    On the Orcs of the Flanaess: History, Culture and Nation
    By: CruelSummerLord
    Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.

    Social mores and practices:
    Orcs resemble nothing so much as crude, caveman-like beings with the heads and faces of pigs, and odors and habits that are even more vile and disgusting. They take great pleasure in making life miserable for their neighbors, whether these are humans, elves, goblins, or even other orcs. Orcs constantly raid and plunder other communities, and love nothing more than to plunder a rich city or a juicy merchant caravan, which offers both wealth (gold and silver) and food (humans and horses). Rarely are orcs content to dwell in their caverns and forests for long; sooner or later, orcs will resume their attacks on other beings. Fighting and violence are at the core of the orcish character.

    Orcs generally dwell in forests, swamps, mountains and other out-of-the-way areas, although smaller communities can also be found even deep within the territories of civilized Flanaess states like Nyrond or Keoland. Their communities are usually caverns or warrens built into the mountains and hills they live in, or underground complexes in other cases. These can range from small hill forts and natural caverns to larger mining towns to truly enormous cities, such as Garen Enkdal in the Griff Mountains near Stonehold. In addition, orcs are quite ready to make a home out of any castle or village they conquer or destroy. Orcs are also notorious for taking over dungeons for their own use; fallen temples, monasteries, ancient castles, and other such places draw orcs like flies to a carcass.

    Orcish society is not, as is commonly assumed, chaotic. It is in fact very lawful and hierarchical. Gender, physical strength and age all play an important role in determining where an orc stands in the pecking order of his tribe; strong, fit male orcs in the prime of life are those who naturally have the greatest status and the highest place in society. Orcish females and children have a miserable lot in life, with beatings, abuse of all kinds, and general cruelty. The women and children also fight and bully each other as well, only cooperating when necessary to avoid worse abuse at the hands of their mates.

    Women are expected to have dinner cooked and on the table when the orc male comes home after a hard day of fighting, and to provide pleasure whenever the male demands it. Orcs often marry and raise individual families, but orc males are not known for their faithfulness or for lavishing attention on their children. Orc males fight with one another all the time over women, fit children and slaves, all of which are generally viewed as nothing more than property for the males to settle their honor over.

    Orcish government consists of a hereditary king who more or less rules with absolute power over his subjects, so long as he is successful in battle and can keep his warriors afraid of him. Kings are expected to raise sons to take their places, and are generally forbidden to slay these sons, since ambitious sons will usually step over one another to take the throne. Any orc male can challenge the king for the throne, and this is the usual method for succession for orcish princes to take over from their aged fathers. Whoever wins these duels assumes the full powers and duties of his office as long as he can exercise them, it is considered very bad form for orcs to refuse to obey their lawful sovereigns.

    As one might expect, orcs do not have good relations with other races. Humans and demihumans taken prisoner are often used as slaves or as breeding stock, and these unfortunate souls suffer at the hands of both the orc who owns them and his family. Human and demihuman enemies who battle orcs usually show no mercy to any of the foul creatures they encounter. They get on well enough with ogres and goblins, and can restrain themselves around hobgoblins and gnolls, who they often cooperate with on raids. They hate bugbears, trolls, kobolds, and giants. The latter, especially, are inclined to enslave orcs and raid against them.

    An orc’s worst enemy, however, is an orc from another tribe. Orc tribes spend more time fighting other tribes than they do any other enemy, and care nothing for anyone that gets caught in the crossfire. Strong leaders can unite orcish tribes to wage war on a common enemy or for a greater purpose, but these must be careful to keep tribal antagonisms and jealousies from getting too severe. Under a strong leader, whether a human, ogre or even a devil or demon, orcs are quite willing to set aside their differences and engage in war alongside one another…for the time being, that is.

    It should be noted that many orcs are stupid, prone to letting their emotions cloud their judgment and ruin the best-laid battle tactics. These are usually the smaller, scattered tribes who have no power base and are most commonly found raiding the villages of man. However, other orcs have cleverly exploited this stereotype in war, luring their enemies into ambushes and lulling them into a false sense of securities. Centuries of war have taught many orcs, particularly those living in the largest cities and among humans, to become excellent tacticians and soldiers. These orcs blend their own savagery with the cunning of human engineering and sorcery, and as such are a nightmare for any opposing commander.


    The sorry history of the orcs is not one that needs to be discussed in great detail. Suffice it to say that orcs have always been engaged in war with each other and with other races, ever since they appeared in the Flanaess. The orcish gods fought among themselves, and clashed with every other being they came across. It is much the same throughout history; orcs fought the indigenous Flan, the elven kingdoms of old, and a thousand other enemies.

    Orcs significantly interacted with humans as mercenaries in the latter’s armies, fighting with both discipline and courage. The ancient empires used them in war, a tactic made famous by House Naelax of the Great Kingdom during the Turmoil Between Crowns in the 430s CY. Since then, orcs have served in the armies of a thousand petty conquerors and war-mongers, as well as in the armies of forces such as Iuz, the forces of Elemental Evil, Iggwilv, the Horned Society, Turrosh Mak, and the Scarlet Brotherhood.

    Orcs have also learned from their collaboration with humans; councils of chiefs occasionally unite to seize human territories on a grand scale, as they did in the Pomarj and the Bone March. During the Greyhawk Wars, it is likely that any number of small human realms may have fallen, only to be seized on by orcs or other humanoids. The chiefs and kings of these orc tribes may put on airs of hatred and rivalry towards their subjects, but in council can cooperate on matters of strategy and mutual defense. Of course, ego, greed and a thirst for glory still work to undermine even the most coherent strategies.

    Famous orc tribes:
    -Bloody Head: Found primarily in the wastes of Iuz and the northern Bandit Kingdoms; have as their tribal colors blood red and mustard yellow; heraldry of a bloodied, semi-crushed human head; renowned for long decades of service to Iuz; ruled by King Kreglaz Chimera-Slayer.

    -Broken Bone: Found primarily in the Crystalmist Mountains, extending south into the Hellfurnaces; have as their tribal colors yellow green and moss green; heraldry of a broken, maggot-riddled ribcage; renowned for stupidity in combat and general tactical ineptitude; worshippers of the orc god Baghtru; ruled by Ugh-Boy Egeltar Squish-You-Flat.

    -Death Moon: Found primarily in the Rakers, eastern Griff Mountains, Adri Forest, and northwestern areas of the former Great Kingdom; have as their tribal colors bone-white and blood red; heraldry of a red crescent moon next to a white elven skull; worshippers of the orcish god Shargaas; close allies of Overking Grenell of Northern Aerdy; former occupiers of Bone March; renowned for using sneak attacks and ambushes in battle; ruled by Mighty Chief Uggjan Broken-Fist.

    -Dripping Blade: Found in the wilder territories of almost every country in the Sheldomar Valley, with offshoots dwelling in the Orcish Empire of the Pomarj; have as their tribal colors blackish-brown and greenish-purple; heraldry of a rusted broadsword smeared with poison; worshippers of the orcish god Ilneval; distant allies of Turrosh Mak, Despot of the Pomarj; renowned for using giant scorpions, giant poisonous snakes, and other poison-using monsters in combat; ruled by Giant-Slaying-King Thordullen Giant-Throttler.

    -Evil Eye: Found primarily in the lands surrounding the Nyr Dyv, especially in the Gnarley Forest, the Cairn Hills, and the Bright Desert; have as their tribal colors rust-red and leper-white; heraldry of a single, unblinking, bloodshot orcish eye; renowned for their vicious wars against neighboring orc tribes; often hired by Greyhawk and/or Dyvers to harass the caravans of the rival city; worship the orc god Gruumsh; ruled by Son of Gruumsh Ogellen IV.

    -Leprous Hand: Found primarily in the Corusk Mountains, the wildlands of the surrounding barbarian kingdoms, and Stonehold; tribal colors bone white and pus yellow; heraldry of a diseased hand with patches of exposed bone; renowned for terrifying blood-letting and sacrificial rituals of captured men and dwarves; control the mighty orcish city of Garen Enkdal near Stonehold; renowned for large population of ogres, orcish crossbreeds, and humanoids amiable to orcs; worship the orcish god Yurtrus; ruled by Silent King Rimandullch Of the Poison Spear.

    -Rotting Eye: Found primarily in the Dim Forest, the Oyt Wood, and the Lortmil Mountains; tribal colors are moss green and blackish brown; heraldry of a greenish eye weeping blackish-brown tears of blood; renowned for being the largest orcish tribe still remaining in the Lortmils after the Hateful Wars; deadly enemies of the demihumans of the Ulek states; renowned for exploring, looting and taking over dungeons and abandoned dwarf-halls; ruled by King Dagrach Elf-Gutter.

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    Re: On the Orcs of the Flanaess: History, Culture and Nation (Score: 1)
    by Tedra ( on Fri, April 15, 2005
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    Another excellent article CSL. I really liked the listing of famous tribes. A History, Culture and Nation article I'd love to see from you is one on hobgoblins, my personal favorite. Love those little furry militaristic menaces. ;)

    Re: On the Orcs of the Flanaess: History, Culture and Nation (Score: 1)
    by Argon on Fri, April 15, 2005
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    Good submission although I never agreed with orcs being lawful. Alot of what you presented here was compiled from pieces of past work I've seen on orcs with your own twist. Overall though I really enjoyed this article really well written and providing a nice backdrop for Orcs in a campaign.

    I won't use it myself but I can't deny that it is a good submission indeed.

    Re: On the Orcs of the Flanaess: History, Culture and Nation (Score: 1)
    by chatdemon on Tue, April 19, 2005
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    There's a strong focus in the article, it seems, on inter-tribal rivalries and hatred, so it leads me to wonder, any thoughts on how Turrosh Mak has been able to unite, and keep united, the varied tribes of the Pomarj?

    Otherwise a pretty interesting read, good work.

    Re: On the Orcs of the Flanaess: History, Culture and Nation (Score: 1)
    by CruelSummerLord on Wed, April 20, 2005
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    Simple: He's an incredibly powerful, charismatic dictator who brutally punishes anyone who crosses him in even the slightest way. He emphasizes their loyalty to him over their hatred of one another, leading each tribe to attempt to gain his favor.

    Orcs are imbued with a sort of quasi-mysticism that leads them to devotedly follow their gods; hence why they name their tribes after the tribe's patron god. Turrosh Mak plays that to perfection, especially the rumors that he was actually sired in spirit by Gruumsh, the orc god acting through the mortal orc who violated his human mother. Mak, of course, does nothing to dispel such rumors.

    It's also how Mak manages to keep the rest of the humanoids in line-he avoids pairing up the races that have the worst hatred for one another, and gives each race a function for its talents. Ogres are used as shock troops to absorb the worst of the enemy's attack, and are followed by the orcs and gnolls. As another example, kobolds, given that they hate most other humanoids, either work with goblins as scouts or as snipers, sappers and engineers.


    Re: On the Orcs of the Flanaess: History, Culture and Nation (Score: 1)
    by chatdemon on Fri, April 22, 2005
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    So Turrosh, with the help of some loyal clerics and shamans of Gruumsh, is portraying himself as a sort of Messiah? That's an interesting take.

    In my campaign, he made use of the Ring of the Pomarj (Greyhawk Adventures Hardcover) to unite the tribes, but I'd never come up with a suitable explanation of how he kept them united after the ring's effect wore off. This gives me some new ideas to mull over.


    Re: On the Orcs of the Flanaess: History, Culture and Nation (Score: 1)
    by mtg ( on Sun, September 04, 2005
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    IMC, the Mak was assassinated by his former mentor, who now maintains the charade of being the Mak.  (This incorporates the revelation of Slavers.)  The half-orc assassin does this in his complicated game of playing off the Scarlet Brotherhood.  He was compelled to do it because Turrosh was about to order the death of all agents of Shar and generally proclaim them to be enemies of his "empire."


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